Monday, April 17, 2006

My Political Dollars at Work

As a resident of the People's Republic of, I mean the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, sometimes it seems like a waste of money to give to my preferred political candidates. Teddy Kennedy is going to get reelected. The Rethugs could run the Pope here and Teddy would kick Joey Ratz's ass.

So I want to use my political donations to gain a Democratic majority in Congress this year. I'm going to be giving to Senator Holey Joe Loserman's opponent in Connecticut, a real Democrat, Ned Lamont. Holey Joe can go on to an undistinguished career lobbying for insurance companies and addressing right wing rubber chicken banquets.

Even closer to home, I'm going to give money to whichever Democrat (former state attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse or Secretary of State Matt Brown) wins the right to oppose Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island. Chafee voted for cloture (which would have been defeated with 41 votes), which put Alito on the Supreme Court. The fact that he cast a meaningless vote against him when the anti-Alito forces needed 60 votes to win just pisses me off. (I must be part of the Angry Left. Cue Howard Beal from Network! I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!)

Yesterday I found this site, Paint New York Blue, on Bob Fertik's blog at (I bookmarked Bob's blog during the Alito fight, when he ran myriad lists of telephone and fax numbers for contacting Senators.) Paint New York Blue's aim is to help re-take the House by focusing on the State of New York, where Democrats have a good chance of taking back some of the 15 seats we need.

Currently Paint New York Blue is targeting three races: (1) District 19, where the current Republican Congresswoman Sue Kelly voted with Tom Delay over 90% of the time; (2) District 20, where former Republican state party chairman John Sweeney is getting a serious challenge from Attorney Kristen Gillibrand, a partner of Gore election attorney David Boies; and (3) District 29, where Fighting Dem Eric Massa, a retired Navy commander, is challenging one of the true scumbags of the House, Republican Randy Kuhl, whose divorce papers reveal him to be an abusive drunk. Oh, and then there was that little incident where he threatened his wife with a shotgun. Nice.

I'm going to give my money to Gillibrand, who is running to represent my old district. Actually, I don't think my hometown is in her district anymore, because the Republican redistricters chopped up my rural county, but it's close enough. Go look at the map of Distict 20; it's crazy, running from Essex County north of Albany on the Vermont border, to Dutchess County on the Connecticut border; to rural Delaware County, almost at the Pennsylvania border.

Here's what Paint My Blue has to say about her race:

Running along the Eastern edge of New York State, District 20 has been represented since 1998 by John Sweeney, the former executive director of the New York State Republican Party who has a consistent anti-abortion record and an ‘A’ rating from the NRA. Anyone looking for a sighting of that rare bird, the moderate New York Republican, will have to look elsewhere: Sweeney has the markings of a traditional Bush-era conservative, voting with disgraced former House Leader Tom DeLay over 90% of the time in his latest term in office. Sweeney’s defining moment may have been in the aftermath of the 2000 Bush-Gore election, where he spearheaded the shutdown ofthe recount in Florida – a move that earned him the nickname “Congressman Kickass” from beneficiary George W. Bush.

Challenger Kirsten Gillibrand is a partner at the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner (yes, that would be Boies as in David Boies, who represented Al Gore in Florida). At 39, Gillibrand is well established as a lawyer and as a civic activist. Called “a rising star” by NY State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, Gillibrand has exceeded expectations in establishing herself as a viable candidate. Despite her blue chip resume and political credibility (including ties to the Clinton administration, where she served as legal counsel to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development), skeptics initially described Gillibrand as a great candidate in a long shot race. However, she has won them over with a combination of personal charisma, hard work and organizational success. As of the first of January 2006, Gillibrand had raised over $370,000, drawing the attention of national groups like Emily’s List and the DCCC. Now, Roll Call political writer Stuart Rothenberg calls Gillibrand “the best Democratic opportunity” in New York to unseat a Republican Congressional incumbent in 2006.

Perhaps no one has helped Gillibrand more than Congressman Sweeney himself, who appears to be unsettled by his first real electoral challenge. Republicans arranged for a small group to protest Gillibrand’s campaign kick-off in Saratoga, but apparently forgot to tell them what it was they were protesting – a bungling performance that merely served to increase media coverage of the event. Sweeney’s attempt to distance himself from Jack Abramoff (and the $7,000 in campaign cash from Abramoff that had been directed his way) also backfired when a reporter realized that Sweeney had actually delivered his call for reform from the Park City, Utah vacation home of pharmaceutical lobbyist Jeff Kimble. But the Congressman wasn’t playing favorites – any lobbyist willing to pony up $2,000 had been invited to spend the weekend skiing with “House Appropriations Committee Member” John Sweeney.

It remains to be seen how the local electorate will react to Sweeney’s escapade in Utah, which drew the attention of the national press. Sweeney has other baggage to deal with as well; in November 2005 his teenage son was sentenced to 45 days in jail after pleading guilty to assault, the charges stemming from an incident that sent another boy to the hospital with a broken eye socket. Luckily for John Sweeney junior, a second judge reviewed the guilty plea and eliminated the jail time – an unusual step that has been loudly protested by the victim of the attack.

Despite Sweeney’s personal problems, there is no question that Gillibrand has a fight on her hands in a district where 53% voted for George Bush in 2004. Still, her team is encouraged by signs of change – increased numbers of registered Democrats, defeat of Republican mayors and other local incumbents in the 2005 elections, and a new energy animating the Democratic and independent opposition. The Gillibrand campaign has momentum, and the tangible evidence of that momentum is money: with a banner last quarter of 2005, Gillibrand has surpassed in dollars raised all of Sweeney’s four previous challengers combined.

No comments: