Archive (2008)

Two Possibly Related Stories

John Boehner tells Republicans to get off their "dead asses" and start raising money.

Randy Kuhl holds two fundraisers next weekend.

The Farm Bill

Zinnfan sends a link to an article from Time with in-depth coverage of the machinations leading up to the current farm bill.  It's worth a read because it shows how entrenched, sacred-cow constituencies like farmers keep the status quo alive, using influence on Democrats and Republicans (like Randy Kuhl) on the Ag Committee.

As I've mentioned here before, one of the little-covered facts about ethanol subsidies is its impact on food prices (good summary here).  This change has made a major impact on the farm economy.  I just spent a lot of time with a family member who lives in the Plains states, and his report was that land prices are at record highs, reflecting the fact that farming has suddenly become quite profitable again. 

For example, corn prices, which have hovered around $2/bushel for years, are now twice that.  In Iowa, the average corn price in December, 2005 was $1.70.  In December, 2007, it was $3.95.  As the Time article points out, the large farms that receive huge subsidies under the farm bill were making money in 2005.  In 2007, they're making a killing.  No matter: the dysfunctional Washington process that created the farm bill is unable to take this into account.

NRCC PR - Hornell Evening Tribune

Jared Smith from the Massa Campaign sends the Hornell Evening Tribune's story [pdf] on a NRCC press release, which appeared only in the paper edition.

The substance of the NRCC release is that Massa hasn't taken a position on the failure of Congress to pass the extension to the Protect America Act (PAA).  I covered that whole issue in a post last week.  The majority of Democrats voted for a 21-day extension of the act, while every Republican voted against it.  Yet the NRCC wants to paint the Democrats as the instigators of PAA expiration. 

The NRCC also throws in a few licks about Massa's fundraising.  They think it's bad for Massa to get money from fellow Democrats and trial lawyers. Randy Kuhl's "me, too" on that particular claim is intentionally misleading:

"If he is going to continue to claim that he does not accept donations from political interest organizations then I would expect him to return the money," Kuhl said.
Massa's position, as Kuhl well knows, is that he won't accept money from corporate PACs.  Kuhl can argue whether that's a meaningful thing for Massa to pledge, but it's dishonest to intimate that he hasn't kept his pledge. 

Overall, the Republican spin on the PAA has struck me as remarkably weak and ineffective.  I assume the Massa campaign thinks so, too, otherwise they wouldn't have sent a story pegged on a NRCC critique of their candidate.

Another Retirement Rumor

The Albany Project reports the rumor that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is urging Randy Kuhl to retire because he can't win.  The NRCC's favored candidate, according to this rumor, is Maggie Brooks, the Monroe County Executive.

This makes no sense for a number of reasons.  First, Maggie represented Monroe County's 17th District in the County Legislature, which includes the town of Irondequoit.  Unless she's moved, she doesn't live in the district, so she's a "carpetbagger".   Second, putting a Monroe County Republican up against a Southern Tier Democrat is a dumb move.   The Southern Tier houses the Republican core of the district, and they're going to want one of their own running.

I have to believe this is a rumor manufactured by someone who doesn't know the area very well, but is able to read campaign finance reports.  Maggie is a good fundraiser, so she'd have some deep pockets.  But money isn't enough to win a Congressional race, especially for someone who's going to have to move to get into the district.

(via Rochesterturning)

Kuhl Makes Maxim Magazine

Reader Elmer sends a page [pdf] from the March, 2008 issue of Maxim Magazine, which puts Randy Kuhl on a list of "Party Animals".   Kuhl isn't in bad company, since Barack Obama is there, too.

Wakey Wakey

The Democrat and Chronicle's first story about the 29th district this year gives us the timely news that Eric Massa raised more money than Randy Kuhl during the last reporting period.  Of course, every other media outlet in the 29th reported this two weeks ago, when the fundraising totals were actually released.

Next up for the D&C:  I hear this Obama guy is coming from behind, and McCain might just clinch the Republican nomination.  I think that story is scheduled for sometime in March.

Inside Baseball

Reader Elmer sends an editor's column from the Corning Leader [pdf]  (jump [pdf]), which talks about Stan Lundine's plan to force school consolidation. Gannett also has the story.

This is relevant to the 29th because Lundine was the last Democrat to represent the Southern Tier in Congress.  He preceded Amo Houghton in a district that had different boundaries from today's 29th.

Keep This Straight

Randy Kuhl's vote on extending the Protect America Act:  No.

Consequence of his vote, according to his blog entry:  Dire.


I've got some family in town so I'm a little slow reacting to a chaotic day in Congress yesterday.  There's a whole bunch of spin going around about the Protect America Act (PAA), which might expire without being renewed.  The truth, as usual, is a lot simpler than some of the bull that's been flying around.

First, some plain facts.  The PAA expiration is not the expiration of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  FISA defines the rules by which the US can spy on communications between foreigners and those residing here.  One of the main provisions is a secret court that approves wiretap warrants.  PAA is an add-on to FISA, which changed some of the FISA rules to make them more lenient.  FISA will still be the law of the land no matter what happens, as it has been for 30 years.

Second, the issue with PAA is telecom immunity.  The law grants retroactive immunity to telecoms that provided their customers' communication to US spy agencies in defiance of then-current US law.  A coalition of progressive and civil liberty groups have opposed granting immunity to telecoms.  Some conservative Democrats have supported it, so the PAA made it through the Senate with telecom immunity attached.  The House may be less favorably disposed to telcom immunity, so House leadership proposed a 21-day extension to the PAA to allow more debate in the House.  Republicans opposed it, and the extension failed Wednesday because it lacked the support of blue-dog Democrats as well as a couple of liberal Democrats who oppose PAA in general.

Which brings us to yesterday.  The Republicans, with the help of the media, engaged in some mau-mauing with the aim of painting Democrats as unpatriotic pawns of Al Qaeda.  Here are two examples:

On his blog, Randy Kuhl makes the claim that FISA could have hampered the search for a missing US soldier in Baghdad last year.  According to Kuhl, the search for kidnapped Spec. Alex Jimenez and two other soldiers was hampered because "searchers waited 10 hours" while authorization for a wiretap was sought from the Justice Department.   Some of Jimenez' kidnappers could have been communicating via a phone which had signals routed through a switch in the United States, and the FISA court had earlier ruled that such signals can't be intercepted without a warrant.

The facts in the case, as laid out by the Washington Post, show that FISA was not the issue here.  As any reasonable person would expect, the Army began searching for the missing soldiers immediately, and they requested the wiretap 86 hours into the search.  Since FISA allows an emergency 72 hour warrants with the consent of the Justice Department, all of the delay was in the Justice Department, and some of it was due to tracking down Alberto Gonzales.   If the Jimenez case shows anything, it shows that the Bush Administration's Justice Department is (typically) incompetent because they're unable to come up with a streamlined process to implement the emergency provisions of FISA. 

Kuhl should be more careful about re-printing Republican spin, and he ought to also be careful when that spin makes the Army look like they sat on their hands waiting for bureaucrats instead of searching for one of their own.

The second intimidation attempt that happened yesterday was a walk-out by Republicans, ostensibly because they were upset over the threat to the country posed by the PAA.  Their walk-out conveniently coincided with a vote on a contempt of Congress citation for Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers. 

To Randy Kuhl's credit, he was one of the few (about 30) Republicans who did not engage in the walk-out.  He voted against the contempt citation.

My overall take on this is that the debate on telecom immunity is important, that the supporters of immunity have overplayed their hand, and that in the end we need to have some transparency and accountability when telcoms break the law.  Most importantly, there is nothing unpatriotic about wanting the rule of law to apply to telecom companies.  We aren't going to "let the terrorists win" if we have oversight on domestic surveillance, and it's good to see that some House Democrats have a vertebra or two left on this matter.

Campaign or Congressional Staff?

Exile at Rochesterturning has a Kuhl press release sent by Meghan Tisinger, Kuhl's press secretary.  It's a political product, since it calls Eric Massa a "puppet" and accuses him of "spewing falsities".  Exile points out that the press release might be part of a Kuhl strategy to delay his announcement so he can use Congressional staff without penalty.

That's an interesting theory, but there's no need for Kuhl to do that.  According to the rules governing staff conduct, staff are free to "volunteer" their "own time" to work on the campaign.  As for what constitutes the employee's "own time", that's determined by the "personnel policies that are in place in the employing office."   So, as long as his press secretary volunteers, she's free to write press releases for Kuhl in her spare time.

The use of government equipment for campaign purposes is forbidden.  The press release was sent from a Gmail account, not the House mail system.  But it went out on a Wednesday afternoon while Congress was in session, so Exile wonders if Ms Tisinger was using her government-supplied computer.  We'll never know, but I'd be surprised if Randy's staff didn't have campaign laptops to use for campaign business.

The loose rules for campaign use of Congressional staff is just one of the many perqs of incumbency.  They're issued by the House Ethics Committee, which is controlled by Democrats, so it's not as if the Republicans are cutting Randy a break.  It's just part of the huge, undisclosed and largely unmonitored incumbent advantage that helps prop up the established Congressional power structure.  

Kuhl Op-Ed on Bush Budget

Reader Elmer sends Randy Kuhl's lengthy op-ed in today's Corning Leader [pdf].  Kuhl isn't happy with the Bush budget, especially with the budget cuts that hit the Appalachian Regional Commission as well as job training programs.

What's missing from the op-ed is any discussion of how government should raise the revenue to fund those programs, or a list of the programs that should be cut to re-fund them. 

The Most Powerful Voting Bloc

Megan McArdle is an Atlantic Monthly writer whose grandmother lives in Newark, NY.  Newark is a few miles North of the 29th district, but like a number of towns in the Southern 29th, its population is older than the national average.  McArdle thinks Newark is what the rest of the country will look like as the baby boom generation gets older.  In her article in this month's edition, she makes a number of political observations that are relevant to the election in the 29th.

McArdle notes that the needs of the elderly will push the economy towards more service, which in turn will probably mean slower growth (since productivity grows slower in the service sector than in manufacturing).  Slow growth coupled with increases in Social Security and Medicare will lead to higher taxes, benefit cuts and higher retirement ages:

The political battles over all of this will be bitter, and they will probably be, too often, won by the retirees, who vote in force (though not always as a bloc). Those same retirees may also vote against things that are actually in their interest—thus shutting out the immigrants who could help them stay at home, and out of the nursing home, longer; turning down school taxes that could create a more productive workforce to support them; fighting for zoning restrictions that make it harder for the low-income workers who provide their services to live within easy commuting distance.

McArdle's view of seniors as voters who turn out in force is evident in the politics of the 29th.  For example, possibly most effective ad of the last cycle was one that claimed that Eric Massa would raise taxes and cut social security.  It was aimed squarely at elderly voters, since it focused on the biggest fears of old people living on a fixed income.   Even though it was essentially false, I don't think anyone seriously doubts that it put some votes in Kuhl's column.

In the current cycle, the Bush Administration's budget, which has a $200 billion cut in Medicare, might lead to an ad from Democrats aimed at seniors.  The Republicans well-honed sense of self-preservation will probably kick in before that happens, however, and the cut will almost certainly be removed in committee.  

If they raise any money, RNCC may try to claim that Democrats want to insure illegal aliens in S-CHIP at the expense of the elderly.  Their "sniper" ad from last cycle shows that they'll use any excuse to scare the crap out of older voters.

Aside from the fact that they scare easily, the elderly are also more easily reached than the younger Internet- and cell-phone-using population.  Grandma doesn't have Tivo, and she watches the local TV news, so she's likely to see a paid commercial.  She also has a landline on which she can receive robocalls.

Seniors are easy to scare and easy to reach.  In the 29th, this means that we'll probably see more ads addressed to them, and they might even swing the election if someone shows them the right bogeyman.