The politics of rescuing state governments or letting them go to hell

Counting on Medicaid Money, States Face Shortfalls

This is the title of an article in today’s New York Times that details a severe issue that, if not addressed very soon, will have multiple political effects. I’ll quote from some of the most important parts of the article and then talk about some of the effects I believe are likely in races for different positions.  

Having counted on Washington for money that may not be delivered, at least 30 states will have to close larger-than-anticipated shortfalls in the coming fiscal year unless Congress passes a six-month extension of increased federal spending on Medicaid.

Governors and state lawmakers, already facing some of the toughest budgets since the Great Depression, said the repercussions would extend far beyond health care, forcing them to make bone-deep cuts to education, social services and public safety.

Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, for instance, penciled $850 million in federal Medicaid assistance into the revenue side of his state’s ledger, reducing its projected shortfall to $1.2 billion. The only way to compensate for the loss, he said in an interview, would be to lay off at least 20,000 government workers – including teachers and police officers – at a time when the state is starting to add jobs.

“It would actually kill everything the stimulus has done,” said Mr. Rendell, a Democrat. “It would be enormously destructive.”

There are are other quotes from or references to the urgent concern of Republican Governors Schwarzenegger of California and Douglas of Vermont, Republican Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, Democratic Governor Paterson of New York, and Michael Bird, federal affairs counsel for the National Council of State Legislatures.

The first electoral issue is that any combination of biting tax or fee increases and brutal service cuts from state and municipal governments will sour voters even further on incumbent politicians, almost certainly causing more losses, including some surprising upsets, of incumbents from both parties. Undoubtedly, this would extend to Federal races – as it should, because the Federal government would have failed to meet the need for a new rescue package for state and municipal governments.

The second issue is that the lost jobs from layoffs of government workers (teachers, firefighters, police officers, social workers, God only knows who else) would worsen the economy palpably, leading to even more damage to incumbents.

As we all know, state and municipal governments are already doing very poorly around the country – undoubtedly, along with the generally weak economy and high unemployment, one of the reasons that incumbent Governors (and, I’m guessing, state legislators) are much more likely to be defeated in reelection bids this year. Failure to infuse state budgets with Federal money for their Medicare programs would surely amplify this effect.

Governors and state lawmakers were caught largely by surprise by the House’s removal of the appropriation. Over the previous 10 months, the Medicaid money had been included in separate bills passed by each chamber, and President Obama had wrapped the extension into his executive budget proposal.

“There was every reason to think they’d get together,” Mr. Rendell said.

But in recent weeks, Republicans and conservative Democrats began to complain that the proposed spending would add to the deficit because it was not “paid for” with new revenues or other cuts. Their success in reducing the size of the bill reflected a deepening debate in Congress, and on the campaign trail, about the long-term consequences of using deficit spending to slay the recession.

To get a conference report with restored Medicaid money in it – which Harry Reid favors – through the House, some Representatives who wouldn’t vote for it the first time would have to take the political risk of being labeled as spendthrift deficit-busters. And of course the Senate, which plans to start consideration of the bill this week (that is, the bill itself, not yet a conference report), would be blamed by deficit hawks for taking the initiative to reinsert such a fix.

Of course, should they fail to get this through, a lot of them risk losing their seats because – correct me if you have data to prove me wrong – as much as the voters care about deficits, they care more about jobs, taxes, and services.

Democratic aides in both the House and Senate said state officials had not pressed their case forcefully enough.[…]

Republican governors in particular, the aides said, had been reluctant to petition for relief while the party’s leaders in Congress were scorching Democrats for driving up the national debt.

“Governors need to make it clear that it is vital that their states receive this money, instead of blasting Congress for ‘out-of-control spending,’ ” said a senior Democratic aide in the House, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the issue publicly.

Republican Governors have less room to be nihilists than do the members of the minority party in Congress. Some of them may not care much about poor people, but they have the responsibility to actually administer states and are accountable to the voters. Therefore, in times of emergency, even a hypocritical posturer like Governor Jindal of Louisiana begs for Federal help. We’ve seen this again and again recently. When there’s a flood, tornadoes, or a huge industrial accident, Republican Governors give the “tax and spend liberals” sloganeering a rest and put their hands out.

But the political problem for many of them in this situation is greater than mere hypocrisy. Because though as Governors, they desperately need this money, as long as extremist Tea Partiers and Club for Growthers control their party, they will get Hell for publicly lobbying for a Medicare rescue package if and when they run for Federal office – or even for reelection.

So to recap, what we see here is the bitter fruit of insincere Republican posturing, irrational extremism among the Republican rank and file, Blue Dog reelection positioning, and the White House (and possibly Nancy Pelosi, depending on how you interpret her comments in the article) enabling premature deficit hawkery.

Some of the politicians who have put the country at another precipice have to risk political damage by voicing what Governor Douglas of Vermont, a moderate, very reasonably states (quote below). To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, if the politicians who could lose an election over a deficit but know that shafting state governments in a budget emergency is unacceptable don’t hang together, we will all hang separately.

“I’m very concerned about the level of federal spending and what it would mean for the long term,” said Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont, a Republican and chairman of the National Governors Association. “But for the short term, states need this bridge to sustain the safety net of human services programs and education.”


How to pick a good general election candidate in a primary

While we’re talking about lessons to learn from the debacle in Massachusetts, two tough questions that need to be asked, discussed, and reflected on a great deal are:

1. How to get better at picking good candidates in primaries, and

2. What are the danger signs to look out for in a primary that might warn us a candidate that looks good in a primary will bomb in the general election?

More after the fold.

Some of you knew Coakley would be a lousy general election candidate. Did any of you suspect she would be too lazy to campaign effectively and would say a bunch of idiotic things? How did you figure out that she was gonna suck?

And what about VA-Gov? Did the Democratic voters pick the wrong candidate in Deeds? I think we all agree that his campaign strategy was awful, a guaranteed loser, and got even worse when he tried to sound like a Republican and turned off the base. But would Moran, for example, have had a chance of winning?

I don’t have answers, but if we are to benefit from this stinging loss, we will have to figure out how to get smarter in picking candidates who are more likely to win in state-wide contests, as we did in the Presidential primaries in 2008.

I look forward to any insights you can give on these campaigns, and more importantly, for the future.

By what margin will Bob Shamansky win?

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New York City runoff thread

The runoffs for New York City Comptroller and Public Advocate take place tomorrow. Up for election are John Liu and David Yassky for Comptroller and Bill de Blasio and Mark Green for Public Advocate. Who are you voting for and why?

I plan to vote for John Liu, despite some misgivings based on Yassky’s campaign, which has accused Liu of lying about various things:

Yassky, who came in second with 30% of the vote in [the] four-way primary, cited Liu’s disputed claim that he caught the MTA using two sets of books.

He also knocked Liu for saying he returned questionable campaign donations and toiled in a sweatshop as a child – which was contradicted by his own parents and others.

(Source: “Controller hopefuls John Liu, David Yassky sling mud in debate”)

My main problem with Yassky relates to his campaign’s behavior toward me. I have detailed two attempts to persuade me to vote for him, in the guise of supposed opinion polls. I haven’t yet mentioned the constant barrage of emails (I mean just about every day and sometimes multiple emails a day) that I’ve gotten – unsolicited – from Mr. Yassky’s campaign, with titles such as “[x] Days to Victory.” I’m truly unsure of how his campaign got my email address but would strongly suggest to any politician or campaign worker who’s reading that politicians not send emails to non-constituents who never contacted them. (Sending an email through an organization they belong to is fine, though, so that if, say, wants to support a candidate and that candidate sends an email explicitly through MoveOn to MoveOn’s members, they can take it or leave it but have little reason to be perturbed with the candidate.) Because of these personal experiences, I find it very difficult to get past the feeling that Yassky is overly power-hungry and given to sleazy and overly intrusive campaign practices, but I can understand why someone might consider such a highly-endorsed man a superior candidate.

Breaking away now from personal comments, here are some from Mr. Liu:

Liu then hurled some mud himself, bashing his opponent as “three-headed Yassky” for changing positions on key issues like term limits.

“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” Liu said.

Yassky originally opposed Mayor Bloomberg’s bid to have the Council let him seek a third term, but then cast a crucial vote in favor of it.

For the record, I am opposed to all term limits as undemocratic, though the process by which the City Council annulled the results of two referenda is objectionable and certainly a legitimate issue. But if it’s OK for Yassky to go back on his word in regard to term limits, is it really important whether the labor Mr. Liu did as a child was in a sweatshop or not? I’m not sure which of these things might be really important in predicting either candidate’s performance and honesty as Comptroller.

As for Public Advocate, I believe my choice is simpler, in that Mark Green has already served in the role and I felt that he did a good job in it. I have nothing in particular against Bill de Blasio except that I’m not so sure a member of the City Council is generally best to serve in that job. Rather, it seems to me that whoever is good at using a bully pulpit for the benefit of the people – and not for the benefit of the Mayor or City Council, who can already advocate for themselves – is really the best candidate for Public Advocate. I don’t mean to suggest that a member of the City Council couldn’t be the best candidate for the job or do well in it, but neither do I see an important reason not to vote for Mr. Green, and Mr. de Blasio’s City Council membership seems to me a weak additional argument against him, in a situation in which I think I’ll probably approve of either man’s performance if elected.

That said, I understand the argument that Green may be seeking the job of Public Advocate in order to try to win the Mayoralty through the back door, and my feeling is that the solution for this is to make the City Council President next in line for Mayor. It’s a much more similar job, although not subject to city-wide election. I’m not even sure that Public Advocate is an important enough position not to abolish, but given its very circumscribed powers, it certainly is poor preparation for Mayor.  

New York County District Attorney Race

Here in New York City, we’re being deluged with direct mail, not only for Mayor (why doesn’t Bloomberg just save his money, since we all know him, and he’s gonna win, anyway?) but for lower offices, such as Comptroller and DA. This diary will be about the candidates for DA.

There are three candidates in the Democratic primary for New York County DA: Cy Vance, Richard Aborn, and Leslie Crocker Snyder. Amazingly, no-one is running on the Republican line.

Cy Vance, the son of the former Secretary of State under Carter, is endorsed by the New York Times, apparently the Daily News (“Vance stands well above his rivals”), and an array of New York City politicos and activists, including Caroline Kennedy, former Mayor David Dinkins, Gloria Steinem, and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, but probably most importantly, the legendary outgoing DA, Robert Morgenthau, who calls him the “best qualified” for the job.

Richard Aborn, endorsed by Bill Bratton – the former brilliant NYPD Commissioner, hired early in Giuliani’s administration and eventually forced out because his extremely successful crime-fighting ways made him too popular for Giuliani’s liking – and my congressman, Jerry Nadler, among others, is making reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws (here’s a critical look at them) his main campaign plank. In his direct mail, he calls for:

treat[ing] substance abuse as a public health problem, not just a criminal one[, providing] drug treatment for non-violent offenders who have a substance abuse problem[, and…]providing retroactive sentencing relief to non-violent offenders still incarcerated under obsolete laws[.]

He doesn’t make clear in the mailing or in the relevant section of his website how he would be able to reform laws as New York County DA, but it seems clear that he would use his “judicial discretion to divert non-violent, low-level drug offenders into treatment programs rather than sentencing them to state prison.”

Finally, there is Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former Judge of the New York City Criminal Court (appointed by Mayor Ed Koch and reappointed by David Dinkins) and New York Court of Claims (appointed by Republican Governor George Pataki) and longtime attorney.

Based on her direct mail, her campaign seems to be an attempt at frightening people into voting for her. In 2005, she tried to beat DA Morgenthau by arguing that he was too old and she should replace him almost just because she is younger. It seemed that everyone who knew and worked with him said that he was extremely sharp mentally and worked long hours tirelessly, so Snyder’s strategy backfired, and she was heavily defeated. Now that the position is open, she appears to consider Cy Vance her main opponent, and seems to be once again trying to get in through sleazy methods. She is sending a 4-page direct mail brochure. On the first page, there is an ugly, mirror-image photograph of what is supposed to look like New York in the bad old days. The text on top of the page says as follows (in all caps):


On the second page:


On the third page:


The brochure details two of the criminals he defended, as if their crimes reflect badly on him as a defense lawyer. This is demagogic in the extreme. As Vance said to Snyder in an excerpt from a debate that took place on New York 1 TV (I didn’t hear the whole debate):

I believe that everybody in this country deserves the right to a fair trial, particularly those who are presupposed guilty like the individual in the Sudafed case. I took on that case in a court-appointed capacity. I believe that is the job of a defense lawyer to protect people and to make sure the government proves its case. Now if you believe otherwise, you shouldn’t be running for this job.

My inclination is to vote for Aborn, based on his strong position on the drug laws, which have caused almost incalculable waste in money and human lives, but if I find out that this is really a two-person race between the other candidates, I will vote for Vance without hesitation in order to keep Crocker Snyder out.

I’d welcome your opinions about this race, and any polling data you may have come across.

Louisiana Democratic Party files legal complaint against Vitter

I know many of you read Daily Kos, but for those of you who don’t, there’s a front-page article about the latest tussle between the Democrats and Senator Vitter. Here’s a bit of background, quoted within the diary from

Louisiana Democratic Party Chairman Chris Whittington filed a sworn complaint with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics Thursday accusing U.S. Sen. David Vitter of using taxpayer-funded town hall meetings to engage in campaign activity.

Whittington’s complaint is based on Vitter’s statements at several taxpayer-funded town hall meetings criticizing U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, a potential re-election opponent. At one town hall meeting, Vitter encouraged the audience to “keep up the pressure on” Melancon.

Basically, as the Daily Kos article explains, politicians are legally supposed to avoid actually campaigning at taxpayer-funded events. My feeling is that “keep up the pressure on Melancon” does not constitute clear enough evidence of actually campaigning (e.g., “vote for me and not that dog who’s running against me”) for the courts to find him guilty of anything. As for the Senate Committee on Ethics, don’t make me laugh! They never even reprimanded Vitter for screwing whores, did they (pardon my language)? As far as I can tell the Ethics Committees in both Houses of Congress are essentially moribund and unlikely to take action against any member of Congress unless they are guilty of rape, murder, or something else that’s really sensational.

Anyway, my overall conclusion, as I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear, is that, especially in the context of Louisiana politics, this complaint doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

The background story, though, might (from the Daily Kos diary):

What is clear, however, is that the Louisiana Democratic Party is serious about 2010, and serious about their presumptive candidate. Which has to be heartening both to Melancon and the Democrats in Washington eager to expand their Senate majority, if at all possible.

Your thoughts?

Durbin’s Largess

CQ Politics has an article that I think all of you would find interesting. Here’s a sample from the article:

As the second-ranking senator in the Democratic majority, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois has the clout to raise plenty of campaign cash. As the holder of a safe seat, Durbin doesn’t need to spend much to win re-election.

So Durbin can donate surplus campaign cash to candidates and political organizations like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which received $150,000 last month from his campaign fund. Senators can give unlimited amounts of campaign funds to party committees, and Durbin was the DSCC’s biggest donor last month.

Durbin isn’t the only Senatorial contributor, but he is the most generous. And of course, we all know how important such contributions are.

Welch running for PA-07

According to CQ Politics:

Republican businessman Steven Welch, who promises that his run in the 7th District, a suburban Philadelphia constituency, will feature a “new style of campaigning that will focus on voter engagement and utilize cutting-edge technologies.”

What do you know about Mr. Welch, and do you see him as a strong candidate, as he would have to be in the Democratic-leaning district currently represented by Representative Sestak if he hopes to win?

Jim Leach for Chairman of NEH

From The New York Times:

“President Obama intends to nominate Jim Leach, a former Republican congressman from Iowa who is now a professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, as the next chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the White House said on Wednesday.[…]”

I think this is a great appointment. Leach, who represented IA-2 (numbered IA-1 from 1977 to 2003, according to the Wikipedia article on Leach) for 30 years until being upset by David Loebsack, was pretty liberal for today’s Republican Party, is a strong supporter of education and the humanities (the Times article mentions that he “founded and was co-chairman of the Congressional Humanities Caucus” in the House), and was among the higher-profile Obamacans. This is a good way for President Obama to pick a highly qualified guy who will get a good reception among his former colleagues in Congress, reward a supporter, and strengthen the meme of bipartisanship all at the same time.

[Title edited; “NEH” had been erroneously typed as “NEA”]

New Black Panthers Case

Hi, everyone. This is my first diary, so please let me know if it isn’t appropriate.

I haven’t seen any coverage here of the resolution of the case against the New Black Panther Party and two of its members for alleged voter intimidation in Philadelphia. Most of the coverage I’ve seen is in right-wing sources (see here for an article in The National Review), which makes me suspect that there may not be much to the story and that it’s being distorted and sensationalized for partisan reasons. However, the above-linked story is from I’m sure some of you know this story much better than I do. On the face of it, it seems somewhat bad. This is from the CNN story:

“On Election Day, two men in uniforms stood outside the polling station with one of them holding a police-style baton weapon and saying he was providing security there. Justice has alleged that person was Shabazz.”

No-one will serve any time or pay any fine. Is it sufficient to “[win] an injunction[…]against a third member, Samir Shabazz, that prevents him from ever brandishing a weapon outside a polling place again”?

I’m skeptical of relying on anything in the National Review article, which includes tendentious claims that Judge Sotomayor is a racist, so take it for what it’s worth, but here’s part of what it says:

“As a former DOJ alumnus, I have never, ever heard of the Division refusing to take a default judgment, especially in a situation where the defendants are basically admitting they violated the law. The facts indicting the DOJ seem damning, and no good explanation seems possible.”

The only reason I know about this story in the first place is that a right-wing friend of mine posted a link to the Washington Times (UGH!) story about this on his Facebook page. No matter what assurances you give me, there’s no way I could convince my right-wing friends that there isn’t some kind of left-wing conspiracy here, so that’s not the point. I’d just like my own reassurance as a liberal Democrat who believes in fair play and doesn’t believe in tolerating any voter intimidation. I feel like there should have at least been a fine, and I’d like to understand why the Justice Department might have decided against that. I look forward to your replies and hope this diary about a matter of voting mechanics and legalities is not too much of a tangent from the usual diaries about candidates.

By the way, I also realize that by posting this kind of diary as my first, I run the risk of seeming like a right-wing troll. My only defense is that you will know what I’m really like through my posts in the future.