Thursday, December 28, 2006

Beyond the Beltway year-end review

I had a thrill this week: a tag-team year in review Beyond the Beltway show refereed as always by Bruce DuMont. On the liberal end, Chicago Blog King Eric Zorn and myself; on the conservative end, Tom Roeser and Chris Varones. The first hour aired Christmas Eve and the second hour will air New Year's Eve, both on WYCC and on WLS.

So if you are not (a) watching the Bears take down the Pack or (b) celebrating New Year's Eve, then by all means, watch Zorn and I take on Roeser and Varones with DuMont calling all fouls!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Paul Froehlich identified justice as the core principle of the Illinois Republican Party

State Representative Paul Froehlich has written his vision of an Illinois Republican Party that competes for the affection and identification of racial minorities in the Tribune here. It's a thoughtful and insightful analysis that explains one of the reasons why the Democratic Party is the governing majority in Illinois and increasingly, in the nation: the Republican Party is perceived to be largely indifferent to the concerns of most racial minorities.

Representative Froehlich lays it out, identifying President Nixon's racist "southern strategy" (only formally revoked by GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman last year) as the reason for the hostility to Republicans by minorities, as well as:

Blunt crusades against illegal immigrants and affirmative action, which are easily (mis)interpreted as racist.

A blind attachment to the death penalty, despite the high wrongful-conviction rate of minority defendants.

The lack of serious Republican effort (except for Ken Mehlman) to earn support from African-Americans.

Opposition or indifference to issues important to Latinos and African-Americans, such as rooting out racial profiling and closing the nation's biggest disparity in public education funding.


He's correct. He's also sparked a debate on Rich Miller's Capitol Fax site here, where some Republicans seem to argue that the only way to pursue justice for minorities is ..... reduce the size of government. Actually embracing minority issues (such as the criminal justice system injustices or public education funding) is warmed-over liberalism, according to his critics. That's nonsense, but that's one significant wing of the GOP (particularly those from former Confederate states).

It's refreshing to see any white elected official from the suburbs reaching out to embrace justice for racial minorities. While it's healthy for a two-party system to have far-sighted Republicans like Paul Froehlich, the partisan in me hopes not too many GOPers catch on to his way of thinking.....

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Representative Robin Kelly moves on to Alexi's staff

Shocker: Representative Robin Kelly, a progressive south suburbanite legislators who I had thought had a long future in the House, will serve as Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias' Chief of Staff. I wasn't a big Alexi fan during the primary, but this is a fantastic move on his part and shows a lot of aggressive wisdom. Picking top-notch staff is a sign of smart leadership. I'm expecting a lot more progressive legislative energy out of the Treasurer's Office now than I had been before.

Representative Kelly was the force behind establishing a 14-day grace period for voter registration that allowed thousands of Illinois citizens to vote who otherwise would have been disenfranchised (SB 2133 in the 93rd GA with some blog posts here). She will be missed.

The price of oil is going to continue to rise: China is thirsty for more

The Chicago Tribune has a great report (just the first part of three) today detailing how China is now muscling its way into new oil-soaked regions around the world much like the U.S. (with armed forces in 100+ nations around the world, largely to keep our access to oil flowing).

Here's the Econ 101:

Demand for oil goes up -- a lot.
Supply of oil stays the same.
That means the price goes up -- a lot.

So what's a smart country to do?

Invest in transit, particularly transit that runs on electricity. Make your cars more fuel-efficient. Tax oil now so anticipate the price hikes and soften the blow. As John Anderson said in 1980, it's better to tax ourselves and use the revenue for our national interest than to pay the oil shieks billions of our dollars.

Higher oil taxes -- and soon, before the higher oil prices knock us into a recession. Or even worse, before some yahoo oil-patch president starts a Cold War with China over access to oil because we weren't smart enough to tax it domestically and break the habit.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My bold prediction: Senator Barack Obama does not run for president

Since I'm Time's Person of the Year, I figured I had a responsibility to share my thoughts on the most exciting political buzz to run through the capital of Blue America in a long time: the almost-expected presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama.

I've blogged previously here (shortly after Obama took office in the Senate) that I didn't believe he would run for president in 2008, reacting to Chicago Tribune blogger's Eric Zorn's column predicting an Obama run (the first media maven to do so, as I recall). And further back, this was my late-night reaction to Barack's victory speech for his Senate primary. I think Barack Obama is a fantastic legislator and I'm very proud that I was an early supporter. If he does run, I'll enthusiastically support his campaign.

I'm way outside of conventional wisdom, but I'm going out on my limb: Barack Obama will decide over the next two weeks that he does not want to serve as President of the United States.

There's no question that he'd be a fantastic candidate. Progressives like me will stick with him, because he's straight with us. He's never condescending. He's fiercely intelligent and always looking for the best way to buy a better quality of life for most people. But the big deal about this decision-- and it came to me clearly while watching his interview on Leno -- is whether he wants to be the President. It's easy to want to be a candidate for president. He basically already enjoys most of the benefits of a candidate: hundreds of thousands of supporters, national attention to his thoughts and actions and the ability to mobilize dollars and hours for a good cause. Whether he could beat Hilary is a less interesting and relevant question to whether he wants to transform his life inside out in order to do a uniquely better job than other Democratic candidates would do as president.

He and his wife are level-headed enough to live in Chicago after he got a job in Washington. He has always struck me as completely unfazed by the hype. And his best speeches and lines about politics have been ruthlessly pragmatic: the point of all this is to measurably improve the quality of peoples' lives -- nothing else. Fame, glamour, power -- none of that matters. So when I hear Senator Obama talking about needing to have "a unique voice" to justify running for president, I hear an organizer and an advocate who is in politics for the mission of social justice first and foremost making a cool calculation about the expected value of serving as the president. If someone else (another progressive Democrat) can do just a good job as he can do at improving peoples' lives, what's the point of his run?

The obvious unique factor in a President Obama is racial. That's no small thing. But a female President is no small thing either. And a black Senate Majority Leader (his ultimate job, in my opinion, if not Attorney General) is no small thing either.

One of the refreshing things about Barack Obama is how impervious he seems to be from hype. I'm convinced that since he has essentially been bestowed a top-tier candidacy on the strength of his candor, intelligence, charm and hard work, he'll now decide quite independently of the allure of fame or power whether he believes that he can best pursue justice as a presidential candidate. His ability to be a competitive candidate -- which is more than enough for most politicians to make the leap -- is only a threshold question. Now that the ability has been thrust upon him, he's been forced, really, to confront the question whether he can do the most good as President. And I believe he'll calculate that others can do that job (and weather the enormous personal sacrifices) just as well as he could (if not quite as candidly and without the historic racial breakthrough that he would bring).

Barack Obama's ability to improve the lives of regular people around the globe is growing every year at an astonishing pace. I believe he doesn't need a presidential campaign -- or to serve as President -- to grow his power for social progress. Like Al Gore or Bill Clinton or Bono, Barack Obama can mobilize millions for smart, progressive causes and for the political civility that permits a consensus on good policy to emerge. And I'm predicting he'll make a similar calculation.

UPDATE: I realize that almost all news accounts have described the Obama campaign as essentially existing and the decision period as a formality. I just can't shake this hunch that news accounts are getting way ahead of Senator Obama's internal decision-making process as to whether he wants to serve as the President.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The House should require a new election in Florida -- stand firm for democracy

There are 600,000 people in each congressional district. Maybe 300,000 eligible voters in an average district, and with an average of 50% turnout, there are 150,000 votes in an average congressional race.

In a tight congressional election a month ago, the Democratic candidate lost by less than 400 votes -- but 18,000 votes just ... disappeared.

They use paperless touchscreen voting machines in that part of Florida, and there is absolutely no way to find out why 18,000 people who voted in the election (around 1 out of every 10 voters) didn't cast a vote in the congressional election.

The House can choose not to seat a new member (in this case, the Republican candidate) because the election was so broken.

Speaker Pelosi and the newly-empowered Democrats should stand up for democracy and refuse to certify a broken election. They should require a revote to make sure every vote is counted. is sponsoring a petition that you can sign here to Speaker Pelosi, but I'd suggest you also call your Representative and ask him/her not to certify the broken election in Florida and stand up for democracy.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The humble nominating petition for candidates is the base of all Illinois elected officials' power

We're in the midst of petition season for municipal candidates and I'm reminded by the power of the humble petition.

The most powerful political organizations in the state are based off of one simple premise: asking a citizen to act. We, as candidates, campaigns, consultants or organizations, are based off of a request: please sign a petition, or please publicly signify your endorsement and ultimately, please take 5 minutes and in secret, cast a vote for us.

Every candidate relies on thousands of citizens choosing to affix their signature to a nominating petition -- and the more effective organizations demonstrate their political strength by showing how many citizens they have successfully asked to sign a nominating petition.

And the barrier to entry is tiny. Anyone can circulate a petition. Anyone can take the time to ask strangers (or neighbors or friends) to sign a petition. But only some are willing to work.

I'm reminded of my favorite part of the Tribune article on "The House that Rahm built" when Rahm Emanuel is ranting about some conservative Democratic House members that apparently did not take to his aggressive style and he said: "They hate me too, because I'm arrogant and pushy with them. ... Because they've never, ever WORKED! NOBODY! NONE OF 'EM!" -- that made me laugh out loud. Successful political organizations -- especially in Chicago -- work hard at gathering petitions -- thousands of names from one ward -- and that's something to appreciate from a civic perspective, not to denigrate. A precinct captain from the 13th Ward was telling me about his election day ritual: he plants tiny American flags in the yards of every resident in his precinct to remind the people to vote. Isn't that great? We need more of that.

Anyway, these stacks of petitions that operatives around the state are currently poring over and binding together are a nice reminder that in our nation, the people ultimately rule, and even the most powerful among us ultimately rely on a humble petition.