Friday, February 18, 2011

Escape from Democracy

State Senators in Wisconsin have fled democracy…literally.

They got in their cars, boarded planes, and, who knows, maybe even swam across Lake Michigan in hopes of derailing legislation that is offensive to Wisconsin’s government workers and their union. These Senators (every Democrats and two Republicans) know that if a vote were held the bill would pass despite their objection, and without any other means of stopping the vote, they skipped town.

The proposed legislation would require government workers to cover more of their health care premiums and pension contributions (still only 12.6% and 5.8%, respectively, of the total costs - a much smaller share than most private sector employees), would require collective bargaining units to conduct annual votes to maintain certification (if the union is strong they have nothing to worry about, right?), and eliminates the right of unions to have dues deducted from worker paychecks (dues collection should be the union's responsibility, not the taxpayers – Netflix doesn’t rely on my employer collect its subscription fees).  We'll save the entire public-sector collective bargining debate - the ultimate conflict of interest story - for another column.

In response, the Wisconsin government workers and their friends have stormed the Capitol in protest. Apparently having Wisconsin taxpayers fund 87.4% of the unions health care insurance bill, and 94.2% of the union pensions is so reprehensible that they are willing to sacrifice their children's education in order to highlight their plight (many of the protesters are teachers who called in sick - forcing districts to close schools). These protesters have every right to assemble; just as I have every right to call them out for their incredibly selfish and irresponsible denial of budget realities – not just the current temper tantrum that has caused schools to be cancelled, but for the long term effect of their demands on their children and grandchildren who will ultimately bear the costs of excessive union contracts.

In order to placate their most lucrative campaign donors, I mean, the union protesters, every Democrat Senator and two Republican Senators are staging their own sympathy strike by skipping town and preventing a vote by effectively shutting down the Wisconsin Senate.

Some have called this "strike" a courageous act or even democracy in action.  It's not.  It's a childish attempt by the loud, media-friendly and politically-powerful minority to short circuit a democratic vote. As a prominent former US Senator from Illinois once said, “Elections have consequences, and I won.” I absolutely agree. The proponents of this legislation were elected by the people of Wisconsin and have the right, in fact, the duty, to propose and vote on any legislation they deem appropriate. Senators are elected to legislate, not to skip town when a difficult or un-winnable vote is put to the floor.

Wisconsin laws gives the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms the means to round up the AWOL Senators and I hope he exercises that power, hiring Dog the Bounty Hunter if needed (talk about must see TV), to build a quorum and have the vote. If the majority of people in Wisconsin don’t like the result, they can vote out the State Senators who voted for the bill.

After all, elections have consequences.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More Hypocrisy from Congress recently published an astonishing opinion piece from Rep. Mike Honda, a 10 year veteran of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The topic is illegal immigration, specifically the debate over the 14th Amendment which gives citizenship to anyone born in the United States. We’ll leave the debate on the issue until later, but we’d first like to address the incredible hypocrisy on display by Rep. Mike Honda.

Rep. Honda illustrates, in 466 short words, everything that is wrong about Congress and politics.

While trying to contribute to the debate over whether the 14th Amendment should be repealed or amended, Rep. Honda focuses his efforts on highlighting the apparent flaws in the Republican proposals, while only providing one or two cursory thoughts about issues that are, at best, tangential to the 14th Amendment (i.e. “undetermined nationality” and deportation costs). The pedestrian comments end with the following nugget of Washingtonese:

“There is no doubt that our immigration system is broken, but it's not our Constitution or the 14th Amendment that is to blame, it is our inability to put aside partisan politics to develop a comprehensive and humane solution. And if anything needs amending, it is partisan politics.”
When read on its own, this comment is reasonable enough, and probably the most sensible in the entire piece, but when attached to the end of a column that is nothing if not the epitome of partisan politics, it reeks of hypocrisy.

In the column, Rep. Honda calls out three Republicans by name, uses the word “Republican” an additional 7 times in the article (each and every time with negative connotations), and takes a dig at Arizona’s (Republican Governor) immigration legislation . He could have saved us all some time and shrunk down his column to the following:

“Our immigration system is broken, but the Republicans are wrong to suggest amending the 14th Amendment. I have no original thoughts on how to fix it, so I’ll just repeat that Republicans are wrong on the 14th Amendment. Republicans are wrong on the 14th Amendment. Oh, and by the way, partisan politics is bad.”

Lastly, did Rep. Honda a huge disservice by running an opposing column by Rep. David Vitter (called out in Rep. Honda’s piece) that focuses on the authors concerns with the 14th Amendment and his original thoughts on how it could be improved. Rep. Vitters column has exactly zero references to Democrats, Republicans or partisan politics.

For the record, illegal immigration is certainly an issue that needs to be debated and ultimately legislated, but it’s not a topic for which is positioned to thoughtfully comment. Generally, we support greater enforcement of immigration laws but only in conjunction with easier legal paths to citizenship. We believe US citizenship is a privilege that must be earned, not a right.

We’re one of the few (and certainly the largest) countries in the world that has birthright citizenship, and we would support safeguards to ensure illegal immigrants, and even temporary legal visitors (tourists, etc.) are not entering the country for the sole purpose of giving birth on US soil, thereby providing their children with US citizenship.

Our children were born in the United Kingdom and hold dual citizenship (US & UK), not because they were born there, but because we, as parents, followed the legal path to citizenship (6+ years of residency, paying taxes, gainful employment, pledging allegiance to the queen, etc.). We earned our citizenship, and passed that benefit on to our children.