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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Whither the Republican Party?

I was born into a multi-generational Republican family, on both sides. My mother's parents were active in the party in Sacramento for decades. My father's grandfather upon hearing his great grandson, my brother, born in December 1960 just one month after JFK's election said, "what the hell did you name him that for?" when told his name was Michael Kennedy Smith. Upon being told the "Kennedy" was the maiden name of the baby's mother Pa, as he was known, muttered, "I guess that's okay then." Ask my brother and sister what bumper sticker adorned the back left spot on the bumper of our station wagon from 1968 until well into the 1970's and they would tell you "Bellmon" who was governor of Oklahoma. That same year, 1968, our mother was a delegate from the State of Oklahoma to the Republican National Convention in Miami; there to cast her vote for Richard Millhouse Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew. Yes I was reared in the shadow of the elephant. And I'm pissed to see where the once Grand Old Party lies today.

Much is being made of whether the Grand Old Party is dying, and I say to that: I do not think it is dying I think it has been killed. The lethal instrument was the GOP membership in Congress from 2000 through 2008--during President Bush's administration. The lethal means was fiscal imprudence and failure to follow one of the principles listed on the website, "I BELIEVE government must practice fiscal responsibility and allow individuals to keep more of the money they earn." Not only did the Republican majority achieved in 2002 in both houses ignore and abuse the first part of this statement, they ignored and abused their party's leader in the White House. Sure they stood by President Bush on national security matters, and he aided them by signing budgets that increased the size of the Federal Government and spending, but they abandoned him on his efforts to reform Social Security allowing the Democrats to capture the dialogue with the public and never standing up to them. When that occured the Republicans lost control of any positive messages on any issue. They rolled over and the Democrats and press took advantage. The GOP was mortally wounded.

Many registered Republicans like myself started telling the party when they would call for donations or send "how are we doing polls" to quit spending like Democrats and to show some fiscal responsibility--in essence those we helped elect needed to follow their own principles. Once the Republican members of Congress and the Republican President began growing the budget and earmarks and reckless spending they lost countless moderate Republicans across the country. How could someone who believes in limited government, fiscal constraint and less taxes support a politician campaigning on those issues while voting different? Confidence was lost, the message was lost and the Party was truly an elephant; plodding through the new media and it use in campaigns and organizing at the grass roots. Democrats were able to adequately frame the party on strictly social issues: abortion, gay rights, minority rights and women's rights. While poll after poll showed that only a small percentage of voters agreed with the extreme liberal positions on these issues (limited restraint on abortions, gay marriage Constitutional Amendment, maintain affirmative action quotas) the whole Republican Party was framed and presented as supporting the extreme conservative positions on these issues (no abortion under any circumstances, no gay marriage or rights, not only no affirmative action but no consideration to be given based on race/gender). Coupled with the repeating of the lie that Bush's tax cuts only benefited the wealthy and the Repbulican Party let itself be presented by the opposition.

Those who know me in my Long Beach community would often be surprised when they learned I am a registered Republican--not a real common thing in Long Beach anyway--like they expected me to have fangs, horns and a tail. That was the result of consistent demonizing of my party, and therefore my affiliation. Many moderate Republicans grew weary of the association, grew weary of the lack of adherence to basic principles of the Republican Party and left, becoming Independents or in many, many cases registering as Democrats. The middle ground where over 60% of American voters reside politically, was lost. With it went the hopes of the Republican's future.

Here in California it is even worse for the Republicans than it is nationally. In California there are millions of voters who, if they were to ably listen, agree with many of the principles of the Republican Party when it comes to national security, the economy, fiscal responsibility, taxes and the purpose of government. They become lost when the only voices being heard from Republicans are about social issues to which they disagree. Take out the extreme positions of the far right on gay rights and abortion and it is my belief that the Republicans could take the majority in the State of California within two elections--provided their is cohesive organization and strict adherence to a couple of simple principles: lower taxes, shrink the size of the state government. But unfortunately it is easy to defeat the party because those who control it do take the extreme position on social issues thereby minimizing the chances of anyone who is moderate on those issues to receive the needed support to win.

I feel I am a very typical Republican in California, or potential Republican. I am for law and order and abiding by the rules. When in doubt read the Constitution. The lowest tier of government should have the most control on exactly how funds should be spent, no specific mandates from the Federal Government or the State Government---give the money to the local school district and let them spend it how that district needs it spent. The needs in Fresno are not the same as the needs in San Juan Capistrano so do not mandate the same programs. Lower taxes create more jobs and economic growth, it has been proven again, and again, and again. Get rid of the overwhelming influence of the public employees unions on our elections. They dictate who wins primaries and elections and therefore they dictate policy and laws that benefit them and hurt the general public. Protect me and my family. Secure the borders, quit wasting billions on anti- this and pro-that feel good programs that have solved no problems such as gangs, graffitti, truancy, teen pregnancy and other issues that create more waste of public safety, health care and education funds to deal with these costly segments of our communities.

Fiscal prudence, public safety, limited government concentrated at the local level where those who know best what is needed are able to direct resources more efficiently. Individuals and communities need to be responsible and accountable, quit molly-coddling those who are not.
Sounds good to many people.

At the same time I am for abortion in many circumstances, but not all. I am for gay marriage; if the state is providing a license, and it is called a "marriage license" then it should be available to hetero- and homo-sexual couples alike. These two issues alone are minor on most people's political decision making process--but unfortunately they are now the litmus test for support from those with the funding and the organizations. Essentially in California a bright young person with views similar to mine, and the majority of Californians according to polls, cannot get elected.

The leadership of the Republican Party, both in the state and nationally, better be pretty darned scared of the future of that which they lead. Rich Galen, a national political writer and commentator, who worked with Newt Gingrich and other high profile Republicans through the years, a staunch Republican and with a huge national following on his thrice-weekly blog Mullings has opined that now may be the time for a third party. And he may be right. If properly formed and organized it certainly tempts me. The current third, fourth, fifth parties are not appealing to moderates like myself due to their history and the looniness of many of their candidates.

How does the GOP recapture registered voters? How does it recapture votes and win elections? Simple. Get on the street. Hold regular face-to-face meetings with voters, and not white voters in Orange County, but with black pastors, hispanic business owners, local community leaders, college and high school students. Sit down with them and show them the principles of the Republican Party. Explain to them the loss of the message, the need to rebuild the party, the desire to work to return hard earned dollars and paid taxes to their pocket and their communities; not through government stimulus packages which are wasteful and inefficient, not through one time programs that have too many restrictions and rules, but in funding of local government with broad guidelines: educate, protect, build.

Unless the Republican Party, and especially those elected under the banner of the elephant, begin acting like Republicans on major issues of defense, public safety, education, fiscal responsibility and the economy no amount of outreach will recapture the passion of those like me. But with demonstrated leadership and consistent votes by those elected it becomes easier to point to them and their commitment when giving a personal message.

Whither the Republican Party? Yes, whithered indeed, but it is possible to have a bright future.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Political Calculus

There are those who follow politics the way others follow baseball and box scores, there are hits, runs and errors. These days in the City of Long Beach, and the State of California, one needs not a box score but a calendar. For any politician, or anyone thinking of becoming a politician in Long Beach, a calendar is the most important tool in the box; well besides financing from unions.

Term limits are the root cause of our state's political and budgetary problems. While term limits in the city create problems locally, even our city budget issues can be traced directly to the term limits for elected officials in Sacramento. Enacted in 1990 by voters, primarily to get then Speaker Willie Brown out of office, members of the State Assembly are limited to three terms of two years each and members of the State Senate are limited to two terms of four years each.

Further compounding the problems caused by term limits on the state level has been the drawing of legislative districts that create "safe seats." In the last election voters passed one of the few worthwhile propositions we have seen in the past two decades, Proposition 11 took the ability to redraw legislative districts out of the hands of the legislature and gave the power to a panel appointed by a commission of auditors. If the Prop 11 re-districting commission works as voters hope then after the 2010 census our state's legislative districts will be redrawn to more accurately reflect population and geographic boundaries than political party boundaries. However, big however, the changes will not be in effect until the 2012 state elections at the earliest.

Virtually every seat in the California Assembly and California Senate is a "safe seat". Our Bixby Knolls abode sits in the 55th Assembly District and the 27 Senate District, it does not really matter who the elected representatives are because they have been and will be Democrats due to the districts each being over 65% registered Democrat. So while we have term limits for those currently in office, what we have is a revolving door of the same person in a different body always in the Assembly and the Legislature.

Everyone knows when a seat will become available, and everyone knows who will get elected. In all but 3 of the Assembly and Senate seats whoever has a (D) next to their name on the ballot in November will win the election. In the other seats the winner of the Republican primary will win the election. So if you live in the Bixby Knolls area your Assembly representative, Wayne Furutani who was elected in a special election in 2008 will be leaving office in 2016 (finish his special election term then finish his two terms under term limits).

Of greater interest locally is when will Bonnie Lowenthal be termed out of office following her election to the State Assembly in 2008? Following her re-election in 2010 (and with the safe districts how can she not?) Lowenthal is termed out of her seat. And already individuals are lining up to take a run at her seat which overlaps parts of the both the Long Beach 1st City Council District and the Long Beach 7th City Council District. If my map reading and knowledge of home addresses is correct, this confluence of term limits and current district boundaries presents a 2014 showdown between two very bright up and comers in the Democratic Party.

Earlier this month Robert Garcia ran a perfect campaign on the Obama blueprint and won a special election for the Long Beach 1st Council District (filling the seat vacated by Bonnie Lowenthal). Garcia was attacked by the local Democratic Party because he is a "newcomer" to the party, but make no mistake Garcia's politics are very aligned with the Democratic majority in the region. Everything about Garcia makes him star material for the Democrats, born in South America, immigrating with his parents as a young child, received amnesty under President Reagan, left the Republican Party, Hispanic, homosexual, working on a PhD, incredibly bright and articulate and handsome to boot; Garcia is a great political package and he has a political future beyond the Long Beach city council. Garcia will be finishing his first term, presuming he wins his re-election in 2010, which he will by landslide, when Lowenthal is termed out of office in 2014.

Further uptown Long Beach City Council 7th District Representative Tonia Reyes Uranga is being termed out of office in 2010 and her husband Roberto Uranga was a stated and obvious candidate to keep this seat under family control. Uh, not so fast. You see the 1st District is not the only geographic area of the state with young, intelligent and political savvy individuals. A few days after Garcia won the election for the 1st District, James Johnson announced his candidacy for the 7th Council Seat in 2010.

Johnson gets a complete breakdown of his experience in the City of Long Beach on the Long Beach Report, while I am generally not a huge fan of the site's primary contributor his history on Johnson taken in context is pretty thorough. Johnson is very intelligent and also a rising star in the Democratic Party. He apparently is also good at math as if he wins the 7th District Council seat he will be ending his first term when....Bonnie Lowenthal is termed out of office.

Now there is a chance that the 54th Assembly District Boundaries could be redrawn before the 2014 election, but with the natural border of the 710 Freeway on the western edge of part of the district any redrawing will probably include the home bases of both Garcia and Johnson. Looking beyond the Assmebly both are in the same California State Senate District as well as the same Congressional District.

Because of term limits both these intelligent young men know what is avaiable politically in 2014, know their best chance of winning the prize of the Assembly is to have experience on the City Council to help boost their fund raising and friend making, and know that even with re-districting their district will not change much demographically--it will still be solidly Democrat. Further, both being bright they know that incumbents within the party are extremely difficult to beat so they must win in 2014 to continue their political futures.

So sports fans, grab some popcorn and a lawn chair. The race for the 7th District Council Seat in Long Beach is a race for much more than just that seat. Due to political calculus and term limits it is also a race to set up opponents in 2014 between two of our city's brightest young men with equally bright political futures...potentially.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Oooohh A Bell Curve AND A Graph!

Every week I post on my mortgage website a Weekly Rate and Market Update. It is a copy of an email I send to over six hundred clients, potential home owners and real estate professionals. If you are not on my the email list please check it out.

In the update I give some economic analysis, some predictions for the near term regarding rates and discuss the mortgage and real estate markets. This week I even have the nifty Bell Curve! (I am very excited about this!).

As well every Friday I post the rates for 30 year fixed rate conforming, hi-balance conforming and FHA programs for those purchasing property. By always using the Friday rate I can track the long term trends of the mortgage rates and compare apples to apples through the year.

Long time readers have learned how mortgage rates are impacted by inflation, what APR really means, and have seen my predictions for this year come true in regards to stabilizing home prices and that our financial system is awash in cash.

Politics and economics are intertwined like peanut butter and jelly, which is why I have a combined economics-political studies degree. I love writing about both and between this site and my blog on my professional site I am able to do both.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Are You An Extremist or Domestic Terrorist?

Are you a domestic terrorist? Are you an extremist who poses a threat to the security of the United States of America? By writing this blog post am I subjecting myself to scrutiny by the Department of Homeland Security? If you comment on this post are you subjecting yourself to being labeled a terrorist or extremist who would be on security watch lists?

Law enforcement officials throughout America are being warned about a rise in "extremist activity"; the DHS "has no specific information that domestic...terrorists are currently planning acts of violence" but they want law enforcement to on the watch for, and report any activity from extremists.

What is an extremist? Here is the definition from the DHS report

"...extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly anti-government, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration."

Extremists, or domestic terrorists, could then also be a group that protests and marches against a particular church because of a particular issue--say gay rights activists (extremists? terrorists?) protesting the Mormon Church because of Prop 8. Or what about PETA members who throw blood on individuals wearing animal furs or skins? Extremists that need to be watched by DHS and law enforcement?

Do you ever reject federal authority? State authority? Local authority?

Oh, I omitted one word from some of the quotes above: "rightwing." The whole report deals with a speculation of an increase in "rightwing extremism" and "domestic rightwing terrorists." So if you are a leftwing extremist--say someone who has lived in a tree in Berkley for a couple of years, or someone who wears Pink and blocks Federal buildings or disrupts and creates disturbances on college campuses, or protest outside of churches yelling and screaming at members and distrupting services then you need not worry about the DHS; since your views are more closely aligned with that of the Administration and new heads of the DHS you are not considered extremist.

For all the protests and clamor and vitriol that has been spewed by the left over wire tapping, worries about the Feds knowing what books people check out of libraries, fear that the BushRoveCheney cabal was targeting them--all unfounded--I wonder if the press, the editorialists, the pundits, will object to this labelling and suspicion of millions of Americans merely because they hold ideas counter to the those now in power.

Just to make it easy on the DHS and any local law enforcement, or national, who happen across this blog: I am against illegal immigration and the use of our taxes to provide them free health care, education and other support; I am against late-term abortions and partial birth abortions, while I support abortion being legal I feel it should be a last resort and minors should have to have parental consent; I am very much for states' rights and feel the Federal government oversteps its bounds and the mandates of the Constitution and is doing more so each day of the Obama administration; I am also against so much power that has been accumulating in the state government having been usurped from the local government; I am against universal health care and feel if you have kids you should provide for them--if you can't do that then don't have them; I am for a strong United States military and feel we should remain in Iraq until Afghanistan is stabilized and Iran becomes a democratic nation.

There are many in this country who feel my opinions are extremist, others who feel they are moderate and still others who feel they are right on--so am I an extremist, a moderate or correct? I guess it depends on who is in the White House and who is running the Department of Homeland Security. Regardless of the label one chooses to place on me, just having these opinions, or others, should not raise suspicion that I may be planning specific acts of violence or terrorism; they simply mean I am American and think for myself--whether others like it or not.