Employers Can Take ‘Personal Responsibility’ For Poverty Wages

Photo courtesy of 123RF

Photo courtesy of 123RF

Brace yourself America—Republicans have discovered poverty!

Right here, right under their noses, 48 million Americans are, as Senator Marco Rubio puts it, “soon-to-haves.” Because nothing says you understand institutional and generational poverty like using corporate-ese to describe it.

Now that Republicans have acknowledged one-fifth of the wealthiest country in the world is impoverished, they’re debating whether this is a viable issue for them. This doesn’t always work out for the Party of Saying “Reagan.” Notably the Grand Old Party tried to curry favor with religious groups but ended up calling Sandra Fluke a slut, launching the War on Women. In hopes of capturing the Latino vote, they brought out Cuban-American lawmakers to denounce amnesty for undocumented Mexican immigrants… a policy we have for undocumented Cuban immigrants. So Republicans are in need of a nice new signature wedge issue to transform them from the losing Severe Conservatives back into the winning Compassionate Conservatives.

This we-want-to-fix-poverty weather balloon could endear Republicans to people who find them to be the party of Mitt Romney (whom Jon Stewart once described as “the guy who just fired your dad”) and Newt Gingrich (the guy who thinks “child labor laws are stupid!” and then thinks, “I should say that out loud”). The party of assuming working people don’t want insurance but the government is forcing it on them. The party of drug testing welfare recipients. The party of voting to cut food stamps while funding corporate farm subsidies. The party whose party line has been being poor in the U.S. is pretty sweet because poor people have air conditioning and higher rates of obesity.

Poverty tone-deafness coupled with dismissive poor-shaming has been the GOP platform. Or as Congressman Stephen Fincher and other Republicans put it when voting to cut food stamps, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”

But let’s give the GOP the benefit of the doubt. Let’s not just assume this is a cynical attempt to try to appeal to a swath of people they’ve vilified for three decades because they’re now bankrupt of ideas and thin on voting blocs. Let’s not just assume this is an “Extremist Makeover; Poverty Edition.” Let’s assume they’re sincere in their empathy for Americans who have nothing in this land where six people own as much as the bottom 42 percent.

Republicans will use the term “personal responsibility” to tell those with no hope that they’re on their own. That they should have planned better—worked harder—not lived in a flood zone. Had better insurance. Had savings. You get the picture. It’s not the government’s job to save you from yourself. That’s what we pay the police and fire departments for. (Cough.)

And Republicans believe corporations are people. So how about corporations live up to the GOP’s panacea of personal responsibility when it comes to poverty? Republicans are looking for market-based solutions to poverty. Let’s look at poverty’s market-based roots:

Of the 48 million Americans living below the poverty line, 16 million are children and 10.5 million are the working impoverished. Meaning they are not lazy, drug-addicted parasites—they work. The issue is their jobs don’t pay them enough. Corporations employing the working impoverished have decided, as a means of policy, their workers don’t need to earn enough to take care of their families—the government will step up. You want a picture of a Welfare Queen? Get a portrait of any of the Walmart heirs.

In Senator Rubio’s much-hyped War on Poverty cut-and-run speech he floated wage subsidies to tackle poverty. We already do that.

Here’s a better idea: Companies pay their workers enough to live on. Employed yet welfare-dependent is a byproduct of privatizing profit and nationalizing loss.

Marshalls, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods CEOs are paid $21.8 million annually but pay their sales associates less than $8 an hour. Those are poverty wages. Starbucks could take personal responsibility and pay their baristas more than the average $9 an hour. There are others which could make an impact on poverty in America just by giving their Bob Cratchits a much-needed raise: Macy’s, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Sears, Kmart, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Kroger, Target, McDonald’s and the biggest private employer in the country—Walmart.

These companies’ boardrooms get treated to executive compensation and the backbone of these companies get treated by Medicaid.

These American mainstay brands could lift more than 10 million Americans and their dependents out of poverty, but they choose not to.

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Tina Dupuy

Tina Dupuy Tina Dupuy is a native New Yorker born in exile.

The daughter of biblical brimstone hippie revolutionaries, her parents were members of a splinter sect so fringe it makes normal cult apologists shudder. This has given her a rather unique take on life. “My parents were missionaries, not to be confused with ‘mercenaries’ because that would actually be cool.”

Tina’s childhood was spent as glorified luggage, living in several countries on two continents and eventually attending nine elementary schools. The most stable home she had was an adolescent all-girls group home in Northern California where she made few friends by being an (alleged) stuck up nerd who “thought she was better than everyone else.”

Tina’s life long ambition of being a paleontologist was thwarted by the siren call of freelance journalism. An irreverent yet unassuming humorist, Tina is a natural for the work. ”Prostitutes are known for their hearts of gold, you never hear anyone say that about satirists,” she laments.

Sometimes a reporter, sometimes a comedian – always a wedge-issue enthusiast and devout skeptic – Tina is anaward-winning writer, investigative journalist, the former managing editor of Crooks and Liars . Tina appears frequently on MSNBC, Current TV, RT and BBC, and all over the radio frequencies via KCRW’s To The PointThe Stephanie Miller Show and The Leslie Marshall Show. She writes for Mother JonesThe AtlanticSkeptic, Fast CompanyAlternetLA Weekly, Los Angeles Times and Newsday among many others. Her weekly op-ed column is nationally syndicated through Cagle Cartoons.

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GOP Needs to Focus on Winning

Photo courtesy of truthout.org

Photo courtesy of truthout.org

Will Republicans ever learn?

Will they get their own house in order in time to take control of the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016?

Will they stop fighting with one another in public over internal family matters and focus the GOP’s collective eye on those crucial political prizes before it’s too late to save the country?

It sure doesn’t look like it.

Republicans proved once again they’ve learned nothing from their past mistakes during the recent squabbling over the bipartisan Ryan-Murray budget deal.

The GOP managed to do two things, both of them bad for the battered Republican brand.

The party again showed the public how dysfunctional it is. And it proved how little its leaders and internal wings and factions have learned in 2013.

Last week House leader John Boehner made headlines by blasting the fiscal hardliners at Heritage Action, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks for denouncing the Ryan-Murray deal before they even saw it.

Then Boehner accused the tea-party wing of the GOP of “misleading their followers” and destroying their credibility.

It’s hard to fault Boehner’s outburst. For the entire year the GOP has been more interested in shooting down its own rising stars than breaking the Democrats’ chokehold on Washington.

Conservative principles are great. But to little-tent conservatives who’d rather win Republican primaries in May than win general elections in November, it’s still all about ideological purity in the short run and not about winning the war in the long run.

To the GOP’s tea-party minority, Paul Ryan has gone from GOP poster boy to sell-out. Ditto Marco Rubio for his impure thoughts on immigration reform.

Ditto Chris Christie, first for embracing the president and second for not being sufficiently conservative while racking up a big win in the blue state of New Jersey.

One of these days the Republican Party is going to find out that it is not the Conservative Party.

There are liberals, moderates and conservatives in the GOP — and conservatives are going to have to understand that they are in fact the minority.

Meanwhile, here’s a radical idea for my good tea-party friends and soulmates.

If you want to see a federal budget you can abide, or if you want to have a smaller, kinder, gentler federal government that runs the way you want, I suggest you do what the Democrats do — win.

Winning isn’t easy. When Republicans only have the House, and not the Senate or the White House or the courts or the media, we’re starting from ground zero.

We can’t afford to throw rocks at each other in public or nit-pick at each other’s ideological purity.

Winning back the Senate and the White House has to be the GOP’s master plan, and it can’t be sabotaged by things like intramural budget fights.

Budget fights? In the real world, the federal budget is never going to be 100 percent of what anyone wants.

Is a budget fight to the death by hardliners really worth another government shutdown that causes future Ken Cuccinellis of the world to lose and makes the GOP look like the party of dumb bad guys?

I don’t think so.

Once Republicans win back the White House and the Senate, conservatives can make all the budget changes they want.

Until then, if Republicans in Washington are going to attack each other, they should learn to do it behind closed doors.

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Michael Reagan

Michael ReaganMichael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan and a political consultant. He is the founder and chairman of The Reagan Group and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Look for Mike’s books and other information at Reagan.com.

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It’s Still Time for a New Republican Party That Talks Like Adults

gop likesHeckuva job with that rebranding, Republicans. They started 2013 hoping to rejoin modern America but ended it once again on the wrong side of history. By embracing Phil Robertson’s prejudice against gays and blacks and rebuffing Pope Francis’ call for economic justice, Republicans have made it clear that they would rather hold onto unchristian religious views than make the changes needed to win national elections again.

Almost a year ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal smacked his own party upside the head.

“We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults,” he said at the Republican National Committee’s winter convention. “We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.”

Republicans quickly made it clear that they had not had enough of that. Apparently expressing views abhorrent to most Americans has become a bedrock Republican value. Jindal has since walked the “stupid party” comments back. He’s walked so far back, in fact, that he has reached a time when open expressions of prejudice were not considered socially unacceptable.

In his interview with GQ, Robertson debated the comparative sexual merits of different orifices, called homosexuality a sin, and predicted that equality for homosexuality will lead directly to a broader acceptance of bestiality. That, and he remembered all the happy black folks picking cotton during segregation.

About the same time, Pope Francis criticized the “idolatry of money” and called “trickle-down” economics an “opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, [that] expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”

If you think that your religion teaches you that homosexuality leads to bestiality, I question your relationship to your God and to your horse. And I don’t have time to teach remedial economics to those who still believe cutting taxes for the wealthy leads to greater tax revenue, job growth, and shrinking income disparity. Homophobia and supply-side economics are political faiths with no basis in science or the Bible I studied in Sunday school.

Republicans think otherwise. Noted moral exemplar Rush Limbaugh called the Pope’s views “pure Marxism.” Sarah Palin, whose Nobel Prize for Economics got lost in the mail again this year, said the Pope’s analysis was “kind of liberal.” And Rep. Paul Ryan, who was raised on Social Security survivor benefits before he proposed turning Medicare into Groupon for Grandmas, condescendingly said, “The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina.” Yes, he called the Pope “the guy.”

Republicans have to attack the Pope’s views lest anyone notice that they have just cut off long-term unemployment insurance when there are three applicants for every job. What would you rather do? Call the Pope names, or explain why you cut food stamps for 47 million Americans—that’s 1 out of every 7 of us—during the worst long-term unemployment crisis since World War II?

Instead of taking a clue from a recognized churchman, Republicans treated Robertson’s anatomical analysis as if it were an expression of religious doctrine. When A&E briefly suspended Robertson, Republicans treated L’Affaire Duck as if U.N. troops had barricaded church doors. They compared him to Rosa Parks and hailed Robertson “as a hero for courageously revealing his self-truth and Christian ideals.”

“If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson,” said Sen. Ted Cruz on his Facebook page.

And Jindal, the oracle who inveighed against stupidity at the beginning of this year that celebrated it, completed his redemption when he said, “The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with.”

Robertson can say whatever he wants, and Republicans are free to say that a reality TV star—and a fried chicken franchise, for that matter—represent their religious views better than the Catholic Church. But Republicans will never rebrand their party until they become more like Pope Francis and less like Phil Robertson

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Jason Stanford

Jason StanfordJason Stanford is a Democratic political consultant and opposition researcher based in Austin. He served as 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell's campaign manager and chief spokesman. As the head of Stanford Research, he leads opposition research for various candidates and interest groups across the region.

Stanford moved to Texas in 1994 to work as a Deputy Press Secretary for the Ann Richards Committee. Jason and a former colleague founded Stanford Ryan Research & Communications, Inc. in January 1997. The firm became Stanford Research in 1999.

He’s the co-author of “Adios, Mofo: Why Rick Perry Will Make America Miss George W. Bush”, and has a degree in Russian from Lewis & Clark College.

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In Deficit Debate, Public Resists Cuts in Entitlements and Aid to Poor

Photo courtesy of Sal Falko / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Sal Falko / Flickr

As President Obama prepares to sign a bipartisan budget agreement that its proponents describe as a modest step toward addressing the deficit, the public shows little appetite for making some of the spending cuts often discussed as part of a broader “grand bargain” on the budget.

Spending for Entitlements, Aid to Poor Favored over Deficit ReductionThe latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Dec. 3-8 among 2,001 adults, finds majorities say it is more important to maintain spending on Social Security and Medicare and programs to help the poor than to take steps to reduce the budget deficit. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say it is more important to maintain current Social Security and Medicare benefits than to reduce the deficit, while 59% prioritize keeping current levels of spending for programs that help the poor and needy over deficit reduction.

There is greater public support for cutting military spending in order to achieve deficit reduction. About half of Americans (51%) say reducing the deficit is more important than keeping military spending at current levels, while 40% say deficit reduction is more important.

Views of tradeoffs between government spending and deficit reduction are divided along partisan lines, and the differences are especially pronounced when it comes to programs that aid the poor and needy. Fully 84% of Democrats say it is more important to keep current spending levels for these programs than to reduce the deficit. A majority of Republicans (55%) say cutting the deficit is more important than maintaining current spending for programs to help the poor.

By contrast, majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (66%) and Republicans (62%) say it is more important to continue current spending levels for Social Security and Medicare than to take steps to reduce the budget deficit.

The survey finds that at a time when the nation’s annual budget deficit has fallen considerably over the past year, according to the Office of Management and Budget, most Americans do not think the country has made progress in reducing the deficit. Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say the country has not made progress in reducing the federal budget deficit, while just 29% say progress has been achieved.

In general terms, the public continues to support a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the federal budget deficit. About six-in-ten (63%) say the best way to reduce the deficit is with a combination of cuts in major programs and tax increases; 20% say the primary focus should be on spending cuts and just 7% say it should be on raising taxes. Since 2010, majorities have supported a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, though last December somewhat more (74%) favored this approach.

Wide Partisan Differences over Cuts in Aid to Poor, Military Spending

Republicans Willing to Cut Aid to Poor to Reduce Deficit; Democrats Would Cut Military SpendingRepublicans, by a 55%-to-35% margin, say it is more important to take steps to reduce the deficit than to preserve current spending on programs to aid the poor and needy. Fully 84% of Democrats and 53% of independents favor maintaining current levels of spending on aid to the poor over deficit reduction.

Tea Party Republicans, in particular, prioritize deficit reduction over programs to aid the poor. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party (73%) say deficit reduction is more important than preserving present levels of spending on programs to aid the poor and needy. Just 48% of non-Tea Party Republicans express this view, while about as many (44%) say that maintaining spending on these programs is more important.

There also are substantial partisan differences over whether it is more important to keep current levels of military spending or to reduce the deficit. In this case, most Democrats (60%) rate deficit reduction as more important, compared with 53% of independents and just 36% of Republicans. Liberal Democrats are especially likely to say it’s more important to reduce the deficit (72%) than maintain military spending (21%); among conservative and moderate Democrats, 54% prioritize the deficit, 40% military spending.

Across party lines, the public is unwilling to cut Social Security and Medicare to take steps to reduce the deficit. This view is held by majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (66%) and Republicans (62%). However, there are differences among Republicans. Just 45% of Republicans and GOP leaners who agree with the Tea Party prioritize maintaining current levels of spending on Social Security and Medicare, compared with 66% of non-Tea Party Republicans.

In the current survey, there are very few consistent “deficit hawks” – those who prioritize the deficit over keeping current levels of spending in all three areas tested (military, aid to needy, Social Security and Medicare). Just 9% of the public consistently says deficit reduction is more important than the three areas of spending tested; this percentage is not much higher within the GOP (14%) or among Tea Party Republicans (18%).

Support for Military Cuts among Young People

Support for reducing the deficit through cuts to the military is particularly high among young people, under the age of 30. By two-to-one, more young people say it’s more important to take steps to reduce the deficit (64%) than to keep military spending at current levels (32%). By contrast, those ages 65 and older prioritize maintaining military spending over deficit reduction by a 55%-31% margin.

Within the GOP, Republicans and Republican leaners under age 50 are roughly divided, with 49% supporting deficit reduction and 42% maintaining military spending. More Older Americans Prioritize Military Spending over Deficit ReductionOlder Republicans are much more supportive of the military (60% maintain spending, 30% cut deficit).

A similar age gap exists within the Democratic Party. Democrats under 50 prioritize deficit reduction over military spending by a wide 71%-26% margin. Among older Democrats, that balance of opinion is more closely divided (51% reduce deficit, 41% maintain military spending).

There is less of an age divide when it comes to views of Social Security and Medicare benefits and deficit reduction. On entitlements, the youngest Americans (ages 18-29) prioritize maintaining Social Security and Medicare benefits over deficit reduction by a 61%-30%; among the oldest segment of the public, those ages 65 and older, 78% say it is more important to maintain benefits, while 14% say it is more important to reduce the deficit.

Income Differences in Views of Deficit and Spending

Deficit reduction is not as high a priority for lower-income households as for those earning more, especially when it comes to programs that help the poor and needy.

Those Lower-Income Households Prioritize Spending over Deficit Reductionin households earning less than $30,000 a year are divided when it comes to the deficit and military spending; about as many prioritize maintaining current spending (47%) as reducing the deficit (45%). By contrast, majorities in households earning $30,000 a year or more say it’s more important to reduce the deficit than maintain military spending.

There is strong support among lower-income households for maintaining programs that serve the poor and needy. Three-quarters of those in households earning less than $30,000 a year say it is more important to keep spending for programs that help the poor at current levels; just 19% say it is more important to reduce the budget deficit. This view is held by a smaller 57% majority of those earning $30,000-$74,999; those who make $75,000 a year or more divide about evenly between prioritizing deficit reduction (47%) and maintaining assistance to the needy (46%).

As it does with party affiliation, support for Social Security and Medicare benefits crosses income levels. Majorities in all income categories say it is more important to keep Social Security and Medicare spending at current levels than to take steps to reduce the deficit. Those earning less than $30,000 a year say this by the most one-sided margin (78%-18%).

GOP Divided in Views of Deficit, Programs to Aid Poor

Republicans are divided by income in views about whether it is more important to maintain current spending on programs to aid the poor or take steps to reduce the deficit. Among Republicans and Republican leaners with family incomes of less than $50,000 a year, 48% say it is more important to maintain spending for the poor and needy, while 44% say deficit reduction is more important. Among those with incomes of at least $50,000 a year, deficit reduction is the higher priority by a wide 72%-20% margin.

Lower-Income Republicans Prioritize  Aid to Poor over Deficit ReductionRepublicans also differ over the other items tested, with higher-income households expressing greater levels of support for deficit reduction than those earning less. Democrats and Democratic leaners generally are less divided by income in views of spending and deficit reduction, though higher-income Democrats are more willing than those with lower incomes to accept cuts in military spending to reduce the deficit (74% vs. 54%).

Most Saw No Progress on Deficit in 2013

In a year that saw deep, automatic spending cuts as part of the budget sequestration, but failed to produce a long-term agreement addressing entitlements and the tax code, the public does not believe the country has made progress reducing the budget deficit. Two-thirds (66%) say that over the course of the last year, the country has not made progress reducing the budget deficit; just 29% say it has.

Wide Partisan Gap in Perceptions of Progress on Deficit There is deep disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on whether or not the country has made progress on the deficit in the last year.

Half of Democrats (50%), including 60% of liberal Democrats, say the country has made progress reducing the budget deficit over the course of 2013. By contrast, nearly nine-in-ten Republicans (87%) say the country has not made progress on the deficit. Among independents, 73% say the country has not made progress on the deficit, 23% say it has.

Tea Party Republicans Split on Best Way to Reduce Deficit

In general, the public continues to say that the best way to reduce the budget deficit is through a combination of tax increases and cuts in major programs. About six-in-ten (63%) favor a mix of tax increases and spending cuts; only 20% say the focus should be mostly on programs cuts, even fewer (7%) say it should be mostly on tax increases. The balance of opinion on this question has changed only modestly over the last several years, with majorities consistently expressing support for a mix of program cuts and tax increases to reduce the deficit.

Best Way to Reduce Deficit?  Both Program Cuts and Tax IncreasesMajorities of Democrats (71%), independents (63%) and Republicans (56%) favor addressing the deficit through a combination of both tax increases and programs cuts. However, Republicans (32%) are far more likely than Democrats (10%) to see cuts in programs alone as the best way to reduce the deficit.

Among Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party, as many say the focus of deficit reduction efforts should be mostly on programs cuts (48%) as on a combination of both cuts and tax increases (44%). Non-Tea Party Republicans support a combination of program cuts and tax increases over mostly focusing on cuts to major programs by a 63%-26% margin.

About the Survey

The analysis for this report is based on telephone interviews conducted December 3-8, 2013 among a national sample of 2,001 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (1,000 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,001 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 523 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A combination of landline and cell phone random digit dial samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older. For detailed information about our survey methodology, see http://people-press.org/methodology/

The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin and nativity and region to parameters from the 2011 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and population density to parameters from the Decennial Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status and relative usage of landline and cell phones (for those with both), based on extrapolations from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size among respondents with a landline phone. Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into account the effect of weighting.

This report is a product of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

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Texas Senator Ted Cruz Ends Year as He Began It: No Apologies

 Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Ted Cruz wasn’t the only politician who promised to shake up Washington when he was sworn in earlier this year.

But he delivered like no other.

By the time the brash Houston lawyer and Republican firebrand completes his first year in the U.S. Senate on Jan. 3, he will arguably have become the most recognizable face of the GOP’s unapologetic far right — not bad for a guy with no previous experience in elective office.

Loathed by Democrats, feared by many moderate Republicans and practically worshiped by Tea Party activists, Cruz took the U.S. Senate by storm almost from the minute his hand came off the Bible.

His harsh questioning of (and opposition to) Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during the confirmation process sparked comparisons to red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy. He helped lead the successful fight against a bipartisan bill aimed at introducing mandatory background checks for people who buy firearms over the internet or at gun shows. And, unlike fellow conservative senators such as Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, he fiercely criticized and helped derail a comprehensive immigration bill whose future is now uncertain at best.

Perhaps most significantly, Cruz was a chief architect of the budgetary confrontation that sparked a partial shutdown of the government earlier this year — all in an effort to repeal Obamacare.

In the process, he became the star of a hot-selling coloring book, sparked endless speculation about a run for president in 2016 and even prompted an addition to the political lexicon — “Cruz Control” — generally used by people opposed to his confrontational, uncompromising style.

If there was any doubt about his mark on U.S. politics, a recent poll by Rasmussen seems to clear it up. Eleven percent of the Americans surveyed in it ranked him as the most influential person of 2013 — in the world. He came in third, behind Pope Francis and President Obama.

So what does Cruz have to say for himself as he nears the one-year mark?

Sorry? You’re welcome?

In a lengthy interview with The Texas Tribune on Wednesday, Cruz made it clear that he has no regrets to ponder or apologies to make. When it comes to the government shutdown, for example, Cruz said the fight helped crystallize the failures of the Affordable Care Act while strengthening his resolve to repeal it.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “As a consequence of that fight, we elevated the national debate over the harms Obamacare is causing, and today President Obama has the lowest approval rating he has ever had, and the American public has turned strongly against Obamacare. The reason is simple. This thing isn’t working.”

Democrats don’t see it that way, of course. Texas Democratic Party spokesman Manny Garcia said Cruz pushed people away from the GOP and insulted hard-working Texans.

“Ted Cruz did a great job for Texas Democrats last year,” Garcia said. “As he drove the Republican Party off the ideological cliff, every day Texans turned to Democrats for responsible leadership.” Garcia gave Cruz an “F” for his efforts to kill Obamacare while representing a state that has the highest percentage of uninsured people.

But don’t expect Cruz to back down one iota. He said he will continue to seek the repeal of Obamacare, an idea that in his view has gone from the fringes to “a common-sense, middle-of-the-road” proposal given all of the woes of the new law, such as the botched website rollout and the cancellation of existing policies.

“I intend to do everything possible to stop Obamacare because it isn’t working and it is hurting millions of Americans,” he said. “The path to repealing Obamacare is going to be continuing to energize and mobilize the American people. The answers are not going to come from Washington.”

In the wide-ranging discussion, Cruz made a variety of other observations about his first year in office, his own future and other Texas Republican heavyweights. Among the highlights of the exchange:

  • Cruz said his concerns about Hagel as defense secretary were “rendered all the more relevant by the terrible deal the Obama administration has brokered with the nation of Iran.” He added: “In that confirmation hearing my focus was consistently on his record, on his disclosures and on his past statements, all of which raised substantial reason to doubt that he was an appropriate nominee for that position.”
  • In similar fashion, Cruz defended his questioning of Sen. Dianne Feinstein during a March debate over gun restrictions, when she angrily told him she didn’t need a “lecture” as if she were “a sixth-grader.” Cruz said he merely wanted to know why Feinstein didn’t see the proposal as a violation of the Second Amendment. “It was treated as a ridiculous question outside the bounds of reasonable discussion,” Cruz said in the interview. “That’s part of the reason why we have an out-of-control federal government with a $17 trillion national debt, because there is far too little focus on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
  • Cruz was perhaps the least talkative when asked about the U.S. Senate race, which pits Sen. John Cornyn against U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman and others. Reminded that Stockman was citing Cornyn’s opposition to Cruz’s tactics during the shutdown as a key reason he got in the race, Cruz said, “I like John Cornyn,” and “I like Steve Stockman.” He also noted that he and the senior U.S. senator have “stood side by side on a great many issues” but Cruz steadfastly refused to pick sides. “I’ve never liked it when Washington insiders try to pick winners and losers in Republican primaries,” Cruz said. “I think primaries should be decided by the grassroots in each state. … I’m going to leave it to the voters of Texas to make that decision.” 
  • Cruz, who was born in Canada, said he is living up to his promise to give up his claim to citizenship there but that it’s taking time. “I have retained counsel, and this is in process, but that has not been completed yet,” Cruz said. “My understanding is it should be completed sometime next year, but I don’t have an exact time frame.”
  • On the topic of his failure to disclose an investment in a Jamaican private equity firm, Cruz said his amended forms ended the matter as far as he is concerned. “To the best of my knowledge, that matter is fully resolved,” Cruz said. “We simply filed an amended filing because I realize I inadvertently omitted something I should have disclosed.”
  • As for a potential run for president, Cruz wouldn’t go there: “100 percent of my focus is on the U.S. Senate,” he said. “The Senate is the battlefield right now.” Cruz didn’t care to speculate about a potential 2016 presidential primary matchup with Gov. Rick Perry, either, though he had some kind words for the longest-serving governor in Texas history. “I think he’s been a good governor. He’s a friend, I respect him, and the economic growth and jobs in Texas over the last two decades have been extraordinary, and Gov. Perry deserves credit for helping create, helping maintain, an environment in which small businesses can prosper and thrive,” Cruz said. “I think more states should follow the model of what has worked in Texas.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/12/19/ted-cruz-ends-year-he-began-it-no-apologies/. Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Jay Root, The Texas Tribune

Jay Root, The Texas TribuneJay Root is a native of Liberty, Texas. He never knew any reporters growing up, and he has never taken a journalism class in his life. But somehow he got hooked on the news business.

It all started when Root walked into the offices of The Daily Texan, his college newspaper, during his last year at the University of Texas in 1987. He couldn't the resist the draw: it was the biggest collection of misfits ever assembled. After graduating, he took a job at a Houston chemical company and soon realized it wasn't for him. Root applied for an unpaid internship at the Houston Post in 1990, and it turned into a full-time job that same year. He has been a reporter ever since.

Root has covered natural disasters, live music and Texas politics — not necessarily in that order. He was Austin bureau chief of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a dozen years, most of them good. He also covered politics and the Legislature for The Associated Press before joining the staff of the Texas Tribune.

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Polling Center: GOP Candidates, Voters and Creationism


Replica of a T Rex from Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose, TX. Photo courtesy of Roy Niswanger.

Replica of a T Rex from Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose, TX. Dinosaurs roamed through Texas between 65 million and 225 million years ago, according to the fossil record. Then again, maybe it was just in the last 10,000 years. Photo courtesy of Roy Niswanger.

The embrace of creationism by the Republican candidates for Texas lieutenant governor as the preferred explanation for the origins of humanity generated headlines and provided fodder for yet another round of questions about just how far each candidate will go to demonstrate that he is the authentic conservative in the race.

Strange as some might find the return of the creationism/evolution discussion, the candidates weren’t operating in a vacuum: Data from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll suggest that they all have good reason to think that embracing creationism as a personal belief and as a part of their education policy might help their effort to become the natural selection of a winning number of GOP primary voters.

Texas voters should be receptive to such positions; nearly half of our survey respondents report being evangelical or born-again Christians. Between a quarter and a third choose “The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word,” when, in one of our standard recurring questions, they are asked to describe a statement that is closest to their feelings about the Bible. (You can see the wording of these items in the summary of the most recent UT/TT Poll, and in the results of our previous surveys in the Texas Politics Project polling archive.)

We have also asked more specific questions about both beliefs and their relationship to political attitudes that paint an even more detailed portrait of just how skeptical of science Texans become when it is posed directly against religious faith. In the midst of the 2010 debates over curriculum on the State Board of Education, which included science texts and discussion of the validity of theories of human evolution and their status vis-a-vis creationism, the UT/TT Poll asked a short battery of questions about beliefs related to the history of human existence.

The question most relevant to last week’s debate in Waco asked, “Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?” The responses reveal that about half of Texans rejected evolution outright or either didn’t know or didn’t want to express an opinion:

  • Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process. (38 percent)
  • Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, and God had no part in the process. (12 percent)
  • God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago. (38 percent)
  • Don’t know (12 percent)

Republicans in the sample expressed less secular views than the registered voters. Only 7 percent of Republicans chose the option of evolution with no divine role, while 48 percent chose the creationist option without a role for evolution. Another 35 percent chose the God-guided evolutionary process. So when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said at last week’s debate, “I understand there are a lot of people who disagree with me, and believe in evolution,” he probably wasn’t disagreeing with very many Republicans.

Partisan differences in attitudes and beliefs at the intersection of faith and science were in evidence in another battery of questions on science and policy that we asked in November 2012. As Josh Blank wrote at the time, Republicans show much more skepticism toward science in areas that have been politicized in the public arena, such as global warming, birth control, and coal production, than in areas that have been less politicized — for example, natural disaster preparedness and space exploration. (The summary for the November 2012 poll contains all of the items related to science and faith.)

Public school curriculum certainly fits into the category of more publicized issues, though the direct conflict between faith and science presented by evolution may strike an even deeper chord. Texas Republicans generally sided with faith in a question that posed this conflict in general terms, too. As Blank’s piece also observed, 61 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement, “Faith is a better guide than scientific evidence on most important questions”; only 29 percent of Democrats agreed with this statement.

Given these patterns of Republican primary voters’ reliance on religious faith and skepticism toward science when thinking about political questions, candidates bowing to creationism as GOP primary campaigns heat up is as predictable as the marketing of the War on Christmas during the holidays.

Expect more outbursts of faith-based politics, and expect them to keep fascinating the national news media, too, which never seems to tire of covering such stories as some kind of regional novelty. The stories are neither either entirely regional nor unique to Texas. The polarized attitudes about faith and science that make Texas Republicans a party of faith-based approaches to politics and policy are well established, and differ only in degree from national attitudes. Don’t expect the rhetoric in the GOP primary to evolve in a different direction any time soon — or the national news media to stop feeling like every day is Christmas when they’re covering Texas politics.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/12/17/polling-center-gop-candidates-voters-and-creationi/. Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Jim Henson, The Texas Tribune

Jim Henson, The Texas TribuneJim Henson directs the Texas Politics project and teaches in the Department of Government at The University of Texas, where he also received a doctorate. He helped design public interest multimedia for the Benton Foundation in Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s and has written about politics in general-interest and academic publications. He also serves as associate director of the College of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services unit at UT, where he has helped produce several award-winning instructional media projects. In 2008, he and Daron Shaw, a fellow UT government professor, established the first statewide, publicly available internet survey of public opinion in Texas using matched random sampling. He lives in Austin, where he also serves as a member of the City of Austin Ethics Review Commission.

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Women and the GOP: Apologies Don’t Matter Without Change

Photo courtesy of iStock

Photo courtesy of iStock

After losing the Virginia governor’s race because single women voted for the Democrat by a margin of 42 points, Republicans have found the solution. They will teach their candidates how to, in Speaker John Boehner‘s words, “be a little more sensitive” to the ladies. But Republicans painting over policy differences with pretty words piles insult on top of offense and will do little to close the gender gap.

Their problem goes much deeper than calling Texas’ Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie” or “Retard Barbie” and making sexualized attacks on Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes—though it would be nice if Republicans would stop using sex to minimize women.

Apologies without change matter little. In this case women are only getting flowers and a stated desire to move on without acknowledging, much less fixing, the real problem. Republicans aren’t saying they will change, only that they will use nicer-sounding words when proposing policies diametrically opposed to the way women choose to live their lives in the 21st Century.

For example, they don’t like it when Republicans express Paleozoic attitudes on sexual assault, such as Todd Akin‘s infamous “legitimate rape” comment. Most recently, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-19th Century) theorized during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on military sexual assault that perhaps the young male soldiers just couldn’t help themselves around the opposite gender.

“Gee-whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur,” he said.

Here’s a tip for Republicans: The only proper opinion to hold on rape is that men should stop doing it. Sensitivity is not what is required here, but respect. To Sen. Chambliss’ comment, murder is also a possibility, but somehow a woman hasn’t shot him yet.

There is not a sensitive way to vote against equal pay for women, against funding to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women, or for closing Planned Parenthood clinics where women receive annual exams and birth control pills.

There is not a sensitive way to lie to women that oral contraception causes abortions. There is no sensitive way to hold a congressional hearing on the birth control mandate in Obamacare and not allow women to testify. There is not a sensitive way to call Sandra Fluke a “slut” for wanting insurance to cover her birth control pills.

Here’s another tip for Republicans, just because it’s the holiday season: If a doctor prescribes it and insurance covers it, it is medicine. The Founding Fathers did not envision Louie Gohmert making medical decisions for women, though to be fair, they did not envision women voting either.

“Speaker Boehner thinks women continue to reject Republicans at the ballot box because of a lack of sensitivity? Think again. Women don’t need Republicans to patronize, condescend or be delicate about their feelings. They need them to represent the values important to them and their families. No softer language learned in media training will convince women that the party that opposes equal pay, pledges to defund Planned Parenthood and proposes bans on their health care choices is the one looking out for their best interests,” said Lily Adams with the Democratic National Committee.

Women care about things other than what directly affects their reproductive organs, such as jobs, education, crime, terrorism, traffic, the environment, and retirement. They’re really not that different from men in this regard, which is the last tip Republicans are getting today.

Regardless, Republicans seem singularly focused on lady parts, a habit that grates even on the top Republican elected woman in Texas, Comptroller Susan Combs.

“Tell me that you give a flip about women’s interests,” Combs said. “If all you want to talk about is my biology, ‘Gee what happened to my brain?’ That is my point. It is not all south of the waistline.”Â

The better question might be what happened to the party that venerates individual freedom but does not respect women enough to make their own health care decisions. They can have all the sensitivity seminars they want, but until Republicans learn there is not a nice way to insult women, women will continue to vote against them.

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Jason Stanford

Jason StanfordJason Stanford is a Democratic political consultant and opposition researcher based in Austin. He served as 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell's campaign manager and chief spokesman. As the head of Stanford Research, he leads opposition research for various candidates and interest groups across the region.

Stanford moved to Texas in 1994 to work as a Deputy Press Secretary for the Ann Richards Committee. Jason and a former colleague founded Stanford Ryan Research & Communications, Inc. in January 1997. The firm became Stanford Research in 1999.

He’s the co-author of “Adios, Mofo: Why Rick Perry Will Make America Miss George W. Bush”, and has a degree in Russian from Lewis & Clark College.

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Texas GOP Gets a Hand From Washington Democrats

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, l, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appeal for order as the Senate chamber erupted into chaos just before midnight June 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bob Daemmrich, The Texas Tribune.

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, l, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appeal for order as the Senate chamber erupted into chaos just before midnight June 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bob Daemmrich, The Texas Tribune.

The conservatives who have been trying to get rid of the Texas Senate’s venerated two-thirds rule — here’s looking at you, Dan Patrick — may have received their best argument yet from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada.

He is the majority leader in that body and the trigger man behind the death of a procedure that required a supermajority to approve a presidential nominee.

The Texas Senate operates on a supermajority, too. Under ordinary circumstances, it takes approval from two-thirds of the 31 senators to bring a bill to the floor for debate.

On partisan matters, that prevents the Republicans from bringing up legislation unless two of the Senate’s 12 Democrats defy their party.

Patrick, among others, would like to kill or change things. What’s the point of electing a majority if the losers can control the agenda?

The real question is whether it’s a good idea to let everything fly with a simple majority or to require bigger numbers before making new laws.

Each side has some great arguments. Texas Republicans are in charge now, and got there, in part, by drawing new congressional and legislative lines that took away a built-in advantage for Texas Democrats. They accomplished that initially after a Republican senator used the rule to block the Democrats, who were trying to keep their advantage.

It has been a weird year to watch the Republicans and the Democrats in the Washington and Austin bubbles.

In Austin, the Democrats have whined about Republican efforts to run over them, and they have used the tools of the minority — the two-thirds rule, filibusters, anything they could get their hands on — to slow things down.

Sometimes it works, as when Democrats blocked an education bill in May for fear it would legalize public vouchers for private schools. Sometimes it works temporarily, as when Wendy Davis filibustered to kill a bill on a legislative deadline, only to watch the Republicans reset the clock, by booting up another special session, to get what they wanted a few days later.

Scratch this, and you’ll find people arguing both sides. After one or two sessions in the Texas Senate, each officeholder has been either the stomper or the stompee — in the minority on something and the majority on something else. Washington seems to always be in a partisan fight. In Austin, the majority-minority fights shift constantly. Redistricting debates are partisan. Debates over budgets for education break on rural and suburban lines, or on lines between big and little property tax bases. Water wars are all about geography.

So the federal scrap over what got tagged as the “nuclear option” was all about partisans. The state ruckus is more nuanced, and even the strong proponents of change are inclined to move slowly. Drop it to a smaller supermajority like 60 percent instead of killing it, they suggest.

The initial resistance is partisan. After all, Patrick, a Houston Republican who is running for lieutenant governor, is one of the most conservative senators, and Democrats are immediately suspect of anything he supports. A lower supermajority like 60 percent would put Republicans in control, given the current configuration. It would take 19 people to call up a bill. Today, there are 19 Republicans. With Davis, a Democrat from Fort Worth, running for governor, Republican chances of taking her district have improved. With the two-thirds rule in place, Republicans would still need a defector on partisan issues, even with one of their own representing the 10th Senate District.

Democratic senators think they would get squashed if the two-thirds rule disappeared. Republicans, during the 1990s, would have had the same reaction. The traditions in the Senate are strong, and that has kept the rule in place for all these years. Earlier this year, in fact, senators voted unanimously to keep the rule.

But others in the race for lieutenant governor have endorsed the lower number. That makes it an item for discussion when the Texas Senate convenes after next year’s elections. Those Republicans want to exercise the full power of the majority without a pesky minority throwing obstacles in their way. Who wouldn’t?

Just ask Reid and the Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/12/02/texas-republicans-get-hand-washington-democrats/. Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune

Ross Ramsey, The Texas TribuneRoss Ramsey is managing editor of the Texas Tribune, and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. TW was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, Internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly two million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas.

Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was Associate Deputy Comptroller for Policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's Director of Communications.

Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin Bureau Chief.

Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas

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Women-Led Ticket Highlights Suburban Voter Efforts

Photo courtesy of The Texas Tribune

Photo courtesy of The Texas Tribune

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte’s announcement on Saturday that she is running for lieutenant governor, adding a second woman to a ticket led by state Sen. Wendy Davis, is enhancing Texas Democrats’ hopes that they could see their first statewide victory since 1994.

The Democrats are pinning their strategy, in part, on women, particularly those in the suburbs, who early polling numbers suggest might not have their minds made up, and could be persuaded by the summer’s divisive debate over abortion legislation.

“What we know from the outcome of this summer is that women were paying attention and women were watching,” Van de Putte said. “It wasn’t just about that bill. It wasn’t just about health care. It was about not being valued.”

But Republicans say they are holding fast to this demographic, which has trended conservative in past elections.

“I think in Texas the majority of people are happy with how the state is doing,” said Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re winning by such a large margin.”

That margin looked smaller in a fall University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, which showed Attorney General Greg Abbott, the leading Republican candidate for governor, with a single-digit lead over Davis, whose 11-hour filibuster of an omnibus abortion bill in June drew national attention. But in that poll, 25 percent of registered voters were undecided, including 34 percent of suburban women.

“When you’re looking at women’s votes, I just kind of discounted the undecided,” Munisteri said, because only “political junkies or the media” are paying attention to the candidates this early in the election. He said that average voters would not tune in to the 2014 races until next year and that most would vote Republican.

Munisteri said the Republican Party is well established among women, with more than 160 Texas Federation of Republican Women groups meeting regularly across the state. Texas Democratic Women lists 43 chapters statewide.

He added that the idea that female voters might be persuaded to vote differently based on women’s issues, like reproductive health, is a “false assumption.” Women are just as interested in economic issues, and that plays well for Republicans, he said.

The party’s outreach efforts cross all segments of the population and are not necessarily gender specific, Munisteri said. But he added that Republicans would rely on active female party members “to be ambassadors to other women.” The party will also more than double the number of so-called victory centers — volunteer hubs across the state — from four to nine by January to help get out the vote. Munisteri said staffers were working on their “movers list,” following up with nearly 100,000 past Republican voters who are new to their counties and not yet registered to vote. Other workers were identifying swing voters, Munisteri said.

“As part of our block-walking and door-to-door survey, we’re going to find out what issues are of prime concern to both genders of swing voters,” he said.

The state Democratic Party’s outreach efforts include more targeted appeals to women.

The party has been building on the list of women who protested the abortion legislation during the summer at the Capitol, said Tanene Allison, a party spokeswoman. While Davis’ filibuster helped defeat the bill during one special session, it was passed in a subsequent session.

This month, the Democrats began an online mobilization effort to reach out to female voters and get them to promote the party’s platform to other women.

“It will be a woman-to-woman project to reach out and explain why it’s important to vote in this next election cycle and what issues are at stake,” Allison said, adding that the Democratic party had a “strong connection to women’s priorities” on issues like equal pay, education and health care.

Sharon Hirsch, president of Women Organizing Women Democrats, a group in North Texas, said having Davis and Van de Putte at the top of the 2014 ticket “has been very empowering for women.”

She added that she was seeing more women working to register voters, filling out weekly phone banks and block-walking, particularly in the suburbs.

“I really believe Wendy Davis has kind of lit the fire, and adding Leticia Van de Putte to the ticket will only make that desire stronger to get these women elected,” Hirsch said.

But Catherine Gibb, an officer for Plano Republican Women, said female voters should look at the whole candidate when deciding whom to support, regardless of sex. She said the Democratic candidates left a lot to be desired.

“I would be willing to stake my life that there’s not a woman in my club that they would vote for her even if she’s running for dogcatcher,” Gibb said of Davis.

James Henson, a Tribune pollster and director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said he did not see a clear changing of the tide among female voters. (The university is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune.)

“It’s not as if suburban women are heading for the exits from the Republicans,” he said. But he added that the potential risk for Republicans “emanates from the necessities of competing in a GOP primary in a state where 39 percent of women identify as moderates — 11 points more than Texas men.”

The four Republicans running for lieutenant governor are already working to prove they are the most conservative in the race, which could present a challenge for the nominee in the general election.

Van de Putte knows her campaign must have broad appeal to win the votes of small business owners, veterans and conservatives.

“I don’t think Leticia and Wendy are going to be holding hands at every event we’re at,” Van de Putte said. “If we campaign thinking just because we’re women other women are going to vote for us, it’s a fallacy. It’s very condescending to women.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/11/24/women-led-ticket-shows-where-democrats-pin-hopes/. Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Alana Rocha, The Texas Tribune

Alana Rocha, The Texas TribuneAlana Rocha joined the Texas Tribune staff as the multimedia reporter after working eight years in television and radio news. She's covered politics for stations in Florida, Kansas and most recently in Austin as YNN's lead political reporter. Her work at the cable news outlet took her around the country reporting from the presidential campaign trail. A native of Tampa, Florida, Alana received bachelor's degrees in Journalism and Spanish from the University of Florida.

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The Man Who Should Terrify Everybody in Congress

Vance McAllisterIn the U.S. House of 435 members where seniority still counts, Republican Vance McAllister is last in seniority, 432nd to be precise. That’s because there are currently three vacant seats. He was sworn into office on Nov. 21, following his upset victory in a special election held by Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District. Five days earlier, when McAllister won 60 percent of the vote against his favored opponent, state Sen. Neil Riser, who was very well-financed and backed by the Louisiana Republican Party, including the state’s Republican House members, House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, and the Louisiana tea party.

Why were two Republicans running? Because under Louisiana law, if no candidate wins a majority during the primary in which all candidates appear on the ballot (there were 14), then the top two finishers, irrespective of party, qualify for the runoff. Riser had handily won the primary 12 percentage points ahead of McAllister, 39, who had never before run for any public office.

Both candidates opposed abortion, gun control, and the size and reach of the government. But they differed on Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to reject the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would extend coverage to more low-income, uninsured state residents. Riser backed Jindal and went on TV to denounce McAllister for publicly endorsing Medicaid expansion to citizens of the 5th District, one of the nation’s poorest in which close to a quarter of households survive on an annual income of less than $15,000. Riser’s paid message: “A vote for Vance McAllister is a vote for ObamaCare.”

So what is the possible significance of one Republican defeating another in a Louisiana special House race for the 2014 national elections, which are still almost a year away? In fairness, McAllister, an Army veteran and self-made business success who was able to self-finance his own campaign, had a strong personal story to tell. He did not seek to run to the right of Riser and oppose the shutdown of the federal government in a doomed gesture to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And unlike Riser, who backed the shutdown and pledged repeal of the health law, he argued that with Democrats controlling both the White House and Senate, repeal was unattainable. He suggested working to change and improve the health law instead.

What McAllister had going for him in his upset victory — and what no current member of Congress running in 2014 will ever be able to claim —- is that he truly was the fresh face, the nonpolitician who was unbossed and unbought. He did not hesitate to remind voters of the 5th District that despite his affluence, he had never been to Washington, D C.

Seven out of 10 Americans believe their country is headed in the wrong direction, and fewer than one in 10 has a positive opinion of Congress’s performance, so the McAllister model could truly become a nightmare scenario for congressional incumbents. The appealing, solutions-minded outsider with a positive personal story to offer cannot be portrayed as part of the problem. Riser had the resume. He had incumbency, experience and the support and praise of elected leaders of his state and party. He had plenty of campaign money. And yet, he lost. This is why McAllister’s victory should send chills about the 2014 elections through everybody in Washington, Democrat or Republican.

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Mark Shields, The Creators Syndicate

Mark Shields, The Creators SyndicateThe Wall Street Journal has called Mark Shields “the wittiest political analyst around” and “frequently the most trenchant, fair-minded, and thoughtful.” The Washington Post has called Shields “a walking almanac of American politics.” His insights are first-hand and up-to-the minute, drawn from four decades of knowing, covering and savoring the country and its politics.

A nationally known columnist and commentator, Shields has worked in Washington through the administrations of nine U.S. Presidents. He was an editorial writer for The Washington Post where he began writing his column in 1979. That column is now distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate.

Since 1988, Shields has provided weekly political analysis and commentary on national campaigns for PBS’ award-winning "The PBS NewsHour" where he has matched wits with David Gergen, The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot and most recently with David Brooks of The New York Times. For 17 years, Shields was moderator and panelist on CNN’s Capital Gang. He now is a regular panelist on Inside Washington, the weekly public affairs show which is seen on both ABC and PBS.

A native of Weymouth, Mass., and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Shields served as an enlisted man in the United States Marine Corps before coming to Washington where he began working in 1965 for Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire. In 1968, Shields went to work for Robert F. Kennedy in the New York Senator’s presidential campaign and later held leadership positions in three other presidential campaigns. Over 11 years, Shields helped manage campaigns from the courthouse to the White House in some 38 states.

In addition to attending 17 national party conventions and working on or covering the last 11 presidential elections, Shields has taught American politics and the press at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Public Policy and he was a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy Institute of Politics. "On the Campaign Trail," his book on the 1984 presidential campaign, has been praised as “funny,” “irreverent,” and “for bringing that race to a magnificent light.”

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