Thursday, October 18, 2012

Deciminyan Endorsements

This year, the Deciminyan blog presents its first set of election endorsements. In a presidential election year, there are hundreds of contests that I could weigh in on, but I've chosen to formally endorse candidates in contests in which I have had some personal involvement – either through personal contact, campaign activity, or just because I felt these candidates were people I’d like to contribute money to. In some instances, I enthusiastically endorse these candidates. In other cases, I pick the lesser of two evils. But in all cases, I feel these people are the best choice for the office they aspire to.

President and Vice President

Barack Obama and Joe Biden

Despite a Republican-dominated Congress with a very public statement that their number one mission was to make Obama a one-term president, Mr. Obama has accomplished much. If you’re an Obama supporter, you know what he’s done. If you’re an Obama opponent, you either rationalize that these initiatives are detrimental, or give the GOP credit for them.

Unfortunately, the President’s accomplishments also come with disappointments and missed opportunities. The centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s first term is the Affordable Care Act. I’m glad to see that the President embraced the term that the GOP invented to denigrate this initiative, “Obamacare.” And I’m glad to see the President running on it. Obamacare will make health care available to tens of millions more Americans, through affordability, elimination of pre-existing condition clauses, and availability to young citizens on their parents’ policy. Despite the warbling rhetoric of the right, it will save the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars. Most importantly, it will save lives. But let’s keep in mind a few disappointing things about Obamacare.

First, in the battle to pass the first comprehensive health insurance reform law in generations the legislation moved through the sausage factory that we call Congress. Right off the bat, the President took the best option off the table. Medicare for all would have augmented the for-profit insurance cartel with a demonstrably more efficient system. Call it “socialism” if you want, but it would have been a simpler, more modern way of bringing American health care into line with that in other developed countries. Secondly, credit for the passage of Obamacare really belongs to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The President stood on the sidelines while the Democratic congressional leadership herded all the diverse cats in the party, from Bart Stupak to Russ Feingold, to make things happen. I’m fine with giving Obama credit for this, but if he had been more effective in using his bully pulpit (a la FDR and LBJ), we might have made this good system even better.

The repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is another major accomplishment – and here the President deserves full credit. He recognizes gay rights as the next great civil rights struggle and in the grand scheme of history, this may prove to be more important in his legacy than the Affordable Care Act.

The President and Vice President came into office with the nation on the precipice of Great Depression II, and their stewardship of the economy, the saving of the American automobile industry, and their successful job creation program – in spite of GOP intransigence – have literally saved the country.

There’s a much longer list of accomplishments including appointing two fabulous women to the Supreme Court, ending the Koch/Halliburton war in Iraq, improving automobile mileage standards, restoring funding for stem cell research – the list goes on and on.
I would have liked to have seen the President do more – closing Guantanamo, eliminating the unconstitutional surveillance of American citizens, and showing more proactive movement on renewable energy. But these disappointments are tempered by the frightening prospect of a President Romney. We need to let the Obama/Biden team finish the job.

U.S. Senate

New Jersey

Senator Robert Menendez is being challenged by a man unknown outside the State of New Jersey, and hardly known inside the Garden State. State Senator Joe Kyrillos, a foe of the Abbot decision that levels the playing field for access to education, touts his great friendship with Governor Chris Christie.

Menendez has been an effective senator, despite the (literal) roadblocks that have been placed in his path by the Governor. Senator Menendez has promoted much-needed job-creating infrastructure and civil rights for all Americans.

Kyrillos is channeling Mitt Romney in his desire to appear moderate while kowtowing to the Tea Party line. He’s voted against women’s health, gay rights, and aid to the less advantaged. While there are a few moderates in the New Jersey Senate, Kyrillos is not one of them.

We endorse Bob Menendez for another term in the U.S. Senate.


While I’m not fond of Blue Dog Democrats, I abhor extremists like Todd Akin. So when Akin espoused his position on rape, I immediately sent a donation to the campaign of Claire McCaskill, whom I endorse in her race for re-election.

U.S. House of Representatives


In 2008, then-State Senator John Adler broke a century-long GOP stranglehold on this district. Adler won the election on Barack Obama’s coattails, replacing long-term (and moderate) Republican Congressman Jim Saxton, who retired.

The Tea Party revolution of 2010 doomed Adler’s campaign. Instead of nominating a qualified candidate, the Republicans decide to go the celebrity route and nominate former NFL bad boy, Jon Runyan. Runyan’s victory in 2010 was bad enough, but after the election, John Adler’s life was cut short by a fatal medical condition.

Taking from the GOP playbook, the Democratic establishment decided to exploit name recognition in the 2012 congressional race, even though this ploy was a spectacular failure last year when they ran Olympic hero and local icon Carl Lewis for the state senate. Adler’s widow, Shelley was tapped to run for Congress even though her residence was moved out of the district in the decennial congressional redistricting. The difference here, though, is that Shelley Adler is qualified to sit in Congress, while Runyan has proven that he isn’t.

Shelley Adler has an uphill battle. She’s behind in the polls in a heavily Republican district that became even more Republican in the 2010 redistricting activity. Her support from the DCCC has been cut back, so she can’t match the onslaught of GOP money being sent to Runyan.

Adler is no great progressive, but Runyan is clearly in the Tea Party camp. We need to turn 25 seats in the House to oust John Boehner from the Speaker’s chair. And we need a woman’s voice in the New Jersey congressional delegation. For those reasons, I support Shelley Adler in NJ-3.


New Jersey’s congressional delegation is split – there are 6 incumbent Republicans and 6 incumbent Democrats running for re-election. The best chance the Democrats have of taking a majority is in NJ-7, where State Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula is vying to oust incumbent Leonard Lance.

Like many formerly moderate Republicans, Lance has drunk the Tea Party Kool Aid and his voting record has demonstrated his rightward movement. Chivukula has been in the New Jersey General Assembly for a decade, and has been the force behind innovative legislation promoting renewable energy and modern telecommunications. As an engineer, Chivukula is trained to solve problems and has been a voice of reason against a governor whose policies are geared to benefit the Koch Brothers, not the consumer and the environment.

I’ve gotten to know Chivukula over the past year, and he is a true gentleman, always making time to discuss issues with me even though I am not a constituent. His election would bring diversity, intelligence, and common sense to our House of Representatives. I’m proud to endorse Upendra Chivukula in his race this year.


OK. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about this race. But it piqued my interest when I learned that an acquaintance from New Jersey is working as a field organizer for Democratic challenger Anthony Flaccavento.

VA-9 is a district in southwest Virginia about the size of New Jersey. Flaccavento’s incumbent GOP opponent’s web site touts more coal mining as one of his keynote platform items. For that reason, and because I trust the judgment of my friend, I’m happy to endorse Anthony Flaccavento for Congress.

State Legislatures

NJ-16 Assembly

Outside of the presidential election, this race is the most important in New Jersey. It’s a referendum on Governor Christie’s policies, especially in education.

In a total disregard for election ethics, when Governor Christie is not campaigning for the 2016 presidential nomination out of state (on the taxpayer’s dime), he is campaigning for his own re-election throughout New Jersey, also on the taxpayer’s dime. Christie has held about 100 political rallies, which he calls “Town Halls.” These are elaborate affairs, complete with overwhelming security and professional stagecraft, and they are geared to self-promotion, not substantive discussion.

At the start of the 2010 school year, an art teacher from Flemington decided to attend one of these so-called Town Halls on her lunch hour. She was fortunate that the venue was across the street from her school because Christie holds these rallies during the day when it is inconvenient for working people to attend.

That teacher, Marie Corfield, attempted to engage in a civil discussion with the Governor during the question-and-answer period. But instead of answering the question, the Governor decided to produce one of his made-for-YouTube moments and excoriate Corfield for no apparent reason other than that she is a public school teacher concerned with the Governor’s policies.

Christie’s rudeness catapulted Corfield on the national scene, with interviews on Fox News, The Ed Show, and other media outlets. Corfield demonstrated her intelligence, passion, and coolness under pressure. Through some politically-savvy progressive activists in her home town, Corfield was urged to run for the New Jersey General Assembly in 2011. Although she didn't win, her opponent’s margin of victory was small in the Republican-dominated district.

What many voters didn't know at the time was that Corfield’s opponent was extremely ill, and he tragically passed away a few days after the election. Under New Jersey law, the Republicans were then permitted to appoint a replacement, and they did so, elevating Tea Party sympathizer Donna Simon to the Assembly. But the appointment was only through the next election cycle, so Corfield is running again, and has the energy, enthusiasm, and endorsements to win this year. She was the top vote-getter in the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s nationwide grass roots campaign. She’s got the endorsement of Howard Dean’s Democracy for America organization and is supported by numerous unions including her own New Jersey Education Association. But even though she was catapulted to fame by her encounter with our bully governor, Corfield is not a one-issue candidate. She understands that to make the state better, investments are needed – in small business and infrastructure, as well as in education. She’s for marriage equality and the middle class. Her opponent voted against women’s health programs. Marie will support all New Jerseyans.

Marie is a rare breed of Democrat. Her ascendancy did not come from the party establishment, but rather via grass roots support. Her election would be a great tribute to traditional democracy.

I’ve worked on Marie’s campaigns, contributed funds, and am pleased to endorse Marie Corfield for the New Jersey General Assembly.

NJ-4 Assembly

The first time I met Gabby Mosquera was when she ran for the New Jersey General Assembly in 2011. Despite her impressive and inspiring life story, I was not impressed. An immigrant from Ecuador, Mosquera earned an MBA and landed a job as Chief of Staff to a local mayor. But when she ran in 2011, I felt that she did not have a good grasp of the issues that confront a member of the Assembly.

Nevertheless, Mosquera won an overwhelming victory, but the local GOP worked relentlessly to suppress the will of the voters. It turns out that her residency in the district was one month short of the year required by law – a law that was declared unconstitutional a decade before.

Even though Mosquera’s opponent - Shelley Lovett - a GOP operative prevailed in the court’s reversal of precedents, by state law the Democrats had the opportunity to fill the empty seat, and they appointed Mosquera. Now, Lovett and Mosquera are facing off again to fill the final year of the two-year term that Mosquera won but was annulled by the court.

I spoke with Mosquera recently, and found that she has come a long way. Her year as a legislator has been a great learning experience, and my concerns about her knowledge of the issues are gone. With Chris Christie in office, it is essential that the Democrats come closer to a veto-proof majority, and I’m pleased to endorse Gabriela Mosquera this time around.

NY-49 Senate

It’s tough enough to keep track of the politicians in one’s own area, let alone those in other state legislatures. But I’ve been acquainted with New York State Senator Dave Valesky of upstate New York for several decades. When I knew him, he had not held elective office but was a staffer for another local politician. We met when he was an executive of a non-profit organization that I chose to help. There, he was always appreciative of his volunteers, and was an all-around nice guy.

After I moved away, I was pleased to discover that he was elected to the New York State Senate in 2004. I was especially pleased to learn that Valesky, a practicing Catholic in a conservative-leaning district, voted in favor of marriage equality. So based on my friendship and his courageous vote, I am pleased to endorse Dave Valesky in his re-election bid this year.

County Freeholders

If you’re not from New Jersey, you probably don’t know what a Freeholder is. They’re essentially a panel of elected officials who run county government. Here in Burlington County, there are five of them – all Republicans.

Freeholders have an awesome responsibility – they spend the taxpayer’s money on infrastructure and services. Ideally, this would be done with maximum transparency and ethical conduct, but one-party rule tends to work in the opposite direction.

This year’s sale of a county hospital to a for-profit entity begs many unanswered fiscal questions. It seems the Freeholders are balancing the budget using one-shot gimmicks (a skill they apparently learned from Governor Christie), while they accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from companies who receive county contracts.

We need a change in Burlington County government, and there are two open seats on the Freeholder board this election cycle. I’m proud to work for, support, and contribute to the campaign of two women who will bring transparency and fiscal responsibility to the board – Aimee Belgard and Joanne Schwartz, running for county freeholder.


It probably comes as no surprise that there are no Republicans on this list. That makes me sad. A once-great party has succumbed to the corruption of the almighty dollar by Citizens United and the corruption of the Fourth Estate by Rupert Murdoch.  

There are exceptions of course. My own state senator, Diane Allen, is a moderate Republican – a rare breed. But she’s got enough courage to buck the pressure from the Christie cabal when she thinks they are wrong.  I’d like to see more moderates return the GOP to its roots.

If you think I’m partisan, you’re probably right. I’m active in local Democratic politics. But when I see a moderate Republican who is clearly better than a mediocre Democrat, I’ll support him or her – as I did last year in a state legislative race in a nearby district.

I’m also not so naïve to ignore the fact that Democrats are not perfect – especially here in South Jersey where the endorsement of unelected power brokers is a prerequisite to getting on the ballot. That’s not the way democracy is supposed to work, but even then, we have some great Democrats who I am proud to support.

If you got this far, I salute you. These posts are cathartic for me, and I enjoyed putting my thoughts on (virtual) paper here. And if it encourages you to vote for or contribute to one or more of these fine people, that’s even better.

Thoughts on an Inspiring Man in a Different Time

It was a different time when I chose to do door-to-door campaigning for George McGovern as he sought the presidency. I was pretty naïve politically back then, but I had a feeling in my gut that Richard Nixon was, indeed, a crook. Nixon to me was untrustworthy and sleazy. And McGovern was talking about ending the war in Viet Nam, which made a lot of sense.  I was young and single and felt I needed to do something.

So I volunteered to go door to door in my then home town of Syracuse and talk about the campaign. I was assigned to a blue-collar neighborhood on the near east side.

All we had was a list of names and addresses. No sophisticated voter lists like we get today. No scripts. No surveys. We knocked on doors and actually talked to people. Republicans. Democrats. Undecideds.

Most people were welcoming. Many invited me in to sit at their kitchen table and discuss our views over a cup of coffee. I talked about a man I had never met, but who I felt could lead the country out of a war that would never end. But the thing that sticks in my mind is that whether the person I was talking to was for or against the war, whether that person was for or against Nixon – we had a comprehensive and civil discourse. Talking points and sound bites had not yet been invented.

My profound disappointment in McGovern’s landslide loss, coupled with my subsequent marriage and family, and a demanding career led me away from active participation in politics until another inspiring man came onto the scene – this one a relatively young Senator from Illinois. And I got involved in campaigning again – working for Barack Obama in New Jersey and Florida. But campaigns in 2008 and 2012 are different. Voter lists are sanitized and the whole process is automated and impersonal.

Since the death of Ted Kennedy, we have not had any progressive liberals in positions of significant power at the national scene. George McGovern influenced a young man in upstate New York in the early 70s. Wouldn't it be a great tribute to his legacy if another liberal lion could emerge from today’s bifurcated political system and reverse the movement of the national agenda from its rightward trajectory? That would be the ultimate tribute to the great South Dakotan who influenced me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Who Lost the Debate?

While President Obama clearly won last night’s Town Hall debate, the biggest loser was not Mitt Romney. Rather, it was the environment.

It was disconcerting to hear both men argue about who could drill more on Federal land, or who could mine more dirty coal.

Renewable energy like solar, wind, and geothermal only received lip service from both candidates with no specific plans divulged.

Romney did talk about energy independence. But his plan involves more dependence on drilling and mining – both processes are environmentally hostile to the land, air, and water. Note that Romney keeps talking about North American energy independence – not (U.S.) American energy independence. Is his plan to replace Saudi Arabia with Canada as our source of dirty energy? While I’d rather see our dollars go north to help fund Canada’s (gasp!) socialized medical care than have it go to the sheiks, a far better solution would be to help balance the trade deficit by promoting indigenous energy sources.

No single issue exists in isolation. Promoting clean energy development to make it affordable helps energy-dependent businesses, improves the health of Americans through clean air and water, and creates millions of jobs. I would have liked to see the President outline an Apollo-like program with specific energy independence goals that would include boosting the training of scientists and engineers in the energy field, promoting science in the elementary schools, and providing businesses with incentives for them to act as co-investors in this important initiative. This could all be paid for by the elimination of the billions of dollars we spend subsidizing dirty fuels.

We need not only to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we need to reduce our dependence on dirty fuel. Neither candidate convinced me that he has a plan.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ryan's Hopelessness

It took a lot of chutzpah for Paul Ryan to conflate his policies with those of John F. Kennedy at last night’s Vice Presidential debate. I half expected Joe Biden to steal Lloyd Bentsen’s line and proclaim to the bratty congressman, “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you, sir, are no Jack Kennedy.” But then I realized that Biden was only 21 years old when Kennedy was assassinated. It would be eight more years before Biden went to Washington as a U.S. Senator.

Kennedy’s approach to governing was the antithesis of that of the Ryan/Romney ticket.  JFK’s greatest accomplishment during his tragically short tenure was the commitment to send Americans to the moon.  In today’s dollars, President Kennedy committed $165 billion to a program that promoted science, infrastructure, and technology and which had tremendous payoff in the emergence of semiconductor technology, computers, and life science. The Apollo program boosted education at all levels.  It galvanized a nation toward meeting a difficult goal and arguably helped end the Cold War. Ryan, by contrast, would commit large sums of national treasure to tax breaks for the rich, subsidies for the oil companies, privatization (i.e. profitization) of essential government services, and bail outs of his Wall Street friends. Infrastructure investments like high-speed rail and clean energy should be this generation’s Apollo program, but they are not priorities on the Ryan/Romney agenda.

So, Mr. Ryan, if you are going to use a doppelganger to promote your campaign, you should not mention JFK, whose policies you abhor. Instead, invoke the former president you really emulate – George W. Bush – the guy who brought this nation’s economy to the brink of Great Depression II before the Obama/Biden team rescued it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Debate Proposal

Jim Lehrer’s performance as moderator of the first of this year’s Presidential Debates was dismal. He allowed Mitt Romney to run all over him. But how can we blame Lehrer? He’s trying to control both the President of the United States and a bully vulture capitalist while literally sitting at their feet. That can be quite intimidating.

The job of the moderator is to keep the candidates on topic, not be the timekeeper. So why not have an automatic mechanism that shuts off the candidates’ microphone at the end of their allotted time? If the speakers know their remarks are not being broadcast, they’d stop talking immediately.