2010 United States House of Representatives Elections, General Elections

Here I discuss the most important United States House of Representatives races in 2010, based on how liberal the candidate I’m endorsing is and how close the race is.


2010 Florida’s 8th Congressional District House Election, General Election

Incumbent Democrat Alan Grayson is known most for his explanation of the Republican health care plan: “Don’t get sick… if you do get sick, die quickly.”  It turns out he’s given to saying blunt, controversial things routinely, and as someone on his mailing list I can attest to that personally.  Substantively, all these remarks are sideshows compared to Grayson’s substantive accomplishments such as pushing for an audit of the Federal Reserve and sponsoring the Medicare You Can Buy Into Act.  But it showcases a huge reason why liberals love him: he’s willing to take the fight to conservatives not just in the halls of Congress, but in the media and on the airwaves as well.  And we liberals need to win the rhetorical war even more than legislative battles if we want to see long-term progress in this country.  Grayson is one of American liberalism’s most effective spokespeople – and that’s why we can’t afford to lose him.  I’d put Grayson on the list of the top two or three Representatives we really cannot lose this year.

Grayson’s liberal credentials – at least rhetorically – are impeccable.  Just watch this interview on Real Time with Bill Maher.  When Bill Maher mentioned that he was a progressive Democrat, Grayson confirmed it and then described his political philosophy: “Huey Long, Huey Long, you gotta put some jam on the bottom shelf where the little man can reach it.”  I was pleasantly astounded when I watched this.  First off, almost no one ever cites Huey Long, who was probably the closest to a socialist a national Democrat ever got, as a political hero, so major points to him for that.  Second off, more liberal points for Grayson for using that “jam” quote, though I think it’s actually attributed to Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough, another great liberal.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Grayson was the first person to use that Yarborough quote since Yarborough himself.  This guy is definitely a keeper.  I endorse Alan Grayson for reelection in FL-8.

Initially it looked like Grayson, despite representing a swing district, was gonna coast by this year in spite of – or perhaps because of – his antics.  He had fundraised prodigiously and had accumulated a big enough war chest to scare off many potentially dangerous challengers – so much so that I started getting exasperated whenever I saw liberals making yet another donation to him.  But, it’s a Republican year, so the guy he did end up facing – former State Senate Majority Leader Daniel Webster – is now leading him in the polls.  A Grayson loss would be a huge blow to progressives in Congress.

Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL-8).  Source: Wikimedia Commons.



2010 Virginia’s 5th Congressional District House Election, General Election

This is the race that’s being watched around the country as the incumbent Democrat Tom Perriello has courageously voted for Democratic legislation despite representing a lean-Republican district (though I think his vote for the health insurance law was a waste).  Now he’s paying the price, as he’s been running behind his Republican opponent all year, and only recently has he made up some of the gap and now stands an average of a few points behind.  He probably won’t pull it out, but he really should.  I endorse Tom Perriello for reelection in VA-5.


2010 Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District House Election, General Election

Democratic State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa is running against incumbent Republican Charles Djou, who was elected to this seat in May after the Democratic vote was divided between Hanabusa and Blue Dog Democrat Ed Case.  Hanabusa is relatively liberal and is a single-payer, Medicare for All supporter.  She also supports government directly creating jobs and investing in infrastructure and education.

This district lost a good liberal Representative in Neil Abercrombie (who will hopefully be elected Governor).  Hanabusa can restore that loss.  I endorse Colleen Hanabusa for HI-1.

Despite the Democratic tilt of the district, Djou has held a lead for much of the year and only now does Hanabusa have a very slim average lead of less than 1 point.



2010 New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District House Election, General Election

Running for an open seat, Ann McLane Kuster has gotten a lot of positive attention as a candidate running as an unabashed liberal, and doing, well, okay: polls show her with a slim two-point lead.  A Kuster win could be one of a few bright spots on Election Day this year.  I endorse Ann McLane Kuster for NH-2.



2010 New York’s 19th Congressional District House Election, General Election

I endorse incumbent Democrat John Hall for reelection in NY-19.  Hall is a strong liberal Democrat who’s in a swing district.  The polls have this race as quite close, with Hall having a less-than-one point lead on average.


2010 California’s 45th Congressional District House Election, General Election

Adam Bink of Open Left has heavily promoted Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, largely because he would be the first gay parent in Congress and he’s supportive on LBGT issues.  He’s also decently liberal on other issues as well.  I endorse Steve Pougnet for CA-45.  Pougnet’s race against incumbent Republican Mary Bono Mack hasn’t been polled, but she’s likely to win.


2010 Arizona’s 7th Congressional District House Election, General Election

This district leans Democratic and in a normal year incumbent Democrat Raúl Grijalva shouldn’t have any trouble winning reelection.  But it’s a Republican wave year and Grijalva has come under fire for courageously calling for a boycott of his own state in the wake of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law.  But a few polls have shown this race with Grijalva holding quite slim leads.

Grijalva, the better co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is a stellar liberal and a champion of the public option and Medicare for All.  We need him in the House.  I endorse Raúl Grijalva for reelection in AZ-7.



Medicare for All/Medicare You Can Buy Into Supporters

Finally, I’m going to do something a little uncharacteristic and offer a blanket endorsement of all cosponsors of H.R. 676, the legislation to establish a single-payer, Medicare for All health insurance system in the United States.  I feel strongly enough about Medicare for All to do this.

I know this endorsement encompasses a few Medicare for All-supporting Blue Dogs such as Joe Baca and Sanford Bishop, the latter of whom appears to be in real danger of losing his seat to his Republican opponent.  This is one of the rare instances in which I actually endorse a Blue Dog for reelection (normally I’d either stay out of the race or endorse a minor party candidate).

I will also offer a similar blanket endorsement of all cosponsors of H.R. 4789, the Medicare You Can Buy Into Act.  This is also legislation I strongly support and we can’t afford to lose any of these cosponsors.

Are (Some) Democrats Just Brainless Tools?

I’m a proud Democrat.  I’ve been one since before I first registered to vote in 2005.  I’m an even prouder liberal.  I’ve been one since before I was a Democrat.  I consider being a liberal much more important than being a Democrat.  So when Democrats aren’t being liberal, I choose to support liberals over supporting Democrats.

This is important around election time because Democrats have often been very un-liberal in recent history.  They keep giving me reasons to not want to vote for them.  But then liberals who consider it very important to support Democrats start badgering me about how I’m being disloyal or I’m just helping the Republicans win or whatever.  Which makes me wonder – why should I care about Republicans winning if Democrats are doing a lot of damage themselves?  Not as much as Republicans would, maybe, but what’s the point in supporting a “lesser evil” when, at the end of the day, it’s still evil?

I’ll have a lot more to say about Democrats in general, and President Obama – a huge point of contention because of his high profile and unclear liberal loyalties – in particular, later on.  What bothers me right now is how, when confronted with something outrageous that Obama/Democrats have done, Obama/Democratic supporters just kinda shrug indifferently, when I KNOW they’d be howling in rage over the very same things if they’d been done by Republicans and a President John McCain or Mitt Romney.  Hell, the health insurance “reform” bill that Democrats love to support was Mitt Romney’s idea.  Would Democrats have been so supportive if had been President Romney, not Obama, who proposed it?

And no, I’m not talking about whether or not the laws the Democrats passed are incremental improvements worthy of support, or not.  I’m talking about actual bad stuff that Obama/Democrats did.  Stuff like this:

The Deal with the Hospital Industry to Kill the Public Option

and this

Confirmed: Obama authorizes assassination of U.S. citizen

Do Democrats care about this?  Is it okay because it’s coming from Democrats and Obama?  Because I can guarantee that Democrats would be talking about this nonstop if it’d been Republicans, or former President Bush, or a President McCain or Romney pulling this kinda shit.

I know Democrats are better than the other guys (though at this point, it’s starting to get close).  But if they commit these horrible acts of evil and betrayal, shouldn’t we as Democrats call them out?  And if what they do is bad enough, and they show no sign of sorrow, repentance – hell, they don’t even acknowledge that they’ve done this – isn’t there a point at which they no longer deserve our support?  Or do we go on cheering for them because, because, well, that’s what we’re trained to do.

Are Democrats just brainless tools?  You tell me.

2010 Wisconsin Senate Election, General Election

Democratic Senator Russ Feingold is locked in an uphill reelection race in Wisconsin – FiveThirtyEight shows him behind Republican Ron Johnson by an average of 8 points (44-52).  This is a race Feingold probably won’t win, which is a shame because while I think he’s been bad on budget issues, on most other things he’s been not only a consistent liberal but one who’s willing to challenge establishment structures from the left.  I endorse Russ Feingold for reelection to the United States Senate in 2010.  Follow my comments from Open Left regarding Feingold below.



Senator Russ Feingold.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.



The following is cross-posted from Open Left here, dated September 16 2010.

Feingold (4.00 / 3)

Overall I think he’s among the best of the Senators we’ve got.  He’s great on civil liberties and war, he’s for Medicare for All (which acts as something of a litmus test for me on how progressive a politician is), he takes strong liberal stands on the issues.  He does annoy me on some budget issues, where he styles himself as a deficit hawk and uses a lot of rhetoric about cutting “wasteful spending” (though his definition of “wasteful” seems to be in line with the usual liberal definition).

Besides the USA PATRIOT Act, other great votes he’s taken:

– No on Iraq war
– No on Gramm-Leach-Bliley
– No on Medicare Part D
– No on bankruptcy reform
– No on CAFTA
– No on Military Commissions Act (surprisingly, so did Blanche Lincoln)
– No on 2010 discretionary spending caps (despite the aforementioned deficit hawk-ism)
– Yes on cramdown

One disappointment: He voted for the 1996 welfare reform law, a huge no in my book.

I wholeheartedly encourage people to donate to his campaign because he and Barbara Boxer are the most liberal of the endangered incumbents this year.  Of the two, Boxer seems to be in better shape overall (compare Boxer’s and Feingold’s TPM Averages).  That’s why I voted for Feingold on DFA’s recent Heroes & Villains contest (but Boxer won).

At the same time, I respect people like TravisDisaster who don’t want to vote for Feingold (or any other Democratic Senator, for that matter) because they failed to uphold their promise to block anything without a public option.  I’m mulling over not voting for Boxer myself for the same reason, despite her being one of my favorite Senators and having taken the right vote on just about every other issue.  I think it’s important to show that just as elections have consequences (as Boxer liked to point out, rather ironically) so do actions after the election’s over.

by: liberalmaverick @ Thu Sep 16, 2010 at 03:02



The following is cross-posted from Open Left here, dated September 28 2010.

I’m not as enthusiastic about Feingold (0.00 / 0)

as I was two weeks ago.  The main reason is because he skews conservative on fiscal issues.

He’s sponsored something called the Control Spending Now Act, and while his proposed cuts are mostly in corporate welfare and useless military projects, the whole framing of the issue – “government is spending too much of your money and we need to cut back” – is disturbingly right-wing and anti-government.

He uses a lot of stupid “government waste” and “we need to tighten our belts” bullshit rhetoric, like here, here and especially here, where he rages against government spending and goes after earmarks.  I agree that earmarks should be more transparent and subject to a vote, but many of those earmarks go to good projects and I wouldn’t support a one-year ban on them as he has.

I still think he’s valuable to have in the Senate, because he’s good on many other issues and because he often defies the Senate leadership in a leftward direction.  I just don’t like right-wing anti-government rhetoric coming from any Democrat.

by: liberalmaverick @ Tue Sep 28, 2010 at 14:48:20 PM CDT



The following excerpts were taken from “Russ Feingold, the Senate’s True Maverick” by John Nichols, dated September 23 2010 and published in the October 11 2010 edition of The Nation.

Everything about Feingold’s Senate career has been a fight against a future where Crest Democrats do battle with Colgate Republicans. More than his sometime ally John McCain, the man from Wisconsin is the Senate’s true maverick. And unlike McCain, whose “independence” always had about it an air of self-absorption and attentiveness to the media, Feingold has never been a maverick for the sake of being a maverick. His eighteen years in the Senate have been defined by a steadiness of commitment that pays little regard to presidents or parties.

Feingold opposed Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement and normalization of trade with China; he opposed George W. Bush’s Central American Free Trade Agreement; now he is challenging attempts by the Obama administration to advance trade policies that do too much for multinational corporations and too little for workers and farmers here and abroad. Feingold was the leading Senate critic of Clinton’s failure to abide by the War Powers Act; he opposed Bush’s rush to war in Iraq and was the first senator to call for a timeline to bring the troops home; now he complains that the Obama administration is not moving fast enough to wind that war down. Feingold noisily challenged constitutional abuses during the Clinton and Obama years, and as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitution subcommittee, he is pressing the Obama administration to get serious about civil liberties. Feingold opposed Clinton’s proposal to loosen bank rules, arguing that doing so could threaten financial stability; he opposed Bush’s bank bailout; and he was the sole Democrat to object that the reforms Obama backed did not go far enough because they did not do away with “too big to fail” banks and did not adequately protect consumers or taxpayers.


Over time, Feingold’s antiwar and anticorporate record, as well as his defense of civil liberties, have made him a hero to progressive populists. “Russ is not shy about taking on the forces of arrogance and ignorance in my party,” says author and activist Jim Hightower. Since the death of [Paul] Wellstone, says Hightower, “Feingold’s the one Democrat I don’t have to apologize for.”


Yet while he embraces the bells and whistles of modern campaigning, Feingold is betting more on message than mechanics. “I still think people understand,” he says, that they need senators willing to stand up to “the power and greed and corruption of Wall Street…the power and greed and corruption of the pharmaceutical companies…the power and greed and corruption of the health insurance companies.” Feingold is counting on that understanding to see him through a year when more cautious Democrats may not make it. He says that like the progressives of old, he wants to beat the “money power” in this race so he can go back and fight it in the Senate. “I want you to know that I am committed to this cause because I think it goes to the very core of our democracy,” the senator declared on that Friday night when he rallied the faithful.

“You do it, Russ!” came a shout from the crowd.

If Feingold does it, if he wins this race in this year, it will not be as just another Democratic senator. It will not be as a maverick, nor even as an idealist. It will be as a signal that maybe, just maybe, people power can still beat the money power. That senators aren’t just extensions of parties and presidents, and that politics can be about something more than Democratic toothpaste versus Republican toothpaste.


The following is cross-posted from Open Left here, dated October 12 2010.  “The video” in the second line refers to this video taken from an October 8 2010 debate between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson, where the two candidates answered a question about the Tea Party.

I’m really confused by what you’re saying about “racism” or whatever

As for the video, I think Russ Feingold gave a good effort but somewhat missed the mark.

This was essentially a question on what the candidates believed in terms of philosophy of government, and I wish more candidates would get asked this type of very broad question so we could see the nature and depth of their ideological commitments.

Ron Johnson had no problems here.  He nailed down the conservative anti-government philosophy solidly, as Republicans almost always do because of the ease of commitment to conservatism in this country.

Feingold tried to turn the question about “less government intrusion” around to civil liberties (and later, gun rights), which is a good thing to do because I’ve always wondered where teabaggers stood on social issues such as abortion and same sex marriage as well as civil liberties questions such as wiretapping – all issues where conservatives have historically favored more government intrusion, in direct contradiction to their stated commitment to less government intrusion.

But where Feingold failed was that he didn’t follow up by challenging the idea that government is bad, the idea that Johnson had just laid out.  He could’ve and should’ve talked about how, for all the anti-government rhetoric Johnson was spouting, the government is actually we the people, and the government is the main mechanism by which we the people are able to better our lives and our society in ways we can’t do individually.

And then contrast corporate vs. government abuses.  It wasn’t government that sold bad meat and got people sick.  It wasn’t government that let people get sick and die so they didn’t have to spend money on them.  It wasn’t government that shut off electrical power so they could make easy money.  It wasn’t government that gambled with people’s retirement savings in financial markets and lost.  It wasn’t government that had no problems dumping toxic sewage in rivers and pollutants into the air.  No, it wasn’t government that did all these bad things – but it was and is government that has to be the one to stop these bad things, clean up the mess, punish the people who committed these crimes and stop anyone from ever doing them again.  Because where capitalism is there to appeal to our selfish, greedier devils, government is there to appeal to our compassionate, better angels.

That‘s what I wish Feingold – and every other liberal and progressive who believes it – had said.  But he didn’t and he’s probably going to lose.  Until liberals start being explicitly pro-government, we’re always going to have an uphill battle against the pervasive idea that government should “get out of our lives” and that everything government does is always bad.

by: liberalmaverick @ Tue Oct 12, 2010 at 01:43:04 AM CDT

OCTOBER 24 2010 UPDATE: Here’s a piece from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that reminds me why I support Feingold even though we disagree on some issues.  He cares about process as much as results, as do I.  And like me, he’s not afraid to defy his party when his principles call for it.  Like me, he really is a liberal maverick.

Jerry Brown Is a Buffoonish Clown

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses

Here’s why I won’t be voting for Jerry Brown:

·         He’s running a conservative campaign.

o        “live within our means”

o        “take the power from the state capital and move it down to the local level, closer to the people”

o        “no new taxes without voter approval”

·         His campaign is defensive to the point of reinforcing conservative themes, e.g. his defensively negative attitude towards taxes and spending.

·         He tries to appear tough and straightforward but he’s actually weak and full of shit.

o        He says he’s not gonna give us any “phony plans or snappy slogans that don’t go anywhere” but he offers us both, in spades.

§         Phony plans: His grand plan to reform the budget consists of talking with legislators… but in November instead of May!  Not to mention he has no plan at all on health care.

§         Snappy slogans: He keeps talking about how he’ll bring old enemies like Democrats and Republicans, oil companies and environmentalists, yaddi yaddi ya together, into one great happy family dedicated to California first! <cue sunshine and roses>

o        He talks about how he’s going to be making “tough decisions”, but two of his three central themes – move power down to the local level and no new taxes without voter approval – are about handing the “tough decisions” over to other people.

·         Oh yeah, and nothing from this guy on single-payer.

·         OCTOBER 11 2010 UPDATE: I watched the September 28 2010 debate between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman and, despite a few pleasant surprises from Brown, it did NOT change my opinion of Brown and my decision to not vote for him.  The only way I could vote for Brown at this point is if he either does a complete 180 in his campaign, or if I find that all the minor party candidates in the race are even worse than Brown.  Both possibilities are highly unlikely.

Today, October 9 2010, was supposedly Jerry Brown’s “Statewide Day of Action”.  So what better day for me to explain why Jerry Brown sucks, is running the stupidest, most conservative campaign I’ve ever seen from a California Democrat, and why, barring a complete mind-hijacking on either Brown or myself, I will most certainly NOT be voting for him this November.

Jerry Brown, joke of a candidate.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve written before in “2010 California Gubernatorial Election, Democratic Primary” on how Brown was a weak-hearted, unprincipled career politician who couldn’t take a strong, principled stand if his life depended on it.  This was most noticeable in his non-position on single-payer, which is my number one issue.  That right there was enough for me to decide then that I wouldn’t vote for him in the general election (just as I avoided voting for him in the primary), but there was always the off-chance that he might run a liberal campaign and that would convince me to give him a second look.  Alas, his campaign has been anything but liberal.  In fact, if I didn’t know better I would think that he was running as a conservative.  Not just any conservative; a pretentious, posturing, joke candidate of a conservative.

Let’s start with his announcement video, which was like, the exact opposite of impressive. (Note: I wanted to put the videos directly into the entry but unfortunately Xanga has issues with YouTube embedding.)

  1. He talks about how he would not be a candidate who bamboozles voters with “puffy slogans and platitudes” (1:52), but earlier he does precisely that when he goes to the oldest platitude in the book: “We need… a Governor who can “a leader who can pull people together, Republicans and Democrats, oil companies and environmentalists, unions and businesses.  We need to work together as Californians first.” (1:22) C’mon, this whole “I’ll bring these diehard enemies together to work in harmony, motivated by their burning desire to serve the people!” is a giant, tired platitude/slogan because it’s not only vague, but it’s a fantasy and there’s almost zero chance that Brown or even Jesus Christ himself could do it.  And by pretending otherwise, Brown, who promised just before the slogans/platitudes thing to “tell you the truth” (1:49), just lied to us.
  2. He introduces what will later become the conservative trifecta of his campaign: no new taxes without voter approval (2:02), “downsize state government” (2:06), and devolve power to localities (2:09).  More on this below.

This next video, called “Serious” (itself a big joke – it’s anything but serious), basically outlines the horrible central themes of Brown’s campaign and the multiple contradictions that make his candidacy a walking craptacular.

  1. The conservative trifecta strikes again!
    1. “live within our means” (0:09); i.e. cut government spending that helps those in need
    2. “take the power from the state capital and move it down to the local level, closer to the people” (0:11); this is essentially devolution, one of the core principles of American conservatism.  Devolution is the idea that government power should be more decentralized and that most decision-making should be up to the lower tiers of government like cities and (when argued at the national level) states.  Conservatives cherish this idea because they want not just less government, but less government that applies broader standards (e.g. statewide standards instead of local ones), because that means being held responsible for and connected with more people, and conservatives don’t like being responsible for and connected with anyone other than themselves and those they choose to be with.  For example, that’s why conservatives argue for less taxes so they can supposedly spend the extra money on charities (do they actually?); with taxation they don’t have as much control over who gets “their” money, but with charities they can pick and choose who gets their help and who doesn’t.  Liberals have always championed more control at higher levels of government (e.g. local to state, state to national) because that means that government is taking care of more people and making sure that everyone, regardless of where they are, can benefit from higher standards.  That doesn’t mean they reject lower levels of government – in fact, they want them to be involved, since they are theoretically “closer to the people” – but they still want higher levels of government being involved too so that benefits can be spread amongst all.  This is in direct contrast to what Brown is explicitly saying: “take the power from the state capital”.
    3. “no new taxes without voter approval” (0:17); while some have argued, not without reason, that this is an improvement over our current wretched state of affairs since voter initiatives can pass with a simple majority vote rather than a 2/3 supermajority, it still represents a huge conservative frame (taxes suck!) and it closes off even the option of pushing for higher taxes, irrespective of how likely that option is to fail.
  2. So stupid: Brown contradicts himself twice in the same 32-second ad.
    1. Just like in the announcement video, he promises no “phony plans or snappy slogans that don’t go anywhere” (0:04) but then he offers just that 16 seconds later when he talks about how “we’ve got to pull together” (0:20).
    2. Even worse, he talks about how “we have to make some tough decisions” (0:07), even putting up a title card that says “Make Tough Decisions” for the benefit of those of us who are deaf.  But two of his three central planks are precisely about avoiding having to make “tough decisions”.  His argument that power should be moved from state (where he is) to local levels of government means that “tough decisions” will be made by cities and counties instead of by him.  And “no new taxes without voter approval” means that he won’t be the one raising taxes; that “tough decision” will be foisted on to the people to handle.

Brown likes to pride himself as a no-bullshit guy who’ll offer specific, concrete plans and make “tough decisions” (which I’ve already shown is bullshit).  His Solutions page does offer some detailed plans on various issues, but it conspicuously avoids talking at all about health care.  Seems like someone’s trying to avoid having to make a “tough decision”.

Furthermore, on the toughest and most important issue facing California today, the budget and the ridiculous 2/3 requirements that make passing one almost impossible, Brown ducks the “tough decisions” and avoids taking real stands.  First, his page called “Get California’s Government Working Again” looks like it was ripped off a conservative Republican’s website.  He brags about how his “philosophy has always been one of frugality and living within our means” and compares himself favorably to Ronald Reagan.  Hey Brown, why don’t you visit a crumbling inner-city school and tell the students there how well “frugality and living within our means” has done for them?

Go to his “Detailed Plan” and we get some details on all the state programs he wants to axe.  But what about the heart of the matter: the broken budget process?  There is a part of the plan called “Reform the budget process.”  Finally!  So what does he say about the 2/3 requirements?

NOTHING.  He offers NO opinion, not even a mention of the horrendous 2/3 requirements that are basically the whole reason our state is perpetually in a shithole.  Instead, his grand plan is this: sit down and talk nicely with legislators, in November instead of May.  Seriously?  The guy who talks about how he won’t offer “phony plans… that don’t go anywhere” is offering us just that.  The guy who boasts of how he’ll be making “tough decisions” is avoiding doing just that.  Is this seriously the best California Democrats have to offer – a de facto conservative who is long on talk and short on substance?

Finally, his campaign seems to be perpetually in defense mode – and conservative defense mode, at that.  His give-and-take with Republican candidate Meg Whitman is essentially as follows: Whitman accuses him of being a liberal, Brown replies that he’s not a liberal and that he’s actually conservative and has done conservative things… so there.

Example: Whitman accuses Brown of having raised taxes.  Brown replies, no, I’ve actually cut taxes.  Lost in all this is whether or not taxes are good and why is this debate an endless cycle of “you-raised-taxes-no-I-didn’t” instead of a larger discussion on why we need taxes to fund all the important government programs people depend on and how the current tax distribution is incredibly biased towards the rich.  Regardless of whether or not this campaign strategy is helping Brown (which it may well be) it doesn’t do a thing for liberal ideas.  If anything, it kicks liberal ideas in the head while reinforcing conservative ones.

So in summation, here’s why I won’t be voting for Jerry Brown:

·         He’s running a conservative campaign.

o        “live within our means”

o        “take the power from the state capital and move it down to the local level, closer to the people”

o        “no new taxes without voter approval”

·         His campaign is defensive to the point of reinforcing conservative themes, e.g. his defensively negative attitude towards taxes and spending.

·         He tries to appear tough and straightforward but he’s actually weak and full of shit.

o        He says he’s not gonna give us any “phony plans or snappy slogans that don’t go anywhere” but he offers us both, in spades.

§         Phony plans: His grand plan to reform the budget consists of talking with legislators… but in November instead of May!  Not to mention he has no plan at all on health care.

§         Snappy slogans: He keeps talking about how he’ll bring old enemies like Democrats and Republicans, oil companies and environmentalists, yaddi yaddi ya together, into one great happy family dedicated to California first! <cue sunshine and roses>

o        He talks about how he’s going to be making “tough decisions”, but two of his three central themes – move power down to the local level and no new taxes without voter approval – are about handing the “tough decisions” over to other people.

·         Oh yeah, and nothing from this guy on single-payer.

I’m still looking into minor party candidates to see what my options are.  Of course, I will have a post up explaining my choice when I have made one.

OCTOBER 10 2010 UPDATE: Added the picture.

OCTOBER 11 2010 UPDATE: After I first published this entry a friend of mine challenged me to watch the debates between Jerry Brown and Republican nominee Meg Whitman.  I just finished watching the first debate (which you can find here), held on September 28 2010 at UC Davis.  While I got some pleasant surprises from Brown, the debate did not fundamentally change my opinion about him and in some cases reinforced the criticisms I’ve been making of him all along.  Here are some of my observations – for the most part I’m focusing on Brown, though I’ll bring up Whitman when I think it’s relevant.

·         Brown reiterated some of the same bad themes I’ve discussed before, like “live within our means” and “bring people together”.

·         As has been his trend, he likes talking about cutting government, at some points saying “we can cut” and “they’re still fooling around with a lot of fat up there”.  If anything, state investment is critically low, so what fat is he talking about?  He mentions cutting his own office’s and legislative office’s expenses.  That could mean legislator pay (which is fine) but it could also mean staff pay, which is a horrible idea.  Everyone loves to go after legislative staff cuz it’s a cheap and easy way to talk about saving money, but if anything our state government needs well-paid legislative staff because with the turnover effects of term limits those staff pretty much run the damn government.  Then he talks about going after money in agencies, which are what perform the tasks of government.  Bad, bad, bad.

·         Then Brown starts talking about government investments: investing in schools, investing in clean energy, investing in Californians.  How does this jive with that whole “we’ve got to cut government” and “live within our means” stick he’s been beating this whole time?  He’s no better on this contradiction between anti-government themes and pro-government policies than Whitman (more on that in a bit).

·         Brown does do a good job attacking Whitman’s huge tax cut for the rich.  He emphasizes that repeatedly.  It’s one of the few times he shows any message discipline.

·         Which leads me to this point: Whitman was much better at message discipline than Brown.  Whitman was spreading the conservative government-sucks gospel the whole time.  Brown, obviously, was not countering with any pro-government rhetoric; if anything his rhetoric was also conservatively anti-government, in keeping with his stupid, conservative campaign.

·         There are two schools of thought when it comes to creating jobs.  One is the conservative way, which is to basically whore yourself out to business.  That’s what Whitman was constantly talking about when she bemoaned how bad it supposedly is to do business in California.  The other way is the liberal way, which is to invest in your people so that they’re attractive enough for businesses to come to them.  Brown talked somewhat about education and energy but he didn’t drive home the point that this was how to create jobs.  In terms of messaging I’m pretty sure Whitman’s “get on your knees for corporations” was much more memorable than Brown’s “put money into the people”, to the very weak extent that it was even articulated.

·         Brown impressed me when he was asked about university tuition hikes.  He was honest about not being able to roll back all the tuition increases because of the deficit.  Good.  He defended maintaining government revenues for universities and, in a very pleasant surprise, struck a populist note when he said “those at the top, those at the commanding heights of our economy, should tuck in their belts first”.

·         Whitman was very effective in bashing government and praising the UC and CSU systems, to the point that we could’ve forgotten that those universities are part of government.   And this is the conservative dichotomy that frustrates me to no end: they’re able to get away with bashing government in the abstract, while still talking the sweet talk about the certain parts of government that they either like or they can’t bash directly – in this case, universities.  This is how Whitman is able to effectively separate “government” from the UC and CSU systems, as if they were two separate entities.  On one hand she wants to put more money into public universities, and then she segues smoothly into wanting to “streamline the size of government”, and bemoaning how big government supposedly has gotten.  Oh we have so many government employees!  Cut government!  Cut pensions!  Cut welfare!  Uh, guess what Meg?  University employees are government employees.  Universities are part of government.  University employees use government pensions.  Brown not only lets her get away with it (okay, not entirely his fault, they were moving on to another question) but he practices the same contradictory game when he talks about downsizing government while at the same time investing more in government programs that he favors.

·         Brown echoes conservative rhetoric on charter schools (“competitive pressure”).

·         Brown made some good points when he was asked about labor’s influence on him, shifting attention instead to business abuses.  But he not only ducked a chance to defend public employee unions and public employees in general (how can he, he wants to cut their jobs), he subsequently ducked a chance to push for public financing of elections, instead going after Whitman’s campaign contributors.

·         Brown’s closing argument was a rare flash of liberalism.  He attacked Whitman’s huge tax cut for the rich again, and then talked about investing in people, protecting schools, and stating his belief that the richest should sacrifice first.  Of course, that last part only means that he’d oppose Whitman’s tax cut, and not try to raise taxes on the rich himself.  And talking about investments is hardly impressive when it’s in total contradiction with the campaign’s conservative message of living within our means and downsizing government.

·         One thing that I noticed is that Brown’s delivery was straightforward, down-to-earth and folksy, a lot like Joe Biden’s – in stark contrast to Whitman’s rather robotic and scripted performance.  I liked Brown’s style, but at the end of the day it is just style, and should have no weight on a voter’s decision.  It certainly has no weight on mine, and I’m still not going to vote for Brown.  The only way I could vote for Brown at this point is if he either does a complete 180 in his campaign, or if I find that all the minor party candidates in the race are even worse than Brown.  Both possibilities are highly unlikely.

Moving Out, and Moving On

I hate moving.  It’s time-consuming, tiring, and it reminds me of how much useless crap I have.  Not to mention I have to go through the simultaneously exciting and depressing process of finding a new place and new housemates.  So I didn’t look forward to having to move to a new place this past July.  But in a sense, it was appropriate, since it was a time of renewal for me.


The move at the beginning of July roughly coincided with a shift in my activities in San Diego.  From February to June I had been spending most of my time, up to three times a week, at the California Wolf Center, which had been my goal all the previous year (see “I’m Back!”).  I enjoyed being around and learning about the wolves – seven Alaskan gray wolves (Canis lupus occidentalis) and sixteen endangered Mexican gray wolves (Canis lupus baileyi).  It helps that I’m very interested in predator-prey behavioral adaptations and some of the systems I want to study involve wolves and their prey, such as bison and elk. 



Aspen, a Mexican gray wolf who passed away in late March 2010.  Source: Bonnie McDonald.

Unfortunately, most of the work was, although necessary, not exactly… intellectually stimulating.  Wednesdays were husbandry days, which was good but tiring work scrubbing and refilling the wolves’ tubs, getting food into their enclosures (livestock meat for the Alaskans; specialized kibble, frozen fish and the occasional deer for the Mexicans), and rinsing off lots of dirt and animal blood.  Fridays were spent cleaning the bathrooms, conference room, and the rest of the house, which was my least favorite work.  Saturdays were a mix of husbandry in the mornings and escorting public tours in the afternoon.


It was good experience and good work, but I was starting to feel like I was getting less and less out of it the more I went.  I really wanted research experience, and I was drawn to the CWC because I wanted to study the wolves’ behavior, but I was pretty much on my own in terms of designing a project, which was precisely where I needed a lot of help.  I wouldn’t be able to design a project without lots of self-teaching about both wolves and research methods, and I wasn’t making any progress on that.  The work was starting to become repetitive and I didn’t feel like I was learning anything.  And the lengthy commute (65 miles and 1.5 hours each way) and long/early-starting work days (I had to leave the house at around 730 AM and often wouldn’t return home until 7 or 8 PM) were draining both my energies and my rather limited funds.


Eventually, things didn’t quite work out and I had two long chats with the General Manager to figure out where I was and where to go next.  The second one was on July 2 2010, and that was the one that marked the transition in my place at the CWC.  I don’t want to go into all the details here, but suffice to say that we talked about how I could do better at the CWC in the future.


After that meeting I decided that it was time to scale back at the CWC big time.  A big part of this was for the reasons I listed above.  Another big part was because the maximum-quantity approach I had been taking with the CWC wasn’t working, and I needed to just focus on doing a good job on the relatively few days I was there.  But the last and most important part was that, towards the end of June, I had been making plans for work that would be much, much closer to satisfying my need for research training and experience.


On July 1 2010, I met with Professor Rulon Clark at San Diego State University, who studies a number of very interesting topics in ecology and animal behavior.  His lab seemed to be a great fit for me, as he studies (among other things) mobbing behavior in predator-prey interactions (rattlesnakes and ground squirrels, specifically).  This is pretty much exactly what I want to study, and it’s much closer to what I want to do for a career than what’s done at the CWC.  Overall, I felt I would gain a lot more from working in his lab than at the Wolf Center.  Rulon and I agreed for me to start coming in to his lab the next week, and having made this agreement helped to make the July 2 meeting go down a little easier.


I’ve been with the Clark lab three months now, and it’s awesome.  Most of July was spent on preparing tissue samples of various lizards, snakes and small mammals for a study on isotope uptake across trophic levels.  Basically, it’s cutting up the tissue, freezing it with liquid nitrogen (the coolest part of the process) and pounding and grinding it into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle.  August was spent largely on data entry and overhauling the labeling and ID system for all the samples.  In September I was working with a graduate student on his rattlesnake-ground squirrel project, watching videos he’d taken the previous July of a Northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus) in the Bay Area.  It’s great work, I’m learning a lot and I think it’ll be extremely valuable to my future career.


Northern Pacific rattlesnake.  Source: Wikipedia.

I go to the Clark lab basically every Monday to Friday.  The work environment is laid back, and hours are light and flexible so I can sleep in and go in later during the day.  The commute is a mere 9 miles and 15 minutes each way.  Everyone at the lab is really great, and SDSU is a great campus.  I’ve come to enjoy my daily routine and I actually – gasp! – enjoy going to work!


I still go to the CWC on occasion.  I’ve gone from three times a week to something more like three times a month, or less.  Figuring out which days to throw out was easy.  Friday bathroom-cleaning was the first to go.  I always enjoyed middle-of-the-week husbandry over Saturday tour escorting, so I’ve been sticking to (the occasional) Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  It’s a lot easier to deal with now that it’s just a few times a month (and my new place shaves about 10 or 15 minutes off my one-way commute).  Also, I’ve been starting some new and more intelligent work like grant funding research, in addition to the usual husbandry and more mundane office work.


Oh, and I do like my new place a lot better than my old.  I’m still in the living room, but it’s 100 times cleaner and I get a lot more space all to myself.  It’s still a mess as of this writing, but I’m getting around to cleaning and organizing everything, bit by bit.


Life is far from perfect and my money problems are taking a turn for the worse, but overall things seem to be going in the right direction, and this year is turning out to be better and happier for me than the last.


EDIT: Added the pictures of Aspen and the Northern Pacific rattlesnake.