Category Archives: U.S. politics

ALEC not just any special-interest group

alec-logo-smThe American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed special-interest group, is not the bogeyman that some people make it out to be. But it also isn’t merely one of “hundreds of groups that do model legislation and hold meetings,” as Gov. Sam Brownback said this week in trying to downplay ALEC’s influence. As the Lawrence Journal-World noted, both Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, have held high-ranking positions with ALEC, and about 50 GOP Kansas legislators are members of the group. Brownback wrote the foreword for ALEC’s annual report in 2011, and he and the Legislature have approved several of ALEC’s model bills – some virtually word for word.

A peek behind curtain of free-market think tanks

cashA document obtained by the Guardian newspaper offers a preview of the plans of some free-market think tanks in 2014. The July 29 document from the State Policy Network summarized 40 funding proposals from groups in 34 states. The proposals, which ranged in cost from $25,000 to $65,000, include efforts to reform public-employee pensions and benefits, repeal state wage laws, and eliminate state income and estate taxes. The Kansas Policy Institute requested $46,800 “to conduct a campaign calling for deregulation as an alternative to economic development incentives.”

Koch network biggest source of ‘dark money’

cash“It’s clear that no other conservative or liberal dark money network matched, in combined size and complexity, the constellation of Koch-linked groups that churned hundreds of millions of dollars into elections around the country last year,” OpenSecrets.org reported. “Dark money” refers to funds given to groups to influence elections in which the donors aren’t disclosed. In 2012, $301 million poured into this system. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that $86 million of the total – or about 28 percent – came from grants from Koch-linked groups (though that doesn’t mean all the money came from the Koch brothers). Often, dark money is funneled from group to group in an attempt to further mask its origins.

Tiahrt: Political consultants ‘warp’ elections

tiahrtnewmugDuring the 2010 GOP primary battle for U.S. Senate, which pit two conservative Kansas congressmen with similar voting records against each other, it seemed a safe bet that political consultants were as responsible for the mudslinging as the candidates themselves. The loser in that contest, former 4th Congressional District Rep. Todd Tiahrt, now says that consultants “warp” elections. “Their advice is based on polling data … and fear. The results drag elections to the lowest common denominator and yield timid elected officials afraid of helping their constituents,” Tiahrt told the Kansas City Star, in an article on the more than 3,000 consulting firms across the country that make up the billion-dollar “political industrial complex.”

ALEC trying to expand support, influence

alec-logo-smThe Guardian newspaper got hold of internal documents showing that the American Legislative Exchange Council is trying to regain some of the support it lost after it was linked to state gun and voter-ID laws. ALEC is a corporate-backed group that is most known for drafting “model legislation” that lawmakers can introduce, often word for word, in state legislatures. “The network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding,” the Guardian reported. “In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.”

Polls reflect Washington’s ineptitude

thumbsdownWoven together, new polls showing President Obama with a 39 percent approval and Congress with a 9 percent rating tell the story of Washington’s ongoing ineptitude, wrote columnist Joshua Green. “Americans are fast losing faith in the president, his party and his signature policy achievement,” Green wrote. “But while they’re open to the idea of handing power to the opposition, Republicans are busy demonstrating that they have no idea how to govern.”

Cuccinelli’s loss a reason to push harder?

Even as some pointed to Ken Cuccinelli’s loss of the Virginia gubernatorial race as a signal that tea partiers should moderate their extremism, Leawood radiologist Milton Wolf (in photo) lashed out at “surrender Republicans” in a USA Today commentary and called for conservatives to push harder. “This fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party is not just about winning elections,” Wolf wrote. “It is about saving America.” Wolf, a cousin of President Obama, is challenging Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., in the GOP primary next year.

Election offers clear message for GOP

Gov. Chris Christie’s (in photo) big re-election win Tuesday in New Jersey, contrasted with tea party favorite Ken Cuccinelli’s loss in the Virginia governor’s race, “could hardly provide a starker contrast for the GOP and a clearer message about how it wins in the future,” wrote Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake of the Washington Post. “Exit polls showed Christie winning among women and running even with his Democratic opponent among Latinos. If Republicans could emulate that in other states, they would win just about all of them.” On the other hand, Christie campaigned as an un-Republican. “He spent very little time talking about his Republican credentials and much more time talking about his own accomplishments in the state,” the reporters noted.

Fiercest Obama opponents come from poor districts

The 45 House Republicans who have most consistently pushed their caucus to brinkmanship represent districts (mostly in the Deep South) that are significantly worse off economically than the nation at large, the Washington Post reported. “The median income in those districts last year was 7 percent lower than the national median, according to the Census Bureau,” the Post said. “The unemployment rate averaged 10 percent. That was almost 2 percentage points higher than the national rate, and 2 percentage points higher than the overall rate in the states that contain each district.”

AFP coming to a local election near you?

Americans for Prosperity, the free-market group founded by Charles and David Koch, has been focusing more of its attention and money lately on state elections. Now it is inserting itself into local elections. AFP has been aggressively campaigning in Tuesday’s mayoral and city council elections in Coralville, Iowa, a town with fewer than 20,000 residents, the New York Times reported. Why AFP cares in unclear. AFP is criticizing the city’s debt and economic development strategy. A Democratic state representative from Coralville thinks that AFP officials are “doing whatever groundwork they can for the 2014 elections.”

Norquist kicks defund caucus while it’s down

Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform didn’t temper his criticism of the fellow Republicans who gained nothing in their quest to defund Obamacare by shutting down the government and risking default. “It’d be a good idea if they stopped referring to other Republicans as Hitler appeasers because they opposed the strategy they put forward which failed,” Norquist told reporters, clearly referring to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Norquist added: “I think if you make a mistake as big as what they did, you owe your fellow senators and congressmen a big apology – and your constituents, as well, because nothing they did advanced the cause of repealing or dismantling Obamacare.” He even likened the would-be defunders’ strategy to that of the Iraq invasion. “These are the people who said, ‘Plan: Step One. Invade Iraq. Step Two. It turns into Kansas.’ Could I ask if there’s anything in between Step One and Step Two? ‘Oh, ye of little faith.’”

Conservatives forming firing squad

Not only did congressional Republicans get hammered in public opinion polls over the government shutdown, but many of their traditional allies turned on them, too. A Wall Street Journal editorial this week complained: “This is the quality of thinking – or lack thereof – that has afflicted many GOP conservatives from the beginning of this budget showdown. They picked a goal they couldn’t achieve in trying to defund Obamacare from one house of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn’t sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit.” Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post said that the only good thing about the shutdown was that it helped people identify which conservatives were reality-based and which ones were “unwilling or unable to combine conservative ideology with real-world political strategy.”

Government shutdown had winners, losers

The government shutdown and threat of default made just about everybody in Washington, D.C., look bad, as evidenced by the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showing that 60 percent of Americans would like to fire everyone in Congress, including their own representative. But some came out better than others. Among the “winners,” according to Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza, were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. (“a master political tactician”), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (“knows how to close deals”), and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (“the most not-Washington Republican politician with a national profile”). “Losers” included House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio (tried to “forge consensus within a conference where that simply is not possible”), and the GOP brand (“congressional Republicans hit new lows in overall approval”). Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, both won (“he is now first among equals when it comes to the anti-Obama in the 2016 field”) and lost (“he hurt his image” everywhere but the GOP base).

Polling keeps getting worse for GOP

Only 24 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the GOP, and only 21 percent have a favorable opinion of the tea party, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Those are record lows for both. What’s more, by a 22-point margin, the public thinks the GOP is more to blame for the shutdown than President Obama, which is a wider margin than during the last shutdown in 1995-96. And to make it even worse for the GOP, both Obama’s approval rating and the percentage of Americans who think Obamacare is a good idea increased in the poll.

GOP favorability rating hits record low

Only 28 percent of Americans view the Republican Party favorably, according to a new Gallup poll. That’s the lowest rating for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. The government standoff is driving the low approval, as the GOP’s favorability rating dropped 10 percentage points from last month. The Democratic Party rates better but not great: 43 percent view it favorably, down 4 points from last month. Not surprisingly, Americans now cite dissatisfaction with government and elected representatives as the top issue facing the nation, according to Gallup.

Norquist frustrated by GOP House, Cruz

Include anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist among those baffled and frustrated by the GOP House’s decision to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act. He told the Washington Post that Republicans should have negotiated for entitlement reform in exchange for lifting some of the sequestration cuts, which President Obama and Democrats want to do. Instead, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, demonized any Republican who didn’t support a shutdown showdown, even though he didn’t have the votes in the Senate to block Obamacare. “He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away,” Norquist said.

GOP’s problem in two sentences

Here’s the Republican Party’s problem in two sentences, wrote Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas of the Washington Post: “It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.” Unlike in the past, GOP leaders no longer have enough power and influence to convince lawmakers to do what is best for their party. Robert Costa of National Review tweeted that power has shifted away from the Capitol leadership offices to Tea Party Inc. and backbench members of Congress.

Libertarians believe freedom is catalyst for progress

A blog post last week raised the question: Would a libertarian society be doomed to fail? It linked to a commentary by Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu that argued that “radical libertarianism” would be a disaster “if ever put into practice at the scale of something bigger than a tiny enclave.” Aaron Ross Powell, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, has responded, arguing that “private individuals are capable of amazing things if given the opportunity to exercise their ingenuity,” and that “too often, the state stands in the way.” He contends that rather than being selfish or anti-community, libertarians “want to make the world better for everyone – and believe freedom is the best catalyst for progress.”

Ugly comments don’t represent American values, Miss Kansas

Theresa Vail (in photo) did a great job representing Kansas in this year’s Miss America pageant, winning the online “America’s Choice” vote to advance as a semifinalist. It’s a shame she has been mentioned in some ugly comments about Miss New York Nina Davuluri, the first contestant of Indian heritage to win the title. Todd Starnes, a Fox News radio host, tried to politicize the pageant by tweeting that “the liberal Miss America judges won’t say this – but Miss Kansas lost because she actually represented American values,” and that “Miss Kansas, a gun-toting, deer-hunting, military veteran was America’s choice – but not the liberal Miss America judges’ choice.”

A peek inside Koch brothers’ ‘secret bank’

In an article titled “The Koch brothers’ secret bank,” Politico reported on a little-known organization in Arlington, Va., that serves “as an outlet for the ideas and funds” of Charles and David Koch and other wealthy conservatives. Freedom Partners raised and spent $250 million in 2012, “cutting checks as large as $63 million to groups promoting conservative causes,” Politico reported. Those groups include Americans for Prosperity ($32.3 million); Themis Trust, a Koch-based voter database ($5.8 million); and American Future Fund ($13.6 million). In 2010, the Iowa-based American Future Fund spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads in support of GOP attorney general candidate Derek Schmidt. Freedom Partners has five directors, Politico reported, including Koch officials Wayne Gable, Richard Fink and Kevin Gentry and Wichita Realtor Nestor Weigand. A statement on the Koch Industries website says that Freedom Partners “operates independently of Koch Industries and educates the public about a broad range of issues.”

Would a libertarian society be doomed to fail?

Just as communism failed, “radical libertarianism, if ever put into practice at the scale of something bigger than a tiny enclave, would also be a disaster,” argued Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu. They contend that radical libertarians would be great at destroying but not at creating or governing. “It is in failed states such as Somalia that libertarianism finds its fullest actual expression,” they argued. What do you think?

Should churches be able to endorse candidates?

A new report by a group of faith leaders calls for an end to the ban on churches and other houses of worship endorsing political candidates, the Washington Post reported. The faith leaders – mostly conservative evangelical pastors – argue that it is a free-speech issue and complain that the current decades-old ban is poorly enforced. Some argue that lifting the endorsement ban might not have a significant impact, because many churches would be concerned about driving away members who don’t like mixing partisan politics and religion. Overall, only 27 percent of Americans think churches should endorse candidates, with 66 percent opposed, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Can ‘Carlos Danger’ still become New York’s mayor?

Can former congressman Anthony Weiner survive the disclosure of more sexting (including his online name, “Carlos Danger”) and still get elected mayor of New York City? The New York Times editorial board hopes not. “Weiner should take his marital troubles and personal compulsions out of the public eye, away from cameras, off the Web and out of the race for mayor of New York City,” its editorial said, arguing that Weiner has a “repellent pattern of misleading and evasion.”

Jenkins wants to fix problems

When U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, was a state lawmaker, she had a reputation for being pragmatic and middle-of-the-road. But after she was elected to Congress in 2008, she soon became, by her own admission, a proud member of the party of “no.” So it is encouraging that that she has joined the No Labels coalition seeking to break the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C. “This Congress is terribly unpopular, and for good reason: Next to nothing is getting done,” Jenkins said in statement last week. She told the Topeka Capital-Journal that the solution to the dysfunction is for lawmakers to seek common ground. “In a divided Washington, neither Democrats nor Republicans can get things done unilaterally,” she said. “Either we work together to fix problems, or we achieve nothing.”

GOP base supports comprehensive immigration reform

A new survey by the Republican polling firm Basswood Research found that 70 percent of GOP primary voters support immigration reform that increases border security, requires employers to verify the legal status of job seekers, and establishes a pathway to U.S. citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country – key provisions of the Senate-passed immigration reform bill. The support for comprehensive reform existed in every region of the country and among tea party voters and social conservatives. “Contrary to some perceptions,” the survey concluded, “it is clear that Republican members of Congress who support comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship, do not run afoul of the majority opinion of their primary voters.”