Transparency

Home » Transparency

Game Over, Birfers

The President has released his long-form birth certificate, proving that he was, in fact, born in Hawaii as he has consistently said. You can find the (.pdf) here, and the press secretary’s statement here.

It was just a matter of time until this came out. For an explanation of the political expediency of releasing the certificate today, I point you to Erick Erickson at RedState.

This development, of course, means that thousands (and maybe millions) or birfers, including the ever-incendiary Donald Trump, must find a new pastime. As AM President Ned Ryun made clear last year, American Majority does not welcome or encourage discussion of the birth certificate issue (now non-issue). It is, and always has been, a waste of time, resources, and brainpower for otherwise clever and thoughtful would-be activists.

Now, thanks to the president (and I say that without sarcasm), thousands of former birfers can fully devote their efforts to recruiting, supporting, and electing conservative candidates at the local and state levels without concern for conspiracy theories or far-flung scenarios of the president’s birth.

Former birfers, welcome back. Let’s get to work.

The Top 10 Things I Miss About Nancy Pelosi Being Speaker of the House

With the current budget battle raging in Washington, many members of Congress have commented over the last several weeks (with all civility, of course) about how they should be fixing the problems facing our country.

The media has (fortunately or unfortunately) given ample time for many on both sides of the aisle to put in their two cents, and as crazy as it sounds, our representatives have not disappointed.

I, however, was especially pleased to see former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, have her time in the sun to tell us how horrible conservative members of Congress are.

Nancy Pelosi

Goodness, how I have missed you, Nancy.

As a matter of fact, her recent time in the spotlight reminded me about just how much I have missed her being Speaker of the House.  I even put together a list:

The Top 10 Things I Miss About Nancy Pelosi Being Speaker of the House

10. The historical transparency of Congress during her time as Speaker.

Oh, wait a minute.

9. The new tone of civility and honesty she helped create within Washington.

Okay, that didn’t happen either.

8. The way she “drained the swamp” of rampant corruption in Congress – especially within her own party.

Just kidding about that one, too.

7. Her beady eyes, maybe?

(No link provided…Thankfully)

6. Her unbelievable talent of winning Blink-Offs against Dick Cheney during State of the Union speeches?

No, really. Here’s the video proof.

5. How about the fiscal discipline and responsibility she oversaw?

Hahahah. Good one.

4. But, seriously, who suggested I cover this topic?

3. Ah, how about the patience and restraint she showed as she led the Healthcare battle even when she didn’t actually know what was in the bill?

What am I saying? This is just getting silly.

2. Um, the way she used children and the elderly to score political points?

Oh, never mind. She is STILL doing that.

1. Is there really anything I miss about her not being Speaker of the House?

Well, I do miss her having to say stuff like this after she lost the speakership.

That has to count for something, right?

What about you?  Anything you miss about Nancy Pelosi being speaker of the House?

Objectivity in the News: What’s the Point?

You may never hear me say this again, but I am proud to proclaim that I am more progressive than my peers here at UVA.

When a group of twenty of us were asked whether it was worth making the effort to retain objectivity in the reporting of news, nineteen said yes: reporters and news organizations should strive for objectivity, and we should highly value reportage that we determine to be without bias.

The one dissenter was, as you may have guessed, yours truly.

And really, why should we continue the pursuit of this sham we call objectivity? By objectivity, I mean reporting news in such a way as to remove any preconceived notions or opinions from the selection or documentation of facts, conveying to the reader only the relevant information and allowing him or her to form an opinion.

I’ll say it as frankly as I can: objectivity in the media is a fruitless and unfulfillable pursuit that only the naive choose to perpetuate. The more realistic and – dare I say it – forward thinking among us have exchanged objectivity for transparency, and I submit to you that transparency is what we should begin looking for in our news. Call me a cynic if you will, but this is where the world is headed.

Why not value objectivity? The idea seems logical. We would love to have the facts packaged and delivered to us, allowing us to judge for ourselves what the best course of action would be in any given situation. For example, if any of us read a news story composed simply of the current federal budget, we would love to think for ourselves and conclude that cutting spending is the best way to go. Or, if you read a short news story telling you that millions of illegal immigrants come over our southern border every year, you would probably conclude that securing the border is the best first step toward solving the problem. Objective reporting sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

The problem is that no news outlet reports just the facts. If they did, we would be bored out of our minds. Take the budget example. Do you really want to read “just the facts” about the federal budget? Of course not. It is much more interesting to hear the two sides of the debate and cheer for whichever side has the best ideas. There is nothing wrong with that. But make no mistake: fair and balanced reporting is not objective. If we were given the option of “just the facts” objectivity, most of us would find it very unappealing.

In addition to being boring, objective reporting is a figment of news editors’ imaginations. If you watch any of the major network news outlets or read any of the major newspapers, all of which claim to be “objective,” “unbiased,” or even “no spin,” you know that unbiased reporting is not practiced anywhere and is, in fact, impossible. We have all heard about the New York Times‘ decline and slow, painful, impending death. I’ve got news for the Times: readers have realized that their claims of objectivity are hollow, and their subscriptions have been steadily cut off as a result.

What I encourage you all to do instead is to embrace and perpetuate a trend of transparency in the media rather than objectivity. Accept bias and subjectivity as par for the course. Watch Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, or Neil Cavuto. Listen to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Mark Levin. And, in addition, watch Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, and Rachel Maddow. If you have some obscure cable package that enables you, find Keith Olbermann’s show and become one of his ten viewers. Read RedState.com, the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, or this very blog.

All of these news sources come with bias, preconceived notions, and opinions. What’s more, they wear their subjectivity on their sleeve. They are by no means objective in the way they report, but they are transparent. If you want conservative news aimed at grassroots activists, read the American Majority blog or RedState.com. If you want a conservative take on your national news, watch FoxNews. If you want to find out what the people on the other side of the debate are thinking, turn on MSNBC and grab some antacids. Regardless of what a reporter’s perspective is, we should value his or her transparency rather than objectivity in reporting.

If we know a news source’s bias before reading, we know how much credence to give it while consuming it. For decades before our current one, Americans bought into heinous stories and philosophies because they received them from what they thought were “objective” news networks reporting the “facts.” We know better now. In this world of new media, social media, blogs, and do-it-yourself reporting, we know that objectivity is impossible and fruitless. What we need is transparency and honesty. May we pursue it, and may we become better armed as a result.

 

The 7 Secrets of Political Consultants

Last month I talked about a few things elected officials would probably rather you didn’t know. And since we here at American Majority are all about stripping the political process down, it’s time to do the same for that modern-day priesthood: political consultants. Now, some of my friends make their living in this arena, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you both they and I get pretty disgusted with many aspects of their field. So let’s dig in and suss out 7 of their secrets:

1) It’s said the best trick the devil ever pulled was convincing folks he didn’t exist. This is kind of the reverse of Elected Official Syndrome, where a lawmaker wants you to believe in their godlike qualities. Instead, political consultants tend to vanish like gorillas in the mist between campaigns (especially ones like last year’s—where “insiders” are considered persona non grata). But just like that mosquito you can hear buzzing about in a dark room, you know they’re still there.

2) And not only are they still around, they’re calling most of the shots. Lobbyists get all the bad press, but political consultants have created a cottage industry for themselves. That permanent campaign you’re sick to death of? The negative campaigning you hate? Their baby. A political “military-industrial complex” means endless job security for them. Think of them as those walkers just out of camera sight, directing the gigantic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons around every twist and turn on 34th Street.

3) Which leads me to the money they make. I’d never say you can win anything except the most local, grassroots races without both an air and a ground war, but you can take it to the bank that no political consultant ever got rich off volunteers or door-knocking. Oddly, these free things rarely end up in a consultant’s campaign plan. Hmm. Consultants get cuts of media buys (mail, too), which is why by the time an election rolls around you can’t even walk to your mailbox or watch Jersey Shore without seeing a gazillion political ads. Some firms in Washington or state capitols even seek out longshot candidates against Nancy Pelosi or her equal every two years, raising millions of dollars by nationalizing the contest, but, mysteriously ensuring 99% (I’m not exaggerating here) of the funds raised get spent on “consulting services”. Can you say “Madoff”?

4) Here’s another dirty little one: sometimes politics is rigged. Meaning the possible outcomes are managed by political consultants before an issue ever goes public. Trial balloons floated in the press, hearings where cherry-picked citizens testify…they can all be part of the game, and one great big last Kabuki dance before a gavel gets slammed down just like it was always going to.

5) This next one drives me nuts. It’s the Inverse Theory of Political Consulting. Or what I call “Failing Upward”. Right this second I can name you six to ten talking heads who haven’t won a race in years, if not decades. Mike Murphy and Robert Shrum come to mind. You see them every week on the nightly and Sunday news shows. And as long as they continue to be a go-to source for reporters and endless quote machines, they’ll find work (and appearances on cable TV).

6) Political consultants are also at times much more interested in padding their own personal creative portfolio (and profits) than in actually doing the right thing to win the race. Take the director behind the famous Christine O’Donnell “I’m not a witch” commercial. The absolute last thing that campaign needed at that moment was more attention drawn to something eccentric the candidate had uttered. Yet say it in a 30-second spot she did, because a political consultant was more concerned with making news and raising his profile than in, as Charlie Sheen would say “winning, duh”, the campaign.

7) And finally, the ultimate secret of political consultants: you can win a race without them. We can argue about if politics is more art than a science, whether “cometh the hour, cometh the man” (or woman) is true, or how much time, talent and treasure gets squandered every single election. But American Majority exists so that you too can cut out this middle man of American politics, just like you do in every other area of your current lives (Web M.D. anyone?) And in the end, especially in our Information Age, there’s just no excuse for not getting trained and cracking the political consultants’ code.

Top Ten Things Elected Officials Don’t Want You to Know

American Majority recently announced our new monthly newsletter, aptly titled The Groundswell. Along with traditional updates including upcoming events, news from our alumni and free resources, we aim to offer insights you won’t find from typical organizations inside the beltway. For our inaugural issue National Executive Director Matt Robbins breaks down the top ten things our elected officials don’t want us to know. Check out the full text below.

Top Ten Things Elected Officials Don’t Want You to Know

1.) They Don’t Like Being Watched: They say a watched pot never boils, but boy is that not the case here. Just ask former Senator George Allen. Or former Congressman Bob Etheridge. Or even Congressman Chris Lee (what a hunk, huh?) I can go on. A hundred dollars and a trip to the Wal-Mart camera aisle could be the best investment in changing the status quo an activist ever makes.

2.) Watching Them Matters: And those are just the most public cases, the ones on YouTube. How about blogging to monitor the two things every elected official has? I call these “votes and quotes”. Whether filing FOIA requests, sifting through hours of legislative session coverage, or just showing up at public meetings and hearings for your three minutes of open mike time, you will eventually strike gold.

3.) Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain: This is probably the hardest one for newcomers to politics to grasp. After all, endless handlers, gatekeepers and “body” people strive to maintain a certain mystique about actually meeting your representative. I hate to tell you this, but there is no Great And Powerful Oz. Just the man (or woman) behind the curtain. And they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you.

4.) Effectively Challenging Them is Not Rocket Science: There are two words in Webster’s dictionary you should never confuse: simple and easy. Winning a political race is a pretty non-complex idea. He with the most votes WINS. Yet every year great, talented people stay out of elections or misapply their energies over the long haul.

5.) The Path to Victory is a Straight Line: I say this because you can draw it on that most basic of all campaign tools: a calendar. Most banks give them out for free. Get yourself one. Then circle the election date (primary or general) and work backwards from it, filling in all the various, labor-intensive, time-consuming things you’ll have to do to get from Point A to Point B. Time flies when you’re walking doors!

6.) Politics is a Game of Musical Chairs: Which is why it’s so vital to have solid, competent conservatives ready to run at all levels—from local to state to federal. There is rarely a year that goes by without an elected official being caught in a scandal, resigning, being appointed to a different office, or just plain keeling over. Somebody’s going to sit in that empty seat—it might as well be you!

7.) Good Old Boys and Gentlemen’s Agreements: Challengers or new blood threaten business-as-usual. Cronyism–crossing the political aisles–secret agreements not to back same-party candidates because one representative has “good working relationships” with bi-partisan colleagues, I’ve seen it all. It’s part of the problem. And us rooting it out is one of the things most terrifying to anyone up for re-election.

8.) Some of Them Hate Their Jobs: Really, you’ll be doing some of them a favor by retiring them. So many elected officials have been “phoning it in” for years. Many don’t even have it in them to campaign with any heart even one last time. Help these poor souls out by letting them know early (and loudly) that they won’t be getting a pass when the next convention or primary takes place.

9.) Entourage Is Not Just a Show on HBO: This is one of the most insidious parts of elected office. How many of us (besides Kramer on Seinfeld) have personal assistants? Schedulers? A muted chorus around us at all times, giving what I call the “golf clap” (a hushed applause at the politician’s brilliance)? Probably one of the most important services you can render a representative is to proclaim that the emperor has no clothes!

10.) Carrots AND Sticks: With all due respect, politicians can be mule-headed much of the time. And all too often, we don’t mind taking them to the woodshed only. But what was it Dale Carnegie wrote? “How to Win Friends and Influence People”? Praising an official when they do something right (preferably publicly) can stick in a politico’s mind just as much as a beating with a switch.

Want to receive the next issue of The Groundswell? Click “Get Involved” at the top.

What Elections?

If I were to walk up to a random person today and ask him/her to share their thoughts on the upcoming spring elections in Kansas, I’m willing to bet that the response would be, “What elections?”

These elections are so often forgotten about, and so few people actually vote in them, let alone volunteer on campaigns for them.  There are many times when these seats go unfilled because there aren’t enough people interested in running for the available positions.  So many people fail to understand the importance of these elections because in their minds, who gets elected to their local school board just doesn’t matter.  What people don’t realize is how much power their local school boards actually have, and how great of an impact an individual can have on school board elections just by getting involved.

But why would somebody want to get involved with school board elections?

Well, if you have children in the school district, there are a few obvious reasons why you would want to help quality candidates get elected to the school board.  School boards are responsible for:

  • Hiring and working with the superintendent.
  • Overseeing school personnel.
  • Reviewing and approving curriculum that students learn.
  • Tracking district enrollment and attendance.
  • Monitoring student achievement.
  • Setting the academic calendar.
  • Managing student transportation.
  • Ensuring that local schools are in accordance with federal and state academic standards.
  • Providing parents and members of the community with a voice into the education of their children.

All of these tasks are ones that shape the learning environment and educational experience of your children. It is vital that these tasks aren’t just given to anyone. These students are the future of this nation.  We have an amazing opportunity to shape the people that these students become by influencing the dynamic of their school boards now.

What if you don’t have children in the school district, though? Why should it still matter to you?  Well, you may not care quite as strongly about the educational experience of students in your district, but I bet you care about your money!  School boards are also responsible for the following:

  • Establishing approximately 55-60% of the local property tax bill.
  • Administering the local education budget.
  • Approving facility maintenance and construction.
  • Negotiating subcontractor agreements.

I don’t know about you, but in my home county, property taxes have gone up 168.9% just since 1997. There’s no telling how different the circumstances would be now if people in my home county would’ve been paying attention to the school board all these years.  If you care about where and how your hard-earned money is being spent, then it is of the utmost importance that you get involved in your local school board elections.

If your state’s filing deadline has not yet passed, I encourage you to seriously consider running for your local school board.  If the filing deadline has passed, then volunteer to help campaign for the candidate you are supporting.  Even after the elections are over, it is in your best interest to continue being involved with the school board.  Attending school board meetings is the best way to hold members accountable for the actions that they take while in office.   If everyone does their part to get involved with their local school boards, these elections will no longer be forgotten ones.

Paging Senator David Johnson~Where Are You?

Kudos to Senator David Johnson (D, Little Rock) who received  ZERO dollars in per diem, mileage and expense money for 2010, according to an admirable enterprise story by Michael Wickline in Sunday’s Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Going back to 2009, during a regular session as is 2011’s session, Mr. Johnson received only $1081.

I recognize Mr. Johnson is at an advantage over the majority of Arkansas legislators because he lives in Little Rock.  Yet so does Senator Joyce Elliott who in 2010 received $25,979 in expenses along with Representatives Greenberg ($31,826), Allen ($31,332), Webb ($29,754), Adcock($28,2 00), D. Williams ($27,976), J. Edwards ($26,500) and A. Kerr($24,600). These 8 legislators alone were reimbursed tens of thousands of dollars, all in addition to their regular salaries of $15,869.

The closest example to Mr. Johnson’s fiscal restraint in 2009 was Representative James Word, (D-Pine Bluff) who received $24,600. And the totals soar from there, reaching a maximum collected of $60,092 by Senator Jimmy Jeffress (D,Crossett, appoximately 150 miles from the Capitol)…YES~I just wrote 60 thousand dollars in expenses reimbursements.  This year, Sen. Jeffress cut back a bit after receiving some backlash over his steep expenses during 2009, and only collected $52,427.

We should give Rep. Nate Steel recognition, too, because in 2010 he only received $3,833, and he lives in Nashville, which is some 150 miles from the Capitol. Third runner-up for most fiscally responsible legislator is Rep. Steve Cole (D-Lockesburg) who rang in at $13,647 for 2010 (much less than his figure in 2009 of $35,468).  Lockesburg is also right around 150 miles from the capitol.

Wonder why there is such a HUGE discrepancy in the amount of money reimbursed for basically the same travel? I understand that different legislators are on different committees and have different responsibilities but a $60,000.00 annual difference is a pretty big difference…

Wickline’s article points out that the first time an Arkansas legislator collected more than $50,000 in a single year was in 2007. Since then: In 2008 four lawmakers collected in excess of $50 thousand and in 2009 a whopping TWENTY legislators joined the crowd. The word obviously got around.

Those in the Top 20 during 2009 and what they collected from taxpayers for expenses (again, not including their salaries)

Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett          $60,092
Rep. Bill Abernathy, D-Mena               $56,592
Rep. Ray Kidd, D-Jonesboro                $56,366
Rep. Mark Martin, R-Prairie Grove    $56,290
Rep. Eddie Cooper, D-Melbourne       $54,892
Rep. Buddy Lovell, D-Marked Tree    $53,998
Sen. Gene Jeffress, D-Louann                $53,949
Rep. Billy Gaskill, D-Paragould             $53,524
Rep. Mike Patterson, D-Piggott            $52,588
Rep. Monty Davenport, D-Yellville     $52,047
Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale              $51,949
Rep. Gregg Reep, D-Warren                    $51,898
Rep. Tommy Baker, D-Osceola              $51,641
Rep. Curren Everett, D-Salem                $51,492
Rep. George Overbey, D-Lamar             $51,452
Rep. Nathan George, D-Dardanelle        $50,860
Rep. Robert Moore, D-Arkansas City   $50,603
Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette                $50,522
Sen. Steve Bryles, D-Blytheville              $50,442
Rep. Allen Maxwell, D-Monticello         $50,087

And then there were 8 lawmakers collecting over 50 thousand dollars in 2010:

Sen Laverty, D-Jasper                         $59,745
Rep. Kidd, D-Jonesboro                       $54,064
Sen. J Jeffress, D-Crossett                   $52,427
Rep. T. Baker, D-Osceola                      $52,199
Rep. Gaskill, D- Paragould                  $52,100
Rep. Patterson, D-Piggott                   $51,814
Rep. Woods, R- Springdale                 $51,467
Rep. Davenport, D-Yellville               $51,186

Senator Laverty was the only one of the 2010 big expense collectors not to also reach the $50K mark in 2009, although he was just shy at $43,966.
These numbers are stunning to me, especially since I spent 2010 continuously traveling Arkansas from corner to corner and back again. Kerry Baldwin and I held 41 trainings, over a dozen events and a handful of speaking engagements from Texarkana to Mt. Home to Jonesboro and over to Fort Smith.
I traveled over 100 days and sometimes hit four cities encompassing 400 miles over a two-day period and never submitted a travel reimbursement voucher for more than $1000 in any single month.
It’s my understanding that legislators who live within 50 miles of the Capitol receive a  flat fee” per diem of somewhere between $2,000 to $2,200, never having to even fill out an expense report. Those living more than 50 miles away receive $.51 per mile, round trip, and $149 a day per diem, with no expense report required.

As a business owner, I can’t turn those kinds of records into the IRS. Could you? I mean, can we talk some common sense here?   And as a person who works for an organization that reimburses my proven travel expenses, I have to turn in a detailed expense report every two weeks with receipts attached. That’s if I expect to receive reimbursement. So someone tell me why should our public servants be any different?

Today, and not a moment too soon, Arkansas legislators introduced SB194. A bipartisan “Ethics Bill”. Please read this bill (it’s only 2 pages) and let me know if you think this will alleviate the obvious problem of paid officials continually soaking the taxpayers?
In 2010 $4.7 million was paid to 135 part-time legislators, most of whom have other vocations outside of their public service.   I don’t think there’s a constituent in our state that would expect or want our law makers to absorb personal costs for officially tending to the affairs of our State. Yet I believe – and am convinced- that the sizes of these “expense” numbers as reported by Mr. Wickline are questionable.
I’d also encourage each of you to contact legislators in your area and make a habit of regularly submitting FOIA requests for their expense records. Show them you care and are watching our business as closely as any newspaper reporter.  Itemized accountability has a way of curbing anyone’s desire to “inflate” numbers in the private or public sector.

Notice of Another Crisis? Storage …

In a story that has been playing out for a few days, outgoing Pulaski Circuit/County Clerk, Pat Obrien is wanting to shred court documents. In an article from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette “O’Brien said the records needed to be shredded to help avert a storage crisis. The files had been electronically duplicated, and made easily and reliably accessible by computer to the judges”

It was also reported that over 50,000 files from cases dating from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s by Obrien’s predecessor. So why the brouhaha now? Maybe someone in Pulaski county could let me know.

Get Back in the Groove

Coming off a 5 day holiday sabbatical, it is hard to get back in the groove, but I need to stay focused. There is so much that has happened in the past week there is not sufficient room on this site to list it all. Legislation is being written faster than a speeding bullet; segue into super heroes, I am still experiencing my “Bullet-deflecting bracelets Wonder Woman” syndrome, even more now.

American Majority believes that change is best made at the local level so we want to give you some helpful hints  that will make this process easier for those who wish to help hold elected officials accountable and to build a farm team of future leaders.

Recently American Majority launched its New Leaders Project that will work with local TEA Party leaders from across the nation to identify 10,000 new, credible candidates in advance of the 2011 and 2012 elections. Already the major TEA Party groups in Arkansas have stepped to the plate and said “YES WE WILL”.

I encourage you to gather some folks in your area take advantage of our progams and commit to making sure those elected in the Arkansas School Board elections of 2011 are willing to respect the will of their communities. American Majority Arkansas is ready, willing and able to come alongside and help.

Another way to get engaged is to visit the Arkansas House of Representatives web page and review the bills that have been pre-filed for the 2011 session. If you are a person who likes research and blogging this may be your way of aiding the cause.

Additionally you can step-up by committing to attend public meetings in your area i.e school board, city council, quorum court and if you are really zealous, committee meetings in Little Rock.  Meetings are listed on the Arkansas State Legislature web page.

I know here in NWA Cox Communications has just made that easier for citizens to stay abreast of government happenings.  A story published in the NWA Times Cox Communications To Adjust Lineup PUBLIC, EDUCATION, GOVERNMENT CHANNELS TO CHANGE stated that all cable customers in the area will be able to view school board and city council meetings starting December 9th.

If you want more details on how-to’s read “~ WANT TO BE AN AGENT OF CHANGE? HERE’S HOW~”

Millions Here, Hunger There~

I have no idea the political ideology of this group, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families but this study is sure bothersome Arkansas Schools Stockpiling Millions Intended for Poor Students considering other studies in recent days. Particularly that Arkansas children rank third in the nation with 26.9 percent living in poverty in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The percentage of Arkansas children living in poverty has risen steadily since 2006, when it was 23.8 percent.

Also just yesterday it was reported that “between 2007 and 2009, Arkansas had a higher percentage of households without consistent, dependable access to food than any other state in the nation, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Looks like we might need to get some grassroots researcher going on what just the heck is happening here.

Balanced Budget? NOT~

While Arkansas bureaucrats like to proclaim our state has a “balanced budget,” our check book seems to tell a different story.  According to US Government Spending.com our state has an estimated $15.8 Billion in state and local debt. (see website for details)

The most exasperating part of this debt is that it has been accrued with the consent of the people, and most don’t even realize it. I have, over the last several months, conducted a survey of Arkansans, young and old. Blue collar, white collar and no collar; rich and poor; seemingly informed and completely disengaged; people who have run for state and national offices, folks who own multi-million dollars companies in our state and not one realizes the true “state of our state.”

I have been trying to wrap my head around this issue for months and I think I finally have a way to explain it ~ Let’s say you have “fixed” costs i.e. house payment, utilities, insurance, taxes which you can easily meet with your income. But then you decide you need a new car so you get a loan and you make the minimum payment. Then you decide you need some new furniture; another new loan, new minimum payment; and then a new flat screen, new loan, new minimum payment. Some months later you buy a boat, a motorcycle and a hunting lodge all with new loans and more minimum payments. Well now your income barely covers your outgo so you open a Visa account and start making payments with that and pay the minimum payment to visa, well things get tighter so you open a MasterCard, then Discover, then you take out a second on your house and now all of the-sudden (not really) you are 100’s of thousands of dollars in debt but still barely able to make your minimum payment. That’s pretty much what Arkansas has done except our state KEEPS doing it. And now we are $15.8 billion in debt and the voters keep giving them more and more ability to open up even more lines of credit, stop the madness.

Please make sure you are doing your due diligence BEFORE you vote.

Who’s Watching the Store?

While city officials in Fayetteville, Arkansas are constantly striving to
“Keep Fayetteville Funky”, I believe they are keeping it more flunky than funky.
In recent months our officials have revamped Block Street, the connector street between the historic square and the entertainment district along Dickson Street with back-in, angled parking spots (no, seriously), odd, jutting concrete islands and a maze of other fun and sundry driving obstacles only to discover mid-project that there might be a serious issue with the clearance of some emergency vehicles.

So now they go back to the drawing board to “re-revamp” the street project.
Even with remarkable Googling skills I have yet to locate a finite
number of what this has – and will – cost we the taxpayers.
Then we turn to the dreaded paid parking issue in the entertainment district. The powers that be decided in their wisdom to install parking kiosks downtown to increase city revenues. Or, in the words of Alderman Matthew Petty who represents Ward 2, “We need to do this; it’s the only way to keep Dickson Street growing.” Oh really?? Take an already tax laden community and further tax the down time where folks go to relax.

However, many residents of the majestic town have said “Good bye DicksonStreet” because they don’t feel it is worth the extra money and hassle to deal with these new parking restrictions, especially when there are so many other choices with free parking.
In an effort to raise revenues, the City Fathers have actually helped curb potential commerce for local business owners, in effect lowering tax revenues. They have spent taxpayer money implementing a plan to take more of that money from said taxpayers. Then, as a kicker, a few days ago we learn Fayettevillians will be hit yet again with an additional $15,000 in repair bills to the parking machines from vandalism in the initial weeks. Arggggg!

It is important to note before we proceed that Fayetteville is
running in a budget deficit situation of an estimated $1.2 million in
the General Fund. In light of that Mayor Jordan and his crew developed
a plan “to reduce target expenditures, freeze wages, forego the
replacement of certain open positions, and extend the replacement plan
for General Fund vehicles,” all of which I applaud. But to re-revamp a road
that actually did not need revamping in the first place then further tax
citizens with the hassle of parking fees so that potential customers may head elsewhere with free parking and easy access doesn’t seem
like good city planning to me.

Now the Coup de grace; the $93 million high school I continue to
shudder over. That’s NINTY THREE MILLION DOLLARS! The rapidly growing Springdale School District is seeking less than $70 million to build a new junior high and a middle school holding 2,000 students, new athletic fields and stadium for Har-ber High School and refurbish the existing Springdale High School stadium. The interesting fact of this matter is not only has Fayetteville school not grown, but according to a former school board member, the population at FHS continues to dwindle.

Now I understand the city management does not make decisions for the
school district, which might even play more into one of my points, that the
right hand and the left hand of the public’s business never know what the other is doing.
Beware friends. Government on every level is spending and taxing to the
point of non-recognition, in my opinion, to get all they can before
the heavy hand of the federal government comes down and lands a mighty and crippling final blow to families across the nation.

Has anyone else noticed how many unemployed there are in our corner of the state? How many foreclosures are published in the paper each day? How many empty storefronts have appeared?
So one little town (less than 70 thousand residents) in one little state is
spending millions of dollars on superfluous stuff and we just keep
going along living our clearly unsustainable “Life of Riley.”

Twitter & Asymmetric Political Warfare

Oh Twitter, how I love thee. Let me count the ways…

I first became interested in Twitter a bit over a year ago while reading Seth Godin’s book, Tribes (for my full blog review of the book click here). Before I even finished the book I had to log online and get my account set up (@razshafer). Since then it’s been a non-stop ride on the twitter train for over a year. Here I sit, 6248 tweets and 3834 followers later, more fascinated by it than ever!

While I’ve been active with social media since the advent of Web 2.0 I had never aspired to use that medium for political ends. After reading Tribes and a few blog articles about the political uses of Twitter I began to see how powerful Twitter could be when used for a specific purpose.

Twitter.com was created in March of 2006 and went live for the world to use on July 13th, 2006. Since that time it’s membership has swelled to well over and its ranked among the most popular social media sites online. For in-depth information about Twitter’s history, check out the Twitter page on Wikipedia.com. You can even see The Story of Twitter in Picture Form if you so desire.

Because Twitter has released no official estimate of its membership, we are left to guess or estimate likely membership. In my own search of an estimate I took a few factors into account: 1, Twitter.com has received between 23 and 24 million unique visitors per month over the last several months. 2, Only 45% of Twitter users use the website. While many users no doubt visit the site at least once per month, a rough estimation, given these two statistics, is about 50 million users. Considering that 21% of twitter users have never actually tweeted, our estimate of active accounts comes to: 41 million. Regardless of the exact number of active members, Twitter has a huge audience which is heavily engaged. It’s an incredibly powerful venue for broadcasting information, digesting news, debating viewpoints and building relationships.

I believe that in the “David vs. Goliath” battle we are engaged in we must approach the fight much like asymmetric warfare. There was a phenomenal article written by Malcom Gladwell in the New Yorker last May titled “How David Beats Goliath: When Underdogs Break the Rules.” The thesis of Gladwell’s article is that when Davids write their own rules, rather than fight by the conventions that their opponent tries to impose then they will win more often than not. He supports this with a study conducted by Political Scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft. In the study Arreguín-Toft studied every war within two hundred years in which there was significant imbalance (10 to 1 based on military power and population) between combatants. He found that when the weaker power (David) fought by the rules and conventions imposed by the stronger power (Goliath) that David lost 71.5% of the time. This is still quite impressive considering the 10 to 1 power imbalance but when he focused on wars where David wrote his own rules, like in the Biblical account, David won an incredible 63.6% of the time.

Right now we are faced with a David vs. Goliath fight. Conservatism is riding a populist wave but the principles which we advocate and the policy proposals we promote are far from being understood by the majority of our elected officials. While conservatives are indeed a majority, we still fail to demonstrate our size and power at the ballot box. In this fight we need to look to unconventional tools, such as new media, to promote the principles we champion.

I’m convinced that, in this new era of political communication, discovering and utilizing tools like Twitter is not an option. It is a necessity. The question of where we fight the battle is not up to us but if we leave tools un-utilized or under-utilized then we set our movement up for failure. For those of us at American Majority, failure is not an option.

In support of your efforts to become more active online, our Staff has created a Guide to Twitter and Activism: The Twittivism Guide. It is a 40 page document (free to view or download) which will guide you from being a non-user to a Twitter Power-User. American Majority trainings also offer in-depth new media training as part of  our Activist and Candidate Political Training sessions.

If you remain unconvinced of the power of social media, check out this video. It was created by Erik Qualman (@equalman) and blows my mind every time I see it.

School Board Candidate Wins on Transparency & Accountability

Newly elected school board member Joe Nolen of McLoud, OK, had never run for public office.  He had never directed a campaign.  He had never even volunteered for someone else’s campaign.   The term “political newcomer” would not even begin to describe him.

But Joe Nolen was tired of the school board in his town constantly spending more money than they had on hand and running up budget deficits.  So he decided to do something about it.  Joe Nolen decided to run for school board.

I met with Joe Nolan in the middle of January – a little over a month from election day.  I sat down in his living room with him and his wife, and we talked about what it meant to run for public office, the effort it was going to take, and the uphill climb it was going to be for him to be victorious.  Joe understood this because he confessed his fear in going against a 3 term, 15 year incumbent – one who had never been challenged before and who also had more money and more name recognition than Joe.  He told me this entire scenario made him quite nervous.

But that night we discussed various campaign strategies, practical and simple ideas to overcome his multiple deficiencies, and a clear path that he believed would win him his election.

In the end Joe was going to run on three ideas: transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility.  These were the elements he believed were missing from the McLoud School Board, and these are the words he would use with every single person he spoke with during the campaign.

By the end of that night, Joe was determined and motivated to out-work his opponent by running a smarter and more organized campaign.  He was also excited to use the tools and resources American Majority had provided him to help in his effort.  But he was on his own until election day, and I was curious about what the result would be.

Yesterday, after a month of putting out yard signs, developing and implementing a micro-targeting goal, walking his entire city, and in the end even employing a small army for his GOTV effort, Joe Nolen defeated his incumbent opponent by a margin of 65% to 35%.  Due in large part to Joe’s efforts, the voter turnout was higher than he, or anyone else, had expected.

In talking to Joe after his victory, he confessed he knew he had won his election the weekend before the vote because of the work he had done and the organized campaign he had put together.  He also told me that he was surprised that the margin of victory wasn’t higher.

As our conversation wound down Joe expressed his appreciation for me driving out to his house that night and helping him achieve his goal.  He sincerely and honestly thanked American Majority for the resources, ideas, and encouragement we offered him as a newcomer in the world of local politics.

But best of all, he was excited, motivated, and ready to get started as the newest member of the McLoud School Board.

Transparency is just not their thing

No matter which side you are on, it’s pretty easy to see that the White
House’s message of transparency has been, somewhat, well, hard to
decipher. Matt Kibbe wrote about a few of the back door deals and the
behind the scenes nature of the health care debate
.

Despite the transparency rhetoric, promises of an open conversation and a
ban on lobbyists in the White House, there have been murky-at-best
explanations for documented White House visitors. President Obama pledged
not to work with lobbyists. So, naturally, lobbyists just delist, and
voila! No more lobbyists in the White House. Which unfortunately, doesn’t
make them any less of a lobbyist… just a lot more illegal.

Lobbyists are nothing new. The issue is that for a campaign that ran so
vehemently on not working with lobbyists and special interests, they seem
to be more than happy to blur the lines when it benefits their cause. But
what makes a lobbyist a lobbyist?

The Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) defines a lobbyist as a person who spends
more than 20% of their time on “lobbying activities” and has had more
then one “lobbying contact”. Pretty simple. What constitutes a
“lobbying activity”? Time spent on lobbying contacts, as well as any
planning, prep time, research, coordination, and dirt digging. A
“lobbying contact” is any communication, oral or written, with federal
officials regarding policy modification, formulation and adoption. That
goes for legislation, government officials, government contracts, and
nominations subject to Senate consent.

Andy Stern, a known lobbyist who delisted in 2007, has taken his share of
heat. He appeared on the White House visitor log 22 times last year for
meetings with President Obama, Joe Biden, Rahm Emanuel, and Peter Orzag.
News articles also report meetings with House members and Senators.

Apparently not the brightest bulb, Stern also reported his meetings on
Twitter. The Alliance for Worker Freedom and Americans for Tax Reform
collected tweets from February to June that mention White House meetings,
visits with Congressmen, and lobbying with Mayor Bloomberg.

Click here to view a clip from an interview with Stern.

“I don’t care if I went there once, or if I went there every single
day, they would say it’s too much. That’s because they have a different
vision of America than the people I work with every day.”

The assumed access to the White House is an incredible display of
arrogance. They never thought they would be denied access. This is what
happens when everything is negotiable and promises mean nothing. Washington
is doing what it wants, and the less we know the better.

Transparency redefined: We’ll actually show you nothing, and then say
that the reason nothing is working is because of the Republicans. Those
Republicans and their silly “Constitution” and “procedures”. That
is all that stands between you and utopia, people.