Sunday, January 31, 2010

Draft Kudlow

Was Scott Brown's victory a "game changer"? I think so. It has inspired conservative challengers in other places that were also considered "unwinnable". In New York, for example, there is a strong "Draft Kudlow" movement to unseat Senator Charles Schumer. I'd encourage everyone here to become part of that movement, not because I'm conservative and Senator Schumer is liberal, but because of the serious disrespect that he holds for people who disagree with him. He's promoted policies that would have serious economic consequences not just for New York but for the rest of the country as well.

On the other hand, there's Larry Kudlow, host of CNBC's The Kudlow Report and former economic advisor to President Ronald Reagan. In the past, he's worked side by side with such notables as Bill Clinton, John Podesta, Tim Russert, and former New York Governor George Pataki. His record of non-partisanship is certainly better than Senator Schumer's.

There's currently a movement to draft Mr. Kudlow into the race, at www.draftkudlow.com. There is also a Facebook page you can Fan: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Draft-Larry-Kudlow/263938964077

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Maybe they just liked him better

They're talking about him. From the Huffington Post to the Washington Post, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, from the morning shows to The Daily Show, and all over the blogosphere, they're talking about Scott Brown and what his victory means.

As I'm sure you've heard, Scott Brown, a Republican, won the special election in Massachusetts to fill the late Edward Kennedy's seat in the United States Senate. If you're wondering why this is so newsworthy, then let me be as brief as possible. First of all, Massachusetts has been described as being bluer than a Smurf, meaning a Republican could hardly expect to win any sort of election, let alone to a seat held by a man so liberal that he challenged then President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination. That's all conventional wisdom, though. Given the number of Republican governors Massachusetts has elected in recent years, it's not quite that surprising to have a Republican senator.

More than that, the U.S. Senate rules say that, in order to end debate on a particular piece of legislation, you need 60 senators to agree that it's been discussed enough and it's time to vote. The Republican Party, with Scott Brown, now has enough voices in the Senate to keep any bill from coming to a vote. Obviously, this is significant, given the number of highly controversial bills facing the Senate, including whatever final version of health care President Obama and the Congressional Democratic leadership present to the Senate in the next few weeks.

Did that really matter to voters in Massachusetts, though? Was parliamentary procedure foremost in the minds of people who went to the ballot box? Perhaps. After all, Scott Brown campaigned on the promise that he would oppose the health care bill. Keep in mind, MA already has universal health care, or something very much like it, and most don't want to rock the boat by allowing the federal government to pass its own version, which would be redundant at best in the Bay State. Voters around the country wonder if the federal government should pass it at all, since MA has demonstrated that states can handle the issue on their own.

But let's forget about the rest of the country, for the moment. Taking this election out of the context of recent Republican gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey, why would Bay Staters vote for Scott Brown? He's very likable, first of all. He's a family man who did most of his campaigning himself. He was on the trail, unlike his opponent, Martha Coakley, who seemed reluctant to "shake hands in the cold". In fact, Coakley made a number of missteps, not the least of which was referring to former Red Sox great Curt Schilling as a Yankees fan. Though she claimed it was just a joke, the deed was done.

An even greater mistake, of course, was taking MA voters for granted. As I mentioned before, MA is seen as one of the most liberal states in the union. You can hardly blame people for assuming that Coakley would win, especially after she'd risen to the top of a small group of potential Democratic candidates in a primary just months earlier. However, during the holiday season, she took several weeks off campaigning, while Brown continued on the stump, introducing himself to voters and spreading his message. He had a chance to define the race, and to define himself as the best possible candidate to send to Washington, while his opponent was basically missing in action.

We just had an election here in Virginia. The winner of the election, Bob McDonnell, campaigned on the issues. He didn't attack his opponent, Creigh Deeds, he didn't smear anyone in Washington or anywhere else; he simply stood up every day and said what he planned to do for the people of Virginia. While Deeds did his best to throw mud, McDonnell stayed positive, and he won in a proverbial landslide.

That's how Scott Brown won. His message was positive, issues-based, and occasionally populist. He listened to the voters, and he gave them something to listen to in return. He didn't pander, certainly; he was himself on the stump, and he'll likely be himself in Washington, too. That's why people responded to him so well.

There are many theories about how he pulled off his "miracle upset". Some say the administration and Congress had gone too liberal this last year, while others actually claim they hadn't gone liberal enough. Some say they've been too ineffective, too inefficient, or too inconsiderate of what the public wants. While any of these theories may or may not be true, the "sweeping tide" that's making its way across the country, in my opinion, had less to do with Brown's victory than the fact that he was simply the better candidate. Certainly, he wouldn't have had as much money in his campaign coffers or as many staffers and volunteers without the support of Virginians, Louisianans, Utahns, New Yorkers, and other Americans. In the end, though, the only Americans who could vote were the ones in his home state; and that's where he won.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Virginia is for lovers ... of renewable energy" (SotC, Pt. 2)

The first half of Governor Bob McDonnell's first State of the Commonwealth Address could accurately be described as the appetizer, the potatoes of the speech, while the second half could be called the real meat. In the first half, he talked about drawing various types of business to Virginia, boosting tourism, and even going to the stars, in a way.

Around the halfway mark to his speech, the governor brought up the energy industry. One of the highlights of his campaign, for myself at least, was his embrace of alternative energy sources in addition to, not instead of, nuclear and clean coal technologies to make Virginia the "energy capital of the east coast". The applause from the General Assembly was thunderous as he began to speak about American energy independence.

One of his goals is for Virginia to become the first state on the eastern seaboard to sell the leasing rights to explore and drill offshore for oil and natural gas in 2011. With the federal moratorium on offshore drilling gone, the first state to take advantage will reap an economic bonanza, in Gov. McDonnell's words. More than that, environmentally sound offshore drilling will create thousands of jobs right here in Virginia, and is in keeping with the president's commitment to making America energy independent. It will go a very long way to closing our current budget gap and will provide millions for investment opportunities. He even called on the Assembly to vote in this session to commit 20% of the tax revenues generated from offshore drilling, and of any authorized royalties they receive, to renewable energy projects and the other 80% going to transportation infrastructure.

He spoke of many different types of energy, including renewable ones. As technologies for harvesting and utilizing natural gas and clean coal become more efficient, energy production will grow. Regarding nuclear energy, the governor said, "Virginia has more private sector nuclear capacity than any other state in America." He asked the General Assembly to make the entire commonwealth a "green jobs zone". "Any business in the state that creates a green energy job over the next five years will receive an income tax credit of $500 per position. Virginia is for lovers ... of renewable energy."

Unfortunately, as he next pointed out, investments of any kind come at the expense of spending cuts, some "painful". He repeatedly called on the Assembly to act in this session. Responding to the conventional wisdom that tax hikes are unavoidable when facing a $4 billion budget shortfall, Gov. McDonnell pledged to work with everyone to find other, better solutions. He reminded us that Virginians are already struggling, and that increased taxes would only increase the burden on families and workers. In his words, "If you pass a bill in this recession that raises taxes on the hardworking families of Virginia, I will veto it. And if you pass a budget embedded with those same increases, I won't approve it."

Instead, as he has before promised, every opportunity to save will be embraced. As governor, he and his staff, as well as his Cabinet and officers, will cut their own pays and budgets. He called on the Assembly to "think outside the box" when it comes to the budget and what to cut, challenging the all-too-conventional wisdom sometimes used by lawmakers when setting budgets. I'm sure some of you remember that the U.S. Congress just this last year voted to raise their own salaries, despite the massive spending bills they've passed at almost the same time. As I've said before, Congress could take a lesson or two from our new governor.

He also spoke of consolidating some government programs and shedding others, most notably the state liquor stores. As he put it, while campaigning, he "did not run into anybody who thought that selling Jack Daniels whiskey or Grey Goose vodka was a core function of government." That's simply common sense, right there, in my opinion.

Moving into issues regarding education, the governor mentioned that Virginia is ranked the best place for a young person to succeed out of all the states. He introduced his Secretary of Education, Gerard Robinson, whose struggle to overcome poor grades in high school have yielded him a Master's in Education from Harvard and earned him renown as a national expert on education reform. His story is an example to everyone, and he'll be working with the governor to improve the education system in Virginia. Not only will a higher percentage of education spending go directly to improving conditions in the classroom, but also the number of charter schools will increase, as Gov. McDonnell and President Obama both agree should happen.

Next on the list is transportation, seen by many Virginians as the key issue in last year's gubernatorial election. Right away, the governor is calling to have the rest stops reopened along our highways and interstates. He also feels that, on rural interstates, the speed limit should be raised to 70 miles an hour. These are just two steps he'll take to reform our transportation system. Reducing congestion and increasing efficiency will be top priorities in the coming year, and he highlighted legislation that's already been written to address it.

Even more important is the safety and security of Virginians. As a former Attorney General, Bob McDonnell has a unique perspective on this issue, and has many proposals to push back against gangs, protect Virginians from criminals, and rehabilitate prisoners into society.

In closing, he acknowledged that in four years, he'll address the commonwealth as governor for the last time (Virginia law, if you don't know, doesn't allow governors to serve consecutive terms). He outlined briefly the Virginia that he wants to see at that time, what he hopes to be able to say in his final speech. He wants us to focus on "getting results, not taking credit; on cooperation, not division." It may sound like common rhetoric from a common politician, but I believe Bob McDonnell is anything but a common politician. He's been a public servant for most of his adult life, and a patriot. I've yet to hear a harsh or divisive word from him, even during the most acrimonious moments of last year's campaign.

I heard someone say that a governor who doesn't face reelection has no incentive to do his job. I say, not having to face reelection means he is free simply to do his job. He's our governor now, and I look forward to the job he'll do.

Governor McDonnell's 2010 State of the Commonwealth Address Pt. 1 (Business, Wine, Aerospace, and Hollywood East)

Governor Bob McDonnell delivered his first State of the Commonwealth Address last night. The speech itself lasted close to an hour, and you can watch it here for yourself. Here are some of the highlights, and my own feelings about the speech.

It started with a light tone, a few jokes here and there, and words of thanks to former Gov. Tim Kaine for his years of service. He then invoked a brief moment of silence for the devastation in Haiti, and again encouraged all Virginians to help and donate in whatever way we can to the relief efforts there.

As in his inaugural speech, Gov. McDonnell stayed away from partisanism. He turned our minds to history and all the great leaders who've inspired us over the years, particularly Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Noting the difficult times both behind and ahead of us, he quoted Dr. King, saying, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." He then called upon the General Assembly to make their decisions based not on "which house or political party or which branch of government wins, but whether the people of Virginia win." He again pledged, as in his inaugural", to create "A Commonwealth of Opportunity". As you'll see from some of the initiatives he proposes (and I'm not talking just about his transportation plan), we have quite the ambitious new governor.

The governor then launched into his vision for the commonwealth, some positive outcomes he wants to see for Virginians. He reminded the Assembly that, though they are sometimes rivals, they are still colleagues. He spoke of Virginia's business-friendly laws, job-creating tax and regulatory policies, and prudent management and governance that have made Virginia a leader in the nation. "It all starts," he said, "with policies to promote job creation and economic development in our state."

"The inherent dignity of a good day's work and a worthwhile pursuit strengthens the soul, supports the family and reduces dependence upon government," he added. I certainly agree with him on that point. We face 10% unemployment in this country, and those who receive welfare, unemployment benefits and other entitlements from the government would do better to receive jobs.

The governor mentioned his first executive order, which established a statewide commission dedicated solely to creating jobs and promoting free enterprise and opportunity, which he considers to be "the first order of business" in this state. He pointed out the high unemployment in Virginia, and added his support to Gov. Kaine's amendment adding $1 million to the state budget for the Virginia Federation of Foodbanks. This segued into the "tough" budget cycle we face now. He first spoke for investing in the future, including increasing money in the job-creating Governor's Opportunity Fund, which has been successful in bringing more businesses to Virginia. State governments and even national ones compete heavily for businesses, he reminds us, and Virginia must do so as well.

Then came more specific proposals for creating jobs and prosperity for Virginians. Gov. McDonnell has formed a team, with Lt. Gov. Bolling at the head, whose sole responsibility is economic development. Their main priority will be the rural areas of Virginia, which now face double-digit unemployment numbers. At least once every thirty days, these areas will receive visits from either the governor or lieutenant governor to discuss how best to combat their problems.

There are more proposals in the governor's speech, including new funding for the biotech industry, and income tax exemption for qualified investments by technology and science startup businesses. Currently, money from the opportunity fund only goes to companies based on job creation and capital investment; he wants to expand it to companies that significantly increase local and state tax base, including more investment in education, workforce development and job creation. Also, $5 million for an industrial megasite location this year, because "when a major business is considering a move to Virginia, we've got to be able to meet those executives at the airport, drive them to a site ready for a project, and show them that the only thing missing is them. Virginia is ready for their business right now." As he reminded us, in business "in order to make money, you've got to spend money."

These proposals all came in the first sixteen minutes of the speech. For the rest of the hour, the governor continued to unveil initiatives, including specifics on how to "make Virginia the easiest state in America in which to open and maintain a small business." He spoke of investing in tourism, noting that we earn $5 for every dollar spent on attracting visitors. He reminded us that 2013 will be the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and that we just celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. He wants us to help tourists during these years to "reflect upon the lessons learned from this pivotal period in history ... stay awhile, spend lots of money, and help put Virginians back to work." To facilitate that, he proposes increasing the Virginia Tourism Corporation funding by $3.6 million in each of the next two years.

Another area of potential revenue windfalls is film production. He points out that "Secratariat", a film about a horse from Virginia, with a director from Virginia, is being filmed in Kentucky and Louisiana. Not having it filmed here cost Virginia an estimated $30 million in revenue. The Governor's Motion Picture Opportunity Fund simply cannot compete with other states, so he is asking for an additional investment of $2 million this year. "Movies made in Virginia results in jobs created for Virginians." (Can we say "Hollywood East"?)

Then there's aerospace. Governor Kaine committed to invest $1.3 million in the Virginia spaceport at Wallop's Island. Gov. McDonnell similarly wants to make it the "top commercial spaceport in America." He wants that money to stay in place so we can recruit top aerospace companies and even promote space tourism initiatives here in Virginia. (And you thought Hollywood East would be ambitious.)

Next, he mentioned Virginia's wine industry. I'm sensing a bit of a pattern here, actually. With California's businesses seeking other venues due to its burdensome tax rates, Virginia, with its new governor, is positioning itself to grab a few of those businesses. Science and information technologies, movies, aerospace, and now the governor proposes to direct a portion of the Virginia Wine Leader Tax to be deposited in the Virginia Wine Promotion Fund, which already helps fuel tourism. It's quite clever, actually, assuming that's what he's doing.

Coming in Pt. 2: the governor's energy and transportation agendas.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Promise to Lead

Bob McDonnell is officially Virginia's 71st Governor. Just this last weekend, he was sworn in, and has already gone straight to work. His Cabinet is assembled, including a new Cabinet-level position for our Lieutenant Governor, Bill Bolling, as Virginia's Chief Job Creation Officer.

http://www.bobmcdonnell.com/index.php/news/news_press


There are certainly many trials facing this new administration, not the least of which being a $4 billion budget shortfall. Always an optimist, though, Governor McDonnell took the long view of history in his inaugural address:

"We do not face the challenges of forming a new government or securing a young nation, as did Washington, Jefferson and Henry. We do not encounter the devastation and destruction of Civil War, as did Lincoln and Lee. We do not struggle with the injustice of slavery and its legacy of segregation as did Governor Wilder as a young man. We do not march into bullets and artillery shells, as did the Greatest Generation on the beaches of Normandy and the islands of the Pacific ... The actions of those patriots that came before us had a common purpose to create and expand freedom and opportunity for the generations that came behind them."

He spoke of the need to face our challenges and create opportunities in the economy, in education, and in our families and communities. Rather than vague promises, he made specific commitments, including a commitment to work with our president when appropriate to improve the quality of opportunity for future generations by increasing education spending and lowering the tax burden on businesses to keep Virginia's overall business rating at its normal high level.

He reiterated his determination to make Virginia an energy leader in the country, the "Energy Capital of the East Coast", by expanding wind, solar, biomass, nuclear, coal, and natural gas energies. He also reiterated his promise to improve the transportation system in Virginia. He pledged to make Virginia a "Commonwealth of Opportunity", and asked each of us to involve ourselves in our communities and pursue our dreams.

Not thinking just of us and our problems, though, the Governor also mentioned the people of Haiti, who as you may know just days ago suffered a terrible earthquake that left tens of thousands dead and many more in dire straits. He invoked the scripture that reminds us "to whom much is given, much will be required" and urged all Virginians to donate in whatever way we can to relief efforts there.

The inaugural speech is inspiring, and quite moving. I'd ask each of you to read the full text here.
For our new governor, we all should give our support as well. As has been noted, there are many problems facing us all, and more than just reading his words or watching his speeches, we need to offer encouragement and even advice in the areas important to us. Representative Eric Cantor, whose Congressional District covers parts of Richmond and its suburbs, sent a letter of congratulations to Bob McDonnell and asks that others do, as well:

Governor-Elect McDonnell,

Congratulations on your victory - the Republican resurgence has begun and we are all proud that it began in Virginia. We look forward to your inauguration and we stand ready to work with you to build a better future for Virginia families.

We'd also like to thank you for the manner in which you ran your campaign. This was a campaign that Virginia can be proud of - a positive, solutions-based campaign. This election serves as living proof that when we stand on our common-sense conservative principles and apply them to the problems that people face every day - our Republican agenda can win in every party of our Commonwealth and our nation.

Regards,

Eric Cantor

http://www.ericcantor.com/letter.htm


Here are the words I added to his letter:

Dear Governor,

I don't mind saying how proud I am of Virginia for electing a governor who focuses more on solutions than on politics. I look forward to four years (maybe more) of setting an example to the rest of the country that conservatives have just as many "solutions" as liberals do, and better ones at that.

That being said, I'd like a priority of your administration to be finding a comprehensive health care reform alternative to the ones being proposed by Congress and the president. I believe states have a responsibility, as per the Tenth Amendment, to take upon themselves the responsibilities not given to the federal government, health care reform being one of those.

Other states have already taken the initiative, Governor McDonnell. In Massachusetts, though their solution isn't perfect, they've had comprehensive health care for years. It's even become a factor in the special senate election being held there, as many residents feel the federal government's efforts are redundant and actually want Scott Brown to go to Washington and vote against the legislation being proposed. If Massachusetts can be satisfied with what their commonwealth can provide, then Virginia can certainly provide for its residents.

Almost from the beginning of your campaign, Governor, I've wanted to know your plans for reforming health care and health insurance in Virginia. Surely you have enough information and incentive to act now, rather than later. Let us become a national leader in this debate by doing better than Washington ever could.

Thank you for your time, and congratulations again.

Stephen Monteith

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Final Passage

The House of Representatives and the Senate have both passed their own versions of health care reform legislation. The president is meeting with Democratic leaders from both houses to discuss how best to merge the two bills into one final reform. I'd like very much to know how those negotiations are going, but unfortunately, they're "behind closed doors", as they say.

That's never really worked well for us, has it? The biggest, brightest flashing red light in my mind is last year's economic stimulus package. During the final conference committee, which took place less than a day before final passage, allowing no one time to read the final bill before voting on it, a number of last-minute provisions were added, including the infamous "bonus guarantees" for AIG. Congress scrambled for weeks trying to recover (the money and their dignity) after that fiasco.

Now, it's health care. We can only guess how much time Congress and the American public will be given to review the final language and provisions before a vote is held. I don't know about you, but I feel comfortable opposing the final bill already. Whether you support it or oppose it, though, don't wait any longer to make your opinion known.

This is a copy of the letter I sent to Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner and Congressman Glenn Nye asking for their "no" votes when the bill is brought to Congress for final passage. Given how quickly the stimulus bill was passed, I didn't want to waste any more time. If you haven't written, called, or visited your congressman or senators yet, then do so now; you may not have the chance to later.


Dear Senator,

The president is meeting this week with top Democratic lawmakers to reconcile the House and Senate bills. I've written to you several times this last year, asking for additions, subtractions, and amendments to the various health care bills being considered by Congress; not once have my concerns been adequately addressed, I feel. I understand that this is a serious matter and that not all considerations can be met. I do have one more request, though, Senator: I want you to vote no on the final bill.

There are far too many disturbing proposals in these health care bills, Senator. The House version calls for a public option; the Senate version doesn't have strong enough proscriptions against abortion funding; neither one contains significant tort reform; and both seek to impose federal mandates on the American people.

The proposed payment methods are troubling enough by themselves. No matter how you characterize or categorize them, there are new taxes throughout the House and Senate bills, and there is evidence that even more may be added in conference. If a mandate is included, then the IRS will likely be the venue through which penalties and fines for not purchasing insurance will be collected. This may seem reasonable to some, Senator, but not to me.

The president, in his address to the nation last September, pledged to sign no bill "that adds one dime to our deficit, either now or in the future". At this time, Senator, he is mediating two bills, either one of which would add to the deficit by significantly more than a dime. Congress recently voted to raise the amount of money the federal government can owe, no doubt in preparation for the new deficits these bills would produce. Senator, voting to raise the debt ceiling is like handing someone a credit card and saying when they max it out to just keep spending.

But staying with the topic of health care, these bills represent terrible burdens to the American people. You may be tempted to say that something is better than nothing, as others have said; but I expect better of you, Senator. I want you to vote no when the bill comes to the Senate floor.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Update: Congressman Nye's reply

Dear Mr. Monteith,

Thank you for contacting me in opposition to the proposed health care legislation before Congress. It is helpful to learn the views of my neighbors in Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore, and I value your input.

You will be pleased to know I voted against the House health care reform bill, H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

I believe it is absolutely imperative that any health care reform bill reduces costs for families and small businesses, allows Americans to keep their existing plan and choose their doctor, is bipartisan, is deficit neutral,does not force Americans to use a certain type of health insurance, maintains Medicare benefits for seniors, and lowers the overall costs of health care. H.R. 3962 does not meet these criteria.

First and foremost I believe we must reduce the cost of health care both for the individual and small businesses - and this bill does not accomplish that goal. In fact, the Director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Doug Elmendorf, recently stated that this bill will not effectively bring down the growing cost of health care - and that it is unsustainable over the long term. Even though the bill will reduce the deficit in the short term, CBO also asserted that it will increase the cost of health care to taxpayers by nearly $600 billion over the next ten years.

Another example is the bill's surtax provision, which taxes individuals with over $500,000 in annual income - or joint-filers with over $1,000,000 in income. The problem is that this income cap is not indexed for inflation - meaning it will stay at $500,000 or $1,000,000 - so over time it will begin to tax middle-class families, as well as small business owners. In fact, because of the structure of most small businesses, many our most successful small businesses would face double taxation, diminishing their ability to maintain capital used to reinvest in their business and weakening their ability to continue to push our economy forward. Any reform must be fiscally responsible and not place an undue burden on small businesses, which are a large part of the economic engine that drives our economy.

Additionally, we must fix our current system before we add more people into it, which will only exacerbate any current problems. We need to fix current utilization, create real money saving efficiencies, and through a coordinated effort we must incentivize good health practices and preventive care.

The recently passed legislation from the House and Senate are now being reconciled by House and Senate leadership in consultation with President Obama. Once this is complete Congress will vote on final passage of the bill. When Congress considers health reform legislation, know that I will carefully track its evolution and make certain to protect American families.

Thank you again for taking the time to let me know your thoughts. I am proud to serve Virginia's Second Congressional District, and I am committed to working hard for you. If you would like more information about the issues I am working on in Congress, or if you would like to sign up to receive my monthly e-newsletter, I encourage you to visit my website at http://www.nye.house.gov/.

Sincerely,

Glenn Nye
Member of Congress

Monday, January 11, 2010

Schizoid Dems

People like to talk about the two Republican parties: the populist conservative wing characterized by outraged protesters who won't tolerate dilution of their principles and the big tent centrists who would rather compromise than lose. This apparent schism in the GOP delights those on the Left, of course. The war between the centrists and the conservatives led to a victory for Democrat Bill Owens in New York's 23rd Congressional District last November. It's expected to cause problems for Republicans in the coming year as well, with conservatives challenging so-called "establishment" Republicans in Florida, Texas, California, and other states. Will the Republican realignment yield more victories for the Left?

Only if Democrats can overcome their own internal battles. On every major piece of legislation penned in 2009, from last spring's stimulus bill to summer's Waxman-Markey energy bill to this fall's pair of health care bills, not only was every bill unable to entice Republican support, but they all drew a fair amount of Democratic criticism. In Speaker Nancy Pelosi's and Senator Harry Reid's efforts to gain bipartisan support for their legislation, they could hardly fail to notice the bipartisan opposition.

2006 and 2008 were good years for Democrats, but not as good as they or anyone else may have believed. Many of the seats won by the Left in those years went to conservative, or Bue Dog, Democrats, and most were in districts with heavily conservative leanings. My own Representative in Congress, Democrat Glenn Nye, has been about fifty-fifty when it comes to Democratic initiatives. Even with President Obama in the White House, this country is still center-right, with more conservatives than either liberals or moderates. Governing and legislating as liberals has not gone as well as the president and Congressional leadership had hoped.

And it has proved remarkably helpful to the Right. Alabama Representative Parker Griffith recently defected from the Democrats to the Republicans. Others, like Griffith's fellow Representative Bobby Bright, are staying with the Democrats but voting with Republicans. Cases like theirs could easily be attributed to the fact that they live in a Red State. It wouldn't explain, however, the victories of Republican gubernatorial candidates Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie in Virginia and New Jersey, states that President Obama won with heavy margins just a year earlier.

It also wouldn't explain the fortunes of U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown, a Republican running surprisingly well in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the country. His race against Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, for the late Edward Kennedy's seat, has already created more rifts in the Democratic party. When the Massachusetts Secretary of State recently stated that he would delay certifying Scott Brown, even if the election result isn't contested, the moderate Democratic blog HillBuzz.org immediately pushed back, saying they would "MARCH UPON WASHINGTON to setup an office for UNITED STATES SENATOR SCOTT BROWN on our own. On the steps of the Capitol if we have to."

Electoral woes are the least of Democrats' problems at the moment. The jobs crisis in this country is something our current leaders have spent almost a year combatting. Things have gone from bad to worse, as they say. Just this past weekend, Tim Kaine, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, complained that last year's economic stimulus bill had to be passed without Republican support. A strange complaint, since the bill itself has done practically nothing to arrest the swell of unemployment in this country. I agree with Chairman Kaine that the bill would have done a better job with Republican input; however, it was the Democratic leadership in Congress that rejected and at times refused even to hear Republican ideas. It's no wonder, especially in hindsight, that almost no Republican voted for the legislation.

Democrats' legislative efforts continue to founder. As I indicated before, their signature legislations, health care and energy reform, are in serious jeopardy; at least, in their current forms. When it comes to health care, Senate and House Democrats have competing visions, which even the president may not be able to mediate.

Which brings me to President Obama. Numerous acts by our president have angered his liberal base. He continues to increase troop levels in the Middle East; members of his administration are barred from testifying on Capitol Hill; the health care bill reconciliation, which he repeatedly promised would be aired for all to see, is now being held behind closed doors (which mimics his flip-flop on the promise that all legislation he signs would be posted online for public scrutiny before he signs anything); and, of course, his handling of the war on terror has pleased almost no one. The Left is experiencing significant buyer's remorse in this case.

A year ago, very few could have predicted that the Democratic brand would appear as damaged now as the Republican brand was during the 2008 election cycle. More could have foreseen that Democrats were just as prone to infighting as they accuse Republicans of being. When Senator Arlen Specter defected from the GOP to join the Democratic majority, the mainstream media took it as evidence that the Right was incapable of welcoming those with "different points of view". However, it was just a few years earlier when Senator Joe Lieberman, once the Democrats' vice presidential candidate, was drummed out of the party for his support of the Iraq War. A lifelong Democrat, Lieberman refused to defect, but merely ran as an independent (and won). His party again tried to punish him for his support of John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, even though they were more than happy to have Republican senators like Chuck Hagel support Barack Obama. Apparently, reaching across the aisle is only acceptable if it's being done from the other side.

Those who've read my earlier posts know that I don't care for political parties at all. Merely joining one warps not only your own identity, but also your perception of others. Democrats for the past decade have led, campaigned and legislated on the idea that Republicans have been doing it all wrong and they can do a better job. I was more than happy to give them that opportunity, voting not only for Jim Webb and Tim Kaine here in Virginia, but even John Kerry in the 2004 race. Since then, though, I've seen almost nothing from the current leadership to suggest that they're any less partisan (or petty) than their Republican counterparts. This isn't a game to me; whoever's holding the most cards isn't always the best, and whoever's sitting in the driver's seat doesn't always call the shots.

It's time to stop looking at things from a "them versus us" perspective; in fact, it's well past time. We're starting a new election cycle this year; incumbents, challengers, and all other candidates will be looking for your vote. Tell them if they want it, then they need to stop fighting with each other and start doing their jobs. In Virginia, we just had an election that was free of the normal negative campaign tactics; at least, on the side of the candidate who ultimately won. Our Governor-elect Bob McDonnell, who will be sworn in this coming weekend, ran a positive, issues-based campaign, outlining his vision for Virginia's future and his solutions for our problems. Virginians didn't always agree with his position on the issues, but we did respond well to his positive message and lack of partisan attacks, as opposed to Creigh Deeds' unrelenting negativism.

I'd urge anyone who seeks public office to follow McDonnell's example; and I'd urge the voters to go with the candidates who have the best ideas, and not the letter that happens to match your own. We have a number of problems here in America: health care reform, education, national security, the economy, energy reform, war in the Middle East, and many more. Let's not add political scorekeeping to the list.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Coming 2010

I'm back, ladies and gentlemen. So much has happened since the last time I posted here. The Commonwealth of Virginia elected Bob McDonnell its 71st Governor, Bill Bolling to a second term as Lieutenant Governor, and Ken Cuccinelli as Attorney General (congratulations to all three). Both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have passed their own versions of health care and insurance reform bills, which now await reconciliation before a final vote on passage. The United States has seen an increase in troop levels in Afghanistan and a decrease in Iraq. Both major parties are facing realignment, even as a new, unofficial political party (the Tea Party) continues to grow in popularity. And as the New Year begins, the country prepares to enter a new national election season. 2010 certainly has a long road to hoe.

I'll be there. Congress will soon return from its holiday recess; the president will give his State of the Union Address; the perennial issues of health care, the economy, and war in the Middle East will remain on the country's mind no matter what Washington does; and the partisan warfare will only increase the closer we draw to next November. At times like these, the men and women we send to Washington need to know what their constituents think; they're certainly going to know what I think.

In my first post, I said that "[i]t is the duty of every American not only to elect leaders to represent our interests in the capital, but also to constantly watch over them and ensure that they do what we elected them to do." Interestingly, since that post, it seems like the whole country has taken that duty to heart. Congressmen and Senators are facing greater scrutiny from their constituents than in past years. Presidential appointments are being investigated by more than just the media (and in some cases, in spite of media). Citizen journalism is practically the watchword of the country, now. I like it; and I like the idea of elected officials knowing that they'll be held to their campaign promises.

There certainly will be plenty of campaign promises made in the next ten months. Every seat in the House and a third of the seats in the Senate will be up for grabs, as well as a number of gubernatorial and other local races. Fortunately, Virginia will only have House races on its plate this year; but some of those will be competitive, and there's still the subject of our incoming Governor and his agenda for the Commonwealth. That's a lot to handle.

The reason most people, including myself, don't normally involve themselves with politics, legislating, or governance is because whether you hold office or merely offer commentary, it's a full-time occupation. Most people aren't marathon-runners; they're sprinters. Well, it's time to do some training, because this country and every state, city, town and person in it is counting on everyone else. Either become a candidate, find one to support, or take the more popular route and work the issues; but do something.

Remember, if you forget about your country, then your country will forget about you.