Monday, October 27, 2014

Why I'm voting for the Democrats

I've been voting in elections for 21 years now, and in all that time, I can count on one finger the number of Republicans I've voted for--and still have a finger left over.

It's true.  I've never voted for a Republican, and unless something changes drastically, I'm not likely ever to do so.

If you want to dismiss me as a partisan hack, then just stop reading here, and go read something else.  I won't mind.

But those of you who care to know why, keep reading.

It's not that I'm on Team D.  I'm moderately interested in politics, but I've never given a campaign contribution.  I rarely put out yard signs.  I don't go door-to-door canvassing for my candidates.  I haven't phone-banked.  There was a time in my life when I imagined I would do these kinds of things, and more--even maybe running for office one day.  I won't rule it out, but it's not really on my bucket list.

To be honest, I'm less than enthusiastic about most of the candidates this year--on both sides.  Mike Ross is a nice guy, a good guy, but he's far more conservative than I like.  Mark Pryor...what to say about him?  I loved being represented by his father.  Let's just say Mark is no David Pryor. And his commercials have been incredibly uninspiring.  I'm not sure what to make of John Burkhalter, the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor.

For reasons I'll discuss below, I'm voting for them anyway.  But before I explain why, I'd like to relay a bit of insight I gained into what most people seem to feel.  Many times, the comment is that voting is choosing the lesser of two evils (or, variantly, the lesser of two lessers).  In the city where I live, Cammack Village, there is a contested non-partisan race for alderman.  The two candidates are the incumbent, whom I don't really know, and a challenger whose principal motivation in running for alderman is that he owns several rental properties and doesn't like a new ordinance that requires rental properties to undergo extensive inspections.

I know the challenger.  On a personal level, I like him a lot.  Politically, he's a hard-core Republican.  I would never vote for him for high office.  But I don't like the ordinance that was passed any more than he does.  (I'm all for holding landlords to reasonable standards, but this ordinance goes too far, and it seems plain that the primary purpose is to reduce the number of rental properties in this town.)  So our interests are aligned on that issue, and beyond that and the rates the city is able to negotiate for utilities, I really don't care what the city council does.

The problem is that at least until recently, he didn't live here.  He owns several properties here, and he's supposedly occupying one now, but I think it's a stretch to say he lives here.

The incumbent is also a Republican (judging, at least, from the signs in her yard).  She voted for the ordinance, and her campaign literature doesn't give the slightest clue as to what she stands for.  She did put out a letter that engaged in a lot of mudslinging against her challenger, which I could have respected except that she didn't explain anything about what she wanted to do if re-elected.

To me, negative campaigning is often necessary, but negative campaigning without a positive counterpoint is worse than useless.

So I have come to understand why it is that a lot of people just can't stand either candidate, or either party, and can't bring themselves to vote.  I can't make a decision on the known merits of either candidate, and I refuse to vote for someone just because I know him (or don't know her).

I'm going to vote.  In that race, I probably won't make a decision until I'm in the booth.  On the rest of the races, though, I'm decided.

Why for the Democrats?

There are three reasons.

First, the quality of the Republican candidates is poorer than I've seen in a long time.  As the GOP gets pulled to the radical right, the nominations process is only attracting people who care very little about making the government function well and very much about being combative against the things they are against.

Asa! Hutchinson (I think borrowed the apostrophe from Lamar! Alexander for this race) has run for governor four times and lost three times (pending this election).  He's a hyperpartisan Republican who's served in whatever radical role the GOP has thrown at him for twenty years.  And he borrowed his economic plan from Sam Brownback, who's run Kansas so far into the ground economically it might never climb out of the hole it's in.  No thanks.

Tom Cotton wants to be the Senator from Kochland.  He claims to be in favor of making tough choices--but sometimes those choices are tough because they're economically stupid.  What he prescribes will be great for the billionaires and horrible for everybody else.  He strikes me as a sociopath.  No thanks.

French Hill, banker, running for Congress.  My mind about him was made up when he put out an ad talking about how ordinary people don't spend money they don't have, so the government shouldn't either.  It's not true.  Ordinary people spend money they don't have all the time.  They buy houses and cars on credit.  They use credit cards.  If people didn't spend money they don't have, our economy would grind to a halt.  But, even more importantly, French Hill is a banker.  His entire business model is based on people borrowing money because they don't have enough to do what they want to do.  Either he is that dumb, or he thinks we are.  No thanks.

(On the other hand, I'm a big fan of Hill's opponent, Patrick Henry Hays, and will cast my vote for him enthusiastically.)

Leslie Rutledge, running for Attorney General.  Matt Campbell over at Blue Hog Report* has done yeoman's work in exposing her for the fraud she is.  This is a woman who worked as an attorney for DHS, who used her state email account to send and/or forward racist, lewd, and otherwise inappropriate messages, and who committed misconduct gross enough for her DHS bosses to mark her file "DO NOT REHIRE."  (We still don't know what the misconduct was; she refuses to have her personnel file released.)  No thanks.

* - One of my favorite blogs.  Matt is an attorney, he knows how to use the Freedom of Information Act, and he applies his considerable analytical skills to hold his targets' feet to the fire.  I wouldn't want to get crosswise with him as several Republicans have done recently.

Mark Martin, running for re-election as Secretary of State.  He's not the famous NASCAR driver.  He's rarely in the office; he doesn't live in Little Rock (even though he's required to do so by law); he makes few public appearances.  And all of that's fine.  There have been some other issues, like spending $100,000 of state money to hire attorneys in violation of a court order, that are less fine.  But when his opponent set up a section on her webpage where people could check their voter registration status--using a technology that is perfectly legal to use, which linked to the Secretary of State's official website lookup--he sent a State Capitol police officer to her campaign office to hand-deliver a letter demanding that she take the section down.  The purpose was clear:  To use the prerogatives of his office and taxpayer dollars to intimidate his opponent for political purposes.  No thanks.

Stacy Hurst, running for state representative in my district (35).  Engineered, with some allies in the Little Rock School District, a scheme whereby her opponent's four-year-old would be denied admission to the pre-K school her opponent and his wife preferred, while simultaneously attempting to bait them into accepting special consideration for acceptance into a different school (ahead of other applicants). No thanks.

These are genuinely scummy people.  These are, by far, not the only Republicans who meet that definition.  (Jason Rapert is one, but he's not on my ballot.)  Not all Republicans are scummy, of course.  One who's not is John Thurston, who's running for re-election as Commissioner of State Lands.  I've known John for a long time, and he's a good man.  But by being a Republican, he aligns himself with these scummy people, so I'm voting for his opponent, Mark Robertson.

Second, the Republicans can't seem to articulate what it is they're for.  Each of the Republicans is running, in some measure, against Barack Obama.  I'm hardly Obama's biggest fan.  I did vote for him three times (2008 primary, 2008 general, 2012 general) and I don't regret any of those votes.  It's probably politically smart to run against him, given how irrationally unpopular he is in this state.  But gee whiz, he's not on the ballot.

What I don't hear a lot of from the Republicans is what they are for.  Being against Obamacare isn't being for anything.  Other than that, virtually nothing.  Asa!, for example, is vowing to "hit the ground running and never look back."  What does that mean?

Apparently it means he wants to cut income taxes on the wealthiest Arkansans.  We've tried that before on the national level.  It doesn't work.  All it does is hamstring the ability of the state government to function.

I don't view any of the candidates I noted before as seeking to serve the people of Arkansas. What they seem to be interested in doing is gaining the powers and prerogatives of the office, mostly in order to institute radical policies, like abortion restrictions, that have little to do with the quality of life in Arkansas but much to do with imposing their moral views on everyone, regardless of rights or merits.

Third, there is a difference between the parties.  I know there are a lot of people who don't see much difference between the Democrats and the Republicans.  Sometimes that's true.  But there's a big difference that might be the most important of all.

There are lots of things I'd like to see the General Assembly take on--ideas that aren't partisan, just good ideas about how to bring good jobs and a better economy to this state.  For example, broadband access in rural Arkansas is non-existent or prohibitively expensive.  I know how having access to broadband has changed the way I work and play.  I'd like to see the state government make a special effort to spend money to improve broadband access statewide.  Eighty years ago, FDR brought us the Rural Electrification Administration, which financed the wiring of rural America, such that mostly reliable electricity is available everywhere people live.  How much better could life be if we could do the same to bring broadband to rural Arkansas?

I have no confidence that a Republican-led state government would ever give that idea any consideration at all--at least, unless they could funnel the money to wealthy people.

For the last thirty years, if not longer, the Republican Party has been animated by the guiding principle that the government is incapable of doing anything right.  When you believe that the government can't do anything right, what is a government that you head going to look like?  Will it ever do anything right?  Of course not. 

The truth is that the government gets a lot of what it does right.  Sometimes the government does things that interfere with what you want to do.  The police officer writes you a ticket for exceeding the speed limit.  The EPA regulates the toxic waste you want to dump rather than disposing of properly.  The IRS requires your business to keep detailed records to make sure that you're paying taxes at the legal rate.  The city building inspector holds you to the fire code.  These are things that we really need the government to do because they affect all of us. 

What I want is a government that will step in to protect the public interest and to protect individual rights, that will use its weight to make life easier here, and that will foster an economic environment that is both fair and free.  I think of it like a baseball game.  On the sandlot, there are no coaches and no umpires, and there are a lot of fights and the winner tends to be whoever's the biggest bully.  I want our experience with government to be more like the World Series, where there are umpires to make sure everybody plays fair and where there are coaches to help us players make decisions about how to play.

Of course, the analogy breaks down, as all analogies eventually do.  But the larger lesson is that the GOP seems dedicated to making certain that the government works as poorly as possible.

If you owned a business, would you hire employees who hope the company fails?

Of course not.

So why would you ever put people in office who think the government is bad and needs to be destroyed?

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