Posts containing my opinion of the race.

More Drilling Info

Reader Don sends some more information on the hydrofracking wastewater disposal issue. This ProPublica feature details the difficulties drillers have had in disposing of wastewater via municipal treatment plants. Most town wastewater plants run near capacity, and those that don't aren't thrilled about running chemical brine through plants made for regular sewage.

Don also sends this Wall Street Journal article, which details how a Chesapeake Energy wastewater storage well may have caused a number of small earthquakes in the Dallas, Texas area. Chesapeake has applied to use a depleted gas well in Steuben County as a wastewater disposal well. The application [giant pdf] includes a map that shows that the proposed well site is very close to Keuka Lake. Don notes that the site is also on the Keuka wine trail.

All this shows, as if it weren't obvious already, that there are significant risks associated with hydrofracking and associated waste.

Story of the Week

The most interesting story of the week doesn't have Eric Massa's or Tom Reed's name in it. On Thursday, Steuben County town of Prattsburgh's town board voted against a new wind farm by a margin of 4-1.

After last Fall's election populated the board with members skeptical about wind power, the lame-duck board voted for wind power in a December, 2009 vote. The new board's vote reverses that action, and a state court judge declined the utility's request to make the old board's vote "stick".

So, here we have a Southern Tier town where some landowners could make a killing by offering land use to an energy company. That land use could lead to a short-term influx of money, with a possible long-term cost (in this case, making the hillsides ugly and causing noise). When this became an election issue, voters chose candidates who were more concerned over long-term environmental issues than short-term profit.

Unless I'm missing something about the details in the Prattsburgh election, it sure looks like an indicator that Eric Massa is on the right side of the hydrofracking issue.

Cheney as Punching Bag

I was walking through Wegmans this evening and noticed that the Brighton-Pittsford post had this Massa/Cheney story on the top of the front page, with a big picture of Massa.

Massa's appearance on MSNBC's Ed Show, which I've included after the break, got a lot of attention in local and national blogs and political press, but I hadn't seen any local mention of it until today. Massa accused Cheney of suffering from "political Tourette's". Until the inevitable backlash from Tourette's suffers materializes, Massa seems to be getting some unexpected local mileage from his statement.

Cheney's poll numbers are so bad that most people wouldn't trust anything the guy has to say directly, save perhaps for his advice on picking a cardiologist. But many of his national security positions are still echoed in talking points used by a number of Republicans. It will be interesting to see if Massa goes further with this critique and links Cheney's positions to Reed's, which sometimes sound quite similar.

Hit "read more" for the video if you haven't seen it yet:

Still More Punditry: The Massa Situation

I don't buy the notion that first-term Representative in a tough district is automatically in trouble. If they were smart enough and tough enough to win in the first place, the skills they used don't evaporate overnight. Eric Massa won in 2008 because he worked hard, raised a lot of money, and threaded the needle on some important issues. The same strategy can work in 2010.

Let's start with hard work. Since he was a tireless campaigner, it's not surprising that Massa's kept his grueling schedule as a Member of Congress. Almost every weekend is full of in-district meetings and appearances. He has a weekly radio show. His three district offices were opened and staffed quickly, and his press operation inundates the local media with information. Massa's even found time to use his EMT training after witnessing a car wreck.

As for fundraising, Massa's on track to raise millions. His decision to start accepting corporate PAC funds will make his fundraising easier. Tom Reed might not like it, and he's made a few noises about it, but I doubt this will be a major campaign issue, since Reed will need PAC money to launch a credible bid against Massa.

The big issue of 2009 was healthcare reform, and Massa's consistent opposition to the House bill has worked pretty well for him. His performance at the August town hall meetings was energetic and tough. He didn't convert any teabaggers, and they made a lot of noise, but Massa's opposition didn't give them much leverage to oppose him. If the healthcare bill passes, Massa will have gotten the best of both worlds. He will have kept his campaign promise to support single-payer healthcare, without the damage that comes from supporting the mediocre result of a bunch of industry-driven compromises. If the bill doesn't pass, I think Massa will be in for more heat, since there are a lot of center-left Democrats who want reform started with the best compromise available.

Massa's opposition to the bill puts Tom Reed in a tough spot. He can call Massa a "socialist" for supporting single-payer healthcare, but with single-payer off the table, Reed can only criticize Massa for how he thinks, not how he voted.

The rest of Massa's important votes are a further study in walking a razor-thin line. Massa supported almost every appropriation bill except for the war supplemental, and he opposed raising the debt ceiling. Massa's position is that we should pay for domestic spending by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One might want to argue with the details of Massa's stand, but at least it's internally consistent and fiscally responsible.

So far, Reed's attacks on Massa's appropriation and war positions have been completely ineffective. His position that further stimulus should be rejected is simply political suicide. He's also resorted to tired "cut and run" rhetoric when discussing Massa's war position. That just gives Massa an opportunity to highlight his military service.

In general, when Reed answers a foreign policy question, he rattles off a set of talking points. Massa gives a nuanced and well-informed position statement. Reed will have to hit the books hard if he doesn't want to be demolished in the Fall debates.

As for "hot button" issues, a couple of Massa's votes have thrown a little water on possible special interest fires. He voted for guns in national parks and against cap-and-trade legislation. The only vulnerability that I see is his vote against the Stupak amendment, but he's always been a solid pro-choice candidate, so that vote is unlikely to change any of his constituents' minds.

Finally, Massa's voting record is nothing if not independent. Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama do not agree with some of Massa's most important votes, and attempts to portray him as a party yes-man will fall flat.

This post is starting to sound like a fan letter, but I really can't see much to criticize in Massa's first year. He's simply an astute and effective politician. He's got another year of hard work and tightrope walking ahead, but at the moment it looks like he has a good shot to win in November.

Alert: Punditry Ahead

Now that I've put away my Kwanzaa decorations and recovered from my New Year's hangover, let's take a fresh look at the 29th district. What were the significant events of 2009, and what does each candidate have to do in 2010?

I'll start with the challenger in this race, Tom Reed. Reed hasn't impressed, to say the least. Though he enters the race as a fresh face, he's quickly accumulated baggage in the form of self-inflicted wounds. Reed wants to paint himself as an anti-stimulus warrior, and he wants to walk the walk by refusing stimulus funds. As quoted in today's Star-Gazette:

"What I am hearing is that we have to draw a line in the sand," he said. "People are looking at the record levels of fiscal irresponsibility with the stimulus and now the second stimulus. It's not sustainable. We are talking trillions of dollars. One of our campaign slogans is that our fiscal security is equal to our national security."

Unfortunately, Reed's actions have been endangering his campaign, if not our national security. First, Reed's LLC took over a million bucks in grants from New York State. Reed argues that this isn't "stimulus money" and therefore isn't evil. I think he's the only person who takes that argument seriously.

Reed's second foul-up was well-documented in a recent Corning Leader editorial:

More recently, Reed flipflopped on a city council vote for the city to accept $210,000 in federal stimulus money to buy three mass transit buses.

Reed voted “yes” on the funding when it was originally brought before the council earlier this year, prior to his congressional run. Last week he cast the lone dissenting vote against the bus purchase, claiming it was an improper use of federal stimulus money.

One of the fundamental roles of the 29th's Representative, whether he's a Republican or Democrat, is to bring home money from Washington, DC. The vast majority of press related to our federal delegation involves grants and loans for projects in the district. With New York receiving far less than $1 back for every buck we send to DC, it's political suicide for Reed to reject the biggest pot of federal money ever offered to our state. Yet Reed has decided to make it a cornerstone of his campaign.

Reed seems like a nice guy who people like. Even though he's a lawyer, he has a good personal story and deep roots in the Southern Tier. But he needs to find some issues that resonate with more than a few deficit hawks.

Unfortunately, Reed is saddled with the grossly ineffective NRCC which, according to today's Star-Gazette piece, thinks that the way to beat Massa is to tie him to Nancy Pelosi. The NRCC has gone back-and-forth on this. When Obama took a little dip in the polls earlier this year, they want to run against him. But their 2008 campaign painted Nancy as the she-devil, to little effect. Since Massa has voted against Pelosi on a fair number of occasions, I don't see how this issue resonates in the 29th.

Aside from that dumb piece of strategy, the NRCC isn't raising the serious money needed to capitalize on the opportunity of an off-year election in tough economic times. Reed's first quarter of fundraising tapped old guard Republicans in and around the district. That's a good source of start-up cash, but to raise the millions needed for a competitive race, Reed needs to attend a lot of fundraisers, and he needs help from Republican PACs. Reed's second money report, due out mid-month, will be a telling indicator of whether he's going to be able to run a real campaign.

Tom Reed has a long way to go to be a worthy opponent to Eric Massa, who battled his way to the 29th seat against long odds. The good news for Reed is that there's still plenty of time to raise money and hone his strategy. But that strategy needs to be his, because a cookie-cutter approach outsourced from DC or Fox News won't win in the 29th. I'll explain why in my post on Massa, coming up next.

A Message to You, Rudy

The big question for the 29th in 2010 is whether Democrats will turn out. A high-visibility Senate race with a well-funded Democrat makes it more likely that there will be a good Democratic turnout. For that reason, Rudy's announcement that he's going to run for Gillibrand's seat is good news for Massa, since he'll give Democrats another reason to go to the polls.

From a media perspective, Massa and Gillibrand will have the only competitive Federal races in the area. There should be enough TV time to go around, though I'm sure Dan Maffei and Chris Lee will have token opponents who will justify a million bucks worth of "feel good" ads.

How Not To Ask for a Recount: NY-23

The 29th has seen a few close races, but neither Randy Kuhl nor Eric Massa poisoned the well the way Doug Hoffman just did. Citing an ACORN conspiracy, Hoffman revoked his concession, and now he's been fundraising on claims of "tampering" based on ordinary election-night screwups.

This is what happens when a candidate is looking for approval from forces outside the district. It may play well to Glen Beck's America to find ACORN messing with election totals. But the hundreds of election workers in NY-23, as well as their friends and family, probably don't like to be accused of being dishonest, scheming ACORN dupes.

Hoffman either doesn't care about the 2010 election, or he's too stupid to know the right way to ask for a recount. Either way, Bill Owens' chances for re-election keep improving every time he opens his mouth.

Shared Sanity

Tom Reed and Eric Massa both agree that trying accused 9/11 plotters in New York is the right thing to do.

Reed is smart to reject the craven hysteria of some of his fellow party members, who are spinning crazy scenarios to avoid using courts that have already proven their ability to safely and fairly try terrorist suspects. Bruce Schneier put it well in a recent article:

By not overreacting, by not responding to movie-plot threats, and by not becoming defensive, we demonstrate the resilience of our society, in our laws, our culture, our freedoms. There is a difference between indomitability and arrogant "bring 'em on" rhetoric. There's a difference between accepting the inherent risk that comes with a free and open society, and hyping the threats.

We should treat terrorists like common criminals and give them all the benefits of true and open justice -- not merely because it demonstrates our indomitability, but because it makes us all safer. Once a society starts circumventing its own laws, the risks to its future stability are much greater than terrorism.

That whole piece is worth a read.

Buffalo News Financial Roundup

In a piece headlined "Masa [sic] used campaign funds to pay himself and wife", Jeremy Zremski of the Buffalo News reports that Eric Massa took a $15,000 salary from his 2008 campaign. Massa's wife Beverly was also paid $18,000 as campaign treasurer.

Mrs. Massa's salary was a minor campaign issue last year. I doubt if Mr. Massa's salary has legs as an issue, but we'll see for sure next Fall.

Better is the Enemy of Good Enough

True to his word, Eric Massa voted against final passage of healthcare reform in the House. Earlier, he voted against the Stupak amendment which restricted use of insurance for abortions.

In the comments and via email, some readers are wondering if this was an "insurance" vote which would help Massa's re-election among conservatives. I doubt it, for a couple of reasons.

First, Massa spent much of the last few months stating his opposition to the first House version of healthcare reform. The bill that passed last night is not fundamentally different from that first version. A last-minute reversal on Massa's part would have been surprising and difficult to defend, regardless of the politics of the final vote.

Second, the conservatives who don't agree with Massa on healthcare also don't agree with him on other issues, such as abortion. They'll have no problem finding a reason to vote against Massa, even if they appreciate his vote last night.

Finally, the election is a year away. By then, all the fussing and fighting over this bill will be over. As this McClatchy summary points out, there's nothing hugely radical in the bill. And even if the same measure passes in the Senate (a big "if"), it still won't go into effect until 2013. It's hard to see how last night's vote will be the pressing issue of the 2010 campaign.

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