Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#GRAMA Work Group: Week Two

I want to give a quick shout out to The Sunlight Foundation here, they've been amazingly helpful in researching open government policy around the country to see how other states are handling changing technology.

Our second meeting as a work group tasked with "bringing GRAMA into the 21st century" kicks off at 9am today at the Senate Building.  I'll be tweeting, and you can follow along via the #GRAMA hashtag, and @GRAMArevisited, the official Twitter stream for the work group. I'll update this post afterward with more info from the meeting. 

The Senate Site has more:

The SECOND MEETING of the GRAMA Group is set for Wednesday at 9 a.m. in Senate Building Room 210. This is an informal working group, but we’ll live stream and do what we can to make it open and inclusive.

Audio stream here. Requires RealPlayer. Sorry.

And the live stream embed:


Free video chat by Ustream

SCOTUS Returns to Politics and Money

Crossposted at MyDD.

Just over a year after the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court is about to delve into politics and money again, this time taking up the constitutionality of Arizona's public finance system for state candidates:
The subsidy system that the Justices are now ready to review was, in fact, believed to be a reform measure when Arizona’s voters narrowly approved it (by a 51-49 percent margin) in a statewide initiative in 1998.  After a series of scandals over financing of state campaigns, resulting, among other woes, in criminal prosecution of two governors and a number of state legislators, voters went to the polls to vote on a measure titled the “Clean Elections Act.” Backers promoted the Act with a pamphlet arguing that the Act would free politicians to represent the public’s interest, and not just the interests of those who gave large contributions to their campaigns.  The pamphlet tied the Act directly to the recent scandals, saying that the cycle of campaign finance abuse had seemed endless.
The Act went into effect in 2000, and as many as two-thirds of state candidates thereafter have opted into the subsidy system.  The system was used in every state election after 2000 — until the elections of last November, after the system had been blocked by a temporary vote of the Supreme Court last June 8.
The "Clean Elections Act" is complicated -- but not unwieldy -- to understand, especially when you dig into various trigger and counter-trigger mechanisms enacted by the campaign sending choices of wealthy self-funded candidates.  But that's not where those challenging the law are focused.  Both proponents and opponents of the law are making a similar argument: this is about free speech.
Opponents aim at a specific trigger mechanism in which a candidate can ask for a subsidy if a self-financed opponent's (including independent "supporting groups") spending reaches a certain level, arguing this would encourage a self-financed candidate to keep their spending below that ceilling, "limiting" their free speech.  Proponents of the law argue this mechanism levels the playing field fairly.  Self-funded candidates are still free to out spend, but as they do, their opponents qualify for (but aren't forced to request) additional (but not equal in dollar amount) subsidies.
In a follow up post, SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston points out that in Monday's oral arguments, at least one Justice is already foreshadowing the precarious future of the system:
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who definitely seems to hold the deciding vote on the newest test of the Supreme Court’s skepticism about campaign finance laws, made repeated comments on Monday suggesting that he is very wary of Arizona’s attempt to offset the impact of wealthy candidates paying their own way.  Among a variety that could be noted, no remark was more telling than what seemed almost to be a rhetorical question: “Do you think it would be a fair characterization of this law to say that its purpose and its effect are to produce less speech in political campaigns?”
I'm not informed enough on it to argue the Arizona model is a perfect or flawed system for better election process, but in Citizens United, the court declared it was "discriminatory" to limit "free speech" based on the "identity" of the spender.  I'd expect them to take the same position here ensuring another win for billionaires buying up elections.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#GRAMA Work Group: Week One

A few quick, barely self-edited thoughts on the first GRAMA work group meeting today:

There seemed to be broad agreement that our focus should be on the existing GRAMA law, and not HB477.  This was encouraging.  The task of somehow turning HB477 into a good law is impossible.  Considering "bringing GRAMA into the 21st century" as a focus seems more reasonable.

On that point though, I found it odd to be discussing making changes to the existing open government law as if we've all agreed a case has been made for doing so.  Legislators have not made a compelling argument for minor updates, let alone sweeping changes likely to stand for the next two decades.  Reasons given amount to playing the victim (more on that below), and citing "fishing expeditions" without supplying evidence of any abuse that outweighs the importance of public confidence in an open, transparent process, and implications that the courts have over reached in interpreting GRAMA for the public good.  I would like to see more of a concrete argument (and evidence) for making any changes to GRAMA than those offered so far.

On the notion that legislators are the victims of Utah's open records laws, I offer: Buffalo Chips! Sen. Stuart Adams provided an example today of a GRAMA request of his emails.  He took issue over the fact that there were personal emails included, and though those emails weren't released, someone, somewhere read them.  Adams said he "felt" this was a violation of his 4th amendment rights.  An illegal search and seizure.  While I can sympathize with legislators having "feelings" (as I understand it, some of them do), this is a ridiculous point of contention with open records policy.  It amounts to wanting 1) private communications kept private and 2) no one getting to review records to determine what is private or in the public interest, except, I assume, the legislator responding to the request.  It's impossible to address Sen. Adams' "feelings" and have an open records law that will serve the public well.  Impossible.

That's not to say I don't sympathize.  Personally, this level of exposure would make me uncomfortable too.  And that is why I will never run for office.  But Sen. Adams did get himself elected, and now serves the people of Utah.  In the interest of public confidence in our governing agencies, lawmakers "feelings" should not rate higher than a transparency law with enough teeth to be effective.

Some great questions were thrown out today, and I literally can't wait to actually get into discussing some of the ideas and issues in depth.  But like I say, I'm worried about the tone set by lawmakers and this work group retaining credibility.  There are still a lot of valid questions unanswered on why the current set of transparency principles outlined in GRAMA are inadequate.

Sen. Pat Jones best framed what I think the umbrella focus of this group should be: Is it private until proven public, or public until proven private?

With all the talk today of "burden of proof," that's the money phrase.  Someone is going to own the burden of proof in any issue of public vs. private communication.  Legislators have not provided a convincing argument yet that that burden should fall on the public, the media, or non-profit advocacy groups to prove a need to access records of work done in our name.  If legislators want to shift that burden onto taxpayers, they're going to have to provide something more tangable than the way GRAMA requests leave them "feeling."

I'll post more on the 36 policy questions presented to the group today soon; great questions I'd like to hear your thoughts on before the group meets again next Wednesday.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Newt's Legacy: For the GOP it's not about representation

Crossposted at MyDD

John Sides links to a discussion on the breakdown of legislative norms, when debate in the House denigrates to a fight that has nothing to do with policy or problem solving or even reality.  Barry Pump traces the tactic (yes, tactic) back to Newt Gingrich and two hours of "schoolyard taunting and bullying" in 1984.
2. Gingrich prepares a massive speech attacking Democrats by name (such as former appropriations chairman Dave Obey of Wisconsin and former Oakland mayor Ron Dellums) and accusing them of spreading communist propaganda in the Speaker’s Lobby. He writes a letter notifying the Democrats that he was going to name check them, but the letter was not delivered in time for the Democrats to respond on the floor during Gingrich’s speech.

3. Gingrich gives the speech while most members have gone home for the weekend. Dellums says he was on a plane back to California when Gingrich was on the floor impugning his patriotism, and he didn’t find out about it until he landed.
Pump outlines in 10 steps how Gingrich attacks the patriotism of Democrats outside of legislative protocol "norms," elicits an angry response from Speaker Tip O'Neill -- who orders newly installed television cameras to pan, showing Gingrich speaking to an empty chamber, and calls Gingrich out of line -- and then plays the victim, claiming the speaker abused his position for criticizing him publicly.  Gingrich and his "young turks" brought the legislative process to a halt with hyperbolic antics.  The goal was no longer policy or ideological agenda, but simply majority status at any cost.  By the end of the 80's, the Republican Party was sold, and a 30 legislative strategy had begun.
By selecting the aggressive Gingrich over his mild-mannered rival, Illinois' Edward Madigan, House Republicans signaled that they want more lash in their whip. "We had a choice of being attack dogs or lapdogs," said a G.O.P. lawmaker. "We decided attack dogs are more useful."
Flash forward to the 112th Congress.

For all the hints at Boehner's lack of control as speaker after several unexpected failures, I wouldn't hold my breath.  This isn't an intra-party rebellion; this is just blip in party message control.  Leadership and the freshmen tea baggers won't part ways given a choice between governing or the perpetual campaign.  "Principles," half-baked or not, will be set aside faster than a Gingrich mistress when leadership reminds the newbies elections still happen, and even the slightest nod at actual problem solving is out the window when the newbies remind leadership they are all Newt spawn.

For Republicans, this hasn't been about governance or representation for a very, very long time.
From the poll tax to the literacy test, using the law to create a structure that systematically disenfranchises people unlikely to vote for you has a long tradition in America’s political warfare. The latest “anti-voter fraud” laws pushed by Republicans are hardly different. By taking away same-day registration and requiring photo IDs to vote, they are making it harder for traditionally Democratic-leaning groups — students, young people, the poor, and some minorities — to exercise their right to vote. The basic strategy is if you can’t win their vote, keep them from voting altogether. While these actions have gained publicity in Wisconsin, the same tactic is being pushed by the GOP in places like Kansas and New Hampshire.
To the GOP it's a decades long war to be won and the ends will justify any means.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cherilyn Eagar Will Save Us All (Send Her Money! UN! Mexicans! Arglebargle!)

One of the greatest misuses of the phrase "common sense" I've seen in a long time.  In the inbox:



The U.N. Agenda for Immigration
How Utah is adopting that agenda through HB 116
Last week a group of women from Eagle Forum accompanied me to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Conference.  (More on that event to come.)

A few of us unintentionally attended a session hosted by the U.N. University addressing immigration.  The presenters and many in the audience hold the position that immigration policy should embrace the concept of the free flow of migrant movement across borderless nation states.

It was suggested that a person should be able to set foot on American soil one day and run for political office the next.   Your contribution is needed now so that we can continue to fight for our freedom.  Today.

Correction
My previous message today addressed the Utah legislature's action to embrace amnesty and how it will endanger all 50 states if the governor signs the bill.  What has been unspoken in the debate is Utah's role in either knowingly or unknowingly contributing to the incremental movement toward open borders, global governance and the end of sovereignty that the U.N. openly supports.

I am now in D.C. and have just learned that the Utah amnesty bill is still on Utah Governor Gary Herbert's desk.  Please contact him ASAP to let him know that the United States does not want Utah to become the magnet for more illegal aliens, which is the history of amnesty.  The history of guest worker programs is that 40% of them overstay their visas and then become part of the illegal landscape.

Guest Workers?
Don't be deceived.  A guest worker program cannot be implemented safely until the borders are secured!  What message is Utah giving illegal aliens?  "Come to America illegally, use illegal documents and in 16 years you too will  be granted amnesty."  This gives them time to use your children's social security numbers fraudulently and then be given a pass before it is discovered who those social security numbers really belong to.  This is a farce. 


Contact Utah's Governor Gary Herbert.
If you are a Utah delegate and oppose this measure, contact Brandon Beckham immediately.  A meeting with the governor is being organized today.  BrandonCBeckham@gmail.com

3S HB116 was pushed through the Utah State House of Representatives late Friday.  By show of hands, most of them had not even read the bill!  Please contact Governor Herbert’s office today and let him know that until the border is secured, we want enforcement only.

Contact all three:
Andrea Hansenandreahansen@utah.gov (Governor’s secretary)
Governor Gary Herbert gherbert@utah.gov
Lt. Gov.Greg Bell gregbell@utah.gov

Cut & paste in the bcc line for your convenience:  andreahansen@utah.gov, gherbert@utah.gov,  gregbell@utah.gov

Call the Governor’s office at 801.538.1000. 

Learn more about the outrageous consequences of this bill.  Click here.


[SNIP: Rambles on about American Leadership fund, Mexican terrorists a bit more]

Thank you for your help.

Faithfully,

Cherilyn Eagar
Director, American Leadership Fund
Coalition on Illegal Immigration

Saturday, March 5, 2011

HB477: They Did It for the Legislators! (And that's why it was wrong)

Rep. John Dougall, (R - Giant Hypocrite)
Last night, via the Senate Site, an explanation of the fast-tracked, little discussed, and transparency defeating HB477, passed by the House and Senate both with little opposition. Read the whole thing yourself, but outside of anecdotal cost examples (which could be addressed numerous ways, with much more respect for the public trust), and a notion of protecting private information in legislative communications (which I would argue does not, and should not trump public confidence in an open, transparent government), it seems they "did it for the legislators!"  And that is exactly why it was wrong.

Our elected officials are entrusted with representing us, and often seem to forget that they work for us, not their own claim to power.  But more of a travesty  here is a disrespect for the role of the media.  The media, more so than any elected official, are a true extension of the people.

If there is indeed an over-reach by the media (keep in mind no legitimate example of such has been given) in the use of GRAMA, that is a necessary evil, and there are, again, far better options -- some that would take advantage of the very technology legislators have expressed concern about -- than restricting public access to the governing process.  Utah legislators should feel obligated to err on the side of protecting that relationship between voters and lawmakers provided by an aggressive and attentive investigative media.

With HB477, legislators, led by Rep. John "Champion of Open Government" Dougall, and Senator Lyle "My Law Clients Come First" Hillyard, have instead erred on the side of protecting themselves.

My comment on the Senate Site post:
So far, legislators, primarily Dougall and Hillyard have provided only anecdotal “evidence” of the cost. And even if cost really is an issue, this is perhaps the least creative “fix” to that, and one that happens to not just “lose the PR” battle, but paints the legislature as making a judgment call on “worth” not so much as “cost.”

Outside of cost, Hillyard spent a lot of time in the media briefing and on the floor pointing out that clients sometimes email him at his legislative address. I understand that concern, and I even sympathize to an extent that our legislators who have jobs outside of their legislative duties. But what was so disappointing for me, listening to Hillyard, was his complete lack of personal responsibility. Senator, you are an elected official, charged with representing the people of Cache Valley, not just your law office clients. If your clients are emailing you at your Senate address, you (and only you) need to take responsibility for correcting that. It’s not — in any way shape or form — the responsibility of your constituents, who expect an open and transparent governing process.

Finally, I love the outreach from our legislature online. Especially that of the Senate body. But in effect, the way this has been handled, and the decisions leadership have made in how to begin a dialog -- implied by their “we’ll get back to this later” message to Utah’s media -- undermines that very outreach. Those of us who know legislators personally or interact to a greater degree during the legislative session may be able to see past this and watch for a continuing dialog, but for the general public busy with their daily lives, HB477 and the process by which it became law this week furthers the notion that their lawmakers are only telling them half of the story.

The point of “sunshine” or “open government” initiatives are not only good government, but a more engaged and less cynical public. With this process, and this bill, the Utah Legislature has done more to feed that cynicism than fight it. I am disappointed that Senator Hillyard would be more concerned about the “trials and tribulations” of legislators than the bigger picture of encouraging public faith in Utah’s institutions.
Not a proud day for Senator Hillyard, or the legislative process in Utah.

Now Governor Herbert has a choice.

Help him make it.
801-538-1000
800-705-2464
Fax 801-538-1528

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Herbert Misleads on Wilderness Policy

Governor Herbert testified yesterday alongside ID Gov Butch Otter, MT Rep/Senate candidate Denny Rehberg, attacking Secretary Salazar's December order that the US Dept. of Interior would (GASP!) begin enforcing existing policy, ignored under the "No More Wilderness" Bush-era agreement between the department and some western states.  Herbert:

"This order hinders rural economic development and hurts key funding sources for Utah's school children," Herbert said, noting that royalties from mineral development are a primary founding sources for Utah schools. 
Putting aside the obvious irony of a Utah Republican feigning concern for schoolchildren, I decided to look into how this new policy focus would negatively impact mineral development in Utah.  What I found:

It wouldn't.  At all. (But: LAND GRAB!!! Arglebargle!!!)

According to BLM data for western states, there is an average of 1 acre of wilderness land for every 42 leased for oil and gas drilling.  And of the land currently leased (which would not be effected by the new order) for oil and gas drilling, just over 1/3 is actually being used by the industry.  Returning to enforcing existing policy would only effect new land designations.

Herbert took his typical "funky math" dog and pony show on the road to oppose what would essentially be a more open public land policy with greater opportunity for public input than the policy of the past several years and a policy that wouldn't hurt Utah's School children nearly as much as the legislation from the legislative session waiting on his desk to sign.

Don't believe the hype.