Sunday, August 31, 2008

No Duh, Nobama-oids!

Did some demented GOP functionary inspire John McCain to pick a strongly pro-gun/anti-women's choice VP wanna-be? It is to laugh a pinko laugh.

So, he wants to average their ages to a lower, safer number? So, he wants to pretend that Sarah Palin's gender is the big thing, not her far-to-his-right politics? So, he figures that disgruntled Hillary supporters and mildly racist white voters will be too dumb to catch on.

Well, he has some fresh history on his side. As a group, we voters do like to delude ourselves. It was a lot of years ago (1928) when Al Smith was the Democratic Presidential candidate. He said, "The American people never carry an umbrella. They prepare to walk in the eternal sunshine."

We've had decades of such delusion, at least back to Ronald Reagan. In the past eight years ago, were have been forced to subsist on the bitter harvests of failed fantasies.

Can we see large numbers of those trepid about voting for Obama twisting McCain/Palin into anything humane and acceptable? I'm betting that the majority of us are not so stupid.

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Haters Gasping for Breath

The hardiest trout, out of its water, gasps, flops and dies. There is nothing balletic nor graceful about the struggle. Yet perhaps we might all identify with these throes. We are all terminal patients on this common ward.

As I return from my prolonged stay in New York State, I found much that was news, but not new, greeting me.

I was certainly not surprised that our latest in a series of gutless commonwealth attorneys general, Martha Coakley, shoveled along the petition to repeal the repeal of the 1913 law set limiting marriage here to only couples whose home states would not prohibit their unions.

Were this advanced by a professional marriage/family-limiting group like Mass Family Institute (MFI) or Focus on the Family, we could assume cynical self-interest. After all, they live to hang up effigies to rouse the passions and extract funds from the simple minded. Instead, here we find the lone proprietor of Mass Resistance flailing and flopping like that trout, hoping to once again inspire passions.

I can't even dislike such a functionary as Coakley. Like her previous AG, Tom Reilly, she is not a leader, nor a moral person, nor even a judge. Instead, she focuses on the narrowest of questions, such as does this petition request meet the bare minimum hurdle?

Assuming the one or two or three MR folk gather the 33,000-plus valid voter signatures (likely 40,000 or more to ensure enough valid ones), this measure would go to vote no early than 2010. Frankly, no one really cares and it is sure to lose. Yet in the name of special interest manipulated democracy, it may even advance to defeat. Will the trout then finally expire or keep flopping in panic on the public dock?

Like a single drop in the communal well, we all drink from the bucket of equality now

His old MFI buddies, led by Skeletor-looking Kris Mineau, has shunned, shunned this quixotic signature drive. MFI's site reveals much of the status of these groups that would redefine marriage in some archaic, fantasized form. All these anti-gay groups abusing the pro-family and pro-marriage terms when they mean the opposite are fellow fish gasping their last out-of-water breaths.

Over at Mineau's site, we read:
Massachusetts Family Institute is not participating in the referendum effort to reinstate the so-called 1913 Law because there is no winning on this issue. By the time the measure reaches the ballot in 2010, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of out-of-state same-sex couples already will have married in Massachusetts. More importantly, even if the referendum effort were successful at the ballot in 2010, this Governor and legislature--bent on exporting the same-sex marriage experiment--could easily pass another repeal in 2011.
The abrasive realities include such as Massachusetts is now the dwarf on the basketball team. California, with no restrictions on out-of-state couples marrying, is the real team. The prattle about us exporting hordes of wedding lesbians and gay men to spread their loving homosexual disease is laughable. First, Massachusetts-wedded couples have not scattered like marriage revolutionaries in four years. Second, there is no preventing those married here or in Canada or Spain or elsewhere to travel and settle, if they choose. Like a single drop in the communal well, we all drink from the bucket of equality now.

Those of compassion and reason are right to pity and feel for those who hate. Yet we can also feel glad that their desperate days are few.

There are many nasty tricks they can and will try here and elsewhere. They place a heavy onus on MassEquality, Equality for All and others to defend against each new effort to strip their fellow citizens of rights. With New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states preparing to offer pro-family and pro-marriage equality in the form of same-sex marriage, we have to fight these fights, fund the heroes, and hear the same tripe again and again.

After driving back Proposition 8 in California and adding more states to the equality list, we still face the long roster of those with DOMA-style laws and amendments. I could weep at the social retardation of our nation. There are better ways to spend our time, effort and money.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Where Are The Falls?

I don't think I'm projecting. The teen girls on the streets of Seneca Falls, New York, wear the town's history. Young women-to-be in ball uniforms strode comfortably and confidently down Fall Street.

They should. Outside of our Yankeeland havens of progressive self-righteousness, there's a world sewn with pockets of pivotal events and world-changing moments. New England, New York City and D.C. think we own women's rights as well as abolition and more.

This tiny burg (under 7,000 folk) in middle New York State was eight decades ahead of the rest of the socially conservative nation in many ways. Its 1848 convention was the flaring spark to the fire that became universal suffrage.

This trip was not so much a pilgrimage to the women's movement as it was of sacrifice. We were off to nearby Rochester to deliver son number two to the university there. We stayed at a cabin in the state park as our base, going to the Canadian falls, the U of R and Seneca Falls. We would finish the week diminished, a family with two sons shot from the bow and one in the quiver.

If you were to ask our newly 15-year-old his highlight of the week, it would surely not be the Women's Rights National Historical Park. We toured and gawked and listened to watched and even attended the lecture at the adjacent shell of the Methodist chapel where the convention occurred. He would speak of the Zuzu ice cream parlour and burning meat on the cabin's fire pit for dinner. Such are youthful caprice and hormones.

I suspect though that discussions as we visited of the hardships of 18th and 19th Century women will bubble up. Likewise, the foolishness of the delegates to the 1840 London convention of abolitionists will perculate. They raged early and long about whether women deserved to be seated in the convention. Lackaday, they voted that they could — in Quaker fashion, only at the rear and with no voice.

That gross insult direclty led Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and a few of their chums to organize the meeting in the boonies of New York eight years later. May we thank the mechanisms of natural politics for retribution against the asininity of the seated powers!

Were you to drive through Seneca Falls on the main street (also routes 20 and 5), you'd see a moderately shabby mill town of modest means. The Erie Canal passing through is picturesque for sure, but in many ways it wears its history like undergarments. The subtle HISTORIC DISTRICT signs mumble in contrast to the shouts of Boston's Freedom Trail.

While the real work of abolition happened in the east, the sturdy seedlings of women's rights sprouted and flourished in this tiny town.

We have an amazingly full puffery here in Boston in terms of history. We pretend that virtually all the Revolutionary War, abolition movement, Civil War and more occurred right on the Shawmut peninsula. In fact, after the rabble rousing, pamphleteering and pair of skirmishes up here, virtually all the American Revolution was elsewhere. Boston wasn't even the capital of the nation, unlike Philadelphia and New York. Likewise, while many Union troops were from Massachusetts and larger New England, the leaders, the battles and the turning points were well south. Moreover, many locals here were pro-slave trade and hostile to the abolitionist forces.

We should feel a kinship with Seneca Falls, where important ideas stewed and boiled over, affecting the larger culture. There's only honor and glory in being the nursery for the great plants.

Historic Footnote: The Seneca Falls locals love to chuckle at the, "Where's the falls?" query. There were a series of namesake cataracts over the industrial water control. In 1914 and 1915, the state and town reworked the stream to incorporate the canal system. The falls disappeared as a result.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Proportionate Debts to Legislators

What do you do with the old sheriff who is no longer suited for the job? In the old Western films, he died in a gun fight or the young deputy stepped up to kick the rampaging gang out of town.

The townspeople would murmur about owing him big for all the times he stepped up against the bad guys. Alternately, others would say he couldn't protect them anymore. Keep him on for past debts? Kick him out for the good of the town?

Consider our less dramatic but no less pathetic version of a state senator who cannot, will not obey the law and focus on the tasks at hand. Second Suffolk Sen. Dianne Wilkerson is now more distraction than defender.

I was amused this week to see that the Bay State Stonewall Democrats put up a sad little litany of her virtues on Bay Windows. That was a reactionary move in response to the previous week's op-ed Ryan Adams and I had calling for her to think of the district instead of her own comfort and stand down.

Let's look at a related extreme. We have entire overlapping generations — WWII (a.k.a the Greatest) and Korean War (a.k.a. originally Entitlement and now Silent) — that seem to think that no payment is big enough or lasts long enough to thank them for their collective actions. While the rest of us don't get those pensions, didn't get the GI Bill and housing subsidies and on and on, just try to have them share the economic pain! If their cost-of-living adjustments to their government payments are not as high as they want, there'll be hell to pay with the funds. Plus the AARP is all over you.

Honey, she'll take care of you.

Likewise, what do we owe to a stalwart state legislator?

On Wilkerson's site, she is quick to point out the earmarks and grants she brought in or even could associate herself with. Even the title for her site is Dianne Delivers '08. Honey, she'll take care of you.

Her website claims are a bit hard to follow. She doesn't start in the sense that she neither promises policy nor is specific about where she leads on legislation.

As a curiosity, I followed a several to see where they led. The short answer is that for a given neighborhood, she does, sort of do what she says. For example, for the Back Bay, she only offers two examples of her effectiveness. She says that she:
  1. ...was able to secure the inclusion of $3.7 million for the Community Boating Facility on the Esplanade.
  2. ...was able to secure $1.2 million for forest regeneration along the Emerald Necklace as outlined in both the Olmsted Park Woodlands Plan, and the Franklin Park Master Plan.
Taken literally, those are kind of true. She shoehorned in earmarks as amendments to much larger legislation, multi-hundred-million bills where her addenda seemed like incremental costs.

You can follow the trails starting for the docks here and the Emerald Necklace here. You'll see that both bills start as they should as much larger appropriations from the House. The Senate gets a shot at putting in their own local pork here and there. The bills change numbers in each chamber as well as in joint conference committees. They emerge with the originals plus the earmarks as amendments.

So, her website claims are literally accurate. On the other hand, if you were a constituent, say devoted to Community Boating, and had been complaining for a decade that your docks were falling into the Chuck River, you'd see it differently. You might want a civics-textbook example of a senator who takes up your noble cause, sponsors a bill, delivers one impassioned oration after another until her fellow legislators were persuaded. Ta da.

Wilkerson's M.O. seems, shall we conclude, less energetic. She is eager to claim credit for bills she voted for or came in as a mass co-sponsor when they were rolling. It is very hard to find any she originates or is lead sponsor for. She has been pretty good at finding places to insert earmarks, not coincidentally, for each of her neighborhoods and major constituencies.

She's a piggypacker

That, of course, is okay, normal, average for legislators. Not everyone is or can be a statesman, orator, leader or in the avant garde. As her website makes plain on every page, she delivers the bacon. Bringing it in the side door is still delivery.

Wilkerson has very fairly developed a reputation as stated in this week's guest column in BW as a consistent vote for good causes. She has not earned a reputation as a leader however.

I'm still waiting for her campaign to reschedule our Left Ahead! podcast. We'd love to give her a forum.

After a few hours following bills to which she has any relation, I suspect that she'd be ahead of the game if she had played it — that is, if she put in the research, analyzed the existing laws, and did the homework on drafting new or altered legislation. I don't see that in the past several legislative sessions. She simply is not a lead sponsor and has not written the laws for which she takes credit by virtue of voting. That is secondary or tertiary credit. She's a piggypacker. Others did the work and where she delivered it bacon, it was as an add-on tucked in the legislation of others.

If I had kept at it long enough, surely I would have come across bills with Wilkerson's name as lead sponsor. There must be one or two. I haven't found them. I want my senator's work to be obvious, significant and frequent.

None the less, the question on my table is what do you owe to the long-term stalwart, the sheriff analog?

Her seemingly unquestioning supporters and endorsers imply that we lefties and progressives are obligated to keep sending her to office as long as she can stay interested (and perhaps out of court and jail). I, very differently, think of the sheriff who no longer has the quick draw or the will to drive out the bad guys. For that class of faded hero, there have been 16 years of salary, much praise and consistent reappointment.

Indeed, that has been Wilkerson's more-than-adequate reward for good service to good causes. We elected her once and re-elected her seven times. That's a lot of reward, security and income. Those do not need to be permanent and perpetual to pay back her votes.

Let's set aside challenger Sonia Chang-Díaz' progressive platform. In fact, she stands alone in Second Suffolk as putting out a platform, while Wilkerson just says keep paying me back for all I've done for you. Instead, look at Wilkerson as the old sheriff who has failed many, many times.

Do we owe her a sinecure, a job without normal demands? Has her past service, with all its distractions and flaws been so noble that we keep her in office perpetually?

I think not.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sonia and Those Polls

Regular readers here know I'm likely too consumed with the Second Suffolk Senate race -- Dianne Wilkerson and challenger Sonia Chang-Díaz. On the recently released poll showing Chang-Díaz ahead, I mealy mouthed the findings, referring to a two-year-old report in the Phoenix, calling for Heavy on the Salt.

It was almost like my old reporter days. I ended up following up and getting connected by her campaign to Dem pollster and strategist Dan Cohen. He conducted the poll the first time Chang-Díaz ran and the latest one. He says he has nothing to apologize for in 2006. His consultancy is Connection Strategies.

That poll, he says, was message testing, not voting. "It didn't have Sonia winning, but it did show that she could close the gap" that she started with as an unknown. Because Wilkerson hadn't bothered to collect the 300 signatures to get on the ballot, both ran sticker campaigns. Chang-Díaz came within 6% points, about 700 votes, short. She did, in fact, close the gap, but still lost.

Even there, Cohen rues the short campaign time and resulting lack of people on the ground. He says that at many polling places, the Chang-Díaz camp did not have enough workers to be there to provide stickers for voters entering.

Since her loss, Chang-Díaz has not stopped campaigning, according to Cohen. She continued to raise money and speak publicly, as well as work to put a solid organization together. "In a lot of ways, this has been a two-year campaign for her," he says.

Leaving out the favorability and equally subjective question of whether Wilkerson deserves re-election, the how-I'll-vote question appears for the first time in this poll. The chart here shows this month's figures.

The Chang-Díaz folk claim a combined lead on voters who lean/are probable/definitely voters for the candidates. Those are Chang-Diaz 47.2%, Wilkerson 29.7% and undecided 23%.

That combines the undecided with a margin of error of 4.8%. Cohen is quick to say he wants Chang-Diaz to win but knows that four weeks before a party primary is a long time in politics. Many things could happen. "I can't say Sonia's definitely going to win, but I like the results," he adds.

In his polling of 417 likely Dem voters, he broke down the respondents many ways, including into four major neighborhood divisions (South End/Back Bay, Roxbury/Dorchester, Fenway/Mission Hill, and Jamaica Plain). He sees strong support for Sonia even where she does not have a solid lead in one place. He is sure there won't be runaway leads for Wilkerson in any one place as there were last time.

He also confirmed what many of us have long suspected, that the insider party buzz bears little relationship to what voters think and how they act. As Cohen puts it, "The Ward Committees are totally disconnected from the voters." He cited the South End, where Chang-Díaz led five-to-one, but the two committees endorsed Wilkerson.

"The insider chatter has almost no relationship to the voters," he adds.

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Lesbian Splitter Won't Take No, No, No and No!

Lord love a duck! This is so tedious. Now it's divorced (she claims ex-) lesbian Lisa Miller who keeps trying to ignore the moose head on the wall. It's there, honey. It's staying there.

A couple of years ago, she tried her damnedest to keep her Vermont civil-union partner Janet Jenkins from visiting Isabella, the daughter Miller had when they were together. In what was doubtless shopping for a favorable court environment, Miller moved to Virginia and tried to gain sole custody. Vermont courts ruled for Jenkins on visitation. Virginia courts were befuddled, but eventually decided that federal law prevents crossing state lines to avoid custody rulings, so Vermont's high court holds.

Well, backed by the notoriously anti-gay Liberty Counsel, Miller gave it another shot in Virginia and lost again. Yesterday, Miller's effort to re-litigate through the Frederick County Circuit Court met quick dismissal by Judge John R. Prosser. He remanded the case to the juvenile and domestic relations court for enforcement to allow Jenkins to visit.

Prosser noted that a series of lower state courts through Virginia's high court had already ruled for Jenkins and supported the Vermont ruling.

That's that? Not for the anti-gay and anti-marriage equality bunch. As the Winchester Star put it:

Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University's law school, said his client plans to appeal the case, arguing that Virginia courts shouldn't enforce Vermont's custody orders because of a state constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage and the enforcement of same-sex civil unions.

We're seeing the same head-butting fixations here, in California and elsewhere. California has that Proposition 8, after the legislature, courts and governor said marriage is the law of the land. Here, that Brian Camenker, disguised as an organization, MassResistance, has filed papers to start a petition drive to overturn repeal of marriage limiting laws here. Back when there was an organization of a vitriolic handful, and they had support from nationally connected anti-gay groups hoping to prevent and then reverse marriage equality in Massachusetts. MR tried.

It failed at everything. It couldn't stop or even delay the court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. It couldn't get a ballot initiative to reverse it. Name it, and put an F by MR's efforts.

Along the way, it's losses bled its money and body support, as happened with the Christian Civic League of Maine. They became dwindling parties, with hardly enough hate and bluster to warm the air in a closet.

Yet they don't stop or can't stop. Neither can Miller.

Perhaps one day she'll release a brief autobiography. She may reveal how much of this just another divorced person's control problem and whether politics were as potent as personalities here. It is dreadful that she meanwhile uses Isabella as a shield in the relentless battle.

I know Winchester well. That is one of the many sections of Virginia where social graces are very important. Let's hope that she notices how her neighbor's behave and stifles herself for the good of the child.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Counting Chang-Díaz Before They Hatch

Dems particularly have reason to be trepid about polls. We've been burned at all political levels. However, the latest results from the Second Suffolk Senate are in the time-for-a-change mold and may old.
Disclaimers: We at Left Ahead! are still waiting for the Sen. Dianne Wilkerson camp to reschedule our podcast they canceled the day before. Two of us have a guest column in Bay Windows calling for her to step down. At several of our blogs, we have said voters don't have to choose between good votes and honorable officials. Finally, the Chang-Díaz had the poll conducted.
The short of it is that among 417 likely voters in the Dem primary, Chang-Díaz is up 47.2% to 29.7% with 23.0% undecided. See detailed results here.

I need to run out and shall analyze it later, but the poll also shows comparisons in January and August on two key areas — favorability and whether Wilkerson deserves reelection. Following her plea bargain with the AG on campaign finance violations, her figures plunged.

That looks great for the reform candidate. There were similar figures two years ago, as reported by Adam Reilly in the Phoenix.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

No LeftyBlog Left Out

All right, all right. In response to a couple of folk who have asked, "What's up with LeftyBlogs, and your blog and all the Massachusetts blogs?"

There are some explanations for:
  • why some blog posts don't appear for hours or days on LB
  • why some blogs' posts appear quickly and others very late
  • why California's and some other states' posts pop up immediately
  • why all of Massachusetts' blog posts bring up the rear
One example chums asked about was a Friday post here (3:10 p.m. Pacific Time). That happened to be timely, shortly after the announcement by MassResistance's Brian Camenker that he'd filed to start a ballot initiative signature drive to repeal the repeal of the 1913 marriage law set. A couple of other blogs found out about it on Saturday and posted then, including regular read of mine MassResistance Watch. It showed on LB stamped 7:12 a.m. Pacific Sunday — 40 hours later.

It would have been nice if the fellow bloggers had been aware of mine earlier and been able to post or research their posts on Friday instead of seeing it in the Globe on Saturday morning. I doubt anyone rended their garments, but I hear the Net is about timeliness.

Other places that pick up my feeds had the post up a few minutes after I published. UUpdates was one.

The short of it is that LB does a great job (for free). I'd like timely links, but I appreciate what I get anyway. A citation on UniversalHub now gives me many more hits, but I am sure my target audience is more among LeftyBlogs' readers.

Another angle of that is we know they can be hit-or-miss there. A partial answer is to get the feeds from your favorites directly or check them manually. I keep a healthy blog roll here as much for my own convenience as yours.

Some cues that you may need to check your favorites include:
  1. No updates at the Massachusetts feed for hours or a day
  2. Large sets of posts coming together with the same time stamp
  3. A post from a favorite you read a day or more ago suddenly appearing on LB
Regardless, I went to the man at LB, Kari Chisholm, the president of Mandate Media, our LB benefactor. He answered much of the complex question, including:
The basic problem is that some feeds, especially blogger and feedburner, tend to take quite a bit longer to load. Not a huge amount, like 4-5 seconds, compared to a tenth or a half a second.

But we're reading ~2000 blogs. Right now, we're reading them every 20 minutes -- but that's only possible if we kick the slower blogs into a slower rotation than everybody else. (Keep in mind that there's only 3600 seconds in an hour; 1200 seconds in 20 minutes.)

Here's how it works. It reads your blog. If it takes longer than 8 seconds, then it goes into the "slowpokes" queue. Every time LeftyBlogs updates, it reads all the non-slowpoke blogs, and then 10% of the slowpokes blogs. (And if you're no longer slow, then it rewards you and moves you back to the faster queue.)

The folks who are chronically in the slowpokes queue typically update 2-3 times a day. Obviously, the gap between your post and our update is entirely based on when you post.

And then on top of all that... it's true that the internet is full of weird little outages all the time. Not a big deal for us humans (sometimes you gotta reload a web page to see it), but when that happens to LeftyBlogs, you drop into the slowpokes queue WITHOUT having been updated - which means that once in a while, it could be 12, 24, 36 hours before you're updated.

So... I'm working on it. We're trying to figure out more efficient ways to read the feeds, including perhaps reading them in parallel, so that the slow ones don't slow everybody else down.
None of that addresses why even Blogger/Blogspot posts from the west coast appear quickly and the Massachusetts ones tag along much later. We can jest that electrons have to travel all that much farther to Oregon where LB is. Instead, I suspect that we dump into different servers with different capabilities.

Regardless, LB is a fabulous free service, one I use daily. Until they tweak and test though, don't depend solely on it to serve Massachusetts feeds. If you are politically hungry, do your own hunting as well.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

The Few, The Bitter, The Anti-Gay

In preparing my little post on the incredible shrinkage of Maine's Christian Civic League, I had a brief email exchange with an rights organizer in that state. He concurred that the CCL is sapped by its failures to knock down the GLBT laws there. However, he concluded ominously, "They're gone for now, but I think we definitely cannot pronounce them dead."

I thought of his sage words when the ragtag group of losers, the pair (or maybe just a single now) that is MassResistance reached up from their own grave of failure today. Shades of a 60s horror movie, the moribund MR will try to collect about 32,000 signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to repeal the repeal of the 1913 law set limiting out-of-state couples marrying here.

MR head (and maybe sole prop.) Brian Camenker claims to have filed papers with the commonwealth's secretary of state for the initiative process this afternoon. Assuming that he gets it approved for gathering, he has until October to get the sigs.

This was a losing proposition from the beginning. I suspect his old buddies at Massachusetts Family Institute and Sean O'Malley's guys are unlikely to stick out their necks on this, the next certain loss.

He calls the repeal that expanded and reinforced our marriage process here "sleazy" and "underhanded." A more rational campaign director for MassEquality, Marc Solomon, sounded a lot like the Maine guy with, "I've learned that when it comes to equality for gay and lesbian people, the struggle is never over because there are certain people that are just strongly opposed to any rights for gay people. It's never shocking; it is disappointing."

This has gone from scary to sad, pathetic. The dwindling party that is MR reflects the effete Christian Civic League of Maine. Up there, they lost their last tiny battle trying to repeal gay-rights regulations and legislation, basically shrinking to nothing.

Bye bye, Brian.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Maine Beast Becoming Porch Dog?

Has over a century of bluenoses and blue laws quietly ended? I try not to get too amused by this, but very recent changes at the Maine Christian Civic League websites suggest the old dog can't hunt and will spend time on the porch, the Focus on the Family porch.

It's been since my birthday in June that I heard about the CCL. Its I'm-not-a-minister-but-I-play-one-on-the-Internet head Mike Heath (see godly image adapted from their old site) announced in the middle of the month that they failed in their petition drive to repeal gay-rights wording in various regulations and laws.

Now just recently, if you head to their old site,, you see the devolved one. It routes to Maine Family Policy Council. The CCL and CEL (Christian Education League) are subsumed under the new name, with stress underneath and a link to Focus on the family. This is a kind of Cub Scout pack of state dens of such minor organizations, you can see on the list here. These are another undisguised Focus on the Family front.

Moreover, the rerouted CCL homepage is just an ad for a fund-raising dinner, with no links to the newsletter, Heath's rants or any of the old stuff.

I read this as the CCL is effectively dead. Following defeats at the ballot and in lobbying, they likely can't raise enough cash to stay in biz solo. Maine's liking equality. I'm betting they have set aside their old group of nasties and the name they started with their 1905 incorporation just to stay alive in this diminished form.

Heath himself is morphing as well. With a bit of searching and occasional use of cached pages, you can see the very recent pages for the CCL, its Record newsletter, Heath's blog entries, and their old foolishness. Look for:
  • The old Heath entries here. His posts there run into the third week of July.
  • The now re-routes too, to Even here, he no longer uses a mailing, rather a Gmail account. He does not describe himself as the exec of the CCL, rather a parachurch leadership guy (he's the only Blogger account holder in that category). Note too that this is a free blog; he didn't shell out $100 a year for his own domain and site.
  • Heath's new blog has no link to anything CCL, not even his years of blog entires. It starts its archive from this month (two entries) and doesn't include his hits like the March promise to repeal gay-rights in Maine.
  • From any of the old CCL old pages, click on the Citizen Action Center to find nothing to protest. The legislature is not in session, but there always used to be something to be irate about and drive your calls.
  • Try the Christian Education League link to route to that fund-raiser new no-longer-the-CCL page.
  • The Archive link is inoperative from any page.
In theory, they could just be having monumental website problems. Instead, it looks like they have no money and are effectively out of business. Heath must be trying to set up another such deal with someone, anyone.

It is astonishing that such a publicity hound never touted or even explained these big changes. Perhaps he's waiting for a sign.

Meanwhile, this looks a lot like Kris Mineau and the Massachusetts Family Institute. Both organizations failed at all their big anti-GLBT efforts. Their states don't want to play those games anymore. I bet Focus on the Family won't be spending any real money in either state and will put it down where they have a chance to do their evil.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hard Primary Choices

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we have two presumptive Presidential nominees, but come Tuesday, September 16th, Massachusetts Dem voters have some brow-furrowing decisions. I think immediately of the Second Suffolk's Senate and 35th Middlesex House contests.

Lefties I know in other states tend to moan that they have little choice. If there is a favored candidate for state office, there are also many but and if-only qualifiers. I would love to hear of other states where voters face a similar delicious dilemma as in those two districts. There are two progressive candidates in each.

There's no Republican in the races, either, so the Dem primary winner is in. It might be nice to have a real two-party race here. Then again, as in the 35th Middlesex, there sort of is. Incumbent Rep. Paul Donato is a DINO, against choice, same-sex marriage, and stem-cell research among others.

See the Dem slate here and the GOP one here.

Over at Left Ahead!, we have spoken with the two 35th challengers, Pat McCabe and Jim Caralis. We had Second Suffolk challenger Sonia Chang-Díaz in April and ended up discussing incumbent Dianne Wilkerson in her absence yesterday when she postponed on Monday. We still hope to have her on before the primary and will accommodate her sked.
Link note: All four candidate links are to MP3 files of their podcasts. They should open your default player. Alternately, right click to save to disk and play at your leisure or go to Left Ahead! to use our player on these shows.
It is probably delusional to project these two districts for November, either in the commonwealth or nation. I'd love to see them as indicators of a shift away from states' and Congressional DINOs and conservatives. They might be, but we have no real evidence of that and can't until after the big election.

Locally though, we have the same and different. In each of these races, there are two progressives against each other. In one though, it's a challenger with the unenviable task of unseating an incumbent. She's stressing that voter don't need to choose between good votes and ethical behavior. The incumbent doesn't bother with promises or platforms, just saying, "Look at all I've done for you."

In the other, the incumbent is almost certain to fall and the choice is head to head with candidates with similar platforms. One (Jim Caralis) opposes casinos strongly, but otherwise, the voter has to listen and look closely to pick.

I acknowledge that some folk have told me I moralize too much on the Second Suffolk side. That may be true in that I do apply a moral filter here. My Left Ahead! chum Ryan though has asked from a civics viewpoint the same question, as in why hasn't Wilkerson been tossed from office after many offenses, fines, a little jail time, and now a plea deal.

Neither of us seems to represent the typical voter in her district though, and even some of her organizational supporters. She campaigns on, very sensibly, her record of bring home bacon in the form of neighborhood pleasing grants. Lobbyists and interest groups like MassEquality support her as a senator whose vote and voice they can count on for their big issues without question.

That can be the hold-your-nose toughie in this district. It may not even be a problem for some though. Those grants and consistent legislative support for GLBT, housing and other issues are plenty for some. Bringing in the grants for cultural centers or events is what matters to others.

Oddly, Chang-Díaz seems to be making less of an issue about moral and legal shortcomings this time than she did two years ago. It seems with the recent plea deal by Wilkerson that she'd ask those ethics questions often and loudly.

Come 9/16, Second Suffolk voters may be happy with more of the same or may look for at least as good without the distractions and mistakes. In contrast, those in the 35th are offered the near certainty of a real change for progressivism. It's a shame only one of the new guys and win.

If Obama doesn't win and the Dems don't pad their Congressional totals, I'll feel a lot less sanguine about the nation. Right now, it's looking fine both nationally and here.

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Pseudo-Capitalism Again

It's the wee and the weak condemned to be fair. The modern pseudo-capitalists are protected from such inconvenient realities. Their profits are likewise safe.

I don't have to be an expert on this, just another blowhard blogger. There's expertise aplenty.

Start with stockbroker and founder of Greenlight Capital David Einhorn. His April speech Private Profits and Socialized Risk has been in the media (like the NYT) raising and finely sketching the outrageous issues.

We see his points too clearly...and repeatedly. My high eyebrows a few years ago seeing taxpayers paying to dismantle and clean up nuclear plants on which private investors had scooped in high-interest, government secured bonds are nothing compared to now. Taxpayers (and two of three U.S. corporations pay any taxes) are looking at billions, maybe trillions, of bail-out bucks for companies who have made bad investments.

As Einhorn said, "If market participants accept as an article of faith that the (Federal Reserve) will bail them out, it reinforces risk-taking without the need for credit analysis. As night follows day, it is certain that in the absence of tremendous government regulation this (Bear Sterns) bailout will lead to a new and potentially bigger found of excessive risk-taking."

We simple-minded folk hearing the joys, perils and moral strengths of capitalism. Even we can see that this is not capitalism. The money folk in these cases are taking no risks, but receiving either guaranteed profits and/or profits no matter what wise or stupid decisions they make with others' money.

A few centuries ago, it was the aristocracy and monarchy who got such benefits at the expense of the larger society. Of course, they had their private armies and inherited position.

In much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, our unfettered capitalists in days before income taxes had other protections. Their oligopolies and cartels virtually owned the U.S. and often worldwide markets, from oil to bananas.

The myths then included that without the freedom to "create wealth," capitalists would not start companies, which in turn generate jobs and income for all. Ta da. Moreover, they should not be bothered with child-labor law, unions or other such artificial restraints. It is in their own interests to have happy, healthy, productive workers. We know how that worked out.

The Reagan era myths tweaked capitalism's PR. Allegedly savvy investors and managers created jobs and their profits would trickle down to ordinary mortals (those clearly not smart enough to be real capitalists). Of course, we saw both in Reaganomics and the current version that it pee-on instead of trickle-down capitalism. Those who do the work and take the daily risks have lost pensions, jobs, homes, and more.

If we instead put our faith in the conclusions of Arthur F. Bentley, we receive a cynical but supportable set of claims. A century ago in his The Process of Government, he dismissed ideals, progressivism and larger ideas. Instead, he wrote (again and again) that government and all politics are related to the narrow desires and activities of interest groups.

The New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann update on the book includes the definitive:
For Bentley, every political force that matters is an interest group, regardless of whether it cops to the charge. States and cities are “locality groups,” the legal system is a collection of “law groups,” income categories are “wealth groups,” devoted followers of a popular politician are “personality groups”; interest groups lie at the heart of monarchies and dictatorships as well as of democracies. “When the groups are adequately stated, everything is stated,” Bentley declares. “When I say everything I mean everything.”
Bentley's implication in the financial cases is too plain. The interest group taking the risk out of capitalism have done their lobbying, bribing, cajoling and regulatory work better than anyone who would protect the vast majority of us.

Vaguely Related Flashback: As I recall the WABC radio ad from my high-school evenings, Dennison Clothiers on Route 22 in Union New Jersey used money talks nobody walks as their earworm slogan. They sure got the first part of that right, even if you had no interest in a sharkskin suit at any price. The point remained; Dennison's was a capitalist establishment. Make an offer.
Now those of us who grew up after WWII heard the glories of capitalism and free markets. It's not hard to extrapolate what Adam Smith would think of the current bluster about capitalism from U.S. politicians and policy makers.

We simple-minded boomers heard the liturgy of capitalism along the lines of Smith's invisible hand. The market took care of prices, rewarding those who projected and acted wisely and perceptively, while punishing those who did not. There is a decided gambling aspect to that. You snooze, you lose. If you choose, you may lose anyway. Risk is integral to capitalism. Those who want the rewards, put what they have of value on the line for the chance (just a chance) of profit.

So, now the version we have is that our Presidents and most in Congress, including Democrats, are socialists as far as the nominal capitalists are concerned. Words, words, words...say these blowhards are all for the free market. There'll be winners and losers. It's the American way.

Yet, as early as the 1979 Jimmy Carter loan-guarantee bailout of Chrysler we have seen situation ethics dominate and replace market forces. Oops, I meant capitalism and the free market are good, unless high companies might fail and increase unemployment (or even friends running the companies may lose their high-paying positions).

How is it now that the many illogically and undeservedly wealthy financial executives continue in their failed positions? How is it now that the financial houses that gambled on unsecured and unsecurable loans — that word gambled again — get government financed bailouts? How it it come to what Einhorn so perfectly describes as socialized risk?

It would take stainless steel guts for a candidate for President to proclaim a real belief in the free market, to say let the failures fail. Also as Einhorn notes, until that becomes the attitude among those who control our national funds, the protected gamblers in the financial world have no incentive to behave responsibly. If they don't bear the consequences of their impulsive ineptitude, why shouldn't they keep on keeping on?

As painful as it may be in the short term, letting the incompetents fail is necessary now. We have seen the hundreds of billions of dollars as gifts to them when we don't. This is not the time, and really there should never be a time, for socialism for only the wealthy.

The complicity of the Democrats is bad enough, but spare me the Republican Presidential campaign's talk of free markets. They don't believe in them.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Baby Hitting and Stalled-Car Smashing

Where were the Boston police department and union officials during responsibility lessons? It looks like they didn't take, much less pass, them.

In what could well be a short-term incident of physical pain for a baby and anguish for the mom, another city cop seems to have put on an artificial halo. The undisputed aspect is that a cop drove a patrol car around the corner, hitting a stroller while not yielding to mom and kid in a marked crosswalk.

I know Seaverns and Centre in JP. There is no traffic light. By our laws Chapter 89, Section 11, the mom and baby had the right of way. There is no excuse for any driver not to stop as the law requires. Civilian or cop, not coming to a complete stop for the pedestrians violates state law. That's a presumption of guilt and needs to bring a fine and points on the license. It was not would-have-nice-to-do; it's state law.

In the case of an officer, that should also trigger a training session and notation in the personnel file, more if there are other violations.

Why even mention what may be a minor offense? Well:
With all the potential for maiming and death inherent in 2,000 to 4,000 motor vehicles, it's astonishing there aren't more. It only takes a second or two of inattention to break the law and endanger people.

We should expect the police:
  1. To obey all traffic laws unless they are responding with lights and sirens to an emergency call.
  2. To take responsibility for their errors as they demand praise for each risk they endure.
As a disclaimer, I grew up around cops. Many relatives were troopers or city cops. My mother ran Red Cross chapters. She, my sister and I went on fires, disasters and training with them, as well as taught them first aid and water safety.

I also know from observation as well as those cops from my childhood that many of them, as well as many firefighters, sort of obey traffic laws. Many pass red lights after slowing or stopping. They know they won't get a ticket if they get caught.

Either in this era or this place, the situation seems worse. I can't stop thinking of Michelle Vibert, killed by an off-duty officer two years ago. The cop had been at a downtown bar for many hours and drove into her stalled car on Route 93 in the predawn. The state police and Suffolk DA report read that they didn't even test him for alcohol, as he said yeah, he'd been in the bar until closing but didn't drink. He got no charges in the death. Just try to imagine a civilian getting that latitude after killing someone.

Now we have the LITE version. Assuming the baby is bruised only and the mom can get over thinking her toddler was being killed as the stroller was ripped from her palms, who takes responsibility?

We'd like to think that our police have the incentive to drive safely. If they think they have to perform the most egregious of crimes, like massive drug trafficking, to be punished, they have none. Why should they bother if they don't even get a tick in their folder and maybe have to sit through some training?

It could be that this cop who hit the baby has a sense of responsibility and some honor. He or she could step up and say something like, "I'm so sorry. I looked away for an instant. I just didn't see them."

Our police commissioner, Edward Davis, should want that kind of responsible officer. If the department was full of those, there never would have been a call for a review board.

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SSM Wording Win on Prop. 8

It's neutral vs. neutered in California. Wingers there (and their financial backers around) are understandably unhappy with Thursday's ruling (opens an 8-page PDF) by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley.

The localized proponents of Proposition 8 on November's ballot wanted happy-face wording on the ballot description, something about not changing any laws. Instead, AG Jerry Brown had inserted accurately, if coldly, in the description that it would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Stripping existing rights from citizens seems most easily accompanied in the dark. This is a lot of light on a harsh subject.

The SF Chronicle's report is here and Arthur Leonard's look at the ruling is here.

The ProtectMarriage.Com lawyer, Andrew P. Pugno (also does work for Liberty Counsel), says he'll appeal. However, Judge Frawley wrote that the ballot measure is what it is — "The court is not willing to fashion a rule that would require the Attorney General to engage in useless nominalization."

Moreover, as Prof. Leonard writes, "The court pointed out first that under established California precedents, what the Attorney General adopts for this purpose is presumptively valid, and there is a high burden on the challengers to show that it is inaccurate and misleading."

While I can certainly see why Pugno's crowd would not want citizens to vote on stripping rights, that is precisely what the vote is about. No amount of cologne will remove the stink from this one. If voters do this, they need to come in with eyes (and nostrils) open.

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The Eyes of Coakley

You gotta love the local weeklies. This time, The South End News found the details on the Sen. Dianne Wilkerson controls.

The previous week, she accepted a plea deal on campaign-finance irregularities over 2006 and 2007. The local dailies reported her fines and that she and her campaign will have more stringent money controls that others do.

The weekly's managing editor, Linda Rodriguez, reported on the particulars. These include:
  • She can't write checks from her committee's funds payable to herself
  • The committee will file monthly reports of receipts, reimbursements and expenses
  • She and the committee each must pay vendors with campaign credit or debit cards
  • Those card's monthly statement(s) must also go to the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance
  • The campaign must submit a record-keeping policy to and have it approved by the OCPF
  • The OCPF can immediately refer any violations to Attorney General Martha Coakley
  • Any new violations come with $2,000 fines each
At the time of the plea deal, Wilkerson's official statement was:
The stipulation of dismissal and agreement filed by the AG today affirms my assertions,. I consider the matter now closed. My committee has worked to install several new practices and policies to ensure that these types of accounting errors will not be repeated.
The new rules appear to provide the necessary structure.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Wilkerson: Second Boot Drops

Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Wilkerson chats with us at Left Ahead! She's in a seminal Democratic primary race for the Second Suffolk seat she's held for nearly 16 years.

She goes nose to nose with challenger Sonia Chang-Díaz. Two years ago they ended up in a sticker campaign for the seat, with Sonia running a surprisingly close 6% behind, after starting as an unknown.

Wilkerson has an impressive slate of endorsers from the Patrick Administration and Boston's government. However, folks are wondering whether her legal troubles will hit her hard. Moreover, last time, she had the benefit of Deval Patrick ramping up the black vote, her biggest supporters election-to-election.

We're watching closely. Here are two progressives. One has the stains of legal problems and a recent plea bargain with the Attorney General, but she has a history of bringing in money throughout the district. The other is a reformer, but doesn't have the history.

I can hardly wait for Tuesday.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Bit Player in Dianne and Sonia Show

It's surely better than waking up with a cartoon-character tattoo on your cheek that wasn't there before. But how do these political topics carry us (me) away?

I see that Ryan has joined me at his blog and BMG in the what-is-to-be-done discussion of State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson. Two years ago, during Sonia Chang-Díaz' scant loss on her first run at the Second Suffolk seat, I endorsed the challenger.

This run, our Left Ahead! podcast with
Chang-Díaz confirmed my sense she'd be a fine replacement, one without the baggage and flaws. I have expressed moderate concern that she'd have some ramp time renewing her relationships on Beacon Hill, but that will be measured a month or maybe just weeks. She knows those people and the Hill's processes.

I didn't really mean to, but during Wilkerson's recent plea deal on campaign finances, I was looking at the candidates again, here and here. We've had no response through her campaign site for a podcast request. We'd certainly let her have her say. Otherwise, I'd like to see this primary conclude.

Now I've run a couple of posts comparing the pair. Their positions are very similarly progressive. Voters will have to choose their primary candidate on those personal differentiators — trust, ethics, morality and other judgments.

Wilkerson seems insistent on testing the loyalty of her supporters, particularly Boston's black community as well as some GLBT leaders and publications. Over years, she's left them and the rest of us wondering whether she'd get indicted on various criminal or financial charges. The kindest have said they hope trying to straighten out her life and bank accounts is not so distracting that she couldn't do her important legislative work.

So, we're basically a month from that decision. It's real plain to me what it should be. On the other hand, I've heard and read from many who use loyalty metaphors. Wilkerson has been on the correct side of many votes for many years...we owe her. She supported GLBT issues when that was unpopular...we owe her. She's no legislative leader, but you can count on her vote and voice...we owe her.

We have paid her with election and reelection for many years. That's what we owed her. We have given her huge amounts of slack in one crisis of her own making after another. I'm not so sure how much of that we owed her. We have said, "Okay. This time, she's learned to behave," how many times?

I am a sincere man from the land of the linden trees. As befitting my country background and city experience, some thing are just that simple for me. For example, even before Deval Patrick became our governor, I called for repeal of those 1913 laws limiting marriage here by out-of-state couples, as well as cleaning up the marriage wording in Chapter 207. Those were obvious, as the cliché runs, low-hanging fruit that should have been picked in his first couple months in office. That took the better part of two years.

Likewise, the obvious to me here is that Wilkerson has had more than her share of rewards and opportunity for self-policing. She has shown repeatedly that she can't learn. It's time for the handshake, hug and thank you.

I'd like to write that someone should stop me, that I'm tired of this, but the primary will end up doing that.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

What's to Learn at Chang-Diaz and Wilkerson Sites

Folk tend to think they really, really know about Dianne Wilkerson. As Second Suffolk Senator since 1993, she has a record. Yet, clicking through her campaign site and challenger Sonia Chang-Díaz' furrows the brow.

For Chang-Díaz, it's logical. She has never been a legislator. For Wilkerson though, the quick impression is that she has done tons. Even a brief look into her electrons says otherwise.

If they begin to get serious about debates, folk might not have to dig around for good information about them, particularly Wilkerson. However, it's likely smart for Wilkerson to minimize the debates and not be too specific about her record, legislative and otherwise.

The challenger ought to be all over her though. Having met and done a podcast with Sonia (please call me Sonia), I doubt she'll get nasty though. She is super nice and very well mannered.

Many in the same spot would be quick to point to the admitted and implied crimes of the incumbent. Chang-Díaz plays that low, perhaps for fear of backlash. She speaks of the important of ethics and even not being distracted from senatorial duties.

Unlike two years ago when she first ran against Wilkerson, Chang-Díaz has the benefit of fresh news and a plea bargain. Those give her a campaign advantage, although she may squander them if she is too nice.

So, Sonia lays out her professional and personal background. For the professional (including such political spots as legislative aide to the Sen. Cheryl Jacques, herself popular in the GLBT community), she must suggest she can step right into the Beacon Hill culture.

Likewise, she must lay out comprehensive and specific policies and proposals. Voters need such promises to reject an incumbent.

In person and on her website and Senate page, Wilkerson is obscure. She seems to have no professional life from law school until the Senate. Likewise, her legislative history is long on pet projects and grants, while short on leadership, sponsorship, coalition building and such lawmaker skills you'd expect from a long-term incumbent.

Wilkerson avoids too much public discussion of her troubles or promises if reelected. That's likely a very smart way to approach this contest for her. So if you looked over the two candidates' sites, what might you learn?




Open, lots of white space, red/white/blue. Pic of her and one of statehouse. Very usable menu choices up top.


A bit jumbled with too much info at once and too small fonts. Find poll place and register to vote buttons smart touches. Menus fairly hidden. Nearly six minute video in sidebar of her speaking on repeal of 1913 law set repeal.

Personal and detailed bio. She was a public school teacher. She was raised by her mother. Her father was an astronaut. She’s been an aide to a state senator and director of a fiscal-policy think tank.


Her bio is minimal. She’s an attorney and belongs to a list of organizations. There’s no career information except her senatorship from 1993.

Nine themes, all progressive, but most lacking specifics for implementation.


She has a “Key Policies” choice listing four legislative appointments.

25 articles on three pages from a wide variety of sources (including Left Ahead), mostly detailing her positions and campaign.

News Clips

Ten wire or newspaper articles that mention her, all related to same-sex marriage.

Five releases, three bureaucratic (kickoff and staff), one in Spanish of her marching in the Puerto Rican day parade, and one about Wilkerson’s plea bargain.

Press Releases

Two releases, one bureaucratic (kickoff) and one on testifying for repeal of 1913 set of marriage laws.

One video and six slide shows, plus 18-slides in the home sidebar.


Just the few embedded on home and in left sidebar.

List of eight types of volunteer roles, with complete ID and contact for volunteer.

Get Involved

Obscure top choice with same form as contact — name, address, email, phone neighborhood and comment box. It suggests calling local office and links to the neighborhood numbers.

Mail and HQ addresses and phones. Email address and form with three concerns/comments boxes.


Fill in form with name, address, email, neighborhood and comment/question box. Separate media query form.

English/Spanish, but limited utility. Does not work with news, PR, get involved, contact or donate choices

Language Toggle

Kind of hidden toggle at very top, black on blue. Limited utility. All accomplishment bilingual.

Large button on every page, leading off-site to ActBlue, with $20 to $500 and other


Small button on every page, leading to off-site PayPal and credit options, with $5 to $500, but payment form blank

Does not apply


Strength of her site is in the list of earmarks per neighborhood. About half have these, but many do have pet projects she claims to have delivered. Most are “working on.”

Does not apply

State and Regional Initiatives

Similar list of bills passed or in the works. On nearly all of these, she voted for or was a team player on, but did not propose or lead.

This is a weak point so far. She could use some meaningful endorsements.


She has a long list. Odd is that the only senate member is the president. She has a good set of unions, most of Boston city council, but only seven state reps.

In many ways, the websites are superb indicators of what you'd get with the candidates. We can muse on how geeky the constituents are (probably not very) and how influential the web presence of each will be (essential, but likely less than papers and more important street talk).

Those looking for more than Wilkerson is offering will see that she clearly understands bringing home bacon for the locals. Those wanting leadership will be very disappointed. Like many in both houses, she is eager to claim connections with any popular legislation, even though she leads on virtually none of them. That may or may not be enough this time around.

While Wilkerson's site doesn't go into many of the bills she has introduced, there's a linked list ao These are very localized in the main, but show she's not asleep.

Chang-Díaz may have the benefit of Wilkerson's increasingly stained reputation, but she also does not have the track record, particularly of bringing the grants. Interest groups from unions through GLBT organizations seem very wary of calling for reform. Again, it's the devil they know, whose votes they trust.

Surely more important than keyboards this time will be doorbells though. Chang-Díaz, her enthusiastic mom and other volunteers are ringing the bells and calling the phones throughout the large and geographically dispersed district. The last time, Wilkerson was arrogant and squeaked by with the help of inertia. This time, it may come down to how impressed people are face to face with the challenger and how sick they are of the scandals of the incumbent.

Part One on Wilkerson's distractions is here.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Dianne - Dance with the One You Brung?

Electoral inertia, otherwise known as the power of incumbency, is massive. I've been watching the local Second Suffolk Senate race with this ever in mind.

In an unimportant/important district race, 15-year incumbent Sen. Dianne Wilkerson's re-election race says much about the low level of Massachusetts politics in general and the conundrum progressives frequently noodle in particular. Basically, she seems personally (and particularly financially) amoral. Yet, she votes correctly.

What's a pinko to do?

The many squeaks from the self-interested are loud together. Wilkerson's long-delayed campaign site lists endorsements from:

U.S. Senator John Kerry
Governor Deval Patrick
Senate President Therese Murray
Mayor Thomas M. Menino
The Honorable Maura Hennigan (Suffolk Country Clerk Magistrate)
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi
Boston City Councilors
Charles Yancey
John Tobin
Chuck Turner
Mike Ross
John Connolly
Steve Murphy
Sam Yoon
State Representatives
Willie May Allen
Gloria Fox
Marty Walz
Byron Rushing
Marty Walsh
Elizabeth Malia
Linda Dorcena Forry
Mass Alliance
1199 SEIU Mass (local 509)
Boston Teachers Union
NARAL - ProChoice Massachusetts
Planned Parenthood
National Association of Social Workers
Ward 5
Important too is that my buddies over at Bay Windows have endorsed and actively support her. They are quick to run any news on her online. That is any news except her admission last week that she copped a plea and admitted guilt for a series of campaign-finance violations.

Lackaday, that's not her only financial and legal blemish. Consider among the worst:
  • Just this week, she copped a deal and plea to avoid criminal charges and maybe even expulsion for the latest financial baggage. She paid over $10,000 in fines and had to forgo over $30,000 in reimbursement for shady uses of campaign funds.
  • Two years ago, she didn't bother to collect the trivial 300 nomination signatures, had to run a sticker campaign and almost got beaten by newbie Sonia Chang-Diaz. Sloppy, lazy and arrogant only begin to cover that one.
  • Two years ago, she stiffed her condo association for over $13,000 and didn't pay monthly fees for many months. Her unit faced foreclosure.
  • In 1997, she pleaded guilty to not filing or paying taxes from 1991 through 1994. Besides paying up, she was under house arrest 30 days per a federal judge. She admitted not reporting $27,000 in donations and could not account for $18,00 in reimbursements directly to her. She was sentenced to house arrest. For twice breaking curfew, she ended up at a halfway house for 30 days.
  • Sub rosa, there's a question about whether she perjured herself in her nephew's manslaughter trial.
To a cold eye, the obvious question is why would voters return such an ethically challenged pol to office? Moreover, those left-leaning organizations and media must have some obligation and devotion to political standards, no?

Over at the Phoenix, David Bernstein seems to have written Wilkerson's political obit. He followed Chang-Diaz around, heard the time-for-a-change chant and figures she's in.

Disclaimer: I endorsed Chang-Diaz last time and surely shall again. I'm a sincere man from the land of the maple trees. I don't believe it's ethics or pork.

What makes it hard is that Wilkerson has delivered two ways consistently. First, she brings home the bacon — grants of tens or hundreds of thousands for special interests, neighborhoods, and specific groups in a very wide range of her diverse district. Traditionally, that is the number one measurement of state legislators.

Second, she is a true pinko by her voting record. Bless her heart, as we southerners say. She is a stalwart voter for GLBT issues. She is on the proper side of housing and jobs for the poor. She may not introduce or lead on important bills, but when the votes come down, she's there with a tally and maybe a speech. Most recently, as one example, she never drove the repeal of the dreadful set of 1913 marriage laws, despite her pretense to the contrary, but she spoke for repeal. The real orator as usual was Rep. Byron Rushing, but we all knew of Wilkerson's sentiments. She had his back.

Then as a long-term GLBT supporter, she was front and just off center at each announcement and the governor's signing ceremony. She's smart enough at least to take credit for things she's tangentially related to in the legislature.

Among the things she's lacking is legislative innovation and leading by forming coalitions to drive big bills and concepts. She is never avant garde and is a few steps behind the risky positions. Not everyone can or should try to blaze trails and she doesn't. Again though, once a progressive ball is in play, she's a good supporting team member.

Chang-Diaz has to prove the forward impossible. That is, that she can bring home goodies from the pork barrel and that she can sway other senators and perhaps representatives or administration officials on issues her constituents want. Wilkerson stresses what she has delivered, or more, what she intends to do (good intentions and all that).

Wilkerson's site and indeed her entire campaign rely on a list of the tiny, little and big buckets of money she delivered for specific constituent groups. Those are extraordinarily shallow but amazingly broad. She can go to a specific group and say she delivered. For one of many examples, she can tell the Caribbean citizens and immigrants that she was again key in ensuring a $50,000 grant for the annual festival...again.

Perhaps she should lift some more from her old campaign site, which is still up for the moment. In addition to earmarks (bacon) she was working on last term, she includes her one big co-sponsorship. She led on a major anti-gang program that got funding. Everything else is a team-player mention or something, to use her most popular phrase, she is working on.

Many of these pieces of bacon are in the works. That doesn't stop her from claiming association. She's "working on" a $350,000 grant from UMASS's Trotter Institute for the black community or $100,000 for the Kwong Kow Chinese School. Many others cite her as the driver or at least a supporter for money for specific projects.

Broader and more visibly, she is out there on leftist positions, at least orally. She has a well-earned reputation for voting for and advancing goals of the poor, the GLBT groups, and people of color. Her votes are right on, issue after issue, term after term.

There's the conundrum. Do you turn her out because she can't be bothered to pay taxes as the rest of us must? Do you figure she's so distracted by her self-made legal messes that she can't do her elected job? Do you pick her challenger because both are extraordinarily similar on issues big and small — you can get the right votes and help from someone honest, responsible and ethical?

Otherwise, consider what you imperil:
  • Wilkerson or her people know what pet projects the wildly and widely diverse district wants. How quickly can Chang-Diaz come up to speed and can she start with the template of the current grants and simply build on them?
  • Would rejecting Wilkerson mean collegial losses? Here, Wilkerson is pretty weak. She doesn't have a history of bringing co-sponsors and fellow travelers in on her interests. She's more a follower, albeit it a leftist one. Chang-Diaz seems more personable and may have an edge here in consensus building.
  • What seniority would you lose? Wilkerson only chairs one committee, the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight — fundamentally contract bidding and lobbyists. She co-chairs the Joint Committee on Financial Services (banks and insurance companies, not the irony-potential taxes area). She sits on Ways and Means (the big money committee), but is largely relegated to lower-level committees. There's not much at risk here and a new senator might do much better on seniority and importance of committees. She has not in eight terms.
The short of it is that Wilkerson is a known quantity. She has big pluses in positions and pork. She has huge minuses in her distracting ethical and fincial failings again and again and again. In a Newtonian, whole-picture view, she's voted progressively but hasn't introduced or driven key legislation. She follows and votes for the proper (to me) issues.

Podcast disclaimer: We at Left Ahead! have requested a podcast interview from Wilkerson several times, as recently as a week ago. She has not responded. We've offered to visit a site of her choice or have her call in as our guests usually do. Also, two years ago, I endorsed Chang-Diaz over Wilkerson on this blog. This time, we have produced a podcast with Chang-Diaz.

For the most immediate and latest scandal, including admitting financing guilt, Wilkerson told everyone, "I consider the matter now closed." That pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain attitude is, of course, outrageous. This election would well hinge on that Frank Baum comment from the Wizard of Oz:
Dorothy: Oh, you're a very bad man!
The Wizard: Oh, no, my dear, I... I'm a very good man - I'm just a very bad Wizard.
In her personal dealings, Wilkerson has often been outrageous. Yet that hasn't yet hurt her re-electability or general popularity among her least until this admission of guilt. While bluenose sorts repeatedly point out how she violates both laws and common morality, that stone of inertia barely budges. She wasn't paying taxes while we were. She was bouncing checks while we weren't. She claimed thousands of expenses here and there with no receipts or other justifications while the rest of us played by the rules.

This election is the real one for ethics. If voters know of her shortcomings and admitted guilt, and then send her back to the Senate, the cliché of politics being local will hold. If two tines of her legislative fork — bringing in cash for her neighborhoods and voting the way most constituents like — are straight, the corroded and twisted ethical tine won't be relevant.

Next up: Comparing the candidates' websites — content, usability, and more.

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