Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't Run the Country Like a Business

In political campaigns, you often hear candidates promise that they will run the country like a business. To me, that’s almost a disqualifier.

I live in New Jersey’s Third Congressional District, and the two major party candidates are running for a seat being vacated by the retirement of a former NFL football player.

The Republican candidate is an insurance CEO (who lives 90 miles outside the district) and touts his business experience as a reason why the people of the district should send him to Washington. To me, being a successful businessman has about as much relevance as being an NFL offensive tackle when it comes to my vote.

As we see every day, the job of a lawmaker is to be persuasive and build consensus. While I’m sure some business people have these skills, most of the time businesspeople, especially CEOs, operate like a military unit where orders are given, followed, and are rarely questioned. That’s not how Congress works, especially for a freshman. Orders are not given, but rather compromise, consensus, and common ground are sought. These qualities are not often seen in the leadership of the business world.

Often, when candidates say they will run government like a business, they allude to handling money and finances smartly and operating at a profit. In fact, for most businesses, profit is the one and only criterion for making important decisions. That’s why we see so many businesses with low wages, offshore outsourcing, and flimsy quality controls. That’s not how Congress or the government should work. The government is not there to make a profit. It’s there to serve the people. And as far as prudent handling of money is concerned, especially in the financial services industry, there are companies like AIG and others that have demonstrated their leaders’ lack of good judgment or even ethics. Any prudence that is exhibited by these CEOs is primarily due to consumer protection laws and strict accounting standards, things business executives typically lobby to relax, not make stricter.

So if successful CEOs are not a priori good candidates for congressional office, who is?

My answer is those people who are successful leaders of volunteer charitable organizations.

Their success is based on persuasion – the ability to make a case for others to part with their money or time. They do this not for compensation, but because they want the country to be a better place. These are qualities we need in members of Congress.

We’re fortunate here in New Jersey’s Third Congressional District to have such a candidate running on the Democratic ticket. Aimee Belgard is a defense attorney by profession, but has spent most of her adult life as a volunteer executive for the American Cancer Society. She has raised funds for medical research and patient care. Certainly this has required persuasion skills, persistence, and the ability to show people what’s in it for them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such qualities could be brought to the House of Representatives?

Belgard has also demonstrated these skills as an elected official in her role as a member of the county board of Freeholders. As one of only two Democrats on a five-member board, she has shown her ability to work with the GOP majority, strive for common ground, and make significant accomplishments. In fact, her GOP counterparts have given her the ultimate complement – they have taken credit for several of the programs that Belgard has initiated.

So be wary when a candidate tells you he’ll run the country like a business. That’s like an NFL tackle telling you he’ll remove your spleen. It can be done, but there are unpleasant consequences.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

#1More DCCC Mistake

I guess you could say I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. I'm an elected Democratic committeeperson and I honestly can't find any Republican worthy of consideration for my vote. But when the Democrats deserve criticism, I'll dish it out to them, too.

In their latest gimmick to harvest voter names and e-mails and to increase interest in this off-year election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is asking people to fill out pledge cards promising to vote in November. They hope to get one million people to fill out these cards. (Image of the cards is below.)

On the card, the DCCC lists a number of issues for people to check off to express the issues that they care about. Conspicuously absent from their multiple-choice list is the issue that's arguably the most important - the environment. Sure, there's an "Other" category, but relegating breathable air and clean water to "other" sends the wrong message. We are living at a time where anthropogenic climate change can either be addressed or can usurp our ability to lead productive and fulfilling lives. If we don't take bold action now, the other issues enumerated on the DCCC's card become moot.

Given the Republicans' antipathy toward science and their quasi-religious denial of all of the evidence, the environment is an issue that Democrats should jump on, not relegate to the back burner. Everyone - Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Tea Partiers, and Whigs - has to breathe and drink. This should be an issue that transcends party politics. And, by the way, it's a great job creator and stimulator of the economy. C'mon DCCC. Take advantage of the GOP's ignorance and frame the environment not as an "other" issue, but as a keystone issue to rally voters around.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

There's No Such Thing as an Off Year Election

Most Americans focus on the quadrennial Presidential election, and even there, only on the top of the ballot. By doing so, they abdicate their responsibilities as citizens and then bitch and moan about government.

Off-year elections and down-ballot positions are critically important – not just for the term of those being selected to serve, but also for years to come – especially in New Jersey where we elect our governor and legislature in odd-numbered years. Let’s take a look at past and future elections to see how they have an impact well beyond the terms of the winners.

2013: This is the Mother of All Election Screw Ups for the Democrats. After four years of mismanagement, bombast, and chicanery, Chris Christie – a Republican governor in a Democratic state – should have been more vulnerable. Yet, every viable Democrat but one decided, at best, not to run; and at worst decided to support Christie because they were afraid of the bully’s retaliation. Cory Booker, who once said he never shrank from a challenge, decided to sit this one out and opt for a Senate seat instead. Booker, whose claim to fame is running into burning buildings to save cats, decided not to use his charisma, intelligence, and political capital to save the state from four more years of economic and environmental mismanagement. Steve Sweeney, whose desire to inhabit Drumthwacket is well known, decided to wait four years and take the easier path by running for an open seat. Barbara Buono was the only Democrat with the chutzpah to challenge Christie, but the national and state Democratic parties who were reluctant to put money into a tough race summarily dismissed her and poured all their resources into the only other gubernatorial race that year.

2014: This year, with no statewide elections, attention turns to the Federal level. The retirement of Rush Holt, one of the best congressmen today, while disappointing, will have little effect on the political landscape. His sure-thing replacement, Bonnie Watson Coleman, will bring more diversity to the New Jersey congressional delegation, and her voting record will be similar to Holt’s. But there is a bellwether election in the Third District, where Republican Jon Runyan decided to hang up his congressional cleats. This is one of the few seats in the country that is flippable, and Democrat Aimee Belgard has an excellent chance to wrest control from the Tea Party influences that tarnish New Jersey politics.

Currently, Belgard is one of two Democrats on the five-member Burlington County Freeholder board. With two open seats this year, the Democrats have a chance to control the board for the first time in decades. Up until now, with only token opposition, the Republican-controlled board has become very adept at awarding no-bid contracts to their political donors, and treat the county taxpayer as their personal plaything. The importance of this “off-year” election to Burlington County voters cannot be overstated. No doubt, there are similar stories in other county races this year.

2015: In this “off-year”, the entire State Assembly is up for election. But there won’t be any surprises. Successful gerrymandering in 2010 will keep the incumbents in power unless they are tarnished by a scandal that exceeds the normal New Jersey tolerance for misdeeds.

2016: Without a statewide Senatorial election, most of the attention will be on the race to succeed Barack Obama. As we have seen in the last few years, presidential elections have tremendous impact even after the chief executive leaves office. The radical extremists that Republican presidents put on the Supreme Court years ago are a threat to marriage equality and other civil rights. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republicans are successful in overturning the 1964 “one man, one vote” ruling, given the current Court.

Chris Christie will not be on the ballot, but will continue to position himself for a future run. Again, with gerrymandering, most of New Jersey’s congressional districts should be safe for incumbents.

2017: Another critical off-year election for New Jersey. In fact, the race for governor has already started on the Democratic side, with several contenders positioning themselves for a statewide run. And the entire legislature – Assembly and Senate – will be up for election.  But there’s more. The new governor and the legislature that will be elected in 2019 will set the stage for the decennial redistricting. If trends continue, it’s possible that New Jersey will lose one more seat in Congress, but even if we don’t, congressional and legislative districts for elections through 2021 will be greatly influenced on the outcome of those years’ elections.

Before we sent American soldiers to fight and die for Halliburton and other corporate interests, we once sent American soldiers to fight and die for our right to vote. And that fight was not limited to overseas battles. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner, among others, died so that you, I, and your neighbors could vote. We can honor their lives not just by voting, but also by getting the complacent voters that we live with more involved and participatory. 

cross-posted from