From the Land of Manatees and Mullet

It can be tough to be a Democrat on the Forgotten Coast of Florida. This election cycle the editor of our county weekly, The Wakulla News, asked the chairs of the local parties to write opinion pieces from our respective partisan perspectives on reader posed policy questions. The following columns, each approximately 300 words, ran in the month prior to the November 2012 election.

September 28 2012 – on the Voter Rolls Purge

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has pledged to drop thousands of suspected non-citizens from voter rolls in Florida. This hunt for non-citizen voters has been proven to be unnecessary, costly, and inaccurate.

The state of Florida first identified 180,000 potential non-citizens to be purged from the voter rolls before the August primary. The state then somehow narrowed the list down to 2,625 names to remove. County election supervisors soon determined that more than 500 names — almost one-fifth of the list — still belonged to legitimate citizens.

Last week, the second round of the voter purge identified only 198 voters statewide with possibly questionable U.S. citizenship by comparing a state database of drivers with a federal citizenship database at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Of those 198, no more than 36 have ever cast a ballot. There is already evidence that the latest list is still not accurate.

Reports of immigrants asked to present citizenship documents for the second time have shown that the same names have been flagged in the latest round of the purge.

The purge represents one strategy in a layered, multi-pronged assault on voters. The voter suppression efforts underway, designed to influence the outcome of the 2012 election, have included such tactics as increased obstacles to discourage voter registration; decreased early vote hours; and the costly, inaccurate purge of the voter rolls.

In Wakulla County, attempts to suppress the vote have included a suspicious “robocall” by a group currently under investigation for voter fraud in other states.

October 7 2012 – On Medicare

The 2012 election cycle has been dominated by rumors and scare tactics that suggest senior citizens will lose their Medicare benefits if President Obama wins a second term. A review of the facts shows that the exact opposite is true.
Mitt Romney’s plan would bankrupt Medicare by 2016, turn the program into a voucher system, and would increase costs for seniors by more than $6,000 a year.
The Republican Party and the Romney Campaign cite a real figure — $500 billion — that is part of the health reform debate. The GOP distorts and spins the figure as $500 billion in Medicare cuts, rather than as decreases in the rate of growth of future spending. And the GOP further piles on the incorrect talking point about “government-run health care. On the Truth-Meter, the claim rates as False.” [Cleveland Plain Dealer, Politifact, 06/09/11]
New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait commented on a speech made by President Obama during a campaign swing through Florida, noting that “President Obama talks Medicare in Florida and argues that Mitt Romney will ‘end Medicare as we know it.’ The claim is undeniably true” [Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, 7/19/12].
Both Reuters and Bloomberg reported that “Ryan’s Budget Bill Also Would End Traditional Medicare By Capping Spending And Offer Vouchers To Buy Private Insurance.” [Bloomberg, 8/13/12; Reuters,8/12/12]. The proposed plan would shift more costs to seniors and increase out of pocket costs by more than $6,000 each year.
As early as 2011, the Romney Campaign released Medicare plan details that outlined the voucher concept, “Medicare Is Reformed As A Premium Support System, Meaning That Existing Spending Is Repackaged As A Fixed-Amount Benefit To Each Senior That He Or She Can Use To Purchase An Insurance Plan.” [Romney Press Release, Spending Plan – “Cut The Spending,” 11/4/11]
Seniors cannot afford the Romney/Ryan Medicare plan.

October 14 2012 – The role of government with regard to economic stimulation and job creation:
The debate over government’s role in economic stimulation and job creation has been a key ideological difference in this year’s presidential election. One particular sound bite, “You didn’t build that” or the inverse “we built this” trope dominated the airwaves and became a pivot point for the economic argument.

As Democrats, we believe the government plays a critical role in economic stimulation and job creation.

From key healthcare policies which ensure a healthy workforce to support for critical infrastructure elements including roads and sewers, government provides the foundation on which a thriving, successful economy is built.

The government’s role in educating a qualified 21st century workforce to meet business demands in the global economy cannot be understated.

Efforts to ensure competitive fair lending practices for small business growth and new mortgage creation drive the economic engine with corporate and residential development.

The key to economic growth rests within a healthy public-private partnership that encourages entrepreneurship and ingenuity. When the founding fathers envisioned the nation that would become the United States of America we know and love today, the fledgling republic was the equivalent of a Silicon Valley start up hatched up in someone’s garage. From such humble beginnings great nations and successful business ventures grow.

Our nation’s founding fathers were not anti-government nor were they even anti-tax. They sought fair representation and fair taxation – not the end of government. President Lincoln would later refer to the Union as government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Such a vision of government and our nation embodies a quintessential “we” – and represents the American bond that unites us as citizens working together to keep the grand vision of the Founding Fathers viable in perpetuity.

I’m a proud American and, as a Democrat, I say “we built this.”

October 21 2012 – Foreign Aid

Charles Dickens wrote that, “charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.”

Charity and justice are flip sides of the aid coin. If charity means volunteering in a soup kitchen then justice means working to end the inequalities that make soup kitchens necessary.

More specifically, foreign aid charity responds to an immediate need – such as hunger. In the foreign aid realm, justice addresses long-term conditions and promotes social change in institutions, policies and systems.

When I think about foreign aid, I think about what makes our nation great and think of my own good fortune to have been born an American.
Then, I consider the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said, “We cannot stop terrorism or defeat the ideologies of violent extremism when hundreds of millions of young people see a future with no jobs, no hope, and no way to catch up to the developed world.”
An oft-quoted axiom originates from Scripture; Romans 3:1-8 tells us that “With privilege comes great responsibility.”

Americans take this phrase to heart. This thinking guides us – regardless of political affiliation – to be a nation that gives, both at home and overseas.

During his administration, President Obama has made foreign aid a priority – as an avenue to ensuring global economic stability and as a national defense strategy.

Foreign aid is a good investment in our economy at home as well as in our domestic security.
A mere 1.4% of the nation’s annual budget is spent on foreign aid.
Known as the International Affairs Budget, that 1.4% equated to $48 billion in 2011. That 1.4% funds the State Dept as well as other aid and assistance programs such as military aid to Israel, a $100,000 grant that led to $61 million of US exports to Morocco, and Counternarcotics programs in Mexico – and funding for budget items such as a $100,000 US Trade & Development Agency grant to a small New Jersey company that created jobs at home.
Ernesto Cortes wrote, “What is owed in justice should never be given in charity.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feed the hungry, however, it does mean we should also address why the people are hungry in the first place. As the ancient Chinese proverb says, “Give a Man a Fish, Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, Feed Him for a Lifetime.”
With foreign aid, America helps teach the world to fish and ensures global security, at home and overseas.

October 29 2012 — Why I am voting to re-elect President Obama

Volumes have been written about the accomplishments of President Obama’s first term. What will be the deciding factor for most voters on election day? The words of Clinton adviser James Carville, said during the 1992 presidential campaign resonate with me in these final days of the 2012 campaign. Those words are as true today as they were 20 years ago – “it’s the economy!!”

The President’s opponents like to throw numbers around as evidence in support of their candidate. However, I’d like to offer a different take on the economy that tells the rest of the story. Let’s talk numbers.

At the close of the 2012 fiscal year, the Congressional Budget Office announced the federal budget deficit: $1.1 trillion. That is a number not to be taken lightly. However, the bigger story and the more accurate telling of the numbers story is that the deficit was cut by $200 billion in the past year. Furthermore, the CBO has issued budget projections that show the 2013 Obama budget, if we return him to office, would shrink the deficit to (OR BY) $977 billion. That is a four year total of close to $500 billion in deficit reduction.

How did this Democratic president accomplish this enormous deficit reduction? President Obama signed the Statutory-Pay-As-You-Go Act in February 2010 that mandates new spending must be offset with spending cuts or new revenue. This visionary act helped reduce the deficit and spurred renewed economic growth in ways unseen since the Clinton Administration.

What does that mean here at home? Wakulla’s unemployment was 6.5% in September, down from 8.7% at the same time last year. Not only is Wakulla’s unemployment rate lower than the state of Florida – at 8.6% in September, but it is also lower than the national rate – which was at 7.6% last month.

The economy is on the rebound. President Obama has successfully implemented deficit reduction. If it is really about the economy, President Obama is the candidate you should support November 6.

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