Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thoughts on CO-Senate Democratic primary

In the upcoming Colorado Senate primary on the Democratic side, we have Sen. Michael Bennet, formerly Denver Public Schools Superintendent and appointed by (now-outgoing) Gov. Bill Ritter to fill Secretary Ken Salazar's vacant Senate seat, and Andrew Romanoff, erstwhile Speaker of of the Colorado House of Representatives.
Romanoff is seen as the progressive in the race, and won the earlier caucus; but the Democratic candidate will be decided by a primary held on August 10, 2010. Sadly, the race has turned somewhat nasty, with Romanoff claiming not to take any "special-interest" money, and charging Bennet as being in the pockets of Wall Street. Sen. Bennet's campaign has hit back with an ad exposing Romanoff's past acceptance of PAC funds, for which Romanoff has since "apologized".

Firstly, both candidates would be better than the Republican (Ken Buck or Jane Norton). Second, progressives/liberals may think less of Sen. Bennet for the laws he helped the Obama administration pass - no single-payer healthcare or even a public option, no breaking up of the big banks, continuing bank bail-outs. But frankly, if Romanoff had been appointed Senator instead of Bennet, he would have cast the very same votes that Bennet did - that was the party line! What would "progressives" rather have Bennet do - vote against health care and Wall Street reform, thus bringing both of them down, leading to President Obama's Waterloo?

So in that sense, tomato/tomahto. But a choice has to be made. For starters, I have actually met the man, and perhaps that sways me. That aside, Bennet is relatively fresh - though he was Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's Chief-of-Staff, in a sense he is not a career politician a la Andrew Romanoff. Bennet also has extensive private sector experience, successfully reorganizing/managing large companies in distress. Hopefully, Bennet will put that experience to good use as the Obama administration and Congress lead us out of the current economic mess - though thus far, his actions have tended to underwhelm me.

But overall, I'd rather see Michael Bennet nominated (and win!)

Rule of politics-as-usual: The candidate that is behind is the first to go negative. And so, just like a typical politician, Andrew Romanoff has unleashed some vicious, false campaign ads. These have been the subject of articles by Michael Booth of the Denver Post and Dana Milbank in the Washington Post. (Milbank once worked for Romanoff, and has some interesting background on Romanoff's style.)
With these attack ads, Romanoff has gained ground on Bennet, and they are now even. But these gains have come at a cost. I have found that Bennet supporters tend to support the Democrat-who-wins-the-primary. But now, at least one has stated on Facebook that she will NOT support Romanoff any more even if he wins, and I will add myself to that group.
Meta-thought: Romanoff proudly states that he has been named "top legislator" during his term in the Colorado House, for bringing together Republicans and Democrats, and this is what he will bring to Washington. But look at the man's actions: in pursuit of the Democratic nomination, Romanoff has chosen the "win-at-all-costs" route, effectively setting Democrats against each other, and souring Bennet supporters who were willing to work with him. If he is so eager and willing to tear Democrats apart, does anybody believe he will fare any better with Republicans who are bent on defeating President Obama?
Sorry, Mr Speaker, you have revealed yourself to be nothing but a cynical, run-of-the-mill politician, and would fit right into Washington, DC.

I found out today that Speaker Romanoff is on the Executive Committee of the Colorado Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC is a group of centrist Democrats, even though the "about" section of the CO DLC claims to be "progressives"; prominent members include President Bill Clinton (think welfare reform) and Harold Ford, Jr. There's nothing wrong with a Third Way approach (except it is often reviled by liberals); but Speaker Romanoff is running hard to the left to win the CO-Senate Democratic primary, even going to the extent of supporting single-payer healthcare.
Reformers have put forth two general models to fix this ailing system. Some propose a single-payer, single-administrator system to cut administrative costs. They cite the fact that Medicare spends only 4 percent of its budget on administration, and their ideal model often looks like Medicare for all. Unfortunately, this model would leave fee-for-service payment in place -- insuring continued rapid cost inflation. Nor does it address the fragmentation that creates so much waste. On a practical level, it would require us to put the health-insurance industry out of business, a daunting political task.
The article linked above, dated January 2009, goes on to lay out strategies for successful reform of the healthcare system in America, including encouraging healthy behavior, electronic records, managed competition among health plans, and special health courts to contain medical malpractice costs.
I am pretty sure most, if not all, of these DLC-suggested objectives are met with the health care reform passed by the current Congress, including Senator Bennet. They have the worthy aim of reducing healthcare costs, which is often a major impediment to getting health insurance. The new health care reforms also prohibit (as of August 1, 2010, I believe) exclusion of patients due to pre-existing conditions.
Will these reforms make health care affordable? I would like to think so, and certainly hope so. Is it single-payer, Medicare-for-All? No, and based on the DLC's memo, and reporting such as that by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker, I am not sure that's such a good idea.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is, Speaker Romanoff is (was?) a DLC-er, and if he truly believed in the principles of the DLC (rather than becoming a member only to ingratiate himself with President Clinton and then-Senator Ken Salazar), he would be praising the health care reform passed with the aid of Senator Bennet. Instead, he faults the reform effort and pushes for single-payer - something that endears him to liberals, but will NOT contain costs on its own.
Clearly, yet another cynical ploy by Speaker Romanoff to win the Democratic primary. Shame.

Like I mentioned earlier, on the issues, Senator Bennet and Speaker Romanoff are largely alike. As part of the Senate, Bennet has voted to push through healthcare reform, Wall Street reform, and stimulus funding/unemployment benefits, though none of these are exactly what the liberal left wants. On the other hand, Speaker Romanoff, during his tenure in the CO State House, pushed through anti-illegal immigration measures that he touted as the toughest in the country. With comprehensive immigration reform next on the Democrats' agenda, I am not sure if I want someone like Speaker Romanoff voting on the issue - read Julie Gonzales.
In addition, if my previous updates did not make it clear - I am absolutely disgusted by Speaker Romanoff's misleading, disingenuous attacks on Senator Bennet, not to mention his sudden change of heart from a centrist DLC-er to a liberal, conveniently timed for the primary.

I now firmly support Senator Michael Bennet.

Bonus: Senator Bennet's autobiographical video, following his promise to remain positive in the final days of the campaign:

Bennet for Senate! Go Michael!

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