Donna Edwards Says You Should Run For Office

I had the opportunity to talk with Donna Edwards for a while at the SEIU 2008 convention. She says that you should run for office, and a lot more than that.
This year Donna Edwards challenged incumbent “corporate Democrat” Al Wynn for Maryland’s 4th Congressional District in the primary election and won, with help from the Netroots, multiple progressive organizations and labor, including a great deal of help from the SEIU. Her win is “reverberating – wide and deep” among members of Congress. It shows that accountability has arrived. It also shows that “Democrats can do this without begging and relying on corporate interests.” She goes on to say,

“There is a huge lesson in this. A lot of elected officials start out in the grassroots community – and then the money happens. One step after another they are following the corporate agenda.”

She says that help from the netroots will “enable candidates like us to be as independent inside as we were on the pathway getting there.”
In 2006 Donna ran against Wynn and lost by 2731 votes. Many progressive organizations and labor groups were reluctant to challenge any Democratic incumbent. After that defeat she went from labor organization to labor organization saying that she was just one union hall away from winning. So in 2008 a coalition of labor and progressives joined up, and she ended up winning the primary by 20 points. Incumbent Wynn resigned from office and immediately joined a lobbying firm for big bucks.

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Tuesday’s Election – As Usual It’s About The Money

(I am just back from Puerto Rico and the SEIU convention, so I am only writing this today.)
We can celebrate the outcome of the Eminent Domain Propositions: 98 lost and 99 won. The spending on the initiatives was, as usual, enormous. As usual the money distorted people’s understanding of the candidates and issues and turned a lot of people off to the election process and democracy in general. Only 22% turned out to vote.
Spending on primaries was enormous in some races, with the independent expenditures from JOBSPAC , JPAC, EDVOICE and other interests working against candidates who opposed their narrow interests. And one of the worst things is that the money goes to buy those horrible ads. Clint Reilly wrote about the effect of the ads and mailers in Those Awful Political Ads,

Even though I actively support many candidates financially and through volunteering, just turning on a TV during election season is difficult for me. Opening my mailbox is painful. I feel smothered by the tidal wave of television commercials and brochures that wash through my house every election cycle.
. . . Nevertheless, mediocre candidates win and atrocious political ads work for two disturbing reasons: because one side has more money, and because there isn’t enough objective information coming from neutral sources like newspapers to communicate the truth.

David Dayen wrote at Calitics, The Money Goes In, The Favors Go Out,

The bottom line is that in this recent primary election special interest groups spent nearly $10 million, and a good bulk of them were business interests who are now playing inside Democratic primaries in traditionally liberal areas to sell low-information voters a bill of goods. This doesn’t always work, but it works just enough to frustrate progress in Sacramento.
[. . .] IE’s are increasingly the only way to reach the electorate, as the low-dollar revolution has pretty much not reached the Golden State. So the Chamber of Commerce and industry groups fill the pockets of the politicians who, once elected, feel obligated to repay them.

Brian Leubitz writes in the comments to Dayen’s post,

There are only a few orgs that are willing to fight for the progressive nominees. The Nurses throw some money around and CTA typically picks a good candidate to get behind, but that is nothing compared to the money that groups like CJAC and EdVoice are willing to toss in to the pot.
I’m not sure what the solution is here, but progressive organizations need to make sure that they are working to educate voters year round.

I think Brian nails it here. Until We, the People can regain control of our own electoral process — which means changing the laws to get regular people on an equal footing with the big money interests, we should at least support year-round education efforts like Speak Out California to help the public understand what is going on and work against this understanding being drowned out and shouted down by huge-dollar scare campaigns.
In another Calitics post Dayen wrote,

The outsized influence of IE [independent expenditure] campaigns is something we have to understand and work with. Even the races where, as Robert said, progressives won in state legislature primaries, there were in general a lot of IEs, funded mostly by labor, on their behalf. Rod Wright basically bought a seat in SD-25, with well over a million dollars of independent expenditures funded mostly by tobacco and business interests. And the size of Bob Blumenfield’s victory in AD-40 suggests the importance of IEs. There isn’t going to be a lot of appetite for reforming this from a set of state legislators who have IEs to thank for their positions in office. Clean money elections is obviously the killer app, and I’m glad Loni Hancock will be in the State Senate to carry the bill, but it’s pretty depressing how easily these seats can be bought, particularly in low-turnout primaries where almost nobody is paying attention.

Meanwhile California Progress Report carries the story An Independent Expenditure Campaign that Backfired by Doug Paul Davis. The story originally appeared at The People’s Vanguard of Davis. From the story,

Independent Expenditures are in many ways a real problem. Campaigns lose control of their messages. They are largely unregulated and unaccountable to anyone. And yet they can drop hundreds of thousands and change the dynamics of a race. That is what happened here. EdVoice likely the culprit here and labor likely the hero on behalf of a Yamada Campaign that had previously been outspent and out-organized.

This ability to influence the election with money is a problem that we have to solve in California. People in both parties are unhappy with this situation.
One very good sign is that the national Democratic Party is stepping up to the plate and announced they will no longer accept contributions from lobbyists and PACs. This is a step toward people-powered politics. If they win this frees them from obligations and hopefully enables them to get the ball rolling toward implementing public financing of campaigns and banning all money from the process.
In other news people voted for taxes. Again at California Report, Thirty Years After Prop 13, California Voters Supported Tax Increases in Tuesday’s Election,

Voting just three days before the 30th anniversary of the passage of Proposition 13, the landmark Jarvis-Gann initiative that cut property taxes and triggered a tax revolt across the country, voters in the primary election approved dozens of tax increases in local communities around the state.
By my count from semi-official election results available the day after the election, they passed 26 of 32 proposals to issue school and community college bonds; each of these measures, which raise local property taxes to repay the bonds, required a super-majority (55 percent) vote for passage. They approved 13 of 24 proposals to create or raise local per parcel property taxes to pay for a variety of services, including schools, libraries, parks, and law enforcement; parcel taxes can be passed only with a two-thirds vote. They approved tax increases not just in the liberal Bay Area but also in the Central Valley and Orange County. Overall, they passed 49 of the 75 tax-increase measures on local ballots around the state. And in many of the cases where the measures failed, it was with a majority that fell short of the required 55 percent or two-thirds requirement.

Well there is some good news.

Hillary’s Victory Speech in Puerto Rico

Because of various circumstances I ended up about 15-20 feet from Hillary Clinton as she gave her victory speech after winning the Puerto Rico primary. I am here for the SEIU convention, and learned that her event was across a bridge from the hotel I was at for a meeting with SEIU officials. (More on that in another post.) So I took a walk (man, it is humid here) and was able to enter as a member of the press.
As a member of the press I was able to enter the ballroom before the event. This was not a victory party where supporters are celebrating and then the candidate shows up to speak. This was more like a TV set where the candidate gives a speech to cameras. There were bleachers behind the podium, and room for a few people in front of the candidate. But this was entirely about setting up the speech for national TV. I am not saying this is good or bad, it just was what it was.
That said, it was secondarily an event for campaign workers to see the candidate and be part of the speech. First they filled the bleachers behind the podium. I can testify that this was not a carefully selected crowd, with demographics set up to look good — because someone asked ME if I wanted to be up there! So this was not about photogenic, or looking like a special demographic. It might have been about making babies cry and serious viewers vow never to watch TV again.
I’m out of time now, will write more later. Hillary doesn’t appear to be leaving the race by ANY means. Lots of energy and enthusiasm at this event. A very good speech making good points.
Here is the podium with the bleachers:
This shows what I mean this being a TV event, not a ballroom full of people celebrating:
I loved this Clinton As Evita poster that I have been seeing here:
Here is Hillary making a point:

There Is An Election Tuesday!

Be sure to vote. The big statewide initiatives are 98 and 99. 98 appears to be another sneaky “eminent domain” proposition that “limits government” (remember to substitute the phrase “We, the People” when you hear a conservative talk about government) and contains stealth measures with long-term implications. It also gets rid of rent control and their literature uses emotional examples exaggerated from some local situation. I think that if there is a local problem with an overly-restrictive ordinance then maybe local government (We, the People, locally) should deal with it instead of a heavy-handed state-wide law.
Here are two entertaining No on 98 videos.

Republicans Pretending To Govern

A good op-ed appeared Saturday in the Boston Globe, America’s faux government. The writer discusses how many parts of our federal government seem to no longer be functioning.

They sent everybody home a long time ago, set timers to make the lights go on, and locked the doors. Government is so much more cost efficient if nobody actually does anything.

We read about drugs harming people while drug companies make huge profits — where was the Food and Drug Administration? We read about the Federal Aviation Administration asking the airlines to inspect themselves, and the airlines having to cancel so many flights because they didn’t,

Whoever is still pretending to work there must have made Employee of the Month.

Why is this happening?

So we’re now living in a Libertarian country, where the government doesn’t actually provide any services except defense. The problem? We’re paying taxes as if we live in a social democracy where the government provides all services except defense. They don’t need defense because they have found that if you stop teaching history in schools, people forget that you actually need it sometimes.
How can you tell that we are Libertarians now? Because business is not complaining all the time. When the government is actually showing up for work, business groups say that they are being Crushed By Overregulation. Choked by Bureaucracy. I haven’t heard a word of that in a long time, but it used to be the anthem of American business. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was on the news every night – truly, every night. When was the last time you heard of OSHA showing up for a surprise inspection?

Please go read the rest.
The column is written partially as humor, but the reality is there. We elected people who hate government to run our government, and look what has happened. They said regulations are bad, inspectors are intrusive and oversight should be “voluntary.” The have stopped the regulators and inspectors and overseers from regulating and inspecting and overseeing.
The last several years saw the libertarian dream realized. Government was largely shut down. And what happened? Did this experiment bring “liberty?” Did the working person prosper in an “ownership society?”
No, what happened was what all the reality-based, experienced, practical people said would happen if we implement a libertarian system: the corporations immediately filled the vacuum and began to enrich themselves at the public’s expense. And when Katrina came around, people were left on their own.
So what do we learn from this? I think it is important to remember that “the government” is not some “they” that just showed up from nowhere and “tells us what to do.” The government is US, you and me and the rest of us, organized together to help each other. And it is up to US to keep an eye on things, for each other. When we listen to smiling hucksters who offer easy answers using nice-sounding words we ought to be extra careful. Tax cuts have brought us mountains of debt. Government cutbacks have brought us bad roads, bad schools and really, really bad disaster relief. And deregulation has brought us a corporate state.
Taxes, services, regulation and oversight have all become bad words. But now that we have performed the libertarian experiment we can see the consequences of this kind of thinking. It turns out that taxes are an investment in our future. It turns out that government services are us taking care of each other. It turns out that regulations keep the marketplace playing field level, which allows to enjoy the benefits of innovating businesses. It turns out that oversight keeps our government honest. And it turns out that conservative disdain for all of these didn’t make government better, it made government worse.

Private Greed vs. Public Good

As I wrote the other day, the California Chamber of Commerce has come out with their annual list of “job-killer” bills. The list only targets bills by Democrats, and the bills are all acts that would help the people of California by improving the environment, worker wage and safety, public health, etc.
The California Chamber of Commerce is a lobbying association. They represent their members: businesses, many of which are large corporations. This is about private greed vs. the public good. The Chamber’s job is to convince the legislature to pass laws that enrich the owners of the corporations that fund them. Nothing more, nothing less.
If that involves convincing the public of something, then they do that. Hence the label “job killer.”
But the companies represented by the Chamber are the real job killers. They outsource jobs to other countries. They lay people off when they calculate it will maximize their profits. They employ as many people as needed to maximize the income to and wealth of their owners. Nothing more, nothing less.
The very idea that the Chamber of Commerce would care if something is a “job killer” is ludicrous when you understand their function. They are a lobbying association that represents the interests of companies that eliminate as many jobs as they want to, at their discretion, and then use some of the money that would have been paid in salaries to pay the Chamber to convince us to support their interests — and the rest of it to enrich themselves, which is their primary interest.
That is how corporations work in the modern, “free-market” world that we find ourselves in since the Reagan era. Not for the public benefit, not necessarily even for the company’s benefit, but for the financial benefit of the executives and (some of) the owners of the company.
Private greed vs. public good. Nothing more, nothing less.
So there isn’t really an argument about whether the “job-killer” bills on this year’s list really do or do not “kill jobs.” That is not the point of the label. Instead it is up to us to understand who we are hearing from. If we get caught up in arguing about whether these bills create more jobs than they might cost, we’re missing the point. Their arguments are propaganda with no basis in reality, designed to do nothing more than sway opinion. The point of the “job-killer” label is to make people afraid for their jobs, not to actually argue that these bills will or will not actually “kill” any jobs.
For example, a bill to require energy efficiency in new housing construction obviously creates many new jobs in the new, innovative “green” industries. But such a bill might lower the profits that go into the pockets of the executives and owners of some of the companies that the California Chamber of Commerce represents. (The LA Times on Wednesday said the Chamber’s agenda “seems dominated by development and energy interests”.) And, again, it is irrelevant whether the bill might or might not really cost jobs in some of those companies. The Chamber doesn’t care. That is not their function.
The use of the label “job killers” is about scaring the public. Nothing more, nothing less. It is about fear. It is about creating a climate in which people who are afraid for their jobs will go along with measures designed to enrich the owners of the companies that the Chamber — a lobbying association — represents.
So please don’t be fooled. Don’t be swayed by propaganda designed to make you afraid. As I wrote above, it is up to us to understand who we are hearing from.

Job Killers — Or Just More Fear?

The California Chamber of Commerce has released its annual list of what it calls “job-killer bills.”
Why is it that the Chamber’s job-killer bills hit-list seems to only target Democrats? Not a single targeted bill belongs to a Republican. “Bad bills”, like those designed to protect public health, climate concerns or consumer rights legislation, are all authored by Democrats. The chamber has always been a lobbying organization, but it has gotten so bad that the Chamber seems to have devolved into little more than just one more fear-mongering Republican Party front group.
The “job killers” on this list are any laws that protect consumers, reduce energy use, require worker protections or anything else that might hinder a very few corporate executives from reeling in another several-hundred-million dollars a year. The jobs that are “killed” are those of lobbyists for the energy industry.
The first group on the “job killer” list is bills that ask for any kind of energy or water conservation or environmental standards for new housing construction. For example, AB 1085. The bill describes itself as undating,

“building design and construction standards and energy conservation standards for new residential and nonresidential buildings to reduce wasteful, uneconomic, inefficient, or unnecessary consumption of energy.”

But the Chamber’s job-killer list says this

Substantially increases the cost of housing and development in California by implementing significant energy efficiency measures

Now, think about this — if it costs less to heat and cool your house, this saves you money. If you want to add energy-saving technology like solar electric or water-heating on your house this creates good jobs. Maybe Exxon won’t benefit as much from this as the new, upcoming solar industry, but heck, the solar companies aren’t coughing up the big bucks and providing the good jobs to the Chamber of Commerce’s lobbyists!
The next group of “job killers” is “workplace mandates” like paid sick leave for employees, disability pay for on-the-job injuries or providing California’s citizens with health insurance.
Ah yes, the money businesses pay out to provide sick leave and disability pay for those pesky employees “kills jobs.” They could hire so many more people if they didn’t have to actually pay them and keep them from getting injured! This is one of the oldest arguments in the books. Slaves are always cheaper. But why do we have an economy if not to provide US with good jobs and other benefits? Do we have an economy so a very few corporate CEOs get all the money and benefits, or do we have an economy so the people can also get good pay and benefits and safe working conditions? The evidence (this, for example) is clear that good wages and benefits do not hurt jobs or the economy.
Then there are “economic development barriers” like asking online retailers to collect the same sales taxes that you local business owner collects, asking the wealthy to help pay for our schools, raising fire standards in high-risk fire areas and protecting our environment. I guess the online retailers must be paying the Chamber more this year than the retailers who have to actually rent storefronts and pay wages in your town. I can’t think of any other reason why SOME retailers should collect sales taxes and others should be exempt. Doesn’t this change the playing field waaayyy in favor of online retailers and harm the prospects of businesses that actually set up in our local communities? God forbid we ask them to help pay for our schools and police and fire protection!
This “job killer: list is nothing more than the use of fear to scare us into allowing a few rich corporations to have their way. By saying that protecting workers or the environment might “cost jobs” they are trying to make us afraid to ask these big corporations to live up to their responsibilities to our communities. How long will we let these lobbyists make us afraid?

Budget Analyst Rips Lottery Borrowing Scheme

Yesterday I wrote that the Governor’s plan to borrow from future lottery revenues is a risky gamble — yet another scheme to put off the need to ask corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes.
The Legislature’s budget analyst doesn’t like the scheme either. From Monday’s Sacramento Bee, Governor’s lottery plan could hurt school funding, analyst says,

The Legislature’s budget analyst on Monday called Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lottery proposal “flawed” and warned lawmakers that money for public schools could fall short of current levels under the plan.
… Currently, lottery profits benefit public schools, from kindergarten to community colleges. Hill wrote that the Schwarzenegger administration made “overly optimistic” assumptions about the potential growth in lottery sales. She warned that public education funding “would fall well short of their current levels — perhaps by $5 billion over the next 12 years combined.”

Back to the drawing board.

Failure to Support Progressive Movement Dooms Another Organization

This is a guest post by Dr. Katherine Forrest, Co-Founder of the Commonweal Institute. It originally appeared at the Commonweal Institute Blog.
The Rockridge Institute wasn’t the only progressive infrastructure organization that folded this spring. Another was the Center for Policy Alternatives , which shut down in April, 2008, after having been around for 32 years. CPA provided policy ideas for state governments, published an annual collection of policy recommendations, and trained future legislators. Like Rockridge, CPA’s executive director, Tim McFeeley, stated in his final e-mailed message that a main reason for CPA’s demise was the lack of support for infrastructure organizations among progressives.
Dealing with the need for ongoing support for their political movement’s operations is a challenge that needs to be addressed successfully, regardless of whether modern “progressives” align themselves more closely with independents or liberals or any particular political party.
I know many people who call themselves progressive, and even more whose sentiments I would consider to be progressive. But VERY few recognize that ongoing support, year after year, not just at election time, will be needed to build and sustain a political movement that works for the things they care about. Fewer still act on that recognition.
This seems to be a blind spot for progressives. They exemplify two American traits–fixation on personality and lack of patience and perspective. Progressives keep looking for a messiah candidate who can lead them out of the wilderness, pumping their dollars into candidates and campaigns, while ignoring the need for continuing work on moving public opinion and building the progressive base between election cycles. Progressive funders, notably including many in large nonprofit foundations as well as individual political donors, tend to make grants for short-term efforts (seldom exceeding 2-3 years), after which they are eager to move on to some exciting new venture, rather than supporting long-term social change efforts that reasonably will take a decade or more to achieve.
Notably, some working with disadvantaged communities are talking about how to do fundraising to “resource the social justice movement.” We can only hope that movement awareness spreads to encompass other issue areas, instead of remaining limited to social justice. After all, we’re all in it together–across the board, people have economic, housing, legal, environmental, educational, medical, and transportation needs–and that list just scratches the surface.
A progressive movement is what we need, and that movement needs SUPPORT. Too bad it didn’t come in time to save Rockridge Institute and Center for Policy Alternatives.

Gambling On Budget – What If We Lose?

The headline article in Sunday’s San Jose Mercury News: A winning bet on lottery money for Schwarzenegger?

The article discusses ways to increase lottery sales so the Governor can borrow from future revenue to pay today’s bills. (And we get to pay huge investment bank fees for the privilege of borrowing our money from our future.)
The article does not discuss the consequences of the possible failure of this wild plan to base the state’s financial future on gambling revenue. If it fails we will still owe a huge amount of money to the big Wall Street firms, but will have even less revenue coming in to pay the additional interest and principal. We’re talking about the possibility of bankruptcy here, folks.
The article does not discuss the consequences of using marketing methods to push gambling to California’s low income citizens. We already know there is a gambling problem just from the amount of advertising that is being done today. Now lottery-pushers are talking about online betting, allowing use of credit cards so people can go into debt, and increased advertising. This can only lead to terrible victimization of people who are susceptible to gambling addiction.
Mostly, though, this Sunday headline article does not discuss realistic ideas for raising revenue to pay for the state’s schools, roads, police, firefighters, courts, health care facilities, DMV workers, environmental oversight and the rest of the absolutely necessary things that our state government does for us. These ideas include asking the wealthy to pay the same sales taxes when they buy yachts and jets that the rest of us pay when we buy clothing and cars and necessities, or asking the big corporations to pay realistic property taxes on commercial real estate, or asking the oil companies to pay something when they pump our oil out of the ground and sell it back to us, or closing some of the loopholes that allow big corporations and wealthy to escape paying their share of taxes.
Nope, instead of looking at realistic revenue ideas we’re all being distracted by this silly lottery scheme.