Saturday, December 18, 2010

Democratic Destination: January 23rd Departure

On Sunday, January 23rd the Democratic Party in Maine will elect a new chairperson and its officers. All of us have a critical stake in this election.

The past general election not only reduced our public officeholders but it placed a hold on our agenda of progress and there now exists the most determined effort to roll back advancements made on behalf of Maine workers, our environment, and health care. To combat this effort we must prevail in the next general election within this state. We need to win back the Maine House and Senate. We must force Paul LePage to take up his veto pen, which may lie dormant in these next two years, and we must be poised to override his objections. These are enormous but vital goals.

We must have strong candidates and a strong party.

The election of our chair is a significant start along the comeback path. The individual elected can represent our party externally with a resonating message, wisely deploy resources toward building a 2012 victory, attract new members, inspire current members, and focus everyone’s efforts and attention toward truly representing the interests of Maine citizens.

We cannot afford a chairperson without a clear vision or one who is easily bogged down with internal squabbling, excuse creating, factional power plays, narrow allegiances, or personal detractions. The chairperson can be paid a salary and at present, the chairperson wields enormous influence over selecting the party’s paid Executive Director. In effect, the State Committee is hiring the party’s CEO.

You can influence this selection. You must.

The chairperson is elected by the Maine Democratic Party Committee. As a start one should identify who they know or have heard of or simply ought to be called or represents their county on the State Committee. Find those members here.

Advocacy of your aspirations for our party’s future is vital. Communicating our interests and creating awareness of our scrutiny with this election can help empower a good result. And if you encounter silence and stones, think about going to your next county committee to discuss and perhaps act upon your expectations.

Candidates for chairperson are listed here. More candidates will be announced and some may be nominated from the floor on January 23rd. Be sure to seek out these individuals messages about their candidacies and find out as much as possible about what inspires them to seek this position, how they plan to fill the role, and what they will do to accomplish the many significantly challenging tasks ahead.

You can get an advance look at candidates in forums that are beginning to happen around the state. Contact your county committee and/or local committee to see if it plans to hold a forum for party chair candidates and be sure to suggest one if such an offering is not occurring in your area or at reasonable driving distance.

Kennebec and Sagadahoc Counties are jointly supporting a forum; open to all democrats, for Maine Democratic State Party Committee Chairperson candidates on January 8th at 1:00 pm with a snow date of January 15th at 1:00 pm. It will be held at the Kennebec County Government Center at 125 State Street, in Augusta, Maine.

This will present an excellent opportunity to hear candidate remarks, questions poised by the county committees to all candidates, and your questions from the floor. All serious candidates should be in attendance. All serious democrats are invited and welcomed to attend and participate.

The election of a new chairperson on January 23rd is our next important destination. It can signify a new beginning, a strategic departure toward a future destiny.

Please feel free to email, post, and pass along this article in full or part anyplace it will encourage interest and participation.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reform Number One

There is a great deal of angst among many voters who object to the administration’s tax cut for unemployment compromise with Republicans as well as voters who accept such action. Stick to your guns, shouts one side! Kick him while he’s down, bellows the other side!

Democrats find it aggravating that our legislative process is being held hostage by Republicans. Deploying a political maneuver that promised to hold up all legislation pending passage of an extension of the Bush era failed tax policy, the Republicans set up a “who will blink first” situation.

It matters little who blinked if the result is capitulation and not compromise or if the result is ineffectual compromise and not constructive consensus.

We have witnessed a legislative power shift in Washington over the last several decades that concentrated raw power into fewer and fewer hands. Congress is not representative of her citizenry as a consequence yet that seems of little concern. Power shifted from majorities building coalitions in both congressional bodies to a new ultimate seat of power, the House-Senate conference committee on any legislation. And it has shifted again to the new ultimate current power structure, denial of legislative service, by a filibustering minority in the least representative body.

The United States has a new method of negative legislating – a parliament dominated by lords of the minority.

Every issue now requires 60 votes in the Senate to even proceed for deliberation, the very reason we elect representatives. Instead every issue is now reported in terms of a crass procedure, cloture, rather that of proposal, substance, merit, reflection, debate, and action. In a party split of less than solid 60/40, all attention focuses on the personal whims of a few shifting votes that may or may not be in the center. We are drowning in tactics and not swimming in substance.

Today with the Republican signed pledge of 42 votes to hold up deliberation by the majority 58 as well as some of the 42 who might be inclined in temperament toward legislating, we have moved decidedly toward parliamentary block voting. A president elected by a solid majority and a house elected along more proportional representative lines in 2008 did not seem to matter to the Senate minority lords. Indeed, it can be contended that the damage done by block voting and the frustrating of a popular legislative majority and administration through dramatically weakening health care, successfully diluting financial reform, and stalling addressing environmental climate concerns is precisely one of the prime assisting agents that created, distorted, and capitalized on voters’ economically rooted fears to produce the conservative 2010 Republican electoral gains. It’s a case of creative destruction for further destroying creations.

In parliaments, governments can fall if ruling blocks fail on a key vote. In our system, the government will not fall on a key vote but a determined block minority can make it fail to serve its citizens time and time again until that minority can make it fall at a term’s end.

Changing the Senate rules at present may well not yet have the votes, there is an absence of a directly spoken mandate for reform, and there appears continued resignation to the current practice of obstruction. And again and again, the media focuses on scoring stances not probing circumstances. The filibuster is a toxic deficit in our democracy and is not a mere issue among others for it profoundly affects the others. Ending its potency, deployed by either party, ought to be reform number one.

Further reading:
Filibuster Abuse [PDF] by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
The Silenced Majority [The Atlantic] by Matthew Yglesias

Friday, December 3, 2010

No Love Letter

Yes, Maine's Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, have signed the letter (the link shows the signatures) below to block all legislation unless the Bush tax cuts are extended to the wealthy. That includes legislation to extend unemployment benefits as we approach the holidays and coldest months of the year. If you're rich throw some gold tinsel on the tree; if not make a pot of spruce soup for supper and burn a few branches to keep warm.

Not only did Collins and Snowe sign on to this blocking plan; they actually exposed their claims to be moderates as entirely bogus.

What greater indicator can you have than observing a professed moderate who may wield power to allow bills to come up for debate and a vote within a closely divided Senate where their single yea or nay might have actual impact moving something forward versus playing a waiting game that may lead to their yea or nay on some issues being far less effective in the next Senate year with an even larger minority with extra buffer votes less reliant on getting Collins or Snowe to play cloture ball?

Complicated? Not if you’re really not a moderate.

Dear Leader Reid,

The nation's unemployment level, stuck near 10 percent, is unacceptable to Americans. Senate Republicans have been urging Congress to make private-sector job creation a priority all year. President Obama in his first speech after the November election said "we owe" it to the American people to "focus on those issues that affect their jobs." He went on to say that Americans "want jobs to come back faster." Our constituents have repeatedly asked us to focus on creating an environment for private-sector job growth; it is time that our constituents' priorities become the Senate's priorities.

For that reason, we write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers. With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities. While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate's attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.

Given our struggling economy, preventing the tax increase and providing economic certainty should be our top priority. Without Congressional action by December 31, all American taxpayers will be hit by an increase in their individual income-tax rates and investment income through the capital gains and dividend rates. If Congress were to adopt the President's tax proposal to prevent the tax increase for only some Americans, small businesses would be targeted with a job-killing tax increase at the worst possible time. Specifically, more than 750,000 small businesses will see a tax increase, which will affect 50 percent of small-business income and nearly 25 percent of the entire workforce. The death tax rate will also climb from zero percent to 55 percent, which makes it the top concern for America's small businesses. Republicans and Democrats agree that small businesses create most new jobs, so we ought to be able to agree that raising taxes on small businesses is the wrong remedy in this economy. Finally, Congress still needs to act on the "tax extenders" and the alternative minimum tax "patch," all of which expired on December 31, 2009.

We look forward to continuing to work with you in a constructive manner to keep the government operating and provide the nation's small businesses with economic certainty that the job-killing tax hike will be prevented.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hear No Labor

Governor-elect LePage is setting the tone-deafness for his future administration as reported in the December 1st Kennebec Journal:
Gov.-elect Paul LePage is asking businesses and industry groups to help him reduce the regulations they believe hinder economic development.

He launched this effort Tuesday at an unprecedented meeting at the Augusta Civic Center. LePage asked about 100 gathered business people for their ideas -- and political support -- when he presents a package of regulatory reform bills to the Legislature.

"What can we do to assist you to provide better jobs in Maine?" LePage asked the crowd.

Absent from those invited to the forum were environmental groups, public health advocates and consumer advocates. LePage said those groups will have an opportunity to weigh in on his proposals as part of the legislative process.

Governor-elect LePage is starting out by choosing selective listening, to those who mirror his views and already support him, as his standard operating procedure. This narrow outlook along with clumsy actions by GOP members of the legislature to eliminate the labor committee as reported in the following Sun Journal piece signal how one-sided this administration and its legislative allies intend to be:
Established in 1887, the Joint Standing Committee on Labor is responsible for overseeing changes in wage and workplace safety laws, union negotiations and the Maine State Retirement System.

Republican leaders acknowledged Tuesday that they were seeking to shift that oversight to other committees, or to potentially dissolve the Labor Committee and create another panel on which such duties would be combined with business development tasks.

The presumptive House Speaker, Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said the plan was to put business development and labor matters before one panel, and to potentially save money, although those savings were not disclosed Tuesday.

The greatest "savings" potentially would be the first time the minimum wage comes in front of a committee dedicated to business development.