Chris Collins — right for the wrong reason

As the garbage piles up at national monuments and parks; as TSA agents and other federal security personnel go to work without a paycheck; as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s minions cut favors for their banker friends; Trumpworld spins out of control in all sorts of ways. This is all very unsettling, but probably makes Trump pals in Moscow very happy.

With all that is going on with Trump, it’s not hard to overlook some lesser political issues that are serious, but have been pushed out of the limelight by bigger developments. So that you don’t forget the less shiny objects, Congressman Chris Collins has come to the rescue.

The Buffalo News reported last week that Collins (Trump Party, Clarence) has proposed that, for as long as the government shutdown continues, members of Congress should not be paid. “I believe it’s unfair for me to receive pay while the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our country safe are seeing their paychecks delayed. I’ve requested that my paychecks be withheld until essential federal employees, like our Border Patrol and TSA agents who work to protect the safety and security of American citizens, are fully compensated for their duties during this partial government shutdown.”

It is a heck of a proposition for a politician who is reportedly worth more than $50 million and isn’t living paycheck to paycheck. Hold off on a “Go-Fund-Me” drive or a basket raffle for Chris.

Congressman Brian Higgins, in the same News story, pointed out that the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits cutting the pay of members of Congress. The Amendment states: “No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Fellow Western New York Republican Congressman Tom Reed describes Collins’ proposal as a publicity stunt.

I can say that for one of the few times since Chris Collins became an elected official, I think he is right –about not getting paid. But I think that he should not get paid because he is less than a real Congressman at this time.

Sure, technically he is a member of the House of Representatives, representing the 27th District of New York. He has one of those lapel pins so indicating.

But in the words of former Congressman and convicted felon Michael Grimm, a member of Congress who is under felony indictment is a pariah among fellow members. No one wants to be associated with an indictee. No one wants to co-sponsor bills. In the minority for the first time, having been stripped of his committee assignments with few friends left, Collins serves no useful purpose. Collins has lost all of his committee assignments because his felony indictment related to insider stock trading. His trial is scheduled for February 2020.

Being banned from committee assignments is a serious matter. It means that he has no influence whatsoever on legislation. Collins is joined in the Republican pariah caucus by fellow federal indictee Duncan Hunter of California and most recently by bigoted Iowa congressman Steve King, who has also lost his committee assignments. Why did it take so long for the Republican House leadership to criticize King’s racist rants?

Collins says that he will for the moment be providing services to constituents, but to whatever extent that is being done, it is being done by staffers without the need of oversight of a House member. Chris has never been the sort of people person who would be directly of assistance for folks trying to navigate the federal bureaucracy. His loyally to Trump makes any sympathy for furloughed federal workers ring hollow. What does his office staff tell the federal employees such as border patrol and TSA agents about when they will get paid?

The thing is, being under indictment, spending time with his lawyers preparing his defense, and having nothing really to do in Congress, Chris Collins is a non-essential federal employee. He will remain so long after the government shutdown is over.

Collins is right, he should not be paid. But then he has the 27th Amendment protecting him from that happening.

Off to the races for 2020, with some interesting new developments

Well, we are nine days into 2019, so it’s about time that the 2020 election began. Not! For historical reference, John F. Kennedy announced his bid for the 1960 presidency in January 1960. Everything moves faster these days.

We are, for the moment, talking primarily about the Democratic contest for the presidential nomination. On the Republican side John Kasich and maybe Mitt Romney would probably love a shot at Donald Trump, but that seems highly unlikely. There have been reports about some states (South Carolina comes to mind) where the native Republicans are looking to short circuit even the chance of a challenge to Trump by eliminating primaries. That seems so fitting giving the authoritarian ways of the party’s leader.

On the other hand, there are more Democratic candidates than anyone can handle at the moment. At least former governors Martin O’Malley and Deval Patrick did us a favor by dropping out already – two less podiums to find room for at the debates.

In looking at the names already out there I think there is a handy way to look at the collective field. This is not an original commentary, but going forward it would seem useful to place the candidates in various “lanes” that help categorize what they bring to the list. There are several such “lanes,” and it seems likely that those in the respective lanes will likely engage in intra-lane warfare to eliminate others in the same category, hoping to move on to challenge people in the other lanes. Think of it as a primary within a primary.

So here we go. My apologies to any prospective candidates that I may have left out. Some candidates are listed in more than one lane. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who some of these people are; many others will have the same dilemma. But before you dismiss their names, remember Jimmy Carter. Reader suggestions for additions will be worked into this post as updates.

The senators’ lane, in alphabetical order:

  • Senator Cory Booker
  • Senator Sherrod Brown
  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Senator Kamala Harris
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • Senator Jeff Merkley
  • Senator Bernie Sanders (actually an Independent socialist, but we’ll list him here)
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren

House of Representatives’ lane:

  • John Delaney (former)
  • Tulsi Gabbard
  • Beto O’Rourke (former)
  • Tim Ryan
  • Eric Swalwell

 

The governors’ lane:

  • John Hickenlooper (former)
  • Jay Inslee
  • Terry McAuliffe (former)

The mayor’s lane:

  • Michael Bloomberg (former)
  • Pete Buttigieg
  • Eric Garcetti
  • Jimmy Griffin (former)
  • Mitch Landrieu

Women’s lane:

  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Senator Kamala Harris
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren
  • Oprah Winfrey

Legends’ lane:

  • Joe Biden

Cabinet officers’ lane:

  • Julian Castro
  • Eric Holder

Billionaires’ lane:

  • Michael Bloomberg
  • Howard Schultz
  • Oprah Winfrey

So what does all this mean?

  1. Come on in, the water’s fine
  2. You have to be in it to win it
  3. It is too early to be impressed with anyone at this time

My choice is (C). There are lots of good and some not-so-good things about nearly all of the people on this list. And it is much too early to lock in to a preferred candidate. That is actually a good thing for all of them at the moment. Let’s see how they all test out when facing fire.

And for those (me included) looking at the pluses and minuses of the current contenders, consider this: Trumpkins who are now struggling to accept the scandals and ineptitude of their leader very often fall back on a simplistic and backward way of justifying their support – in their minds Trump was their choice because he was “better” than Clinton, whatever that means. It is pretty likely that all the Democrats listed above are better than Trump.

Evidently much of the Democratic consulting class is in no hurry to sign up with anyone. Choosing one candidate who then fails and then trying to latch onto someone else later in the game can be a problem. The same goes, evidently, for many in the moneyed class, who might write $2,700 hi-good-luck checks for one or more candidates but hold off on bundling options for bigger amounts.

The national party’s 2020 planning group will have some interesting decisions to make when debate arrangements are made. Who makes the cut? What is the cut? The first debate is just five months away.

But the really big change that is about to hit is…

California, California, California.

Democrats in the State of California have for decades usually run their presidential primaries in June. That is unfortunate, because states like California are much more representative of America than Iowa or New Hampshire. It was often too late to have a real impact on the selection of the presidential candidate.

Too late no more. California has decided to hold their 2020 presidential primary on March 3rd, “Super Tuesday 2020,” which this year will involve a total of eight states, including Texas. March 3, 2020 is less than 14 months from now. It will be just four weeks after the Iowa caucuses; less than a month after the legendary New Hampshire primary on February 11th; and only three days after the South Carolina primary. Early voting in California begins the same day that Iowa voters go to their caucuses!

California will have substantially more delegates to the 2020 Democratic convention than Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina – about four times the number of those three states combined. California, of course, also has the big prize in November 2020, 55 electoral votes, which is twenty percent of what a candidate needs to win the presidency. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out where the candidates will be camping out early next year.

The other major development in 2020 is that there will be fewer party caucuses but more primaries to choose delegates in 2020 compared with 2016. That is likely to hurt candidates better suited to caucus arrangements, like Bernie Sanders.

There is a long way to go until this all happens. There is a lot going on politically in the country this year that is also hugely significant for the future of the nation. But ready or not, here we go.

Journalism in the 21st century; a footnote about changes coming at the County Legislature

You are looking at the future of journalism. Okay, I’m exaggerating – a lot. This humble blog is just a humble blog.

But take a few minutes to consider how you, personally, gather information you need or want about the region, the country and the world. More and more, we all have created or are creating our own individual versions of “the news.” Continue reading

Civility and trust don’t come easy

Back in the days when a real Republican was President of the United States, people like Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush ruled the land with strength, grace and eloquence. Democrats fought Republicans over policy, but could still occasionally work together. Compromise was not a dirty word.

That seems so long ago, but as the nation honors the memory of H.W. this week there have been lots of commentaries about how it used to be. Reagan talked about a “city upon a hill.” Bush spoke of “a thousand points of lights.” They were trying to inspire the country by speaking of charity and volunteerism. Continue reading

As the dust settles, reviewing the 2018 elections and taking a small peek at what comes next

Poor Rick Scott. All those tens of millions of dollars of his own money, and it might not have been enough to buy a Senate seat in Florida. Maybe just $10 million more would have done the trick.

Or maybe he will wind up winning the re-count. It is Florida, after all, where they are pretty good at screwing up recounts and getting rolled by Brooks Brothers riots. The Supreme Court may be standing by to deliver another Republican victory if it gets to their desks. Continue reading

The mid-term election day edition of facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets

Today is Election Day – the mid-term of all mid-terms. This one feels a lot different. Sort of like Super Bowl Sunday, especially when your team was playing that day. Come on, you can remember how that felt.

I’m not offering any specific predictions here. After all that has been said, written and done, you can draw your own conclusions about what is about to happen. Try to be objective, because like it or not we are all about to come face-to-face with political reality. Continue reading