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.