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.