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Sunday Political Brunch: Political Odds and Ends

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Mark Curtis

Congress is coming back to Washington, D.C. this week after a two-week recess, or as the members call it, “a district work period.” Many in the public and the press call it a “vacation,” but for many Senators and Representatives it’s a busy time to meet with constituents across districts and states. Having been a staffer for two members of Congress, I can tell you it’s mostly work; not play. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Coal in Your Stocking” – Sometimes in the world of politics, a local, or regional issue will go national. That will happen this week when the Coal Miners Protection Act is up for a final vote in the House and Senate. The bill would provide health insurance for 23,000 retired miners who lost coverage after their coal company employers went bankrupt. The legislation mostly affects Appalachian States (see photo above), but coal is mined in places such as North Dakota, Illinois, and, Wyoming, too. A controversial inclusion to also pay for workers’ lost pensions will stir opposition and debate, especially in non-mining states. That provision is likely to fail.

“Not All Politics is Local” – Yes, this issue hits close to home in West Virginia where I work now, but it also raises concerns about “who” pays for “what” at the federal level. The issue with the pensions revives worries about what happens in other industries. If Chrysler closes and goes bankrupt, should taxpayers have to pay for its worker pensions, too? Coal supporters say their pensions will be paid for by monies from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, but what about other industries with no such revenue stream? This issue is likely to expand; not go away.

“It’s Not a Trump Referendum” – Much was made this week about a special election in Georgia to fill the seat of former Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) who is now President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also once held this seat, so it’s a reliable Republican stronghold. But this week, an upstart Democrat named Jon Ossoff won with 48 percent of the vote, against a field that included 18 candidates, including many Republicans who split the vote. Since he did not win a majority, Ossoff must now face former Secretary of State Karen Handell (R-GA), in a two-person runoff election. It’s a new race.

“What’s Trending Matters” – The national press – and a lot of politicos on both sides of the aisle – obsess about these races, which are truly minutia. One race, does not a trend make. Maybe Democrat Ossoff will ultimately win; maybe Republican Handell will save the seat for her party. It’s a net-sum gain of zero for both parties. This Georgia Congressional district is just one of 435 nationwide. How can either side claim it as a bellwether for Trump, 2018, or, any other outcome? You want a trend? In the 1994 midterm election, Republicans gained 54 seats in the U.S. House and took the majority for the first time in 40 years. In 2006, Democrats won 31 seats and took back control with the first female Speaker of the House in charge. Both elections made history.

“Throw Up My Hands” – As much as I preach against reading too much onto one single election - or a few – I am swimming against the media tide. Later this year, New Jersey and Virginia will both elect new Governors – the only two states to do so in an odd-numbered election year. In the past, results have produced such notables as the states’ two current chief executives: Gov. Chris Christie, (R-NJ) and Gov. Terry McAuliffe, (D-VA). Both their wins were attention-getting; yet, neither of their wins moved the national political needle an inch. Whomever wins this year in the Garden State or the Dominion State will be interesting, but not a trend.

“On the Other Hand” – Virginia remains a notable state to watch, though. The once solid red state from 1964 to 2004, has gone blue in the past three Presidential elections. It’s truly an important swing state with 15 Electoral College votes. I say this because in the field of Democratic Presidential possibilities, I am handicapping Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). The once Governor-turned-U.S. Senator has a similar resume to recent Vice Presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine, (D-VA). I think Warner has White House potential, more so than Kaine. Keep watching!

“Proof of My Point” – Speaking of special elections – where a lot of political viability is in play – we had another recent result in Kansas. Republican Ron Estes was elected to the House of Representatives to replace former Rep. Mike Pompeo, who is now CIA Director. Again, there were hopes a Democrat would win the seat – in a so-called Trump referendum – but the issues were mostly local, and national politics was not the determining factor.

“Why Does This Happen?” – As much as I hate political hype and handicapping, it’s part of our election culture. Whenever I speak to Rotary Clubs and other groups, the first question is always, “Who is going to win?” Then audience members tell me how much they hate how we overdo polling in the media (and I’m not saying I disagree with them). You can’t win!

“Kim Jong Un-Done” – I’ll be honest, it is frustrating and sad to me as a U.S. citizen (as well as a reporter in the free press), to watch what is happening from North Korea. Dictator Kim Jong Un threatens to launch a nuclear missile attack on the United States or other closer targets, yet his missile launches have so far been a disaster. But, sooner or later I worry he’ll get it right and at least hit a closer target than San Francisco – say South Korea. What’s the proper response? What should President Trump do, and will we have a united U.S. response. I believe we may be days away.

“Why All of This Matters?” – Yes, the next significant election – as far as trends are concerned – is November 2018. That’s a long way off. A lot of big decisions – whether on Obamacare or North Korea – will come well before then, and could be big factors in the outcome. Today may not be a factor; tomorrow might!

What worries you the most right now? Just click on the comment button at http://www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.


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