Sep 10

Chris Christie: No Double-Dipping!

It’s pretty simple to figure which double-dipping employees Christie is targeting if you look at this database provided by the Asbury Park Press.

Christie’s initial proposal seemed to target solely elected officials, but his more recent comments seem to encompass all governmental employees, including teachers, police, and fire departments, who incidentally are far-more likely to be his political opposition.

Via the  Press of Atlantic City:

Many local and state politicians, judges, prosecutors and other public officials and employees could be faced with a tough decision soon: Which salary do they want to give up?

Republican Gov. Chris Christie is targeting government employees who collect two public salaries in a new ethics reform proposal that could affect various government officials in the area, from notable politicians such as state Sen. Jim Whelan and Assemblyman Vince Polistina to everyday workers such as Atlantic City schoolteachers who serve as lifeguards during their summer break.

I think Christie’s plan has merits, so long as he considers the unintended consequences.

While it may reduce the states pension obligations, I having a hard time envisioning a scenario that doesn’t result in a more-bloated government.  Many of those with multiple jobs are working on a piecemeal basis to several counties and townships, earning ‘single-thousands-of-dollars’.  The disincentive that Christie suggests may result in the need to place a professional full-time bureaucrat in the position, increasing both the size (by headcount) and cost of government (and a GOP administration would place loyal GOP foot-soldiers in place, strengthening Christie’s political power).  It may also require the NJ Assembly to go full-time.   The focus should be less on pensions and more on consolidating local government and school boards, perhaps with the state covering the costs as opposed to a gubernatorial power grab and opportunity to punish his political opposition.

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Jul 10

The O is for Obstructionism

As a whole, they (Republicans, Conservatives, the GOP) have not paid sufficiently (or at all)  for their obstructionism.

The press is also complicit, much happier with  horse-race politics and  pandering to the lowest common denominator on  race than with the nitty-gritty details of effective policy-making or the  effect of inequalities,  ethics,  morality, or  power.

I look forward to  the eventual government shutdown theatrics (already present in  Boehner’s call for ‘no new regulations’), the  subpoena  circus by the Tea Party Caucus, and  calls for impeachment of the President for high crimes to be announced at a later date.

Dec 09

Parker Griffith Could Still Lose

The chattering classes will be clucking this afternoon about Alabama Representative Parker Griffith’s defection to the Republican Party.   While newsworthy, this is nothing surprising.

For starters, given the economy as well as a host of other factors, Democrats face an uphill challenge in 2010, with the consensus being the loss some of seats in the House and Senate.     Retirements, party switches, and the like are regular occurrences at this point of the cycle.   Furthermore, Griffith is a Freshman, and as such is much more susceptible to a fickle electorate (note that he won in 2008 in an uncontested race, and substantially outspent his rival).   You’ll also note that Obama lost AL-5 to McCain by 23%, and that Griffith beat his Republican rival Wayne Parker (name recognition/confusion much?) by a mere 3.6%, with the seat being previously held by a Democrat (data via CQ).

CQ 2008 House AL-5

Most interesting is the fact that Griffith is a doctor, as well as the location of his seat (Alabama), within the context of the healthcare reform fight.   As you may recall, HCR has successfully passed the Senate on a party-line vote and now heads to the House.   Griffith’s position as a doctor gives the GOP some credibility to weigh against the endorsement of the Senate’s HCR bill by the American Medical Association.

What makes the most sense, however, is a cursory glance of how Grffith has funded his political career – heavily based on contributions from the Health Industry.

Parker Griffith Career Financing Open Secrets

The political trends in Alabama, Griffith’s status as doctor and ties to the healthcare industry, and caucus membership as a Conservative Blue   Dog, makes Griffith’s switch a move out of fear and electoral   survivability, and not ideological strength and fortitude.     I would not be at all surprised if several of Rahm’s other loyal blue dogs leave the pack as well.   It is also within the realm of possibly that the teabaggers could insist he be primaried anyway.

Nov 09

Envisioning Purity

I ran the text of the GOP’s Purity Test as reported in the NYTimes through Wordle to generate a visualization:

Wordle: GOP Purity Test Supports Opposing Progress

It appears that the GOP is supporting opposition of, well, everything.   Or something.

Nov 09

Do collegiate teabaggers want limited student government?

The rational, principled argument for a Republican or Independent college student would of course be “no”.   The theatrics of yesterdays tantrum in a teapot on Capitol Hill (contrasted by the killings at Fort Hood and within the context of Guy Fawkes Day) really obscures how most people feel about government.

People generally don’t care about government, or at least will tolerate the status quo so long as their lives are comfortable,   the mail gets delivered, and the trash gets picked up.   As soon as effective governing becomes impossible via scandal, ideology, or externalities (like the economy), any politican, regardless of party, is vulnerable.   You can see it in the polling data from the 2009 NJ Governors race, based on voting priorities (summed-up by taxgirl):

Despite three campaign appearances by President Obama, Governor John Corzine lost his gubernatorial seat in New Jersey to GOP challenger Chris Christie last night. Exit polls showed that the top two concerns for New Jersey voters were the economy and the state’s high property taxes.

How high are those property taxes? For the year 2008, New Jersey holds the distinction of the state with both the highest property taxes per capita and the worst business tax climate in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation (note: report will download as a pdf). New Jersey residents also ranked highest in the nation last year with respect to state and local taxes as a percentage of income. New Jersey taxpayers paid a whopping 11.8% of income in state and local taxes, more than 2% above the national average.

Of course, this is nothing new for New Jersey. Residents have generally put up with higher taxes because of what they thought it bought them: some of the best schools in the country, for example. But in the midst of a bad economy, that has changed. New Jersey residents increasingly believe that higher taxes buy them very little (ask Robert Flach) except possibly more corruption.

I mention Student Government (in the title) as UPenn’s Undergraduate Assembly moves to democratize the election process, allowing the entire student body to vote for the top two executive positions, and that those candidates need not have prior UA experience.     The conversation illustrates that democracy is a messy business, institutions are self-preserving, and that low-information voters are quick prey for predators plying populism.   You will find no one comparing student government to Nazis, the Holocaust, socialism, or communism.   The UA occasionally tackles the mundane, but essentially exists to address issues which directly effect the student body.   This comes down to a balance of electoral engagement by democratic elections and effective governing via republic(an) representation.

The referendum is explained thusly (as reported in the Daily Pennsylvanian):

[It] would rename the chair and vice chair for external affairs the UA “president  and “vice president.  These positions would be elected directly by the student body, rather than internally by UA members, as currently is the case.

Candidates for both positions would require no previous experience on the UA. However, they would have to attend at least one information session held by the UA and the Nominations and Elections committee to be briefed the functions of the UA and the requirements of the president’s job.

Some have concerns :

College sophomore and UA member Ariella Chivil supports the idea of having the head of the UA be directly elected by the students, but said she thought it would be “extremely irresponsible  to allow a non-UA member to run for the position.

Chivil, who was echoed by College sophomore and UA member Andrew Lum, cited the UA’s routine functions and the sense of commitment to the body as something a non-UA member might not grasp.

Populism and an apatheric constituency are also mentioned in an opinion piece by Katherine Rea:

The groups that mobilize their constituencies best will have their interests best represented. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if certain groups are able to raise awareness and voter turnout more so than others, then perhaps they deserve to have their interests more highly prioritized. But the drawback to that system is that it becomes easier to turn the position from a relatively sober policy position ” one with the capacity to cope well with minute details ” into a position better suited for a campaigner with grand, interest-driven schemes. The impartiality of the current UA chairman position redounds to the system’s credit. The UA has no mandate from the students, and I believe its members recognize that better than anyone. They know they weren’t elected as representatives because people agreed with their policies. They were elected for catchy slogans and silly posters, a process Vernon has characterized as “more high school than high school. 

I fear many of the political participants on the local, state, and national level will (again) come to the wrong conclusions about the 2009 elections.   The ideological circus of the summer’s healthcare townhalls has surfaced a fear of pitchforks, torches, and angry (national) mobs,   shaping the actions of politicians and the coverage of the press.

In one sense, these races clearly indicate economic anxieties, as in New Jersey, suffering under the highest taxes in the nation.   The extremist tack of NY-23 candidate Doug Hoffman and carpet teabagging likely alienated moderate Republicans.   The presence of a GOP-lite candidate in Creigh Deeds failed to engage the Democratic base in Virginia,   depressing turnout and reversing a Democratic trend.   The few Republicans left are far more determined and much more extreme in their ideology.   Low Democrat turnout – an effect of low enthusiasm – and engaged Conservatives was the story of the day, not a rejection of liberalism or Obama.   As always, all politics is local.

The punditocracy will quickly state that Democrats were too far to the left of an increasingly right leaning country, without any supporting evidence, and ignoring a small “d” democratic trend.   In this sense, the election was all about Obama.   The reality is that the millions of voters who were engaged by the Obama campaign were expected to just “show up”, without any of their day-to-day concerns being addressed by the local Democratic parties.   The state and local Democratic parties need to hone both public policy   and campaign messaging and demonstrate technical competencies, and not just depend on electoral coattails.

I have suggestions, but that’s a post for another day.