More questions for Republican candidates in NY27

Last week’s post concerned options for changes in medical insurance in the United States. It was noted that the Republican Party, led by Donald Trump, has been working to eliminate coverage for millions of Americans while also eliminating consumer protection on such things as denial of coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.  Republican candidates for Congress in NY27 have been tripping over themselves to indicate which one is the most committed and best supporter of Trump.  So last week’s post asked where they stand on health insurance coverage.  Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear their responses.

International developments over the past two weeks pose another series of questions for those Republican candidates. Voters in NY27 deserve to know where the would-be members of Congress stand on issues of major consequences.

So, to begin, Private Bone-Spur, aka Donald Trump, essentially encouraged the Turks to go into Syria and wipe out the Kurds. The Kurds, up until very recently, were American allies.  They were largely credited, at a great loss of life, with helping to eliminate ISIS as a diabolical force in Middle East politics.  But evidently Trump is more concerned with currying favor with Turkey and Russia, who will now occupy the area where the Kurds had established a presence, than worrying about the poor Kurds.  The Russians will also occupy an American base that was bombed by American forces immediately after the American military fled.  The decision to cut and run was Trump’s.

We have been told over and over again that when it comes to making big decisions Trump ignores the advice of military and diplomatic experts and instead relies on his gut. Since that gut is regularly clogged with the remnants of Big Macs and Kentucky Fried Chicken, having major international actions guided by that gut seems like a pretty dicey thing to do.

Some of us would prefer to listen to the advice and commentary of people who have a much broader perspective on international politics and warfare than Donald Trump. Here is a small sampling of such commentary and advice:

[I]f we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice — what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?

If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don’t join, who will protect us? If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us? And if no one follows us — where will the world end up?

President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong. These are the virtues that have sustained this nation for the past 243 years. If we hope to continue to lead the world and inspire a new generation of young men and women to our cause, then we must embrace these values now more than ever.     William H. McRaven, retired Navy Admiral, former Commander of the United States Special Operations Command and former chancellor of the University of Texas system.

There is blood on Trump’s hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies… This is what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats.     Retired Four-Star Marine General John Allen.

 

[Trump’s] decision was made without consulting U.S. allies or senior U.S. military leadership and threatens to affect future partnerships at precisely the time we need them most, given the war-weariness of the American public coupled with ever more sophisticated enemies determined to come after us.     Joseph Votel, retired four-star Army General who previously headed Central Command’s military operations in Syria.

 

We have scorched our opponents with language that precludes compromise and we have brushed aside the possibility that the person with whom we disagree might actually sometimes be right. We owe a debt to all who fought for liberty, including those who tonight serve in the far corners of our planet, among them the American men and women supporting our Kurdish allies.     Retired Marine General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

 

So question number one for the NY27 Republicans: do you support Donald Trump’s actions to cut and run in Syria?

Question number two: do you support Donald Trump’s efforts to foment chaos in the most unstable portion of the world?

Question number three: do you support having Rudy Guiliani, an unstable lawyer who has no formal role in the government’s international affairs, directing actions and policy positions in the Middle East?

I fully expect the current crop of Republican/Trump candidates in NY27 to do everything in their power to avoid discussing these questions. They may think that Republican/Trump party members are overwhelmingly in favor of cowardly actions designed to please a foreign adversary.  I doubt that to be the case.

Evasive tactics will most likely be used by Chris Jacobs, Robert Ortt, Beth Parlato, and Stefan Mychajliw. BTW, welcome to Trump-land Chris!

The most interesting actions and commentary on these questions, however, would have come from potential candidate David Bellavia. Bellavia has been honored in all sorts of local and national venues for his receipt of the Medal of Honor.  He is well deserving of that Medal and he seems to be carrying it very well.  Bellavia’s decision to forego the race avoids the highly partisan political climate that now exists.

He recently told the Buffalo News that he “does not have time for partisan nonsense… At this point in time, I have completely blocked out my calendar for the U.S. Army… I would not use the sacrifice of my friends’ blood for [politics]… My ambitions are not as important as those men. Being a soldier was the experience of a lifetime.” Becoming a political candidate would have probably been a bridge too far.

Republicans are working to damage health care in the United States

As we prepare to watch the next debate of the Democratic presidential candidates, it is likely that we will see more back and forth about the type of comprehensive health care coverage that should be put in place. Options on the table include Medicare-for-all; Medicare-for-all who want it; and the restoration and strengthening of some of the key features of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka, Obamacare.

What has attracted hardly any attention on the debate stages or on the stump so far is something that is of more immediate concern. The Republican Party through the actions of their state attorneys general; through the Trump administration’s aggressive position against Obamacare; and through the actions of the party’s representatives in Congress has been laser focused on taking away coverage from millions of Americans and wiping out popular and important features of the ACA such as protections for those with pre-existing conditions and coverage up to the age of 26 under family plans for children who do not have an insurance plan of their own.

Donald Trump, having promised in 2016 “we going to have insurance coverage for everybody,” has failed miserably. He and his supporters in Congress did their best to kill Obamacare, but they failed because of the courage of John McCain. They failed after seven years of bragging about their plans to come up with an alternative to the ACA. Trump also promised action last year, and now he says it is coming after the 2020 election. I hesitate to quote a convicted felon, but as Richard Nixon’s Attorney General and campaign manager John Mitchell famously said, “watch what we do, not what we say.”

The issue at hand concerns a law suit (Texas v. Azar) initiated by twenty Republican state attorneys general and governors to totally strike down Obamacare. The Trump administration has told the federal court that they support that action. We are likely to see a decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the very near future.

It is not as if the Trump administration has not already done great harm to the ACA. Through the issuance of regulations they have chipped away at the coverages and protections that existed in the law.

One of the most significant actions concerns expanding the role of short-term health insurance policies that are sold as low cost options for people anxious to have some sort of coverage in place for themselves and their families.

The ACA provides for the sale of short-term health insurance policies as a bridge for people who lack insurance and are not yet eligible for coverage under the ACA. Insuranceopedia defines short-term insurance as follows: “[A] Short term policy is an insurance for those who do have access to or are not yet eligible for policies that cover a lengthier period or for coverage that is comprehensive. The period covered for this policy is one month to six months. Compared to regular insurance, the benefits are limited.”

The Trump administration, however, has now transformed these plans into a long-term alternative to more legitimate and protective plans. It has now permitted short-term plans to extend for a year or more, even when offering just minimal coverage for those who purchase them. You might characterize such plans as “fake insurance.”

Unfortunately such plans seem to move in sync with a broader re-design of health insurance. Limited insurance plans may have a devastating effect on the public.

For those of us who have been in the workforce for many, many years, we have or have had the luxury of insurance plans with low co-pays for our medical providers, as well as generous low cost prescription drug plans. Up until relatively recently, deductibles were either non-existent or relatively minor. We often just paid our inexpensive co-pays without any thought for what insurance costs or what it actually pays for.

At the root of the high cost, low coverage of many insurance plans, of course, are the high costs of all elements of health care. I would recommend for anyone who is seriously interested in understanding the full picture of medical expenses to pick up a copy of “An American Sickness” by Elisabeth Rosenthal. The book systematically analyzes all aspects of health care and details how the costs of medical coverage have grown out of proportion to value or normal cost escalations.

It is not as if all of our expensive health care insurance and available medical help has led to substantial positive results across a wide spectrum of Americans. The average life expectancy in this country has gone down each of the last three years. The crisis relating to drug over-use is cited as a one of the major reasons for the decline.

The impeachment inquiry is an incredibly important matter for the future of this country, but as we move toward the 2020 elections we should all hope that other matters critical to the country’s future are given rightful attention in the debates about where this country is going.

All the Democrats in the presidential primary and undoubtedly in the 2020 congressional campaigns support universal health insurance coverage in this country. The same cannot be said of the Republicans.

The Republican Party has actively fought to take away health insurance coverage from millions and to make what is left more costly and less protective. No detailed alternative plans have been offered. The party’s candidates must be called out on these matters.

So what say yee, Chris Jacobs, Robert Ortt, Beth Parlato, Stefan Mychajliw, and David Bellavia? Do you stand with improving health insurance coverage or taking it away? How will you pay for whatever you propose?

If the Republicans are successful in taking away medical insurance coverage and in removing the patient protections that the ACA provides, it seems likely that the reduced availability of coverage will impact hospitals that will in turn see increases in the cost of serving patients who are not able to pay for the services. The Erie County Medical Center in particular would be negatively affected.

Republican attempts to cut the medical insurance coverage will therefore, in some degree, fall on the table of county officials. So to that list of so far silent Republicans, add Republican County Executive candidate Lynne Dixon. Please tell us, Lynne, do you stand with those state attorneys general and Donald Trump in looking to take away ACA coverage? Inquiring minds want to know.

Collins’ MO finally catches up with him; what comes next?

Chris Collins is now a former congressman. Before that he was a former county executive.  At least when he became a former county executive all he needed to worry about was setting up his new home in Florida.  His next home won’t be quite as nice.

Collins was Erie County Executive from 2008 through 2011. He sold himself as the businessman who would run the county right, and after the Giambra administration years in County Hall, the voters bought that argument.

I was a member of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority for three of Collins’ four years in office. We got along fine for about the first week of his administration, but then he made it clear that he wasn’t much interested in the control board’s role in overseeing and assisting with the county’s finances.  The food fight that we got into about county financial management at a control board meeting in the first few weeks of his term still brings back a chuckle.

Collins’ arrogance and supreme confidence in his own ability became the reason for his undoing. His handling of community organizations held to be important by many in the county hurt his standing.  Raising taxes didn’t help either; the county tax levy increased $25.8 million, or 12.2 percent, in those four years.

Collins rebounded after his defeat to narrowly defeat incumbent Congresswoman Kathy Hochul in 2012.  In the meantime NY27 in a new geographic drawing became even more Republican than it previously was.  He settled into relative obscurity for the next four years.

He endorsed Jeb Bush for president in 2016, but seeing that campaign as a dead-in-the-water effort, he quickly pivoted to Donald Trump. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

As the first Republican member of Congress to endorse Trump, Collins became a hot commodity in the national media. He did dozens of network TV interviews.  He spoke at the Republican convention.  His arrogance once more was on display.  But then it unraveled again at his own doing.

While he was certainly interested in getting much richer if the multiple sclerosis drug he invested in was successful, Collins deserves credit for assisting in that research, which unfortunately did not work out. But where he went wrong was in letting the money overwhelm his focus.

He was riding high, even after the House Ethics Committee got involved. His arrogance dominated his thinking and speaking.  In the process he severely damaged the life of his son and others who, at the end of the day, he oversold on an investment that had to be considered iffy at best.

So now Chris Collins will head off to federal prison in 2020, and likely so will his son Cameron and Cameron’s future father-in-law. What an amazing fall.

So what comes next in NY27?

With Collins now officially out of the picture, let the games begin. The show will be interesting.

The talk, of course, is dominated by the will-he-or-won’t-he David Bellavia question. The Medal of Honor winner is rightfully basking in the attention that his service to his country has brought him.

The question for Bellavia, it seems, is whether serving as one of 435 members of the House of Representatives, as a member of the minority party, gives him more of a forum to speak out on things that are important to him than attention the Medal he received already brings him. That honor comes with immediate standing and importance, without the messiness of partisan politics in the 21st century.  If his book does turn into a movie, that expands his voice beyond anything a single member of Congress can achieve.

So assume for the moment that Bellavia passes on a run for the House. What is the lay of the land then?

The announced candidates are State Senators Chris Jacobs and Robert Ortt, attorney Beth Parlato and Frank Smierciak. Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw has been campaigning for the seat since about an hour after Collins was arrested last year, but Mychajliw has yet to file as a candidate with the Federal Election Commission.

Democrat Nate McMurray, who lost to Collins by just 1,087 votes last November, is planning to run again. Libertarian candidate James Whitmer has filed to run.

The problem for McMurray or any other Democrat is that in 2020 he won’t be running against someone who has a federal indictment hanging over his head. The district is the most Republican by affiliation in the state, and it continues to support Donald Trump.  Any Democrat will be a long shot.

The process could turn out to be a bit confusing for Republicans in 2020, but nonetheless simpler than the kabuki dance party leaders went through last fall when they were trying to figure out where to park Chris Collins after his indictment.

Governor Andrew Cuomo will call a special election “sooner rather than later.” What that means is not exactly clear.  Since the voting arrangements will be set up throughout the state for the presidential primary on April 28th, that date seems the most logical option.  A special election on April 28th, with Democrats still fighting it out for the presidential nomination, will give a Democrat somewhat of a boost in the special.

There are no primaries in special elections in New York. Candidates will be selected by party leadership.  This election will only be for the remaining months of the term that Collins was elected to last November.

The complication is that while candidates are being selected and as they campaign in that special election, the process for electing someone in NY27 for a full two year term will be going on simultaneously. There is nothing to prevent a person who is passed over by party leadership for the special election nomination to begin circulating petitions in February for a June primary.

Word on the street, somewhat surprisingly, is that Chris Jacobs is currently the front runner for the Republicans’ special election nomination. Mychajliw and others have called Jacobs a “never-Trumper,” but that charge doesn’t seem to be sticking.  Jacobs, of course, is in the best position to fund a campaign, and even to run two elections (special and primary) simultaneously if that is necessary.

Chris Jacobs is giving up his State Senate seat to run for Congress. Robert Ortt, however, has not yet signaled his intentions.  So here is another heard-on-the-street story that is circulating.  If Ortt is passed up in the special election but chooses to run in the June primary, he will give up re-election to his Senate seat.  And as the story goes, there is a familiar name waiting in the wings for that Senate seat:  former Senator George Maziarz.

Maziarz is already collecting his state pension ($80,815 annually), but if he can get back to the Senate again he could double dip with a Senate salary that in 2021 will be $130,000 – more the $50,000 higher than the base pay for senators when Maziarz last served.

And finally, there is this question for all the candidates to ponder. It is highly likely that New York will lose another House seat after the 2020 census is completed.  Western New York has generally lost more people than other parts of the state, so those who will be drawing the new 2022 congressional lines, meaning Cuomo plus the Democrats running the Senate and Assembly, will probably make NY 27 go away.  So if people are at all looking ahead, what does the future hold?

A footnote: campaign financials

Both Republican Lynne Dixon and incumbent Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz had their financial reports posted with the State Board of Elections on October 4th.  Here are the facts:

  • With just four weeks to go until Election Day (and just three weeks until early voting starts), Poloncarz’s treasury had a balance of $574,450. Dixon reported $56,473.
  • Since mid-July Dixon raised $117,468; Poloncarz raised $163,670.
  • Since mid-July Dixon spent $277,489; Poloncarz spent $226,829.
  • Some highlights of Poloncarz spending: $128,641 on TV ads; $32,000 on polling.
  • Some highlights of Dixon spending: $190,975 on TV ads; $10,500 on Big Dog Strategies, Chris Grant’s consulting firm ($29,295 in total this year); $4,020 on polling.

Some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets

So Election Day, November 5th, is just thirty-five days away. Well, actually, Election Day is only twenty-five days away. Early voting is coming to a voting booth near you on Saturday, October 26th for a nine day run.

There will be 37 sites available in Erie County for early voting in 2019. Here is the Board of Elections’ explanation of the process.  The location of the 37 sites can be accessed at the end of the following BOE note.

Starting October 26, 2019 all active registered voters in Erie County will be eligible to cast an early voting ballot for the 2019 General Election.  Registered voters will be able to cast their ballot at any of the thirty-seven (37) designated early voting locations.  Erie County’s Election Inspectors will now use Electronic Poll Books and Ballot-on-Demand systems to facilitate early voting.  The traditional paper poll books will still be used for the General Election on November 5, 2019.  Any ballots cast on November 5, 2019 must be cast at the voter’s district polling location designated by the Erie County Board of Elections as noted by the voter registration card mailed to the voter or found here.

This should be an interesting experiment for New York State. Can a party take advantage of the extra voting days to boost turnout? Can a candidate who is well organized run up some good numbers?

We’ll see about all that. In the meantime, here are some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets as the calendar flips to October:

  • We’re heading into a presidential impeachment inquiry involving a White House occupant who can’t distinguish patriotism from treason, truth from fiction, or right from wrong. Ironically, the most political of political events that can be conducted in the United States will probably not change the dynamics of the country. Most of us have chosen sides on the character and performance of Donald J. Trump a long time ago, and Trump isn’t the type of person who will solicit lots of sympathy from folks not already aligned with his way of operating, no matter how this process plays out.
  • This country went through the first 184 years of its existence with just one impeachment of a president, but the current happening is the third impeachment proceeding in the past forty-six years.
  • So we say goodbye to Congressman Chris Collins.  An incredible fall for Collins personally and for his family.
  • On to a special election.  It’s too late for this year, but the election machinery will next all be in place on April 28th, the date scheduled for New York’s 2020 presidential primary.
  • In the special election for the congressional seat there will be no primary.  Candidates will be selected by the party leadership.  Since a special election would only be for the remainder of the term Collins was elected to, however, there can also be a primary next June leading up to the November election.
  • Politico reported recently that the conservative Club for Growth is actively interviewing primary candidates for the [Chris] Collins” race.
  • Meanwhile, on the local front: at least measured by the television ads, the race for Erie County Executive has certainly heated up. One thing for sure, Lynne Dixon’s car is probably going to need a new set of shocks come November.
  • The ad volume would suggest that fundraising on both sides of the race has been going well. Unfortunately we don’t find out the facts for a few days. The next campaign financial reports are due at the State Board of Elections on October 4th, with September 30 the cut-off date for receipts and expenditures. Likely we will see most of the filings on Monday, October 7th.
  • Beyond the Executive race, the various campaigns for Supreme Court, County Legislature and various town offices are plugging away but it is nearly all out of public view. Earned (free) media for political campaigns seems to have nearly disappeared, even in the premier elections. The Buffalo News, weeklies, television and radio coverage of campaign issues is minimal.
  • For those too young to remember, back in the day when the Courier-Express was still in business an Executive campaign needed to crank out two press releases a day, seven days a week. And much of it got published.
  • Can anyone even identify the top three issues in the County Executive election?
  • To digress a bit, none of this is good for democracy, local style. People pay taxes and expect services from government. Sometimes the value or quality of what is being provided is not so good or could be improved, but if it isn’t reported on, who’s to know, who’s to care?
  • I was on the receiving end of an automated poll last week concerning the Executive race. There was a Trump question, but nearly all of the twenty-plus questions were about the county campaign and the candidates. Some push-poll type questions were included. The recorded voice on the call who was offering up the questions and possible replies raced through the whole thing like the person had to very quickly be someplace else.
  • The Fitch Rating agency has lowered its credit rating of the City of Buffalo because of questionable budget revenues and difficult to control expenses that the City budget includes. Ratings agencies are notoriously late in identifying such things. In Buffalo’s case, the story was out a year and a half ago.
  • Which explains why the City’s finances are such a hot issue in this year’s races for City Comptroller and City Council. Oopps, sorry. I forgot that the elections in the City of Buffalo have unofficially been cancelled in the City due to lack of interest. That means that nothing might happen until the City’s finances go down the dumper again.
  • Mayor Byron Brown has responded to the rating downgrading by essentially saying “pay no attention to the objective financial analysts behind the curtain.” Where is Toto when you need him?
  • This blog has published articles going back nearly a year and a half ago reporting on former Comptroller Mark Schroeder’s warnings about the coming financial storm. At least as Schroeder is busy getting our new license plates ready at the DMV he can take the satisfaction of knowing that he did what he needed to do in the Comptroller’s office.
  • Speaking about City finances and elections, Geoff Kelly in the Investigative Post has an excellent explanation of what really went on as the City got ready to release their new property assessment data. It seems that the work was actually completed about three years ago, but the Mayor didn’t want to have that information go out right before the 2017 election, or for that matter, before last June’s Democratic primary elections.
  • Why in the world is the Buffalo Control Board sitting on its collective hands while the City’s finances are going up in smoke? It’s seems like it’s time for State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to raise some hell about it.
  • Andy SanFilippo, former Buffalo City Comptroller and recently retired First Deputy State Comptroller, knows the City’s finances inside and out. He probably concluded that he would not be able to contribute to the solution of the City’s current fiscal problems as Barbara Miller-Williams’ Deputy Comptroller. But how about Comptroller DiNapoli deputizing Andy to go in and lay out the problems and work on the solutions?
  • Someone has suggested to me that the license plates brouhaha was offered up by Governor Andrew Cuomo as a diversion for the much more politically incendiary issue concerning drivers’ licenses for undocumented aliens. If that was the case, the plan did not work too well.
  • The Public Campaign Financing Commission will be holding a hearing in Buffalo on October 29th. Based on what has happened at their other hearings, expect a large crowd and some fireworks.
  • The main subject of the Commission’s mission, public financing, almost seems like an afterthought, with much more attention directed at the possibility that the Commission might end fusion voting in the state.
  • A preliminary court case on the subject of fusion voting will be tried in Lockport this month and will likely go the way of the advocates for continuation of the minor party endorsement system. It seems a little early for legal action on something that hasn’t even happened yet. The Court of Appeals will probably need to weigh in at the end of the process.
  • The response to last week’s post about Erie Community College has been great, and a lot of that has to do with the strong statement that the Chairman of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, James Sampson, issued to put the College’s Board and administration on notice that their financial problems are not going unnoticed. Attention, Buffalo Control Board!
  • Joel Giambra is right about raising the speed limit on the Scajaquada Expressway, aka Route 198. The safety precautions are in place.
  • So the bubble finally burst on the Buffalo Bills’ fast start out of the gate. That’s not too surprising. But the team does seem to have a lot of non-star talent and a whole lot of resilience. And wow, what a defense.  This season is going to be more interesting than most of us could have imagined during training camp.