Sunday, February 29, 2004

The blue states, progressive lobbying and where we can move forward

I'm so envious of how easy it is for the money people to set up right-wing organizations. ALEC is a great organization for right-wingers. Funded largely by the businesses that make a fortune off of changed state laws, it pushes for public policies that raise profits by lowering wages and legal protections.

They have a good map of the 50 state legislatures here. And the map shows which states are run by Democrats. They are (reading east to west): Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California and Hawaii.

16 out of 50. Not bad.

And those are the places where we can implement some cutting-edge policies that manufactures a middle class. That's what I'd like to do in Illinois, and conceivably, in other states as well. Anyone know other people making progress in other states so we can copy them? (Besides, of course, the money-people who are at least 20 years ahead of us).

You know, the labor unions are the natural go-to organization for this kind of stuff. They have resources and they are in every state. I should work with them more than I do. They are all over Springfield, and they've got clout. And they are usually doing good work -- certainly for their members.

Urban Outfitters (run by a Republican) sells a shirt: Voting is for Old People

Brilliant! To keep young people (presumably liberal/Democratic) from voting, Urban Outfitters is selling a hip T-shirt that reads Voting is for Old People.

Nice. Way to set the cultural definition of hip as 'letting other people make decisions for you.' Smart move by conservatives.

The picture of the T-shirt is here.

Some good bills in Illinois this year

I usually neglect to point out some of the smart, progressive legislation that improves our lives, so here goes.

We've got great public transit in the Chicago area. Unfortunately, Metra, Pace and the CTA do not link up very well at all. Ideally, we'd have one seamless web of transit. A great step is a universal fare card that would work on any transit system. Pace and CTA are already hooked up, but Metra with its snappy conductors that take case on baord the train has been resisting. Evanston Democratic State Representative Julie Hamos has been working on this issue for years. I remember sitting in a meeting with her in the late 90s at the Center for Neighborhood Technology trying to figure out how to make this happen. Well, Julie Hamos figured it out and has built the consensus to implement it (almost). She passed HB4098 that will issue a Requst for Proposals for companies to come up with a bid for a universal fare card for the RTA. Smart, because then it's just a question of money, and a universal fare card will almost certainly make money for Metra -- and will make it easier to use transit. I hope the Senate passed the bill (which passed the House unanimously).

What if there was a pill that women could take that would prevent pregnancy -- even the day after sex without a condom? (They do break sometimes). One would think that everyone -- pro-lifers and pro-choices -- would be ecstatic about such a pill. It prevents abortions (and nobody is a real fan of abortions) as well as unwanted pregnancies.

Well, the pill exists. It's actually just two regular birth control pills. And it's widely available in Europe.

Not so in the United States, where prudish federal regulators won't approve its use.

While the FDA gets around to making the right decision, State Representative Sara Feigenholtz is moving forward on making the 'morning-after' pill more available here. HB6577 would allow a woman to get the morning-after pill without a prescription from any pharmacy. That's a good move, and I hope this one gets signed into law. And I really hope the FDA makes the legislation moot by authorizing the morning-after pill to be sold over-the-counter across the nation.

Right now, when almost all the statewide candidates are putting their ads on television, the papers are starting to make endorsements and the casual citizen is starting to engage with the primary election, it is illegal to register to vote. It is illegal to change your address to register where you live. No wonder people feel that politics is for other people.

The current deadline to register to vote is 28 days before an election, creating a month-long lock-out period when it is illegal to register. That's too long.

Minnesota and Wisconsin allow people to register to vote on Election Day. No wonder their voter turnout is so much higher than ours.

Representative Robin Kelly and Senator James Meeks are trying to do something about it. (And full disclosure: I'm one of the main lobbyists working on this bill, and have been organizing on the issue in my spare time for a few years). Senator Meeks' bill SB 2133 would cut the lock-out period in half, and allow people to register to vote up to 14 days before an election. We'd follow the procedural safeguards used in Washington State: 1) people who register during the two-week 'grace period' must register in-person at the office of the election administrator 2) 'grace period' registrants must vote absentee 3) the motor-voter and deputy registrar deadlines remain at 28 days before the election.

The House bill is getting sucked into an omnibus election reform bill that will be rolling out of the Speaker's office someting later this session, so that's a good sign on the House side. SB 2133 was voted out of the Local Government Committee on a party-line vote last week, which is a good sign on the Senate side. I hope it gets signed into law.

There are lots of other good bills out there this year. If you know of any, feel free to plug them in the comments box.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

IL Dems let Bush get away with 9/11 convention and change state law

In all the great legislation moving forward in the General Assembly, there are a few stinkers.

Remember the Bush on the Ballot imbroglio? The GOP team is looking to make the election about 9/11, so they are having a partisan rally in New York City in September. I won't ramp up my indignation again (you can read about it here), but the news is that today, the Senate Executive Committee passed out SB 2123 that would change state law to accommodate the September NYC convention.

The bill is here.

I really hope that the Senate Dems take the opportunity to shape the debate and focus it on the exploitation of the tragedy. This is a bad thing that the national Republicans are doing, in my opinion. They should be called out on it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Crazy few weeks coming up -- links appreciated to

This is getting to be a busy time for me.

My day job with the Center for Voting and Democracy is centered around this project with primary elections and second choices. I'd appreciate any links to our new website:

Check it out.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Ralph Nader's running. I'm not a supporter this time.

Today on Meet the Press, Ralph Nader announced that he is running for president as an independent.

I've joined the ABB Brigade (Anybody-But-Bush), so I'll be voting for the Democratic nominee. I'll take John Kerry or John Edwards over Bush in a heartbeat.

I've seen how good public policy can raise our living standards, and how there is a big difference between Democratic policy and Republican policy. I'm not longer a member of the Green Party, because I've decided to join the majority coalition in Illinois: the Democratic Party.

I am a big fan of a multi-party system, and I do think people should have lots of choices on the ballot, so I think another candidate is a good thing. But with our plurality voting system, where the majority of voters can split between two similar candidates, and let someone else win, an insurgent campaign can hurt more than it helps.

That's why we should be using instant runoff voting and ensure the winner has a majority of the vote.

I was happy to see Nader mention my employer, the Center for Voting and Democracy, at the end of his Meet The Press interview (although he sort of criticized us, but hey, I'll take the exposure). He didn't say the magic words "instant runoff voting," but this is real progress. I think that third party candidates and independent candidates have the burden of explaining -- at every possible opportunity -- that the reason why the third candidate causes problems for the better major-party candidate is that we don't have a runoff election (instant or otherwise) to ensure the majority of voters don't split. Lots and lots of people don't get that yet.

I worked on the Ralph Nader 2000 presidential campaign, as the Illinois manager and as one of the policy people for electoral reform. I think Mr. Nader is getting better at explaining that we have an outdated electoral system, and that it's relatively easy to fix it (just use instant runoff voting), and I hope that progressives will take this opportunity to push for instant runoff voting in city councils and state legislatures.

Berkeley, as a matter of fact, will vote on an instant runoff voting amendment to the city charter the first Tuesday in March. The campaign website is here.

This is one of my day jobs, so if you're interested in trying to make instant runoff voting actually happen (instead of just complaining about Nader's decision), get in touch with me or join our national listserv here.

Because there is a real value for progressives in a progressive presidential campaign besides the Democratic nominee -- that third candidate can inspire and bring out voters that the Democratic nominee just can't. It might be 1% or 5% of 10%. But those are a lot of votes, and those voters can vote for the Democratic candidate down-ticket. In close races for state representative or Congress, those extra votes really help. So if we can figure out how to harness the power of a progressive third candidate without splitting the vote (yeah, that's instant runoff voting), campaigns like Mr. Nader's can be an unambiguously good thing. Now, it's a real threat to the Democratic campaign for the presidency, and a potential small help for Democrats in swing districts.

And all that said, I think that the Nader campaign is likely to get about 1% of the vote. The ABB Brigade has a strong pull this year.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Questions the Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 Commission wants Bush to answer

President Bush should answer all these questions under oath and in public, according to the Family Steering Committee looking for an independent commission about the September 11th attacks.

They are

1. As Commander-in-Chief on the morning of 9/11, why didn't you return
immediately to Washington, D.C. or the National Military Command Center once
you became aware that America was under attack? At specifically what time
did you become aware that America was under attack? Who informed you of this

2. On the morning of 9/11, who was in charge of our country while you were
away from the National Military Command Center? Were you informed or
consulted about all decisions made in your absence?

3. What defensive action did you personally order to protect our nation
during the crisis on September 11th? What time were these orders given, and
to whom? What orders were carried out? What was the result of such orders?
Were any such orders not carried out?

4. In your opinion, why was our nation so utterly unprepared for an attack
on our own soil?

5. U.S. Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the Director of the White House
Situation Room, informed you of the first airliner hitting Tower One of the
World Trade Center before you entered the Emma E. Booker Elementary School
in Sarasota, Florida. Please explain the reason why you decided to continue
with the scheduled classroom visit, fifteen minutes after learning the first
hijacked airliner had hit the World Trade Center.

6. Is it normal procedure for the Director of the White House Situation Room
to travel with you? If so, please cite any prior examples of when this
occurred. If not normal procedure, please explain the circumstances that led
to the Director of the White House Situation Room being asked to accompany
you to Florida during the week of September 11th.

7. What plan of action caused you to remain seated after Andrew Card
informed you that a second airliner had hit the second tower of the World
Trade Center and America was clearly under attack? Approximately how long
did you remain in the classroom after Card's message?

8. At what time were you made aware that other planes were hijacked in
addition to Flight 11 and Flight 175? Who notified you? What was your course
of action as Commander-in-Chief of the United States?

9. Beginning with the transition period between the Clinton administration
and your own, and ending on 9/11/01, specifically what information (either
verbal or written) about terrorists, possible attacks and targets, did you
receive from any source?

10. As Commander-in-Chief, from May 1, 2001 until September 11, 2001, did
you receive any information from any intelligence agency official or agent
that UBL was planning to attack this nation on its own soil using airplanes
as weapons, targeting New York City landmarks during the week of September
11, 2001 or on the actual day of September 11, 2001?

11. What defensive measures did you take in response to pre-9/11 warnings
from eleven nations about a terrorist attack, many of which cited an attack
in the continental United States? Did you prepare any directives in response
to these actions? If so, with what results?

12. As Commander-in-Chief from May 1, 2001 until September 11, 2001, did you
or any agent of the United States government carry out any negotiations or
talks with UBL, an agent of UBL, or al-Qaeda? During that same period, did
you or any agent of the United States government carry out any negotiations
or talks with any foreign government, its agents, or officials regarding
UBL? If so, what resulted?

13. What was the purpose of the several stops of Air Force One on September
11th? Was Air Force One at any time during the day of September 11th a
target of the terrorists? Was Air Force One's code ever breached on
September 11th?

14. Was there a reason for Air Force One lifting off without a military
escort, even after ample time had elapsed to allow military jets to arrive?

15. Who approved the flight of the bin Laden family out of the United States
when all commercial flights were grounded, when there was time for only
minimal questioning by the FBI, and especially, when two of those same
individuals had links to WAMY, a charity suspected of funding terrorism? Why
were bin Laden family members granted that special privilege - a privilege
not available to American families whose loved ones were killed on 9/11?

16. Please explain why no one in any level of our government has yet been
held accountable for the countless failures leading up to and on 9/11?

I'll be on Beyond The Beltway this Sunday at 6pm CST

Good news -- Bruce DuMont invited me onto his nationally syndicated radio show this Sunday, Beyond The Beltway.

Tune in, from around the country.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Cal Skinner's take on the Blagojevich budget

Former state legislator (and Libertarian candidate for governor) Cal Skinner writes for and he has an insightful take here on Governor Blagojevich's call to close some corporate tax loopholes.

Most interesting points: there's currently a $300-$400 million corporate welfare loophole for Archer Daniels Midland through a state ethanol tax break which is untouched by Blagojevich, there's no state sales tax imposed on farm and manufacturing machinery and -- most intriguingly -- business used to pay more than 20 percent of the state's income tax, and now they only pay 12 percent. So pony up! I'm sick of paying for you, Illinois business.

Daley has "no problem" with San Francisco-style gay marriage licenses. Wow.

Look at how quickly the debate on gays has moved in this country.

10 years ago it was controversial to try to require homeowners to rent to a gay couple. (And we still haven't passed that law in the Illinois legislature).

Today, Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago -- the capital of the American heartland -- says that he has "no problem" with marriage licenses issued to gay couples. It's in today's Sun-Times.

Cultural tolerance of homosexuals has increased dramatically in the nineties and in the oughts (the 2000s). It's stunning, really. What a shift.

(But this hasn't hit the south, and the southern half of Illinois is not nearly as tolerant as the northern half. So passing any legislation in the state is a slow, long road.)

Zorn's column on Hull might have identified a new problem for the Hull campaign

Eric Zorn's got a new issue on Blair Hull that no one else has touched in his column -- the order of protection his ex-wife (and current good friend) filed against him years ago. This could be a problem for younger female Hull supporters (who, I think, would tend to be most concerned with a candidate's order of protection as a demographic), depending on how much people hear about it. And my guess is, since none of the other candidates are going to go negative on Hull (another prediction that could be totally wrong), not many people will hear about it. (Man, I'm the King of parentheses today).

Steve Neal died.

This is so sad.

Steve Neal, a fantastic columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, died. He was only 54.

He was a great writer. Insightful. He covered the nitty-gritty of campaigns and the infrastructure of the parties. He was a scholar and a daily reporter.

I feel like a friend of mine died.

I would always use Steve Neal's columns as a curriculum for people new to getting engaged as citizens. I'd tell people to read Steve Neal's columns -- every week -- to learn about what's going on.

I only met him once. We were on a panel together talking about cumulative voting for the House (he favored a return too). Very nice guy.

I was struck by his voice -- sort of gravelly. Soft and low. His writing is so sharp and peppy, and I expected his voice to be the same.

I'm very sad. My heart goes out to his family and friends. He taught me a lot about politics.

I will really, really miss reading his columns.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Greg Maddux is coming home to the Cubs. How sweet it is.

With Greg Maddux in the rotation, we're going to have the best five-man rotation in major league baseball. Kerry Wood. Mark Prior. Matt Clement. Carlos Zambrano. And Greg "Cy Young" Maddux.

Oh, I can't wait to beat the Braves.

Tickets go on sale 2/27.

This is going to be a fantastic year.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Blagojevich looking to close business loopholes. Good!

This report in the Sun-Times has Governor Blagojevich looking to close some business loopholes in the state tax code. That's great. Let's get those corporations off the dole! Have them pay up!

Mars movies -- a great NASA website

These are some great movies that NASA has made explaining how they managed to send two golf-cart sized machines on to the surface of Mars. What an awesome thing to do.

(One question: how can we get a NASA lab in Illinois? We should have one in Champaign-Urbana, or near Fermilab).

Friday, February 13, 2004

Chicago schools losing students. . . .that's not good.

This article in the Chicago Tribune details the $200 million deficit the Chicago Public Schools face, attributed largely to losing lots of students.

16,000 elementary students gone since 2002.

That's not good.

With the city population essentially flat (or slightly rising) since 2002, that means that people are choosing to send their kids to private school or they are moving into the burbs when their kids turn 4 or 5.

And that's not something that is sustainable for the City of Chicago, long term, I think.

I don't think there are easy answers on how to make elementary schools better, but if anyone has any ideas, let me know.

Maybe I should join the local school council in my neighborhood. Heck, maybe you should too. We've all got to invest in our public schools, right? Here's the info:

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Pro-environment state legislators: the 2003 eco-champions

Courtesy of the Illinois Environmental Council and their scorecard of all legislators' votes on environmental issues, here are the legislators that earned a 100% voting record:

Senator Jacqueline Collins
Senator Susan Garrett
Senator Terry Link
Senator Barack Obama
Senator Carol Ronen
Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg
Representative Linda Chapa LaVia
Representative Elizabeth Coulson
Representative Barbara Flynn Currie
Representative Sara Feigenholtz
Representative Julie Hamos
Representative Naomi Jakobsson
Representative Rosemary Kurtz
Representative Eileen Lyons
Representative Joseph Lyons
Representative Karen May
Representative Elaine Nekritz
Representative Harry Osterman
Representative Sandra Pihos
Representative Kathleen Ryg
Representative Ricca Slone

Good group of legislators.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

States getting to universal health coverage -- great policy paper

I found this fantastic policy paper on how states can move forward on getting to universal health coverage.

Some great ideas in this paper (sponsored by the National Academy for State Health Policy), including one of my favorites: setting up a universal single-payer in a rural area based on the local provider system, not on the local jurisdiction. The local provider (like a hospital in a rural area) would get all the funds that are currently put into health care, would be governed by a board that represents all payers and would be responsible for providing care to every single resident in the area.

We sort of do this on college campuses. That might be a good place to expand -- rural college towns.

Another idea is to set up a narrow set of benefits that are universally available (everyone gets one physical exam), instead of trying to get a full or comprehensive set of benefits for everyone. This one-step-at-a-time approach appeals to me, as a big impediment to universal health coverage is the sense among lots of people that government programs are for poor people, not for the middle-class. The more we can change that about health care (no one thinks that government programs about street lights, sewers or airports are for poor people), the better off we are.

Evidence-based medicine is also a big deal, and there are thoughts that states should share their data more. For example, some states have a preferred drug list. Why shouldn't all states share that data?

It seems to me that spending public money on health coverage should be an economic development tool. Come here, company, to our state, and you won't have to pay for health insurance for your employers. It's already covered! Or, come here, small entreprenuer and set up your creative enterprise. Your health insurance is covered. Why are we only chasing after big corporations with tax breaks for economic development? Why don't we put that money into universal health insurance to attract people and businesses?

Another little nugget: Canada got universal health coverage by starting in one province: Saskatchewan. And that province only started by covering hospital services. Over time, the benefit broadened, and it went nationwide.

A final nugget: we might start with a different model of health coverage with public employees. They are not federally funded at all, so restrictive federal laws do not apply. An innovative state could set up a universal program for all state (and local?) employees and build out from there. Because employer-centered health coverage is probably on the way out.

Just where is Saddam Hussein?

Here's a question: where the heck is that former ally of the Reagan White House Saddam Hussein?

He was captured on December 13th. This AP story says that he has been giving up some information to US government forces in interrogation. But where is he?

And why hasn't the Bush government put him on television -- or any public view at all -- in the last two months? It seems like the Bush government is manipulating the images of a captured Saddam and saving them up for closer to the election. I don't trust those guys at the top.

(There's this conservative impulse to find anything less than blind faith in the actions of the president and the rest of the government unwise and somehow dangerous. 'We have to trust the president to do the right thing' they say. And that's an absurdly undemocratic attitude. We do not trust the leaders of the government to do the right thing. That's why we have elections and a free press to watch over them. We don't have a king and we're not subjects. We have a civilian president and we're citizens who can yank that person out of power in November. The culture of some conservatives who just refuse to question the judgement of the president is really undemocratic, and we need to call it out.)

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Time for the rest of the Midwest to raise the state minimum wage

Illinois has a higher state minimum wage than the rest of the Midwest. Check out this chart from the Department of Labor. (And thanks to Sam Smith of the Progressive Review for the pointer).

Now that the Illinois minimum wage will be $6.50 as of January 1, 2005 (and it is around $6 as of 1/1/04), while the federal minimum wage is stuck at $5.15 an hour, the other Midwest states have every opportunity to raise their state wages. One policy argument against a state raising the minimum wage is that the low-paid jobs will then move to other states (at least, those that can be moved). A gas station on the border might close up shop in Illinois and open up in Indiana. Or a fast food place.

But the race-to-the-bottom can't happen if the border states follow the lead of the high-wage leader. So now Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kentucky -- these states can follow the lead of Illinois and raise their minimum wage to match Illinois without fear of losing jobs on to Illinois. They might have to watch the other side of the state (Indiana needs to worry about Ohio's lower minimum wage; Wisconsin needs to worry about Michigan), but then of course the same argument applies. Ohio and Michigan can then raise their wages. And then everyone's better off.

Plus, with more puchasing power, the economy is better off, since low-wage people have more money to spend. I hope Illinois can continue to lead and that other Midwestern states begin to follow.

The 10 worst corporations of 2003

Want to know the 10 worst corporations of 2003? Here's a list, from the authors of Corporate Predators, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Progress on saving Cook County Hospital

The building is still alive!

Another vote on issuing a demolition permit was postponed and developers were allowed to give their pitches to the Cook County Board this week, as this Chicago Tribune article details.

The most uplifting part of the story was about my Commissioner, Bobbie Steele:

Commissioner Bobbie Steele, whose West Side district includes the hospital, said after the meeting that she had once believed it should go but is no longer sure.

Steele said she was "really impressed" with one of the presentations, adding that she would seek her constituents' input. Steele said she "took a beating" a few years ago for supporting a proposal to build a new traffic court on the West Side, which was unpopular in her district. The court project ultimately was canceled.

"I don't want to take a beating for tearing a building down," Steele said.


so those phone calls absolutely do matter. I'm going to continue to call (I even sent her a letter), so I hope you Cook County residents will call your commissioner as well. And why is Forrest Claypool supporting demolition? Northwest Siders: Get on the phone!

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Coverage of's ad; mea culpas from Big Business Media on Dean

From Juan Rivero, two great links:

This one is some MSNBC coverage of CBS's censorship of's ad critical of Bush's cut-taxes-and-spend budget that creates a massive deficit.

This one is a list of apologies from the Big Business media on trying make Dean unelectable with the ridiculous repeat play of 'the scream' after the Iowa caucus (which was, as it turns out, what any normal political candidate would be trying to be heard over a wild crowd of enthusiastic supporters).