Archive (2007)

Piling On

Today's Star-Gazette story on the new Spitzer Drivers' License plan quotes most of Chemung County's elected officials in opposition to the plan.  Randy Kuhl gets a lick in, too:

I am saddened that the Bush administration would agree to this dangerous and potentially destructive plan.
The Spitzer plan is a gift to Kuhl that just keeps on giving:  he can oppose it vehemently to appease those angry with his position on guest workers,  and he can use it so show that he's not a rubber stamp. 

Corning Mayoral Race

Reader Elmer sends Eric Massa's Letter to the Editor of the Corning Leader [pdf] in support of the current Mayor of Corning, Frank Coccho.   I'm not an expert on Corning politics, but it looks like Coccho, a Democrat, is facing a tough race, mainly because of self-inflicted wounds. 

Drivers' Licenses Will Still Be An Issue

Governor Eliot Spitzer and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff have announced a new compromise on drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants.  Both Randy Kuhl and Eric Massa are on record opposing the original plan. The new proposal would issue two classes of licenses.  Those who can prove residency will be issued a RealID license, and those who can't will get a license to drive with restrictions on its use for boarding airplanes or crossing borders.  As part of the compromise,  New York will be one of the first states to issue RealID licenses.  

If a successful compromise is one that leaves both sides unhappy, then Spitzer's new plan is a big win.  Immigrant groups are calling the new, second class license a "scarlet letter".    Those who opposed Spitzer's earlier plan point to the extra expense of issuing two kinds of licenses.  And county clerks in Erie and Niagara counties are planning to call the sheriff to arrest anyone they suspect is an illegal immigrant applying for a license.

I didn't have an objection to Spitzer's earlier plan, because I don't think that it's the state's business to become immigration police.  But his endorsement of the intrusive and pointless RealID program now has turned me against it.  Since nobody is happy with issuing illegals second-class licenses, I'll bet that the final outcome will probably be no license for illegals, and RealIDs for the rest of us.   Our highways won't be any safer, but we'll all be packing a big-brother identity card.

In the 29th, this controversy has handed Kuhl and his supporters some easy talking points.  I listened to some of the Bob Lonsberry show twice this week, and this issue had big play in both of the snippets I heard.  Lonsberry's position is that the license will actually attract illegals to New York.   That's consistent with his usual tactic of pushing illegal immigrants as scapegoats for the lackluster Southern Tier economy.  I've shown why this is a fantasy in an earlier post.  In this case, however, Bob has it pretty easy, because there seems to be something inherently wrong about county clerks issuing legal documents to people who are breaking the law.

That perception of a basic injustice is what's going to keep driving this controversy, as it does the whole illegal immigration mess.   The national polling on this issue shows that most folks would be happy with an amnesty program that's coupled to paying fines or back taxes, they want to increase security at the border, and they believe legal immigration benefits our country.    But Congress can't seem to pull the trigger on a compromise containing security, earned amnesty and realistic quotas for Mexico, Central and Latin America.   Until some national compromise is reached, the pressure caused by illegal immigration will be ventilated periodically by dust-ups like the drivers' license controversy.  Why Eliot Spitzer wanted to stick his hand into this barrel of scorpions is beyond me, but he hasn't done his reputation any favors in the 29th.

Tolerance in Elmira

The Elmira Star-Gazette is doing a series on tolerance, and today's issue covers tolerance in politics.  Both the editorial and story mention the race in the 29th. 

News of Yesterday

Some items I missed yesterday:

Randy Kuhl has also withdrawn sponsorship of the House Resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide by Turkey.  For those unfamiliar with the history of this resolution, the LA Times has a good timeline.

WETM Channel 18 has a short story on Kuhl's defense of his S-CHIP vote.  The Washington Post's Capitol Briefing blog counts votes on S-CHIP, and concludes that there's little chance for much change in the current position of House members, including Kuhl:  "[N]ow that they've voted three separate times against an SCHIP expansion, it's almost impossible to envision these lawmakers flip-flopping unless the bill is dramatically reshaped."

S-CHIP Robocall

My wife was kind enough to save this message on our answering machine:

Hello, this is an urgent message from American Family Voices at telephone number 202-393-4352.   Congressman Randy Kuhl and President Bush want another $46 billion to fund the war in Iraq, while here at home Congressman Kuhl voted once again to support Bush's veto of the State Health Insurance Act, which will provided health coverage for 10 million needy children.  The S-CHIP program costs about what we now spend for 40 days in the Iraq War.   Call Congressman Kuhl at 607-776-9142 and ask him why he wants $46 billion more for the War in Iraq and nothing for American Children.

S-CHIP Friday News

Reader Elmer sends the Corning Leader's front page [pdf] and jump [pdf] covering Randy Kuhl's S-CHIP vote.

My paper Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has an S-CHIP vote story, but, unlike the Leader, the D&C wasn't able to include the votes of the local Congressional Delegation.   Once again, a newspaper with a tiny fraction of the resources of the D&C puts out a better story.

Speaking of missing stuff, here's a story I missed about last week's S-CHIP protest at Randy Kuhl's office in Fairport.  It appeared in the Fairport-East Rochester Post, a local weekly.

Drivers' Licenses and Gay Rights

Randy Kuhl was one of four Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which prevents discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation.  The current version of ENDA, HR 3685, is the subject of controversy because it lacks protection for transgendered employees, though it covers gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals.  ENDA is under veto threat from the White House because some of its provisions could be construed to give a federal stamp of approval to gay marriage.  Supporters of the bill say that the provision in question only says that marriage cannot be a condition of employment in states where gays and lesbians can't get married.   The Washington Blade has an in-depth story.

WENY, Channel 36 has a story about Randy Kuhl and Eric Massa's positions on issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants.  Both oppose it.  WENY has also posted the story on YouTube, and it can be seen after the break.  It's good to see a local TV station embracing YouTube.  Many stations keep their video in a "walled garden" so they can force viewers to watch an advertisement first.

S-CHIP Non-Compromise

A slightly altered version of the S-CHIP passed the House this afternoon with exactly the same number of yes votes as the original S-CHIP legislation.  Randy Kuhl voted against the bill. 

I haven't studied the changes in the bill closely, but they don't sound like the product of a compromise, judging from this National Journal article.   A recent Kuhl blog post echoes the complaints of his leadership:  the vote was held without enough advance notice, and without California members who were back in their districts because of the recent fires.

It sounds like the House Democrats are taking some advice from Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who supported S-CHIP in the House:

Grassley has suggested that, were he a Democrat, he would send the SCHIP measure to Bush repeatedly until the president agreed to sign it.
From the media reports, it sounds like both sides in this debate have wedged themselves into intractable positions.  Republicans like Kuhl have taken a big hit for their opposition to S-CHIP, and they've responded with a lot of red-hot rhetoric about the bill.  They need some tangible changes in the bill to justify changing their votes.  Democrats see how well S-CHIP polls, and are under fire from their constituents for their failure to end the war in Iraq.  With 43 Republicans on their side, they've chosen S-CHIP as a bi-partisan effort to get a few more Republicans accustomed to voting against their party.   This is a recipe for stalemate, and it looks like we're going there sooner, rather than later.

And, by the way, both MoveOn and AFSCME are launching still more ads in the district to publicize Kuhl's  vote.

S-CHIP News: Compromise Afoot?

According to the McClatchy Newspapers and the Hill, there's a compromise brewing on S-CHIP.  Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch, who support S-CHIP, met with the staffs of 38 House members to add tweaks to tighten up restrictions on illegal aliens, adults and income levels. 

What's interesting is whether Randy Kuhl is one of the swing voters being courted.  According to a DCCC press release, Kuhl was one of the authors of a letter to the President urging compromise on S-CHIP.  I can't find the letter posted anywhere, so the details of the compromise Kuhl advocated are, for now, a bit of a mystery, and probably less important than the signal sent by the letter.

The Hill also reports that Kuhl is one of the members being targeted for yet another ad campaign by

I should change the title of this blog to "S-CHIP Diaries".  

S-CHIP Polling

The Ontario Republican, a new blog in the district, has been addressing some of the S-CHIP polling reports.   The Republican thinks that the USA Today poll originally cited by Randy Kuhl is pretty good, and he thinks another, less favorable poll by the Kaiser foundation is skewed toward Democrats.

I'll go into a little more detail on S-CHIP polling in a moment, but I want to emphasize a general point that I made in the post on the Kaiser poll.  My overall opinion on issue polls like these is that they are so biased by the way that questions are constructed that they are pretty useless for determining "real" public opinion.   For example, the USA Today/Gallup poll on S-CHIP was criticized for its question construction, but I think that criticism is probably applicable to a lot of issue polls.  The reason is that a random sample of the electorate is only educated enough to give a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" view of any issue.  When pollsters try to probe the reasons behind the thumb up or down, they have to inject some facts into their questions, and their choice of facts adds some bias to their questions.

The way to control for this bias is to look at moving averages from multiple polls for many time periods.  Unfortunately, only the biggest questions of our time have enough polling data to support this technique.  The site has moving averages if you're interested.

Returning to S-CHIP, the Republican points out, rightly, that S-CHIP polling is hard to apply to the 29th district, which has a more Republican demographic than the country in general.   But, since he and Kuhl started this discussion, let's look at few more nationwide polls. 

The most recent one I could find was a CBS News poll released last week.  By an 81-15 margin, it found that respondents favored expanding S-CHIP.  74% of those who favored expansion would be willing to pay higher taxes to support S-CHIP expansion.  A CNN poll taken during the same timeframe, but asking a slightly different question, found that 61% favored veto override, while 35% do not.   A late September Washington Post poll found that 72% of those polled supported S-CHIP expansion, while 25% opposed it.  

If the game we're playing is "what do the polls say", I think it's fair to conclude that the general, nationwide opinion on S-CHIP is thumbs up for expansion.   I don't think that game is very interesting or informative, but I think the game that Kuhl was trying to play, which was "let's cherry-pick the one poll that agrees with my position", is worse.

Hopefully this post puts the S-CHIP polling issue to bed.  It shouldn't have come up in the first place.  Unfortunately, President Bush and the House Republican leadership have put Kuhl in a position where he's casting about for ever-more flimsy defenses of his S-CHIP vote.   I think Kuhl and other House Republicans would have been better off if they followed the example of some of their Senate colleagues.  Chuck Grassley is no flaming liberal, yet he understands that S-CHIP expansion needs to be passed, and he's willing to vote for an override.

Massa Wednesday Press Conference

I was able to connect with the Massa Press Conference this week.  Topics included S-CHIP, drivers licenses, Iraq and money.  

Massa began his press conference by remarking that he was glad to be in the 29th district today, given that his family (parents, brother and sister) had all been evacuated from their homes in San Diego.  They're all OK, but like the other half-million evacuees, the question is whether they'll have houses when this is over.

Massa then mentioned two issues: S-CHIP and drivers' licenses.

On S-CHIP, Massa concentrated on refuting a set of "false, slanderous Rush Limbaugh talking points." Massa said those points are "taking us back to the stone age."

The first talking point is the question of adults being convered by S-CHIP. Massa said that adults so covered are "severely developmentally disabled individuals." Massa said he sat with a number of those individuals recently in Chemung County. He recounted the example of one gentleman in his forties who had a ski accident in his twenties:

His tortured and twisted body could not function, but his brain was the intellectual equivalent of an adult. To use someone like him as a scapegoat is not just unethical and immoral, but criminal. This is not an argument about some hypothetical.

The second talking point Massa discussed was the one saying that families earning $80K per year would be eligible for S-CHIP. Massa noted that Governor Spitzer has said that a family of four earning $80K in New York City is earning a lower-middle-class wage. Moreover, "the legislature voted, in a bi-partisan manner, to request an increase". Massa noted that Governor Pataki ran ads in favor of S-CHIP, "now it is in jeopardy in New York State".

Massa called the S-CHIP vote a "telling moment" for Representative Kuhl, because

10,400 children [in the district] were voted out of the doctor's office. I think that's wrong. Randy Kuhl ran a campaign based on bringing home the pork, but the biggest piece he could bring home was denied because George Bush told him to.

Massa said he was "delighted to hear that Speaker Pelosi is going to send the bill back to the President." (Here's an article about that.)

Turning to the drivers' license imbroglio, Massa said that he doesn't agree with the governor. "Nobody thinks giving drivers' licenses to illegal aliens is a good idea." He said his main concern was that the governor is "asking county, city and state employees to violate federal law."

That said, Massa took the opportunity to get in a few licks on what he perceives as Kuhl's, and the President's, hypocrisy on the issue. He noted that Kuhl supported a guest worker program, but opposed a program that would allow those guest workers to get a drivers' license. (I asked a follow up on that - because I'm not sure that guest workers would be denied drivers' licenses since they have valid visas - but I don't think I expressed myself well, and we moved on.)

As for the President, Massa said the following:

We need to trace back to why we have this problem to begin with. Our government has had six years to secure the borders. George Bush has refused to do it with a wink and a nod. That's because he wants Tyson's Chicken to have illegal workers for sub-minimum-wage jobs, but he also wants to have the scarecrow of illegal immigrants.

I asked Massa a few questions about other issues that have been in the news recently. First, I asked for his take on Randy Kuhl's view that the Veterans' Appropriations bill is being stalled by Democrats. Massa characterized Republicans in the Senate as "obstructionist" and added, "Maybe he should walk across the Capitol and ask the Senate to pass it." Massa added that the House had passed more legislation in this session than in many previous Congresses.

I also asked Massa for his view on progress in Iraq, and the role of Blackwater. On Blackwater, Massa said, "I don't know any military officer who looks at a company like that as antying but a danger to our troops." He noted that Blackwater operates outside of military control and doesn't coordinate operations with the military. He said that he's concerned about the expansion of private armies, and though he believes there must be greater oversight, ultimately he'd like to see control of the American battlefield returned to the American military.

Massa said that Blackwater is the "end result of Dick Cheney and George Bush's culture of outsourcing" and characterized it as part of a "spiral to the bottom": Blackwater employees are "paid enormous salaries that entice our own service personnel to leave the military, creating incredible shortages, and dictating that Blackwater employees get higher wages."

On Iraq in general, Massa said that nobody is happier than he is to see fewer casualties, but he thinks the standard for progress in Iraq is whether the Iraqis are making progress towards a political solution.

We just saw Gen. Sanchez open up and tell the truth about what a failure the policies in Iraq are. Sanchez is probably one of the guys who briefed Kuhl during his 16-hour trip to Iraq. The guy who said that everything is wonderful is now saying that its failed. We're going backwards instead of forward.

Finally, I asked about the recent money numbers in the 29th. Massa said "this race has never been, nor will it ever be, about raising money." The issue is "not how much is raised, but how it is raised." The big difference, according to Massa, is that he doesn't take corporate PAC money, and Randy Kuhl continues to accept money from corporate PACs, and "recently accepted thousands of dollars from the tobacco lobby". Massa said he was returning an unsolicited corporate check today.

I was the only person on the call because of some issues coordinating it.