Friday, February 27, 2009

Liberals Push Back on Conservative Push-Back

It’s Friday, February 27, 2009. Here’s what we’re looking at:

A week ago today we showed you the conservative push-back to the stimulus package. Today we bring you the liberal push-back to that push-back.

President Obama’s address to Congress Tuesday night made public approval soar. The speech, which focused largely on the stimulus bill and upcoming domestic spending, received very positive reactions.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll found 68% of viewers reacted to the speech "very positively," 24% reacted "somewhat positively," and 8% negatively. Meanwhile, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R-LA) rebuttal was a catastrophe - his potential 2012 run for President took an immediate 13-point dive on the Intrade Prediction Market.

Meanwhile, AFSCME and Americans United for Change released this ad, blasting the GOP for opposing the stimulus package.

The ad will run on cable nationally.

The liberal editorial board at the New York Times - earlier this week - blasted GOP governors that turned down stimulus money. In their summary they wrote:

Governors like Mr. Jindal should be worrying about how to end this recession while helping constituents feed and house their families — not about finding ways to revive tired election-year arguments about big spending versus small government.

On the other field of government money - the budget - Democrats are generally united behind President Obama’s plan. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) for example, is a Blue Dog who tells the Times “the American people have been denied the truth for many years, they are willing to take their medicine if it leads to a strong country.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Yesterday's News

The three races in New York City wrapped up yesterday with two clear victors and a likely victor in the third.

District 21 was taken by Julissa Ferreras, the chief-of-staff for former Council Member Hiram Monserrate. District 32 was won by up-and-coming NYC Republican Eric Ulrich who, at 29 years of age, will be the youngest person to sit on the City Council.

In District 49, Kenneth Mitchell has a 241 vote lead over the competition, though Deborah Rose has yet to concede.

In case you missed last night’s Presidential Address to Congress, we have included it here.

As well as the GOP response

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Special Elections Today in New York City

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from New York City.

Today there are three City Council districts up for grabs due to vacancies following the General Election back in November. They are District 21 (North Queens), District 32 (South Queens), and District 49 (North Shore of Staten Island). Each are hotly contested races.

District 21

After the sitting council member, Hiram Monserrate, won his State Senate race in November, the field opened up for four Democrats coming from very different backgrounds and holding some very different ideas.

Among the candidates are George Dixon, a district leader of the Democratic Party and former community board member; Jose Giraldo, a businessman and community leader who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 19; Julissa Ferreras, the chief-of-staff to Monserrate; and Francisco Moya, a business director, public affairs director, and former aid in the State Legislature.

A big issue in this race is “who is best qualified?” and every candidate - except for Moya - has addressed the issue by claiming the most experience. They also disagree on another big issue in North Queens - overdevelopment.

Though she was seen as the leading candidate and has racked up the most endorsements, Ferreras has recently been criticized for mismanaging funds at Libre, a non-profit which she chaired. Despite Monserrate being the first Latino to hold the seat, three of the four contenders are Latinos this time around and some feel the Party might be trying to hold it as a Latino seat.

District 32

Five candidates are vying to replace Joseph Addabbo, who won a State Senate race in November. They include Geraldine Chapey, a professor at City University of New York, a Democratic district leader, and a non-profit director; Glenn DiResto, a recently retired NYPD lieutenant; Michael Ricatto, a businessman; Lew Simon, an activist, former candidate, and Democratic district leader; and Eric Ulrich, a Catholic Church fundraiser, former teacher and campaign worker, and a Republican district leader.

The personalities and stories behind each of the candidates is more telling of the race than the positions they take.

DiResto, for example, has touted a party line of “families first” and, as a result, was disqualified from the ballot because too close to the Working Families Party (a New York union party) and special elections are technically non-partisan.

Ulrich is only 23 and would be the youngest member to serve on the council. This charismatic young Republican is moderate and gives the New York Republican Party a good deal of optimism.

And then there is Ricatto, the President of his family’s business empire and a newcomer on the political scene. The driver of his campaign van - who had a suspended license as it was - hit and killed a nine-year-old boy last month. In addition to that challenge, he did not even live in the district until very recently - moving in specifically for the race. At a recent debate the crowd even shouted “carpetbagger” at him.

District 49

The number of candidates competing to represent this northern Staten Island seat has dwindled from nine to five in recent weeks. They are vying to replace Michael McMahon who won his Congressional race back in November.

The remaining five candidates are Tony Baker, a veteran, former schoolteacher, and reverend; Kenneth Mitchell, McMahon’s chief-of-staff while on the Council; Donald Pagano, an electrical contractor; Deborah Rose, a community advocate and secretary of Community Board No. 1; and Paul Saryian, a retired NYPD captain.

With the exception of Saryian, an independent, the candidates are all registered Democrats, where the Party has held this seat on the mostly-Republican island for more than 25 years. This district is also home to a great wave of immigrants and - compared to the rest of Staten Island - is quite diverse. Rose and Baker are both trying to become the first African-American to win the seat and Saryian is of Hispanic and Armenian descent.

The big issue in this race has been traffic congestion. Each candidate has addressed this issue in their own way to seem independent of the others. Rose, Mitchell and Saryian have proposed different light rail ideas. Rose and Pagano have also suggested increasing traffic on the Hudson ferry. Each candidate hopes that some of the federal stimulus money can cover these expenses.

What can we gather from these different races?

New York City is so big and diverse that it should be no surprise that these races seem so very distant from one another. In fact, with a population of over 8 million, the Big Apple is about the size of the average state - complete with its own array of issues and political values according to the different communities.

Come back tomorrow to see who won!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Realities of Strict Campaign Finance Law

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from South Carolina.

According to a recent article in The Post and Courier - a Charleston, SC newspaper - lobbyists and elected officials from South Carolina owe the State Ethics Commission over $2.5 million.

Quite a few of them, in fact, owe the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How did they manage to run up such a large debt?

The answer is quite simple: they failed to accurately or sufficiently fill out campaign finance reports. This was especially easy for local races in which candidates did not think the law would be so strict for their elections.

One example in the article is a former Town Council member from Jonesville.

"Lucius Rice III, a former Jonesville Town Council member, owes more than $212,000 — and counting.

Rice first ran afoul of the commission when he failed to file a campaign disclosure form for the 2004 election and was fined $100. In 2006, the state hit him with a second fine for failing to file a statement describing his economic interests.

Because Rice has yet to address the original violations, his late penalties grow by $200 per day. The state has been garnishing Rice's employment wages for more than two years to the tune of about $10,000.

Rice said that after his job moved him to Charlotte, he never heard anything more from the state until it began to garnish his wages for what he thought was child support. 'It's ridiculous,' Rice said when The Post and Courier told him of his massive ethics commission fine. 'I served my community on council, and this is what I get? It's sad that they are doing this to someone out there trying to make a living.'

Rice finds it odd that the state couldn't locate him to notify him of the fines but seemed to have no trouble finding his paycheck to garnish his wages.

… Herbert R. Hayden Jr., executive director of the commission … said there's no excuse for failing to file the information. It's easy to do, particularly now that forms can be filled out online. 'It's no more difficult than filling out your checkbook register.'

At the same time, he said the fine totals in Rice's case and others have gotten out of hand. 'So many of those figures are totally unrealistic as far as ever collecting that money.'"

A few years ago, the State Legislature did pass a bill capping penalties at $5,000 but it was vetoed by Governor Mark Sanford.

A particularly harsh example is Richard Johnson, who served on the Eastover City Council from 2000 to 2006. He owes the state more than $430,000. Yet his only expenditure was a $50 registration fee for being placed on the ballot. As he told The Post and Courier, "I didn't have no campaign fund [sic]. This is a small town." Eastover has a population of 830 and a municipal budget of only $600,000.

Campaign finance law exists for a good reason - to stop the influence of special interests and the super-wealthy from essentially buying a government. But in practice there can be serious consequences for those who wouldn’t otherwise expect it.

Hopefully this knowledge of legal backlash should serve as a warning to prospective candidates and sitting elected officials: no matter what your office is, you must take campaign finance laws seriously.