Archive (2007)

Kuhl in the News

Yesterday's Hornell Evening Tribune documented the efforts of Randy Kuhl's office to assist a group of students from Alfred who need passports for a trip to Japan.

Kuhl's efforts on behalf of area farmers were mentioned in a Democrat and Chronicle backgrounder on the current farm bill. Kuhl has worked on increasing disaster payments for disease loss of fruit trees. He's also worked with other legislators to insert funding for the MILC program, which subsidizes dairy farmers when milk prices fall below a certain amount.

Racking Up the No Votes

Randy Kuhl has voted against the major appropriations bills that have come before Congress in the last two weeks. This week's no votes on the Interior and Environment and Financial Services and General Government bills are interesting because each was accompanied by a press release (here and here) touting Kuhl-sponsored earmarks in those bills.

Kuhl has not explained his votes against these or any other appropriations bills. None of the appropriations bills have passed with veto-proof majorities. Most of the bills passed are under veto threat from the White House. Kuhl's vote with his party helps to give those veto threats some credibility, which in turn gives Senate Republicans leverage to remove or reduce appropriations that aren't in line with the Republican agenda.

If Kuhl votes for the final, compromise version of the bill, he can have it both ways: He can claim that he ultimately voted for the appropriation (and his earmarks), even though he initially opposed the bill.

A Fearsome Onslaught

The DCCC has announced a "blitz" of ads targeting Randy Kuhl, among others, over the July 4 holiday. Unlike top-tier candidates (such as Jim Walsh in NY-25), who will be targeted by radio ads, Kuhl will be hit by "telephone calls, emails and web video".

Though the announcement doesn't say how many telephone calls the DCCC is making, when you combine the withering effect of robo-calls with emails and web video, one wonders why Kuhl won't just resign on the spot in the face of this terrific deluge.

If it's not painfully obvious, that last sentence was sarcasm. This is a nothing ad campaign that, at best, will garner a little attention in the local newspaper and promptly be forgotten.

The Emerging Nachbar Strategy

With his appearance at a Brighton Democratic Committee meeting, and now that content is posted on his website, David Nachbar's campaign has started in earnest. As new information becomes available, it's possible to glimpse some of the Nachbar strategy for election.

Though full reports of Nachbar's appearance at the Brighton meeting have yet to be posted, one attendee ("davesnyd") reported at Rochesterturning that Nachbar's campaign will not be focused on a grassroots drive. This person summarized Nachbar's answer to the electability question as follows:

Mr. Nachbar’s response to that question boiled down to a statement that he can afford to hire the best campaign assistants– including people who had previously worked for or with the DCCC. Also, that he feels that between self-funding and fund-raising, he thinks he can raise $2.5M for this campaign.

Nachbar's strategy is one used by many corporate managers when facing an unknown problem: hire experts and trust their guidance. This strategy can explain why Nachbar has been reluctant to engage with local committees. Instead of spending hours listening to the advice of local Democrats, Nachbar can rely on the wisdom of former DCCC staffers. On the face of it, this might be a reasonable strategy. Let's see how it's playing out so far.

Nachbar's new site, which I assume is the product of sessions between him and his DCCC-bred experts, is a mixture of platitudes along with a few new ideas. Most of it is unobjectionable, non-specific, middle-of-the-road thinking about the major issues of the day. Interspersed with those are a few howlers, like the first bullet point of his Iraq strategy:

Our troops have done what they have been asked to do. It is time for them to come home. We need to deploy the Corps of Engineers, in place of the Marine Corps, to help rebuild basic human needs: power, water, hospitals, schools, police and housing to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and to show American credibility.

Anyone who's paid attention to the war in Iraq understands that any US presence makes them a target for insurgent attacks. Removing Marines and sending in the Army Corps of Engineers would replace one target with another: it's likely that the Marines would have to stay to protect the Engineers.

Aside from this little misstep, the Nachbar site does its job: it introduces the candidate in language designed to pique the interest of anyone even slightly interested in an alternative to Randy Kuhl. The next play in the DCCC playbook is a media campaign designed to introduce Nachbar as a non-threatening alternative, then perhaps some issue ads that distinguish Nachbar from Kuhl, and finally a few responses to the almost-certain attacks from Kuhl.

What's missing from Nachbar's campaign is one thing: the involvement of the voters in the 29th. As Carolyn Schaeffer, the Yates County Chair, puts it in her letter to City Newspaper:

Mr. Nachbar's candidacy is the antithesis of a voter-centered campaign.

The Nachbar/DCCC playbook places voters in the role of consumers rather than actors, and it treats his candidacy as a product that needs to be sold. Instead of attending endless coffee sessions, participating in neighborhood canvassing, and showing up at every town celebration, this strategy substitutes money for time. Since Nachbar doesn't have the time to visit and cultivate party support, he'll just do it wholesale, by beaming out television, radio and print ads that tout the Nachbar brand.

The Nachbar product created from the consultants' recipe comes in one flavor -- vanilla -- and it's meant to go down smoothly, with no bitter aftertaste. That's probably fine for the general election, but primary voters aren't used to such bland concoctions. David Nachbar will have to figure out how to inject some flavor into his campaign, or he'll be faced with an unpleasant and expensive lesson consultants can't teach.

Nachbar Link Added

David Nachbar's site now has content, so I've added it to the list of candidate sites on the sidebar.

If It's Wednesday, It's a Massa Press Conference

Today's Massa press conference covered economic development, Randy Kuhl's vote on foreign aid, and immigration.

Eric Massa led off with more discussion of his plan to create "living wage jobs" in the 29th district. Massa said that he will be outlining specific initiatives as the campaign goes on. Today, he focused on the difference between him and Rep. Kuhl on this issue.

Massa charged that Kuhl believes in creating jobs through "addictive government handouts". Massa thinks "pork barrel politics" does not work, for two reasons: First, the country is seriously in debt, which means that handouts are decreasing and will continue to do so. Second, Kuhl is now in the minority and will be less able to arrange those handouts in the future. Massa promised that his plan will outline specific initiatives that will help create a partnership between industry, government and education.

I asked Massa how he responds to those who say that a US Representative can't do as much as state and local government to create those partnerships. He agreed that most of the work had to be done by state and local government, but the federal government must create an "umbrella" under which those others can operate. "Right now, that doesn't exist."

Massa used the example of the Roseland Bowl $2.5 million loan guarantee to counter Kuhl's recent allegation that Democrats are creating a "slush fund" for pet projects. Massa noted that he was against all of that no matter who's doing it, but "it's absolutely disingenuous for Kuhl to talk about the evils of pork-barrel politics" while at the same time touting the funding he received for Roseland Bowl:

This is an Oscar-winning award for what's wrong with government in Washington. Our Representative in Washington, DC announces with great pride that he's gotten $2.5 million for a bowling alley that sits within sight of the Canandaigua VA hospital that's being closed.

I asked Massa whether he sees the Roseland Bowl as a dilemma: he might not agree with the federal program, but it offers a constituent an opportunity to get some federal money that will perhaps help economic development. Massa said he didn't see it as a dilemma at all. The loan program used by the Roseland Bowl as meant to help rural America. "A bowling alley in Canandaigua does not fit that." He doesn't believe that a representative has an obligation to manipulate laws to achieve some goal.

Massa also pointed out that Kuhl had taken down the link to the press release. Massa took that as evidence that it failed the "Washington Post" test, which he says has guided him since he was a young officer:

If you would be embarrassed reading this on the front page of the Washington Post, would you do it? Clearly Randy Kuhl does not want this discussed in the light of day.

Massa also commented on two bills in Congress. The first was the immigration bill. It is Massa's understanding that the Congressional Republican Caucus voted on the current version of the bill and it was overwhelmingly defeated. Massa would like Kuhl to announce how he voted in caucus.

Massa said he opposes the current immigration bill. He thinks a comprehensive bill won't pass, and that we need to first strengthen our borders. He's for a guest worker program, but does not support "blanket amnesty".

The other bill Massa mentioned was the Foreign Aid Bill, which Kuhl opposed. Massa said that, since Kuhl doesn't explain his votes, we're left to speculate on why he opposed that bill. Massa thought it was perhaps because Kuhl opposed the distribution of condoms as part of AIDS programs due to pressure of a small but vocal constituency. Massa said that "Kuhl has veered hard right, and his voting record supports that."

Massa Gets Brighton Endorsement, Nachbar Speaks Again

Stlo7 of Rochesterturning attended the Brighton Democratic Committee meeting last night and reports that Massa gained that committee's endorsement. David Nachbar appeared and made his case at this meeting. Rochesterturning will be posting video and commentary soon.

Update: A Rochesterturning reader also reports that the Ontario County committee endorsed Massa last night.

Earmark Watch

In today's Hornell Evening Tribune, Randy Kuhl explains how Republicans forced the Democrats to compromise on earmarks. According to Kuhl, Democrats were trying to "sneak through" earmarks and the Republicans stopped them.

Since earmarks are now being disclosed, I've added a new page, Earmark Watch, where I'll attempt to track all of Kuhl's earmarks. I've also added a new category, Earmarks, which I'll use to tag stories about earmarks.

This all assumes that I'll be able to track down the damn things. As per usual, the committees are making this as hard as possible, releasing the earmarks as non-searchable image pdfs [warning: huge pdf]. This tactic, which was also used by the New York legislature, means that I have to paw through supplemental committee reports line-by-line to find Kuhl's earmarks. I assume that some public interest watchdog will create an earmark database. Until then, consider the earmark page a "best effort" rather than an authoritative source.

Fun Fact of the Day

Rochesterturning reports that Randy Kuhl has joined the bi-partisan House Small Brewers Conference.

Riding Hobby Horses

The recent passage of H R 2764, the appropriations bill for the State Department and foreign aid, is a good example of why the public's approval rating of Congress hovers in the low twentieth percentile. The debate and aftermath of this bill show how some on both sides, including John R Kuhl Jr and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), would rather ride hobby horses than show leadership on difficult issues.

Because most constituents consider foreign aid about as often as they make use of differential calculus, Congress can use it to appease busybody squeaky wheels with impunity. On the Republican side, those squawking are the most narrow-minded factions of the religious right. On the Democratic side, it's the Israel lobby.

Let's start with sex: one of religious right's pet issues is the primacy of sexual morality over the practicalities of AIDS prevention. In a world where the onset of puberty continues to be at a younger age, and where sexually transmitted diseases are killing a broad swath of the population of developing countries, this interest group is squeamish about any AIDS prevention strategy that acknowledges the realities of human sexual behavior.

In Uganda, a country where an "ABC" program (Abstinence, Being faithful, Condoms) was perhaps having an impact, these latter-day Puritans reduced the program to "AB", since providing condoms might increase the incidence of pre-marital sex.

Condoms aren't the only issue. Brazil, a country that has an AIDS prevention and treatment program that is considered a model for the world, had to refuse US funding because the US program required condemnation of commercial sex work. Prostitution is legal in Brazil, and the Brazilian government wasn't going to sacrifice their pragmatic view of sex work to appease a few American Puritans.

The leader of these Puritans is Senator Sam Brownback. Here's his defense of the US position in Brazil:

We're talking about promotion of prostitution, which the majority of both the House and Senate believe is harmful to women.

That quote doesn't even pass the laugh test if you've studied the alternatives. In Uganda, prostitution is illegal, but 32% of young women are married before age 19, 1/5 of them in polygamous unions. Many of those women were married to get the "bride price", a payment from the new husband to the brides' family. The infection rate of young women to young men is 6:1 in Uganda. For women in Uganda, the alternative to prostitution is legalized enslavement to a husband who will have unprotected sex with his multiple wives.

That's why groups like the Gates Foundation are pouring money into barrier methods and microbicides that can be deployed by women. The smart money hopes to find a way that women can protect themselves. The dumb money looks to advance a moral agenda with eyes blind to facts on the ground.

So what does this have to do with the 29th? Let's look at Randy Kuhl's vote for an amendment [pdf] which would mandate that 1/3 of AIDS funding go towards abstinence education. That amendment failed, even though almost every Republican, and a few conservative Democrats, voted for it. The margin of failure (26) was close to the number of new Democrats elected in 2006.

I'd wager that a broad majority of the population would want us to spend our foreign aid on programs that work. Our own government studies [pdf] show abstinence-only programs don't work here. But no matter: Republicans in Congress are so wrapped around the special interest axle that they must continue to push the agenda of a tiny minority. This issue is one example of why the public is disgusted with its so-called "leaders" in Congress. Brazil and the Gates Foundation are leading in the fight against AIDS. Congress is following the dictates of a tiny group of vocal Puritans.

But let's not exempt the establishment Democrats from this critique. As soon as Randy Kuhl voted against the foreign aid bill, the DCCC sent out a press release criticizing his vote. The headline: "Representative Randy Kuhl Votes to Cut Funding for Israel". The template for this release was obvious: "[insert name here] Votes to Cut Funding for [insert well-funded vocal minority group here]". Every other worthy cause embodied in the bill (AIDS education, poverty relief, peacekeeping operations) wasn't a reason to criticize Randy's vote. Only the needs of another political squeaky wheel made the grade.

I understand that Israel is an important ally. I don't understand why we need to be pouring $2.4 billion into the economy of a country that has a per-capita GDP on par with Hong Kong, Australia and the state of West Virginia. But that's a question that a leader might ask, and we know there are precious few of those in Congress.

Massa News

Eric Massa's Wednesday press conference bore fruit in the form of a story in today's Olean Times-Herald.

Yesterday, the Massa campaign also announced that it received the endorsement of the Town of Henrietta (Monroe County) Democratic Committee. According to Massa's site, the Town of Brighton and Ontario County Democratic Committees are meeting next Monday. I'll wager that two more endorsements are coming.

Update: The Massa campaign has also announced that the Town of Canandaigua (Ontario County) committee endorsed Massa yesterday.

Massa's Wednesday Press Conference

The main topic of this morning's Massa press conference was Iraq, driven by the Batiste endorsement and his appearance at a Massa fundraiser this weekend in Ellicottville, Cattaraugus County. The fundraiser also coincides with the endorsement Massa received yesterday from the CattCo Democratic Committee.

Rick Miller of the Olean Times-Herald (which covers Ellicottville) was on the call, and asked a number of questions. The first was whether Iraq would be an issue in 17 months. Massa responded that it is an issue today, and as long as the President continues with his "failed strategy", we will need leadership on the issue. "Leadership is not flying over Iraq and announcing all is well," Massa said, referring to Kuhl's Iraq trip last summer. Massa said he believed that Iraq will "absolutely" be an issue in 2008.

Miller then mention the September re-evaluation of Iraq policy, and wondered what Massa thought about it. Massa said that it's "obvious that Iraq is not more secure now because of the new troops." He re-iterated his partition strategy: "We need to learn the lessons of Bosnia" by separating the warring factions and then leaving.

As for the war on terrorism, Massa says that "no one is more committed to hunting down terrorists than me" and referenced his combat experience in Lebanon in the early 80's on the USS New Jersey. Massa called the partition strategy the "only strategic shift that will enable us to rapidly depart Iraq and do what we can do" to ensure some stability. He pointed out that partion is already happening, since the country is dividing itself, but it's happening in "the bloodiest way possible".

In response to a follow-up about the kind of planning that's required for an end-game in Iraq, Massa noted that "those plans are already in place." He said that there's ample unclassified evidence of planning, and that he believes that Pentagon planners have also made extensive studies on an exit strategy. The issue, Massa believes, isn't the exit plan, it's the unwillingness of the President to shift to a new strategy.

I asked a more general question about General Batiste's future role in the Massa campaign. Massa said that Batiste is "acting as a trusted advisor and counselor." Batiste understands the "ground game and the lay of the land tactically" because of his experience in Iraq. Massa said he also considered himself fortunate to have Batiste as an advisor because of Batiste's business experience. Massa will look to Batiste to provide advice and counsel on how to bring economic growth to the area.

Batiste's input on economic growth dovetails with Massa's desire to make the issue of a new jobs base in the 29th front-and-center for his 2008 campaign. At the top of the press conference, Massa announced that he is developing a plan similar to one that was successful in the Raleigh-Durham area. This plan brings together business, education and local government, leveraging the strengths of each group to help build an economy that will employ young people in the area. Currently, those young people receive an education at local colleges but must leave the area due to a lack of jobs.

As for the employment of Eric Massa, which was another question asked by Mr. Miller, Massa noted that he curtailed all other activities in April when he becam an active candidate. Massa's noted that he can't take a salary from his campaign, so he's making personal sacrifies, "as do all candidates who aren't beholden to corporate PAC money."