Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Real Mark Obenshain: What his daughter Won’t Tell You

The Mark Obenshain we know is the one we see in his TV ads. He is the nice guy, with the nice family and a nice suburban home. He has an attractive wife and a cute daughter who is always defending him from the evil opponent who issues lies about him in his campaign. She accuses the opponent of not protecting women and flashes a bill reference number to prove it (although it disappears from the screen so fast I still don’t know what the bill is). And the media-produced Mark Obenshain is the one that appears to be in a dead heat with his opponent Mark Herring as the last hours of the campaign tick away.

But there is another Mark Obenshain. That is the Obenshain his daughter won’t talk about. That is the Obenshain who has consistently voted for right wing conservative legislation. That is the Obenshain who has earned the endorsement of many right wing conservative groups and low scores from progressive groups. That is the Mark Obenshain you need to meet.

Mark’s Supporters:

Let’s take a look at the groups that support Mark Obenshain:

Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia: The Caucus has endorsed Obenshain’s candidacy. As it describes itself, “the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia exists to promote individual liberty, limited government, and free enterprise within the Republican Party.” The national Caucus represents the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party, favoring reduced government intrusion, lower taxes, elimination of federal agencies, less regulation, a strong national defense with fewer military bases abroad, and no foreign aid. The Republican Liberty Caucus is working to make the Republican Party even more conservative than it already is.

National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund: The NRA-PVA has endorsed Obenshain’s candidacy based on the votes and positions he has taken while in the General Assembly. The NRA-PVA has also endorsed Obenshain’s running mates Ken Cuccinelli and Earl Jackson.

Family Foundation of Virginia: Based on his voting record, Obenshain has received a 100% rating from the Foundation. For those who are not familiar with the Foundation, I quote from one of my earlier posts:

As for the Virginia Family Foundation, its website indicates that its “vision is to establish a Commonwealth of strong families who are guided by faith and protected by a principled government.” The Family Foundation’s five-year plan seeks to 1- Establish Virginia as the most pro-life state in the nation. 2-Protect the institution of traditional marriage. 3-Reinforce the rights of parents to make life-altering decisions in their children’s lives. 4-Limit the undue burden placed on families by state government. 5- Reestablish Virginia as the national model for religious liberty. In the area of education, the Virginia Family Foundation favors tax credits for families “that choose non-public schools.” 1
To receive the 100% rating from the Foundation, Obenshain had to vote the right way on all 20 pieces of legislation that it supported. So Mark voted (for brevity I have omitted some of the votes):

a- in favor of HB321 in 2012, which gave a tax credit to corporations and individuals who contributed to scholarship programs that financed poor children attending private schools;

b- in favor of HB462 in 2012, which requires a woman to undergo ultrasound imaging before undergoing an abortion.

c- in favor of SB349 in 2012, which allows a private adoption agency to refuse to participate in an adoption that violates its written religious or moral convictions.

d- against SR27 in 2013, and thus against the confirmation of Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland.

e- against HB2313 in 2013, which created a new funding mechanism for transportation projects in Virginia. (The Foundation opposed because it resulted in a net increase of taxes).

f- in favor of SB1074 in 2013, which allows student organizations at state colleges or universities to discriminate on the basis of religious, political or philosophical beliefs.

g- in favor of an amendment to HB1900 in 2013, which prohibited insurance companies participating in exchanges under the Affordable Health Act from providing abortion coverage.

h- against SB701 in 2013, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.

i- in favor of HB1112 in 2012, which would repeal the requirement of vaccination against human papillomavirus for female children.

j- against HB62 and SB826 in 2012, which would have repealed the provision of law that allows state Medicaid funds to pay for an abortion when a doctor certifies “that the fetus would be born with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency.”

k-against SJ130 in 2012, which would have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution.

l- in favor of SJ287 in 2013, which would amend the Virginia Constitution to authorize “prayer in private or public settings, on government premises, on public property, and in all public schools” The amendment would also require the display of the Ten Commandment in all public schools.

American Conservative Union: Obenshain received a 100% rating from the Union which describes itself in these words:

“For more than forty years, ACU has served as an umbrella organization harnessing the collective strength of conservative organizations fighting for Americans who are concerned with liberty, personal responsibility, traditional values, and strong national defense…As America’s premier conservative voice, ACU is the leading entity in providing conservative positions on issues to Congress, the Executive Branch, State Legislatures, the media, political candidates, and the public.”

The Union is the host of the annual CPAC conference.

Marks Opponents:

These are some of the groups that oppose Mark Obenshain:

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia: Obenshain received a 0% rating from this organization.

Our mission is to develop and sustain a constituency that uses the state-level political process in Virginia to guarantee every woman the right to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices …”

Virginia Education Association: Obenshain received a 0% rating from the VEA.

"The mission of the Virginia Education Association is to unite our members and local communities across the Commonwealth in fulfilling the promise of a high quality public education that successfully prepares every single student to realize his or her full potential. We believe this can be accomplished by advocating for students, education professionals, and support professionals.”

Some of Mark’s Recent Votes:

2013:  Obenshain voted against HB1907, which increased the fine for driving while texting.

            Obenshain voted for SB1335, which prohibited the disclosure of information about persons authorized to carry concealed weapons.

            Obenshain voted for SB1256, which provides that a photo-ID is the only form of identification that will permit a person to vote in Virginia.

            Obenshain voted for SB721, which required drug testing for certain welfare recipients.

            Obenshain voted against SB975, which prohibited smoking in a car containing minors.

            Obenshain voted against SB736, which requires drivers or passengers in cars to wait for a “reasonable opportunity” to open doors on the side adjacent to moving traffic.

            Obenshain voted for SB1335, which prohibited the disclosure of information about persons authorized to carry concealed weapons.

2012:  Obenshain voted for HB48, which allows a resident to use deadly force against an intruder, if the intruder commits an “overt act” and the resident believes he is in imminent danger of physical injury.

            Obenshain voted for HB940, which repealed the limit on purchasing one hand-gun in a 30 day period.

 And, so we have a portrait of the other Mark Obenshain; the one his daughter will not talk about. This is the Obenshain whose voting record has made him the darling of all the ultra-conservative groups in Virginia. This is the Obenshain who has not earned the votes of either Democrats or Independents in next Tuesday’s election. He has also not earned the votes of mainstream Republicans who want to save their party from the extremists on the right who have been controlling it for the past several years. The only intelligent choice next Tuesday is to vote for the other Mark—Mark Herring for Attorney General.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Will the Real Manoli Loupassi Please Stand

 First, a few disclaimers: 1- I do not live in the 68th House of Delegates district, so Manoli Loupassi is not my delegate; 2- Mr. Loupassi is a Republican so it would have to be a strange combination of circumstances that would lead me to support him in a political race; and 3- I opposed Mr. Loupassi’s election campaign in 2007 1 (although my opposition then was based mainly on the hateful campaign he was running.

On the other hand, Manoli seems a nice enough guy. I have met him several times and we have always been civil to each other. I used to enjoy watching him preside over the Richmond City Council back when he was its president. And, Mr. Loupassi always presents himself as one of those reasonable Republicans, not a Tea Party, NRA, Family Foundation of Virginia right-wing Republican. This presentment, you may argue, is negated by the facts that Manoli has been endorsed for reelection by the NRA and scored 88 on the Family Foundation’s rating of legislators in the last section. But, as I long ago learned, words are cheap (perhaps that is why I use so many of them). For a legislator running for reelection, it makes more sense to look at his or her voting records.

So let’s look at Manoli’s voting record while in the House of Delegates:

Issues relating to women:

In 2011, Manoli voted for HB2434, which expressed the intent of the General Assembly that the state establish its own health benefits exchange (under the Affordable Care Act) that would exclude abortion coverage from all insurance offered in the state (with stated exceptions).

In 2012, Manoli voted for HB462 and SB484, both of which require a woman to undergo ultrasound imaging before undergoing an abortion.

In 2012, Manoli voted for HB62, which would have repealed the provision of law that allows state Medicaid funds to pay for an abortion when a doctor certifies “that the fetus would be born with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency.”

In 2013, Manoli voted for HB1, which provided that “The life of each human being begins at conception.” and that “Unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being.”

 Issues relating to firearms: (Most legislation attempting to place limits on gun purchases, ownership or use are never voted on by the full House of Delegates because they are killed by the NRA-controlled Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety)

In 2010, Manoli voted for HB885, which permits a person to carry a handgun in a motor vehicle or vessel, if the weapon is secured in a compartment or container.

In 2010, Manoli voted for HB505, which allows a concealed weapon to be carried into a restaurant or club in which alcoholic beverages are served, so long as the gun carrier does not drink.

In 2012, Manoli voted for HB48, which allows a resident to use deadly force against an intruder, if the intruder commits an “overt act” and the resident believes he is in imminent danger of physical injury.

In 2012, Manoli voted for HB940 and SB323, which repealed the limit on purchasing one hand-gun in a 30 day period.

In 2013, Manoli voted for SB1335, which prohibited the disclosure of information about persons authorized to carry concealed weapons.

Other Issues:

(Photo-ID) In 2013, Manoli voted for SB1256, which provides that a photo-ID is the only form of identification that will permit a person to vote in Virginia.

(Adoption) In 2012, Manoli voted for SB349, which allows a private adoption agency to refuse to participate in an adoption that violates its written religious or moral convictions.

(Legal Presence) In 2012, Manoli voted for HB1060, which requires Virginia law enforcement personal to ascertain whether each person they arrest is in the country legally.

(Employee Retirement) In 2012, Manoli voted for HB1129, which reduced retirement benefits for Virginia state employees.

(Congressional Districting) In 2012, Manoli voted for HB251, which established districts for Virginia’s 11 representatives that strongly favor Republican incumbents.

(General Assembly Districting) In 2011, Manoli vote for HB5005, which established districts for the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates that strongly favored incumbents, including himself.

So, trusted reader, I have shown you some of Manoli Loupassi’s votes. And I ask you, is Manoli the reasonable Republican that he would like you to believe he is. Or has he voted consistently to justify his endorsement by the NRA and his high score by the Family Foundation? To me, he seems the wrong man to represent Democrats and Independents in the 68th District. He is also the wrong man to represent Republicans who want to reclaim their party from the Tea Party wing that is pushing their party “to the right, ever to the right…”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

School Board Needs to Think Outside the Box

This maven gave out a little gasp when I read this in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Next schools chief to get more pay.” 1 My gasp turned to a moan when I read the sub-headline, “Richmond School Board sets minimum salary of $225,000.” Now, don’t get me wrong. As a taxpayer I am not opposed to paying people what they are worth. But, it seems that our beloved Richmond Nine are agreeing to a minimum salary that is $47,000 more than we paid our last superintendent. That is an increase of 26%. I am wondering how many home runs or what kind of low ERA would justify a 26% pay increase in the free agent market. But, what do I know of the market for urban school chiefs?

However, I am a bit disappointed that the board so easily agreed to the recommendation of their hired recruiting consultant that the new superintendent’s salary must begin with a 2. Isn’t this the school board that was so upset at the interim superintendent’s recent performance improvement plan because it wasn’t visionary and called for nothing new? Why isn’t this board willing to think outside the box when it comes to setting the compensation of its next superintendent?

A story: During my last summer in law school I worked as a legal intern for NASA. This was 1969, and I was fortunate to be with NASA during the summer of the first moon landing. But, I did do some work and I also learned some history. I learned that after the Soviets got a big first step in the space race, NASA was created with an implicit mission statement that failure was not acceptable. So, NASA rejected the traditional Department of Defense contracting model under which contractors received the same compensation regardless of how well they performed. Instead they adopted an incentive contracting model under which a contractor’s compensation depended on how well it did its job.

For example, if a contractor was hired to build a third-stage rocket to be completed by, let’s say, December 31, 1962, the contract set a base compensation for the contractor building the rocket. However, if the contractor delivered it before the target date it earned an incentive bonus. On the other hand, if it missed the target date it suffered a penalty. Likewise, if the rocket performed flawlessly the contractor earned another bonus. However, if it did not perform flawlessly the contractor suffered a penalty. Incentive contracting gave contractors a strong stake in the success of whatever NASA program they were working on.

What if, instead of simply setting the new superintendent’s salary at some figure beginning with a 2, the board insisted on a contract in which the superintendent’s compensation depended on how well s/he did the job? Why not a contract that sets a base salary but provides for bonuses if the superintendent successfully moves RPS toward greatness and penalties if the school system does not improve? I am sure that the board and a superintendent can reach agreement measures, based perhaps on the Objectives of the 2010-2015 RPS Strategic Plan. Using this kind of incentive contracting would make the next superintendent more than just an employee. He or she would be a partner in this city’s mission of creating a first rate school system for our children. 

But, you may ask, what if a candidate doesn’t want to work under a contract where compensation is based on how well he or she does the job? I reply with a question. Do we want a superintendent who is not so sure of success that she or he is willing to agree to an incentive contract?


Monday, October 14, 2013

Don’t Negotiate, Mister President

My neighbor (we both live in the Richmond Metropolitan Area) and majority leader in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, appeared as a guest columnist this week in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and lambasted the President of the United States for his unwillingness to negotiate with the Congress on issues relating to the federal budget and the national debt. 1 That’s what Mr. Cantor says, but if you read his opinion carefully you will see that his real complaint is that the president has not negotiated on its terms with one political party in one chamber of the Congress. But, let us not quibble. There have been a goodly number of people out there who have adequately criticized Mr. Cantor’s guest column. That is not what this maven wants to talk about.

In his column, Mr. Cantor asserts that many of this republic’s presidents have been faced with a Congress controlled by an opposition party and that all of them have been successful leaders because they have negotiated with that opposition. Only President Obama refuses to negotiate and is therefore a bad leader. I could do an exhaustive study to check on Mr. Cantor’s accuracy. After all, this country has been blessed with lots of mediocre and bad presidents and many of them did not lead successfully at all. But it is not for this maven to challenge this historical conclusion uttered by the product of one of Richmond’s finest private schools. And again that is not what I want to talk about. 

What I do want to talk about is this sentence from Mr. Cantor’s guest column: “The president not only has refused to negotiate on issues of debt and spending but also has mocked the very idea of engaging with Congress.” Again, I will agree with Mr. Cantor’s assessment, although as a life-long and loyal Democrat I could argue. What concerns me is Mr. Cantor’s belief that this president, or any other president, has a constitutional or any other responsibility to negotiate with congressional leaders of the opposition party. I certainly cannot find such a responsibility in the Constitution.

What I find surprising is that the drafters of the Constitution said so little about the legislative process. Although there is lots of space in the Constitution dedicated to setting forth the extent of the powers of the Congress, this is all the Constitution says about how legislation is to be enacted:  

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

“Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.”

Article I, section 7.

Nowhere is there mention of the actual legislative process—that one chamber enacts a bill and sends it to the other chamber; that the other chamber can agree with the bill, can reject the bill, can substitute its own bill; that if the chambers are not in agreement they will meet in conference, and that only when each chamber passes the bill in identical language is it sent to the president for his approval or veto. (I suppose the drafters assumed that the process was implicit in the language they used and didn’t need to be specified.)

But, Mr. Cantor, nowhere in this description of the legislative process does the Constitution state that a president has any roll other than approving or rejecting a bill sent to him by the Congress. There is no mention of him or her being required to negotiate with leaders of the opposition party. However, maybe we have to look elsewhere in the Constitution to support Mr. Cantor’s belief. Let’s look at the article dealing with the powers of the executive branch.

The Constitution says:

“He [the president] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper…”

Article II, Section 3.

So, the president shall report to the Congress on the “State of the Union”, may recommend legislation to them, may “on extraordinary Occasions” call them into special session, and if they cannot agree he can adjourn them. But, again, there is no mention of negotiation.

I am unable to tell when the practice of the president negotiating with members of the Congress began. Mr. Cantor says that as recently as 1995 President Clinton and Speaker of the House Gingrich worked overtime to reach a bipartisan agreement that ended a debt/government shut down crisis at that time. But he does not say “as early as”, so we don’t know who was the first president to do so.

The idea that a president should participate in legislative negotiations as the head of his party is not in the system that the drafters of the Constitution designed for our republic. In fact, it is more like the British system in which the Prime Minister is both head of government and head of his or her party. The drafters, instead, based our system on separation of the legislative, executive and judicial functions. Article I, section 1 of the Constitution says “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”  Article II, section 1 says “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” Article III, section 1 states “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

The Constitution provides for three separate branches of government that interact only in the few instances that the Constitution specifies. Therefore, for a president to negotiate over legislation with congressional leaders changes the delegate balance of power that the drafters so carefully structured. 

But, Maven. Why mess with something that is working. What is the downside with the president and the Congress getting together to work out the terms of legislation? 

First, looking at recent history, especially the last several weeks, demonstrates that the negotiation process is not working.  

Second, allowing the president to participate in the legislative process gives him or her greater power than the Constitution envisioned. Making the president a kind of super legislator contradicts the Article I language quoted above that all legislative powers should reside in the Congress. The careful structure of separation of powers allows the president to propose legislation at the beginning of the process and to approve of or veto legislation passed by the Congress at the end, but not to participate in the deliberations involved in its enactment.

Third, there is only one President of the United States. She or he is elected by voters in all of the states. Each member of the House of Representatives is elected by only one four hundred thirty fifth of the American electorate. Each Senator is elected by the voters in only one of fifty states. The party leaders in each chamber, including the Speaker of the House, are chosen only by the members of their own party, usually for having survived longer than the other party members. Negotiations between a president and congressional leaders therefore are necessarily between people of unequal power.

Fourth, in the present historical context, we have a president who is personally detested by a significant minority of the population. That minority has managed to elect members of the Congress both in the House and the Senate. These members seem to be more concerned with weakening this president and in depriving him of any historical legacy than in governing. In this context, having the president participate in negotiations makes it less likely that they will succeed, because the motivation of some of the negotiators will be to embarrass the president rather than to reach a reasonable compromise. 

So, this maven recommends that the president return to the constitutionally described process and refrain from negotiating with members of Congress on the content or language of legislation. On the other side, the Congress should move back to the constitutional process and stop pulling the president into the legislative process. In each chamber, if there is disagreement on legislation, the leaders of each party should negotiate with each other to try to reach agreement. If the two chambers disagree on legislation, their differences should be ironed out in a conference. This process has worked for centuries and can work again if implemented.