Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Making government good again

Amidst breaking news of a fly fluttering onto Sen. Chris Dodd's Brillo-pad white hair during the 286th presidential debate this year, our primary system was imploding.

Michigan wants to play in the big leagues with a Jan. 15 primary, ratcheting up the absurdity level in an already ungodly long election season.It's a domino effect, forcing New Hampshire to nudge its primary to Jan. 8 and Iowa to catapult its caucus to somewhere in December — almost one year before the general election.

Both the Hawkeye and Granite states have laws jealously enshrining their first-in-the-nation status. After reporting on 2004's contest there, I can vouch that you'll pry their pre-eminence from their cold, dead hands.Critics say it's patently unfair for two small, white, rural states to hold so much electoral sway.

And they're right.

That's why we need wholesale election reform — because the primitive primary skirmish is just the tip of the iceberg.Here's what we need: publicly financed elections over 120 days. That's it — primary, conventions, general election — we're done. Kind of like how they do it in France, where 85 percent of people turned out in May's presidential vote, shaming the United States' five-decade high of 64 percent in 2004.

Four months is enough time for politicians to get down to real issues while voters actually are paying attention.

While we're at it, let's restore the Fairness Doctrine. Then the nattering talking heads would have to give equal time to positions and candidates, and adequately inform the electorate. (No word on which job(s) City Commission candidate/U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg aide/WBCK host Chris Simmons would have to surrender.)

And let's go for broke: Redistricting by nonpartisan panels from coast to coast, not by the party that controls the Legislature when the census is taken, as is the case in Michigan. The idea that most congressional seats are safely Republican or Democratic, leaving only about 40 competitive seats per cycle, seems kind of undemocratic ... don't you think?

Of course, the sheer sanity of these measures means they're doomed.

But schemes like those of bitter conservative lawyers aiming to capture California's elusive Electoral College votes (because that whole "permanent Republican majority" thing didn't work out so well) probably will make it to the ballot. And it could pass.

During the past few decades, the Supreme Court has decimated any hint of good government reform in redistricting, equal time reporting and elections.In their most audacious decision, justices this year spayed and neutered the modest campaign finance act known as McCain-Feingold.

Money equals free speech in elections, the 5-4 decision says, just as the Founding Fathers intended.How proud Thomas Jefferson would be to see senators spending more time raising money than raising issues — or making policy.

It's a warped system that rewards those who don't have their priorities straight. Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton smirk while shoveling barrels of cash into their campaigns, seeming giddy that we're on track to have our first $1 billion presidential race.

Here in the 7th District, fundraising is a way of life for Walberg, R-Tipton, who used to drum up dough for the Moody Bible Institute. If all else fails, he always has his steadfast sugar daddy, Washington anti-tax lobby Club for Growth.

Democratic state Sen. Mark Schauer is psyched to take him on, vowing to amass $3 million by next year. His chief of staff, Ken Brock, seemed to channel the odiousness of Karl Rove earlier this month, bragging that only Schauer can raise that kind of money, unlike "liberal, Jewish trial lawyer" David Nacht or "lazy" Jim Berryman, for whom Brock twice worked.

Meanwhile, in the district ... Kids are in danger of being kicked off a federal health insurance program, we could lose our Amtrak service and thousands more people are out of work.

Seems like there's a lot more work to be done besides hosting golf outings and $1,000-a-plate dinners.

Seems like we should be electing people who know better.

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