Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Strangers on the Internet – Let’s Be Careful Out There

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

I talked with a few people involved in politics recently, and confirmed what I had personally noticed. There seems to be an uptick in the number of new “acquaintances” on the internet eager to share dirt and rumors, or to seek information or opinions about local figures. I had one stranger recently share some outlandish lies about a few women involved in state and local politics.

We’re a year away from elections, and the lying and elaborate deceptions are already starting up.

Personally, I’m glad to be on the sidelines these days. If you’re in the thick of it, though, please be aware and don’t take candy from strangers. Or give it, either.

Out of the Kitchen

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

It’s been a month now since I’ve done a political post. Friends have wondered what the heck is going on. In a nutshell, the kitchen got hot enough that I couldn’t stand the heat. More importantly, I don’t want to keep adding to the heat.

I’m focusing on things less hateful.

Wrestling with Pigs – Advice for Local Politicians

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

The political season is warming up again, and new candidates are jumping into the pool. And, happily, there are some great ones – Jay Swearingen in the 31st District and Kevin McManus in the 46th District stand out as fresh faces ready to run great campaigns. Both have kicked off their efforts with successful fundraising and meeting lots of people.

As a blogger, I have a few words of advice for Jay, Kevin, and any other first-time candidates. Ignore us.

Here’s a true story of why. A couple election cycles ago, I had chosen to support a primary candidate in a hard-fought state rep race. As is often the case, the partisans on both sides were getting kind of nasty in blog comments, while the candidates themselves were staying above it all.

One fine Saturday morning, when the weather was picture-perfect for door-to-door campaigning, the candidate I was supporting was out meeting people and asking for their votes. Around noon, though, the other candidate posted a long, passionate comment on my blog, way at the bottom of 80 or so comments. The candidate had obviously spent the morning on a computer instead of a sidewalk.

I knew the race was over right then. Shaking hands, asking for donations, putting yard-signs up – that’s the way for a candidate to spend a sunny Saturday morning during campaign season. Worrying about what a few, mostly anonymous, commenters are saying is not. A few of that candidate’s supporters told me after the election that they lost their optimism when they saw the comment, because they knew the candidate was not disciplined enough to stick to priorities. When the votes were counted, the candidate who spent Saturday morning going door-to-door clobbered the one who spent Saturday morning writing a comment on Gone Mild.

You will not win or lost your campaign by what is written on blogs. Another anecdote – back in 2006, another local candidate ran the most effective blog-based campaign I had ever imagined. He ran a first-class blog, participated in conversations in other blogs, and basically won the hearts and minds of everyone in the blogosphere. I sincerely thought he was going to win. He got crushed.

My point is that the blogosphere in local politics is a raucous scene populated by anonymous agitators who will say just about anything under their cloak of anonymity. Don’t confuse them with the people you need to persuade.

If a blogger posts something factually inaccurate about you, go ahead and email the person and politely explain where he or she is mistaken. Most bloggers I know do try to stick to the truth, and the majority of us will print a correction. But ignore the comments, and don’t try to win a battle in the comment section of a blog.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” While there are some tremendously thoughtful and fair blog commenters out there, the analogy fits.

Who Cares About All This – The Big Easy, Funkhouser and Getting Away From it All

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Sorry for the outburst of silence on this blog. First it was illness, then it was a trip to New Orleans for my daughter’s graduation from Tulane. A massive interruption in my ordinary life, with relatively little internet time, cursory attention to national news, and no awareness of local politics whatsoever.

In short, I was kind of like a typical voter for a week and a half.

Except for my botched attempt at factual reporting, I’ve pretty much ignored the Funkhouser Recall attempt, but it seems that the activists there are experiencing a bit of the disconnect I have felt. When wrapped up in local politics, and communicating with a circle of others that care about the same things, it’s easy to think what’s on our own minds is on everyone’s mind. It’s easy to convince yourself that the city wants a recall, but the reality is that the average voter does not care ten percent as much as activists do, one way or the other.

Spend a few hours with a group of political insiders, and you’ll quickly find out what “everyone’s talking about”. The political gossip is intriguing and enveloping. But, when push comes to shove, it’s only a few people talking amongst themselves. “Everyone” is not talking about politics – local, state or national. Instead, they are talking about dinner, sports, family, neighbors, and work.

I received a couple text messages on my phone about political developments last week. I appreciated the kindness of those keeping me informed, but receiving them while disengaged was kind of like receiving cricket scores from Pakistan – it was separate from the world I was inhabiting.

New Orleans feels like a different country, so the disconnect may have been stronger than it would have been otherwise. Also, it was the first time my family had been together since Christmas, so the presence of loved ones may have heightened the distraction. When you can look ahead to fried oyster po’ boys with four people you love, it’s hard to devote mental energy to city council matters, or even the Jackson County Ethics Blackout.

90+ percent of people spend most of their lives in the politics-free world I visited last week. The Recall people have seen that the near-unanimous outrage they expected to tap into was not nearly as deep or as widespread as they anticipated. I won’t argue that the Recall is headed toward failure because of a deep and widespread love of Funkhouser – the only thing truly deep and widespread is apathy.

I’m back in the real world now, and ready to jump back into the world of state, local and national politics. I do care about this stuff, and it really does matter who is our Mayor, whether our County Legislature accepts ethical Home Rule, and who will replace Souter. It just surprised me how easily I shed all those concerns for a week and a half, and how “normal” it felt to be apolitical.

How to Influence a Legislator (Free Version)

Friday, May 1st, 2009

It’s action time in Jefferson City, and the updates are flying, insisting that we exercise whatever influence we may have on behalf of worthy bills or to fend off wrong-headed ones. 90% of the “action alerts” I receive are a complete waste of time, so I thought I would share a few tips for exercising influence with legislators.

1. Make Sure You Stand a Chance: If you want to accomplish anything with a legislator (as opposed to simply voicing your opinion), make sure you’re not far afield from the core constituencies and principles of the legislator you are hoping to influence. In other words, you don’t stand a chance of convincing Jason Kander to abandon the Missouri Plan, and you’re not going to get Jolie Justus to eliminate support for childcare. Go ahead and vent if you disagree, but don’t think you’re influencing change.

2. Visit Your Legislator: If there’s an important issue pending, get in your car and visit Jefferson City, or find out where you can meet with the legislator during a break, and do it. Nothing is as influential as a face-to-face meeting. If you have written materials, bring a couple copies so the legislator can review them and give a copy to a staff person. Legislators listen to visitors, so, if you can find the time and the gas money, go visit our Capitol City, and treat yourself to some ice cream at Central Dairy on your way home.

3. Write a Real, Personalized Letter: If you can’t visit Jefferson City, let the postal service do the work for you. Send a real, personalized letter expressing your thoughts and enclosing any supporting information. I’m not talking about signing your name to a pre-printed post card or a cut-and-paste from an action alert. Those are a waste of time, trees and postage. But a persuasive letter on real stationery signed by a constituent will make a legislator take notice.

4. Pick up the Phone and Call: At this point in the session, where action on bills is happening at a fast and furious pace, calling is probably more effective than writing. Even if you only get to talk to a legislative aide, your voice will be heard. A lot of legislators are pretty generous about sharing their cell phone numbers, and don’t hesitate to use them. If you wind up in voice mail, be prepared to leave a clear and short message, including the fact (if true) that you reside in his/her district. Leave your number, and you may get a call back.

5. Send an Email: Email’s easy, and that is the problem with it. With a few clicks of the mouse, you can contact every legislator in Jefferson City, and hundreds of others can do the same thing. The result is a deluge that simply drowns out even your well-crafted, reasonable missive. If you care enough to write, care enough to put it on real paper with a stamp, pick up the phone, or drive to Jefferson City. Email is a decent way to communicate with a legislator once a dialog is started through one of those means, but, especially at this time of the session, don’t expect to accomplish anything by writing an email.

Those are the basics for free influence with a legislator. If you have money to spend, other rules apply that are way too complicated and controversial to get into here.

Starting Your Political Biography – Day 73 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Has the thought of running for office ever run through your mind? Have you ever looked at the politicians on TV or at neighborhood meetings and thought, “I could do that as well or better than him (or her?), and I would do a better job of looking out for the people of this area”? Have you been thinking someday, when the time is right, you will seriously look at launching a political career?

The time is right in Jackson County. You can start your political career with a victory in 2010.

How does this sound for the start of your political biography?

_______________ started his/her political career in Jackson County, Missouri. In 2010, inspired by the election of Barack Obama, ______________ decided to take on an entrenched incumbent who had grown arrogant in office. His/her first opponent was a member of a cozy cabal of old-school politicians who existed in a dim world of prearranged, unanimous votes and a lax attitude toward ethics. In 2008, the Jackson County legislature went so far as to exempt itself from local ethical oversight, and _______________ realized that if real change was going to happen in Jackson County, it was not going to happen with the entrenched incumbents controlling the Courthouse.

______________ was swept into office as part of a group of reformers whose first priority on the campaign trail was to “Bring Ethical Home Rule to Jackson County”. The Ethical Home Rule Slate of candidates turned the tide when they began winning the endorsements of reform-minded political groups, and campaign donors followed suit.

The Ethical Home Rule Campaign of 2010 succeeded in defeating a majority of the anti-ethics legislators who had controlled the Jackson County legislature. After serving two terms on the Jackson County Legislature, ______________ successfully ran for an open seat in the Missouri General Assembly . . .

If you’ve been thinking about jumping into politics, you will never face a better opportunity than running for Jackson County Legislature in 2010. The fundraising demands for a county office are manageable, and the incumbents have all come out against Ethical Home Rule for Jackson County. Many of the candidates have documented problems with ethics and the law, so their attempts to avoid ethical scrutiny will be impossible for them to explain on the campaign trail.

If you don’t take this opportunity, who will? If you are waiting for the right time, when will the time be better?

Time for YOU to Start Thinking About Running for Jackson County Legislature?

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Do you have a hankering to run for political office, but don’t want to give up your career? Do you see the local politicians on TV and think “Somebody better ought to get involved”? Do you want to break up the cozy circle of local politicos who elevate self-interest over ethics?

Maybe you should run for the Jackson County legislature. And maybe you should start putting your campaign together now.

The Jackson County legislature is vulnerable. Every single one of them, with the exception of Fred Arbanas (who was absent), is ON THE RECORD exempting themselves from oversight by the Jackson County Ethics Commission, in violation of the Jackson County Charter.

If they don’t reverse themselves on that point immediately, it should be a relatively easy matter to run against a Jackson County politician who has gone on the record supporting less ethical oversight for him or herself. Better yet, you will have your choice of two candidates to take on, since you can run either “in district” or “at large”. To figure out which candidates you could run against, just find yourself on the district maps appearing under each legislator’s name. You will be in two legislators’ districts – one of the “at large” legislators and one of district legislators. Check out both, because they are not the same.

The only qualifications you’ll need to run, as defined by the County Charter, are: “Each member of the Legislature shall be a qualified voter in Jackson County for at least three years preceding his/her election and a resident in his/her district for at least one year preceding his/her nomination.” The filing deadline is not until later in the year, but now is the time to start talking to people who know the county and the districts. The elections will be in 2010, so you have more than a year to get your name out there if you get started soon.

If you’ve been wanting to get into politics, how often are you going to face your choice of two candidates who have publicly come out against ethics? This is a golden opportunity.

Writing in Candidates – Not as Easy as You Might Think

Friday, October 24th, 2008

The Write-In Ballot is the fantastical “out” for independent voters everywhere. Don’t like the candidates listed for a given position? Go ahead and write in your own name or your best friend’s or Kanye West. You might not win, but at least you will have lodged a vote for the best candidate for the office, while striking a blow for independence. In the back of your mind, you may even indulge the fantasy of puzzled pundits reacting to a tide of votes for an unknown name. Can’t you picture Wolf Blitzer on election night announcing, “In an unexpected development, it appears that Tony Botello has emerged as the leading vote-getter for Missouri Governor. Stand by for Jay Nixon’s stunned concession speech . . .”?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy.

Write-in ballots only count in Missouri if the named person has filed with the Secretary of State’s office prior to 5:00 p.m. on the second Friday immediately preceding the election day. Votes for write-in candidates who haven’t jumped through the hoops don’t even get counted.

So, sadly, writing “Martin Sheen” in for president won’t get us President Bartlett.

The Real World Between Cynicism and Optimism

Monday, October 6th, 2008

A couple weeks ago, I posted a piece suggesting that readers contact their congressional delegations to voice their opinions on the bail-out bill. First up in the comment section was Kansas City’s Best Blogger and nonvoter Meesha, advising me with all his world-weary wisdom that “it will happen anyway”.

Sure enough, it happened anyway.

So, was my call to action an exercise in futility? I don’t think so, and neither do the millions of people who now will gain access to mental health coverage with their insurance. 24 million taxpayers will get relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax. A lot of changes were made to the bill, some of which were good, some of which were transparent gifts to special interests. The fact remains, though, that our calls got their attention, slowed down the train, and got us at least a more palatable bill.

Total victory? No. Total defeat? No, but dangerously close. Worth a few phone calls? Absolutely.

John McCain is Not Too Rich to be President

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

It’s fun to make fun of John McCain right now.

He doesn’t know how many houses he owns.

He spends more than a quarter million a year on servants.

He thinks you have to earn $5 million to be rich.

He wears $500 loafers.

Etc.

But, I ask my fellow Democrats – are those reasons to vote against him? Do those facts make Obama the superior candidate?

John F. Kennedy had some serious coin. John Kerry and John Edwards don’t worry about the price of milk.

When we indulge in our childish mocking, we buy into the same silly non-issues that typify our discourse. We take our eyes off the reasons that John McCain is the wrong choice (Iraq, Iran, Supreme Court, Tax Breaks for the Wealthy, Environmental Degradation, Spying on Americans, Pro-Torture, etc.). At the same time, we legitimize the attention which will come to whatever non-issue the Right Wing Noise Machine generates about Obama. I don’t want this election to turn on what brand of sunglasses Obama prefers, or the fabric of his socks.

On the other hand, this sort of nonsense sways votes. As has been demonstrated in past elections (in a spirit of bipartisanship, I won’t name which), a significant portion of voters cast their ballots on “feelings” or factors other than a rigorous analysis of which candidate holds positions they share. If the Democrats limit their debate to the high ground of policy discussion, the Republicans will run the table with all their friends in low places.

It’s a sad fact of democracy that elections don’t always get decided on the issues I would choose. So, I regretfully acknowledge the importance of non-issues, and hope that those who focus on them for the Democrats sway at least as many foolish people as those who focus on them for the Republicans.