Archive (2008)

Afternoon News: Debates and Fix Washington

The Messenger-Post has a debate story. It reports that Kuhl has declined other debate invitations, but his spokesman Justin Stokes would only identify the Bath League of Women Voters event by name.

Randy Kuhl has released the winning idea for his "Fix Washington contest: term limits. Kuhl will introduce a 12-year term limit Constitutional amendment.

As Requested

Reader Elmer was nice enough to send today's story [pdf] about Eric Massa and Charlie Rangel.

Steuben County's Election Mess

Reader Tom sends Joe Dunning's column [gif] about poll worker performance in the recent primary for Steuben County Sheriff. It was awful.

Some highlights: Five of 85 precincts reported incorrectly. One set of poll workers went home without reporting results. The "fact" that one of the candidates received zero votes in his home town was reported without question by poll workers.

New York has been using the same voting technology for generations, and poll workers still screw up. Just imagine the mess if we were trying to implement electronic voting this year.

Debate Remainders

The Hornell Evening Trib has a debate story. It points out that only one of the events the candidates have agreed to attend is a real debate. One of them, an appearance in Elmira, is a forum, which I assume means that neither candidate will directly address the other.

WENY's coverage contains this telling remark:

“We've had, at this point, about 20-25 requests to do debates and there just isn't enough time to do them all but we're trying to do as many as we can,” Kuhl told us.

I thought 10 was a big number until the Massa operation sent me a list. 20-25 is just an exaggeration.

Plans: What Are They Good For?

Some would say a House candidate's plans are good for absolutely nothing. Jeff from the excellent 26th District blog puts it this way in a comment yesterday:

In the end though, a first-term Congressperson from NY-26 will NOT end a War, has almost no influence whatsoever on Abortion or Gay marriage, cannot revolutionize the economy or single handedly fix the energy crisis. Promises to the contrary might sound nice but they are empty.

We need to learn what these candidates understand about the process of creating policy, working their way through bloated and complex systems, how to follow procedure and understand organizational rules and how to leverage and bargain. It isn't sexy, but its what they will be doing. Turning thought and promise to policy is an enormously complex task especially in the House of Representatives but most of the questions I hear always focus on issues that have nothing to do with the job.

I agree that there's a huge disconnect between ambitious plans and what a Member of Congress can accomplish on his or her own. I still think candidates should release some sort of position statement on the issues of the day, and it's inevitable that political statements will come out in the form of bold plans. But we shouldn't get bogged down debating the fine points of those plans.

Jeff's second point is also important. How a potential Member of Congress will interact in the House and in his or her caucus is critical. My take is a little different. The House is such a lockstep institution that what I want to see is whether my candidate has a personality that will allow him or her to buck the leadership once in a while.

Finally, one last consideration: if your relatively junior Representative is not in the majority party, they have much less influence than a junior Member of the majority. The majority's goal is to keep its majority, and senior safe-seat Members will often help a more junior member in a tough district.

It's almost certain that the House is going to be more Democratic next session than it is now. Massa will be a relatively independent voice in tough seat that the Democrats will want to defend. It doesn't get much better than that for junior Representatives. If your vote is on influence rather than issues, that's worth considering.

Administrative Notes and Amplifications

The media pachyderm Gannett is having trouble mating with the Internet elephant Google. The result is that most Star-Gazette stories aren't showing up in my feeds from Google, and a bunch of blog posts from political reporter Joe Spector are appearing a Westchester County Gannett site. I try to catch those, but I greatly appreciate all who have been sending Star-Gazette and other Gannett content.

In today's post on the debates, I claimed that there have been no public polls in the 29th, and that Kuhl's campaign has not paid for a poll in the recent past. A sharp reader wrote to point out a Kuhl poll which was distributed in January that showed Kuhl 20 points ahead. Just to be clear: in addition to being a poll from one side, that poll had a few other issues that made it really unreliable. Follow the previous link to learn more. There's been no third-party polling in the district that I know about.

Afternoon Opinion: Leader, Gannett

Reader Elmer sends today's Corning Leader Editorial Page [pdf], which includes Bob Rolfe's column on Randy Kuhl's voting record, as well as a couple Letters to the Editor on the 29th race.

Reader Justin sends a link to a Joe Spector blog post on the race. It concerns Charlie Rangel, who held a fundraiser for Massa earlier this year.

Spector also posts on today's Kuhl ad and Kuhl's refusal to debate in Bath.

Another Kuhl Ad

Kuhl's latest ad accuses Massa of starting negative attacks. It's embedded after the break:

More Debate Cancellation Coverage

Reader Tom sends the Star-Gazette and Corning Leader [gif] (jump [gif]) stories on the Bath debate cancellation.

Susan Multer of the League of Women Voters is quoted in the Star-Gazette:

"It's a sad day for democracy when elected officials are unwilling to
participate in local candidate forums," Multer said. "It shows great
disrespect for the public for a congressman to take five months and a
state senator to take six weeks to tell the sponsoring organization
that they will not participate and give no reason."

Update: WETM also has a debate story.

Bath Debate Canceled

Syracuse News 10 is reporting that the League of Women Voters debate in Bath has been canceled. Both Randy Kuhl and George Winner [R-SD-53] declined to attend.

I covered this debate in 2006. Compared to the usual televised debates, it was a tea party. The League screens the questions. Kuhl was born in Bath. It's the friendliest imaginable format in a Kuhl stronghold.

I had thought that Kuhl's delay in accepting debate invitations was just political jockeying. But now it looks like he's trying to minimize his debate appearances.

At the Massa press conference two weeks ago, Eric Massa claimed that there were 10 debates scheduled in the 29th. I was skeptical about that claim, and asked his campaign to sent me a list. It turns out that ten non-partisan third parties really do want to hold Congressional debates. This includes WHAM, which has offered to post those debates on their website.

Conventional wisdom says that incumbents who are ahead in the polls shouldn't debate, because debates give your opponent legitimacy by appearing on the same stage. If there's a poll that shows Kuhl way ahead, his campaign hasn't paid for it recently. The last public poll in this race was taken on November 7, 2006, and it was pretty tight. And I doubt that there's anyone in this district inclined to listen to debates who hasn't heard of Eric Massa.

Kuhl has accepted only two of those ten debate invitations. He's stopped town hall meetings. He spent a good part of last month in Washington participating in a silly, meaningless protest that isn't even supported by his party's President or Senate. I don't know if there's a master plan underneath all this, but from where I'm sitting, it sure looks like Kuhl is simply hiding from the press and the public.

New Kuhl Ad

The Kuhl Campaign has released a new ad, where some Vets give Kuhl credit for saving the Canandaigua VA Hospital. It's embedded below:

Update: In response to commenter's questions, I asked the Kuhl campaign some questions about the commercial. According to Justin Stokes, Kuhl's spokesman, the man speaking is Ralph Calabrese. He's the head of the Veterans Advisory Group of the Finger Lakes Region. In response to the question of whether Mr. Calabrese was speaking officially, the response is "He's speaking as a veteran who worked to keep the VA open."

Yet Another Indicator of MCDC Weakness

I've posted before about the weakness of the Monroe County Democratic Party. Its chairman, Joe Morelle, was unable to field a candidate at the top of the ticket (County Executive) in last year's election.

Now, Sean Carroll notices that Morelle was seen by Liz Benjamin, a New York City political columnist, at Sheldon Silver's victory party Tuesday night. And Exile at Rochesterturning further notes that Morelle brought some volunteers to work for Silver on election day.

Of course, Morelle also endorsed Jon Powers, who lost on Tuesday. An endorsement from Joe Morelle's MCDC is probably worth a little less than a bucket of warm piss, but that's one comparison that springs to mind.