Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vote for my video on transit with US PIRG ("I love traffic")

I co-wrote a video with my friend Andy Cobb (who directed and edited the entire thing) calling on Congress to fund transit in order to lessen traffic. We tried to make it funny by having the protagonist love traffic and call on Congress *not* to fund public transportation that sucks the lifeblood right of traffic.

We submitted the video to US PIRG's contest and we made it as one of the three finalists. Anyone can vote for the winner among the three finalists, so please check out the three videos and vote for "I love traffic").

It's timely, because while it isn't widely known, the nation's entire transportation infrastructure system is essentially broken. We rely on the gas tax to fund the Interstate Highway System and public transportation systems around the nation. Well, people are driving less so they are buying less gas which means the gas tax is not bringing in nearly as much money as it used to. That means we can't afford to keep the transportation system we have today in good shape, much less expand it (and we need to dramatically expand trains and buses to get us away from high gas prices). So things will be changing in Washington next year. Even President Bush's Secretary of Transportation agrees that transportation is broken (check out her blog).

It's fun to check out the video (and I do hope you vote for mine), but joining up with US PIRG as well as one of my clients, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, will help to build political support to make sure Congress and the new President fund more trains and buses that save us money by using less gas instead of more highways that make us poorer by using much more expensive gasoline to get people around. 

I love traffic! Don't fund public transportation!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Why isn't Obama's replacement going to be elected instead of selected?

Assuming that Senator Barack Obama is elected our next President, then someone will have to decide who will be Illinois' junior U.S. Senator for the next two years.

Illinois law currently vests the Governor with the exclusive power to appoint a replacement to represent Illinois' 12 million citizens in the United States Senate.

Why don't the people get to decide?

Consider what happened when Speaker Dennis Hastert retired in the middle of his term last year. Instead of one person appointing a Member of the House for the last 9 months or so of the term, we held a special election and Bill Foster won.

Isn't that much better than having an appointment?

And if you think it's impractical, consider that there has never been a Member of the House of Representatives who has ever been appointed. Every single Member of the House, from the first days of the American Republic, has been elected by the people.

I want to be able to pick who my U.S. Senator is going to be for the next two years (if the American people elect Senator Obama as the next President). I don't think the Governor (whoever he or she happens to be) should make that decision for me.

This, by the way, is a question of state law. Other states do hold special elections. If John Kerry has been elected President, Massachusetts would have held a special election to fill out the rest of his term. If John McCain is elected President, Arizona law gives the Governor the power to appoint a replacement, but the appointment must be of the same party as the incumbent Senator. Illinois just gives the Governor unfettered discretion to appoint a replacement. We ought to change our law to hold a special election instead.

Monday, July 21, 2008

If France can improve their constitution, why can't Illinois?

Today the French parliament (by one vote!) agreed to a sweeping series of constitutional improvements.

The list of improvements is here (according to the Associated Press).

One neat one: the parliament will elect a few representatives for French citizens living abroad. The Democratic Party does that now (Democrats Abroad gets a few delegates -- Barack won them by a big margin). I think the Republican Party does it as well. But, of course, the Congress does not represent American citizens living abroad, except that they can vote in at their last American address. 

The French constitution is not as democratic as the United States, and this is a move to democratize the Republic.

So.....if France can improve its constitution, can't Illinois do the same? Vote yes for the constitutional convention.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sales and property taxes are too high -- vote for a constitutional convention

The main reason why property taxes are too high in Illinois and our sales tax in Cook County is too high (the highest in the nation, as a matter of fact) is because our state income tax is too low. And it's too low because of the state constitution. The state constitution stupidly requires a flat rate. That's a mistake that needs to be corrected.

There are only three main sources of taxes for the government: sales, income and property taxes. Because Illinois' constitution requires a flat rate, our rate is the lowest in the nation at only 3%. That's low. That means state and local governments have to rely too heavily on the other two taxes: sales and property.

And that's what people complain about: high property taxes and high sales taxes.

The way to lower those taxes is to bring in more money from an income tax. And the way to do that is to fix the state constitution.

And the way to do that is to vote yes this November on the question whether or not to call a convention of citizens who can put amendments on the 2010 ballot for the electorate to decide whether to approve or not.

This is one in a series of reasons why Illinois citizens should vote yes on the question of calling a constitutional convention this November.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Alliance for the Politics of Fear convenes to oppose improvements in Illinois government

Thanks to Rich Miller (subscribers-only, so if you don't subscribe to Capitol Fax, sign up) for the raw audio of a press conference launched by an Alliance to Protect the Status Quo -- I'm sorry, the Alliance to Protect the Constitution -- that are looking to spend $3 million of business and union money to oppose an opportunity for citizens to elect a group of people to debate potential improvements to Illinois government.

The question is on this ballot this November to call a constitutional convention where amendments could be presented to the electorate for their approval or rejection.

The basic message of the Alliance to Protect the [Current] Constitution is that people should just elect new legislators if they want improvements to the government.

They just don't acknowledge the serious shortcomings with the document, including but not limited to:

1. A mandated flat-rate income tax
2. A lack of any right for kids in poor districts for a quality public education (this is the heart of 'education funding reform' and the only way that kids in poor districts in most states ever got the state to pay for their schools in a substantive way).
3. A redistricting regime among the worst in the world. If one party doesn't dominate government and draw a partisan map, we literally flip a coin to determine which party draws the partisan map.

These three issues alone merit a full discussion and debate in a constitutional convention and thus justify a yes vote this November.

Because on the first two at least, legislative efforts by some excellent legislators (not "those mopes" as one of the members of the Alliance called them) came up short. The amendment process is not working.

There are lots of other shortcomings in our constitution that need attention.

4. A fully partisan judicial branch. Who really thinks it's a good idea for independent judges to have a party label by their name and to get elected in a party primary?
5. A broken property tax assessment system.
6. A constitutional requirement that vacancies in office be filled by appointment instead of special election.

And there are other issues that I think are improvements but others might not

7. Multi-member districts and cumulative voting rights in the Illinois House
8. Way too much authority in the Office of the Governor (at the very heart of the lack of any consensus on the capital bill) to withholding funding for duly appropriated budget items at his or her discretion. If we found a way to institutionally share power in distributing funding (like the 'lockboxes' that Speaker Hastert and President Poshard were floating), then one major hurdle to a capital infusion would be solved, permanently. (Because someday in the future, there will be some other Governor of whatever party that isn't trusted by legislators).

If you want a constitutional amendment to improve Illinois government, then voting yes is the best way to get one.

If you want the status quo, then voting no is the best way to keep it.

It is essentially the politics of fear versus the politics of hope.

And what are they afraid of?

Maybe a power of recall. Maybe a power of a statewide initiative (that's what the Chamber is afraid of). Maybe some nebulous concern about weakening some part of the bill of rights -- which part wasn't ever clarified.

And who would get the power under a recall or statewide initiative? Oh, that's right. We would. The citizens.

And who would we trust not to weaken our own civil liberties? Oh, that's right. Us.

Only the electorate could amend the constitution. The delegates to the convention could suggest amendments. But only the electorate could approve or reject them.

The boogeyman is coming and he is going to have a $3 million campaign behind him to scare you into voting against giving yourself more power over improving your state government. Don't hide under the blankets. Vote yes.

Changing what is possible is our job

"People say politics is the art of the possible, but they are wrong. Politics is
the art of creating the possible. And what is possible is what people
believe is possible."

Isn't that a great quote?

This is the core mission of progressive advocates. We need to shift the sense of what is possible. Elected officials work to implement policies based on what is perceived to be possible. That's their job. Our job as advocates is to shift what is possible.

The way we do that is by relentlessly refining the way we discuss our proposals so they become more common-sense and less exotic or uncomfortable, as well as constantly earning more supporters for the benefits that our proposals will bring.

The quote came from Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a great Chicago-based group (who cited a Boston-area nurse for it). I think the language of the proposal (now most commonly known as "Medicare for All" is getting much better than "single-payer health care"), but I think we should also start talking about health insurance reform instead of health care reform. Our health care is largely pretty good. Our health insurance with for-profit companies making billions and denying care to their customers is really bad. Health insurance should be non-profit. That idea resonates with most people, and it helps us politically to drive a language wedge between doctors, nurses, hospitals, patients on one side and for-profit insurance companies on the other. Of course, just saying the government should cover all health insurance instead of for-profit companies and keep all of health care private as it is now takes most of the sting out of "socialized medicine." Few people really care whether the for-profit insurance companies continue to exist, since most people suspect they add no value to our economy.