Posts containing my opinion of the race.

Retirement Rumors Hit Home

Randy Kuhl was asked about retirement rumors at a taping of Coleman and Company, WETM's Sunday political talk show.  He repeated his stock answer that he will be deciding whether to run in the next couple of months.

I've read a lot of rumors in the past couple days, but I haven't seen any sourced from Kuhl's staff.  Randy's recent, uninspiring fundraising numbers will probably fuel still more speculation, but I don't think he's going to retire.

Kuhl's seniority, or lack of it, is the first reason that I think he's staying put. Twenty-eight of his Republican colleagues just retired, almost all of whom are more senior than him.  Kuhl's recent appointment as deputy whip indicates that he's interested in leadership, so those retirements give Kuhl a better opportunity to move up.  Randy's a healthy 64. He can reasonably expect at least a decade or more behind the plow.  His prospects for attaining a significant leadership or committee post in that timeframe improve whenever another Republican throws in the towel.

The psychology of seniority for a back-bencher like Kuhl is quite different from a 20-year vet like James Walsh (NY-25).  Walsh and the other retirees know that they're looking at a couple of grim sessions for Republicans.  Democrats will almost certainly strengthen their hold on the House in 2008,  It's likely that they'll increase their majority in the Senate, and they might also occupy the White House.  If you've already tasted the sweet nectar of a senior committee or leadership spot, the prospect of waiting a couple more sessions until you do it again may not be worth the agita of defending your seat.  If you're like a back-bencher like Kuhl, you knew coming in that you were going to have to put in your time, and it really doesn't matter if your party is in the majority or minority while you're reeling in the years.

Finally, there's redistricting.  In 2012, Western New York is going to lose a seat in Congress, and it's likely that the new district lines will carve out only one "safe Republican" seat.  There's no doubt that, if such a seat exists, it will include the Southern Tier.  If Kuhl can hold off Massa's challenge and survive until then, he might end up with a safer seat than he has today.

Kuhl's retirement is great fodder for speculation, but a reality check shows that he's got plenty of reasons to go down fighting.

Two Indicators of a Bad Economy

Two stories in the last couple of days show that the economy of the 29th district is steadily moving from one based on well-paid, skilled manufacturing jobs to a lower-paid, less-skilled, service economy.

In Rochester, the Democrat and Chronicle reports that Kodak, once the engine of the Rochester economy and number one employer, has falled to number three.  Wegmans, the local grocery chain, moved from third to second on the D&C's ranking.  The University of Rochester, which runs Strong Hospital, is number one. 

Elmira's WETM reports on Governor Spitzer's appearance in Erwin, where he cut the ribbon at a remodeled Corning plant.  The new occupant, Sitel, plans to hire 400 $8/hour callers for its call center there.

This kind of economic news is another reminder that news of recession is nothing new to the residents of the 29th.  The economy here has been shrinking for decades.

Florida and Western New York

If you think that a Rudy Guliani candidacy would have excited Western New York Republicans and brought more of them to the polls in the Fall, then Randy Kuhl's election just got a little bit tougher.  I don't think that Rudy would have had much in the way of coattails, so it's probably a wash.

Back in the cold, windy North, farmers are worrying about the farm bill, which is stuck in the Senate.

Members of Congress spend most of their time in committee, yet there's little press coverage of most committee hearings.  This seems like an ideal opportunity for specialist blogging.  Here's an example of a blogger who wrote about a House Education and Labor hearing attended by Randy Kuhl.  The topic was the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Debate? Naah.

Last week the Massa campaign put out a press release essentially challenging Randy Kuhl to a debate.  The heading of the release was "Massa Accepts Kuhl's Challenge to Debate".  I read the release, and also the press release from the Kuhl campaign, which I got via the Massa campaign.  After looking both over, I decided that it was basically an attempt by the Massa campaign to get some attention based on some pretty light evidence, and didn't run the story. 

Today, the Ontario Republican posted a link to a Messenger-Post is report that Eric Massa and Randy Kuhl are planning a debate on S-CHIP, perhaps sometime in March.  The story was by Hillary Smith, one of their general assignment reporters.  Ontario GOP quickly posted a follow-up denial, which I assume he got from Kuhl's office, that includes the entire Kuhl press release.  GOP says that he thought the story was a little fishy, but he went with it anyway because the M-P printed it.

If this tells us anything about politics and journalism, it's this:  newspapers need to feed the beast.  That's why campaigns send out press releases like a deer craps pellets. Once in a while, a campaign lucks out and their pure spin gets reported as fact.   I'd bet a little money that Hillary Smith did not call Kuhl's office on this one, because she'd have gotten a pretty quick denial.  I'll further speculate that Hillary's editor will get an earful from the Kuhl press office, and M-P reporters will be a little more careful in the future.

As far as I've seen, the M-P was the only local paper that ran the Massa press release.  The other left-leaning blog in the area, Rochesterturning, has a post on it, but later included an update saying that it might just be a media back-and-forth instead of a real debate.  So even the "partisan" bloggers didn't swallow it whole.  Take from that what you will.

Local and National News

Randy Kuhl is a little uncomfortable with a stimulus package that gives money to those who actually might spend it, according to this article in the Jamestown paper.

Americans United for Change, the union-sponsored 501(c)(4) advocacy group responsible for anti-Kuhl S-CHIP ads last Fall, has a new mission.  They're spending $8.5 million on the Bush Legacy Project, which is an "effort to define Bush's legacy."  I can walk down any street in this country, put a couple of quarters into a newspaper vending machine, and pull out a newspaper that pretty clearly defines Bush's legacy:  a bloody war in Iraq, a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, a looming recession, and torture in the name of freedom.  Why a PAC would spend money on something the media is doing for free is beyond me.

Morning News and Notes

A couple of area blogs (Rochesterturning, Albany Project) are wondering if Randy Kuhl is going to retire.  Kuhl's story has been the same for the last few months:  he won't say if he's decided to run yet.  I would have thought that it's far past the time to announce retirements in competitive House districts, but this week's Walsh retirement, and yesterday's announcement by Dave Weldon (R-FL-15), have people wondering.  Kuhl's current position is consistent with his strategy last cycle, which was to delay his announcement in order to keep from engaging Eric Massa directly in campaign mode.  I think he's doing the same thing this year, and that there's little chance he won't run again.

Update:  See Elmer's comment below.  Someone's polling Kuhl alternatives in the Southern Tier, and it sounds like a Republican organization.  The plot thickens.

In other retirement-related news, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced yesterday that Dan Maffei, the Democrat who challenged Jim Walsh in 2006 and is running again, has been added to their "Red to Blue" fundraising program.  This announcement comes before any other Democrat has an opportunity to even decide to run in the NY-25 primary.  That's an interesting change in the DCCC's position on primaries.  Last year, when Massa faced a primary challenge, the DCCC was the Switzerland of political committees, scrupulously neutral.  This is still more evidence that Eric Massa is not the candidate of the Democratic establishment.

Finally, Randy Kuhl made the news decrying the new border regulations.  The story on Rochester channel 13 began with Louise Slaughter (NY-28), who says that Chertoff is "absolutely breaking the law".  I assume that Louise will do what Congressional Democrats consistently do when faced with lawbreaking -- assume a fetal position and ignore it.  Unless, of course, it's lawbreaking in baseball, which gets some serious consideration.  The story ended with the claim that the identification law is necessary "to help avoid another 9/11 tragedy."   I wonder how long 9/11 will be trotted out to justify loss of liberty and convenience in return for a very questionable increase in safety.   As I've argued elsewhere, identity does not disclose intent.

Right-to-Life Pariahs

A national Catholic weekly's article bemoning the lack of physical Presidential presence at the commemoration of the 35th anniversary of Roe v Wade got me thinking.  Is there any more reliable and less respected voting bloc than right-to-lifers? 

Right-to-lifers are assiduously avoided by all Republican politicians.  When the right-to-life crowd marches on DC, the president addresses them over the telephone, a tradition started by the sainted Ronald Reagan himself.  Even Randy Kuhl, who is reliably pro-life, has his picture taken with local protesters on the Capitol steps, not at the rally, and there are no signs to distinguish this group from a set of farmers or PTA members. 

Symbolism aside, there's also been little progress on the core right-to-life issue.  The "conservative justices" appointed to the Supreme Court have pretty clearly signaled that Roe v Wade is the law of the land.  Even though abortion rates are declining in the US, the use of RU-486 is way up, and a lot of RU-486 is being prescribed by physicians who don't do surgical abortions.  Finally, the use of Plan B, which is also considered "abortion" by most pro-lifers, is widespread yet not counted in the abortion statistics.

While RU-486 and Plan B were quietly making abortions easier, the Republicans chose to make a stand over federal funding of stem cell research.  Though this fight went the right-to-lifer's way, it was a hollow victory.  Stopping embryonic research was never on the table.  Only federal funding was cut, and some big states rushed to enact laws to fund research that would ultimately attract lucrative biotech firms.  An observer only slightly more cynical than me might conclude that the whole stem cell dust-up was an attempt by Republicans to distract right-to-lifers from the growing ascendancy of chemical abortion.

So, Republicans are ashamed to be pictured at right-to-life rallies, and if you count Plan B, the abortion rate is through the roof.  Yet right-to-lifers are the most reliable single-issue voting bloc in the country. 

I can't think of a constituency as loyal as right-to-lifers that gets the same pariah treatment from Democrats.    Even the less-loyal union bloc is still embraced by Democrats, who aren't afraid to get their pictures taken at union rallys.   And Democrats don't run away from pro-choice parades.

At some point, it will dawn on pro-lifers that voting Republican is an empty gesture.  Until then, the Republicans will treat them like untouchables while counting on their votes come election day.

Walsh Is Out

The Syracuse Post-Standard reports that Jim Walsh (NY-25) has made his retirement official.  This is big news for the 29th, which borders the 25th..

Walsh's late retirement means that Republicans will be scrambling to find someone to run against Dan Maffei, who came close to defeating Walsh in the last election, and has already announced his candidacy.   This will not be an easy task, because a new candidate will have a formidable fundraising challenge, especially since Maffei has almost one year's head start.  The Republicans will either have to concede Walsh's seat, or spend more than they planned in NRCC and state money to help the new challenger catch up with Maffei.  This means fewer resources for Randy Kuhl from the state and national party.

It's almost certain that the NY-25 race will now spend less on media.  This means that Rochester's congested media market will have more advertising time to sell to Kuhl and Massa.  Also, the lack of an incumbent in the race means that the incumbent media machinery won't be churning out press releases during the campaign, which will allow the 29th race to garner more attention in the media.

Finally, Walsh's decision to bow out at a late date makes me wonder about Randy Kuhl.  Like Walsh, Kuhl's fundraising this cycle has been anemic.  Perhaps Walsh looked at his 2007 numbers in comparison to Maffei's good showing and decided he just wasn't going to be competitive.  It will be interesting to see Kuhl's numbers, which will be filed by the end of the month.  Kuhl constantly says that he hasn't made up his mind.  I used to think that was theater.  Now I'm not so sure. 

Another Chapter in the Passport Saga

The Department of Homeland Security has long wanted every person passing across the US/Canadian border present a passport (or a drivers' license plus birth certificate or naturalization papers).  Since passports these documents are expensive or a hassle, Western New York's congressional delegation has consistently opposed that measure.  DHS keeps announcing deadlines far in the future, and our delegation continues to get those deadlines pushed back.  The last compromise pushed the "absolute, final date" back to June, 2009, a date that few took seriously.

Since the DHS was losing at the "final deadline" game,  they're trying a new tactic:  fuck-you arrogance. Yesterday, the DHS announced that they're going to require passports or two forms of id at the border starting January 31, and Director Michael Chertoff told all involved that "It's time to grow up."  Cue hyperventilation on the part of Randy Kuhl and every other resident of the 29th who was planning to travel to Canada without a passport.

I can only imagine that Chertoff's arrogance will end up with a win-win for DHS and our local Congressman. Our delegation will swoop in to correct Chertoff's injustice, thus protecting us from the evil and unfeeling DHS bureaucracy, by getting him to agree to a later deadline. In the short run, Chertoff will get slapped down, but in the end he'll get passports at the border.   

The only losers in this play are those of us who don't want to pay $70, or go through the hassle of digging up a birth certificate, to prove our identity at the border.

Update:  The original post indicated that only a passport will be accepted.  A drivers' license plus birth certificate or naturalization papers will also be allowed. 

Hobby-Horse Update

I'm trying to avoid sounding like an old man sitting on the porch telling the young'uns how easy they have it nowadays, so I've combined all my hobby horse issues into one post.  Here comes voting technology and the D&C, with an Iraq chaser:

I haven't posted much about voting technology since New York wisely decided to delay their decision and stick with our lever machines for the near future.  But I can't help pointing and laughing at the recent Maryland decision to scrap their Diebold system and start over with paper ballots and scanners.  Money quote:

By 2010, four years before its $65 million touch-screen machines will be paid off, Maryland expects to be back on the paper trail, following states such as Florida and California, which have also decided that all-electronic systems make it too easy to compromise elections.
So it turns out that quitting the D&C isn't as simple as it sounds.  I canceled my subscription on New Year's Day, yet three weeks later  I'm still getting the paper delivered every day to my door.  I've called the D&C's customer service office in Louisville, KY and been assured that my subscription is canceled.   I can only imagine that this little bit of administrative incompetence is a tiny window into the irrational "rationalization" of customer service into a few mega-centers.

Finally I want to recommend last week's Fresh Air series on Iraq.  Host Terry Gross interviewed 10 different guests, each of whom had long experience and a different perspective on the war.  It's well worth listening to both shows, the first here, and the second here.  Fresh Air is also available as a podcast here -- pick the January 16 and 17 shows.  One of the most interesting guests, Lt. Col. John Nagl, who was a major player in writing the Army counterinsurgency manual, announced his retirement on the day the show was aired.
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