Archive (2008)

Silly Assumptions About the Job of Congressman

The Democrat and Chronicle's editorial board has two community members, a "liberal" and a "conservative".  This year's conservative is Petrena Hayes, who was formerly the Greece community blogger. 

Editorial board members publish occasional op-eds, and Petrena's first contribution complains about the current perqs enjoyed by Members of Congress.   Exile at Rochesterturning has a good critique of her essay, but I'd like to make another point.

Every Member of Congress in the Rochester area, with the exception of Louise Slaughter (NY-28), is in a hotly contested district.  The job of Congressman in a contested district is a tough job.  When you're not traveling back and forth between your district and DC, you're on the phone or at fundraisers begging for money.  In between, if you're Randy Kuhl, you're visiting every backwater town in the district, listening to people complain. 

The notion that any of these guys took the job because they wanted to workout at the House Gym and take advantage of the retirement benefits is ignorant.  Most Members of Congress have impressive resumes with post-graduate degrees.  If they were motivated primarily by greed, there are much quicker ways to make more money.  The motivations I see in our congressional delegation are a combination of altruism and ambition.    There are some lapses, such as Kuhl's recent junket, but Congressional perqs are distraction, not a major issue.

If you don't believe me, check out this story in the Atlantic Monthly. The full story is subscriber-only, but I've included a few choice excerpts after the break:
Sarah Feinberg, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman, estimates that incumbent members in a competitive race spend “twenty-five hours a week” fund-raising, while challengers devote “forty to fifty hours a week” to literally dialing for dollars.

In addition to the fourteen-hour workday [Heather] Wilson [R-NM-1] often puts in—soliciting money, sitting on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Intelligence Committee, and taking care of constituents—she faces a grueling weekly commute that takes seven hours each way (if all goes smoothly) between her studio in Washington and her full-time residence in Albuquerque. Wilson’s family is used to this: her daughter, Cait, was just over eighteen months old when her mother first won federal office [...] (When Cait was younger and would say “I want you” over the phone to Wilson, the congresswoman recalls, “it was almost physically painful.”)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi works fourteen-hour days whether or not Congress is in session. [...] Pelosi’s schedule between 1:15 p.m. on Friday, June 23, and 9:00 p.m. on Monday, June 26, featured stops in Providence; Cambridge, Massachusetts; San Juan; Pittsburgh; and Washington, D.C., and included five fund-raisers, three media appearances, two official meetings, one charity event, and a dinner for members of Congress that she hosted in her own home.

One of the only times former House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey got truly angry at his executive assistant was when she decided, in response to public criticism that lawmakers earned too much money, to calculate how much Armey earned an hour. She established that it averaged $3.57.

Obstructionism Alone is Not a Strategy

In recent blog posts and email, Randy Kuhl isn't shy about criticizing Congress.  Recalling a race from 60 years ago, Kuhl uses Harry Truman's term, "Do Nothing Congress", to describe the workings of the first year of the 110th Congress.  Kuhl proudly links to articles with headlines that begin with "GOP not budging...".  Though most of the links in his newest post try to pin the blame on the Democratic leadership, Kuhl is not afraid of articles that paint his party as obstructionist.

While it's too early to draw any conclusions about the impact of the primaries on the race in the 29th, the lopsided turnouts in New Hampshire and Iowa have shown one thing:  independents are overwhelmingly voting for Democrats. 
As they did in 2006, Democrats claim that a vote for them in 2008 is a vote for change.  Kuhl's rhetoric is aimed at showing that the Democrats' oversold their ability to change in 2006, so voters are suckers to choose them again in 2008.

Polls certainly agree that the public is disgusted with Congress.  But Kuhl's strategy is a double-edged sword.  Since he isn't presenting a positive program, voters will wonder if he's part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  Massa has a list of positive goals, most of which are shared by the Democratic presidential candidates.  Even if voters don't agree with every detail of Massa and the Democrats' platform, they may well choose it over the prospect of more gridlock.  As the saying goes, something is better than nothing.

Big Oil Robocall

I received the following robo-call yesterday:

This is an urgent message from American Family Voices at 202-293-1128. Congressman Randy Kuhl voted for a $13 billion Christmas present for the oil industry in the way of tax giveaways.  Meanwhile, Congressman Kuhl has taken thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the oil industry.  Why, with oil prices over $100/barrel, and gas prices on their way to $4/gallon this year, why in heavens name should Congressman Kuhl be giving tax giveaways to big oil?

Call Congressman Kuhl at 607-776-9142 and tell him we should be helping Americans at the pump and not rewarding big oil.

WETM, Channel 18 in Elmira, also has a story on the call.  By my count, this is the fourth robo-call from this group.  Other calls concerned unsafe toys, S-CHIP and war with Iran.  According to the non-partisan Public Citizen organization, American Family Voices is a 501(c)(4) funded mainly by AFSCME

In The News

The Star-Gazette reports that Randy Kuhl is concerned that the Farm Bill hasn't yet gone through the conference committee process, even though the previous bill expired at the end of 2007.   Wonder what happened to that bill?  Well, if you look at the Congressdb summary,  you can see that the bill was passed by the House in July.  After the inevitable cloture vote, the Senate finally passed it in December, almost immediately before adjourning.   So, what Randy is telling us is that we should be upset that the filibuster threats in the Senate have delayed the Farm Bill.  OK, I'm upset.

The Democrat and Chronicle's story on suburban poverty notes that the number of children living in poverty in Rochester's suburbs is on the rise.  One of the school districts mentioned, Wheatland-Chili, is part of the 29th district.  Another, East Rochester, is on the very edge of the district.

Massa's Press Conference

Yesterday's results in New Hampshire have Eric Massa fired up and ready to go.   Massa started with three points:

1. The New Hampshire turnout is good news for Democrats. Most of the increase in turnout was among Independents and Democrats.

We are energized. People in this country are absolutely at wits end and fed up with politics as usual in Washington, DC. The go along to get along, good old boy network is not resonating with the American people. Washington DC is broken, and to fix it we have to change it.
2. Randy Kuhl is swimming against this tide. Evidence for this includes his "disingenuous, dishonest and incredibly negative writings in local newspapers, and his spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money to sent out glossy two-sided mailers."

Massa's objection to the mailer is that Kuhl's claim that "No child in New York should ever have to live without health coverage" is contradicted by his actions: "He took millions of dollars off of the table. Four million children were blocked from getting access to health care."

3. Kuhl's editorial calling the 110th Congress the "Post Office" Congress didn't acknowledge that Kuhl himself sponsored a bill in the 109th Congress to rename the Scio Post Office after Congressional Medal of Honor winner Jason Dunham. "Frankly, that's a wonderful thing to do [...] I think it's wonderful that we honor our local heroes."

Massa concluded by noting:

I'm going to center my campaign on what we believe in and what we stand for. But I cannot help but point out, and it must be pointed out, that who we have representing us today is a classic example of what is wrong in Washington. Washington is broken, and Randy Kuhl is one of those broken pieces.
After the intro, Rick Miller of the Olean Times-Herald asked some questions about the primaries. The net of them was that Massa is going to vote for Hillary, he doesn't officially endorse anyone, and his supporters are backing different candidates but are unified in their support of Massa.

Bob Recotta of the Corning Leader asked Massa about the perception on the part of the public that Congress is part of the problem, as evidenced by polls. How can the leading Democratic candidates, who are all former or current Senators, distance themselves from that perception?

Massa said that the candidates should

tell people that they need to change Congress. When a sitting Member of Congress calls his colleagues a 'Post-Office Congress' but he's one of the guys setting up a bill naming a Post Office, then he's part of the problem. We need people to work across party lines. I used to be a Republican. I'm bi-lingual. I speak donkey and elephant, eat carrots and peanuts. We need to elect people who don't judge their fellow Americans by the party they're part of.
Recotta also asked how Massa's campaign will tap into the energy coming from the Presidential contest.

I like to think some of that energy is coming from our campaign. We're like a can of Coke that's been shook up. We see more volunteers, more activity and more excitement. I don't think it's an Iowa or New Hampshire phenomenon -- it's a national phenomenon.
Rob Montana of the Hornell Evening Tribune asked what Massa's biggest problem was with Kuhl's editorial.

Massa said that the easiest way to see what was wrong with the editorial was to set it beside his New Year's message. Massa contrasted his "clear message of what I stand for" with Kuhl's negativity. Massa also noted that "it's wrong for a Member of Congress to misuse his position to attack the other side for actions he took", referring to the Post Office naming.

I asked Massa his take on the Republican talking point that the surge is working and that it won't be an issue in the '08 election.

My answer is great, time to leave. I was not in favor of going into Iraq, and I continue to be in opposition to our occupation in Iraq. We were sold a bill of goods. We were told there would be a Summer surge. Last time I checked, there was snow outside, and Iraqi soldiers were shooting American soldiers in the back. The surge was supposed to create a functioning Iraqi democracy. That hasn't happened. It's time for us to look at the President and say 'You don't get to keep 150,000 Americans in Iraq.'

Kuhl S-CHIP Mailer

Today I received a glossy, one-page mailer [pdf] from Randy Kuhl. The mailer has one purpose: to emphasize Kuhl's "Yes" vote on the S-CHIP extension. Under Kuhl's picture, the words "I VOTED YES" are repeated three times. The mailer was sent using Kuhl's franking privilege.

Kuhl Op-Ed

Reader Elmer sends Randy Kuhl's Op-Ed [pdf] in today's Corning Leader.  Kuhl highlights the lack of progress in Congress and his vote for S-CHIP continuation.

Kuhl's office has also sent out the latest version of the Kuhl Khronicle, which is his monthly email newsletter.  I can't find it on his website, so here's a local copy

Local Media: Part Deux

Since I canceled my Democrat and Chronicle subscription, I'm looking for the best way to get information about my local suburban town online.

Here's how the D&C wants to meet my needs.  They've got a page for my town.  This page has stories and some links.  The obituaries link goes to the generic (all-Rochester) D&C obits, so I still have to plow through a long list to see if any of my acquaintances have passed from this earthly realm.  There's an event calendar on the page, but it's remarkably useless, since it doesn't have information about where the event is held.  And, like the obits, when I click on an event, I'm transported to the regional D&C event calendar.

Of course, the D&C doesn't provide a RSS feed for this content, so I have to bookmark the page and visit it regularly to be sure I'm up-to-date on happenings in my town.  As usual with any interaction with the Smugtown Gazette, I'm constantly reminded that the D&C isn't here to meet my needs -- I'm here to meet their needs.  In this case, they apparently need more page views, so they stubbornly refuse to create RSS feeds.

In sharp contrast, the Messenger-Post has a page that might be a little less pretty, but is a lot more useful.  First, it has a RSS feed so I can be informed when a story about my town is posted.  More importantly, the M-P has reporters post regular round-up stories on deaths, events and the police blotter.  That's all I need, and I'll be getting it from a paper that has a small fraction of the resources deployed by the D&C.

Another Kind of Audacity

Here's the first email I received last night after the Iowa caucus was called for Obama:

Yeeeeaaaahhhhhhh!!!! You did it!

The DFA Unite for a Progressive President Campaign was a huge success and helped propel Senators Obama and Edwards to first and second place victories in Iowa.

A year ago, the pundits and beltway Democrats said this race was a forgone conclusion. Over the last two months, you made it a dead heat on the ground in Iowa.

Tonight: Progressives Won!

The nomination is far from over. New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are coming up fast. And, Super Tuesday could decide the nomination.

With your help, we will continue to make history. You did it in Iowa. Let's do it again across the nation. Contribute $15 right now and support our campaign for a progressive president.

DFA stands for Democracy for America, a political action committee.  Perhaps they did have something to do with setting the stage for Senator Obama's win last night.  But the notion that someone should send them $15 because Obama won is a staggering misdirection.  If you have a few bucks to send, you'll get the most bang for those bucks by sending them directly to your candidate of choice.

This is especially true in the 29th district, where groups like DFA and MoveOn are active supporters of Eric Massa's candidacy.   If you're sending DFA money and haven't maxed out your contributions to Massa, you're as big a sucker as someone who thinks that the right way to respond to last night's events in Iowa is to send Howard Dean's brother a check.

Massa Q&A

Frequent commenter Elmer asked some interesting questions of Eric Massa over at Rochesterturning, and Massa has responded in the comments.

On other Q&A fronts, I haven't been able to attend the last couple of Massa press conferences, but I hope to get back in the habit next week.

Local Media is Where It's At

National bloggers have been posting about the decline in traffic on "liberal" blogs, and the uptick on "conservative" blogs.  This post has a good round-up, including graphs.   I have an explanation that has nothing to do with left-wing fatigue, right-wing ascendency or Barack Obama.  My guess is the national decline indicates that some of the audience for political blogging is going local.

For example, Rochesterturning, which mainly covers local political issues but occasionally discusses national ones, is celebrating its 18-month anniversary.  Unless its readers have suddenly gotten an extra few minutes added to their day, I assume some of its traffic growth comes at the expense of national blogs.  Other left-leaning blogs have sprung up in New York, including Room 8 in New York City, and The Albany Project.  There are currently fewer local conservative blogs, and most of them are newer than their liberal counterparts (one example is Ontario GOP).  I assume that local conservative blogs will continue to spring up, and they'll eventually take some traffic from the national conservative blogs.

Speaking of local media, a new, independently-run town forum has sprung up in Henrietta.  In addition to carrying the new posts of former D&C blogger Peter Boulay, the forum also has a section where the Messenger-Post reporter on the Henrietta beat, Jessica Gaspar, solicits story ideas and asks for feedback.  Jessica's availability and responsiveness is in sharp contrast to the beat reporters for the D&C.  I've sent a couple of emails to D&C reporters and never gotten an answer. 

Kuhl's New Year

The Ontario Republican's New Year's Eve post sounds like he was hitting the champagne a little early.  GOP believes that Randy Kuhl will do well in 2008, and cites two reasons why: the surge is working and therefore Iraq is less of an issue, and S-CHIP is off the table.

I must have slept through the Iraq victory parade, especially the part where all of our soldiers came home and we stopped spending billions per month on a war without end.  But I don't think I was the only one who missed the "Iraq is not a problem" bandwagon.  Last week's Economist magazine, hardly a hotbed of left-wing extremism, has an in-depth review of the Iraq situation.  Acknowledging that the surge has lessened violence in Iraq and provided an opportunity for improvement, they say:

Alas, there has so far been no sign that the government of Nuri al-Maliki is poised to grab this opportunity. Indeed, as an adviser to General Petraeus glumly describes it, “The politics is going nowhere.” The government still acts like a collection of competing fiefs, not a body that speaks with a national voice. Even among Shias, a paralysing factionalism has, if anything, got worse. [...]

Worse, Mr Maliki is still failing to reach out effectively to the Sunnis. The main Sunni block in parliament, which had a clutch of ministries in the ruling coalition, continues to take no part in government. [...] To cap it all, the Sunnis are sorely divided too—and not just over al-Qaeda. The main Sunni block in parliament is deeply wary of the Awakening in Anbar, which may displace it as the authentic voice of the Sunnis nationwide.
Also, I didn't sleep through the Petraeus hearings, where he made it clear that the surge will end in the Spring.  By that time, both parties will have picked their nominees and Iraq will once again be a major issue getting tons of airtime as part of the Presidential race.   Surge or no surge, a broad majority of Americans still want to get out of Iraq.  Thinking that this issue will just go away is simply unrealistic.  We are going to hear a lot about Iraq in 2008, and much of it will not be kind to Kuhl's record on the issue.

As for S-CHIP, Massa can still argue that Kuhl's stalwart support of the Republican minority led to 50,000 fewer insured children in the 29th district.  The recent S-CHIP cave-in by the Democrats just kicked the can down the road.   Massa can still ask voters who they would like to be voting on S-CHIP expansion in 2009:  him, or Randy Kuhl.

In general, all of the issues on which Massa campaigned in 2006 are still important in 2008.   The economy isn't getting better, the deficit is growing, the war in Iraq hasn't made us more secure, and healthcare is becoming less affordable by the day.  The only difference between '08 and '06 is that the entire country will be focused on the presidential race, where all of these issues will be debated continuously until the day of the election.  I have to assume that a happy warrior like Massa is relishing that prospect, and I don't think there's much silver lining for Kuhl in the cloud that's been created by 7 years of the Bush administration.