Community Palette

Praise the Lord: The Republican Convention is Over

September 3, 2012

WOW!  Listening to their Convention we know that many in today’s Republican Party live in a fantasy world where you can make things up, rewrite history, and believe you can fool people by not talking about what you really stand for. To borrow a phrase I am sure was on the lips of most of the people sitting in that lily white audience in Tampa, “Praise the Lord” this convention is over. It was difficult to listen to the plethora of blatant lies and misstatements made by the candidates and their surrogates.

I watched two nights of prime time and heard speeches by Ann Romney, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Clint Eastwood and Mitt Romney. My overall response was sadness that so much of what they said was a collection of partial truths and the realization of how much wasn’t said because they knew how people would respond.

Ann Romney is a beautiful strong woman having survived her fight with cancer and living with MS. She spoke well but pandered to women whose lives and struggles she has never had to face. Hillary Rosen may have misspoken when she said Ann Romney never worked a day in her life because clearly being a mother of five children is hard work. But reality is that when Ann Romney recounted how hard it was when she and Mitt left their close knit family to move to Massachusetts she forgot to mention that the hardship included having a husband who supported his family from his trust funds while he went to Harvard. She didn’t have to work outside the home, worry about rent, grocery bills or healthcare for her children and he graduated with no college loans to pay off. A Romney Presidency can’t make that happen for every woman, no President can.

Then there was Chris Christie. He forgot to mention Mitt Romney until about 18 minutes into his speech. He came across as the self-centered bully that the people of New Jersey have come to know and are quickly tiring of. The nation would quickly feel the same if they had to listen to him more often.

Then Paul Ryan took the stage. His speech heightened the feeling that this was all taking place in fantasyland. If he can actually convince himself that what he said is true he really does live in his own world. Maybe he borrowed a set of Mitt’s magic underwear. He spoke of his being able to see a better future while he was waiting tables. Since he was brought up in a prosperous home, his dad being a successful lawyer, I guess it wasn’t hard for him to see that future. The problem is he wants to cut Pell grants and education funds for other young people who don’t come from homes like his and really do find it hard to envision their own better future. He intentionally didn’t say that the auto plant that closed in his District closed during the Bush Presidency. He forgot to mention his vote against Simpson/Bowles; his belief that there should be no exceptions to a total ban on abortion; his votes for TARP and the Bush wars being off budget which added billions to the deficit; his earmarks for high donor constituents; his letters requesting stimulus funds for his District; and his suggested budget cuts including the same $700 billion from Medicare that he accused the President of cutting.

Then Clint Eastwood took the stage with a rambling awkward disrespectful speech and didn’t even know that Romney is a lawyer. The worst thing that can happen to a candidate on the night of his greatest opportunity to shine is when the following morning around the water the cooler the chat is “wow did you see that Eastwood speech, and oh yeah Romney spoke too”.

And then Mitt Romney made his entrance reminiscent of a President entering a State of the Union speech but shaking hands with people with funny hats. Guess they represented the Congress. Romney intended to make an uplifting speech and had a number of good lines. But the totality left one pondering what he would actually do as President. He promised 12 million new jobs but didn’t say how he would accomplish that. He talked about his father’s struggles but didn’t seem to connect because by the time he was born his father had made it. He said dad worked in the auto industry but left out that he was President of the Company. Unfortunately he never learnt the best lessons his father taught him about including people and broadening the Party. Mitt Romney’s Republican Party which he either controls or is a puppet of is the most exclusive Party ever. Just a quick look around the audience in the hall would have made his dad sad. Maybe that is what Romney choked up about when talking about his dad.

Romney and the Republicans appear to want us to forget about what they stand for because they gave all that such short shrift. Just read their Party Platform for the beliefs and ideas that today’s Republican Party stands for. That is a much better picture of the Romney/Ryan Party than the fantasy of their convention.

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Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan Release Campaign Finance Reform Proposal

August 28, 2012

Tuesday afternoon the Mayor and Attorney General released a wide-ranging campaign finance reform proposal in the form of draft legislation. This proposal originated when Mayor Gray asked the Attorney General months ago to develop a bill that would help to clean up District politics by regulating campaign financing. The Attorney General spoke at a Council hearing in May outlining the concepts that would guide the development of this bill and promised the Council that the Mayor would have legislation ready to introduce in September.

The draft bill is online and Nathan said citizens are welcome to review it and make any suggestions they like to change it or enhance it. The Mayor said those will all be reviewed and if appropriate incorporated into the bill prior to his sending it to the Council.

Attorney General Nathan (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Attorney General Nathan

Some reporters immediately jumped up to ask the Mayor if he felt he is the right person to introduce such legislation considering his campaign is under investigation. They then asked Attorney General Nathan if he thought that a Council with seven members up for reelection would look at such a bill. Nathan said, “I would think this would be a great time to look at such a bill and pass it as they are asking the citizens of the District for their support”. Mayor Gray said,The residents of the District of Columbia deserve to have confidence in their government, and this bill, if passed, will help safeguard the trust that our residents place in our leaders when they elect us.”

I give the Mayor tremendous credit for suggesting and introducing this bill and for saying to the people of the District “Look at and judge this bill on its merits”. Whatever the results of any investigations people know we need change and this bill is a comprehensive step forward.

A major point of this bill is to end ‘pay-to-play. The proposed ‘pay-to-play’ provisions of the legislation would bar those who have (or are seeking) contracts or grants with the District valued at $250,000 or higher from contributing to any elected public official or candidate who could be involved in the approval process for the contract or grant. They also would ban such individuals from contributing to any entity in which an official or candidate with oversight over the approval process has a significant financial interest.

The proposed bill’s disclosure rules would require organizations supporting or opposing any candidate, initiative, referendum or recall to identify the sources and amounts of any contributions they receive and any expenditure they make. Any contributions by a corporate entity would be attributed to the controlling shareholder and any affiliates of the entity so that maximum contribution limits cannot be evaded. The bill also prohibits lobbyists from bundling contributions; makes money orders subject to the same limitations as cash contributions ; and makes candidates much more accountable for  what their political committee’s do.

Attorney General Nathan said his staff reviewed other state’s legislation; spoke to former members of the council; other elected officials; campaign managers; and good government groups as his office drafted the legislation. Public Citizen, a national non-profit consumer advocacy group said, “If adopted the Mayor’s pay-to-play reforms would be among the strongest in the nation”.

I urge people to look at the legislation and comment. Then take the next step and contact their Councilmember to urge them to consider and pass this legislation that the Mayor will submit to them when they come back into session in September. The time for such legislative reform is long overdue.

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DC Arts and Humanities Commission Should Hold Public Hearings

August 12, 2012

There are many people responsible for the additional $6.8 million that was allocated in the 2013 budget to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Thanks go to Commission members; the hard work of many Arts activists in the District; Councilmember Jack Evans; Councilmember Vincent Orange’s Committee and Mayor Vincent Gray.

This additional money was allocated to the Commission for the fiscal year which begins October 1, 2012. It is one of the largest increases in Arts funding anywhere in the country at a time when arts and humanities budgets are being slashed at the local, state and federal levels of government.

The District of Columbia has always had a vibrant ARTS community and that continues despite the difficult economy. The ARTS are a major economic boon to the District providing 1000’s of jobs and having a huge positive financial impact. This includes large theatre groups like the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Arena Stage, the Kennedy Center with its theater, opera and ballet companies; to smaller theatres, dance companies, art galleries, music venues and individual artists and musicians. Over the years government support for the ARTS has ebbed and flowed in the District often depending on whether the Council or Mayor took a real interest and were actual patrons of the arts. We are fortunate today that a majority of the Council and the Mayor appear to understand that supporting the ARTS is important not only for the image of our city and its economy; but for people’s general well-being. Societies are often remembered only for their art and culture when everything else has faded away.

My one concern with this new funding is that the Commission didn’t hold a public hearing to get ideas on how to spend it and determine where its focus should be. While the Council held hearings and many arts supporters turned out to testify and thankfully this funding was passed without earmarks; that left the Commission with having sole jurisdiction on how it should be allocated. Like all other agencies handing out public funds there must be total transparency. According to Commission staff time constraints led them to make all the decisions internally without any new public input. It would be my hope that in the coming year the Commission will hold hearings to gather input from the arts and humanities communities on how to spend the money in future years should it continue to be allocated as well as any additional funding they might receive.

It appears that of the new $6.8 million allocation $3.8 million will be added to the current grant pool and made available for grants to those who submitted grant requests that were due before the new budget numbers were announced. The other $3 million will be divided between two new grant programs that will be announced by October 1st. One is a new humanities program which will have $ .5 million allocated to it and the second is a long-term sustainability program that will have the remaining $2.5 million allocated to it.

Like so many in D.C., I am a big supporter of the ARTS and a strong advocate for the Commission. There are many dedicated people that serve on the Commission and its staff. But like all public servants they must never forget to continuously involve the public and solicit their ideas and suggestions for how public money can and should be spent.

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