The political race of the year in Washington

Washington (the state) will have three legislative races this November. Two of them will be in districts that could very well have a Republican running against Republican in the final race. Not here.

The 26th Legislative District Senate race here will likely have in November the appointed incumbent Democrat, who performed reasonably well in Olympia this last session, running against a Republican who has run in five different campaigns and won every one. Two of them were for county commissioner. The last three put her in the state House of Representatives.

Democrats have a three-seat majority in the state Senate, but two Democrats bolted (without changing party affiliation) to create a one-seat majority, so the political split in that chamber is close. A loss by the Democrats of that one seat would still leave more Democrats than Republicans in the chamber, but Republicans would have a bigger de facto majority.

The bottom line is this is an important race here, and it’s the only one either party has to focus on.

I started our coverage by doing a story looking at the success rate of appointed incumbents and looking specifically at where they have failed. I’m kind of proud of this story, because it took significant research and work with a spreadsheet to find recent political history from which to draw parallels. It makes me excited to dive into this race even further as time marches to November.

The beer tax debated

The craft beer industry has taken off generally and Washington has been no different. The governor and Democrats in the House wanted to add a fairly significant per gallon tax to Washington brews.

On the one hand you can see where any new tax, and this was not a small one, can cut into a brewer’s profits. The guy I feature in the video will sell you a pint for $5 and he takes care of the tax. It’s an easy price point, one that could cost him some if the tax had gone through. Market conditions on their own could cut into those profits, too, if the cost for yeast or barley went up.

On the other hand, there is validity to the argument that people who buy these are not going to switch to Budweiser because of this tax. They go to a place to buy this kind of beer specifically. They have their favorites.

If you go to a blog entry I posted on the Kitsap Caucus site, you can see video of the arguments from both sides. The governor is actually pretty funny when he talks about it, so don’t dismiss it just because he’s a government type.

UPDATE: The tax was eliminated from everyone’s budget. Your beer is safe, for now.

To those who never made it home

I’ve been struggling today to come up with or find a single phrase or sentiment that would adequately express my thoughts about Memorial Day this year. Many of my friends did quite well with that. It has worked for me in the past. This year nothing was singing for me. So at the risk of being labeled an ingrate, I remained silent.

Then a friend, someone who served in the military, wrote about how this day is to honor not all veterans, but those who never made it home.

And then I saw a clip from an HBO drama in which a (fake) news guy tells a college assembly this isn’t the greatest country on Earth. My thought was, “Shame on me if he’s right.” The show seems unrealistic to me, because after dropping an F-bomb to that college audience and asserting we’re not No. 1, he keeps his job. In the real America he’d be handed his exit papers moments after he was coerced into making an apology.

That clip, coupled with my friend’s take, took me to my real thoughts about Memorial Day, and the best ways I can express thanks to those who never made it home.

For one, I can be grateful I never had to join the military to be in public service. This country hasn’t drafted people in 40 years. I live in a military community and I’ve met many people who seem wired for that kind of work, but there are others who are in there because one day they looked around and saw no better option to get them out of the lives they to which they felt otherwise destined. I had other options and I took them. I bought things on credit when it probably wasn’t wise and I took jobs I knew I wasn’t suited for. I learned from those mistakes and major part I owe some of that learning to those who never came home.

Second, I will resist jingoistic nationalism that declares, “We’re No. 1!” as if that declaration alone makes it so. I wave a flag today in gratitude, not to shove it in the face of people who can see my yard from Canada. Other nations have taken up the same cause of liberty, probably through our nation’s example, and have created free nations as well. Some, perish the thought, may be doing freedom better than we are. But they should remind us that our status as a great country takes work, and sacrifice, a concern for the rights of the individual and for the rights of the whole.

Third, as a citizen I will not assume that everyone who works for the government is some shiftless, lazy bureaucrat with little or no job skills. At the same time, I will demand that those government workers take care with the tax money I and other Americans provide to do what we ask. That includes the military.

Fourth, I can stop resenting those who want the same things I have. Whether they live in foreign nations or emigrate to mine, their commitment to this ideal makes the world better. Freedom isn’t really freedom if it’s limited to those who are born with it.

Fifth, I will vote in November. And during the process I will set aside the lies and the labels and pick someone for president who I believe is best able to handle that responsibility. The same goes for Congress, my state and my county. I will dismiss all commercial sound bites and shouting points and instead study for myself the resumes and the records of the candidates. People can outspend me in an effort to sway my vote, but my vote is my responsibility.

Sixth, I will take days like today and grill burgers on the barbecue and picnic with my family. I’ll watch baseball and dispute the umpire. I’ll complain about what’s not on Netflix. You died to give me that right, too.

Finally, just because I probably won’t end up dying for my country does not mean I cannot still lay down my life for it. I can work every day to make this country worthy of that ultimate sacrifice so many gave. I can be skeptical without being cynical. I can question my own ideas of what’s right for this country and make different choices if I need to do. I have the freedom to be wrong about things and to change my mind.

To those who didn’t make it home, I’m working hard to be worthy of your sacrifice. I’m trying to raise children who will one day make huge mistakes and have big successes, and to through it all be grateful for that chance. I know I can probably never repay you for what you did, but thanks to you I have that freedom, too.

Job Wanted: American Economic Overseer

I have no real economics training. I haven’t handled my own personal budgets very well. In the past I was a flake about paying my bills. I’m less of one now, significantly, but old habits die hard. I borrow more than I should. I don’t save enough and I haven’t done what it takes to make what I want.

All that said, I think I would be the perfect guy to fix the American economy. If anyone’s hiring for that job, consider me an applicant.

Having already outlined some of my negatives, allow me to suggest some of the positives and my ideas.

First off, I won’t ask for an exorbitant salary. I want $75,000 annually, adjusted for inflation and for where I live. It was easy for me to arrive at that salary. I just want to be happy. Generally, I am quite content and grateful for my life. But I make less than the $75,000 I am requesting, and sometimes I feel the financial stress that would lead me to do outrageous things like moving to Phoenix. I mean, who does that willingly? I jest. Some like it hot, and it’s not just the low home prices that make Arizona attractive. But I digress.

The $75,000 figure comes from a blog piece on a site called “You are Not so Smart” (Oh, yes I am and I will remind you to shut up.) I read called “The Overjustification Effect” in which the writers wax on about how getting paid for what I love has a down side. It also refers to research done by Princeton professors Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman on the emotional value of money and how much it takes to be happy. It’s $75,000. You need that much to buy what you need and to get things you may not need but would like to have. The big thing the authors point out is that making more than $75,000 doesn’t make you happier. I know at least one of my friends makes way, way more than $75,000 a year and really wants it to stay that way. I wish him well. I wouldn’t turn down more than $75k, but let’s agree to start there.

Second: I don’t hate my fellow Americans, but I don’t trust all of them. I think there is a lot wrong that is largely the result of people only looking after their own self interests, but we’re basically a good people. I don’t hate health-care reform, tort reform, the Tea Party or the Occupy movement. I generally don’t hate politicians, or those who have purchased them. Some may be really bad people, but I live with the hope that most are at least trying to do the right things. I do think our current economic situation is more the fault of people who make an insane amount of money creating stupid bets on Wall Street, but I also think we are all accountable for ourselves and the state of the nation. That I borrow too much not only puts me at risk, in another sense it undermines our national economic security. I think I should be free to make some mistakes, but not so free to ruin it for everyone else. I think regulation is a good thing, generally, and would push for real reform, whatever that is. Have you seen any yet?

Third: I wouldn’t be beholden to anyone, not even the person signing my paycheck. I know that if I were to get fired, just having this position would get me a book deal later that would more than make up for my lost income. Therefore, I win either way, unless what I suggest makes the economy lose. In that case, I would quit, then write a book blaming everyone else.

Fourth: My first act would be to remove all the financial incentives politicians have to resist change or foster change that benefits themselves and their friends. Well, in fact, I couldn’t do any of this on my own. I would have to influence the politicians to do it themselves. I would use the bully pulpit: television, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and every next media phenomenon that arises.

Fifth: My next act would be to work on Wall Street rules and entitlements. We can probably get that finished in about 70 years.

That’s a start. Any employer interested in discussing this with me further can contact me at steven@thenarrativearts.com.

Romney’s personality a problem if the election is close

My dad told me a story about Mitt Romney when the would-be president had yet to be a would-be senator, then governor, then presidential candidate. Dad worked as a dispatcher for Summit County in Utah, home of Park City and also many of the 2002 U.S. Olympic venues. It was also Romney’s home (at least one of them) during the Olympic buildup.

Romney was home when the fire alarm went off. Fire department crews went to the house and Romney was there, outside, to greet them to shoo them away. There was no fire, he said. Local rules, however, required fire crews to inspect a property where fire alarms went off. Romney wasn’t having it. I don’t know how the incident eventually ended, whether crews were able to get in. I do know he tried to stop them. And I know what my dad says the fire crews said about Romney: that he was a first-class jerk.

If Romney were elected president, I doubt he would be the least likeable president we ever had. And if this New Republic piece, Temperamental Journey, is to be trusted, Romney is not always a jerk, he just has a temper. The piece points out that Romney criticized John McCain for his, so bad on you, Mitt, for seeing the mote without recognizing the beam.

This whole issue, I have to admit, is personally grating to me. I hate abusive bosses. (For the record my bosses now are sheer delights.) I have had abusive bosses. Because of my own sense of self-awesomeness I don’t take well to overly harsh criticism. I’ve been verbally smacked by a boss several times before when I deserved it and I knew it. In those cases I took it well. Also in those cases I never got the sense that those bosses believed they were superior to me, aside from their titles. When it got me riled was when I believed the boss was either inept, condescending or obviously uneven in the application of discipline.

Duke University scientists (I’m a Carolina fan, but I’ll give credit where it is due here.) determined almost half of the U.S. Presidents through Nixon had some form of mental illness. I think it certainly requires a bit of narcissism to even run for president, but mental illness will do. In some it was a good trait to have.

Maybe being a jerk is a good trait. More troubling, perhaps, about Mitt’s actions in these minor instances is that it might suggest he believes the rules don’t apply to him. Those firefighters were obeying the law, it inconvenienced him and it made him angry, so much so that he at least tried to get them to not obey it themselves. The same thing, according to the New Republic piece, happened during the Olympics.

This may get to the core of the reality as to why Republicans continue to seek an alternative to Romney. Sure there are many who believe he hasn’t been a true conservative on social and fiscal issues. And if it comes down to Romney versus Obama, those critics will hold their noses in Nov. 2012 and vote for Romney anyway. But Romney is lacking some regular guy cred. He just doesn’t seem like a guy you’d ever want in your house, for fear he might yell at your kid for leaving the spoon in the hot chocolate cup.

Contrast that with another experience my father had. My dad, as a cop, worked an event for then California Gov. Ronald Reagan. No cop complained about Reagan. They loved Reagan. My dad loved Reagan. In large part it was because Reagan didn’t show any indication he was looking down on the cops working that event. Perhaps Reagan could be a jerk. But on the one occasion my dad’s paths crossed with his, the man came off well. Romney, not so much, and that may be the biggest thing that keeps him from the presidency. Romney’s personality wouldn’t make those who are solidly opposed to retaining the current president from marking “Obama” on their ballots. It might motivate some who are less solid to skip the election completely.

UPDATE: Allow me to refer you to the story from the New York Times, Republican Leaders Still Seem Torn About Romney.

On the one hand this could represent ridiculous expectations by the New York Times, given that we haven’t even had the Iowa caucus yet. Why wouldn’t the party seem torn? It’s supposed to be torn. It used to be torn all the way to the convention and sometimes even through the eventual nominee’s convention speech.

On the other hand the story reflects the growing reality of presidential politics, that many battles are settled long before the official contests begin.

What I think back up my case is the sense that I don’t get a real sense of excitement about Romney, not from anyone. That doesn’t mean he’s a jerk, as my column suggests. It just means no one sees the man as they saw Reagan or Obama or Hillary Clinton. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have their passionate backers, but I don’t see it in Romney fans.

Taking a Bold Stance Against Hitler

Does this picture mean I shouldn’t embrace children anymore?

After Thanksgiving dinner in 1990 I boarded plane to Denver to work a weekend conference of a company whose employ I’ve long regretted. The incident I recall isn’t one of those that I would put in a list of reasons why the company failed, but maybe I should.

The company sent people tickets to a business seminar and promised a free gift of accounting software and some basic business and motivational books. I had been with the company a year and obviously had never read the books, because when a guest at one of the events pointed out a quote, I had to admit I’d never seen it. I don’t remember the quote, but I do remember the author — Adolf Hitler.

Most people would agree that an American motivational book should not include a quote by Hitler, no matter how true it might be. What I do recall about the comment was had it been said by someone else who wasn’t one of history’s greatest murderers, it would have fit just fine.

Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that anti-health-care reform protesters had swastikas on their signs. While she has been denounced as a liar by some, I thought I had seen pictures of it and in looking around the Web tonight, I verified that I had.

On one level, though, so what? Liberals did it to Bush, too. You can’t judge all health care opponents for what a few crazies do.

What if they’re not crazy? The yellers on the left likened Bush to Hitler in reference to totalinarianism, which you might argue is valid. With Obama the yellers on the right might be referring to Germany’s socialism under the Nazis, which many argue is valid.

In a National Review column Andrew McCarthy argues that likening health care reform to the Nazis is appropriate, because the Nazis were socialists and that extended to health care. “The wisdom vel non of policies adopted during over a decade of Nazi socialism cannot be off the table simply because, in the end, the Nazis were monsters,” he wrote.

Well, actually, I disagree with McCarthy. For me it goes back to Godwin’s Law specifically and more generally the “slippery slope” argument we often hear. We won’t legalize something we might approve of because it could lead to us legalizing something we don’t. I hate that argument. You draw a line and you leave it there. In the 1970s we decided 18-year-olds should be able to vote. Have we since decided it should be OK for kids old enough to drive? We let 21-year-olds drink alcohol. We draw lines all the time. Sometimes we move them, but it’s not usually just because we moved them closer years before.

Besides, and this is where it gets dicey for me, it would be foolish to assume that even the most vile, evil, ungodly person in the world was capable of doing nothing good or worth emulating. I’m not saying we should emulate Hitler’s hospitals. But even an article on an Anti-Defamation League site points out that Nazi scientists may have been the first to discover that tobacco is bad for the body.

Here are things Hitler reportedly said. I can’t verify that he really said these things, but I saw it on a Web site, so it must be true. Tell me which ones you disagree with.

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it”

“How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”

“The man who has no sense of history, is like a man who has no ears or eyes”

“The day of individual happiness has passed”

“I love you Mommy”

I have no proof he said the last one, but Hitler was close to his mother, so it’s not inconceivable that he did. And I think the first one was actually his propaganda guy, but Hitler surely embraced the idea even if he didn’t say the actual quote.

Regardless, my main point is that you don’t use Hitler to support your case or to dismiss someone else’s. Health writer Tinker Ready agrees.

Where McCarthy might have a point that sells is when he writes of “a trajectory of socialism,” but again I feel he’s relying on the slippery slope model:

“There is a trajectory of socialism, regardless of the good intentions of many socialists. As he framed it, you take things such as health care, things that are traditionally understood as within the ambit of individual liberty and free choice; you move such things into the ambit of state responsibility as the welfare state emerges and grows, on the theory that it is government’s responsibility to provide for everyone’s needs (by redistributing resources); as more things are moved from private to public control, the state by definition becomes totalitarian; and, inexorably, the totalitarian state gets bad leaders and the society comes to reflect the policy choices of those leaders.”

This suggests that elements of our government are not socialist already. When did government decide it was a good idea to take roads out of the ambit of individual liberty and into state responsibility? How about wars and parks? Dictators and capitalists have both employed slavery. Do we rid ourselves of both? Are all the countries that have adopted some form of socialized medical system on an inevitable path to having their own versions of Hitler?

In the same ADL article mentioned earlier, Penn State history of science professor Robert N. Proctor draws the line pointing where German science failed:

“There is nothing inherently evil about physicians working and cooperating with their government. The moral failure of the German medical profession was its willingness to collaborate with the Nazi state, its willingness to serve Nazi values. There is nothing wrong with physicians working to preserve the health of a larger community; that, after all, is the essence of responsible public health. What differentiated National Socialist public health from genuine public health in a reasonably civilized society was the exclusive nature of what the Nazis considered “the community.” Nazi values excluded Jews and others deemed racially or genetically unfit from the völkisch community. It bears repeating: Most German physicians in the Reich failed to challenge the rotten substance of Nazi values, the murderous directions of Nazi initiatives.”

Opponents and supporters of health care both have solid arguments to make for their cases. Maybe the public option will end up being a Trojan Horse for universal coverage. Maybe insurance companies are driving medical costs up. Maybe Medicare’s doing it. Those are all worth discussing. But as soon as you bring up “Nazi” or “Hitler,” you’ve lost me.

Doing the Laundry

In college I was taught the difference between Reagan’s success and Carter’s failure was more about strategy than philosophy.

While that might seem obvious on its face, it has relevance to the question I ask now, which is “What should Obama do?”

Carter came to the presidency in 1976 with a long list of things he wanted done and threw them all at Congress and, by all appearances, Americans became convinced he was incapable of getting anything done well. I don’t know what his list of accomplishments are, other than the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt. What I do know is he was seen as a failure.

Reagan had a long list, too, but he decided to focus on a few. He got tax cuts, the big one. He was seen as a success.

So, based on news reports, we see that Obama plans to start closing Gitmo, work on his 16-month timeline for removal of troops from Iraq and steps to boost the economy. That includes another tax cut in addition to funding for public infrastructure projects.

Should he limit it to that? Can he take on healthcare, Social Security, and other items?

I’m not so interested in what you think he should do based on your own political leanings. I want to know what you think he can realistically get through on his honeymoon. Any takers?

Congressional Seat Still Open

The campaign for the (Wait, I’ve got to check. That’s what I thought.) 32nd Congressional District from California continues, flying under the radar. By the looks of things, the campaign is flying so low under the radar that it’s under water. That’s fine, I don’t see a whole lot of buzz about other candidates, either. There is this speculation from something called “Informative Post,” on who will replace Hilda Solis when she becomes Secretary of Labor:

“The district that she is leaving is a Democratic stronghold and will probably be filled by a state legislator who resides within the district.”

The good news in that comment is that Informative Post is not naming names. No one in the district is a shoe-in, leaving an opening for me. Remember, you don’t have to live in the district to get elected to represent it.

I’ve decided that I’ll run as a Democrat. I’ll only do that, though, because the Democrats are in the majority. Once the Republicans get it back, I’ll join that side.

Does this mean I’m a feather in the wind? Call it that if you like, but you must first hear my second strategy. I’ll be gunning for a seat on some sort of appropriations committee from the get-go. I’ll generally do what my district wants me to do, so I’ll employ a sophisticated polling mechanism to find out just what that is. The larger point, though, is I want to be in a position to bring home as much pork as possible. My seat on appropriations in the majority party means my requests get approved whenever I want. So whether it’s a grant for costume manufacturing in West Covina or hotel repairs in La Puente, it’s on the House, the House of Representatives!

My future campaign slogans will be something like, “Making earmarks work for you us.”

Gardner for Congress

congress buttonU.S. Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., was just named as Secretary of Commerce in the Obama Administration, which means there’s an opening in Congress. Not just any opening, I tell you, Solis represents the area I grew up in. Of course we all know that it’s inevitable that one day I will return in triumph to my nesting ground to represent my fair peers in the halls of the House of Representatives. It was pretty much foreordained. The question is whether now is the time to accept my destiny. The first thing I would have to find out is whether this calls for a special election or an appointment. (Checking, checking, checking . . . ) OK, there’s an election and there are names already being surfaced. According to the Los Angeles Times:

State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said publicly last week that she was interested in pursuing the seat.

Speculation over who would run has been swirling in political circles since Obama’s choice of Solis was made public late last week.

Both Chu and Romero were suggested, as were Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello) and Assemblyman Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), neither of whom have announced their intentions.

The most compelling part for me, though, is the next sentence.

But the law doesn’t require a candidate to live in the district, so the field could be open to many other candidates for the sought-after seat in the House of Representatives, which is not subject to term limits.

So technically, I don’t have to move back and once I’m in there are no term limits, so I can be a congressman as long as I want, assuming I don’t do something stupid, like, say, writing a bill that would make cars or pancakes illegal or as long as I don’t take bribes from politically incorrect sources.

Of course, to make my decision, I have to weigh the pros and cons. There are things going against me, but if I’m smart I can turn those into positives.

Con: Doesn’t live in the area.
Pro: Isn’t burdened by favors to local special interest groups.

Con: Doesn’t have any political experience outside of reporting on politics in Washington state and a few months as an intern in D.C.
Pro: Not sullied by the insiders’ games.

Con: Doesn’t know many people in the district anymore.
Pro: People I do know probably wouldn’t vote for me anyway.

It’s an intriguing idea. I’ve run in the district before and won and lost. I ran for president of Rowland Avenue Elementary School in sixth grade and came in third. My own campaign manager voted against me. In 12th grade I was ASB president at Covina High School, though, which meant I got to at least go out with some girls before they got disgusted with me.

If I do run, I’ll announce it here, not on Leno. Leno’s not San Gabriel Valley enough.

Electoral College

On Monday I got to witness an electoral college event in Olympia. I blogged about it at work. In 2000 the speculation I heard before the election was that Bush would win the popular vote, but not the electoral college. That it turned out the other way might explain why we still have it. I could be wrong, but it appears to me anecdotally that Republicans are its biggest protectors. So they would have to be the ones to get burned if there were to be any change in it.

Even then, I’m not sure there would be enough of an appetite to discard it. There are movements to make more states like Maine and Nebraska, which assign the seats allocated from the two senators to the state’s winner, and the others depending on the votes within congressional districts. Obama got one delegate in Nebraska this year. I believe I read that was the first time those states ever had been anything but winner-take-all.

That would not be the case in Washington, however. Instead of the 11-0 split Obama received Monday, were this state to go with the Maine/Nebraska model, I’m guessing it would have either been 8-3 or 7-4.

The problem with that method, however, is that it has the potential of making the electoral college a bigger stretch from the popular vote reality than we see already. The point I’m making in my blog at work is that the real goal of changing the system is to pretty much guarantee that no one ever wins the popular vote without winning the presidency ever again. If that’s the point, then just scrap the college. Any alterations to the process and we’re just hanging on to the process out of sentimentality. What I saw Monday was pretty neat, because it mattered to the people there. And what they did mattered.

A compelling argument, though, for a revised version that doesn’t completely rely on the popular vote is that it would be far too difficult to have a national recount if the race were close. So it’s understandable why some would still want the responsibility of choosing our president to officially reside with the states. In 2000 the overall race was close, but the only state that warranted a recount was Florida. As messy as that was, I can’t imagine having to do it nationwide.

Now for the demon “other hand.” Gore’s popular vote margin in 2000 was slightly more than one-half of 1 percent. Based on the rules in our state, that means there would be no recount. Had it been slightly less than a half-percentage point, there would be. So in 2000 the entire country could have gone through a recount, with each state carrying it out, and not so much attention would have been paid to what Florida was doing. We can only speculate on other matters, but you could also imagine that third-party candidates wouldn’t have had the sway they did that year and more votes would have gone to Gore and Bush.

Ah, but if my aunt . . .