Archive for April, 2010

A tale of two specials

The Unablogger

The Unablogger

Special congressional elections will take place next month to fill vacancies created by the death of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA-12) and the resignation of Rep. Neil Abercromie (D-HI-1). Republicans have excellent candidates in both districts and have decent chances to win both elections. But there are significant tactical differences in the two situations, and Republicans should not treat the districts the same.

The May 18 election in PA-12 has important long-term consequences for both parties and should be the focus of intense Republican efforts to win the seat. Sporting a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+1 (meaning that the district’s average vote in the past two presidential elections was one percentage point better than the country as a whole), PA-12 is a classic example of an otherwise winnable Republican district that has been held for years (in this case since 1974) by a personally popular Democrat incumbent.

This special election pits Democrat Mark Critz, who had been Murtha’s district director, against Republican businessman Tim Burns, in an “insider vs. outsider” contest that is a virtual metaphor symbolizing the upcoming 2010 battle for control of Congress. Like the Massachusetts special election of Republican Scott Brown earlier this year, this election will provide significant momentum for November to whichever party is victorious. And whoever wins will also have an enormous advantage in keeping the seat in November.

Both parties will pour all the resources they can into the Pennsylvania special election. Republicans across the country should invest in their 2010 success by contributing to the Burns campaign. I myself have already done so, and I urge my readers to do the same. (Contribute here.)

The Hawaii special election four days later is a different story. While Republican candidate Charles Djou is well qualified with a demonstrated history of electoral success (an elected member of the Honolulu city council and former minority leader in the state house of representatives), a Djou win in the special election would probably have only short-term significance. The district is solidly Democratic, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+11, a full 13 percentage points worse than the Pennsylvania district. No current Republican congressman represents a district more Democratic than D+7. The only reason this seat is even in play is a quirky Hawaiian election law that pits all candidates from all parties together in a single “jungle” election decided by mere plurality. There are two major Democratic candidates splitting the Democrat vote nearly evenly, while Djou has Republican votes pretty much to himself. The latest Daily Kos Research 2000 poll gives Djou just 32% of the likely vote, which nevertheless is good enough to give him a 4-point lead over Democrat Ed Case, who is running just one point ahead of fellow Democrat Connie Hanabusa. Come November, however, a traditional election pitting the winner of a Democratic primary against the winner of a Republican primary will take place, an election that even an incumbent Republican Djou would have difficulty winning.

While a Djou win in the special could give congressional Republicans better chances of winning close House votes that have eluded them this session, Djou’s chances of being part of the Republican takeover of the House in November are slim. While Djou’s D+11 district is not as inhospitable as Massachusetts (D+12), typically higher Democrat turnout in general elections would make Djou’s reelection more challenging than Scott Brown’s feat in a special.

So, while Republicans and conservative independents should wish Djou the best and rout sincerely for his success next month, their money and effort are better spent in Pennsylvania.

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New Carnahan tax evasion exposed

The Unablogger

The Unablogger

Last year when President Obama was busy staffing his cabinet with tax cheats, it became apparent why Democrats are so insensitive to high taxes: They don’t pay them!

Now a new disclosure has surfaced demonstrating how my congressman, Russ Carnahan (D-MO), is evading property tax on his 42-foot yacht. Both The Missouri Record and Carnahan’s leading Republican opponent, Ed Martin, have pointed out that Prince Russ parks his boat across the river in Illinois, where there is no property tax on boats.

Martin reported too that Carnahan’s vessel is also without current registration. According to Martin’s press release, as of Monday April 12, 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Information Exchange showed that the boat’s registration expired back on September 30, 2008.

If this sounds familiar, it should. When Prince Russ first ran for Congress in 2004, the Missouri Water Patrol cited him for driving an unregistered boat. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported at the time that Carnahan claimed he hadn’t registered it with the state Department of Revenue, because the Coast Guard was still processing title documents. After the Post-Dispatch inquired, Carnahan said he had just found out that he could get temporary state registration. But now, it’s unregistered again, for over seven months.

Martin notes wryly, “Funny, he knew nothing about registering his boat but knew exactly where he should dock it to avoid taxes.”

Maybe Carnahan is feeling the heat from the current campaign and is preparing for a new career. Prince Russ appears to auditioning for an appointment in the Obama Administration, which has a demonstrated appreciation for tax cheats.

You paid for it: Campaign literature for congressmen

I recently got an expensively produced full-color glossy 6-panel brochure from my congressman, Russ Carnahan (D-MO), touting his supposed efforts to end excessive Wall Street bonuses and other financial practices. It featured a lovely photo of Russ at a lectern with an American flag in the background. It made the congressman look really good, just as good campaign literature should.

But one thing really bugged me about this campaign literature. It noted (as required by law) that this expensively produced literature “was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense.” Sure enough, instead of postage, there was merely the reproduced signature of Congressman Carnahan. It was sent via a congressman’s “franking privilege.”

“Franking” allows a representative in Congress to respond to his constituents’ letters to him (or her, as the case may be). Such an exchange of ideas is fully appropriate. With the volume of mail and other communications that a congressman receives, it would be unduly burdensome to require the congressman to pay out of his own pocket for responding to his constituents. I have no problem with the franking privilege when used in that manner, as originally intended.

But that’s not what this was. This was a mass-produced puff piece about the congressman, even if it did center on one particular issue.

Apologists for Carnahan will undoubtedly respond that all congressmen do this, regardless of party. While I haven’t polled the other 434 representatives (and the critics who would make that claim haven’t either), I fully expect that all incumbent congressmen seeking reelection probably do so. But that doesn’t make it right. None of Carnahan’s (or any other congressman’s) opponents, either in his own party primary or potential general election opponents from other parties, can send you campaign literature about themselves at your expense. This is an abuse of power, and the pervasiveness of the practice makes it worse, not better.

If I may borrow the title of Fox 2’s Elliot Davis’ fine investigative series,  “You Paid for It.”