Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

How NOT to Come Out of the Political Wilderness

Look, yes, I am a Democrat–a progressive Democrat.  If we had a system that was friendlier to third parties, I might be a Green. But as it is, I am a Democrat.  But I am a U.S. citizen before that. (I am a Christian before anything else.) And, as a U.S. citizen, I want a functioning democracy–which requires at least two functioning political  parties.

So, while the continued self-destruction of the Republican Party is entertaining to watch for the Democratic partisan in me, the loyal citizen worries.  Sure, in the short run, the continued self-destruction of the GOP will help the nation because the main reasons the public elected Democrats in overwhelming majorities for two election cycles are good reasons and those goals will be met with continued large Democratic majorities.  But iron sharpens iron. And if the Democrats have things too easy, they will get lazy and corrupt.  A political party needs a strong well-informed, reasonable opposition.  So, the part of me that is a citizen doesn’t want to see the GOP TOO far into the wilderness for TOO long.

Yet, here they are doing everything wrong if they hope to make a comeback.  The latest goof is this online survey called the 2009 State of the Republican Party Survey.  Yes, when you’ve just lost hugely two cycles running, it is a good idea to poll your membership about what you are doing right and wrong.  But you also need to poll independents–those you hope to win to your cause.  Just polling true believers is not going to be as helpful.

Further, you have to poll with genuine questions.  This survey practices push polling.  Push polling skews the results of a survey by asking loaded questions that manipulate the answer.  The questions insert lies or distortions into the very question.  These are often used as a campaign technique to smear an opponent while disguising what you are doing as a poll. (E.g,, “Would you support Barack  Obama’s complete surrender to Islamist terrorists?” That was an actual phone survey question I was asked last summer.  Of course,  Obama never had any intention to surrender to anyone, but the question makes it seem that he was.)  As a technique for winning elections, the push poll has mixed results.  But as an actual tool for gathering useful information, especially information on the kinds of changes needed to get out of the political wilderness, push polling is completely USELESS.

Consider some of the sillier questions in this survey:

  • A recent poll showed that 25% of Americans want the government to pass more socialism.   Do you agree or disagree?   First of all, that RNC poll was itself a push poll.  No  genuinely socialist policies have been proposed, never mind passed.  There is exactly ONE socialist in Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and ZERO in the White House.  Nearly everyone who answers this poll is going to disagree with “passing more socialism,” but this doesn’t tell anyone anything useful about what real policies they would or would not support.  Instead, the GOP who keep falsely labelling Obama’s policies as “socialist” will use these “results” as evidence of support in their opposition.  So, they’re misleading–not helpful if you are genuinely trying to find out where people think you are going wrong.
  • Do you oppose so-called “card check” legislation, which eliminates secret ballot elections in union drives and puts workers at risk of intimindation of union bosses?  Again, push polling. “Card-check,” the Employee Free Choice Act,  does not eliminate secret ballot elections. It gives workers the CHOICE on whether or not to have an election and, if they choose to have one,  allows them to choose the time and place (rather than management) of the election so that MANAGEMENT cannot intimidate them.  The RNC knows this. They have read the legislation. So, they are not really trying to determine whether the public supports making it easier for unions to organize, whether or not they support the provisions of EFCA. Rather, they are trying to distort those provisions and hope that people will support their  efforts to block EFCA based on misinformation about it.
  • Should Republicans in Congress unite to block new federal government bureacracy and red tape that will crush future economic growth?  Hmm., you mean like the huge federal bureacracy created by the Department of Homeland Security? By the terrible “No Child Left Behind” legislation? By the botched senior drug benefit added to Medicare:?  All of these were screwed up expansions to the bureacracy passed by a GOP Congress at the behest of Pres. Bush.

It goes on like this for pages.   It is full of red meat which may play well for the conservative GOP base.  It may serve to rally the troops.  But it won’t actually tell the  RNC anything useful about the opinions of ordinary Americans.  It won’t help them come out of the political wilderness.

And it is the kind of skewed poll that gives polling and statistics a bad name.

April 8, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 12 Comments

53% of Americans Support Making it Easier to Join Unions

A new independent Gallup poll shows that Americans support the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) by 53%.  That’s a 14 point gap between the supporters and the 39% who oppose EFCA (the rest are undecided).  The  Employee Free Choice Act is a bill that would make forming a union easier.  Currently, if workers want a union they must first sign a petition or cards showing enough support for an election. Then go to management. Management is supposed to schedule  a secret ballot election.  What really happens is that management calls in professional union busters who teach them how to intimidate workers into voting it down–including many tactics which are illegal but unlikely to get the company caught and sanctioned.

UPDATE: I’ve changed the title of this post to reflect the actual wording of the poll as published in USA Today. I have  tried to find out if the Gallup Poll mentioned EFCA by name in its question or if it spelled out something close to EFCA’s provisions, to no avail.  So, the actual poll shows less than I first thought. It shows: 1. Americans are generally in favor of more unions and know that the erosion of unions has led to the weakening of the Middle Class. 2. Americans are aware that the current rules throw many roadblocks in the way of workers’ legal rights to unionize and use collective bargaining for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.

The poll can still be useful to advocates of EFCA in pushing Congress to pass the bill, but Gallup would have helped us more if it had mentioned EFCA by name or given its actual provisions (e.g., “Would you favor giving workers’ the right to skip secret ballot elections if over 50% signed cards in favor of unionization? Or a supermajority of 60%? Would you favor workers rather than management scheduling the elections for unionization? Would you favor more enforcement of labor laws to prevent management from union busting?”).  I suspect that the majority would still be in favor, but someone should poll with these questions to give us actual data.

EFCA would give employees the choice to skip the scheduled election. If the majority just sign the cards, the union is formed. Opponents keep repeating the lie that EFCA would take away the right to secret ballot elections and leave workers open to union intimidation. False.  The right to secret ballot elections is preserved, but the workers get the choice. And, if they choose an election, the workers, not management, get to schedule it.

Congress passed EFCA in 2007 and it was vetoed by then-Pres. Bush.  Pres. Obama has promised to sign it, but several of the Senate Democrats who previously voted for it (Lincoln (D-AR), Pryor (D-AR), Landrieu (D-LA), Bayh (D-IN) ) are now wavering, along with the one GOP Senator who voted for it, Arlen Specter (R-PA).  If any of these are your Senators, you might show them that, once again, the American people are ahead of their elected officials.

More unions will not, of course, help speed up economic  recovery–but it will help us ensure that we create an economy that works for everyone.  Instead of just protecting the white collar folk who shower before work, let’s start standing up for those who  need to shower when they come home from work, too.

UPDATE: The U.S. Chambers of Commerce and several major corporations like Wal-Mart have promised to fight EFCA in the courts if it passes. Let them.  The struggle for a wide middle class will never be easy.  But EFCA will help to level the playing field.  The current Wall Street greed also helps our cause as people see that the rich have been waging class war on us for some time–and then crying “class war” whenever working people organize for justice.

March 17, 2009 Posted by | economic justice | 2 Comments

Why We Should Support the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)

I am returning to posting on religious social criticism and other matters, but I want to ask my U.S. readers to call and email their Representatives and Senators and urge them to support the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) which is scheduled for a vote early in the 111th Congress.  Opponents call this “card check” and it will be a major issue.

Here’s the problem:  Since the 1930s, U.S. law protects the rights of workers to organize and form unions in order to collectively bargain with management and have a say in better pay & benefits, safer working conditions, etc.  But when labor organizers manage to collect enough signatures to call for a vote on forming a union, employers often threaten, fire, discipline and otherwise harass employees into voting it down–something that is especially easy to do during times of high unemployment like now.  There is an entire lucrative consulting business which teaches employers how to union-bust.  Operatives from these consulting firms (Wal-Mart employs them all the time) help your company sit down with employees and “gently persuade” them into voting “no,” including by firing anyone who is openly pro-union.  All of this is VERY illegal, but companies do it anyway because (1) the fines are so low that it is cheaper to pay them than to have to treat employees well by facing a union; (2) the U.S. Labor department has seen its budget shrink under GOP presidents and does not have the employees or resources to catch most violators; (3) if fired employees sue and win big settlements, judges appointed by GOP presidents have been very business-friendly and union-hating, so they often decrease the penalties a jury sets as “overly punitive.” Union-busters count on this.

So, EFCA allows employees to get together (with or without union organizers) and decide they want a union; if a majority sign cards saying they want to form a union, it’s a done deal. The opportunity for employers to intimidate them out of their earlier commitment is gone.  The anti-union propaganda (repeated by many “news” organizations) is that “card check” eliminates the right to secret ballot elections and allows union organizers to intimidate employees, instead. (Project much?) This is false. EFCA allows employees to hold an election for the union or to skip that step–their choice.  And employers have FAR more opportunities for intimidation (and power to intimidate–like firing you!) than do organizers or fellow employees. But, if needed for some GOP votes, I would support an amendment to EFCA saying that a supermajority was needed to skip the election stage, say 60% of employees signing the cards with 50% plus 1 still being the threshold for an election at all.

If EFCA passes, we will see far more unions, especially in the South and Southwest where union-busting is strongest.  Why should this matter? Because strong unions are key to a strong middle class.  Unions brought about the weekend (now very eroded) and the 40 hour week (also eroded). They helped eliminate child labor and brought about safer working conditions for everyone. When unions were strongest (1950s and 1960s), we had fewer hyper-rich in this country, but a far larger middle class–when one income could support a family of four, with health benefits and a pension fund. Families with breadwinners that had only a high school education were able to buy homes and save to send their kids to college.

Not all Republicans have always been anti-organized labor.  Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller had good labor records and Nixon’s was not terrible.  Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA) has a good record on labor and may be a key vote for us to keep EFCA from being filibustered in the U.S. Senate.  But, since the Goldwater/Reagan crew began to dominate the Republican Party, unions have been considered “the enemy” by the GOP as a whole and union-busting is a major thrust of GOP politics. (One of Reagan’s very first acts as U.S. president was to break the air-traffic controllers’ union–thereby making all of us who fly in the U.S. much less safe.)

Strong unions are also important for other dimensions of social justice:  Unions like the United Auto Workers (UAW) were very strong in the Civil Rights Movement (as was the mostly Black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters).  The experience of working and struggling together has been a major force in breaking down racial prejudice among those with less education (where racism is strongest, at least on the level of personal attitudes).  Likewise, many labor unions have been strong supporters of peace movements–with members often having family members in the military who are likely to be put in harm’s way for no good reason.  Organized labor has not been as strong, to date, in working for equality of the sexes or against homophobia–but there are signs this is changing.

So, strong unions are important for their primary purpose of economic justice, but also have important “side effects.”

Therefore, I urge you to support stronger unions in this country by contacting your Congressional Representatives and Senators and urging them to pass EFCA. You can also write letters to your local newspapers and make call-ins to radio shows in support of EFCA, too.

January 10, 2009 Posted by | economic justice | 1 Comment

Are Republicans All Sore Losers?

The question isn’t rhetorical and isn’t meant to be simply partisan, but a disturbing pattern is emerging.  Observe:

2000: U.S. Presidential election.  VP Al Gore has won the popular vote, but things are too close to call in FL and the electoral college will  be decided there in this close election. An early network calls it for Gore, but has to back off because it is clear that Bush is gaining.  Later Fox News calls FL for Bush, but the Associated Press never calls the election for anyone. It became clear that a recount was in order, but Bush sent lawyers to challenge everything and bused in fake “protesters” at the recount to intimidate canvassers, etc. Eventually, he sued in the U.S. Supreme Court to have the count stopped and him declared the winner.

2001: GOP controlled Congress passes the “Helping America Vote” act which creates touch-screen computer voting machines with NO PAPER TRAIL for recounts; machines which computer experts show can be easily hacked to give a different result than the actual voting.  Only after many mistrials with these machines in 2002 and 2004, do most states insist on paper trails.

2004:  Another close Presidential race that will all come down to one state, this time OH.  There were many shenanigans including removing voting machines in poorer neighborhoods, running out of ballots, closing polls early, always in Democratic districts.  Rather than go through a repeat of 2000, however, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) simply concedes defeat, although it is not clear who really won OH.

2004 b: In the Washington state Gov.’s race, there is a virtual tie between Christine Gregoire (D) and Dennis Rossi (R).  After both a machine and hand recount, Gregoire is declared narrowly to be the winner. Rossi sues in local court and then appeals to the WA state Supreme Court to try to get this reversed.  Gregoire is only seated as Governor after several months. (Rossi immediately planned a comeback in ’08, but Gregoire won more decisively then–although still narrowly, it was outside the need for a recount.)

2008: When it becomes clear that Sen. Barack Obama(D-IL) is likely to beat Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) decisively for the presidency, Republicans claim that the community organization ACORN is “stealing the election” by means of a voter registration fraud. (ACORN registered over 1 million voters, but Obama won by 9.2 million votes.) They attempt to interfere in the elections of several swing states.

2008b: Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), who won his seat in 2002 by beating a dead man (barely), the late liberal champion Paul Wellstone (D-MN), is in a statistical tie with challenger Al Franken (D-MN)–which will automatically trigger a recount according to MN law. Coleman calls on Franken to concede and declares himself the winner.  After 2 recounts, Franken is ahead by 225 votes. Coleman sues and the result is Franken is declared the winner by 312 votes. Coleman plans to appeal.

2009: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was nominated by Pres. Obama to become Secretary of State.  Gov. Patterson (D-NY) appointed Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY-20) to fulfill her term until a special election is held in 2010. So, a special election must be held to replace Rep. Gillibrand.  Even though the NY 20th is a very Republican-leaning district and State Sen. Jim Tedisco (R-NY), the GOP nominee, is the NY Sen. Minority Leader who starts out the race with a 21 point advantage, we once again have a virtual tie.  Everything will be decided by absentee ballots.  With Murphy (D) ahead by 178 votes and the only remaining votes left coming from areas that lean more Democratic, Tedisco yesterday ran to court and asked to have the ballot counting stopped and himself declared the winner–even though he is 178 votes behind! UPDATE: NY state has no recount law.  After the absentee ballots were in, the machine and paper ballots were counted thoroughly.  Final result: Patrick Murphy(D)  is ahead of Jim Tedisco (R) by 273 points.  All that’s left are the 1,300 challenged ballots (most challenged by Tedisco) and most in counties that favored Murphy.  So, it is mathematically impossible  for Tedisco to win. He lost in a close race despite the fact that NY 20 has 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats and Tedisco began with better name recognition and a 21 pt. lead and RNC Chair Michael Steele put his rep. on the line saying that a Tedisco win would be proof that Republicans are making a comeback and Obama and the Dems are on the way out.  But still, here’s Tedisco insisting that the court declare him the winner while  he’s 273 points behind!

See the pattern? If you beat Republicans decisively like Obama did, you must have stolen the election.  If it is close, Republicans rush to the courts (seeking conservative, Republican judges) to have the will of the people overturned or to have ballot counting stopped so that the will of the people is not known.  (Karl Rove was the master of this use of the courts. Long before he helped G.W. Bush get “elected” in 2000, he prevented a Democrat in a close election in court for 11 months [!] before a conservative judge ruled for a Republican that was nearly 500 votes behind!) That’s not to mention the standard Republican tactic of voter suppression, gerrymandered districts, purging voter rolls (Oh, your name is only similar to a convicted felon? So sorry. Maybe you can vote next time!), robocalls giving false information about where to turn out, etc.

So, if the Republican wins, that’s democracy. If the Democrat wins, there must have been a mistake or a crime, so we must use whatever means necessary to overturn the results because Republicans are the natural rulers and must not be thwarted by the inconvenience of more people voting for their opponents?

Please, tell me these are flukes and not a pattern of absolute Republican subversion of American democracy!  In the words of Rachel Maddow, “I need a talking down.”

April 17, 2009 Posted by | democracy, elections, U.S. politics | 5 Comments

MN Senate Update: Franken Wins; Coleman to Appeal

Alright, for those outside the USA (and those who do not follow politics closely), here is the situation.  In the U.S., each state is supposed to have two senators. (A third of the U.S. Senate is elected every 6 years. It is expected to have less turnover than the House of Representatives, all 435 of whom must be reelected every two years.) But MN currently only has one senator, Amy Klobuchar.  Why?  Because last November, the election was too close to call. A third party candidate won just enough votes to make the contest between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) (a former liberal, anti-Vietnam War protester who switched to the Republican Party out of sheer opportunism when they were winning–and still narrowly beat a dead man (the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) to win his senate seat in ’02!) and former comedian turned author and political commentator Al Franken (D-MN) into a virtual  tie.  On election night, Coleman was ahead by a little over 200 votes–so close that  it triggered an automatic recount under MN state  law, although Coleman called on Franken to concede for the sake of MN anyway.

An automatic machine recount narrowed Coleman’s lead even more and triggered a statewide hand recount.  This was scheduled for December.  It was overseen by a canvassing board equally composed of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents and done in full view under camera.  When all was finished in January,  Franken had taken the lead by 225 votes.  Then Norm Coleman sued Al Franken, claiming that many legally cast ballots were not counted.

The trial, conducted by a MN Election Court,  a 3-judge panel created by the MN Supreme Court,  lasted 7 weeks. Six of those weeks consisted of Coleman’s case which was, according to legal experts, ridiculous and constantly destroyed by the crack legal team assembled by Al Franken. (Franken had expected the election to be close and his campaign prepared for a recount and legal challenges, hiring the best election law lawyers in the state.) Franken’s team took only a week for a rebuttal.  Yesterday, the Election Court rendered its verdict. It agreed with Coleman that some ballots previously rejected should be counted:  the result was that Franken picked up more votes than Coleman and won with 312 votes.  The court rejected Coleman’s appeal to set aside state law and use more lenient standards to count more rejected absentee ballots.  The court said that Franken is entitled to have his election certified, but stopped short of ordering Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) to issue one.  The certificate is held up because Coleman has 10 days to file an appeal, and has said he would.

He is appealing to the MN Supreme Court on equal protection grounds.  Legal blogger Rick Hasen gives several reasons why it is unlikely that any appeal by Coleman will succeed.  However, Coleman can keep Franken from being seated while he continues to appeal.  (However, MN has a sore loser law.  Since Coleman sued Franken after the recount and lost, he has to pay all of Franken’s court costs and lawyer’s fees, plus his own.  So, he’s going to have to raise funds for any further appeals.)

Further wrinkles:  MN’s Supreme Court has 7 judges, the majority of whom are Republicans (but who have shown little patience with Coleman’s tactics during the recount).  2 of them were involved in the hand recount, so they have recused themselves.  A 3rd judge has been a donor to Coleman’s campaign and is being pressured to recuse himself!  That would leave 4 judges:  a potential tie!

Why is Coleman appealing when he has little chance of winning and the absence of full representation in the Senate is hurting MN?  Because Franken would be a 59th Democratic Senator,  meaning that Democrats would  need only 1 Republican vote in the U.S. Senate to break any attempted Republican filibuster.  So, the national Republican party is funding Coleman’s appeals in order to keep Franken from his seat.  But Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who is in charge of electing as many Republican senators as possible (he is chair of the National Republican Senate Committee), is spending huge sums on this one seat that he won’t have available for other GOP candidates in the 2010 mid-term elections.  Pressure is coming on Coleman to give up and on Gov. Pawlenty to issue Al Franken’s election certificate, even if Coleman decides to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Pawlenty has presidential hopes, but if he continues to drag this out, he could lose reelection as MN Governor.  As it is, if there was a new election today (which MN law does not allow and which the state cannot afford during this recession), Coleman would lose by an even larger margin.  Many of those who voted for him are now angry at Coleman’s refusal to bow to the inevitable and admit that he lost.

Is this any way to run a democracy?

UPDATE:  Public Policy Polling shows 63% of MN voters now think that Coleman should concede, while only 37% believe Coleman should appeal the Election Court’s decision.  That’s nearly 2:1 calling on Coleman to quit.  59% believe that Gov. Pawlenty should sign Franken’s election certificate and that Franken should be seated even if appeals continue.  It’s clear: MN voters are tired of this race. Even those who voted for Coleman believe he lost and think he would do better to quit now and challenge Franken again in 6 years.

So, they should put pressure on both Coleman and Pawlenty.  They have waited patiently through recounts and a court case. Now it’s time to protest outside Coleman’s home and the Governor’s office.

April 14, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 3 Comments

Democrats Confuse Me–And I’m a Democrat!

Political junkie that I am, I can’t resist commenting on the soap opera that has become the post-election races and appointments to the U.S. Senate–where my own party, the Democrats, are puzzling me more than the Republicans.

First, the post-election decisions that are finished and now look fairly straightforward, however, drama-filled they seemed at the time.

  • Alaska: It seemed as if Alaskans had defied all the polls (actually, they still did this in patterns that are still difficult to understand) and returned convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) to office, even though he was almost sure to be removed from office by the Senate and, pending appeals, is facing some major jail time.  But the election was too close to call on election night.   When the dust settled about 2 weeks later, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D-AK) was actually the winner.  He will be sworn in next Tuesday when the 111th Congress first convenes. This will mark the first time Alaska has had a Democratic U.S. Senator since January of 1981.
  • Georgia:  This also seems rather straightforward, now.  GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) had narrowly defeated Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) in 2002 by running ads that claimed Cleland was “soft on terrorism” and which morphed Cleland’s face into that of Osama bin Laden–This despite the fact that Chambliss had received numerous deferments from the military draft while Cleland had volunteered and lost 3 limbs in Vietnam! So, finding Chambliss vulnerable, Democrats tried to target him heavily for defeat–but a crowded primary field and a late (July) primary and the failure to recruit some of the strongest Democratic flag bearers led to a run-off in August. The winner, Dale Jim Martin [must proofread better[, was not a strong candidate and did not have enough real time to mount a general election race against Cleland, but, with the aid of a libertarian 3rd party candidate, kept Chambliss from 50% on election night–which, in GA law triggered a run-off.  Run-off elections are notoriously low in turnout and without Obama’s name on the ticket to bring new voters and African-Americans back to the polls (and with the GOP pulling out all the stops), Chambliss won the run-off and kept the Dems from a 60-seat filibuster proof majority.  The confusing thing here is why Democrats were unable to recruit a stronger candidate. Civil Rights hero, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) of Atlanta could have cleared the primary field, giving him a much longer time to campaign statewide. If he had not defeated Chambliss directly on election night and, like Martin, required a run-off, he would have had a much stronger chance of getting African-Americans and first-time voters to return to the polls–but I think he would have beaten Chambliss outright.  He would probably have campaigned for months all over rural GA with Max Cleland by his side.  This was a huge missed opportunity for Dems. I hope they don’t repeat it in ’10 when GA’s Johnny Isakson (R-GA) is up for reelection. He’s also polling in the vulnerable range and GA is slowly turning more Democratic–but the Democratic bench in GA is VERY slim. The only chance they have is for a strong candidate, no real primary challenge, and the ability to campaign strong for months. (It would also help if GA’s conditions improve under the new president!)

Then there’s the election recount that won’t end:

Minnesota: Comedian turned political commentator Al Franken (D-MN) is now leading incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) by 50 votes, and even most conservatives admit that the remaining ballots–absentee ballots which were dismissed in error because of some clerical screw up–probably favor Franken more than Coleman.  /UPDATE: The canvassing board finished its work today and Franken wins by 225! MN law won’t allow certification for 7 days, so Franken can only be “provisionally seated” until then and until Coleman’s legal challenges are met. The GOP is threatening to block this even though there is ample precedent.  Coleman should concede. He lost. Franken needs to start working now to convince the people of MN that he can actually do the job. Both Franken and Coleman ran horrible campaigns (hence this drawn out recount), but the nastiness throughout the recount has been all on Coleman’s side. The real winner has been Sec. of State Mark Ritchie and the people of the canvassing board for a thorough and very transparent recount. Well done, MN./ Coleman’s senate term is officially up today.  The MN canvassing board will probably certify a winner by early next week. But in a race this close, there can be legal challenges and Coleman probably will file them (already has numerous times), even though the MN Supreme Court keeps rejecting his claims.  Also, Coleman is under FBI investigation for several scandals and could soon be indicted. The Republicans in the U.S. Senate say they won’t seat Franken until all the court challenges are down–which could take weeks or even months–time that Democrats could use Franken’s vote.  But here’s the part where my own party puzzles me: Why did the Democratic-Famer-Labor Party (as it is known in MN) choose Franken as its standard bearer in the first place? Democrats knew how vulnerable Coleman was and knew they needed this seat. Franken was NOT the strongest candidate. Minnesotans have essentially said they don’t like either choice (although, in post-election recount strategies Coleman is alienating more in Minnesota and turning the public to Franken).  With nearly ANY of the other DFA candidates, Coleman would have lost decisively on election day and this problem would not exist. So, why did they go with Franken??? (I have nothing against Al Franken. I enjoyed him as a comic.   I like his satirical books on politics. I loved his show on Air America Radio.  But, in general, I think celebrities turned politicians are a bad idea–and Minnesotans had enough of that with pro-wrestler Jesse-the Body-Ventura becoming governor several years ago.)

Then there’s the Senate vacancies caused by the victories of Obama/Biden (both were U.S. Senators) and two of Obama’s picks for his cabinet (Sen. Hillary Clinton(D-NY) as Sec. of State and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) as Sec. of the Interior).  In most states filling an unexpected Senate vacancy is the sole prerogative of the state’s governor, until the next election cycle. I’d like to see a Constitutional amendment so that such vacancies would necessitate a special election to be filled.

  • Illinois:  Through no fault of Obama’s, the IL Gov. is a crook who, already under federal and state investigation for other things (4 of the last 5  oops! that shou ld be 4 of the last 8!–IL governors have done jail time–and coming from both parties!), was caught on tape trying to auction off Obama’s senate seat for money, help with his plans for reelection, a cabinet post, a high-paying job for him or his wife, etc.  He is due to be impeached next week by the IL state legislature and will probably removed from office shortly thereafter by the state senate–while he awaits indictment and trial.  But, meanwhile, the gov. has defied everyone and appointed a replacement anyway–former State Atty. Gen. Roland Burris (D-IL), who has repeatedly failed at running for higher office, but at least has successfully run a statewide election.  But since the selection is tainted by the governor, U.S. Senate Democrats are vowing not to seat Mr. Burris–even though they need his vote and probably don’t have the legal standing to deny Burris his seat. Their only real hope is that they can delay until the governor is removed from office, let his Lt. Gov. rescind Burris’ appointment and appoint someone else before the current appointment is certified.  And, it had better be a strong appointee, because whoever it is will have to stand for election ’10 when Obama’s term was up and Republicans smell blood over this issue–even in heavily Democratic IL.  (Fortunately, the GOP bench in IL is weak, but Mark Kirk will be a strong candidate for them if he runs.) Here my question is: Why did the IL Legislature, which is Democratically controlled,  drag its feet? If they had acted quickly and impeached Gov. Blagojevich, or had passed legislation that called for a special election (if the Gov. had signed it), a non-tainted person would now be in Obama’s seat and ready to work for the people of IL and run in ’10.
  • Delaware: The least problematic case.  Sen. Joe Biden (now the Vice President-elect) ran for reelection as senator while running for VP–and won both.  He wanted the DE governor to appoint his son, DE’s State Atty. Gen, Beau Biden, to his seat. But Beau is in the Army Reserves as a military attorney and his unit was called up for duty in Iraq. So, the Biden nepotistic desire convinced the Gov. to appoint a “caretaker,” i.e., an unknown who will not try to run in his own right in ’10. In ’10  presumably Beau Biden, back from Iraq, will run for the seat.  But a caretaker leaves this seat open to GOP takeover in ’10. Not greatly vulnerable since Delaware is so very Democratic, but this was still a weak choice, in my opinion. And I don’t like nepotism or legacy appointments and am suspicious of political dynasties–even when they are ones I like such as the Kennedys or Udalls.  Much more nepotism in the Senate and we might as well just call it the House of Lords and be done with it!
  • New York: By Obama naming his former rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) to be Secretary of State, this seat comes open.  Governor David Patterson (D-NY) has said that he will not name a replacement until Sen. Clinton is confirmed as Sec. of State (and she will not resign her seat until then, either). (Unlike parliamentary systems, where cabinet posts are filled by sitting MPs, in the U.S. system one cannot be part of the Executive Branch as a cabinet member and simultaneously part of the Legislative Branch as a Senator or member of the House of Representatives.  We have “separation of powers” of government which is supposed to act as “checks and balances” on any 1 person or branch of government becoming too strong.) N0 one knows whom Gov. Patterson is going to appoint, but rumors persist that Caroline Kennedy (Schlossberg), daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy, is on the top of his shortlist.  Again, if this is true, why? Ms. Kennedy is a great person who is an attorney and does much good with many charities and helped raise money for the beleagured public schools of NYC.  But she has never held elected office, nor even run for one. If appointed, she will have to run in a special election in ’10 and, since Clinton’s term is up in ’12, again in ’12.  Senate races are expensive and difficult. The Kennedy name will enable her to raise money, but can she run and keep this seat back-to-back?  Wouldn’t Gov. Patterson be better off appointing someone like Rep. Carol Moloney (D-NY) or Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) to the seat– and backing Ms. Kennedy for their vacated House seats in a special election?
  • Colorado:  It looked like this one was going to be less drama–until today.  Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), a former environmental lawyer, was Obama’s pick for Secretary of the Interior. (Not a bad choice, though not the favorite of environmentalists for that job. I was pulling for Rep. Raul Grijalva of AZ, an amazing progressive on both the environment and immigration issues–both of which are covered by the Sec. of Interior job.) Gov. Ritter was looking over several highly qualified and well-known CO Democrats–all of whom had good chances of keeping the seat. I was excited that it seemed like Rep. Polly Baca (D-CA) was moving to the head of the list since she’s more progressive than Salazar, but would harness the rural areas and the Latino population behind her.  But, I was not unhappy with the idea of popular Denver Mayor Hickenlooper (D-CO), either. Instead, in a surprise move, Gov. Ritter has appointed today, Michael Bennet (D-CO), the current Superintendent of Denver’s Public Schools–someone virtually unknown to most of Colorado!  Bennet can do a good job: He was chief of staff for Hickenlooper and formerly he worked in the U.S. Dept. of Justice and, briefly for then-OH Gov. Celeste.  He was on Obama’s short list for Secretary of Education.  But he has never held or even run for elected office.  How will he simultaneously learn the ropes of being a U.S. Senator and begin to introduce himself to enough Coloradoans to seek election on his own terms in 2010?

Now, it could be that Democrats keep all 5 of these seats: MN, CO, IL, NY, and DE.  Democrats are currently stronger in each of these states (as well as nationally) than the GOP.  But these puzzling choices by Democratic leaders have made sure that there will be more excitement around these seats than there should have been.  If the GOP has huge recruiting luck and things do not go well for the Obama team in ’09 (the economy will get worse before it gets better, even if he does everything right), then they could make significant Senate gains–in a year that would otherwise be ripe for continued Democratic gains in the Senate. (It is 2012 when Democrats will have to play defense in Senate races–as a result of previous successes. Far more Democratic seats are up for reelection in ’12 than Republican.)

Like I said, Democrats confuse me–and I’m one of them. Sigh.

January 3, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 6 Comments