Sunday, December 27, 2009

Julie Hamos over Dan Seals and Elliot Richardson for Congress in Illinois' 10th District Democratic primary

Democratic voters from Wisconsin to Wilmette have their first good opportunity in at least a decade to elect a Member of Congress. The dying breed of moderate Republicans in the John Porter mold have represented the north suburban district for two decades (until a few months ago when the current Member of Congress, Mark Kirk, tranformed from a fairly moderate Republican to a hard-right nutjob in order to appeal to those hard-right Downstaters who are still voting in Repulican primaries to get nominated statewide for his U.S. Senate campaign).

That means the seat will be open in November. And that brings us to the February 2, 2010 primary.

In some ways, the frontrunner is Dan Seals, the third-times-the-charm candidate who narrowly lost in 2006 and 2008 to Mark Kirk. After his well-funded campaign, anyone who watched Oprah anytime in October in 2008 knows the name of Dan Seals. As do all of the precinct committeemen and women of the 10th District, and those relationships are paying off for the Seals campaign with some township endorsements. He's an intelligent person and clearly perserverant.

Elliot Richardson is an attorney who launched his own firm. He is also an intelligent person.

But the most qualified candidate with the best skill set to have an impact in Congress if elected is Representative Julie Hamos, one of the Illinois General Assembly's absolute best legislators. Julie has served for 10 years in the Illinois House and worked for more than a decade before that a progressive lobbyist in Springfield figuring out how to pass bills. That is not an easy task. And it is not intuitive. It is not like practicing law or running a business. It is a very difficult combination of policy analysis, negotiation, mobilization, interpersonal relationship managment and consensus-building. Julie is already very, very good at it. And that's the job of a legislator: pass good bills.

I'm struck by the similarities between my endorsement of Barack Obama for Senate in 2004 and Julie Hamos for Congress in 2010.

In the Obama Senate primary, Barack was fond of saying "I'm the only candidate that's passed a bill. I'm the only candidate that's passed a budget." Well, Julie is the only candidate that has passed a bill and she's the only candidate that has passed a budget. Barack was also competing against some smart, talented competitors (Dan Hynes, Gery Chico, Blair Hull), just as Dan Seals and Elliot Richardson are no slouches. Julie was one of the very first legislators to endorse Barack in 2004. (In fact, when Barack gave his speech in Daley Plaza in 2003 speaking out against the Iraq War as a dumb idea when it was difficult to stand up against the loud beating of the war drums, there was only one other legislator who also spoke out against the war: Representative Julie Hamos).

And just as there's something fitting about State Senator Barack Obama seeking election as U.S. Senator Barack Obama, there is something fitting about State Representative Julie Hamos seeking election as U.S. Representative Julie Hamos.

Importantly, Julie is also the strongest Democratic candidate in November. The strongest Republican candidate for the seat is State Representative Beth Coulson, and if Beth wins her primary, then Dan Seals' and Elliot Richardson's lack of any legislative experience will be a real liability against Beth. That legislative experience helped then-State Senator Debbie Halvorson beat concrete magnate Marty Ozinga in the far south suburbs in 2008 to get elected to Congress. I would not want that narrative flipped in the 10th district with a Republican candidate with a better skill set than the Democratic nominee, and only Julie Hamos has the experience and qualifications to match up against Beth Coulson.

One township committeeman summed it up: "Dan Seals is a nice guy and a smart man, but he had two chances at this seat and he didn't get it done. Plus he doesn't live in the district." Julie does live in the district (as does Elliot), and in a close race in November, why give the Republicans any opportunity to turn off a few voters because Dan decided not to move into the district (after running for four years)?

The main reason to support Julie is the same reason I supported Barack for Senate: it is very hard to be a good legislator, and very good state legislators are the ones who become very good federal legislators. Both Barack and Julie were very good state legislators. And I predict Julie will become one of our state's best legislators.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"There will be a revolution in primary health care in America." Senator Bernie Sanders (Socialist-Vermont)

One of the many reasons why the Democratic health insurance reform plan is a big improvement to our country is Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Jim Clybourn's efforts to pump $10 - $14 billion into community health care clinics. Health insurance is all well and good, but health care is the name of the game, and the community health care clinics are about the best investment in providing health care there is (on as close to a single-payer model as we can get).

As Senator Sanders put it in this press conference on C-Span: "If this happens, there will be a revolution in primary health care in America."

That's really exciting. Here is a press release by Senator Sanders' office laying out the impact of the money. By the way, Senator Sanders is a socialist. And if he's a socialist, then so am I. Because getting 25 million (!) people served by a doctor and a dentist is what government ought to be doing. 

As always, it's about the money. And putting $14 billion into hiring doctors, nurses and dentists to provide health care to 25 million people -- with no money-grubbing middlemen parasitic insurance companies driving up costs -- is a great investment (especially because we taxpayers will save even more than the $14 billion because all those Americans will be healthier and won't show up at the very expensive emergency rooms over the next few decades). 

This is Big Government. And it is wonderful. Think about all those people who will be healthy because of it. If you ever thought that maybe Big Government is a bad thing, and maybe you ought to vote against people who might be for Big Government, then this is what you are voting to end: hiring doctors, nurses and dentists to make people healthy. 

We've got to elect some more socialists.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The US Senate is a rusty tool to translate what voters want into law - and it shows

If we were starting from scratch and coming up with a way to figure out how to translate American votes into law, would anyone come up the United States Senate and the new rule that lets a minority of the body block anything they don't like?

The idea that the 500,000 people in Wyoming get as much say as the 5 million people in Wisconsin is laughable. If we were starting from scratch, would anyone really propose that as a reasonable way to run our government? What makes the people who live in Wyoming deserving of such incredible affirmative action?

If the US Senate is all about massive affirmative action for favored groups of voters (and it is -- the favored groups of voters happen to be people who live in states with low populations, some of whom are urban like Rhode Island and some are rural like Idaho), then we ought to apply that massive affirmative action to *different* groups of voters. How about racial minorities (4% today)? Or women (17% today)? Or people under 45 (1% today)?

I'm aware, of course, of the political deal cut in Philadelphia in 1787, and at the time, the deal was as progressive as it was revolutionary. And at the time, I would have been an absolute zealot in favor of the new Constitution.

But today, that political deal doesn't make any sense. We used to elect our state legislatures the same way. And in the 1960s, the Supreme Court outlawed the practice (the best decisions of the 20th century, by the way), because anything besides one person, one vote violates our rights to equal representation. Fundamentally. We need to do the same with the United States Senate and, as Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois likes to say (in a different context): "make the will of the people the law of the land."

With the new rule of requiring 60 votes to pass anything -- that's not what happened as recently as the 1960s when we created Medicaid when only 51 votes were required -- the power of these affirmative action voters is multiplied even more. Now, the 33 million or so people who happen to live in California -- the rural people, the urban people, the suburban people who all happen to live in one big state -- only get 2% of the vote in the Senate. And meanwhile, the same number of people who happen to live in the 21 smallest states -- the rural people in Mississippi, the urban people in Rhode Island, the suburban people in Delaware -- get the power to block anything they don't want! It is so ridiculous on its face that I think we tend to lose sight of how bad these rules really are.

The need for political affirmative action in the Senate for people who happen to live in small population states ended long ago. And Americans are suffering from not being able to get what they want and what they voted for -- look at the health care reform bill as a prime example -- as a result of our refusal to modernize our most powerful legislative body.

At the absolute minimum, the 60 vote rule (or better put, the 2% block rule, since roughly 2% of the American population can elect Senators who can veto anything from passing) should be eliminated.

Let the will of the people be the law of the land.

And if you don't like it what the government does? Have another election and change it!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Illinois to protect Americans by keeping detainees at Thomson Prison

This is great news.

Instead of keeping hundreds of prisoners on the tip of the Cuban island on a military base, the Obama Administration will move many of those detainees to an American prison on American soil where we will keep in custody many of the men who wish to do us harm.

And the State of Illinois will be able to sell a brand new prison to a willing buyer (the federal government), injecting hundreds of millions into the state budget when we are flat-out broke (due largely to our low flat-rate income tax, by the way, so the State doesn't share in the bounty when citizens have good financial years).

And the Quad Cities area will get hundreds of jobs to support hundreds of families in a matter of national security.

It's about time Illinois got some federal jobs! We're a donor state (meaning we send more to DC than we get back), and this will help Illinois (and Iowa) get a better return on our tax dollars.

Lots of Republicans (like Mark Kirk) have opposed this great move for our economy. That's too bad, because it assumes that Illinois workers are too incompetent to get the job done.

We are able to take on the toughest challenges and compete against anyone in the world. But that's not the message from Mark Kirk when it comes to protecting Americans from terrorist detainees -- instead, the message is, "we Illinoisians are just not up to the job so we should let the military do it in Cuba or maybe some other state can do it." It's ultimately a pathetic message to send and it's a little sad to hear so many Republicans say that Illinois can't measure up to the do the job because the risk is too great.

I'm glad that President Obama and Governor Pat Quinn -- and most of the Democrats, frankly, who support the move -- believe that Illinois can handle anything. Because they believe in Illinois.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Great quote on how change happens from Elizabeth Warren (Chair of TARP oversight panel)

"Real change doesn't start with the introduction of legislation. Instead, it starts years earlier when a visionary group frames a problem, advances research, and formulates possible solutions -- and then keeps on pushing the issues into the public arena."

That's from Elizabeth Warren, the Chair of the TARP oversight panel. She's absolutely right. Policy development is one of the strongest tools progressives have got at our disposal -- and we don't do nearly enough of it. The only amendment I would offer to Ms. Warren's statement is that an individual can do the job as well as a group -- and a very small group of two or three people can do the job as well as a big, well-funded organization.

She goes on to say:

"Without those years of hard work from Demos, the Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights would never have been conceived, much less made into law."

The organization is Demos, a New York based think tank that I encourage all readers to join. They've got some great ideas and have done the most research on one of my favorite reforms: more inclusive voter registration!

Barack tells the truth on the deficit: largely because of GOP tax cuts, health bill will shrink it, job-creating investments required

There is a false choice between investments in jobs and reducing the deficit. The more we get people working -- through government spending and investments, like the Recovery Act -- the less we spend on unemployment insurance and the more tax revenues coming in from people who are working. The real reason why the deficit is so large is because Republicans cut taxes on rich people (lowering the tax rate on income above $250,000 from 39.6% to 36%), and because income inequality is so stark, rich people make *so much* money, and the federal government didn't get that extra 3.6% of all that income from CEOs and top-level bankers and hedge fund managers and entertainment stars. That tax cut is what has largely caused the deficit we're facing now. So to have Republicans who caused the deficit complain about it now as a reason to avoid job-creation investments is "a sight to see."

Here are clips of his speech yesterday on creating jobs.

And the transcript of this clip:

The fear among economists across the political spectrum that was — was that we were rapidly plummeting towards a second Great Depression. So, in the weeks and months that followed, we undertook a series of difficult steps to prevent that outcome. And we were forced to take those steps largely without the help of an opposition party, which, unfortunately, after having presided over the decision-making that had led to the crisis, decided to hand it over to others to solve.
… Now, there are those who claim we have to choose between paying down our deficits on the one hand, and investing in job creation and economic growth on the other. This is a false choice. Ensuring that economic growth and job creation are strong and sustained is critical to ensuring that we are increasing revenues and decreasing spending on things like unemployment insurance so that our deficits will start coming down.
… So let me just be clear here. Despite what some have claimed, the cost of the Recovery Act is only a very small part of our current budget imbalance. In reality, the deficit had been building dramatically over the previous eight years. We have a structural gap between the money going out and the money coming in. Folks passed tax cuts and expansive entitlement programs without paying for any of it — even as health care costs kept rising, year after year. As a result, the deficit had reached $1.3 trillion when we walked into the White House. And I’d note: These budget-busting tax cuts and spending programs were approved by many of the same people who are now waxing political about fiscal responsibility, while opposing our efforts to reduce deficits by getting health care costs under control. It’s a sight to see.

Finally, if you'd like to see the entire speech, it is here:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Neat idea for campaigns (especially referenda): ask opponents to abstain

Jasmine Beach-Ferrera has an interesting idea for political campaigns' field operation in the Democratic Strategst: instead of only focusing on turning out the vote of those people that have been identified as supporters, send some people to the wavering opponents and ask them to abstain on the question instead of voting against it.

The problem is that most political campaigns give up on persuading people in the last two weeks or so and focus instead on ensuring that supporters actually vote -- just when the people who might change their mind pay the most attention to the issue.

As Beach-Ferrera puts it:

We present swing voters with a falsely dichotomous choice – vote no or yes – and then we abandon efforts to personally communicate with swing voters in the final month of the campaign, the period of time during which they are actually making up their mind.
Proposal: For many swing voters, neither “yes” nor “no” corresponds to their actual beliefs and concerns. Rather than dismissing a voter because she cannot vow to vote no, we should instead stay in conversation with him/her through Election Day. If, by mid-October, it has become apparent that s/he will not vote no, we should begin encouraging her/him to abstain from voting on this one issue. This has the effect of peeling away “yes” voters from the other side and thus reducing the number of “no” votes required to win.
There is ample precedence for abstention as an informed voting choice in parliamentary and legislative contexts; there is also evidence that voters make this choice by default when they do not feel prepared to vote on a particular issue, or sufficiently invested in it. Abstention should be presented to swing voters as an active, informed political choice.

Her proposal is in the context of efforts to pass gay marriage referenda -- or stop anti-gay marriage referenda from passing -- but the tactic is as relevant in any election.

Perhaps a swing voter doesn't want to vote for a tax proposal, but doesn't want to hold back progress in her community. She isn't against libraries or schools or public transportation (or whatever the tax would go to), but she doesn't want to pay a higher sales or property tax. So in a typical campaign field operation, when a volunteer knocks on her door and asks whether she is going to vote for the tax increase, she would answer 'no' and that would be the last she would ever hear from the pro-side. Instead, the people who answered no should be asked to abstain from voting altogether, because that would make it easier to win for the pro side, but it would also give her an opportunity not to be against libraries or parks or whatever the tax would go to, just as she would not be for the tax increase.

Hey, if President Obama can vote present while in the Illinois Senate (and that's a 100% legitimate procedural vote), then why can't a voter cast the same vote in an election on a particular race?

I like this idea quite a bit.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Al Gore: It's time to out-crazy the crazies who keep our country burning oil and coal

This is really funny. And this is another reason why the United States Senate is a crazy institution -- the House elected by the people where every American has equal voting power already passed a bill that would do the right thing on using renewable energy instead of burning so much coal and oil. But the Senate, where every American does not have equal voting power -- far, far from it -- has not passed that bill and very well might not at all. No wonder Al Gore is going to out crazy the crazies who help convince some Senators in empty states to keep us burning coal and oil and not shift to clean and renewable energy.

Out country would be far better off if we got rid of the US Senate. At the very least, we should get rid of the radical rule that it takes 60 votes to pass anything substantive and let a majority of the votes in the Senate pass a bill. (even though a majority of the American people don't get to elect a majority of the Senate).

Anyway, this is a funny thing.

Isn't it common sense that we should tax pollution? That's basically what the House bill would do and that's basically how we stop burning so much oil and coal and shift over to solar and wind power and get more energy-efficient (because it would be cheaper to do that than pay the tax on pollution that comes from the coal and oil).

Want to help? Check out Environment America and join them as a member. They pay for progressive lobbyists in almost every state capital and in DC. Good group.

Break up the big banks and tax speculation for a stronger economy

I like what David Moberg's views on breaking up the too-big-to-fail Godzilla-sized banks that get a blank check from the federal government to cover their losses, but then make record profits and bonuses without delivering the same economic growth and access to capital for small businesses (that actually create jobs) as regular-sized banks do.

His In These Times column is here and the part that resonated the most for me:

Financial industry leaders, in what Johnson calls a “silent coup,” persuaded politicians and regulators from both parties that banks and other institutions were so sophisticated they could assess and manage risk without any oversight. The government deregulated or failed to regulate, letting financial institutions grow so much that they were “too big to fail,” implicitly guaranteeing a federal bailout if they got in trouble, and thus encouraging riskier behavior.
Now ... as the industry fights even modest, common-sense rules, these banks may have become too big to regulate.

I can hear the apologists for the mega-banks make the case that because they hire the smartest mathematicians in the world, they know better than legislators or bureaucrats on how to assess risk, since they develop the most sophisticated models in the world to do just that. Well, I'll never believe that line again for the rest of my life after the meltdown, but I don't want more Godzilla-sized banks in a generation peddling the same line. I'd rather keep the banks at reasonable sizes from now on to prevent another unregulated financial bubble from causing another recession.

Every city ought to have a few major banks that are headquartered in their city. There shouldn't be three or four monster banks sucking up regional banks around the nation that will then inevitably have incredible clout to block common-sense regulation.

Another excellent institutional way to prevent another meltdown is to tax speculation (instead of taxing jobs, like the payroll tax does). This Guadian article by Andrew Clark as well as a New York Times blog piece by Cyrus Sanati lay out bills filed by Congressman John Larson (D-Connecticut) and Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) to tax the bets in the global casino we call the financial markets (that largely caused our recession). 

We had a national transaction tax from 1914 to 1966. I want Congress to bring that tax back and spend that money on things that benefit me -- like paying for teachers or trains or making college free. At the very least, we should follow the title of Representative DeFazio's bill and "Let Wall Street Pay for Wall Street's Bailout' instead of making me pay for Wall Street's bailout. 

The bills are H.R. 1068 and H.R. 3153.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Beyond the Beltway this Sunday (TV and live radio)

I'll be on Beyond the Beltway with Bruce DuMont this Sunday, November 29th on live radio (via WLS 890 am in the Chicago region and around the country on these affiliates) as well as a taped television broadcast on WYCC and Comcast Cable.

I imagine one of the topics will be the Democratic Congress' latest victory to begin debate in the United States Senate, defeating unified Republican opposition to fundamental health insurance reform for the first time in two generations. Thank you voters for electing 60 Democratic Senators (counting the two independents)!

But why do we need 60 votes to reduce the deficit, make Americans healthier and stop hundreds of thousands of medical bankruptcies from happening (when we only need 50 votes to invade other countries or cut taxes for the rich and thereby impoverish the rest of us)? Good question.

When the Democratic Congress passes health insurance reform and President Obama signs it into law in 2010, voters will understand -- probably for a decade or so -- that electing Democrats means they will deliver on improving their lives, and Democrats will do so even when they face fierce and unrelenting Republican opposition (as in health insurance reform). This is far more important to winning elections in the future than trying to appear to be a 'centrist' or 'like a Republican, only pro-choice!' by choosing to fail on delivering on fundamental improvements (like health insurance reform or raising taxes on the wealthy or making education better and more affordable). After all, if the Democrats don't show the major difference between the parties, why bother electing them?

It's a happy coincidence that Democrats do better with voters when they show the fortitude to push through progressive policies while they are in charge of the government. Keep in mind, the people who advise Democrats to go slowly or to compromise with Republicans or to cave on their policies are usually people who really agree with Republican economic policies (that have delivered the largest income inequality in 80 years and the deepest recession in 30).

Democratic policies are better for the economy and better politics in November. Republicans win when we forget that.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A video speech on advocacy, high speed rail, lobbying and citizen participation

I gave a speech to Green Drinks as part of a sustainable transportation discussion last month in Chicago. I talked about high speed rail,, the need to demand that our government budgets reflect our progressive values (show me the money!) and how one person really can make a difference. 

I start at the 8:20 mark or thereabouts. Thanks to Peter Nicholson, President of Foresight Design Initiative for pulling this event together, as well as Rob Sadowsky of the Active Transportation Alliance and Michael Pitula of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization for letting me go on a bit of a rant!

Chicago Green Drinks Panel on Sustainable Transportation from Foresight Design Initiative on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The US has single-payer health care (and a public option): TRICARE by the US military

There are almost 10 million Americans in a world-class single-payer health care system today. It's called Tricare and it is for those in the military, their families and reservists

There is no insurance company involved.

That's the beauty. No parasitic for-profit paper-pushers between a doctor and a patient. High-quality health care to make people better when they get sick.

And it's run by the goverment.

Kind of like....a public option.

I'd like to enroll in Tricare instead of playing the lottery with the claims I submit to my for-profit insurance company (and hope they get paid off). I'd like a public option so I don't have to play games with different for-profit insurance companies and hope that some insurance bureaucrat doesn't get a bonus by denying my claim for seeing a doctor -- especially if I get really sick and need to go to the hospital. I'd much rather just know that I'll be covered, just like the 10 million people know they'll be covered by Tricare.

I came across Tricare -- the US military's single-payer health care network -- through this Kos post referencing this Newsweek article.

Check out the Vision of Tricare:

A world-class health care system that supports the military mission by fostering, protecting, sustaining, and restoring health

Note that it is not: produce high financial returns to our shareholders. It is: make people healthy. That's what the point of health care should be about. Not making money for the parasitic insurance companies.

Either you're on the side of health for people or you're on the side of the insurance companies making money. Which side are you on?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Great high speed rail blog post comparing France to Midwest -- it's all policy choices

For some people who still think that Eruope is better suited for high speed rail than the United States because of higher population densities or flatter terrain or any other reason, check out this long post by The Phony Coney comparing the Cincinnati-Chicago corridor to France's TGV showing that the a Cincinnati-based route in the US is a better fit for high speed rail than wildly-successful France!


High speed rail is a policy choice. And the last few generations of Americans have chosen highways and airports over high speed rail. That has made us poorer, largely because our infrastructure requires us to buy cars and burn oil more than high speed rail would. It's time to reverse those policy choices (join the Midwest High Speed Rail Association to get involved in doing so).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Governor Pat Quinn improves elections starting in 2010 with better voter registration (extends grace period an additional week)

A little more progress in the permanent effort for more responsive government: Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a measure that gives Illinois citizens an additional week to register to vote or update their address before each election.

The bill is HB 267 (now Public Act 96-0441), sponsored by Representative Will Davis and Senator James Meeks. Our government still puts the burden on citizens to register to vote (instead of taking the view that the least that government employees can do is to prepare the list of citizens eligible to vote ahead of time so citizens can vote on election day without a trip to some local government office ahead of time). The regular deadline to register to vote at one's current address is 29 days before the election. Illinois has a grace period (thanks to Treasurer Candidate Robin Kelly's efforts to pass this bill in 2004 with me) where citizens can register to vote or update their address for an additional two weeks after the regular deadline. The only catch is they must do so downtown at the office of the election authority (usually the county clerk). Registering in person at their offices during the grace period (instead of at drivers license facilities or post offices or on the street) minimizes any chance of fraud and gives the election workers more control over the paperwork.

This year, I helped Will Davis with his effort to extend the grace period all the way to election day. Some of the election administrators thought that would have been too much, so Representative Davis compromised with them on a bill to extend the grace period another week up until 7 days before the election, but not all the way to election day. Essentially, they split the difference. With an agreement with the election administators not to oppose the bill (since they decided they were able to process the new registrations and address updates with 7 days to spare), I thought this might become a bill that passed unanimously. After all, the people who run elections had no objection. Who could oppose ending the practice of stopping citizens from voting just on principle? 

Fortunately, the Democrats are running things, and with Democratic Governor Pat Quinn on the 16th floor of the Thompson Center, he signed the bill into law on Friday. Starting in the February 2010 primary, all Illinois citizens will have more of an opportunity to vote in elections because the grace period will be extended until 7 days before the election.

If a Republican were the Governor, this bill would have not have been signed into law this week, and thus there would be thousands of Illinois citizens would not be able to vote in 2010.

Thanks to the Democratic General Assembly (especially Will Davis and James Meeks) and Governor Pat Quinn for making our government more responsive to voters. And, ultimately, thanks to Illinois voters for deciding they would like their government run by people who value democracy more by voting for Democrats. We're making progress.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'll be on BBC's Simon Mayo programme tomorrow at 9:15 am CST defending our President

Tomorrow from 9:15 - 10:00 am CST I'll be explaining to the good listeners of the BBC's Simon Mayo programme that President Barack Obama retains the solid support of a majority of the nation (not to mention the largest number of Democratic senators in decades) and that the months-long process of passing health insurance reform legislation as well as a progressive federal budget and climate change laws to shift to a green economy is a product of our slow legislative calendar.

In the UK, when the Government comes up with its legislative agenda, it is implemented, just like that. There is no separate executive branch. And the process of coming to an agreement happens largely behind closed doors in the UK, where in the US, we have a more wide-open debate with two separately-elected branches of government and a culture of deliberation and delay in DC. That can look a little odd, I'd imagine, to UK eyes that might have thought a Democratic mandate in November of 2008 would surely have translated by August of 2009 to a series of implemented Democratic policies. I think our policy-making process is a bit too rusty for our own good. But that's not any evidence that President Obama has lost the support of the people who elected him. The white-hot excitement and glamor of a new President has faded, and what remains is the regular work of implementing the mandate of November 2008.

Anyway, tune in if you can.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm glad Obama is calling for "health insurance reform" not "health care reform"

Great news.

President Barack Obama is holding a press conference tonight on the topic of "health insurance reform" and not on "health care reform." I just received my email from the White House (or the DNC) with the vastly superior language.

The problem is with our broken health insurance and not with health care. That's why it is so smart for the President to define the terms of the debate and focus on the problem - not allow opponents to confuse swing voters by discussing health care and raise fears of poorer care in the future. Few defend the parasitic health insurance industry and by correctly identifying the source of reform as insurance the opponents of the President will have to defend the insurance industry.

This shift in language is a great sign of progress and cause for more optimism.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Founding Fathers would have loved the European Union (they would have let Canada join the US!)

The Articles of Confederation (the United States' governing document from 1781 until before the Constitution replaced it in 1788) allowed Canada to join the United States at any time it wished, simply by accepting the terms of the Articles of Confederation. Here's the language:

Art. XI Canada acceding to this confederation, and joining in the measures of the united states, shall be admitted into, and entited to all the advantages of this union: but no other colony shall be admitted into the same, unless such admission be agreed to by nine states.

Even better, any other colony could join up if 9 of the 13 states agreed to it. That's pretty flexible! With a 70% vote of the states, any colony could have joined the United States of America.

Can you imagine Mexico and Canada joining with the United States today in a North American Union? Look at our friends in Europe for an example of the power of a new, modern form of government. The European Union has transformed a continent of perpetual war and bitter enemies into one of the world's strongest economies with almost 500 million people.

Building a North American Union would be one of the smartest long-term investments in our economic well-being we can make. Here, we spend billions on patrolling borders and wasting millions of hours for people and cargo to pass through heavily-fortified checkpoints. And for what? To make it more expensive to for all of us to build businesses, create jobs and improve our quality of life throughout North America.

I can already hear conservatives and those afraid of fundamental improvements in our government resurrect our Founding Fathers and our sacred Constitution as weapons to dismiss any discussion of a North American Union or integrating Canada and Mexico into the United States as un-American or fundamentally unconstitutional. It's nice to learn that the original government of the United States of America explicitly embraced the same progressive spirit now seen in the European Union.

You know, the best way to honor our Founding Fathers is to emulate then, not worship them. They spent their political capital fundamentally improving their governments and they weren't afraid to reject altogether the deficient governments they inherited. We ought to be infused with that same bold spirit of government-making to imagine and create modern institutions.

Monday, July 06, 2009

2010 Illinois primary election calendar shortened: candidate petitions in one month

Lisa Madigan already deserves credit for single-handedly achieving a long-held goal of voters and reformers: she has dramatically shortened the 2010 Illinois primary season. Consider that petitions hit the street in one month and almost no one has decided what they are running for yet. Usually a primary campaign season drags on for more than a year. This time, we're looking at a six month sprint to the February 2 primary, all because of Lisa.

Only when Attorney General Madigan decides what she will be running for in late July (or maybe even early August) will the dominoes fall on the most exciting Democratic primary in ten years.

We'll likely have a contested Democratic primary for the US Senate, Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, Treasurer, Cook County Board President as well as open seats from all the legislators who compete for those seats sparking even more contested primaries. This is exciting!

As an election attorney, it's also a good time for me to remind potential candidates to make sure you hire an attorney to draft your petitions and to fully and thoroughly review them before submitting them. I have seen dozens (hundreds?) of well-intentioned, intelligent, decently-funded candidates knocked off the ballot because they chose not to hire an attorney to navigate the treacherous, technicality-filled waters of Illinois ballot access. Candidates, my number is 312.933.4890 and my email is dan (at) . Don't be a statistic!

But for voters, especially the million or so Democratic primary voters, the next seven months will be prime time in setting the direction of the most important Democratic state in the Union (the home of our President). There will never be a better time to get involved in Democratic politics (from the perspective of influencing the direction of the Illinois Democratic party). So pick a candidate and help them out!

Petitions hit the street August 4th for county, state and federal candidates. They are due November 2nd (but most candidates will file on the first day they can, October 26th, to try to get the top spot on the ballot). So they need help now -- or at least, as soon as they know what they are running for.

November 9th is the last day to file objections to those petitions, and thus November and December will be filled with line-by-line challenges to the petitions of those candidates that did not collect far more than the required signatures of registered voters in their district.

The holidays knock out the last two weeks of December, and then we're looking at a final four-week campaign season between New Years Day and February 2, 2010.

The only downside to Lisa's shrinkage of the primary campaign season to less than six months will be a nine-month general election campaign for all the statewide races between the nominees of the major parties (a bit long for my taste). Well, that isn't her fault -- the General Assembly didn't move the primary back from early February. They probably should (on behalf of all the campaign workers freezing outside while walking precincts in January .... how about a May primary?).

After eight years of relative stability, the next two cycles are going to be full of churn (because remember, the 2012 cycle will involve all new districts). This is going to be fun!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mark Kirk tells China not to trust the US government. Seriously.

The Chinese government is largely financing most of our debt, and now that we're trying to spend our way out of a recession (the right economic policy, by the way), we really need to keep China on our side.

Well, Representative Mark Kirk made that a little more difficult. Here is Representative Mark Kirk in his own words on how he told the Chinese not to believe the United States government!

So, this elected official decided to tell the Chinese government -- our number one creditor and a crucial partner in ensuring that we climb out of this recession -- not to believe the US government. Instead they should believe him, I guess. And if he is successful in convincing the Chinese government not to believe the Obama Administration and the United States government, and they then logically decided not to finance the debt of a government that they didn't believe, then we would really be in a heap of trouble economically.

So thanks Representative Kirk! I hope you are unsuccessful in your efforts to scare the Chinese away from investing in the United States.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Europe votes this week. Imagine if we participated as well

People in 27 European nations are voting this week to elect the members of the European Parliament.

This is a triumph of democracy in the history of the world. Only elections in India involve more people.

The people of Europe speaking several different languages and with grandparents who fought and killed each other have found a way to embrace their common interests and form a European government with continental elections. The European Parliament has some information about elections in English worth a read.

Imagine if we could participate in those elections as well to help set a global climate change policy, or a global policy for trade and immigration, or a global policy towards eradicating money laundering and terrorism. We have shared interests with Europe. Climate change and global economic development are two of the biggest, and I would like a chance to vote for the people who will make these global policies.

Consider North America. While Europe is finding a way to knock down barriers to trade and commerce among their nations, we're putting them up with a new rule requiring passports between the US and Canada and Mexico going into effect this year. What a waste! Those long lines at the borders are the definition of economic waste. We should recognize our common interests with Mexico and Canada and figure out how to integrate our governments (like the postal service or immigration or trucking regulations or drug policy or energy development) where it makes sense to do so. Political integration generates economic benefits.

I find European elections inspiring and I hope to help build support for North American elections in the new few decades. We already have a free trade agreement (where disputes are adjudicated by secretive, appointed officials). We should have an elected body to help resolve disputes and develop North American institutions that make life better for everyone.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Gladwell: Relentless effort trumps skill, and underdogs win more than you think

One of the best ways to win against someone who superior skills is with relentless effort.

That's how underdogs win: they take the fight to their opponent in a socially unacceptable way to trump their opponent's superiority.

Malcolm Gladwell has a good feature in the New Yorker on this topic.

Here is a great slice of his story:

David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.”

Some lessons for politics and advocacy: relentless effort for the underdogs is a requirement to win. And when the other side looks strongest, don't play by those rules.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama's 100 days on Milt Rosenberg's WGN show tonight

I'm leaving Springfield early to appear on Milt Rosenberg's Extension 720 show tonight from 9 to 11 pm to discuss President Barack Obama's wildly successful first 100 days.

Who would have thought in 1999 when a state senator from Hyde Park was working here in Springfield under Pate Philip's rule and not really moving much legislation at the time that we would be saying that a decade later? Barack's rise is basically the political feel-good story of the generation.

And his Administration is on track to be transformational (like FDR, LBJ or Reagan).

Another difference between Democrats and Republicans

Yesterday, the Senate Republicans voted to keep government barriers in place from citizens and taxpayers from voting while the Democrats in the Illinois Senate Elections Committee voted to reduce some of those government restrictions from citizens voting in elections.

The place was Room 400 of the Illinois Capitol (the same room where President Barack Obama used to chair the Health and Human Services Committee five years ago). The occasion was the meeting of the Senate Elections Committee yesterday. And the topic of discussion was House Bill 267, a proposal advanced by Senator Meeks to cut in half the 14-day period before each election when the government no longer permits citizens to register to vote at their current address.

The four Republican Senators (Dale Righter, Randy Hultgren, David Luechtefeld and Dan Rutherford) were united in opposition to the very concept that the legislature might limit the amount of time that the government denies citizens the ability to register to vote. That would lead on a very dangerous path, they said, to same-day voter registration. Besides, the idea of a herd of voters just showing up to vote that are presumably uneducated in not good government, they said.

Got that? The government officials are going to judge which of the taxpayers and citizens -- who decide whether they get to keep their job -- are worthy enough to vote.

The Democratic Senators -- James Meeks, Terry Link, Ira Silverstein, Lou Viverito and Maggie Crotty -- were united behind the bill and the belief that there should be as few restrictions as possible put up by the government between the people and the ballot. The bill passed on a party-line vote, and it will likely pass the Senate on a party-line vote.

I should have been happy, since I drafted the bill and testified in favor of it. But I was left with a very sour feeling. Why would the Republican legislators oppose the bill -- when the election administrators who run the elections were good enough to suggest an amendment last month that removed their opposition to the bill? So even though the bill is not an administrative burden on the people who actually conduct elections in Illinois, the Republican Senators still opposed the bill on principle!

I think this is a hint as to why the Republican Party is dying. On the same day that Pennsylvania (a big, northern industrial state like Illinois with big cities and small towns) lost its last Republican Senator and went into all-blue status with Arlen Specter's switch and the day before a popular Democratic President celebrates 100 days in office and the most ambitious progressive federal agenda in 30 and maybe 70 years, this vote in the Illinois Senate Elections Committee showed me that Republicans have a hostility towards regular people getting more power. They have a fundamental streak of elitism. And it's deadly for them.

There are exceptions. Beth Coulson and Sid Mathias, two suburban Cook County Republicans, voted for the bill in the House. But every other Republican voted no and every single Democrat voted yes. I think there might be a Republican Senator or two that votes yes.

But at base, the principle that the government should stop citizens from registering to vote -- not because it might be administratively difficult or because there might be fraud, because the election administrators who run elections agreed not to oppose the bill, but just because on principle it is better for democracy and for government if fewer people vote -- that's one of the principles of the Republican Party.

And as long as the Republican Party believes that we're better off when fewer people vote, we Democrats are going to be running governments for a good long time.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

White House to announce high speed rail plans Thursday....very exciting

This is very exciting news.

President Barack Obama (who essentially single-handedly transformed American rail policy by investing $8 billion of stimulus funding into rail -- 15 times more than what the federal government had ever invested in one year before) is scheduled to announce the federal plan for how that eight billion will be spent tomorrow in the White House.

And my very first lobbying client (since 2004), Rick Harnish of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, is in Washington right now to participate in that announcement.

The Wall Street Journal has a nice article about the state of intercity rail in the nation today (and the reporter spent some time with Rick this week as you can read from his report).

I can't wait to find out what the Obama Administration is going to do.

Finally! A President who gets it! As the Bush-ites were fond of saying: Elections do have consequences....

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Today's special election is a waste; fill vacancies in one election, not two

Today’s special general election between Mike Quigley, Rosanna Pulido and Matt Reichel is a waste of time, money and resources. Taxpayers will shell out almost two million dollars to hold an election in the 5th Congressional district with only three names on the ballot. And the result of the election – the Democratic nominee is going to win – has been a foregone conclusion for a month.

The seat has been vacant since January. Meanwhile, during the debate on the federal stimulus and budget, the 600,000 people of the 5th congressional district have been without a voice in the House. That’s not good, because we have literally lost our seat at the congressional table while federal policy is made. Our election laws should fill a vacancy as quickly as possible to minimize the loss of our political clout.

In this case, the people spoke clearly last month in the primary election: they want a Democrat to represent them in the House.

Look at the numbers from the March 3rd primary: Mike Quigley, Democrat, earned 12,118 votes. Rosanna Pulido, Republican, earned 1,006 while Matt Reichel Green, earned 166. That’s 91% for Quigley, 8% for Pulido and 1% for Reichel. That’s a landslide. So why are we going through the motion of another election today between these three people when Quigley has already earned 91% of the vote last month? Why can’t we give the people what they already voted for?

Illinois should fill a congressional vacancy in one election, not two, particularly when the results are so clear. There are several ways to do it. We could replicate Chicago’s municipal elections where there is a runoff only if no candidate earns a majority of the vote. We could count a vote in the primary election as a straight ticket vote in the general election for whoever the nominee will be. Or we could use Irish-style instant runoff voting where voters rank all the candidates.

But whatever the method, we should absolutely not continue to waste two million dollars and minimize our own clout by waiting a month to finally elect a Representative in a second election when we could get the job done in one day.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Metra should take credit cards -- a Senate bill would require just that

Yesterday Senator Michael Bond (D-Grayslake) and I held a press conference on his legislation that requires Metra to accept credit cards for fare payments.

I represent the Transit Riders' Alliance, a project of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, and we enthusiastically support Senator Bond's bill. Hopefully Metra will just decide to start taking credit cards in the places where it immediately makes sense to do so. If not, we'll keep working to try to pass Senate Bill 577 into law.

There's a new service in the Illinois General Assembly's press room that offers a feed of press conferences. Here's the full, unedited C-SPAN-ish feed of the press conference.

And here is a story in the Daily Herald:

"The problem is fairly simple: they only accept check or cash," [Bond] said. "Metra is the second largest commuter train system in the country and happens to be the only one that doesn't take electronic payment."

Bond says checks are outdated and younger commuters today do not always carry checks or cash because they expect places to take debit or credit. The CTA currently takes credit cards as payment.

Judy Pardonnet, spokeswoman for Metra, said the agency is looking into the change to credit cards and said the procedure will be phased in.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger, representing the Transit Riders' Alliance, said many times people are unaware the trains don't accept credit and debit. "We believe there is some lost revenue from riders who would like to get on the train but because they don't carry a checkbook - and honest to God who does anymore? - and they don't happen to have cash on them, they can't buy," said Johnson-Weinberger.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Poll: Majority of >100K income earners favor a higher tax rate for high incomes

This report is a few months old, but particularly timely.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University conducted a poll last fall
and asked Illinois respondents what revenue-generators they would support. The most popular way for the State to raise more money was a federal-style progressive income tax where higher incomes pay a higher rate than lower incomes. 65.9 percent of respondents favored a progressive income tax.

Interestingly, while 74.2 percent of respondents who make less than $50K annually favored a progressive tax, and 68.9 percent of those who make between $50K and $100K favored the tax, more than half of the people who make more than $100K and would presumably pay the higher rate still favored a higher rate for themselves. 57.5% of the respondents who make more than $100,000 support a higher rate for higher incomes. (See page 26 of Professor Charles Leonard's Public Policy Institute Occasional Paper #12 to read the report yourself.)

Governor Quinn's proposal to raise the state's flat rate income tax rate from 3% to 4.5% combined with the uber-progressive move to triple the amount of tax-free income from $2,000 to $6,000 is as close to setting up a progressive tax as the General Assembly can get, since the Constitution unfortunately mandates a flat rate.

So while it is not only the right thing to do to tax lower income people less than higher income people (why would we possibly tax people who are earning money below the poverty line?), according to the SIU poll, it is also the most popular option on the table -- even among the people who would pay more.

I suspect a progressive income tax is popular because it is the right thing to do.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Media headlines are wrong: Quinn proposes tax cuts for most, tax increase for some

That's what the headlines should be about Governor Quinn's likely budget proposal.

The Governor has confirmed that he wants to cut the income tax for everyone by making the first $6,000 of income tax free. Right now the first $2200 of income is tax free. So the benefit is basically $120 from the 3% tax rate. And with a 4.5% tax rate, the benefit of not taxing an extra $4000 is $180. 

In other words, the Governor proposed an income tax cut of $180 for everyone.

He also wants to raise the income tax rate from 3% to 4.5%. Illinois has the lowest income tax rate of any state in the Union that has an income tax. We're lower than Indiana (at 3.4%). We are lower than every other state that has an income tax. So that is an income tax increase. 

To be clear, he proposed an income tax cut of $180 and then a higher rate of 4.5% instead of 3%. 

That is not a 50% increase.

Most people get a tax cut. (If you make $6,000 a year, you will pay less than you do today. That's a tax cut). A few people get a wash (the $180 tax cut from the personal exemption about equals the higher rate). And some people will pay more because the higher income tax rate will be bigger than the $180 tax cut from the personal exemption. 

So media headline writers! Don't screw this up! Quinn did NOT propose a 50% income tax increase! He proposed a tax cut and a tax increase. Most people will pay less (that's my initial cut of the math -- I may be wrong). Some people will pay more. But most people will NOT face a 50% income tax increase. 

And, since state income taxes are deductible on federal income tax returns, this is a really smart move, because it means that the actual dollars paid in taxes by our wealthiest Illinoisians (a group I hope to join), will not be 50% higher than they were before Quinn's proposal. For every dollar a millionaire pays in state income taxes, she cuts 35 cents off her federal tax bill. So the actual bottom-line increase for even the wealthiest people in Illinois is 65 cents on the dollar for every dollar increase in the state income tax (making the 50% increase even more incorrect).

Friday, January 30, 2009

From Bush-Blagojevich to Obama-Quinn. What an upgrade!

Just think: two weeks ago, the two chief executives for Illinois residents were President George Bush and Governor Rod Blagojevich. Tonight, they are President Barack Obama and Governor Pat Quinn.

That is the biggest upgrade in an eight-day span we've ever seen.

We went from two executives who regularly expanded their powers and authority in defiance of the law to two with humility and an honest commitment to greater democracy.

I'm with Senator Meeks: this is a great day for Illinois.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Barack Obama. Sometimes the good guys win.

The first time it hit me was after his speech in Grant Park when the brassy presidential music started to play. All the pomp and circumstance around the closest thing we have to a King would be placed on the thin shoulders of a guy who was working three jobs to get by a few years ago, a guy who believes all politicians are not judged by their greatness but by whether they improve the lives of ordinary people and a guy who comes from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party but believes in governing with an open door to build a consensus rather than make a point.

This guy -- a guy who was essentially drafted into the race -- will be the President of the United States of America.

These things aren't supposed to happen. The smart guy who stays clean and sides with the weak and the powerless usually doesn't end up in power. It's the shady people who saddle up to the moneyed interests, the operators who shift and pivot wherever the wind is blowing, the sons and daughters of wealth and privilige -- they are the people who end up running things. But not today.

Today, thanks in part to the largest grassroots organization in modern history, one of our own is going to the White House. A President for the people, not the powerful. It's a wonderful day.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Live from Cleveland: Speaking engagement on Amtrak advocacy before All Aboard Ohio

Good morning from Cleveland!

I'll be speaking in a few hours before a meeting of All Aboard Ohio on the topic of Amtrak/transit advocacy, sharing lessons learned from the successful effort in Illinois to double the size of the Amtrak program in 2005-6. I helped to lead that campaign for my client, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

If you won't be able to join us in Cleveland today, here's the bottom line:

1. Develop a reasonable but aggressive legislative ask. This is something that the government can do this year -- not a nebulous vision like "get us better service" or "European-style high speed rail" but instead a specific, actionable request like "increase the Amtrak line item in the budget from $12 million to $24 million in order to double service in the state." The best way to develop this request is in close consultation with legislative champions who are the ultimate test for political viability, since they are the ones who will expend their political capital to implement the request.

2. Focus relentlessly on the decision-makers: elected officials. Everybody else in the world, particularly organizations, are a means to the same end of convincing elected officials to implement the request. Don't fall into the trap of working to convince civic leaders and non-profit organizations and then hoping that somehow that consensus of non-elected officials will transform into a consensus among elected officials. The decision-makers are the prize to keep your eyes upon.

3. Cultivate your legislative champions. It takes at least one legislator to decide to move beyond passive support of an idea towards active support for a bill. Someone has to introduce a bill. That one legislator who is willing to introduce your idea as legislation is the most important legislator in the body, because that legislator is your champion. Finding that champion and convincing him or her that your idea is worth his or her limited political capital is essential.

4. Campaign for a yes as the junior partner. Advocates work for their legislative champions, not the other way around. So take direction from him or her and generate a sense of urgency by mobilizing as many influencers as possible to convince the other legislators to join with your champion in implementing the bill this year. "There's always next year" doesn't apply. Push hard for action this year -- until your champion says no. Then, and only then, do you wait.

I lay this out a bit more in graphic format on the Progressive Public Affairs website. And transit advocacy is the cover story in the latest issue of More Riders Magazine (published by my sister company, More Riders).