Posts containing my opinion of the race.

The Subprime Non-Crisis

While the rest of the country weathers the "subprime" crisis, the 29th district seems to be suffering little in the face of the "mortgage meltdown".   Though we will experience the nationwide recession, it won't be worsened by the burst of a housing market bubble.  The housing market in the region has been fairly stable compared to the unsustainable growth typical of the top urban areas of the country.

Given that we've dodged the worst of the mortgage bubble, I wondered why Randy Kuhl co-sponsored a bill to provide a one-time $10,000 tax credit to home buyers.  In Monroe County, this tax credit will apply to homes costing as much as $417,000.  This bill, HR 5670, expires in one year.

There's nothing really wrong with this bill -- if housing prices are falling yet prospective homeowners are feeling skittish about the market, this tax credit might get them to make the jump and therefore stimulate the market.  It might also get them to make a bad investment if they mis-time the bottom of the market, but that's always a risk.

The real issue with the bill is that it won't do much good.  The fundamental driver behind weak housing demand is lack of credit, not fear of taxes.

Mortgage originators have been burned by insiders and outsiders gaming the system, and by over-leveraged borrowers.  A "subprime" mortgage is another name for a low- or no-downpayment mortgage.  When a borrower has no equity, they're more likely to exit their home than make payments.  Even if a borrower made a significant downpayment on their first mortgages, many took out home-equity lines of credit which put their debt at 100% of the value of their home. 

The net result is that borrowers in this market will face extreme scrutiny and will also be expected to make a significant downpayment.  Since a lot of prospective homebuyers were expecting to be able to get into a home with low downpayments, they're going to have to save up longer than expected.   At least in the short-term, easy mortgages based on sketchy applications are a relic of the past.  It will probably take years for the market to adjust to this new reality, and $10,000 in tax credit won't alter that fact.

Getting Serviced

The April edition of the Kuhl Khronicle, Randy Kuhl's email newsletter, has been sent to subscribers.  Each item in the Khronicle links to a different article on Kuhl's website.  Those articles are titled "Constituent Services".

Here's the first sample of the service Kuhl provides:

The recent events concerning the allegations against former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer further solidifies the need for aggressive ethics reform in government. That is why I voted for the Ethics Reform Bill that establishes the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an outside panel to review ethics complaints against lawmakers.
The recent indictment of Rick Renzi, Kuhl's fellow Republican who's accused of using his office for personal gain, doesn't get a mention here.  Spitzer, who's accused of misusing his penis, not his office, does.  It's clear that Kuhl stuck the Spitzer reference in this item simply to make a political point.

Here's another sample:

This budget is another example of how out of touch Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are with the American people. [...]  Democrats are attempting to squander hard-earned American money on more unnecessary government programs.
Kuhl doesn't list a single example of these "unnecessary programs".   And, as always with Kuhl's discussion of the budget, he fails to mention the elephant in the room:  the deficit created by the war in Iraq.

Kuhl used to try to draw a distinction between partisan campaigning and Congressional business.  If that distinction ever existed, it's pretty clear from the latest Khronicle that it's been abandoned for the current campaign.

Morning News

This week's Steuben Courier includes a piece on a new WETM-TV program that will include an interview with Eric Massa.

The "Responsible Plan for Iraq" is the subject of a long op-ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 

Finally, this isn't strictly about the 29th race, but the lede in the latest McClatchy story on Senate earmark reform pretty neatly captures the Republican strategy of making a big noise in hopes that people will forget who was behind the huge earmark expansion in the first place:

Republican senators unveiled an earmark revision plan Thursday as part of an effort to counter their reputations as pork-happy spenders who ran up a deficit while in power and lost the public's trust in their fiscal oversight.

The Pig Book

WETM-TV's story about Randy Kuhl's earmark for Elmira College got me wondering just what criteria Citizens Against Government Waste used to call out appropriations as pork.  According to their site, the appropriation will end up in their "Pig Book" if it passes one or more of the following tests:

  • Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
  • Not specifically authorized;
  • Not competitively awarded;
  • Not requested by the President;
  • Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
  • Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
  • Serves only a local or special interest.
In other words, almost every earmark makes the Pig Book.  On their summary list [pdf], Randy Kuhl has $23.5 million of spend that qualifies, which ranks him 186th in Congress.  Number One is now-Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss), followed by Bill Young (R-FL-10) and John Murtha (D-PA-12).

Today's Media Cycle

It's only April, yet the papers are full of news relevant to the 29th district race.

First, Randy Kuhl's new office hours get a second look from the Messenger-Post.  Today's story has reaction quotes from locals, with the usual mix of Democrats and Republicans.

Kuhl's earmarks for Elmira College were singled out by Citizens Against Government Waste, and WETM in Elmira
has the story.

CSX had another derailment in Monroe County, this time in Palmya, and Randy Kuhl's efforts to get CSX track inspected made the Messenger-Post.   The inspections show that the track is in bad shape, and Kuhl calls for it to be repaired.   Since Kuhl is on the transportation committee, the next logical step would be hearings to see why the Federal Railroad Administration would let CSX continue with such bad track, but Kuhl hasn't called for that, he has called for hearings , which will  probably because hearings would show the same pattern of poor regulation typical of the Bush Administration.  I expect this will be a campaign issue in the Fall.

Finally, in yesterday's Messenger-Post story, which mentioned Eric Massa's call for a debate, Kuhl said that Massa asks for a debate about "once a week".  The reason why Massa is constantly asking for debates is pretty simple:  those requests tend to make the paper.

Town Hall Office Hours

Reader Elmer sends the Corning Leader article [pdf] announcing Randy Kuhl's Town Hall Office Hours.  Kuhl has changed the format of his town hall appearances to private meetings with constituents.  In the press release announcing the new set of meetings, Kuhl says that the reason for the change was that his office received complaints that the meetings were "too impersonal" and constituents felt that they "couldn't voice their opinions".

As anyone who's been paying attention knows, the real reason that Kuhl changed the meeting format was that some of the meetings had turned into raucous confrontations between Kuhl and dissatisfied constituents.   Kuhl had tried the technique of calling the meetings "listening opportunities" where he refused to answer questions from constituents, but that went over poorly.   So now meetings with Kuhl are by appointment only.

The Monroe County meetings I attended last year were packed.  If the meetings attract the same number of constituents this year, there's no chance that Kuhl will be able to meet with even a fraction of those who want to talk to him.  The Massa campaign has already alleged that the meetings are for core constituents only, but it really doesn't matter who Kuhl talks with for 5 or 10 minutes.  Kuhl's format change has transformed these meetings into a non-event.

I imagine the same groups who demonstrated inside the meetings last year will demonstrate outside this year, and my guess is that they'll still get some media time in the Rochester market, so I don't see how this change helps Kuhl politically. My experience was that a good number of constituents who showed up at these meetings with an honest interest in what Kuhl had to say, and no matter what you thought of Kuhl's positions, his willingness to answer some pretty tough questions would probably have garnered a vote or two among those in attendance.

Kuhl and the "Moderate" Label

The Watertown Daily Times has a long story about Randy Kuhl and the demise of moderate Republicans.  As the article points out, Kuhl is only "moderate" in comparison to the current crop of Republicans:  "with the ranks of so-called moderate Republicans in Congress thinning, Mr. Kuhl, who supports organized labor and lower taxes, is looking a lot more middle-of-the-road."

The story doesn't point out that Kuhl's labor support is mixed at best.  For example, he voted against the Employee Free Choice Act, which was the "big" labor bill last year.  But the general point of the article, which is that Republican moderates and the groups that support them are languishing, is absolutely correct.  Some of those groups have been diminished to almost nothing:

The Log Cabin Republicans PAC, which supports candidates supportive of gay and lesbian issues, has contributed just $1,000 to candidates so far this cycle, after giving $31,144 to 11 House candidates and one Senate candidate in 2006.

Kuhl Editorial in Messenger-Post

Today's Messenger-Post has an editorial that takes Randy Kuhl to task for distributing a glossy flyer that essentially duplicates information sent by the IRS.  Kuhl has fired back with a press release, taking the M-P to task for some loose wording in the editorial. 

I'll let readers decide whether Kuhl's call on the factual error is right. At best, it's nitpicky.  If the M-P had added one word in the second graph ("probably getting" instead of "getting"), there would be no issue.  Otherwise, I agree with Rochesterturning that this is a well-written editorial that makes a sound basic point:  Kuhl doesn't need to send out an expensive glossy mailer that duplicates an IRS mailer containing the same information. 

Kuhl's stated justification for sending the mailer was that his office received 200 calls in February with questions.  That's a silly reason, since the IRS mailers, which cost taxpayers $42 million, didn't go out until early March.

Corning Leader on Massa v Kuhl, Iraq War

Reader Elmer sends today's Corning Leader column [pdf] from Managing Editor Joe Dunning. Dunning thinks Kuhl is in for a tougher run this time around. Money quote:

If you consider Bush one of the worst presidents ever -- think a foreign policy like Lyndon Johnson’s (Vietnam) and a domestic plan like Herbert Hoover’s (The Depression ) -- then it would be hard to look favorably on his supporters. That’s the battle Kuhl must overcome to get back to Washington.

The same page has an Iraq editorial that mentions calls for victory and notes that "it's impossible to know now when it might be deemed a success". That editorial concludes by saing that Bush's

successor must be someone who, on March 19, 2009, will observe this grim anniversary not by looking back, but by reporting progress on a plan to swiftly end this war, bring our troops home, and engage the United States as a diplomatic player -- rather than a ham-fisted bully -- in this critical region.

This is from a conservative newspaper that endorsed Kuhl in 2006. If you want to understand how things have changed since then in the most Republican part of the 29th district, look no further.

The Iraq Situation, In Quotations

Randy Kuhl:

Although it is vital that Iraq’s political leaders move more aggressively to reconcile the differences between the factions within their country, Iraqi leaders are slowly learning to govern and have passed several key pieces of legislation in recent months.
Washington Post:

Petraeus, who is preparing to testify to Congress next month on the Iraq war, said in an interview that "no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation," or in the provision of basic public services. [...]
[T]he Iraqi government also has deferred action on some of its most important legislative goals, including laws governing the exploitation of Iraq's oil resources, that the Bush administration had identified as necessary benchmarks of progress toward reconciliation.
Randy Kuhl:

Under the leadership of General David Petraeus, America’s armed forces have made significant strides in bringing stability to the region.
CBS News:

The levels of fear and animosity have not ebbed, even if the statistics seem to indicate otherwise. Reporters and camera crews still must adhere to the “15-minute rule”: stay no longer than 15 minutes in any one place. In some places, indeed many places, even that is far too long.

The exceptions are neighborhoods where a combination of concrete barriers, known as “T-walls” because of their shape, guarded entrances and the presence of Iraqi security forces backed up by and under the close watch of U.S. troops make it safe to spend time. There are more than a few of those now.

Baghdad is no longer so much a capital city as a jigsaw puzzle of uni-ethnic zones.
Randy Kuhl:

And most importantly, our troops are coming home knowing that their efforts are leading to victory.

Gen Petraeus was keen to emphasise that the ongoing unrest in Iraq is not something he expects to be resolved overnight.

"Northern Ireland, I think, taught you that very well. My counterparts in your [British] forces really understand this kind of operation... It took a long time, decades," he said.

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