Archive (2007)

D&C Letter to the Editor

Rochesterturning reports that today's Democrat and Chronicle printed a letter to the editor with a major error. The letter accused Eric Massa's staff of using sealed court documents to embarrass Randy Kuhl. Of course, the staff of Sam Barend, Kuhl's 2004 rival, did that, not Eric Massa. Massa has gone out of his way to avoid the issue of Kuhl's divorce, which I agree is not germane to the election.

Longtime readers might notice that this is the first mention of a letter to the editor in this blog. That's on purpose, because I find the letters sections of newspapers pretty much useless. Even the reasonable letters are edited down so much that they're almost unintelligible.

As for whether the D&C has a duty to fact-check letters they publish, I think that's a gray area. Whether or not they should have caught this error, they do have a duty to print one of the inevitable corrections from their readers, and to allow those corrections to be long enough to fully explain the issue.

Update: According to Rochesterturning, the D&C printed a correction in their paper edition.

Update: Eric Massa's letter to the editor was published on August 2. (Thanks to Rochesterturning, who reads the LTE page.)

This Week in Votes and Earmarks

Randy Kuhl voted for the Farm Bill, which included a significant increase in funding for specialty crops. McClatchy has a good Q&A on the bill here. The bill contained no earmarks.

Kuhl voted against the HUD and Transportation appropriation bill, H R 3074. That bill included four of his earmarks, worth more than $600,000.

Update: Missed one: Kuhl also had an $800K earmark for Alfred State in the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriation, H R 3093, which he voted against.

DCCC Dust-Up

Rochesterturning has video of David Nachbar claiming that he was encouraged by the DCCC to run for office, and they also have a categorical denial of that claim from the DCCC.

Massa's Press Conference

One thing is clear from today's Massa press conference: Eric Massa has a job.

Massa's comment on his employment status was sparked by Monday's Hornell Tribune article, where Randy Kuhl said, "Mr. Massa, as far as I know, doesn't have a job". Massa took umbrage at that remark, noting that he was retired after 24 years in the military. Massa said that Kuhl's remark showed an "absolute lack of understanding and gross disrespect." Massa pointed out that his retirement after 24 years of service was about half of what Kuhl received after 20 years in the state legislature "raising our taxes and sending our jobs overseas".

Massa then focused on Kuhl's recent votes against appropriation bills. He began with Kuhl's vote against the Homeland Security bill. As reported here earlier, Kuhl's office had issued a press release touting his "Yes" vote on the day he voted "No". Massa said that Kuhl's explanation that the bill's appropriation was too large, didn't hold water, since Kuhl voted for a Homeland Securty bill two years ago that had a bigger appropriation. Massa also said that it "shows no integrity" on Kuhl's part to be railing against spending increases while at the same time touting earmarks in the bills he votes against.

Massa then turned to the farm bill, which is up for vote this week. He said that he'd attended a meeting in Hornby and some residents there were concerned that Kuhl would vote against the farm bill, because of his record of opposing spending legislation. Massa pointed out that Kuhl won't disclose how he's going to vote for this bill, since he never discloses that information.

The discussion then turned to last week's topic of merit pay and tenure for teachers. Massa said that he had done a lot of reading and thinking on this issue in the last week, and was ready with his final position. In general, he thinks attacking merit pay and tenure is going down the wrong road:

The biggest single challenge facing teachers is that students who fail come from dysfunctional, broken homes. Teaching is a collaborative effort between the home environment and the school environment. If there's not a good home environment, no matter what the teacher does, it's not going to be the same as if the student has positive enforcement of the educational environment.

Massa used the example of how his family enforced study habits for his kids. "For children without that mentoring, the hill is extremely steep, whether or not the teacher has tenure." Massa concluded by saying that arguing about teachers is arguing at the margins, "the 5% of the problem instead of the 75% of the problem." Massa said he had become concerned that merit pay is going down the same "slippery slope" as No Child Left Behind. He also believes that, given low teacher salaries, he doubts that there are many teachers who have failed simply because they feel secure and not answerable once they have tenure. (I believe his point was, in other words, there are easier ways to make a buck.)

I followed up with a more general question: what does Massa have to say to traditional conservatives who might disagree with some of his positions. Why should they vote for him?

Massa began by saying that there's merit in sending a Democrat to Washington who "speaks Republican". Massa believes he does so in critical areas. He's a fiscal conservative who believes that deficit spending is hurting our children. In foreign policy, he believes that we shouldn't get into debacles that have no strategic benefit for us. He also believes there's merit in the Republican party of Teddy Roosevelt, who believed in saving the environment from land profiteering.

Ultimately, Massa said, the difference between today's Democratic and Republican parties boils down to one thing:

Tom Delay Republicans -- including Randy Kuhl -- believe that government is evil and incompetent. That's why George W. Bush's administration has become incompetent and evil.

Like John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Massa said he believes that government can do good for the people of the country. Massa identified Kuhl's support of open-door free trade, specifically the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) as one counter-example of government doing good for the country.

I reach out to Republican, Independence and non-aligned voters and ask one simple question: What values do you want represented in Washington, DC? When you ask your Representative a question, don't you think it's important that he answers it?

Back and Forth

Yesterday's Hornell Tribune has a story featuring Randy Kuhl's responses to a DCCC press release. That release alleged that Kuhl's vote against H R 3043, the Labor, HHS and Education bill, "failed America's children." Kuhl's response was that the bill had a 13% spending increase, which was too much. As mentioned here earlier, Kuhl has 5 earmarks in that bill.

Volvo-Donut Redux

Last Fall, I posted repeatedly about a strategy named after pollsters' nicknames for left-leaning ring suburbs: the "Volvo-Donut". "Volvo" refers to the preferred vehicle of left-leaning suburbanites, and "Donut" refers to the suburbs that encircle major metropolitan areas like Rochester. The basic idea was that the key to a win in the 29th is heavy turnout of the Monroe and Ontario suburbs.

Even though Eric Massa did not win in the 29th, the data provided by Reader John shows that Massa's campaign inspired suburban residents to flock to the polls and to vote for Massa in large numbers. Rochester's suburban county, Monroe, had the highest turnout percentage of any county in the 29th, as well as the highest percentage of "pulls" (votes for Massa that probably came from blanks).

The performance of Monroe County is still key to the 2008 election. Massa must continue to inspire voters in Monroe in order to win. But there's a limit to what can be expected from the Southeast Rochester suburbs. Monroe had the highest turnount of any county in the 29th, with most towns in the 60% range. Brighton, by far the most Democratic town in the district, had an impressive 67% turnout. In US elections, two-thirds of the voters usually don't turn out for Presidential races, much less off-year elections. The simple fact is that Monroe doesn't have that many more voters to turn out.

Anyone studying the numbers realizes that the additional votes needed for a Democratic win in 2008 will not come solely, or principally, from Monroe. It's the Southern Tier where Democrats will have to turn out greater numbers if they want to win in 2008, since the average turnout in the South is lower than the sky-high Monroe numbers.

That simple fact is the reason that Southern Tier Democrats are so little receptive to the Nachbar campaign. They are well aware that the burden of getting more voters to the polls is on their shoulders. They don't see how a resident of Pittsford -- which already has one of the highest turnout numbers (67%) in the 29th -- will draw the voters in Salamanca and Tuscarora to the polls in greater numbers. Only a candidate from the South will be able to motivate those voters.

Pull in the 2008 Election

Reader John sent me a painstakingly detailed spreadsheet of data from the 2006 election. In it, John studied registration and turnout in the 29th, town-by-town and county-by-county. One of the factors John studied was "pull", or the ability of a candidate to garner votes beyond their base.

In New York State, voters may leave their voter registration card blank. In the 29th, 20% of the registrants are "blanks", a little over 30% are Democrats, and a smidgen under 50% are Republicans. Since Eric Massa received 49% of the vote in 2006, it stands to reason that a fair number of blanks and/or Republicans pulled the lever for Massa. It's also reasonable to assume that most of the "pulls" for Massa came from blanks or independents..

To better understand the data in John's sheet, I've created a couple of graphs. The first details the turnout by county and party. As you can see, Republican and Democratic turnout is neck-and-neck in the 29th, but blanks tend to turn out in far smaller percentage than those who choose a party registration. (Note that John has combined Working Families, Green and Liberal in to the Democratic numbers, and Independence, Conservative and Right-to-Life into the Republican numbers.)

Pull - Click for a Larger VersionThe second graph shows pulls, by county. Massa generally out-pulled Kuhl by a wide margin. In the big northern counties, Monroe and Ontario, Massa displays huge pull. Kuhl out pulls Massa only in far southern Cattaraugus County.

Since 2008 is a Presidential election year, turnout in the 29th will probably be higher. In 2004, it was approximately 30% higher than 2006. It's probably safe to assume that the 2008 will see a similar increase. Using John's data as a basis for speculation, I can envision a couple of possibilities for the 60,000 additional voters who will come to the polls.

If the additional voters arrive in the same proportion of Democrats, Republicans and blanks as 2006, then Kuhl's probably facing another squeaker. But what if blanks tend to turn out in greater numbers during presidential years? This makes some sense: if you're not committed enough to declare a party, you may only be committed enough to go to the polls to vote for President. If this is true, and blanks turn out in higher proportions in 2008, then Kuhl is in trouble, because a reasonable inference from these numbers is that he has little pull outside his party.

Update 7/26: Reader John contacted me and noted that I had mis-interpreted one of the pages in his spreadsheet. I've removed the graph and stricken the paragraph that was the result of the misunderstanding. Sorry about that.

Earmark and Pork Review

The earmark page has been updated with all available information about recent earmarks. Last week, Kuhl was criticized for voting against a bill while trumpeting the earmarks he inserted in the bill. Undeterred, he's done the same thing this week. He voted against the Labor, HHS and Education appropriation bill, yet he's also issued a press release touting an earmark for MCC in the bill. Kuhl had five earmarks worth over half a million dollars in the Labor and HHS bill.

Kuhl has also announced a couple of grants (not earmarks) for area projects. In Troupsburg, the announcement was for a new water system, and in Watkins Glen, Seneca Harbor will get some upgrades.

Protest Makes the Paper

Yesterday's anti-war protest in Corning made the Corning Leader (pdf here, thanks to Reader Elmer). This is the first protest story I've seen that quotes Republican veterans against the war.

Southern Tier News Roundup

Reader Elmer sends two stories from the Corning leader, (first page [pdf], jump [pdf]). The first is based on Massa's news conference, with responses on free trade and the economy from Randy Kuhl's spokesman, Bob Van Wicklin. The second details Massa's lead in the fundraising race.

The Hornell Evening Tribune carries a story about the local Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI) organizer in Hornell, who says he's trying to get "everyone involved, Republicans, Democrats, Greens, whoever." And the Elmira Star-Gazette has a short announcement about an AAEI rally today in Corning.

Meet the Press, Massa Edition

Free trade, pork, merit pay for teachers and, oh yeah, the war, were the topics of today's Massa press conference. Read on to learn some Latin and to see what Randy Kuhl and Disneyland have in common.

Let's start with a Latin phrase that should be familiar to all politicians: repetito est mater studiorum, or "repetition is the mother of learning". Since a different set of reporters attends Massa's press conferences, a number of the topics tend to be repeated. I'm going to assume that readers have read previous press conference reports, so I'm going to keep the repetition to a minimum and point readers to previous posts if the answers are similar.

Massa's first topic this week was free trade. Bob Recotta of the Corning Leader asked Massa about the relation between free trade and keeping jobs in the US, pointing out that some critics say that the reason jobs are leaving the US is the high wages of union workers.

Massa pointed out that only 20% of the US workforce is unionized, so blaming the destruction of the middle class on union workers makes no sense mathematically. "I spent 24 years in the millitary fighting for the things unions fought for in the United States", Massa said, and listed the principles of dignity in the workplace, job safety, financial security and training the next generation of workers. Massa saw no reason to sacrifice those principles, which have been defended by 10 generations of Americans, for the profits of a few "mega-billionaires".

Massa's second topic was pork, and the "addiction to pork" that Massa believes is the cornerstone of Randy Kuhl's campaign. Massa made a number of the same points as last week to this new audience. In addition to his proposal to link industry, education and young people through a scholarship program and tax breaks, Massa made a new point: excessive pork, like the $43,000 earmark to study economic conditions in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties is "taking money from our own children", since it adds to the deficit.

After Massa's prepared topics came the inevitable question about fundraising. Massa said he doesn't like talking about money:

This election is not about money. It's about optimism, vision and new ideas. To the extent we've been successful, it's because almost 1,000 of my supporters have stepped up to the table.

Massa distinguished between Union PACs and Corporate PACs by noting that Union contributions can be traced back to individuals -- union members -- whereas corporate donations cannot.

Another reporter (whose name I missed) asked whether Massa will push for clean elections if he's elected. Massa said he's a big supporter of the clean elections approach that removes the "often corrupting influence" of money from our electoral system. He pointed to what's been done in Maine, and suggested that a program of that type should be done nationally.

After money came Iraq. The new topic here was readiness. Massa said the military is "overextended and can't complete the many missions they've been given despite heroic efforts". Massa summed up the divergence between the reality in Iraq and the Administration rhetoric with this quip:

George Bush is living in an alternative reality and Randy Kuhl as bought a ticken on that Disneyland ride.

The next question was one I promised Reader Elmer that I'd ask: what's Massa's position on merit pay for teachers?

Massa said that he had just met with a group of teachers and was going over the pros and cons of what had been discussed. He plans to address merit pay in more detail soon, but his "gut feel" is that "as long as an adequate base pay is met, there may be some merit in merit pay." He noted that a lot of professionals receive merit pay, and his main concern with any merit pay proposal is that it becomes a "incentive for the positives" rather than a "tool for the negatives".

Finally, in response to an immigration, Massa went through his "big three": (1) reform can't be conprehensive, but rather should be individual initatives (like a guest worker program); (2) enforce the laws we have, including deportation for criminal illegals, and (3) secure the borders.

Massa emphasized this last point, pointing out that Al Qaeda's reconstitution (as documented in the recently-released National Intelligence Estimate) makes it more important that we make sure our borders are secure. He cited the example of the failure to inspect 100% of cargo coming in on ships as one instance of our failure to completely secure our borders:

We're spending hundreds of millions of dollars to protect the borders between Syria and Iraq, and Iraq and Iran, but we're not spending it on ourselves.

Money in the Media

Today's Elmira Star-Gazette and yesterday's Democrat and Chronicle carry a Gannett News Service story about fundraising in the 29th. Other than the numbers reported here earlier, the story also reports that Massa's honorary campaign chair is Edgar Bronfman, Sr., former chairman of Seagram's and major Democratic donor.