Archive (2007)

Two More Massa Endorsements

Eric Massa has been endorsed by the Corning and the Steuben County Democratic Committees. Corning is Massa's home town and one of the largest towns in Steuben.

PR Snowball

Yesterday, the Democrat and Chronicle covered Randy Kuhl's Brighton Meeting. Today, they used that story as a peg for an editorial predicting a change in Kuhl's position come September.

Exile over at Rochesterturning asks an interesting question: Why Kuhl, instead of Jim Walsh (NY-25) or Tom Reynolds (NY-26)? Those other congressmen have records similar to Kuhl's on Iraq, yet they are avoiding the spotlight, while Kuhl is having stories and editorials written about his war stance. The answer is simple: Walsh and Reynolds carefully manage their availability to constituents. Kuhl does not.

Let's take a look at the last story published about Jim Walsh. Walsh is shown addressing a developers' meeting in Syracuse, informing the crowd about different federal funding initiatives. How about Tom Reynolds? The last thing I can find on him is a press release highlighting his appearance with breast cancer surviors at Roswell Park helping to publicize the importance of early screening.

While Walsh and Reynolds are addressing carefully controlled audiences on yawner topics like pork and mammograms, Kuhl is taking questions from gatherings full of angry constituents and anti-war protesters. Since the war -- not development or cancer -- is front-page news, Kuhl's efforts yield negative stories and editorials in the local paper. Walsh and Reynolds dodge the PR bullet by changing the subject and avoiding contact with unmanaged audiences. Kuhl's meeting afford him no such luxury.

Even the most ardent Kuhl opponent must concede that he's putting a lot more effort into meeting constituents than his peers, and he's getting more bad PR because of it.

D&C Covers Brighton Meeting

Randy Kuhl's Brighton town hall meeting was covered in a rare page 1B story in today's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The story focuses almost entirely on opposition to the Iraq war. The paper edition includes an unflattering picture of Kuhl that's missing from the online story.

What's a Republican? Part One: Tax Cuts

In reading comments from Republicans on this and other forums, I've been struck by the party loyalty that remains even when the party isn't true to its professed principles. To examine the limits and consequences of that loyalty, I'm starting a new series - "What's a Republican?". Today's topic is tax cuts.

Republicans believe they own the high ground on taxes. Democrats, they argue, are constantly advocating policies that lead to higher taxes, and they oppose tax cuts because they prefer "big government". This line of attack has been effective in the 29th, most recently in a set of campaign commercials launched immediately before the 2006 election.

Cutting taxes can only go so far: even the most libertarian Republican must come up with a way to pay for roads, schools and the military. So Republicans have to argue that their tax cuts generate more revenue (and hence more taxes) because they stimulate the economy.

Tax cuts are generally targeted against income taxes, which are considered unfair because those with higher incomes pay a disproportionate amount of tax. Cuts are rarely aimed at use taxes, because they're almost universally considered equitable.

Use taxes are levied on users of a particular government service according to the amount of that service used. The textbook case of use tax is the gasoline tax. Those who make more use of roads will buy more gasoline, and the gas tax they pay will help finance their proportion of road construction and repair. It's not perfectly fair, but it's pretty close.

Since almost everyone thinks use taxes are fair, it comes as a bit of a surprise that Randy Kuhl's solution to the problem of high gas prices is to introduce a a bill that will cut gas taxes when the price of gasoline reaches $3,00/gallon. Kuhl's proposal would decrease the federal portion of the gas tax from 18.4 to 8.4 cents per gallon as long as gas costs more than three bucks.

Never mind that Kuhl's proposal won't have an impact, since a dime difference in the cost of gas won't change anyone's driving habits. The real question is how a staunch Republican made the transition from the notion that some tax cuts are good, to the use of tax cuts as the remedy for every social ill.

Before answering that question, let's see how Kuhl plans to pay for his tax cut. Because the gas tax is vital to the maintenance of our deteriorating highways, recouping the shortfall caused by the cut is critical. Since he doesn't want to raise taxes on anything else, Kuhl's press release makes the following claim:

The reduction in the gas tax will not hurt money that is directed to the Highway Trust Fund for valuable highway infrastructure as the lower gas prices will send more people to the pumps and generate similar revenue for the Trust Fund.

In other words, he's saying that the dime reduction in federal gas tax, coupled with a possible (though not mandated) reduction in the state gas tax, will bring so many people to the pumps that the shortfall in tax revenue will be made up in volume of gas purchased. Stop and do the math and you'll realize just how unrealistic this is: since the bill would more than halve the tax, the volume of gas sold would have to more than double to make up the shortfall. Kuhl's faith in tax cuts is so strong that he seriously argues that a dime reduction in gas prices will make people fill up over twice as often as usual.

This bill is the only energy-related bill Kuhl has ever introduced, and it's clearly a PR stunt timed to coincide with the inevitable rise of gas prices over Memorial Day. Even so, I think this bill follows a pattern we've seen quite often from Republicans: real cuts in taxes coupled with fairy tales about how the income will be recouped. This kind of thinking has let us into massive deficits.

My question isn't why most of the public accepts this kind of reasoning, since almost everyone appreciates a lower tax bill. Instead, I wonder how serious, intelligent Republicans can still claim that their party stands for "fiscal responsibility" when reasoning like this has been the best their party has had to offer for almost a decade.

Real Grassroots

Prior to tomorrow's Memorial Day parade in Pittsford, Eric Massa will be at Ted Nixon's house. Nixon is running for the Monroe County Legislature this year. After the parade, Massa will attend two coffee events. Earlier this year, he participated in door-to-door canvassing for Democratic candidates for village board, one of whom won, the first time that's happened in recent memory.

Given his level of involvement in Pittsford Democratic politics, it should come as no surprise that the Pittsford Democrats endorsed Massa on Thursday. Though Pittsford is the home town of David Nachbar, Massa's primary opponent, Nachbar's local committee instead chose to quickly and unanimously endorse someone from the other side of the district. The reasons for this are many. I'd like to touch on a few.

Let's begin with one of the most important: hope. In a district where most Republicans run unopposed, Eric Massa's view that he could win a seat that had been going to Republicans at up to 70-30 margins was an example of pretty audacious hope. Massa's example inspired hope in the party, and he has inspired more than a few candidates in 2007. Good candidates are the backbone of strong parties, and the hope that Massa inspired has been a key factor in the rebirth of a noticeable opposition in the 29th.

Hope begins a grassroots campaign, but a grassroots campaign in a tough district like the 29th is going to have lots of setbacks. Massa's can-do attitude and perpetual optimism has also inspired district Democrats. After losing in 2006, Massa announced that his next priority was electing more Democrats to town and county offices. Besides being smart politics, it was also a signal that he wasn't going to give up, and that he was patient enough to work on party foundations as well as his own campaign.

Massa's presence in Pittsford tomorrow also illustrates an interesting paradox of grassroots politics. The barriers for entry for a grassroots candidate are both extremely low and very high. The low barrier is money: at the beginning of the campaign, a grassroots candidate needs little more than gas money to get him to every committee meeting or party function, shake every hand in the room, talk and listen. The high barrier is time. Meeting everyone in the district, and gaining their trust, takes lots of time. There's no substitute for this level of personal involvement, and so far David Nachbar has shown little indication that' he's ready to do it.

Grassroots campaigns are by definition outsider campaigns. Though Massa works closely with the Wesley Clark wing of the Democratic party, and has also worked on Capital Hill, he is far from the typical "regular party" candidate. If the national Democratic establishment (as embodied in the DCCC) has a candidate in the 29th, it isn't Eric Massa. But, because Democrats in the 29th are relatively weak and disconnected from the national party, this works for Massa. Since the DCCC wasn't there to help the Democrats when the 29th was a 70-30 district, the local Democratic committees will see any interference from them as opportunistic meddling. Though he is careful to keep good relations with the Democratic party and never give voice to his feelings, if any, about the DCCC, Massa's supporters labor under no such stricture. For them, the DCCC's lack of support for their candidate in 2006 was shortsighted and unfair. Even a hint that Nachbar is the DCCC's candidate further galvanizes the Massa faithful.

Because he provided hope, a can-do attitude and an outsider's perspective at a time when district Democrats were ready to re-commit themselves to party work, Eric Massa can draw upon large reserves of respect and loyalty as he pursues his 2008 campaign. The Pittsford endorsement reflects the genuine grassroots nature of Massa's campaign, and it's one in a string that's almost certain to continue. I'll be surprised if Massa hasn't been endorsed by every committee in the district well before mid-summer.

The Many Varied Benefits of Incumbency

Reader Elmer sends a copy of a page [pdf] from today's Corning Leader, where Randy Kuhl merits a two-column headline for announcing the winners of his Congressional Art Competition. Kuhl was also the commencement speaker two weeks ago at Alfred State College. These are two examples of the many ways in which Kuhl leverages his office and incumbency to stay in the public eye, and it's hard to beat this kind of free, positive publicity.

Update: Elmer also sent the front-page coverage of Kuhl's commencement speech.

Act 1 is Over

Randy Kuhl voted for the version of the Iraq appropriation which contained only non-binding benchmarks [pdf]. Though this bill is being portrayed as a "loss" for the Democrats, I'm not convinced that it was a great victory or defeat for anyone. Instead, it was the first act in a drama, and the stage is set for a very interesting September for Randy Kuhl and other Congressional Republicans.

My analysis of this vote and the state of debate starts with a simple proposition: George Bush has no intention of ending the war in Iraq during his term as President. I don't think that's too controversial, and if you accept it, the corollary is that the interests of Bush and the interests of his party begin to diverge toward the end of 2007. At that point, Bush will be more concerned about his legacy, and his party will be more concerned about the next election.

If you accept the premise that Bush will find whatever excuse he needs to keep troops in Iraq, and the notion that this position isn't in the best interests of the Republican party, then the most recent historical political parallel for the way that Congress and the President will interact isn't Vietnam -- it's Watergate*. During the Watergate crisis, Nixon was able to stay in office as long as he had the support of his party. Even though Democrats had been calling for his removal for years, his resignation was precipitated by quiet words from respected Republican leaders like Barry Goldwater. Similarly, Bush will only begin compromising on Iraq when he gets the word from key Republicans that the votes aren't there to sustain the war.

So, instead of looking to Democrats to somehow leverage their tiny majority into a veto-proof winning bill, we should be looking for fault lines within the Republican caucus. Viewed from that perspective, the Democrats' loss in yesterday's vote was their inability to craft a bill that would find a split between absolute Bush loyalists and more centrist Republicans. Part of that failure was due to timing: Republicans can wait until Fall to see how Iraq is doing before getting serious about their future. But part of it was probably due to mediocre leadership and the desire of the Democrats to get troops funded before Memorial Day.

Even though the Democrats were unable to find a crack in the first act of the war-ending drama, the fault line is there. Jim Walsh (NY-25) will be one of the first Republicans to crack. I think Randy Kuhl is made of sterner stuff, but I will be surprised if he isn't one of the Republicans who ultimately votes for a bi-partisan bill that will end the war.


* I'm not drawing a parallel between the corruption of the Nixon administration and the Bush presidency. My point is solely about the politics of how party members in Congress turn against their president.

Nachbar-Massa News

Eric Massa received two more Democratic committee endorsements this week, one from the Perinton committee, and the other from Schuyer County. It will be interesting to see if he receives more endorsements after the Pittsford and Corning committee meetings tonight and tomorrow.

In addition to an uphill battle on the endorsement front, David Nachbar also has his work cut out for him on the Internet. Someone calling himself "A Soon-to-Be Nachbar Fan" has registered the name and now has an "open letter to David Nachbar" posted at that address.

Update: Apparently Nachbar is planning to use as his campaign site.

Hey Big Spender

According to the non-partisan National Taxpayer's Union, Randy Kuhl was the top spender on postage in the House in 2005. He averaged 60.2 cents per address. Kuhl prefers infrequent, highly-polished glossy communications, so that might explain why his per-piece costs topped the list.

Overall, spending by House members is up 20% since 2000, with member office costs averaging $1.2 million.

Penfield Endorses Massa

The Massa Campaign today announced that the Penfield Democratic Committee has endorsed Eric Massa. Penfield is a suburb of Rochester in Monroe County which is partially in the 29th district.

This endorsement is noteworthy because Penfield borders David Nachbar's home town of Pittsford.

Kuhl and Gitmo

According to a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) press release, I should be upset with Randy Kuhl for not immediately denouncing President Bush's threatened veto of H R 1585, the 2008 Defense Appropriation. The DCCC claims that Bush wants to veto the bill because the increases in troop pay and survivor benefits are too high. If you want to go down that rathole with the DCCC and Rep. Kuhl, this story will take you there.

I'd rather not engage in a silly debate, so I'm ready to stipulate that both Kuhl and the DCCC are 100% grade-A all-American troop supporters of the first rank -- but only if they promise to stop arguing about who "supports the troops". Kuhl's constant repetition of that phrase is a poor substitute for a real defense of his continued support of the Iraq war. The DCCC's usage is worse, because it is textbook case of letting the other side frame the debate by using their language. The DCCC is apparently unwilling to challenge Republicans on the substance of Iraq, so instead it focuses on whether we should raise soldiers' pay 3% or 3.5%.

Both sides are doing the public a disservice. While they're slinging platitudes and arguing over minutae, they fail to address the real issues in the war on terror. One of those issues, Guantánamo, is finally being addressed in H R 1585, no thanks to Randy Kuhl.

The House version of the 2008 defense appropriation included an amendment [pdf] asking the Department of Defense to identify and transfer all prisoners from Guantánamo Bay by the end of the year. Randy Kuhl voted for H R 1585, but against the amendment, which ended up in the bill anyway.

The plain fact, as documented by the UN [pdf], is that the US has used Guantánamo Bay as a way to circumvent the Geneva Convention, to torture inmates, and to delay the release of some prisoners who are probably innocent of all charges against them. Gitmo will go down in history with other US overreactions in times of war, and it needs to be cleaned up.

I think that last paragraph is completely uncontroversial, but unfortunately a lot of pundits and politicians continue to defend Guantánamo. I would ask anyone who agrees with those opinion makers to imagine what they would call a place like Guantánamo if it were located in Castro's Cuba instead of on our base there. What would we call a facility in a communist country where people can be held indefinitely without trial, threatened with dogs, and made to endure sleep deprivation and other forms of "soft" torture? I don't think "gulag" is a hysterical term for such a place.

A strong country dedicated to a long fight against Islamic fundamentalist extremism does not need Guantánamo Bay. We are smart and tough enough to treat prisoners humanely while we fight a war. To do anything less is profoundly un-American, since it denies the principles upon which our country was founded.

Many Democrats and most Republicans have been afraid to challenge the administration on its handling of prisoners because they are afraid of the same kind of demagoguery that is behind "support the troops". That's why, years after Guantánamo should have been shuttered, only four Republicans voted for closing Gitmo, and 15 conservative Democrats voted against.

If the DCCC were interested in real issues, they might have highlighted Kuhl's vote against the Guantánamo amendment. If Kuhl really wanted to do something to "support the troops", he could have voted with a few of his colleagues to close Gitmo. Instead, we get inane press releases from both sides.

AgJobs Makes the Immigration Bill

McClatchy reports that the AgJobs bill, which is supported by Randy Kuhl, has made it into the compromise immigration bill. As mentioned earlier, Kuhl supports AgJobs because it would ensure that the fruit farmers in the 29th have enough labor to pick their crops.