To get better public officials, we need better candidates. To get better candidates, we need to walk right up to them and tell them to clean up their acts.
Let’s start with the smallest thing there is in a political campaign. Literally.
Unless you know to look for it, you may not know about union labels on printed political materials, including brochures, signs and buttons. It’s a small graphic (often called a “bug”) that indicates that the material was printed by a “union shop,” meaning a printing operation that upholds certain labor standards. For example, political campaigns frequently require last-minute printing and a union bug means that the people who were running the machines at 2 a.m. got paid overtime. For Democratic candidates, especially those claiming to be supportive of working families, some voters simply expect a bug to be present on any “big ticket” mailers.
Well over 300,000 Nassau Democrats, fully nine out of 10, voted with their feet last week. They stayed away from their party’s primary for Nassau County Executive in a stunning rebuke to what has probably been the most expensive county primary race in New York history, even accounting for inflation.
Under New York’s dated and inadequate campaign finance reporting laws, it will be weeks before we can put a final number on how much these candidates spent in the primary. Based on the late-August filings, it is likely that the final total between the two will hover around six million dollars. Former County Executive Tom Suozzi will probably have spent about $126 for each vote received. His challenger, Adam Haber, will have spent about about $259 per vote. In 2012, President Obama’s campaign spent $10.37 per vote and Governor Romney spent $7.11.
The words get flung around in editorials, but please don’t try to tell me that New York has the “worst” state legislature or the most “dysfunctional” state legislature. Legislators get arrested and wear wires on each other, mystery money flows into political campaigns and good ideas often stop dead without public explanation. But New York isn’t the bottom of the legislative barrel. Not as long as there is Florida.
Florida, by law, has prohibited the state from participating in implementing the new federal Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), and has even rejected federal funds to help with the transition. At the end of May, Florida legislators passed a law suspending the State Insurance Commissioner’s ability to regulate health insurance rates or to negotiate lower rates for two years. Included was a provision requiring rate increase notices from insurance companies to include wording that blames raises on ACA. They will do anything to sabotage ACA, even though it may be the only hope for more than a million Floridians with pre-existing conditions and other difficult circumstances to get insurance.
A little less than 40 percent of Long Island school children in grades three to eight met grade-level proficiency on state tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards.
These standards were created by the National Governors Association with grant money from several corporate foundations. The word “State” was added to so that it wouldn’t seem like a national curriculum, which is prohibited by federal regulation and anathema to many States Rights advocates. So right off the bat, there are elements of politics and misdirection to it.
1. In 2003, the U.S. government hired one of our country’s largest law firms to create a new legal system for Iraq, in our own system’s image. Almost all of Saddam Hussein’s laws were tossed out or rewritten, except one: Iraqi laws retain, in the original wording, Saddam’s 1969 prohibition on workplace organizing or protest of any kind in the pubic sector. Arrests have been made.
2. I no longer know what to make of Labor Day, a federal holiday created to celebrate the contributions of the American workforce to our freedom and prosperity. In large part, it has degenerated into one of summer’s Mattress Sale bookends.
A Democratic primary for County Executive will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 10. As of a few weeks ago, there were 374,000 enrolled Democrats in Nassau County. The campaigns should have matched up the official lists with recent postal change-of-address requests and other available information that reduces the pool of potential voters in the primary to a number I’ll round down slightly to 350,000.
Those 350,000 enrolled Democrats include more than 15,000 who voted in the 2005 primary for County Clerk, an event that has largely disappeared from the collective memory of humankind. That turnout was a pretty good indication of the “baseline vote.” If you announce that there’s going to be a countywide primary and open the polling places, five to six percent of enrolled Democrats are going to show up, whether you want them to or not.
You will probably not be able to escape it over the next two weeks. Lectures, concerts, panel discussions, art exhibits and more, leading to a culminating “Let Freedom Ring” celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28. It’s all in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the famous March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s soaring and inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech. In many places, there are organized efforts to have churches ring bells at 3 p.m. on that day. Will there be an elected official anywhere who will not have an MLK event on the schedule?
All these events will be well-intentioned, peaceful, sometimes even uplifting. Almost all will be comforting to the decision-makers and dignitaries sitting up on the stage, nodding and waiting for their turn to publicly proclaim their admiration of Dr. King.
A hundred more automatic red-light traffic cameras are up around Long Island, 50 in Nassau County. The warning signs that are supposed to encourage drivers to be very careful aren’t up yet. Revenue is up.
Laws that try to alter driver behavior are not necessarily a bad thing, although setting it up so that private parties and local governments make significant money off it blurs motivations and can weaken public trust. If safety is really the first concern, and not tricking or confusing drivers into committing fineable offenses, then there are other things that can and should be done to make the camera program fairer, more logical and more open.
Former Governor Elliot Spitzer did something bad. He keeps doing it. I’ve seen him do it with my own eyes, in public and on television. It has to stop.
He is mispronouncing the office for which he is running. People of Long Island, we have a proposed merger of Suffolk County’s Comptroller and Treasurer positions, a competitive race for Nassau County Comptroller and the whole Spitzer media circus. That word, Comptroller, is going to be coming up a lot, and if we don’t get together on this, it’s going to be a long, long summer and fall: Kahn-Troh-Ler.
There are already more than 3,000 conventionally-drilled natural gas wells in New York, spread around 22 counties upstate. Go visit some of these places if you’re curious to see what happens to old railroad towns and factory towns when those things go away.
When the suits come by waving a contract that will let them open a high-volume hydraulic fracturing well on your property, it can seem like the only way out. You just want to believe, need to believe, that the stories the loudmouths are spreading aren’t true. The loudmouths who show up everywhere and say, “Don’t do this to the rest of us.”
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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org