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Healthcare Politics Trumps Good Policy

Sep
11
2009

Time will tell if President Obama managed to hit the “reset” button with his Wednesday evening speech to Congress on healthcare. But as long as the American public firmly divided into three camps – those who want free healthcare at any cost, those who want none of it and those who are utterly confused by the whole idea – the process will remain unpopular.

Soaring oratory and grand gestures will not turn former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or Congressman Joe Wilson to acolytes of government-run healthcare. The “tea-baggers” will never ask for a cube of his sugar. The President, if he is to succeed, must accept this and build a thick skin. And to win the healthcare debate, Obama must convert the confused. Because they are based on good politics and not good policy, even without the so-called “misinformation” by his opponents, the president’s positions on healthcare are confusing enough, all by themselves.

Obama made a fairly bold assertion as he framed the health care debate saying that “our health care problem is our deficit problem.” The logic that follows, is that the status quo costs the government more than the “reform” Obama proposes. That assertion raises several unanswered questions which is where the confusion begins.

If “our health care problem is our deficit problem” why does the healthcare “solution” require a “tax increase” to succeed? That sounds as though “taxes” are the President’s budget solution and “healthcare reform” is just a vehicle to raise them.

If there is a “trigger” to prompt the creation of a public healthcare option – a government-run system – why not make the “trigger” the realization of enough savings from healthcare reform to pay for the public option? Now that would signal a genuine commitment to making our healthcare solution a deficit solution!

If “our health care problem is our deficit problem” then why would the reforms proposed by the White House “not apply to those who are here illegally?” Even if you forget the basic matter of how, exactly, how a large chunk of people can be excluded from such a radical reform, you still have a logical fallacy: If healthcare reforms will result in deficit savings, as the President professes, then why exclude the potential savings from the 15 million undocumented, uninsured immigrants in America?

On the flip side, if it costs money to include illegal immigrants in healthcare reform, then how, exactly, is healthcare reform a deficit solution? If we are trying to get people insured so that emergency rooms are no longer the primary caregivers for the uninsured, then why keep a system that is broken and costly for 15 million people, whether they are here legally or not?

It seems that good politics has prevailed over good policy when it comes to making decisions in the Obama White House. Like it or not, many Americans are thinkers. They have abondoned the two-party system because, like Progressive Libertarians, neither side truly reflects their views or their ideas of how the nation’s two political parties conduct our affairs. And when these thinking Americans listen to what is being said about healthcare, it is all literally and utterly confusing. And that’s not a winning strategy with the American public.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:57 PM | Permalink

The GOP’s Decline-to-Win Strategy

Aug
26
2009

The California Republican Party has finally found a way to make its September convention in Rancho Mirage relevant. It’s going to take up a proposal to make the Republican Party irrelevant in California elections for decades to come.

Party Vice Chairman Jon Fleischman is proposing that the state GOP close its primary and limit participation exclusively to registered Republican voters. As Vice Chairman Fleischman sees it, the proposal, “is about the long-term view about whether my political party is ultimately centered around the idea that people with common ideas and beliefs willingly come together and belong to a party out of common interest.”

By excluding decline-to-state voters from Republicans primaries for state offices, the California GOP will not only further alienate itself from mainstream of Californian, but it could cause irreparable harm to its party’s candidates up and down the ticket. Decline-to-state is – what my colleague Chris Nolan calls the “none of the above” party – is after all, the fastest growing voter block out there.

Which is why Fleishman’s proposal is not about winning elections. Not even he makes that claim. Voters who self-select to register Republican make up about 31 percent of voters in California – and that’s falling. The number of those who ascribe to Fleischman’s “Big-Government on Social Issues, Small-Government on Tax Policy” thinking is even smaller. Many have left and only a few Republicans like me have chosen to stick around and fight to make a party that believes in true conservative values like limited government, fundamental freedoms and personal responsibility. In Fleischman’s world, even I would not be welcomed in his party, if I wanted in.

So, who are these decline-to-state voters that Fleishman is afraid to have participate in the Republican primaries? As noted, many are former Republicans who have abandoned the party because they feel that the party abandoned them when it veered into a club for right-wing Theocrats. Others are centrist Democrats, voters we used to call “Reagan Democrats” who don’t ascribe to that party’s shilling for public employee unions at the expense of the taxpayer and might be willing to listen to a sensible, centrist Republican candidate.

Excluding these decline-to-state voters from Republican primaries will harm Republican candidates running in all but the safest, gerrymandered seats. That is why Sacramento veteran Tony Quinn likened the CRP Executive Committee to a “Death Panel” when he considered Fleischman’s proposal and Senator Abel Maldonado, who represents one of California’s few “swing” districts along the Central Coast, calls the plan “suicidal.”

To begin with, consider the psychology of the voter. I do not know about you, but when I vote for someone, I want my candidate to win. There is a psychological bond that is developed between candidate and voter when they punch that card at the ballot box. If you support a candidate in the primary and your candidate prevails, you are probably going to vote for that person again in the General Election. if decline-to-state voters are only allowed to vote in Democratic Primaries in California, you can guess what will happen in the fall elections.

Beyond psychology, there is a practical question of politicking here. The Fleischman plan to ban decline-to-state voters from participating in Republican primaries will effectively keep Republican candidates from communicating to these critical swing voters until after the primary. There is no reason that a Republican candidate would want to spend money speaking to voters who can not vote in their primary election. But during the weeks and months leading up to the primary, Democratic candidates and their messages will go out and fill that vacuum. Advantage: Democrats.

So my proposal for next month’s meeting is a simple one: Rather than ask whether decline-to-state voters should be allowed to participate in the Party’s primaries, the California Republican Party should ask if it wants to change its bylaws to, “Decline-to-Win.”

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:56 PM | Permalink

Critiquing “Cash for Clunkers”

Aug
4
2009

Nearly six months after President Obama and the Democratic Congress passed a near-trillion dollar economic stimulus package, the American people finally saw results last week when the three-month “Cash for Clunkers” program exhausted all of its funding in just over three days, leading the Administration to seek more funding for the program from Congress.

Republicans, doing their best to hold on to the “Party of No” label they have been assigned are calling Cash for Clunkers a failure. But they’re using all the wrong reasons. Calling the program “Corporate welfare,” or “stupidity” neither adds to the national discussion or advances the public perception of Republicans. Instead, the GOP should be leveraging this lone success of the Obama Administration to ask key questions about his other programs and policies.

Cash for Clunkers did what billions of bailout dollars to Detroit could not. It got Americans to buy cars. Americans responded positively to the Cash for Clunkers program, and it boosted auto sales. That, my friends, is what I would call a success, even if it violates rational economic theory.

Just imagine the impact on General Motors and Chrysler had their tens of billions of bailout dollars gone to car-buyers and not to their shareholders. Each $4500 rebate would have been matched multi-fold by car-buyers. Inventory would be moving, plants would stay open, and sales tax dollars would plump up local governments, which would need less of a federal bailout to balance their budgets. Now that would have been a successful program that addressed several of the challenges facing the nation’s economy, from unemployment to local government finance.

Looking ahead, Republicans would be well-served to tone down their vocal opinions of Cash for Clunkers in light of the other major issue in Washington these days–healthcare–and hold it up as a model for fixing the nation’s healthcare system. Believe it or not, there are similarities. Cash for Clunkers represents how government can leverage the free market to help individuals accomplish a public good.

The goal of healthcare reform and Cash for Clunkers are fundamentally the same. Both use government assistance to get people to do what they would not otherwise not do. In the case of Cash for Clunkers, it was to get people driving more fuel efficient cars. In the case of healthcare, it is to get people who won’t or cannot pay for healthcare insurance to get healthcare.

Yet the two solutions offered by the Obama Administration are drastically different. Cash for Cluckers, the successful effort, empowers people to make the best choices for what fits them. Its plans for healthcare reform create a “government option.” Unless you consider buying a GM car a “government option,” the Cash for Clunkers program was about empowerment and choice – the exact opposite of what is being considered for healthcare.

The “government option” for healthcare actually reduces choice. Those who have health insurance now and like their plans may be able to keep them. But want to change to something better or lose your plan for some reason and the “government option” becomes the only option.

Economic theory and basic common sense tell us that when something is free, people will use more of it. With our nation’s healthcare problems like addiction to prescription drugs, obesity and and aging populace, how many more doctor visits will people take if access to healthcare is free and easy? Can we even know and when would rationing begin, as it did with the Cash for Clunkers campaign?

Cash for clunkers program should also serve as a warning sign. While I hate to agree with Fox News Channel’s Steve Doocey, what will happen if the funding for healthcare runs out after a month or two or three? Will Congress have to authorize more funding and how will people get treatment while they wait for a cloture vote on the Senate floor?

Even my fellow Republicans should understand that a stopped clock is right twice a day, and that the Obama Administration should credit when their twelve hours come past. Using the successes – and shortcomings – of Cash for Clunkers as a model to critique other Obama administration would be more constructive, and politically rewarding, than simply saying, “no!”

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:55 PM | Permalink

Suze Orman For Governor

Jul
23
2009

I was an early and ardent supporter of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger but the compromises he made to achieve a “balanced” budget in 2009 now make me believe that the Golden State elected the wrong celebrity. We should have elected Suze Orman. Only the CNBC talk show host would have the backbone to tell the Legislature and special interests, “Sorry, honey, you can’t afford this. DENIED.”

In a sixty-second TV ad running across California this past week, the Republican governor promises not to raise taxes, and that he, “will not sign a budget that pushes our financial problems down the road, because the road stops here.”

Unfortunately, the Legislative leaders and governor seemed to have used a few billion dollars in deficit financing to build an extension on the financial problems highway that pushes the deficits down the road and into the next administration.

Among the budget “solutions” agreed to by the governor are many gimmicks that take money from future years and use it to balance the 2009-10 budget. And, of course, no one has said how they will account for the gimmickry in future years.

Two billion dollars will be “borrowed” from cities and counties, to be paid back in 2013. That’s two billion-plus that the next governor will have to find.

One billion of the budget balance comes from pushing one round of paychecks for state workers from June 30, 2010 – the end of the current fiscal year – to July 1, 2010, with no word on when or if their paychecks will come in 2011.

Taxpayers also get caught in this mess. Individual withholdings for estimated taxes for 2011 will be taken out of paychecks at an accelerated rate in 2010. Does that mean that the government will collect NO witholdings from personal income taxes the following year? I doubt they could afford that.

This game is not just limited to revenues. Even the vaunted $16 billion in “cuts” involve kicking the can along the budget-balancing highway. For example, the compromise proposes not buying any new textbooks for K-12 schools for five years, yet takes all of the savings in 2009.

Governor Schwarzenegger asks us to “Stand up for California,” in his ads, when it looks like he was using crutches – at best – in the budget negotiations he held with the legislature’s Democrats.

The basic problem in California is that we want to spend more money than we have. In fact, it seems to be an epidemic in America. Some blame our budget mess on Proposition 13, which limits property tax assessments; others cite Proposition 98, which sets school funding levels on auto-pilot.

Everyone has a favor budgetary whipping boy. What we really need is a firm matronly voice telling us, “Sorry, honey, you cannot afford that!” We need Suze Orman to stand up to the legislature and tell them their credit card is DENIED.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:54 PM | Permalink

The Single-Payer is the Taxpayer

Jul
16
2009

Saying “time is a wasting,” to pass healthcare reform, senior White House Advisor David Axelrod dismissed efforts to reach consensus on legislation as secondary to getting a new law passed. “We’d like to do it with the votes of members of both parties,” Axelrod said. “But the worst result would be to not get health-care reform done.”

Axelrod could not be less correct. There is something worse than not getting healthcare reform – getting healthcare reform wrong.

The House leadership, led by House Commerce Energy & Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, has unveiled a hybrid plan – which at 1000 pages I doubt he’s even read – making healthcare a “right” in the United States, much like speech, assembly, religion and the right to bear arms. Of course, if you choose not to exercise any of these rights, you don’t have to pay a tax to the government. Not so with this new healthcare “right.”

Since debacle known as Hillarycare in the early 1990′s, the business community has warmed to the idea of a “single-payer” healthcare system. Their logic stated is simple: if they no longer bear the financial obligation of offering healthcare to their employees, it’s good for business.

The single-payer system is attractive to many in business and labor, but has spooked politicians because of its failures in other countries and its failure to pass political muster in the states. So concepts like “universal healthcare” have morphed into “universal coverage” and “cost-cutting reforms” which poll better with the American voters. The current proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives aims to create universal coverage by requiring that employers either provide healthcare benefits or pay a new payroll tax of 8%. Anyone who opts against healthcare coverage also must pay a 2.5% levy on their wages. This money, along with a tax “surcharge” on families making more than $500,000, or individuals making significantly less, will fund a government-run health insurance benefit to catch all of those not insured by their employers.

This House healthcare bill may be the beginnings of a single-payer system. By establishing an insurance program of last resort – funded, of couse, by taxing the most productive members of society – many businesses will opt to pay the payroll tax penalty and force their employees into the government-run system.

Once we are all in a government-backed insurance program, the goal of having a single-payer system will have become real. And that “single payer” is the taxpayer. But is that what we really want?

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend who used to operate a small business in West Hollywood with two employees. Outside of salaries, two of his highest expenses were healthcare insurance and parking benefits. Shifting the cost of healthcare to the government would have helped him stay in business.

The proposition got me thinking about what else we could create a single-payer system for and have the government pay? What if, for example, West Hollywood created a single-payer parking system that would allow everyone to get to park their cars for free?

Businesses would like that idea on two counts. They’d no longer have to pay for employees to park their cars, and with free parking, more customers could come and visit.

The users of the single-payer parking system would like it, because they could park for free.

But ultimately, such a system is unsustainable. Eventually, the quality and availability of parking options would diminish as demand created by a zero-cost parking system would surely exceed supply, and the slippery slope would begin.

A single-payer parking system would then have to be regulated! Access to parking would have to be restricted and entrepreneurial business owners would develop separate fee-based parking systems that would guarantee access. In the end, only those who were willing and able to pay for parking would have access to quality, available parking options. Which is not much different than where we are today, where limited on-street free parking is available, and private lots and meters fill the rest of the demand for parking.

It isn’t hard to imagine the same thing happening in a world with government-run healthcare insurance. It’s a future where only those who can afford something better than the government policy can – and will – get better care. That inequality is what is fueling the debate today. So we’ll be brought back to square one, only we’ll be billions of dollars poorer for the effort.

If healthcare reform is as important as Axelrod and the Obama Administration say it is, then it is important enough to have a healthy national debate and consider the consequences of our actions before we take them.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:54 PM | Permalink

Palin Resignation Is Wasillogical

Jul
8
2009

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin shocked the nation Friday when she announced, abruptly, that she would vacate the Governor’s Mansion on July 26. The suddenness of her announcement led to wild speculation over holiday barbecues for a simple reason: Palin’s decision to leave office 18 months into her first term does not fit within the logic of conventional wisdom.

It would not have been a surprise to many if Governor Palin decided against seeking a second term. Her star on the national political stage had the potential to shine much brighter than the Big Dipper that graces Alaska’s state flag. But few expected her exit her current job so soon and so abruptly.

Her quick departure caused many to speculate that something else was going on in Palin’s life. Was there an FBI investigation? Did she or husband Todd have an undisclosed health crisis? Was eldest son Track being discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for taping an amateur porn video? Crazier things have been said about the family Palin, so it wouldn’t have been too surprising if any of these were, in fact, true.

In many ways, Sarah Palin seems like a contradiction to the common political observer. She supports the Religious Right, but, according to sources in her hometown of Wasilla, she only went to church on Christmas and Easter – until she sought higher elected office. She wants to legislate family values, but seems unable to instill them on her own children.

While to many, that would seem hypocritical, to Palin, it is simply being a “maverick.” And understanding Sarah Palin allows us to take her words at face value. Taking Governor Palin’s words at face value – something most Americans are loathe to do with politicians – her decision to leave office was “Wasillogical”. That is to say, it might make sense to people from Wasilla, Alaska, but not to the rest of us.

In Palin’s words, “And so as I thought about this announcement that I wouldn’t run for re-election and what it means for Alaska, I thought about how much fun some governors have as lame ducks… travel around the state, to the Lower 48 (maybe), overseas on international trade – as so many politicians do. And then I thought – that’s what’s wrong – many just accept that lame duck status, hit the road, draw the paycheck, and “milk it”. I’m not putting Alaska through that – I promised efficiencies and effectiveness! That’s not how I am wired. I am not wired to operate under the same old “politics as usual.” I promised that four years ago – and I meant it.”

Or to translate, Palin made the decision that she was no longer going to be Governor. Once that decision was made, what was the point of remaining Governor? So she decided to resign.

Logical would be a little bit like a married couple deciding to divorce. Few couples would decide after two years of marriage that they should get a divorce a year after making their decision. If they’re going divorce, they want to do so immediately. That is logical to most American

However, Palin’s decision feels a little different. “Wasillogical” would be more like that of the couple who, after they decide not to rush into marriage, one party abruptly declares that they can no longer be friends because he does’t just want a romantic relationship. On the surface, it sounds illogical. Yet in some ways it kind of makes sense not to continue walking down a dead-end road…and that’s Wasillogical.

The problem with being Wasillogical, however is that it is very difficult to parse out Palin’s thought process and understand her motives and considerations. We ascribe our own explanations to the situation (which fit our standard, lower-48 experiences) and talk about “another shoe to drop,” call her a “quitter” or worse.

So, if Palin hopes to re-enter the national political spotlight, she needs to remain in it following her departure from office. She needs to continue her conversation with the American people and give us something to think about other than her bizarre exit from Alaska’s political stage.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:52 PM | Permalink

Marriage By Any Other Name

Jun
2
2009

Following last week’s decision on Proposition 8 by the California Supreme Court, proponents of marriage equality in the state rushed to lay the path to its undoing. The establishment gay rights groups are heading to the ballot box, with an initiative planned for 2010. Meanwhile a Hollywood-backed lawsuit with a marque legal team seeks to challenge the initiative on due process grounds in the Federal Courts.

For some reason, however, nobody is talking about going to the California State Legislature, which has twice voted to grant marriage equality. But that’s what the court decision demands. In its controversial ruling, the California Supreme Court created the possibility for a legislative remedy to the battle over same-sex marriage.

And despite the cheers coming from the proponents of Proposition 8 that the “protected marriage,” for Californians, they may have, in fact, planted the seeds of its destruction.

On Page 34 of their decision, the court tortuously states:

…”[b]ecause in common speech the term “right to marry” is most often used and understood to refer to an individual’s right to enter into the official relationship designated “marriage,” and in order to minimize potential confusion in the future, instead of referring to this aspect of the state constitutional rights of privacy and due process as “the constitutional right to marry,” hereafter in this opinion we shall refer to this constitutional right by the more general descriptive terminology used in the majority opinion in the Marriage Cases — namely, the constitutional right to establish, with the person of one’s choice, an officially recognized and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage (or, more briefly, the constitutional right to establish an officially recognized family relationship with the person of one’s choice).”

Or for us non-lawyers, as a result of the Proposition 8 ruling, the “constitutional right to marry” in California, is now a “constitutional right to establish, with the person of one’s choice, an officially recognized and protected family relationship that enjoys all the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.”

If the Supreme Court were the Supreme Court of Fantasyland, not California, that would be all well and good. Unfortunately, in the Golden State, there exists no means to “establish, with the person of one’s choice, an officially recognized and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.”

The court, in other words, created something which does not exist and the state legislature needs to remedy the disparity between what is offered statutorily to same-sex couples and marriage, whether they call it domestic partnerships – a legal status that does exist – or something else.

But even then, when it comes to basic privacy rights, if this new “not-marriage” is only offered to same-sex couples, it poses a legal and practical conundrum. For example, my car insurance company distinguishes between married couples and domestic partners, which they call “cohabitants” and just plain roommates, which must be listed as “friends”.

And even if married spouses and “cohabitants” were treated equally in terms of insurance rates and protections, should gay and lesbian people be required to divulge their sexual orientation every time they fill out such a form?

What if, instead, the California legislature established a new category of officially-recognized relationship which allows two consenting adults to, in the words of the most recent state Supreme Court decision “establish, with the person of one’s choice, an officially recognized and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage,” and applied it equally to all couples – same-sex or opposite sex – beginning January 1, 2010?

The legislature could choose any term but “marriage” to describe this new kind of contract created by the courts, be it a familiar one like “matrimony” or get creative and invent one…call it “spousage”. Heck, they could probably even call it “merridge” and be constitutionally in the clear. If this new institution is available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, the privacy issues raised by the courts would be addressed.

It may well happen. With a legislature and Governor that are firmly behind marriage equality, Proposition 8′s attempts to “protect” marriage, may well lead to its undoing in California. If the legislature does create “marriage” under a different name we will see just how much faith people people place in the statement that there is no difference between marriage and marriage-by-another-name.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:50 PM | Permalink

A Gay Marriage Coaltion That Can Win

May
26
2009

The California Supreme Court has spoken, ruling that voters had the right to amend the state’s constitution and eliminate the fundamental constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples. And while the legal arguments over Proposition 8 are settled, the issue of gay marriage will by no means go away.

It is time to expand the coalition of allies in order to win in 2010, when California voters will likely be asked to restore marriage equality for all Californians, not just those who are heterosexual or happened to get married between June and November, 2008. Looking to the future, gay and lesbian Californians should say that today marks “the first day of the rest of my life,” and put the battle over Proposition 8 in the past, where it belongs.

Even if the court had overturned Proposition 8, gays and lesbians would have still face inequalities, mostly at the federal level. Gays and lesbians are not allowed to serve openly in the armed forces. Nor can gays and lesbians claim any of the nearly two thousand federal benefits of marriage – tax benefits among them – or receive housing or employment protections in many states. As couples move to, from or between states and even countries that honor gay and lesbian marriages, the rights and responsibilities that apply to the couples will remain unclear until settled under federal law.

This discrimination continues to exist and as the movement towards full equality progresses, gays and lesbians must remember to put their own interests first, despite the appeal of building a big tent of allied causes. Today, gay and lesbian activists must not assume that because they lean left all of their allies follow suit. Forcing a “progressive agenda” onto the movement for equality risks alienating volunteers, donors and potential allies.

During the ballot battle over Proposition 8, a rainbow coalition was cobbled together among people of faith, people of color, business leaders, Republicans and many others. But because of the diversity and frailty of the coalition, good opportunities to leverage allies to the cause were missed. The opposition to Prop 8 by conservative figures like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and outspoken Affirmative Action opponent Ward Connerly was largely downplayed or ignored through most of the campaign, for fear that these spokespeople may alienate liberal members of the coalition, like labor and the NAACP.

Had opponents to Proposition 8 looked at the 30% support they had among Republican voters and increased it – instead of letting it slip to 18% by election day – there would have been no need for a Supreme Court ruling. In Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, Republican legislators cast the deciding votes on whether marriage equality became the law. And in New York, it looks as though a handful of Republican Senators will decide whether gay and lesbian couples may marry.

But in looking at how the public campaign for same-sex marriage is being waged, It feels like some labor activists, having taken note of the new energy – and disorganization – in the gay rights movement, decided to co-opt that energy for its own cause. If gay and lesbian activists allow this to continue, it will be at their own peril.

Yet this is exactly what these public – and publicity-minded – activists risk doing. Rick Jacob’s Courage Campaign seized the anger of gay and lesbian activists over November’s vote in favor of the ban to push what they call a “new era for Progressive Politics in California.” Somehow, I fear, Jacobs is not trying to become the next Hiram Johnson.

The Stonewall 2.0 group, Equal Roots, used a Gay Pride week protest at the Long Beach Hyatt as a cover to protest the working conditions of housekeepers who were required to clean at least thirty rooms a day.

Even after Doug Manchester, a San Diego hotelier who donated $125,000 to get Proposition 8 on the ballot, sought to make peace with gay and lesbian activists, boycott organizer (and former tobacco lobbyist) Fred Karger refused to call off the boycott because the labor issues remained unaddressed.

Cleve Jones, who worked closely with Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black has effectively moved from being a gay rights activist and is now a union organizer for UNITE HERE, which represents, you guessed it, hotel workers.

Stonewall Democrats have teamed up with the AFL-CIO to form a campaign to support federal card-check legislation to take away worker privacy during union organizing campaigns.

As a supporter of marriage equality and full rights of citizenship for gays and lesbians, I could care less about whether my hotels’ housekeeping staffs are unionized. And, as a Republican, I am not alone in either position.

Aside from those who are or have family members who are gay or lesbian, the most likely Republicans to support gay and lesbian equality are those people who are Republicans because they are pro-business. They remember when the party stood for a strong economy, above all. It’s a tough sell to ask these pro-business Republicans to support a movement that is actively working against them – labor unions – but that is exactly the road that many gay and lesbian activists have taken in the wake of Proposition 8.

Now that the Proposition 8 and its fate has been decided, it is time for the gay rights movement to turn towards the future and put full equality for gays and lesbians at the forefront of the agenda, and build a broad coalition that includes all allies. Only then can supporters of marriage equality win in 2010.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:49 PM | Permalink

California’s Call to Convention

May
19
2009

For the second time in four years, California voters have “sent a message” to Sacramento, rejecting budget reforms in the face of spiraling deficits. Yesterday, California voters killed all but one of a package of budget ballot measures designed to partially paper over the state’s growing deficits, just as they killed Governor Schwarzenegger’s attempt to “blow up the boxes” of state government back in 2005.

Now, it seems the only way to fix the state’s problems may be through a Constitutional Convention. And depending on the actions of the State Supreme Court in the next few weeks, Schwarzeneger and the business community may pick up an unlikely ally: The usually liberal gay and lesbian community.

Over the years, a series of constitutional amendments, and a the boom-and-bust cycle of the economy has made California practically ungovernable.

In 1978, voters passed Proposition 13, which limited the amount of annual increases in property tax assessments, thereby limiting the growth in property tax revenues received by state and local governments. Later that year, they also passed Proposition 8, which allowed for property owners to lower their maximum assessed values during real estate busts, like the cycle California is currently in.

But the pendulum swung back the other way a decade later, when voters, concerned that school funding was limited by these measures, passed Proposition 98. Prop 98 sets a minimum spending level for K-14 education. In 1988-89, it was 39 percent of state revenues. But Prop 98 also said that the dollar amount of funding shall never decrease AND that half of any new tax revenues be added to the Prop 98 minimums, in addition to adjustments made for enrollment growth.

Since 1998, California has seen boom and bust and boom over again. When the Internet bubble grew, state revenues expanded exponentially under Governor Gray Davis. When the bubble burst, so did capital gains revenues paid in the state – but Prop 98 mandates remained. The budget went so far out of balance that voters recalled Governor Davis.

Davis’ replacement, Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to initiate spending caps and budget reforms at the bottom of the budget crisis upon taking office, only to be rejected. Instead, the state budget “balanced” itself on the housing boom. As we well know, that went bust, and California’s budget with it.

That’s the fifty-cent version of how we got into the mess; but how does California get out of it?

Some budget “reformers” say that all California needs to do is lower the super-majority needed to pass a state budget and raise taxes to fifty percent from the two-thirds vote required today. The move is popular among California Democrats because the Republican Party, with 31 percent registration, is nearly regulated to permanent minority status in California.

Fixing California’s governance problems will require much more. Among the reforms needed, both the politically popular Proposition 13 and Proposition 98 need to be reconsidered – in tandem – so that state revenues and spending are not going on auto-pilot in different directions. And the roles of California’s four branches of government – the executive, legislative judiciary and electorate – should be reconsidered.

That is why the business-oriented Bay Area Council has called for a Constitutional Convention. They are finding allies across the political spectrum from Governor Schwarzenegger to the liberal editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times.

And these reformers may have another unlikely ally, depending on the outcome of litigation over last year’s Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment to eliminate the right to marry for same-sex couples. Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, wants a Constitutional Convention to also consider reinforcing protections for minorities and removing the discrimination added by voters last November: “If there is a constitutional convention, prohibiting discrimination against minorities, including marriage for same-sex couples, must be included in a broad package of reforms,” Kors has said.

A Constitutional Convention would be messy. The selection of delegates will have candidates running from all sorts of positions -limiting taxes, protecting special interest spending, restoring marriage rights, or taking away constitutional protections from minorities. There is no guarantee that the result of a Constitutional Convention would be any better than what we have today. But as former Los Angeles King Wayne Gretzky says, “you miss a hundred percent of the shots never take,” and California cannot afford to miss a chance on goal.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:48 PM | Permalink

California Republicans Should Fear Prop 8

May
13
2009

Last fall, the theocratic wing of the California Republican Party took solace in a narrow victory on Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment eliminating the right to marry for same-sex couples. They cobbled together a coalition with just enough Latino, African-American and older voters to write the law into the constitution. But as minorities, the groups that passed Proposition 8 – including California Republicans – should hope that the law is struck down.

At some point between now and June 1, the California Supreme Court will render its decision on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. While the decision will impact whether the right to marry is restored to all Californians, it will have little to do about gay marriage as an issue. Instead, the court will be weighing a broader constitutional question: Who is the ultimate arbiter of fundamental freedoms in California?

“Rights are in the power of the people,” argued Proposition 8 defendant Kenneth Starr, claiming that rights may be granted or taken away by simple majority votes, regardless of their status in the Constitution.

If the court overturns Proposition 8, it will be because, historically, the role of the state’s courts is to protect the constitution freedoms of California from the over-reaching arms of the other branches of government – the executive, the legislature and the electorate. On the other hand, if the court upholds Proposition 8, it will abdicate its authority to the so-called “will” of the people to decide questions of civil rights by moving that power out of the courts and to the ballot box. As their numbers shrink, California Republicans should be worried if Proposition is upheld. The Grand Old Party’s membership is a minority of California voters – and its falling.

Republican registration efforts in California have gone bone-chillingly cold. Registered Republicans number but 31 percent of the state’s electorate. According to political guru Allan Hoffenblum, these precipitous drops are happening statewide, even in Republican districts. “Back in 2001, when the redistricting mapmakers gerrymandered the 80 Assembly districts in an attempt to keep the status quo of 50 safe Democratic districts and 30 safe Republican seats, five of the assembly districts had solid Republican majorities and an additional five had a GOP registration of between 48 – 50 percent. Today, it’s zero majority districts and only two with GOP registration over 48 percent.”

As more immigrants are naturalized, the California Republican Party’s anti-immigration posturing will only alienate these new voters and shrink the Republican registration numbers further.

Compare Republican registration at 30% to the 5% of California voters who identified themselves as gay or lesbian in 2008, and you see that California Conservatives are as much at risk of being the target of a ballot initiative as any other minority group in the state.

While it is unlikely that voters would try to target straight white Christian men – also known as what is left in the California GOP – for any ballot initiative, the values and freedoms that Republicans hold dear could easily come under attack if the court upholds Proposition 8. It is not far-fetched to think that the powerful California Teachers’ Unions might pass a constitutional amendment forbidding home-schooling. Nor is it a stretch to see the majority of Californians voting for such a ban. And while it might seem ludicrous to propose a “Traffic Mitigation and Freeway Safety Amendment” which would, for instance, ban Asian women from driving, that measure, too, under Starr’s theory, be constitutional as long as the measure were approved by a majority of voters.

This is anarchy. When rights are subject to the whims of the voters – as suggested by the backers of Proposition 8 – no right is secure. As a rapidly-shrinking minority, this should scare California’s Republicans.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:47 PM | Permalink

 

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