Even Conservatives Running on Progressive Platforms

Thursday, September 20, 2006

Strengthening Communities

Conservative Candidates Promote Progressive Policies

One sign of progressive strength is when progressive candidates win elections. But another sign is when conservative candidates begin adopting progressive programs for fear of losing office. And across the country, many GOP gubernatorial candidates have begun embracing progressive causes as a way to court the voters:

  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been bragging about signing legislation to combat global warming and raising California's minimum wage by $1 per hour.
  • GOP candidates for governor in both Massachusetts and Illinois are touting their pro-choice views.
  • Gov. M. Jodi Rell in Connecticut publicly embraces gay civil unions.
  • Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich is pushing for tighter restrictions on coal-fired plants.
  • Arkansas' Asa Hutchinson has supported the raise in the minimum wage in that state and at the federal level.

Now, these progressive planks are still usually mixed in with the usual stew of rightwing proposals, but the emphasis by these conservative candidates on progressive themes is a sign that progressive values are taking back the moral center of American politics.

Increasing Democracy

Corruption Runs Amok in Colorado

Some conservatives in Colorado appear to think they are above the laws. In the past several weeks, Colorado's largest rightwing 527 has been caught in the middle of what appears to be a giant money laundering scheme and the Secretary of State has been called out for failing to enforce a new law stepping up lobbyist disclosure, even while trying to create new rules to hamstring unions and other large membership organizations.

Following the Trailhead

The Trailhead is Colorado's largest rightwing 527, a committee formed specifically to impact elections (the organizations are known as '527's because of the section of federal tax code they file under). It was founded by Governor Bill Owen and is being funded by many of the most prominent rightwing leaders in Colorado and across the country. It also has some rather shady finances.

Late last week, Colorado Confidential -- a local investigative journalism blog -- did some research into the Trailhead's finances and discovered some odd activity. The Trailhead has engaged in a number of transactions with other 527s that the other 527s did not report. The net result of most of the transactions is to leave each fund precisely where it started. In other words, it is a fiscal ballet with no real apparent purpose.

Additionally, the Trailhead reported a $20,000 expenditure to an organization that by all accounts does not really exist.

The investigation has resulted in a complaint filed alleging that the reason for the Trailhead's complicated fiscal maneuvers: attempting to launder corporate money into Colorado politics, the same kind of illegal activity that got U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay into trouble in Texas.

Ignoring the Law on Lobbyists

Earlier this week, Rep. Morgan Carroll (an outstanding legislator we profiled previously this year) had to call out Secretary of State Gigi Dennis' office after months of foot dragging in implementing a new law (sponsored by Carroll) requiring increased reporting and disclosure by lobbyists.

As Carroll pointed out, Dennis' office was, long story short, failing to enforce the new law as passed by the legislature. The office's defense was that they lacked the resources until recently to enforce this new law.

Lack of resources did not, however, prevent Dennis from instituting new rules to require that large membership groups including unions receive individual sign-off from each member before spending their dues in a political manner. These new rules, introduced late in the season, would have been nearly impossible to comply with, leaving organized labor and other grassroots organizations simply incapable of representing their members' interests during the election.

Why is that Dennis has time to write her own laws but lacks the resources to enforce the ones passed by the legislature?

Rewarding Work

The Middle Class Squeeze and the Burden on Families

American families are under economic strain, but there is a rousing debate among economists over whether workers and families are doing better than a generation ago-- and what that means for shaping economic and social policy. The American Prospect is hosting a lively debate online on the fate of the middle class and how progressives need to tailor their message accordingly. Stephen Rose of Third Way makes the case that the middle class is doing better than many progressives think, while Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute disagrees with Rose, highlighting the stagnation of middle class families incomes in the last generation, even as wealth at the top of the economic ladder exploded. Read the debate and the responses by other commentators.

But here's a point only touched on in the debate: a key reason for gains in income by middle class families in the last generation is the entrance of more women into the workforce and the increase in two-paycheck families. Yet, there's often little discussion of the economic value of the unpaid work women were doing in the home in the past -- and of the increasing costs to families of replacing it with paid child care and takeout meals.

As a recent National Academies Press study emphasized, US government economic data has never developed a consistent measure of the economic value of unpaid labor in the home, so the statistical debate on family income largely ignores the issue. Only in 2003 did the Department of Labor begin a new survey of work in the home to begin trying to grapple with the value of unpaid and unmeasured economic activity in the home.

But for two-paycheck families struggling with child care bills and other costs, the economic value of the unpaid labor done by all the stay-at-home moms of a generation ago is clear-- and economic statistics should catch up. And state policymakers need to step up with more help for working parents, both with policies to promote a more family-friendly workplace that respects time taken off by parents for family needs and a greater commitment to promote affordable, quality child care for families.

Research Roundup

The Job Gap, Election Machines, Released Prisoners, Children of Immigrants, University Research, and Manufacturing Employment

Highlighting the squeeze on families, the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations released its 2006 "Northwest Job Gap Studies", finding that rising health insurance costs in recent year add to the problem of families making a living wage needed to care for their families.

With the recent voting machine problems in the Maryland primary, the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project is highlighting a number of studies spotlighting problems with voting machine technology across the country.

In its new "Prisoner Reentry: Addressing the Challenges in Weed and Seed Communities," the Urban Institute highlights innovative strategies by communities in reintegrating into society and the economy the more than 650,000 prisoners who are released from state and federal prisons each year. These strategies include mentor programs, one-stop support centers, community partnerships and a range of housing and employment programs for ex-offenders.

In another study, the Urban Institute notes that the share of children with at least one immigrant parent has increased from 6 percent in 1970 to over 20 percent today. Most have at least one working parent, but with many undocumented, this creates greater poverty and barriers to health and education access for these low-income children.

Highlighting the economic returns from society's investments in university research, the Milliken Institute finds that technology innovation comes mostly from university campuses, not corporate laboratories-- and its new study analyzes the keys to success for technology transfer with business partners.

Manufacturing employment across the country has continued to decline, according to the Economic Policy Institute, with employment falling more in the last seven years than it did in the previous twenty.

More Resources

Eye on the Right

The Trailhead isn't just starting to attract notice. They caught the attention of government watchdogs a while ago, when a simple Freedom of Information inquiry into whether Bill Owen was using his office to help donors to his 527 resulted in a threatening letter from Trailhead's own attorney. Needless to say, it is highly unusual for questions to the Governor's office to be handled by corrupt political committees. It brings a whole new meaning to the word outsourcing.

Upcoming Events

Oct. 17, 2006 - Progressive States Luncheon Featuring Jonathan Miller -- Miller, the State Treasurer of Kentucky, has a new book, The Compassionate Community: Ten Values to Unite America. As a religious progressive in the South, Miller promotes an innovative way to combine progressive values and a faith-based politics that cuts across religious lines. Progressive States is proud to host him for a luncheon. Details

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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch


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