Archive (2007)

The 29th: Priority Defense

The House Government Reform committee held hearings today on a presentation given to GSA managers about the 2008 election. Because it was about partisan politics and contained phrases like "target list", it may have been a violation of the Hatch Act, which bars certain forms of partisan activity by government employees. Reader Anne writes to point out that the presentation [pdf] puts the 29th in the category of "priority defense" for 2008 (see page 28).

That's not a surprise, but the video of the head of the GSA being grilled is a classic. See her invoke the Sgt. Schultz defense after the break:

Oversight in the 29th

This morning's Democrat and Chronicle carries a story about the Federal Rail Administration's (FRA) inspection of CSX. In the aftermath of a catastrophic derailment in East Rochester in January, the FRA's investigation found 3,518 problems at CSX, of which almost 200 might lead to civil penalties. Randy Kuhl has been on top of his issue, requesting FRA inspection of track in the 29th.

Over the past week, the D&C has also carried stories about the water quality in the town of Victor. For 17 years, the town has been aware that toxic solvents may be contaminating homeowners' wells. The most recent story in the D&C quoted Randy Kuhl asking for an EPA inspection.

On the face of it, Kuhl has been reacting vigorously to two cases where more government involvement is needed. On a deeper level, these cases raise serious questions about Executive incompetence and Congressional oversight.

The CSX case is most clear-cut. Apparently it takes a train falling off of a railroad overpass onto a busy street to gain the attention of the FRA. Once the FRA awoke from its bureaucratic slumber, it found thousands of violations. If CSX is violating that many regulations, shouldn't the normal FRA oversight process find some of them? Do lives have to be endangered to get the attention of the FRA?

Randy Kuhl has said that he'll also be following up with increased Congressional oversight. That's good, because an agency that missed over 3,000 violations hasn't been under strict oversight for some time. As a member of the House Transportation Committee, Kuhl should be taking the lead in fixing the problem, and he should keep the 29th informed about how the committee will ensure that the FRA will be proactive in watching CSX.

In the case of the polluted Victor wells, it appears that New York State has primary jurisdiction, but it's still worth asking why it takes 17 years for the government to even acknowledge publicly that there's a problem. Shouldn't the EPA have had some previous oversight function here?

Both of these cases raise issues that cross the boundaries between Liberal and Conservative, or Republican and Democrat. Regardless of ideology or party affiliation, most voters believe that government has a legitimate role overseeing the safety of our transportation and drinking water. When watchdog agencies fail, Congressional oversight becomes an issue that can unite voters. It's not an abstract or "just politics" when trains start falling off overpasses.

Technical Difficulties Fixed

Sorry about the downtime yesterday. Everything should be fixed and I'll resume posting soon.

Christmas in March

Randy Kuhl voted against the Iraq funding bill this afternoon, to the surprise of nobody.

Kuhl's issued a couple of fire-and-brimstone press releases in support of his position on the bill. The first calls the Democrats' strategy a "slow bleed". The second notes that the bill contains a change to the way that agricultural disaster payments are alloted that might hurt New York apple farmers. Kuhl offered an amendment to the bill to address this issue. It was rejected by the Rules Committee, chaired by his neighbor, Louise Slaughter.

Kuhl asks, with justification, how a war funding bill ended up with a bunch of unrelated amendments. The answer is that the division in the Democratic party ranks required $20 billion of enticements to get some members to sign on. Kuhl calls this a "veritable Christmas Tree" for the Democrats.

National Analysis

Stuart Rothenberg's Political Report features a story about the 29th in today's print edition. Rothenberg has posted a teaser for those of us, like me, who are too cheap to pay $197 for a one year subscription.

Larry Sabato's, another national pundit, has posted his redistricting predictions in his latest column. If population trends continue, Sabato predicts that New York will lose 6 districts by 2030.

Kuhl Will Vote No

Randy Kuhl, along with the rest of the Republicans in the New York delegation, will vote against legislation which attaches limits to the funding of the war in Iraq. According to today's New York Times, the vote will occur tomorrow, and some anti-war Democrats and conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats will probably vote against the measure. Tuesday's Washington Post has a good article on the pet projects that were inserted into the bill to get votes.

USS Jason Dunham

The top of the front page in today's Democrat and Chronicle carries the story of the USS Jason Dunham, the ship that will be named after the Medal of Honor winner from Scio. Randy Kuhl's office also has a press release on the naming. Kuhl previously sponsored a bill to name the Scio post office after the 22 year-old Marine, who was awarded the nation's top military honor posthumously.

Massa Podcast Outtakes

Due to technical difficulties, we had to re-start yesterday's podcast in the middle. In the first round of questions, Massa made a couple of interesting points that didn't make it to the air:

  • In my first take at the gerrymandering question, I noted that the 29th was a Republican district. Massa pointed out that a Democrat, Stan Lundine, had represented the area back in the 80's, and that he felt that voters in the 29th were able to vote for policy, not party.
  • I asked a follow-up on fundraising, noting that Massa had received little help from Rahm Emanuel and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, when other races (like Tammy Duckworth's in IL-6) had gotten a lot of money from the national party. Massa made a couple of points in response. First, he said that he never "pounded the table" for support. He acknowledged that it "would have been nice" to get more support, and that he did get some support from the DCCC towards the end of the race. Looking forward, he noted that the 2006 race was on Congressional Quarterly's list of the 15 closest races, and that he hoped that national recognition from publications like CQ will help "capture the imagination" of DC politicians.

The Albany Project Podcast

Thanks to the hard work of Phil over at The Albany Project, who navigated us through some technical difficulties, the podcast featuring Phil, Eric Massa and me made it on the air. You can hear an archived copy here (mp3).

Massa on The Albany Project

I haven't heard final confirmation, but I think I'll be one of the Rochester-area bloggers asking Eric Massa questions on tonight's TAP Radio podcast. Tune in at 7:30 6:30 to find out.

Update:Note the time change.

More Town Hall Meetings

Randy Kuhl had more town hall meetings yesterday. Some bloggers from Rochesterturning attended the Mendon meeting and filed reports.

It sounds like this meeting was a little calmer than the Henrietta meeting two weeks ago.

Update: News 10, the Syracuse Time-Warner channel, has coverage of Kuhl's meeting in Painted Post.

Framing the Labor Issue

Reader Rich sent a very interesting link the other day: a poll [pdf] conducted by Randy Kuhl's pollsters, McLaughlin and Associates. M&A asked a sample of likely voters whether union elections should be private ballots. By an 87% to 9% margin, those polled said that the elections should be private.

M&A also asked whether voters would be more or less likely to support a Member of Congress who voted for legislation that took away the right to have a private union ballot. By a 70% to 8% margin, those polled said that they would be less likely to support someone who voted for such a measure. (16% said it would make no difference.)

This poll is worth a closer look, because it's a good example of how a sophisticated political strategy group frames an issue.

Though M&A is a Republican polling firm, their methodology looks solid. They used a random sample that included members of both parties. Union supporters would probably consider the poll biased, because it doesn't ask about issues of wage growth or other claimed benefits of unions. But, unless M&A is concealing something (which I doubt), I don't see how anyone can read it without concluding that people don't like electing unions without secret ballots.

Partisans on both sides often argue over the framing of an issue, especially since frames usually include distortions. One common distortion is to concentrate on a small, subsidiary point from a large piece of legislation. In this case, H R 800 is a short bill, and certifying a union without a secret ballot is the most important change in the bill: there's no cherrypicking here. Another common frame is to use polarizing, oversimplifying language (e.g., "cut and run"). Again, that's not in evidence here.

In this case, I think that the Republican's frame fits. This issue is a loser, and that Democrats should prepare to be attacked over it.