Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Return to Sender?

It is always interesting to see how candidate's present themselves. Jan Murphy, of the Patriot News, has an intersting article "Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett's political mailing draws fire from Democrats") on the return address on Corbett's campaign mailings:

Sandy Segal said he didn’t know what to think when he received the letter this week.

The envelope, labeled as coming from “Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett,” bore the message: “Please give me your immediate attention.”

He opened it to find Corbett was seeking a contribution in his run for governor. Corbett is seeking the Republican nomination.

To me, that kind of crosses the line -- saying it is from the Attorney General and needs immediate attention when it is campaign related not job related. But, what do I know?

Joe Hoeffel in the City Paper

The most recent issue of The City Paper has a great article on Joe Hoeffel, who is running for governor. Check out "Liberal," by Holly Otterbein

End of the Fundraising Quarter

If you've been very popular in the past few days, phone calls, letters, emails, chock it up to the end of the fundraising quarter for federal candidiates.

This evening I sat down and sent a little to four of my favorite candidates.

There's still some time left. For Democrats the easiest way to donate is to visit Act Blue ( -- they have just about everyone listed. For my Republican friends, just google your candidate's name and you can probably find their campaign website, which always has a donate button on it somewhere.

Obama's Energy Strategy

from the inbox:

As part of the Administration's comprehensive energy strategy President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced more details of the Obama Administration's efforts to strengthen our energy security. President Obama and Secretary Salazar announced that the Administration will expand oil and gas development and exploration on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to enhance our nation's energy independence while protecting fisheries, tourism, and places off U.S. coasts that are not appropriate for development. Also included in the announcement are landmark car and truck fuel standards, key efforts being carried out by the Department of Defense to enhance energy security, and an effort to green the federal vehicle fleet. Details are below.

“I want to emphasize that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and the long term. To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake,� said President Obama.

Over the last year, under the leadership of Secretary Salazar, the Administration has worked to reevaluate previous decisions in an effort to set oil and gas drilling policies on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create jobs, and take environmental risks and responsibilities into account.

“By responsibly expanding conventional energy development and exploration here at home we can strengthen our energy security, create jobs, and help rebuild our economy,� said Salazar. “Our strategy calls for developing new areas offshore, exploring frontier areas, and protecting places that are too special to drill. By providing order and certainty to offshore exploration and development and ensuring we are drilling in the right ways and the right places, we are opening a new chapter for balanced and responsible oil and gas development here at home.�

The President will highlight today additional key measures that will boost domestic energy production, diversify America's energy portfolio and promote clean energy innovation.

Background on Today's Announcements:

More Domestic Production – Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing: The Administration's strategy calls for developing oil and gas resources in new areas, such as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico; increasing oil and gas exploration in frontier areas, such as parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans; and protecting ocean areas that are simply too special to drill, such as Alaska's Bristol Bay. The strategy will guide the current 2007-2012 offshore oil and gas leasing program, as well as the new 2012-2017 program that this administration will propose. More specific details on this plan are available at

Landmark Car and Truck Fuel Standards – Finalized EPA/DOT CAFE and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards: On April 1st, EPA and DOT will sign a joint final rule establishing greenhouse gas emission standards and corporate average fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles for model years 2012-2016. Announced last May, the rule is a product of a historic deal between the Obama Administration, the State of California, and automakers to bring regulatory certainty to the automotive market while increasing fuel efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, and ensuring consumer choice and savings. This measure is expected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program.

Leading by Example – Greening the Federal Fleet: Last year, President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 asking Federal agencies to lead by example towards a clean energy economy. GSA and DOE are doing just that. As a result of their combined efforts we have doubled the Federal hybrid vehicle fleet and before the end of the year we'll purchase the first 100 plug-in electric vehicles to roll off American assembly lines. Additionally, agencies are: Purchasing hybrid instead of conventional cars and trucks that use more fuel; Downsizing vehicle fleets overall; and requiring plug-in electric charging stations for all new facilities and for major retrofits.

Department of Defense Energy Security Strategic Emphasis: The recently released Quadrennial Defense Review makes clear that crafting a strategic approach to energy and climate change is a high priority for the Department of Defense (DoD). This reflects mission considerations above all. The Department's own analysis confirms what outside experts have long warned: our military's heavy reliance on fossil fuels creates significant risks and costs at a tactical as well as a strategic level. The DoD is actively pursuing strategic initiatives to enhance energy security and independence and reduce harmful emissions, including encouraging the development and use of domestically produced advanced biofuels. You can learn more about DoD's energy initiatives here.

PA Education Benefits in Health Care Bill

from the inbox:

The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 delivered a significant down payment on the President’s ambitious agenda to make higher education more affordable and help more Americans earn a college degree. The law raises the maximum Pell Grant, makes loan payments more affordable for students with unmanageable debt, increases investments in community colleges, and extends support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions, all at no additional cost to taxpayers according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The education initiatives funded by the law are fully paid for by ending government subsidies that were being given to financial institutions making guaranteed federal student loans.

Building on existing accomplishments since the President took office—raising the maximum Pell Grant by more than $800 and tripling the largest college tax credit now known as the American Opportunity Tax Credit—the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act will help expand college access and increase graduation rates for Pennsylvania’s students.

To support Pennsylvania’s students’ success in higher education, the new law:

Increases Pell Grants: The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act invests more than $40 billion in Pell Grants to ensure that all eligible students receive an award and that these awards will be increased in future years to help keep pace with the rising cost of college. These investments, coupled with the President’s previous investments, more than double the total amount of funding provided for Pell Grants since the President took office. The law increases the Federal Pell Grant maximum award by the Consumer Price Index from 2013 through 2017, which is estimated to raise the award from $5,550 to $5,975, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. By academic year 2020-2021, the Department of Education estimates Pennsylvania’s students will receive an additional $324 million in Pell Grants due to the changes in the new law.

Expands Income Based Repayment: Because of the high cost of college, about two-thirds of students take out college loans with an average student debt of over $23,000. This debt is particularly burdensome for graduates who choose to enter lower-paying public service careers, suffer setbacks such as unemployment or serious illness, or fail to complete their degree. To ensure that Native Americans can afford their student loan payments, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act makes the existing income-based student loan repayment program more generous for new borrowers after July 1, 2014. They will be allowed to cap their student loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income and, if they keep up with their payments over time, forgive their balance after 20 years. As under current law, public service workers—such as teachers, nurses, and those in military service—will see any remaining debt forgiven after only 10 years. According to Department of Education estimates, 1.2 million borrowers are projected to qualify and take part in the expanded IBR program between 2014 and 2020.

Increases Support for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs): While many of today’s colleges and universities are facing a host of challenges—shrinking endowments, decreasing state appropriations, deteriorating facilities and increasing costs—many of America’s Minority Serving Institutions are feeling the pain more acutely. They do more with less and enroll higher proportions of low- and middle-income students. That’s why the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act provides $2.55 billion to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions over the next ten years. These dollars can be used to renew, reform, and expand programming to ensure that students at these colleges and universities are given every chance to live up to their full potential. HBCUs and MSIs in Pennsylvania will be eligible to receive an additional $19 million in funding under the new law.

Funding for College Access Grants: The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act extends and increases mandatory funding for the existing College Access Challenge Grant Program to $150 million per year over the next four years. This program provides grants to States to help organizations provide services that increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter college and manage their student loans, such as by developing financial literacy and debt management skills. Pennsylvania is expected to receive approximately $20 million in additional funding due to the changes in the new law.

Investments in Community Colleges & Career Training: As the largest part of the nation’s higher education system, community colleges enroll more than 6 million students and are growing rapidly. They feature affordable tuition, open admission policies, flexible course schedules, and convenient locations. Community colleges are particularly important for students who are older, working, or need remedial classes. Community colleges work with businesses, industry and government to tailor training programs to meet economic needs like nursing, health information technology, advanced manufacturing, and green jobs. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act includes $2 billion over four years for community colleges. These resources will help community colleges and other institutions develop, improve, and provide education and career training programs suitable for workers who are eligible for trade adjustment assistance. Each state will receive at least 0.5 of the total funds appropriated to this program each fiscal year.

Ultimately, the education related provisions of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act are fully paid for by ending the government subsidies currently given to financial institutions that make guaranteed federal student loans. Starting July 1, all new federal student loans will be direct loans delivered and collected by private companies under performance-based contracts with the Department of Education. According to the Congressional Budget Office, ending these wasteful subsidies frees up nearly $68 billion which this new law reinvests back into students and into reducing the deficit. As a result of the savings and investments in this new law, Pennsylvania and its students are expected to receive more than $365 million by academic year 2020-2021 in additional benefits for higher education.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Update on Petition Challenges

One of the first tests of a candidate's fitness for office is the ability to get the number of signatures required to be on the ballot. Petitions can be challenged and often are, sometimes for valid reasons, sometimes just to tie up a campaign with legal fees and court appearances. How a candidate reacts to a challenge, and whether and how a candidate challenges someone else (or causes another candidate's petitions to be challenged) can say a lot about them.

In the 2006 primary election, Patrick Murphy faced a petition challenge which was denied and dismissed in court (see my post about it here). The campaign still had to appear in court and pay legal fees but their behavior was an early sign of character on Murphy's behalf. State Rep. Babette Josephs is facing a primary opponent this year. Her campaign manager challenged Greg Kravitz's petitions, but the challenge was later withdrawn. Another Philadelphia state rep, Mike O'Brien, is also in hot water, petition-wise. Someone in his legislative office used state equipment to fax copies of a primary opponent's petitions as part of a challenge (see "Petition-gate?" by Angela Couloumbis, on the Inky's Commonwealth Confidential blog).

There are times when a challenge is justified, and exposes sloppy or fraudulent work by a campaign or a lack of supervision of campaign volunteers or workers. Republican candidates in Delaware County have been having a particular problem with petitions this year. Aston District Judge David Murphy has been arrested and charged with several crimes, including forgery. From "Delco judge faces charges of forgery," by Mari A. Schaefer in today's Inky:

Investigators determined that 64 signatures on his nominating petitions for the 2009 primary had been forged, said G. Michael Green, the district attorney.

In August, Murphy, a Republican who has been a district judge since 1991, allegedly told a witness that he had been concerned he did not have enough signatures to qualify as a candidate on the Democratic ticket and that he forged them, according to court documents.

Were that not problem enough, 7th district Republican congressional candidate Pat Meehan is having petition problems of his own. His petitions are being challenged for fraudulent signatures and other irregularities. At first DA Green was going to investigate but he is referring it to the state because of a conflict of interest (which may or may not be the fact that Green has donated to Meehan's campaign). However, since Meehan has made political donations to Attorney General Tom Corbett, now a Republican candidate for governor, there may be problems with his role as investigator as well. (For details see "State to take over inquiry into Meehan petitions," by Joelle Farrell, also in today's Inky).

Watch your districts for petition challenges, and look at who is challenging, how, and why.

The Brown M&Ms of Politics

The March issue of Fast Company had an interesting article called “The telltale brown M&M” by Dan Heath and Chip Heath. It is on early warning signs. One example given is on the high dropout rate in Philadelphia high schools. Kids who dropped out were more likely to have missed a lot of school days in 8th grade and to have filed English or math in 8th grade. So to stem the flow of drop outs schools and parents should keep 8th graders in school and passing English and math.

The title of the article comes from a clause in Van Halen’s touring contract that called for a bowl of M&Ms backstage, with all the brown M&Ms removed. The band’s stage show involved a lot of equipment and the contract spelled out the exact ampage and how far apart the outlets should be. It was too complicated to check everything at every show to see if the stagehands had done everything correctly. As a quick check the band had the brown M&M clause put in the middle of the contract. If the M&M bowl was correct then it is likely the stage was set up correctly. If the bowl contained brown M&Ms then everything needed to be checked because the contract had not been read or followed.

Is there something that can be considered an early warning sign, a brown M&M, in political campaigns? For those who want to make sure the people running for office are paying attention to detail, what actions or procedures early on will give an indication of that? Party insiders get a look at candidates in the embryonic stages and before candidacies are announced. For the rest of us, though, what can we watch for indications that campaigns are sound and candidates promising enough that they can attract good staff and keep track of details?

There are two definable early indications. One is the ability to legally and correctly gather the needed number of petitions. Someone whose petitions are crooked is probably going to be at least a little crooked when in office. If a candidate isn’t a good enough judge of character to find ethical people and train them well enough (or find volunteers / staff that will) to follow petition rules, how will they manage to stay afloat in Harrisburg or Washington? A petition challenge is not a bad sign, but losing one is. We’re seeing a lot of petition challenges this year. Incumbents should have the experience and staff on hand to gather petition signatures easily. Challengers need to demonstrate their competence by gathering petition signatures correctly. Granted, answering a petition challenge can be a campaign distraction and can be expensive, but surviving a challenge shows their initial competence and also their ability to survive a trial by fire.

Another early warning sign is campaign finance reports. If a candidate can’t put together a fundraising strategy he or she won’t be able to navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of governing. A candidate whose staff can’t read and follow campaign finance rules will probably have sloppy staff as an elected official, too.

In the past I’ve looked at quarterly campaign finance reports for congressional candidates but this week I hope to start posting blog entries looking at state level campaign finance reports.

Monday, March 29, 2010

New Study on SEPA Non-Profit Sector

Last week the Economy League released a study of regional non-profit sector. "It Matters: The Nonprofit Sector in Southeastern Pennsylvania" studied 5,300 nonprofits in the area. The keyf indings are:

The nonprofit community in southeastern Pennsylvania is large.

Nonprofit organizations in southeastern Pennsylvania total 15,000. Nearly 7,300 of those file tax returns, more than 5,300 organizations are classified as Public Charities, and more than 3,600 exist to provide households and individuals with direct services.

The nonprofit community in southeastern Pennsylvania is growing.

Since the year 2000, the number of nonprofits in southeastern Pennsylvania has grown by about 40%.

The nonprofit community in southeastern Pennsylvania is diverse, but revenues and assets are concentrated in a few groups.

While diverse in number of organizations and services provided, nonprofit revenues and assets are concentrated in three areas - Health, Education, and Human Services - reflecting the region's historic strengths in higher education and hospitals and its urban nature.

Nonprofit spending is large, growing, and dispersed widely across the region.

Southeastern Pennsylvania's Public Charities spent nearly $32 billion in 2007, and NPISH organizations spent close to $8.5 billion. By comparison, local governments spend about $9 billion annually. Nonprofit spending is highly concentrated among industry groups and the largest organizations.

The nonprofit sector would be the third largest private employment sector if it were recognized as an official economic sector.

There are more than 240,000 jobs in southeastern Pennsylvania's nonprofits - about 13% of the five-county total - supporting $11.3 billion in annual wages.

The nonprofit sector is a key contributor to a high quality of life in the region.

Nonprofits in southeastern Pennsylvania run on thin operating margins, particularly in the human services fields.

More than a third of Public Charities and 36% of NPISH organizations ran operating deficits for the 2007 period of analysis.

It is The Philadelphia Foundation's hope that sharing this information with the community will advance its vision of a dynamic and robust nonprofit sector that is critical to our regional quality of life. Click here to view the full report.

DOE Secretary Visits Erie

From Friday's inbox:

Secretary Chu Highlights Recovery Act Tax Credits for Home Energy Efficiency Improvements

Visits Pennsylvania Energy Efficient Window Manufacturer with U.S. Representative Kathy Dahlkemper

ERIE, Pa. – Today while visiting Seaway Manufacturing Corporation – an energy efficient window manufacturing company in Erie, Pa. – Secretary Chu highlighted the tax credits available to American families as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Taxpayers are eligible for up to $1,500 in tax credits for a range of home energy efficiency improvements – such as adding insulation, installing energy efficient windows, or replacing water heaters.

“Investing in energy efficiency is one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways reduce the energy bills in your home,” said Secretary Chu. “We want to make sure that families that made those investments are taking advantage of the Recovery Act tax credits, which can put up to $1,500 into their pockets.”

“Thanks to the Recovery Act, homeowners can save as much as $1,500 in tax credits for energy improvements—a major savings for families. With quality, energy efficient products made right here in Erie, homeowners in our region can save money and support local businesses at the same time,” said Rep. Dahlkemper. “Western Pennsylvania boasts an innovative and hardworking manufacturing base; our region is poised to be a leader in new energy technologies.”

The Recovery Act expanded residential efficiency tax credits for some energy-efficiency improvements, including replacing doors and windows, upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, adding insulation, or replacing a water heater. Through 2010, homeowners can receive a tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of the improvements, up to $1,500.

Secretary Chu reminded taxpayers that they can collect on those benefits this year as they file their 2009 tax returns, and can continue to receive tax credits through the end of this year. To help make sure that taxpayers are aware of the Recovery Act benefits they are eligible for this year, the Obama Administration launched a new interactive Tax Savings Tool, which can be accessed HERE.

These tax credits are in addition to the energy and cost savings that come with energy efficiency. Investments in efficiency products can save homeowners up to 40 percent on energy costs over the long-term.

Consumers who installed renewable energy systems in their homes, including solar panels, geothermal heat pumps or wind turbines, are also eligible for tax credits for 30 percent of the cost of the systems, which are available through 2016. Additional detail on the renewable energy tax credits is available HERE.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gubernatorial Candidates on Education

Now that national health care legislation seems to be settled (at least for now), it's time to get to state issues. In looking at candidates for governor from both parties, education seems to be a popular topic. All of their websites have something on education, though the depth of the stance varies. Dan Ororato (D) has the most detailed policy. Joe Hoeffel (D) has a separate issue statement on education; Tom Corbett (R) has a general policy and then more detail in his statement on an educated workforce. Anthony Williams (D), Jack Wagner (D), and Sam Rohrer (R) each include a paragraph on education in very general overall issue or vision statements.

Let's start with those three and then tackle the larger documents. Basically Williams, Wagner, and Rohrer all sort of fit into the "ponies and rainbows" category, with idealistic statements that don't really mean anything or have substantive details or present budgetary figures. Electing these men governor based on their education policies is, as the saying goes, buying a pig in a poke (in contrast to the other three candidates who do spell things out, and thus let the cat out of the bag). Nonetheless, there are points to be found in each.

Here is Williams's statement:

In too many communities, students and families are subjected to subpar schools or curriculum that is outmoded and misaligned with today’s emerging industries. Too often that leaves students unprepared, either for their next academic step or life in the working world. High school dropouts cost us in lost revenues, and the tens of millions spent annually for remedial courses at community colleges chip away at the Commonwealth’s bottom line, too. We can no longer afford year-after-year property tax hikes that funnel dollars into systems that fail to offer data-based returns on our investment. Kids lose and we lose. There can be a better idea.

It’s time to invest in schools that work for our kids, not systems that don’t. Let’s give Pennsylvania families the freedom to choose the best option for their child – be it the neighborhood school at the corner, the charter school across the street, or the private school across town. Make money follow the child, rather than make the child follow the money. We can start today.

The only solution he offers is school choice, and does not go into many details on what legislation he would like to see or what budgetary model he would follow. His vision also pertains solely to K-12 education and not with higher education.

Wagner takes the opposite tack:
ack will enact a HOPE (Helping Our Pupils to Excel) scholarship program. The HOPE scholarship has been successful in 20 other states. Students who graduate from high school with at least a 3.0 grade-point average would have their tuition paid for at a state-owned university – or would be able to use the equivalent amount (roughly $10,000 per year), to attend a private or state-related university, community college, or vocational-technical school within Pennsylvania. Jack has worked to reform the education system in Pennsylvania, from pre-K through college, with his historic audits of PHEAA.

As Governor, Jack will capitalize on those cost savings, and help our students get out of debt. Jack frequently calls attention to the poor rankings of our state in terms of educational debt of our students – we are one of the worst in the country. With the HOPE scholarship, and supporting programs, Pennsylvania will not only be the home to many great colleges in universities, we will provide our students with the opportunity to thrive at those institutions, and contribute to Pennsylvania’s economy for years to come.

Note that his education policy pertains solely to higher education and not K-12. He does have one solid idea, the HOPE scholarship program, though he does not say how much it would cost the state or how he would pay for it.

Sam Rohrer's education statement is one sentence:
We believe that academic excellence thrives when parents have greater choice and control over the educational decisions of their children.

Later he says he wants to stabilize school funding and do away with school property taxes.

The other three candidates have longer statements concerning some aspect of education

Tom Corbett, the leading Republican in the race, has this general statement:
Tom Corbett believes that one of the most important priorities we face is education reform and the quality of education that our children receive in order for them to compete in the global marketplace. He believes that every child in Pennsylvania, regardless of their zip code or economic status should have access to the best education possible. Tom Corbett is a believer in early child hood education and is a supporter of school choice, including: charter schools; private schools; cyber charter schools; Earned Income Tax Credit program and home schooling. He believes that our schools should be staffed by the most effective educator force in the nation and that education funding is met with high standards and accountability in Pennsylvania’s schools.

Like Williams, Corbett focuses on K-12 schools and favors school choice. He also mentions early childhood education and home schooling, but again with no specifics. However, he has a longer statement on developing a world class workforce, concerning career and technical training and higher education. The primary focus of this statement is job training and community college education, though there is a little discussion of higher education. Corbett does not advocate many new programs not does he provide many budgetary specifics. Verbs such as "will direct," "committed to the support of," "will redirect fund," and so on imply the use of the bully pulpit more than the creation of agencies or the spending of money. A few things that particularly struck me are his mention of returning veterans, his note that we are a net exporter of teachers, training more teachers than we have jobs for, though I see this as a positive rather than a negative, and his note that many college graduates leave the state not because jobs are lacking but because they don't think the commonwealth has the lifestyle amenities they want. Other states (North Carolina is mentioned) recruit graduates with appealing pr campaigns. Corbett thinks we need to use social media and other networking to let new graduates know what is available here. One thing I found promising is his statement that we need to make sure people can study subjects that interest them and get a broad enough education that they can find work they enjoy rather than preparing them solely for one job that might be in momentary demand.

Joe Hoeffel has a specific issues page on education. It focuses primarily on K-12 education. It does include support for pre-K and early childhood education, with statistics to back up their positive results. Another point is identifying at risk students and providing them with the support they need to graduate. Hoeffel wants to improve standards and accountability and is in favor of well-designed standardized tests. "Funding the formula" is another item mentioned. Hoeffel favors shifting more of the cost of education from local property taxes to the state and will cover the cost of that with a graduated income tax where wealthier residents pay more that lower-income residents. He also mentions the importance of school board training and of defined benefit teachers' pensions.

Onorato gets the prize for the most specific education policies, with separate multi-page pdf plans for Pre-K - 12 education and for higher education, complete with estimated spending goals (but not necessarily a discussion of where the money will come from). In Pre-K - 12 (8 pages) he shares his view of the importance of early childhood education, shifting the burden from local property taxes, providing educational opportunities that are personally interesting to students as well as occupationally opportunistic, a balanced view of school choice with a side note on charter school reform, and cost savings suggestions such as shared services and aggregating school employee health insurance. He also mentions the importance of good school administrators and throws in kudos to school nurses and libraries. I was also pleased to see a note on the importance of parent involvement, something I view as essential to good education. His higher education plan (11 pages) involves serious money. I counted promises to set aside a total of at least $65 million for various projects, such as a pool to provide matching fund for federal grants, and an equivalent amount ($25 million) as a pool for matching funds for industry-sponsored research. Like Corbett he says quite a bit about community colleges and job training, and promises to have community college or equivalent programs available within an hour's drive of as many Pennsylvanians as possible. He also wants to make filling out the federal financial aid forms easier by allowing people to option of linking the forms to their tax returns so relevant data will automatically transfer from one form to the other. Another idea is setting up a community college coordinating board so spending on things like copiers and library subscriptions can be aggregated.

Candidates who do not provide specifics on their education policy are asking voters to take them on faith. Candidates who do provide specifics are setting up expectations that, if elected, they may not be able to meet, but at least you have some sense of what their intentions are and have a way of holding them accountable to their promises. When specifics are given it is interesting to see what each man (and they are all men, no women candidates for governor) thinks is worth including. It gives an idea of their priorities and mindset, though both are likely to change.

Interested voters should examine the candidate's statements, where they exist, in full, to make an informed decision.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mark Painter vs Tom Quigley in the 146th

Incumbent Republican Tom Quigley of the 146h state house district is being called out by Democratic challenger Mark Painter (no campaign website yet). The 146th Legislative District in Montgomery County includes Limerick, Lower Pottsgrove, Pottstown, Royersford, Upper Pottsgrove, West Pottsgrove, and a portion of New Hanover.

A note received from Painter:


LIMERICK, PA – State House candidate Mark Painter criticized Republican incumbent Tom Quigley’s for signing a letter in support of Attorney General Tom Corbett’s lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which became law just days earlier. The ACA would finally provide health insurance to hundreds of thousands of working Pennsylvanians and their children and families, who currently have no way of getting coverage.

“With all the economic problems Pennsylvania faces, our elected officials have more important things to do than grandstanding on the taxpayer’s nickel,” Painter said. “If Corbett and Quigley don’t like the ACA, they have every right to say so. But leave my tax money out of it.

“A solid majority of Pennsylvanians voted for Barack Obama because they wanted health care reform. Now that we finally won it, the Attorney General wants to spend our money to take away from us in court what we won at the ballot box.

“And here I thought Republicans didn’t like frivolous lawsuits.”

Leftovers from the New Yorker

I've been catching up on my reading. Here are a few interesting notes from the New Yorker.

"The Daley Show," by Evan Osnos (3/08), on Chicago's Mayor Daley.

Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania and a former mayor of Philadelphia told me [of Daley], "He's the best mayor in the history of the country, I think."

Daley's wife, born Maggie Corbett, is the daughter of a suburban Pittsburgh auto-parts dealer.

The March 15th issue included a "Financial Page" column called "Special Interest," by James Surowiecki. It's a little trick to explain or understand, but as I grasp it, money managers at public companies you pay regular taxes. Money managers at privately held partnerships, such as hedge funds, pay capital gains, at a much lower rate. A bill to close this loophole passed in the House. As of Surowiecki's writing the Senate had not taken up the bill. This is definitely something that should be fixed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

NCSL Report on State Legislative Opposition to Health Care Reform

The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled a list of existing, pending, and planned legislation that opposes the current federal legislation.

As part of state-based responses to federal health reform legislation, individual members of at least 36 state legislatures are using the legislative process to seek to limit, alter or oppose selected state or federal actions, including single-payer provisions and mandates that would require purchase of insurance. In general the measures seek to make or keep health insurance optional, and allow people to purchase any type of coverage they may choose. The individual state language varies.

Pennsylvania is included. The report is a 24 page pdf file.

Dog Days

from the inbox:

Susquehanna Service Dogs is an organization based out of Harrisburg that is running the Dogs Change Lives contest to raise awareness about their work to breed and train service dogs for those who needs assistance. The contest is trying to find the best stories about how dogs have changed the lives of everyday people for the better - and the story that gets the most votes wins $1000.

House Passes Budget on Time. Wants Cookie.

Kari Andren of the Patriot News is reporting that the Pennsylvania state house passed a budget today, 100 days early. This is a contrast to last year when the budget was passed 100 days late. What are the chances that this was a coincidence? The budget now goes to the state senate where (gasp!) people elected to do so will review it with a judicious eye and either pass it or revise it.

In other startling news, millions of Pennsylvanians went to work and did their jobs, and millions of school children did their homework. Just like they did yesterday. Just like they will do tomorrow. None of them are sending out press releases about it.

Another Bad Idea

From "Tea partiers told to 'drop by' Tom Perriello's home" by Andy Barr (Politico 3/22):

A tea party organizer angry over Rep. Thomas Perriello’s (D-Va.) vote in favor of health care reform published what he thought was the freshman member’s home address on a blog, in case any readers “want to drop by” and provide a “personal touch” to their views.

Rather than giving out Perriello’s address however, the tea party activist mistakenly printed the home address of the congressman’s brother. Perriello’s brother and wife have four children under the age of 8.

This is dangerous and a primary reason we sometimes have trouble finding people to run for office. Cut it out!

A Quick Note on Patrick Murphy's Fundraiser Last Friday

According to the PAWaterCooler, Mike Fitzpatrick, former 8th district congressman and candidate for that office again this year, said Patrick Murphy, current 8th district congressman, skipped a public event in the district on healthcare:

As recently as last Friday, hundreds of District 8 residents gathered and voiced opposition to this debacle. Though Patrick Murphy was invited he apparently decided that a fundraiser was more important than listening to the concerns of his own constituents.

As it happens I was at Murphy's fundraiser Friday night. It is a low cost event, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, and has become an annual event, scheduled far in advance. I attended last year as well. Like Josh Shapiro's quizzo games and birthday parties, Allyson Schwartz's summer picnics and January post-election parties, Delaware County debates and picnics, and an assortment of other low cost and free events, it is a good opportunity for the public (including anonymous bloggers) to get together, meet candidates, and have a good time.

Given that the debate on the health care bill was slated to start early in the weekend with a vote hoped for on Sunday I wondered if Murphy would be able to attend himself, or if he would be in Washington for debates and strategy sessions. The St. Patrick's Day celebration was scheduled to last from 7 to 10 p.m. I got there a little after 8 and left around 9. Murphy had not yet arrived when I left but was expected shortly.

So it is incorrect for Fitzpatrick to say that Murphy skipped Fitzpatrick's event to go to a fundraiser. He was stuck in Washington and would not have gotten back in time. Plus, given the recommended donation ($50), it could hardly be considered a high roller event. It was more along the lines of a beef and beer (though fish was on the menu).

If you are wondering why I went to a political event and left before the candidate arrived, well, no offense to Murphy, but at this kind of event, unless he is making a policy speech, which candidates seldom do, he's not really the main attraction. Murphy's events just bring in nice people. This past Friday, his wife, a talented lawyer, was taking plates and cleaning off tables. A group of pre-school girls ran around and did their version of Irish dancing. People table hopped and chatted. It was a friendly, low-key crowd. At previous Murphy events I've sat with people who gave me good advice on cars and engaged in other casual conversation. There is very little political talk.

In any case, Congressman Murphy was not in a smoke-filled room being schmoozed by lobbyists Friday night. He was in DC and then in route to a room full of constituents and guests at the Ancient Order of the Hibernians.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Don't Phone Home, Don't Protest There Either

With all of the excitement this past weekend, a few things slipped by. One of them was particularly disturbing. While the bad behavior in Washington, name calling and so on, did get some press, something closer to home didn't show up much in the Philly area media.

A group of people in favor of health care reform protested in front of Congressman Jason Altmire's home. Altmire himself was in DC but I'm not sure if his wife and children were home. You can read more at "Protesters march at Altmire's home," by Kaitlynn Riely, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/22.

I can understand the fervor of those protesting, and share their views on the issue, I disagree with their tactics. People's houses should be off limits, especially if they have young children. A bunch of strangers on the front sidewalk carrying signs, even if it is done politely, could be very scary to all kids on the street, not just the congressman's. It might alarm the elderly, the ill, those with developmental disorders, and so on. It's also difficult to keep that many people on the sidewalk if they are carrying signs and walking back and forth. They are bound to spill over onto the neighboring properties.

This behavior, in my view, alienates more people than it persuades. Parents of children frightened by the protesters are going to remember that far longer than they will remember what was being protested.

Let's keep it civil and leave people's children out of adult political disagreements.

Statements on Health Care Bill

A variety of statements on health care reform, from the inbox:

President Obama:

Good evening, everybody. Tonight, after nearly 100 years of talk and frustration, after decades of trying, and a year of sustained effort and debate, the United States Congress finally declared that America’s workers and America's families and America's small businesses deserve the security of knowing that here, in this country, neither illness nor accident should endanger the dreams they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.

Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics. We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn't give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear. Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges. We proved that this government -- a government of the people and by the people -- still works for the people.

I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality. And I know this wasn’t an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote. I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for their commitment to getting the job done. I want to thank my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, and my wonderful Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for their fantastic work on this issue. I want to thank the many staffers in Congress, and my own incredible staff in the White House, who have worked tirelessly over the past year with Americans of all walks of life to forge a reform package finally worthy of the people we were sent here to serve.

Today’s vote answers the dreams of so many who have fought for this reform. To every unsung American who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an e-mail hoping your voice would be heard -- it has been heard tonight. To the untold numbers who knocked on doors and made phone calls, who organized and mobilized out of a firm conviction that change in this country comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up -- let me reaffirm that conviction: This moment is possible because of you.

Most importantly, today’s vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a health care system that works for insurance companies, but not for ordinary people. For most Americans, this debate has never been about abstractions, the fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat -- it’s always been about something far more personal. It’s about every American who knows the shock of opening an envelope to see that their premiums just shot up again when times are already tough enough. It’s about every parent who knows the desperation of trying to cover a child with a chronic illness only to be told “no” again and again and again. It’s about every small business owner forced to choose between insuring employees and staying open for business. They are why we committed ourselves to this cause.

Tonight’s vote is not a victory for any one party -- it's a victory for them. It's a victory for the American people. And it's a victory for common sense.

Now, it probably goes without saying that tonight’s vote will give rise to a frenzy of instant analysis. There will be tallies of Washington winners and losers, predictions about what it means for Democrats and Republicans, for my poll numbers, for my administration. But long after the debate fades away and the prognostication fades away and the dust settles, what will remain standing is not the government-run system some feared, or the status quo that serves the interests of the insurance industry, but a health care system that incorporates ideas from both parties -- a system that works better for the American people.

If you have health insurance, this reform just gave you more control by reining in the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry with some of the toughest consumer protections this country has ever known -- so that you are actually getting what you pay for.

If you don’t have insurance, this reform gives you a chance to be a part of a big purchasing pool that will give you choice and competition and cheaper prices for insurance. And it includes the largest health care tax cut for working families and small businesses in history -- so that if you lose your job and you change jobs, start that new business, you’ll finally be able to purchase quality, affordable care and the security and peace of mind that comes with it.

This reform is the right thing to do for our seniors. It makes Medicare stronger and more solvent, extending its life by almost a decade. And it’s the right thing to do for our future. It will reduce our deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade, and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that.

So this isn’t radical reform. But it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.

Now as momentous as this day is, it's not the end of this journey. On Tuesday, the Senate will take up revisions to this legislation that the House has embraced, and these are revisions that have strengthened this law and removed provisions that had no place in it. Some have predicted another siege of parliamentary maneuvering in order to delay adoption of these improvements. I hope that’s not the case. It’s time to bring this debate to a close and begin the hard work of implementing this reform properly on behalf of the American people. This year, and in years to come, we have a solemn responsibility to do it right.

Nor does this day represent the end of the work that faces our country. The work of revitalizing our economy goes on. The work of promoting private sector job creation goes on. The work of putting American families’ dreams back within reach goes on. And we march on, with renewed confidence, energized by this victory on their behalf.

In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream. Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge -- we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility -- we embraced it. We did not fear our future -- we shaped it.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Joe Sestak
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Congressman Joe Sestak released the following statement after the House of Representatives passed comprehensive health care reform -- HR 3950 -- by a vote of 219 to 212, and the package of reconciliation improvements -- HR 4872 -- by a vote of 220 to 211.

"The health care reform we passed today will put an end to insurance industry abuses, extend lifesaving care to millions, strengthen Medicare, and cut the national deficit.

"Health care is the most personal of any public policy. I know it is for me. I decided to run for Congress, after my 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer, with the conviction that all Americans should have access to the lifesaving medical care I was able to provide my family through my U.S. military health care. Today, we've taken a major step toward making that a reality.

"Nothing is more intimate or important than our health and the care we receive from our doctors. This reform will cut out the insurance bureaucrats and put life-and-death decisions back where they belong: in the hands of families and doctors. No longer will insurance companies be able to turn record profits by denying care to those who need it most, cutting your coverage the moment you get sick, or hiking your premiums year after year.

"If we had followed the Republican plan of inaction, in 30 years health care costs would have swallowed up a third our economy, driven small companies out of business, and bankrupted untold numbers of American families. By taking on one of the biggest challenges facing our nation, we're going to cut more than $130 billion from the deficit this decade, and another $1.2 trillion the next. And no longer will you have to pay for the uninsured out of your own pocket. This is a first, major step in tackling the deficit and creating a healthy country and a healthy economy.

"Today, we showed that good policy for the American people can triumph over Washington politics."

Allyson Schwartz:
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz issued the following statement today after voting for legislation to reform health care so that it works better for patients and is more affordable for all Americans. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, the Congresswoman played a significant role in drafting this important measure.

Specifically, Schwartz has championed provisions to prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, to expand and improve access to primary care, to ensure young adults can stay on their parent’s coverage until age 26, and to eliminate co-payments for preventive care services for seniors.

“Today Democrats in Congress took action to bring down health care costs for middle income families, help small businesses afford coverage for their employees, improve coverage for seniors, reign in wasteful spending, and provide access to 32 million uninsured Americans—all while reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 20 years.

“Health care reform will strengthen Medicare by ensuring better quality of care to our seniors and greater value for our public dollars. We close the gap in prescription drug coverage, known as the donut hole, which has been so costly for America's seniors. Thanks to this bill, seniors will no longer have to pay a co-pay for primary care and preventive services.

“Starting right away, insurance companies will be prohibited from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, from placing annual or lifetime caps on coverage, and from dropping people from coverage when they get sick.

“Health care reform represents the largest deficit reduction measure in nearly a generation. It will contain the rising cost of health coverage and improve health benefits for Americans who currently have insurance.

“It is time to put American families and small business owners—not insurance companies—in control of their own health care. It is time to hold insurance companies accountable to keep premiums down and prevent denial of care and coverage. It is time to ensure that millions of Americans have access to affordable health insurance choices.”

Paul Kanjorski:
Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11) provided the following statement explaining how he will vote for the health care reform bill. The bill will be voted on later this evening.

“Today I will vote for legislation designed to improve the affordability and accessibility of health care. Americans already spend more on health care than the people of any other nation. If we take no action, health care costs are expected to double over the next ten years, just as they have over the last ten years. It is not the bill I would have written if it were up to me alone, but it is the best we can do at this time.

“This was one of the most difficult votes I have ever cast, primarily because there is a great deal of confusion about what this bill will do. Senior citizens do not have to worry about losing any benefits because of this bill. In fact, their coverage for prescription drug costs and preventative care will improve. No federal funding will be used to fund abortion. The bill does not empower the federal government to take over health care. If people are happy with the insurance they have, nothing needs to change.

“However, this bill allows the American people to choose the health insurance plan that best fits individual and family needs by creating a marketplace of insurance plans. For too long, private insurance companies have monopolized how health insurance operates. This bill attempts to rein in those private insurers by prohibiting their most egregious abuses: denying coverage for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, imposing a lifetime cap on medical care, and limiting the ability of individuals to change jobs without the fear of losing insurance coverage. It will also enable young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.

“I thank the many Northeastern Pennsylvanians who have shared their thoughts with me on this important legislation over the past few months. When you are sick, the last thing you should have to worry about is how to pay the bills. Insurance is supposed to relieve this worry, but instead the current system has made that worry worse. Today, we are working to reverse this course.”

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review: The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe

The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lesson's of Barack Obama's Historic Victory by David Plouffe. NY: Viking, 2009

This is a war memoir. Plouffe is a general, and the enemy is Hillary Clinton. John McCain doesn't even make an appearance in the campaign narrative until chapter 11 of 17. This is a good read for anyone interested in learning how the presidential campaign was run and what happened in the inner circle.

In chapter one, Plouffe provides a history of his work with David Axelrod and gives an initial cast of characters. He also introduces four themes of the book. One is the impact of all encompassing campaign work upon his family and another is the emphasis the Obamas put on their own family. A third is the campaign's use of technology. The fourth is the "no drama Obama" work atmosphere in the campaign. It also establishes Sen. Clinton as the opposition. At the end of the chapter Obama makes a definite decision to run and asked Plouffe to be his campaign manager. The chapter ends with this:

We had a presidential campaign to get off the ground. And quickly. And a mountain named Hillary Clinton in our path that we had to find some way to scale, get around, or blow a hole through.

These themes continue in the second chapter. On the strictly political front the campaign sets up a Chicago headquarters and hires staff, including a salary cap for senior staff, and plans the formal announcement of Obama's campaign. A focus is getting ready for the Iowa caucuses. There are mentions of online information gathering and the importance of having low dollar fundraising events and merchandising. Another Hillary note is that her campaign broke an agreement that the three leading Democratic teams had made regarding debates.

One interesting aspect of reading a number of books on the same subject is seeing how the same event is interpreted or reported by each author. On page 57 Plouffe recounts a conversation on the campaign plane between Obama and staff that was also recounted in the Battle for America by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson. Plouffe continues to discuss the difficulty in trying to balance work and family; his dog dies while he is in Nevada. A significant part of the chapter explains and details the campaign’s emphasis on online connections and grassroots support and the way these forms of outreach relate to fundraising. The standards set in Iowa were maintained throughout the campaign:
[Paul] Tewes established a motto for our field staff philosophy: “Respect. Empower. Include.” We wanted to be the nicest, most attentive, and most creative staff in the field.

Plouffe is also honest about campaign mistakes, such as the D-Punjab remark about Sen. Clinton, which Obama was unaware of and angry about. The next chapter has several other criticisms about the Clinton campaign, for not using focus groups and for staying at a favorite hotel in Des Moines instead of traveling around the state. The Obama team’s Iowa strategy was:
These few people might seem inconsequential. But day in and day out, that’s how you build in Iowa: a few people at a time.

One example of behind the scenes strategy is Plouffe’s work to get all the other presidential campaigns not to campaign in Florida and Michigan, since they had moved their primaries up in defiance of DNC rules. This chapter also discusses pressure the campaign received from the African American community.

The fifth chapter, one of the longer ones in the book focuses on the Iowa caucuses. There is a brief description of the Philadelphia debate, but the Jefferson Jackson dinner in Iowa gets significantly more pages. Plouffe provides another look behind the scenes when recounting a meeting between Clinton and Obama on the tarmac of Washington National Airport. She apologized for a remark someone made about Obama; they agreed to be more careful in what their respective campaigns said. Since the Iowa caucuses were earlier than usual, not long after the holidays, campaign staff worked through without taking time off. Oprah campaigned for Obama, and John Kerry endorsed him. While Clinton’s campaign was unimpressed with the relative youth of many of the Obama supporters, they came through. As Plouffe recounts about the lesson they learned in Iowa:
Those lessons were many. A homegrown, committed grassroots organization was a mighty weapon when properly motivated and trusted to take initiative. Young voters would indeed turn out for Barack Obama. In Iowa, defying all history, voters under thirty turned out at the same rate as those over sixty-five; older voters traditionally had shown up in double the numbers.

The calendar was full after Iowa and chapter six concerns the New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina primaries. One prescient note from p. 148:
On our way [to lunch] we [Plouffe and Axelrod] we ran into Mark Halperin, reporter from Time, who asked if he could join us. He was working on a cover story about “how Obama did it,” and was hoping to get some time with the two of us. We were uneasy at the prospect of talking about how we won before it actually happened, but Halperin persisted. “Listen, you guy are going to win big today,” he said. “If a miracle happens and you don’t, I won’t use any of what you tell me.”

Halperin later wrote a book on the presidential election and there have been some questions about whether or not his sources knew they were on the record. One other interesting tidbit in this chapter is on pp. 158-9 and outlines an offer from John Edwards, that he would drop out and endorse Obama if Obama named Edwards the vice presidential candidate; however it was clear that Edwards intended to make the same offer to Clinton, though the Obama campaign was told he preferred Obama. Obama did not take the deal. As in Iowa the campaign depended primarily on grassroots support, and not on local “kingmakers.” Obama won the primary by 28 points showing again that the strategy was sound. Plouffe and others in the campaign kept a close watch on the delegate count and planned ahead accordingly.

Super Tuesday warrants its own chapter, though it is a comparatively slim one. Caroline and Ted Kennedy endorse Obama. Quite a bit of this chapter is on the wonkier aspects of the race, delegate count and the like. Plouffe again highlights their online organizing, pointing out that there was often an in-state organization in existence before the first official staffer was in place, and how useful that was when several primaries are happening at the same time. While Obama was campaigning in Delaware he took the time to meet be photographed with an assortment of Plouffe’s relatives. Plouffe mentions that during the 24 months he worked on the presidential campaign he saw his parents only twice and most of his siblings only once.

The next two chapters (“Ecstasy. Agony.” and “Agony. Ecstasy.”) continue the march of the primaries. Plouffe makes the point that no one else, not the New York Times, not even the
Clinton campaign (at least in Texas, which has a hybrid primary / caucus system), seem to have the same detailed grasp of the delegate count that the Obama campaign does. In among the details of how each state’s primary works and was handled, I found a few other interesting comments, such as Plouffe’s belief that the press was too easy on Clinton, saying her past had been written about extensively in the 1990’s and was no longer news. Plouffe continues to enforce two of his themes, one on the importance of grassroots:
We were able to make decisions without a lot of guff from our leading political supporters because they were not in the driver’s seat. We had a clear message and strategy to push forwards, and volunteers were our engine. Groups and political leaders who supported us were the caboose.

Another being the amount of time away from his family because of the demands of campaign work. This is further compounded when Plouffe finds out he and his wife are expecting their second child, due two days before the general election.

Among the “agony” aspects of these two chapters are the continuing problems caused by Rev. Wright, and Obama’s infamously poorly worded comments regarding bitterness, religion, and guns. Among the high points are Obama’s “race” speech at the National Constitution Center. The primary election finally ends in chapter 10. Plouffe notes that he considered Clinton a more formidable opponent than McCain. Those interested in the Obama campaign’s Internet strategy can find a good succinct description of it on p. 237. It is too lengthy to quote here; a similar summation of the importance of in person grassroots support is on the following page.

The book actually slows down a bit at this point. Chapter 11 is on getting ready for the general election and goes into details such as setting the budget, integrating some Clinton staff and working with Clinton herself. While Plouffe says the Clinton campaign seemed to expect the Obama campaign to take care of her debt, and that is was larger than they had thought, that Clinton herself campaigned for Obama and “campaigned her heart out.” Plouffe also mentioned that most of those who contributed to their campaign also volunteered in some fashion and how unusual that is; donors and volunteers are usually two separate groups with little overlap. Money, he says, is no substitute for committed volunteers. At this point in the campaign Plouffe himself wanted to step down for family reasons but his wife encourages him to stay. As he and Axelrod plan for the summer and fall he notes that “campaigns are not won in August but they can be lost there.”

Obama’s somewhat controversial overseas trip is the focus of chapter 12, “Innocents Abroad.” Readers get a firsthand view of the amount of planning such a trip requires. The next chapter details the selection of a vice presidential candidate. Plouffe says that Obama did seriously consider Clinton, but she was not among the three finalists – Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia. The campaign was able to bring all three (and some on a larger list) in for personal interviews without the press getting wind of it. Plouffe and Axelrod met with the three finalists. Their assessment of each is measured and Plouffe mentions Biden’s well-known propensity to be long-winded and make gaffes. The Democratic National Convention is also described in this chapter.

Sarah Palin, “Hurricane Sarah,” as Plouffe calls in her, and the beginnings of the general election are the focus of chapter 14. He is not, as one might expect, impressed with her experience or policy positions. The next chapter gets into the campaign proper, with an extensive discussion of their digital strategy, preparation for the first debate between McCain and Obama, and McCain’s plan to suspend his campaign during the banking crisis . McCain pushed Pres. Bush into holding a meeting with the two of them, Obama, and congressional leaders from both parties. The president’s chief of staff, Josh Bolten, contacted the Obama campaign about it and made it clear they did not necessarily view it as a good idea but would go forward anyway.

The meeting itself is described in chapter 16 and did not go well for McCain who did not seem to have any solutions to offer. The first and second presidential debates are also detailed in this chapter, as is the vice presidential debate. Having post-debate burgers and beers became a campaign ritual for Plouffe and Axelrod, though the quality of the food varied. On the downside, the William Ayers controversy pops up and Obama has a brief interaction with a guy who is not a plumber and not named Joe. The chapter also discusses some of McCain’s campaign strategy, including suspending his campaign in Michigan, which Plouffe finds inexplicable.

The last chapter, “Endgame,” finishes out the general election. It also starts the Obama administration by discussing the initial process of filling White House positions. Plouffe felt that there was only one logical choice for Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, who eventually took the job. One good summation of Plouffe’s view of the election from p. 368:
One of the fundamental truths of the campaign’s story, one that will always stick with those of us who went through it, it that we threw long. We refused to be defined by past electoral and American history, by what we were told we couldn’t do. We tried to see things simply as they existed. We refused to accept the story that many thought would be written for us, and instead wrote our own chapter of history. The greatest treasure of the campaign was the chance to be my best self, and to share this with a band of brothers and sisters who were also their best selves, as we met and seized our moment.

The epilogue mentions the birth of his daughter, shortly after the election, and his return to private life, as well as a discussion of some of the issues involving the Obama administration in its early days, and more of his political philosophy.

Local notes: Plouffe is from Delaware and he and his dad are both Phillies fans. The Philadelphia debate is described on pp. 107-108. The Pennsylvania primary is mentioned in passing on pp. 204-205 and in detail on pp. 214-219. Plouffe said the Pennsylvania debate hurt the campaign with women in the suburbs. One interesting quote from p. 215 on the bowling photo-op with Sen. Bob Casey
”The bowling I don’t mind,” I told Obama that night. “But at least you could have taken off your tie. In the pictures you and Casey look like accountants going office-bowling.”
. Obama may have some pizzazz but Casey always looks like that. In any event, the Obama campaign always assumed Pennsylvania would be difficult if impossible to win in the primary but that campaigning here would help in the general. The final meeting with Biden before his selection as vp took place at his sister’s house in Pennsylvania. When David Axelrod and Patti Solis Doyle flew in to brief Biden and escort him to Springfield for the announcement, they flew in and out of West Chester instead of Wilmington. Plouffe booked Axelrod at a less than stellar hotel off I-95. Campaigning in Pennsylvania in the general election is mentioned on pages 347 and 367; at one point Plouffe says Obama was practically living in Pennsylvania.

Personal notes: Plouffe writes well and writes positively. There is no undercutting or trash talk. It is also clear that the Obama campaign was focused, did the detail work necessary to form a good strategy, and that people could speak their mind. Obama isn’t glorified and Plouffe felt comfortable writing about their disagreements, but his high opinion of Obama is clear. In the acknowledgements Plouffe writes that there were too many people involved in the campaign to mention each one. Having been involved a bit on the ground here in Pennsylvania and knowing how hard some of our local officials worked for Obama it was a little surprising not to hear of anyone but Sen. Casey and Gov. Rendell but there isn’t room in one book for everyone. I think it would be great if someone here in PA would write the story of this election from our state’s viewpoint. One pet peeve with Plouffe – he didn’t include an index and says that was so people would read it through and not skip. Some people read it through and then refer back to it repeatedly (not mentioning names here, but, say, bloggers who write detailed book reviews) over time. Those people would surely appreciate an index. Just sayin’.

5 More PA Communities Pass "Lost or Stolen"

from the inbox:

Last night, Conshohocken Borough Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring lost or stolen firearms to be reported missing to the police upon discovery of their absence. On Tuesday night, Ambler Borough Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of a statewide lost or stolen handgun reporting requirement. And last week, the boroughs of Bridgeport, West Conshohocken, and Swarthmore all took similar action urging the General Assembly to pass a statewide law requiring lost or stolen handguns to be reported to the police. 32 PA communities have now taken action in support of the reform.

For more information see

Schwartz on Health Insurance Reform Bill

from the inbox:

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz issued the following statement today on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) preliminary analysis of the health care reform legislation that Congress is expected to vote on in the coming days.

“Today’s report from CBO shows health care reform will provide the largest deficit reduction since 1993. This legislation will cut the deficit by $138 billion in the first 10 years and slash it by another $1.2 trillion in the following decade. The bill is fully paid for and more than keeps our promise to the American people that health care reform will not add one dime to the deficit.

“Democrats are keeping promises made to seniors by lowering prescription drug costs, providing better chronic care, free preventive care and adding nearly a decade of solvency for Medicare. Health care reform also makes coverage more affordable for middle class families and businesses, offering one of the largest tax cuts for health care in history, reducing premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and guaranteeing coverage for 95 percent of Americans.

“Failing to enact health care reform means continued double digit premium increases—some as high as 90 percent—arbitrary loss of coverage and huge increases in the national deficit. The status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable for families and businesses across the country and Democrats in Congress are poised to act on comprehensive health care reform. Americans can not wait any longer for the meaningful, affordable coverage they deserve.”

Kanjorski and Volcker

The January 27 issue of The American Prospect had an article, "Breaking the Banks," by
Tim Fernholz. Here is an excerpt:

“Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania agreed not enough was being done to limit the types of risks that banks could take and was receptive to Volcker's critique. He authored an amendment that would allow regulators to order any financial firm out of a certain line of business if it proved a risk to the system; for instance, American International Group could have been ordered to divest its risky Financial Products division…


“In December, Obama, reacting to both Volcker's policy critique and bank risk-taking, specifically asked his team to build on the Kanjorski amendment by creating a mandatory regulation rather than a firm-by-firm approach, according to a White House official…

"’It's quite an accomplishment for the president to pick up [this idea] into the red zone, a football analogy. We just made up 30 yards,’ Kanjorski told me. ‘Some people are of the opinion that it may be an afterthought; I just don't think it is. I anticipated that they would either at some point endorse it or the president would endorse it.’”

Problems with Meehan's Petitions

Pat Meehan, Republican candidate for the 7th congressional district, is facing a challenge to his ballot petitions. Dan Hirschhorn over at pa2010 has the details in "Ballot challenge, spearheaded by Lentz." Another problem is that the Delaware County District Attorney, who would normally preside over the petition challenge, who Meehan asked to investigate, is a contributor to Meehan's campaign (also reporter at pa2010).

Nuns Back Health Care

from the inbox:

Today, 59,000 Catholic nuns from 60 orders endorsed the health insurance reform efforts currently underway in Congress. In addition, the Catholic Health Association and Catholics United have endorsed- attached is a statement of support from the Catholic Health Association urging legislators to pass meaningful reform this year, as well as a letter from Catholics United. These overwhelming demonstrations of support for health insurance reform are particularly important because of the groups’ recognition that current proposals will not allow for federal funding of abortion, one of the major misconceptions perpetrated by anti-reform crusaders and insurance industry lobbyists.

Health Care Impacts by District

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has compiled the impact of proposed health care legislation by congressional district. Take a look.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

AEI Talks Reconciliation

An interesting note on congressional reconciliation from the American Enterprise Institute's blog. Excerpt:

That strategy, then decried by the House Democrats who are now using it, and now being called unconstitutional by WSJ editorialists, was defended by House Republicans in court (and upheld). Dreier used it for a $40 billion deficit reduction package so that his fellow GOPers could avoid an embarrassing vote on immigration. I don’t like self-executing rules by either party—I prefer the “regular order”—so I am not going to say this is a great idea by the Democrats. But even so—is there no shame anymore?

(ht/ acm)

Field Trip Factory

Those few, those happy few, who arrange trips for youth groups, church groups, or groups of any kind and age group, might be interested in The Field Trip Factory ( These are FREE trips, usually to stores, with information aimed at your specific audiences. Scout troups can complete requirements towards pet care badges at Petco stores. There are arts field trips to A. C. Moore stores, and so on. They are, of course, pointing out merchandise in their store, but there is actually a fair amount to be learned on these trips. I organized and chaperoned a field trip factory trip recently and was impressed at the educational versus retail information provided. You register on the website and then call a week in advance to confirm.

Just passing it on.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More on Health Care

A few semi-related health care / insurance items.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post has an interesting post today that says in part:

The Fix laid our hands on a new polling memo from Democratic survey guy John Anzalone that details the results of a health care poll conducted in a whopping 92 Democratic districts -- a mix of top Republican targets, moderate/conservative Blue Dogs and rural seats -- and funded by several labor groups.

The main points of the Anzalone memo:

* Nearly six in ten (59 percent) of voters in these districts support the idea of reforming the health care system and roughly that same number believe that the changes need to be made now.

* While 42 percent of voters in these districts initially support the health care bill that number jumps to 51 percent "after hearing about some of the benefits of the plan."

* The best message arguments for Democrats to make in the wake of passage are: 1) the coverage of pre-existing conditions and 2) the fact that for the first time ever average people will be able to have the same health care plan as Members of Congress.

Some of the districts polled are in Pennsylvania, PA-10, PA-17, PA-03, PA-04, PA-08.

Congressman Patrick Murphy, who represents the 8th district held a conference call today with reporters and following that his office issued this release:
Today, Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy (D, 8th-District) announced that he will support comprehensive health insurance reform to provide the largest middle class healthcare tax cut in history- $500 billion dollars for families and small businesses- and to end, once and for all, the abusive insurance practices that the industry has gotten away with for decades.

Murphy was joined on a reporter conference call by Barbara Stakes, a Bucks County resident who lost her insurance- along with her job of 40 years- at the age of 60, and overnight faced premium costs of $1250 a month. Unable to afford coverage, Barbara hopes that her seizures stay in remission and that she does not get seriously ill before she is old enough to qualify for Medicare. Murphy was also joined by Patrick Kenny, President of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, and by Dick Woodruff of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, to discuss why health insurance reform will curb skyrocketing premiums, expand access to care, and save lives.

After careful consideration and having met with and listened to thousands of constituents, doctors, patients, and healthcare providers, Murphy will vote to improve access to coverage for middle-class families, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and get the United States ’ spiraling healthcare spending under control and on a deficit-reducing path. Health insurance reform is supported by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the American Nurses Association, and the American Cancer Society, as well nearly 300 other organizations, and will make critical and long-overdue improvements to the nation’s health insurance system.

“I’m proud to support the largest middle-class healthcare tax cut in history for 8th District families and small businesses, and to fight against special interests to end the abusive practices insurance companies have gotten away with for decades, like denying people coverage for pre-existing conditions or kicking people off their plans when they get sick,” said Rep. Patrick Murphy. “The need for these protections hits home when a parent is laid off and the family loses their insurance, a child graduates from college but is unable to find a job that offers benefits, or a loved one can’t get coverage because of a pre-existing condition like asthma, diabetes, or cancer.”

“I worked hard my entire life, but lost my health insurance when I lost my job. Overnight, I was facing huge out-of-pocket costs for treatment and medications for my seizures, a pre-existing condition,” said Barbara Stakes of Feasterville. “I want to thank Patrick Murphy for courageously stepping forward to support meaningful reform that will prevent insurance companies from taking advantage of other hardworking Americans who have played by the rules.”

Congressman Murphy has been guided by 8th District constituents’ experiences within the health insurance system- small business owners struggling to do right by their employees in the face of skyrocketing healthcare costs; Bucks County residents denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions such as pregnancy, asthma, high blood pressure, and cancer; seniors failing to make ends meet and lacking access to vital prescription drugs as they fall into the Medicare Part D “donut hole” every year.

Healthcare reform will address these issues by extending tax credits to middle class families and small businesses to make health insurance coverage more affordable and accessible, ending denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions, and ensuring that consumers who already have coverage cannot be kicked off their plan for becoming “too expensive,” and closing the “donut hole”. Reform would end insurance companies’ abusive practices, putting Americans- not insurance company CEOs- back in the driver’s seat. Reform will empower patient and physician decision making. In addition to closing the Medicare Part D “donut hole,” health insurance reform will strengthen and improve benefits for seniors. Seniors will have access to lower-cost prescription drugs. Medicare beneficiaries will also have access to free preventive care services to help them stay healthy and active.

Importantly, healthcare reform cracks down on Medicare fraud that drains nearly $60 billion in taxpayer money from the system each year. It includes a bipartisan bill Congressman Murphy introduced with the former head of the RNC, then-Senator Mel Martinez . The IMPROVE Act will close a major loophole that allows for billions of dollars in Medicare fraud each year. This legislation finally gives law enforcement the tools they need to track down scammers and protect taxpayer dollars.

Health insurance reform is deficit-reducing, a condition that Congressman Murphy, as a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, stressed was critical to his support for any health insurance reform measures. In fact, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office, all of the current legislative proposals reduce the deficit. Pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and other industry groups, who will see millions of new customers under this legislation, are contributing hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for insurance reform.

On the call the congressman said that of the $500 billion tax break, $450 billion would be for families, $50 billion for small businesses.

Another of the districts polled, the 3rd, is represented by Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper. According to a blog post by Roberta Biros posted on the PAWaterCooler Dahlkemper's proposed legislation to allow parents to keep adult children on their insurance until the age of 26 was referred to on "Forbes on Fox" as a "slacker mandate." I know a lot of people with children who have graduated from high school or college and have not yet been able to find jobs that provide insurance. Being able to keep those adult children on their coverage would bring them into the risk pool and also provide insurance if health problems or injuries relating to accidents occurred. Name calling really doesn't help here.

Personally, as is probably apparent by this and previous posts, I hope the legislation passes. As a union member I've been fortunate to have good insurance but a number of friends and family have been uninsured or had to pay enormous sums for insurance. I know people who stayed in jobs they did not like because a child's illness would count as a pre-existing condition and so they could not take other job offers. One of my college teachers limped because he had been injured and did not have insurance and thus did not receive the care needed to fully heal an injury. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the health care bill would not add to the deficit and would in fact save money.

Billboard Battle in Delco

A group of citizens are protesting proposed billboards in Delaware County. For more information check out their website:

More Milestones

An offshoot of blogging is keeping track of how and how often the blog is used. Not long ago the little meter from webcounter that records hits crossed the 250,000 mark. A quarter of a million puts me quite a ways behind McDonalds but fairly respectable for a small blog. The past week or so the number of followers on twitter popped up and down around 300 but I think it has passed 300 to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. It will go up and down again as we near and pass election dates.

My thanks to all who stop in, comment, and follow on twitter (

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kanjorski on Wall Street Reform

from the inbox:

Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11), the Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises, today favorably commented on the proposed Wall Street reform bill released by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT). The Dodd proposal includes a slightly modified version of the House-passed Kanjorski “too big to fail” amendment to prevent future taxpayer bailouts by empowering federal regulators to rein in and dismantle financial firms that are so large, inter-connected, or risky that their collapse would put at risk the entire American economic system.

“Senator Dodd has crafted a credible bill aimed at reforming the way that Wall Street operates and better protecting the American economic system,” said Chairman Kanjorski. “In December, the House passed its Wall Street reform bill, and today we took an important step towards achieving a similar goal in the Senate. Now is the time for Congress to pass a strong bill that fundamentally changes the way that Wall Street works, safeguards the families that live and the small businesses that operate on Main Street, and provides investors with strong protections. Because the differences between the House-passed bill and Senator Dodd’s proposal are easily bridgeable, I believe that we can quickly reach a final agreement in a conference committee on financial services regulatory reform legislation once the Senate acts. I therefore urge the Senate to act quickly on the Dodd draft.”

“Significantly, the Dodd plan includes language quite similar to my initial proposal to permit regulators to rein in and break up ‘too big to fail’ financial companies, especially those that pose grave threats to our economy. It also includes the recent Obama Administration proposals not only to bar proprietary trading by insured banks, but also to further limit their size and scope,” remarked Chairman Kanjorski. “As I initially advocated, we must provide regulators with the flexibility to impose additional restrictions on large financial firms to protect our economy, work to prevent future bailouts, and proactively break up those companies that have become ‘too big to fail’. As advanced by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, we additionally ought to provide explicit rules about what the players on Wall Street can and cannot do. The lessons of this financial crisis dictate that we must work to end the era of ‘too big to fail’ financial institutions. My amendment and the complementary Obama Administration’s Volcker rule proposal do just that. I commend Senator Dodd for addressing both of these matters in his plan.”

Regarding investor protection issues Chairman Kanjorski observed, “In order to restore order in our markets, we must also improve investor confidence and reform credit rating agency regulation. I am therefore pleased that the Dodd proposal includes a number of important investor protection reforms. As it continues to consider these matters, I am hopeful that the Senate will work to include many more of the comprehensive reforms found in my bill -- the Investor Protection Act -- which was incorporated into the House-passed Wall Street reform legislation. We especially need to ensure the creation of a strong, uniform fiduciary duty standard to protect investors. Finally, we need to fundamentally reform the way the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission operates and the way it is funded; my reforms included in the House-passed bill and the Dodd proposals aim to achieve these important ends.”

On December 11, the House passed H.R. 4173, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which included the Kanjorski “too big to fail” amendment. About a month later, President Obama announced his proposals to limit the size and scope of financial companies, and both Administration officials and House leaders have regularly stated that the President’s proposal builds upon the Kanjorski amendment to address companies that are deemed too big to fail.

On January 27, Chairman Kanjorski also sent letters to Senate Banking Committee leaders offering to provide assistance and background on the Kanjorski “too big to fail” amendment as the Senate worked on its Wall Street reform legislation. The letters were sent to Chairman Dodd and Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL), as well as Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Mark Warner (D-VA), two Senate Banking Committee members charged with reaching a bipartisan agreement on systemic risk issues, including addressing “too big to fail” matters. Click here to view the letter. For further details about the Kanjorski “too big to fail” amendment, click here to view a press release from when Chairman Kanjorski first revealed his plan in November.

DVRPC Bicycle Survey

from the inbox:

Shifting Gears is an outreach program by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) to help determine bicycle issues and priorities for our region. Shifting Gears seeks the input from bicyclists and non-bicyclists like you through an online survey at

The online survey only takes about 5-10 minutes and asks questions about bicycle use, facilities, policy, and information on what would best enhance the cycling environment.

Please go to and tell us what is on your mind. If you already took the survey, then forward this email to a friend, or five friends, do not keep it to yourself. Bicyclists of any level, as well as non-bicyclists are invited to participate.