Monthly Archives: April 2005

Taking Pott Shots at Kilgore’s Transportation Referendums

Jim Bacon is all a twitter over the Richmond Times Dispatch yawn regarding Kilgore’s transportation plan. Despite the obvious criticism that the plan would require a referendum to pay for it (where conservatives can find something wrong with a proposal to energize the knee-jerk anti-taxers) and that it absolves a Governor Kilgore from taking any responsibility for transportation, Russ Potts points out that transportation systems cannot abruptly end at a regional line — or a state one for that matter. But that’s all Kilgore can impact. Oh no, wait. He doesn’t want to impact it. He wants to wash his hands of it.

The state senator elected three times as a Republican from Winchester took particular aim at a proposal by Kilgore to create regional transportation authorities that could levy taxes for new roads only if voters approve.

“Talk about a fiasco! Are we going to have six regional referendums? Or will there be four? Or will there be 10? Do we put Prince William with Spottsylvania and Stafford when we do that referendum or which one do we put them in?” Potts said. “You lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.”

He said his transportation proposal would be statewide in scope, not regional, and would be the sole focus of a special legislative session early next year.

“I’ll put a transportation plan out there within 120 days and we’ll call a special transportation session and we’ll stay here till the cows come home,” Potts said.

Bush’s Social Security Plans

Apparently, tonight we’re to get something more than privatization. Meanwhile, I like Robert Samuelson’s prescription that includes Medicare.

Raise eligibility ages, trim Social Security benefits for wealthier retirees, make the elderly pay more of Medicare’s costs. Americans should work longer to reflect longer life expectancies. Even so, taxes will have to rise. The alternative is a society that’s unjust to the young, vulnerable to economic stagnation and too stingy with other national priorities.

The Overreaching vs. the Underreaching

We’re getting more evidence that the agenda of the extreme right is at risk of “overreaching,” to use the common phrase. David Broder makes the arguement this morning, and E.J. Dionne the other day suggested were experiencing the “revolt of the middle.”

Meanwhile, editorialists across Virginia are lamenting the tenure of the gubernatorial contest here in Virginia. Most think the campaign is devoid of issues or panders to certain elements. Even when discussing the big issues (read: Transportation), we get little of substance:

Transportation’s No. 1 need is an adequate, dependable funding source. But rather than tap appropriate and reliable sources, such as a higher gas tax or user fees, Kilgore offers only dubious suggestions while Kaine offers nothing at all.

Sen. Bill Mims, a moderate Republican from Loudoun County reportedly told the local chamber of commerce a few weeks ago that taxes need to be raised for viable transportation solutions to be found. Maybe, maybe not. But no one can think that synchronizing traffic lights or smart growth can answer the short-term problems, such as those in eastern Loudoun County or Fairfax or anywhere that development has already crowded the roads.

Why is it so hard to talk about these problems in a significant way?

One, the brain trusts of most candidates are a misnomer. They are usually clever by half on the tactical side of things and lack any strategic thinking that would not only lift their candidates to victory but uplift the tenure of campaigns. Two, it’s hard, risky work. Engaging the electorate in a dialogue risks affording only the most organized and vociferous clans a forum, while the everyday citizen is caught up trying to get home from work and get the kids to soccer practice. The candidates may find a thoughtful answer edited to a brochure bite that awakens many voters only days before the election. Three, the press doesn’t have the wherewithal to cover these issues substantively. They look for conflict, not solutions. They want a fight, not a plan.

But maybe now is the time, what with the middle in revolt. President Bush gets a lot of credit for being bold and clearly stating what he believes. It can go a long way if Tim Kaine or Jerry Kilgore would address transportation problems honestly and directly. Even if people disagree, they’ll get credit and a maybe more than a few votes for being bold.

And maybe the first thing to do is not plaster a fish fry with signs but to engage citizens in a dialogue. Instead of another rally, let’s have a series of statewide townhall meetings on transportation, where the first order of business would be for the candidates to ask, “What do you think we should do and how should we pay for it?” Gov. Warner rode the townhall meeting concept to a budget victory. Why not try it again?

Someone Stop Me

If Windows isn’t enough to want people to burn Gates at the stake, this is. For a guy who’s so proud of his business guile and savageness, he turns out to be a coward.

Kilgore Passes the Buck

My first impression of Kilgore’s transportation proposal to create regional authorities that could tax was favorable, until I read the referendum part of it and that he would fund projects using general funds from the state budget. AP writer Bob Lewis details the problems.

Kilgore and his likely Democratic rival in November, Tim Kaine, support a constitutional amendment to create a “lock box” to shield the Transportation Trust Fund from legislative raids. Lawmakers took money from the fund in 2002 and 2003 to help bail the state out of $6 billion in projected budget shortfalls.

Kilgore, however, advocates using money from the general fund, which pays for such basics as public education, law-enforcement and health care for the aged and needy, to augment transportation. Kaine supports a “two-way lock box” that bars commandeering transportation money for general government operations but also puts the general fund off-limits to transportation. However, Kaine supported using a small portion of this year’s general fund surplus for transportation.

“My commitment is to spend general fund dollars on transportation in the future. We’re seeing huge economic growth in the general fund right now,” Kilgore said.

The state’s monthly revenue collections, fed by a strong economic expansion, are well ahead of their budgeted expectations, creating the prospect that the state will end its fiscal year June 30 with a general fund surplus topping $1.2 billion.

“Instead of creating another program, let’s build another bridge or another road,” Kilgore said.

The weakness of reliance on general funds for road-building is its susceptibility to economic downturns, possibly disrupting money supplies necessary to sustain long-term highway construction plans set six years in advance.

From 2001 to 2004, the Commonwealth Transportation Board slashed its six-year road-building plan by nearly $4 billion, or 38 percent, to accommodate funding shortfalls caused by the recession and by years of substantially underestimated project costs.

Kaine’s folks have a fair response.

Kaine is strongly opposed to tax referendums, saying elected officials should take on such hard decisions themselves. “Jerry Kilgore wants to find a way to govern without exerting leadership,” said DeLacey Skinner, Kaine’s campaign press secretary.

Again, Alas

The case echoes that of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman in a vegetative state whose parents and husband fought over whether she should be allowed to die. She died March 31, almost two weeks after her feeding tube was removed by court order.

Well, not exactly actually. In this case, the parents of a young child want to keep her alive, while doctors claim the infant is in constant pain and petitioned the court to withhold resuscitation, should she again require it.

The parents are clearly the ones empowered to make the decision, but doctors have been allowed by the courts to overrule them.

But here’s what strikes me journalistically about this paragraph: The feeding tube wasn’t “removed by court order.” The court allowed the husband to make a decision to remove the tube. That’s a clear difference, but alas when you have a media that is so patently right-wing biased….

More Press Bashing

Today’s Variety echoes Karl Rove’s critique of the media as reported in this morning’s Washington Post (see below). Brian Lowry writes,

MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of eroding public trust toward journalists, but those charges too often reference so-called liberal bias when the more insidious problem involves “sensationalism bias” — overreaching to “sell” stories, driven by ambition at the expense of accuracy, potentially alienating all sides of the political spectrum.

Lowry also questions newspapers’ propensity to reverse circulation losses by mimicking TV news to attract a younger reader.

Certainly, broadcast news isn’t garnering much good publicity these days. Skilled practitioners of the craft, including former “Nightline” producer Leroy Sievers and CBS correspondent Tom Fenton, have stepped forward to say what “The Daily Show” demonstrates nightly — that in chasing younger demos, television news has let standards slide, shirked its responsibilities and gone to hell in the proverbial handbasket.

…While I don’t question for a moment the business logic behind tailoring news to suit the next generation, forgive my discomfort as to where that path takes us. Before going further, maybe we need to amend that famous ’60s anti-war slogan a bit — something like, “Don’t trust anyone under 30 — especially if they’re being presented as a model for how to shape the news.”

Thanks to Poynter for the link.

Rove is Right

I can’t believe I’m saying this: But I agree with Karl Rove. He was a little too defensive at times, according to this “Washington Sketch” by Dana Milbank, but for the most part, Rove is right on.

“I’m not sure I’ve talked about the liberal media,” Rove said when a student inquired — a decision he said he made “consciously.” The press is generally liberal, he argued, but “I think it’s less liberal than it is oppositional.”

The argument — similar to the one that former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer made in his recent book — is nuanced, nonpartisan and, to the ears of many journalists, right on target. “Reporters now see their role less as discovering facts and fair-mindedly reporting the truth and more as being put on the earth to afflict the comfortable, to be a constant thorn of those in power, whether they are Republican or Democrat,” Rove said.

His indictment of the media — delivered as part of Washington College’s Harwood Lecture Series, named for the late Washington Post editor and writer Richard Harwood — had four parts: that there’s been an explosion in the number of media outlets; that these outlets have an insatiable demand for content; that these changes create enormous competitive pressure; and that journalists have increasingly adopted an antagonistic attitude toward public officials. Beyond that, Rove argued that the press pays too much attention to polls and “horse-race” politics, and covers governing as if it were a campaign.

“If more people in government knew about the press and more people in the press knew about governing, the world would be a better place to live,” Rove said. “Journalists would perform their craft better if they were more understanding of the realities and complexities of running for and serving in public life.”

Offering his critique as a friend of the “indispensable” free press, he argued: “The work journalists do at this time is paradoxically more important than ever, so the need to get it right far more often than they get it wrong is absolutely critical to the function of a free society.”

DeLay Deranged

This guy is getting loopier by the minute.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay intensified his criticism of the federal courts on Tuesday, singling out Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s work from the bench as “incredibly outrageous” because he has relied on international law and done research on the Internet.

DeLay also said he thought there were a “lot of Republican-appointed judges that are judicial activists.”

The No. 2 Republican in the House has openly criticized the federal courts since they refused to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. And he pointed to Kennedy as an example of Republican members of the Supreme Court who were activist and isolated.

“Absolutely. We’ve got Justice Kennedy writing decisions based upon international law, not the Constitution of the United States? That’s just outrageous,” DeLay told Fox News Radio. “And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous.”

Yeah. He should have just consulted the Bible. No, wait, that, too, would have been his “own research.” I meant Kennedy should have let DeLay do the Bible research. That way Kennedy wouldn’t have to cloud his thinking with nuance. A short pithy interpretation is all that’s needed. Those damn court opinions have gotten too long. Thirty seconds is all one should need to read them.

Just Spell My Name Right


“In terms of news coverage, all you have to do is look at headlines in papers across the state to see that his name is in the political headlines at least every third or fourth day. This is a considerable advantage to him at this stage in the race, because really, most people, the vast majority of people, aren’t paying close attention right now, but the more his name appears alongside those of Kaine and Kilgore in the headlines, which is all most people are looking at right now in terms of this race, the more credible he is going to be made out to be,” Christopher Newport University political-science professor and political analyst Quentin Kidd told the AFP.

The flip side to the attention being paid to Potts in the news media, Kidd said, is that research has shown that if a concerted effort is made to present a candidate or issue in a negative light, then voters will tend over time to view that candidate or issue in that light.

“That having been said, I’m less inclined right now to believe that this is going to drag Russ down,” Kidd said. “I believe in the end that when you balance out the positive impact of the name recognition that he receives from the mountain of news coverage with the negative tone of the attacks, there will be a net benefit for him in the end.”

Bridgewater College political-science professor and analyst David McQuilkin sees things from a vastly different perspective.

“The easy answer is yes, it will help him. But frankly, he’s being vilified in such a way that I’m not sure the name recognition that he’s gaining will do him a bit of good,” McQuilkin told the AFP.

“I suspect that the longer that he stays in the race, the more vituperative the abuse being heaped upon him will become,” McQuilkin said.

“For the rank-and-file Republicans out there, this is going to be a clear sign to stay away from him. It might help him among moderate Republican voters who decide to vote for him as a protest against the direction that the Republicans are taking the party in. But I don’t see that being significant enough to give him a fighting chance,” McQuilkin said.

So it may help Potts, it may not. And people may be paying attention to the ’05 state race now, they may not be.

Maybe the GOP is on to something. It’s really not necessary to say evil things about Potts, just say he’s more like Kaine. Which “might help him among moderate Republican voters.”

I’m getting more concerned that just maybe Potts does more harm to Kaine than to Kilgore.