Friday, May 14, 2010

Voters Shun Incumbents, Two Sons Are Defeated. Budget Is 44 Days Late

By Henry J. Stern

May 14, 2010

Widespread public dissatisfaction with government has recently been reflected with the defeat of two long-term legislators, the retirement of a score of members of Congress, and unexpectedly narrow margins for some incumbents over underfunded and relatively unknown challengers. This appears to be a national trend.

Senator Robert F. Bennett of Utah had held his seat for three terms since he was first elected in 1992. His father, Wallace F.Bennett, had been a senator from Utah for four terms (1951-75) and a leader in the Mormon Church. Robert was defeated at a Republican state convention May 8, and under state law, cannot compete in the Utah primary. Two new candidates, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, each received nearly 40 per cent of the delegates' votes and will face off on June 22 for the Republican nomination. Utah last elected a Democrat to the Senate 40 years ago; it is a very red state. Bennett came in third despite a nominating speech by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the best known Mormon in American politics and an anticipated contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

Congressman Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, who lost in a Democratic primary on May 11, had served for 14 consecutive terms (28 years). He was first elected in 1982 on the retirement of his father. Like Bennett, Mollohan was a second generation legislator. His father, Robert, also served 14 terms, from 1953 to 1983, missing only one term due to the Eisenhower landslide over Stevenson in 1956. The Mollohans represented the northern part of the state, the cities of Wheeling and Morgantown and the rust belt, for a total of 56 years. Alan Mollohan is the 24th richest Congressman, reporting assets of between $7.1 to $29.3 million. In recent years, he has been involved in controversies over earmarks for groups he organized, his own financial disclosure and other ethical issues.

In 2009, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named him as "one of the fifteen most corrupt members of Congress, claiming that he had steered hundreds of millions of dollars to family, friends, former employees, and corporation in exchange for contributions to his campaign and political action committees."

Among the Senators who are retiring are Evan Bayh of Indiana, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of Indiana. Dodd received a mortgage from Countrywide Savings and Loan on very favorable terms. He was one of the Friends of Angelo, a reference to Angelo R. Mozilo, CEO of Countrywide, who sold his enterprise up the creek to the Bank of America in 2008 for $4 billion in stock.

Bayh and Dorgan were well regarded senators, particularly Bayh, who was touted as a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, or possibly in 2012 if President Obama does badly enough. His father, Birch Evan Bayh, Jr., (sic) was a Senator from Indiana for three terms (1963 to 1981). Birch Bayh competed in the presidential primaries in 1976, coming in third in Iowa and third in New Hampshire before withdrawing. That was the year Jimmy Carter was nominated and elected.

Some New York State legislators are also departing voluntarily. They include Assemblywoman Ann Margaret Carrozza (who represents a Queens County district but has a house in Great Neck in Nassau) Michael Benjamin of the Bronx, Joan Christiensen of Syracuse, and Susan John of Rochester. Senator Dale Volker of Buffalo (and former chairman of the Finance Committee), and Senator Thomas Morahan of Rockland County are retiring as well.

Morahan is the state senator whose election Speaker Sheldon Silver was so eager to prevent in 1999 that he pressured the Assembly into repealing the commuter tax, under which people who worked in New York City but lived elsewhere were taxed 45/100 of one per cent of their income to help compensate the city for the services they received (e.g. police and fire) while they were here. That tax had been very helpful in balancing the city's budget. Silver's decision was gleefully agreed to by the Republicans, led by Governor Pataki and Senate leader Joseph Bruno. The enormous error in judgment by the obedient Assembly Democrats has already cost the City of New York about four billion dollars, and the cumulative deficiency rises each year.

The departures from the state legislator do not, however, affect the major players, and if there are to be any changes in the upper ranks at the Capitol, they will have to be the result of citizen action. Although there is enormous public dissatisfaction with the legislature, the route to changing its members is complex and arduous. Nor is there any assurance that new members, once elected, will crawl into bed with the power structure. That has happened before; sometimes it takes years, other times the transformation takes place within weeks as rookies conclude that the best course for them is to "work from within" to change the system.

Although the Assembly is heavily Democratic, there is considerable doubt as to who will control the New York Senate next year. The Republicans, now down by 32-30, must win two more seats to over-ride Lieutenant Governor Ravitch's tie-breaking vote and win control of what used to be described as the upper chamber. But if Democrats keep defecting to the Republicans to gain larger lulus and higher offices, as Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate did in 2009, no one-vote majority is safe. Such a slim majority also requires strict party discipline: a unanimous vote by the majority members is required to pass any legislation, since 32 votes are needed and the minority has generally been unified in its opposition.

The New York State budget is now 44 days late, and the squabbling houses and governor do not appear to be close to agreement as of Friday afternoon. We wrote when the budget was 40 days late, and asked readers to contribute other uses of the number 40.

MORE ON FORTY

In response to our last article (40 - XL - Forty - Two Score) several readers responded to our invitation and suggested other famous forties:

Eric (Tillicum) Alexson of Santa Barbara, CA, a park official, reminds us that there are 40 days between Easter Sunday and Ascension Thursday. According to the Gospel authors Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus also spent 40 days in the wilderness, where He was tempted by the devil. The jazz pianist Dave Brubeck titled one of his compositions "40 Days."

Joseph (Sauce) Appelbaum, a horse trader, wrote to say that the "40/40 club" is both a rare statistical achievement in baseball (forty home runs, forty stolen bases) and a club owned by the Brooklyn rapper Jay-Z.

Robert S. Cook, Jr., an attorney, tells us that the phrase "40 & 8" refers to the number of soldiers or horses that could fit inside a World War I French boxcar. The cars had "40/8" stenciled on their sides. In French the phrase would be "Quarante homes et huit cheveux."

Sheldon Glashow, Ph.D., informs us that "forty forties", or "sorok sorokov" is an old nickname for Moscow. It refers to a time, prior to the 1917 revolution, when the city boasted 1,600 churches, primarily Russian Orthodox. BTW, Dr. Glashow is a Nobel laureate in physics. He discovered the quark.

Kenan Stern, M.D., noted that Lent, the season of penitence that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter holiday, is 40 days long.

We add that 40 is a unit of old English linear measure. There are 40 rods (each is 5 l/2 yards) to one furlong (220 yards, or one-eighth of a mile). Horse races are sometimes measured in furlongs.

The identifying material about our correspondents was prepared by New York Civic alone. They are modest, but we are proud that they are among our readers.

NOTE: If you would like to read True News, an illustrated broadsheet written by Gary Tilzer, a Brooklyn muckraker, you can link to it here.

Enjoy the weekend.

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