Thursday, May 31, 2007

It's not even June

Scott in NJ, over at Blue Jersey, has a great round up of the voting record of Representative Scott Garrett so far this year. It is worth a read.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dems Firing Up the Engines

So, PoliticsNJ is reporting that Camille Abate is planning to announce her candidacy to seek the Democratic nomination to take on Representative Scott Garrett. She and Paul Aronsohn sparred last year, and she scored an impressive 34% of the Primary vote spending next to nothing compared to Paul, and campaigning for an extremely short amount of time.

While the Dems are still waiting on Paul's announced intention to announce, they'll get to take a second look at Camille. Here's what she had to say to PoliticsNJ (Anne is Anne Wolfe, who some have speculated will also jump in).

“Anne’s withdrawal left a very moderate Democrat as the only alternative,” Ms. Abate said. “I am convinced that we need a strong voice in Washington to speak out against the war in Iraq and the assault on civil liberties by the Bush Administration and to fight for working and middle class people who have been shouldering enormous burdens as a result of Bush's misguided policies and a complicit Congress. This time I intend to win the Democratic nomination and unseat Scott Garrett in the general election."
While the "very moderate" part of the quote could actually help Paul in the general election, with barely over 10,000 people voting in the Democratic primary in '06, it could help Camille. She's also been very busy explaining her views on things through her CAJA Institute.

Paul hasn't been quite either, he's kept his website going, putting out press releases and such. Paul got an Op-Ed published in the Record about the disabled community, to which Camille responded, and then Paul put up a follow-up piece on Blue Jersey. He's also been campaigning for Democratic Sussex County Sheriff candidate Wayne Yahm.

It's safe to say the fun has begun on the Democratic side.

Unless the moderate and classic conservative Republicans that Garrett loathes throw him out; and in spite of the fact he single handily has taken one of the highest tax paying Districts in the nation to the bottom of Congressional influence; Garrett could be tough to beat. Gerrymandering is a natural advantage and one distinct advantage is Garrett's cash on hand: Paul has roughly $17,000 and Camille's at $13,000, as Garrett's sitting on $238,144.

Partisanship Incarnate Episode II: The Moderate Wars

How does Representative Scott Garrett deal with being in the minority and one of the least influential Representatives on Capitol Hill?

True to Tom Delay form, The Politico reports he's taken to attacking his fellow Republicans.
The loyalty of Tuesday Group members was questioned last week during a House GOP conference, when Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee, questioned why several Tuesday Group members voted for a Democratic gasoline price gouging bill.

"It was pointed out that we could have beaten back that bill if we had voted a different way," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a member of the Tuesday Group. But LaHood said it would have been tough to go back home to Illinois -- where gas can be more than $3.50 a gallon -- if he had voted the way conservatives wanted.

Questioning the loyalty of the first major Republican group to tell the President point blank that the Republicans face anhililation next year if his war policy doesn't change is a bit ridiculous. While Garrett keeps re-issuing the same tired soundbites supporting the President's policies, The Tuesday Group at least seems to have some grip on reality. Even White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton understands the importance of the group.
Bolten said he understands that there are disagreements among Republicans and praised what he described as the constructive tone of last Tuesday's White House meeting with GOP congressmen concerned about Iraq. "The only thing that went wrong with the meeting was when someone had the poor judgment to talk about it outside when it was clearly meant to be an in-the- family discussion," he said.
After being kicked around by the leadership style Garrett seems to embrace; watching many of their moderate collegues go down last year because of anti-Republican sentiment; and having to endure primary challenges from within the party for not being "Republican enough"; is it any wonder the moderates want to get the word out that not all Republicans fit into the mold of authoritarian Republican whipping boy?

In addition to Iraq, it's safe to say gas prices are going to be a big issue next year, as big oil has said not to expect a drop in gas prices for the forseable future . The bill Garrett challenged the moderates on wasn't perfect, but no matter who runs against Garrett it will be pointed out this was actually the second time he's voted against making sure big oil isn't taking unfair advantage of consumers.

In the interest of being fair, questioning the loyalty of Republicans isn't a new activity for Garett. It's pretty safe to say Garrett went into Congress disliking the fact moderates of the Tuesday Group, and their related Republican Main Street Partnership, were known to buck the party leadership when it served the interests of their District. Compromise has never really been of interest to Garrett, and that attitude was financially supported by the conservative counterpart to the RMSP, the Club for Growth. The Politico pointed out how they operate in this article.
The moderate Republican Main Street Partnership (RMSP) and conservative Club for Growth have faced off in a handful of contentious primaries in recent years. The Club for Growth has been more visible, and last year achieved its goal of beating a moderate Republican lawmaker in a primary contest by helping knock off then-Rep. Joe Schwarz of Michigan. The Club for Growth also spent more than $700,000 opposing then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), who fended off a primary challenge from the right but lost in the general election.


Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (Md.) and former Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (N.Y.) and Marge Roukema (N.J.), each faced challengers whose campaigns were largely funded by the Club for Growth. Boehlert survived a couple of close calls while Roukema retired in 2002 after twice nearly losing her seat in the Republican primary.
Pat Moynihan seems to have coined the phrase "rule or ruin" when describing partisan zealots, saying if they can't rule their way, they'd rather ruin their party. It seems to fit Garrett here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

To all of the men and women who fought to provide all of us the freedoms we have, thank you.

To all of the men and women who currently serve, thank you.

To my friends getting redeployed, home safe.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Letter to the Editor

The Herald News published a Letter to the Editor I sent earlier this week. It was in response to the third letter on this page, which looked an awful lot like this press release from Representative Scott Garrett. Enjoy.

Scott Garrett and the 'family budget'

Reading "Garrett Steadfast on Taxes" (Letters to the Editor, May 18) seemed like something straight out of Rep. Scott Garrett's press room. Much of the spin reiterated by the author has been exposed as being overblown by many reputable reporters in this and other newspapers, including Herb Jackson and columnist David Broder.

Garrett may say he looks after the family budget, but his votes speak louder than his words.

With Garrett's vote against decreasing the interest rate on federal student loans, which he voted to raise a year ago, it seems working families with college kids are not of his concern. Garrett also voted against scholarships for children interested in studying science in college and grants for research professionals beginning their careers.

This eliminates families of those who perform the research and those whose manufacturing jobs are dependent on their findings.

In addition, Garrett voted against a U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed 10 year tax cut package for small business owners, followed by a vote against reforming and expanding Small Business Administration loans to help owners grow their businesses and create jobs, helping owner's families and those they employ.

These are just a few of Garrett's votes since January where the "family budget" was the central question. Garrett joined a small minority (between 2 and 6 percent) in voting no each time. It seems the only family budgets Garrett is concerned with closely resemble an A-Rod post-season hit: few and far between.

Matthew Fretz, Upper Saddle River

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Garrett vs. First-Time Homebuyers

In another 12 to Garrett vote, Representative Scott Garrett was the only Representative from New Jersey to vote against reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and providing for The Affordable Housing Trust Fund. There's a lot to write about this bill, but I just haven't had the time. Sandy23 over at Blue Jersey did a nice job of covering the positive impact the bill would have for affordable housing. Here's how her diary started.
Yesterday the House voted on the National Housing Trust Fund. Originally proposed by then Congressman Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the bill sets up a Trust
Fund to support building of Affordable Housing nationwide. The funding for the bill comes through surplus dollars at Fannie Mae and FreddieMac.

I added this comment to their conversation.

The bill, which the White House had initially supported, is veto proof with a 313-104 margin.

The Bill also raises the limits of loans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are allowed to offer first time home buyers in higher cost areas, like the Fifth District. In addition, it provided a new office to regulate the companies to prevent issues like they've had over the last three years.

I'm not sure how the amendments panned out in terms of White House support, but Garrett proposed an amendment that was crushed. It would have all but eliminated Fannie and Freddie from being able to help first-time homebuyers in the Fifth by restricting the types of mortgages they could offer to exclusively affordable housing stock, and cutting out the ability of middle income families to obtain F&F mortgages.

I feel a bit lazy reposting this here, but I had a really long day at work and am headed to bed a good two hours early. I apologize for slacking.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Garrett and the Immigration Bill

Update: I stand corrected. Someone sent me an e-mail pointing to Garrett's campaign website, where he does mention the unfairness to legal immigrants in the last paragraph of his position statement. His quote and vote against the Voting Rights Act, as well as other observations, still stand.

While reading Representative Scott Garrett's statement about the immigration compromise being unfair to legal immigrants; the fact that this was the same Representative Scott Garrett who said he only looked after citizens born in the US while defending his vote against the Voting Rights Act just reeked of spin. Here's part of what he said:
I hear from constituents nearly every day who are legal residents or naturalized citizens who bought into American notions of rule of law, equality, and justice. They’re the first to sense the extraordinary unfairness of amnesty and they’ll be the first to experience that unfairness as well.

Garrett's "unfairness" posturing is pure politics. In January, he was "law and order; anti-amnesty" Garrett, only now he's conveniently thrown in the concerns of legal immigrants who he would deny the right to vote. It wasn't until after his true feelings about legal immigrants were published in the Express-Times that he's repositioned his stance.

It's pretty safe to say that Garrett has no interest in immigration reform, short of attempting to deport 12 million people and building a giant wall. After all, Garrett refused to stand and applaud with most Republicans during the State of the Union address when President Bush challenged Congress to deliver immigration reform.

I haven't read the bill, but the fact that Garrett is calling it amnesty and Senator Bob Menendez is saying it's too hard; it seems to me like the truth is somewhere in the middle. Probably the most honest, if not colorful, conversation I've seen about it happened on the McLaughlin Group on Sunday. It's worth a read, simply because both sides agreed that parts of the plan are completely unenforceable. When Tony Blankley (staunch conservative) and Eleanor Clift (staunch liberal) are in complete agreement for the same reasons, it's worth noting.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Amazing video

H/T to Kelly Heyboer over at the Star Ledger for posting this. It's a compilation put together by the people over at PoliticsTV and covers the way web video has transformed politics, and some of it is flat out hilarious.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Garrett Gets Breast Cancer Award

With everything else going on, I didn't write about Representative Scott Garrett getting an award we can all be proud of. The National Breast Cancer Coalition gave Garrett a Certificate of Excellence award for his perfect voting record on issues regarding seeking a cure and treatment. This is what Fran Visco, NBCC President said about Garrett:
The National Breast Cancer Coalition appreciates Representative Garrett's leadership and dedication in helping us achieve our goal of eradicating breast cancer. As one of the Senators and Representatives to support all of our priorities, he has shown himself to be committed to substantive breast cancer policy.
As I noted in an earlier post, Garrett recently added our District's support to the Federal funding of research centers to study possible environmental factors involved with breast cancer. While it's easy to say that every Representative could get this sort of award, the fact is that they don't. With everything I've written lately about what Garrett is doing wrong, I think in the interest of fairness it is important to point out the good things he does and this is one of them. This is one area where Garrett has consistently been good; and our District and nation are being served very well.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Garrett's Floor Speech Against COPS

As promised, here's Garrett's floor speech from yesterday. My observations are below.
I am deeply disappointed that the Democratic leadership has chosen to bring up H.R. 1700, the COPS Improvement Act of 2007, under suspension. While the Committee on Judiciary reported the bill out without objection, I am concerned that the hundreds of Members not on the committee will not have any opportunity to offer any improvements to the bill.

Had I been allowed the opportunity, I would have introduced an amendment to more fairly allot grants by State. According to last year's funding statistics, small States received a disproportionate amount of funds. In fact, in some cases small States have received more funds than States more than five times their population. For instance, Alabama gets more assistance than California.

My home State, New Jersey, a densely populated State nestled between the major metropolitan centers of New York City and Philadelphia and also home to a heavily trafficked drug corridor and its own inner-cities, receives less than 2 percent of all grants.

As if this imbalance weren't bad enough, the Office Management and Budget's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) graded COPS as ``not performing: results not demonstrated.'' The bill authorizes $1.15 billion for this program next fiscal year and another $4.6 billion over the next 4 years. With so much taxpayer money at stake, and so few positive results demonstrated, why is the House missing this opportunity to fully consider how we might improve a program that is failing despite its good intentions?

The people of New Jersey watch a disproportionate share of their Federal taxes go to Washington to carry out this unproven program in other States. And for these reasons, I regret that I simply could not support this bill on the floor today.

This may be the best speech Garrett has ever given articulating his reasons for voting against a Bill. I have three thoughts on it:

1. With Garrett's recent history of misrepresenting the truth and making up sources on the House Floor, I'll have to fact check it, which I won't be able to do for a day or two. I'm not saying he's not telling it like it is, I'm just saying we can't take his arguments at face value.

2. If reforming the system was needed, and considering what Congress did to meth prevention funding it probably needs reform, why didn't Garrett push for these changes before he fell from 144 to 411 in influence over the last two years? When 92% of Congress liked this Bill, what hope does he now have of being heard? What other initiatives wasn't he pro-actively trying to fix on which he now must take a hopelessly defensive stance?

3. If this Bill really is such a raw deal for NJ, then why did the rest of the Delegation vote for it?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Garrett Votes Against Police...Again

In yet another classic example of saying something during the campaign and voting differently once down in Washington, Representative Scott Garrett joined 33 other Representatives in opposing the "COPS Improvements Act of 2007." The Bill restores many of the funds stripped from community policing programs over the last few years, and establishes new grants for anti-terrorism training for officers, training grants for veterans to join law enforcement, and technology upgrades.

Here's part of how the National Sheriff's Association described the Bill:
As sheriffs are often the first-responders in times of emergency, police hiring grants will begin to allow sheriffs to appropriately man, train and prepare for effective responses to both local and terrorist disasters. Furthermore, as first-responders, it is important that sheriffs have the ability to coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with other law enforcement agencies and public safety agencies. Thus, the technology grants that the bill supports will allow sheriffs to increase their interoperability with other agencies, and also provide sheriffs with the opportunity to obtain necessary state-of-the-art equipment for crime tracking and reporting.
Makes sense to me, and 92% of the Representatives voting on the Bill, but not our Garrett. Once again, as with his vote against the 9/11 Commission recommendations, Garrett has failed to live up to his campaign rhetoric.

Here's what Garrett claimed to believe on his campaign website:
Providing for our security also means ensuring that our local law enforcement personnel have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs.
And then there is this from his official website:
Scott Garrett has set up a First Responders Advisory Council of firefighters, police, and paramedics from across the Fifth District to discuss issues of importance to these brave community leaders.
Obviously, Garrett has now voted against two major bills favored by law enforcement. So it would seem he doesn't believe the first statement, and more than likely doesn't listen to the group touted in the second.

Votes speak louder than words, and I hope our the Fifth District's finest are listening.
How Garrett can look his Advisory Council in the eye and say to them he's doing what he can to get them the resources they need bewilders me. If Garrett said anything in his defense, I'll post it as soon as I see it in the Congressional Record.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Garrett "improves" on Environment

Here's an interesting story from the Courier News about a grassroots Republican group's ratings of Republicans on conservation. In its annual report card, the Republicans for Environmental Protection gave Representative Scott Garrett a 33 for his environmental record, which is twice his score from the previous year. The average score was 83 for the New Jersey Republican delegation, with Mike Ferguson & Frank LoBiondo getting perfect 100's and Jim Saxton getting extra-credit for a 104. Needless to say, Garrett was an average killer.

It's good to see there's an organization within the Republican Party keeping true to the legacy of conservationism handed down to them by Teddy Roosevelt. Just to see how their rank compared to others, I checked against the League of Conservation Voters, who gave Garrett a 25 for 2006. Considering the LCV gave Garrett a 10 back in 2003, taken at face value, it appears he's getting ever so slightly better.

However, the Courier News's story pointed this little tidbit out about the REP's scorecard:

The average score of House Republicans was 30 for last year, up from 14 in 2005.
So basically, Garrett maintained his practice of voting the party line and the Republicans as a whole improved ever so slightly. That being pointed out, I'm sure Garrett will highlight the entire delegation's pro-environmental record, as he did when touting the passage of the earmark reform that he voted against.

We're fortunate in NJ to have the delegation we have, on both sides of the aisle, when it comes to their commitment to the environment. As I try to explain to people, being from the state that's home to more Superfund sites than anywhere else in the nation, our Representatives should have an understanding of what a lack of environmental protection looks like. With the exception of Garrett, they seem to get it.

In an overwhelmingly pro-environment Congressional Delegation, including LoBiondo and Saxton who comprised 25% of the House Republicans endorsed by the Sierra Club last year, Garrett sticks out like rotten thumb.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Garrett's Travels

Members of Congress being flown everywhere by private funders is a bone of contention. While some trips have legitimate educational purposes, and all trips are supposed to be related to a Member's duties, it's pretty safe to say that the sponsors want a return on their investment. While The Center for Responsive Politics shows that Rep. Scott Garrett takes relatively few trips compared to others, sometimes the number of the trips can be outweighed by what the sponsors want.

When Herb Jackson of The Record broke the story last July about Garrett traveling around the Pacific rim, the furor over possible ethics violations for having one trip paid for by a foreign agent and reporting trips well past the 30 days required died down pretty quickly. It would be interesting to see what economic benefit the area received from the provisions within the Garrett co-sponsored tax cuts of 2003 that gave foreign companies a competitive advantage raising capital over domestic companies.

In January, Garrett took another trip with an interestingly small price tag: $239. The sponsor was the Emmanuel Foundation, publishers of the Kairos Journal. Garrett was the only member of Congress to attend the Kairos Journal Awards dinner, or at least the only one the Foundation paid for. Kairos sees their mission as providing a ministry to pastors; providing Biblical context to deal with the world's challenges. Since they require ministers to register and be approved to receive this content, I looked at what I could find for free.

After reading their arguments against abortion, contraception, and evolution; as well as commentary on Gov. Elliot Spitzer's intent to legalize gay marriage, and the phrasing of their Biblical support for capitalism; it's pretty safe to say they are a very conservative journal. While their understanding of scripture differs from mine on many points, Garrett's pretty open about his interpretation of faith and from what I've read, this group's a good fit for him. I could see him going to an event like this on his own dime and I wouldn't write about it.

However, he didn't go on his own, he went as part of his "official duties" as our Representative, and as with all privately funded trips, it goes back to what the funders want. This is the first and last paragraph of an essay Kairos deems as a KJ Insight.

“What is your attitude towards politics?” From the beginning—and in the development of the Israelite nation—God was the ruler, and His law and His will was the focal point of political and social life.


Nevertheless, the Church should be following the example of the prophets in calling the nation back to a proper relationship with God and to behave as God commands. God’s laws and standards are not just good in themselves, they are also good for us as human beings. So our aim as “salt” and “light” must be to try to bring human politics and law into conformity with God’s will and law. Only in the final “eschaton” will the rule of God be fully known and experienced, but that is no reason for failing in our duty to pray and work for more of God’s rule and will to be followed in political life.
I don't know whether or not Garrett sees his role as our Representative the same way the publishers of Kairos do. However, some insight might be gained from his speech at the March for Life rally in Washington, which happened about a week before this dinner (you can listen to the whole speech here, I did the transcription).
So just as Nehemiah worked to build that wall of stone and rock and wood around
Jerusalem. To build and protect his vulnerable people. So now all of us come here today to Washington to build a wall of law, around our most vulnerable people.


Let us follow the word of the scripture. Let us follow after Nehemiah’s example. May we pray that God bless this nation. May God bless our undertaking today. And that we take the actions to carry out our work.

My first instinct is to always say "and exactly whose interpretation of God's law are we using?" As a minister's son growing up in a predominantly Catholic town, I was well aware of differences of interpretation at an early age. I'm very suspect when any group claims to have the monopoly on God's insights, and I know I'm not alone.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Campaign Finance Reform, Garrett Style

Representative Scott Garrett has done a lot of things I disagree with, and some things I think are pretty good. Part of following him is following what he co-sponsors on behalf of our District, after all this is what he would like to see as law and Federal programming. Sometimes it's a good co-sponsorship add, such as HR 1157, which will establish centers to study environmental factors with regard to breast cancer. Then, there are the majority of what he sticks our name on. HR 71 is such a bill, which would allow corporations and unions to make direct political donations AND take away the reporting requirements on spending on behalf of a candidate. HR 71's catchy title is the "First Amendment Restoration Act."

First, a primer on campaign finance law. Corporations, labor unions and foreign persons and entities are prohibited from making campaign contributions. In addition, if a political action committee or individual are spending money on brochures, mailers, TV or radio ads or websites on behalf of a candidate, they have to report it to the Federal Election Commission when it goes above a threshold. This lets people like me and you keep track of who is backing which candidates. So, for example, various Right to Life PACs spent almost $15,000 on behalf of Garrett in addition to their cash donations last election cycle.

Maybe it's because he was part of the political establishment in Trenton that Garrett would like for corporations and labor unions to be able to donate to political campaigns. If you look at the way political donations lead to contract awards here in Bergen County and throughout the State, wreaking havoc on various taxes; you would be forgiven if you scratch your head and wonder how a fiscal conservative can seek to enact the bedrock principal of pay-to-play on the House floor.

Let's be real, most of us don't have lobbyists running around on Capitol Hill on our behalf, and this bill would give corporations and unions even more influence over the political process by allowing direct donations. The even bigger issue of this is that reporting requirement. In the particular section of the code Garrett would like to see amended, all donors are referred to as persons, including political action committees. By lifting the ban on corporate donations, Garrett's also eliminating their being required to report what they're spending on behalf of a candidate.

Eisenhower had it right when he said "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence." He was talking about the military industrial complex, and the idea that those who make their money off of defense spending could spend a million here or a million there on television ads for members of Congress overseeing procurement for the armed forces without any accountability is insane.

We can also look at economic policy, and individuals who make their money by betting against the US economy. They'd now be able to spend whatever they want on candidates who subvert the national economic interest, either intentionally or through incompetence, and the donor makes a killing without anyone knowing where the funds for the attack ads came from. In addition, international corporations with US subsidiaries, seeking to weaken America's domestic competitiveness would have the same opportunity.

You can look at recent history and see this as especially dangerous when accountability for smear ads is already a question. Take the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who spent $24 million on spreading a lie about John Kerry. Had the FEC not stepped in, we wouldn't know how much they had spent or who gave them the money to spend. The fines they were hit with came well after the damage was done, however the FEC can take this experience and learn from it to prevent future abuses of the system. Garrett apparently wants to take that power of accountability away from the FEC and trash the system.

Many of the current problems, both in trust and practice, within the Federal government and all levels of government in our state are due to the influence of cash above the what the voice of the people can muster. Instead of looking for ways to curtail the "unwarranted influence" of money in politics, this bill opens the floodgates. To be fair, Garrett didn't write this bill. Since it was introduced a few months back Garrett's had time to read it and think about it. After having that time, Garrett signed on to let the lunatics run the asylum.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Politics as Usual and Iraq

With all of the partisan posturing over the vetoed Iraq funding bill, we're all now witness to American party politics as usual at its worst. On the one side we have the Republicans, many whom in the recent past put their party above soldiers' lives, taxpayer dollars, and oversight. They threatened fellow Republicans who didn't tow the line, and ultimately are responsible for Iraq. On the other side we have the Democrats, who by working so hard on a bill everyone knew would get vetoed have put a serious dent in their credibility as the party of change.

I've gone after the authoritarian Republican leadership and their whipping boys enough. What really frustrated me with this bill is that the Democrats went in the wrong direction. Today, everybody is talking about compromise and having a new bill to the President in two weeks. My question has been, with this legislation since the beginning, why aren't they even trying to work with the other side? The AP had this today:

"Obviously the president would prefer a straight funding bill, no benchmarks, no conditions, no reports. Many of us on both sides of the aisle don't agree with that," said Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine. She expressed interest in a proposal to cut reconstruction aid to Iraq if the Baghdad government does not live up to its promises.

Collins' sentiment was echoed by several House Republicans, who said that while they had cast their votes to sustain the veto, they wanted to signal impatience with a war that is unpopular with the public, and also with the administration's policy. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not yet ready to differ publicly with the White House.
With 17 House Republicans already being comfortable enough to vote for the non-binding resolution opposing Bush's surge, these sources probably mean there are more Republicans getting to the point the American people were at last Election Day. If only because of his floor speech on the non-binding resolution, I doubt Representative Scott Garrett is one of those anonymous members. I would applaud his coming to grips with reality if he was. The reason I bring him up is important, and not just a gratuitous dig.

The bill strengthening small business loans Garrett voted against was strongly opposed by the White House, yet it passed with nearly a 100 vote cushion over what would be needed to override a veto. The House voted to improve Head Start yesterday, and Garrett was one of 48 to do what the White House asked and vote against the reform. Yet, there is still an 80 vote cushion (more not voting on this one). The point of bringing these votes up is that despite the President's objections, these Bills passed by huge bi-partisan margins because of bi-partisan cooperation.

With the Democrats not starting from a position of bi-partisanship on Iraq and pushing for a bill that would have gotten results, their actions amount to pure political posturing. Without yesterday's veto, they couldn't have had their press releases, soundbites, pointed to the fourth anniversary of the Mission Accomplished speech, or given the special interest groups a bill they could use to fire-up the attack ad machines.

Americans didn't vote the Democrats into office to pass veto certain bills, or because they liked reading or hearing their sound bites. Americans voted for the Democrats because they were ready for a lot of changes, most prominently Iraq. In the month since the bill was passed in both Houses until it was vetoed Tuesday, at least 104 soldiers lost their lives.

Ending the war responsibly takes 289 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate. Get to work.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

No-bidding Bergen

I was struck on Friday, while perusing the Public Notices in the Record (page B-9) at the sheer amount of non-competitive bid (no-bid) contracts the Bergen County Freeholders handed out on April 18th. An astonishing $797,220, all without bid. Here's the way the Freeholders get to do it, and yes it's perfectly legal (NJSA 40A:11-5(1)(a)):

Professional services. The governing body shall in each instance state supporting reasons for its action in the resolution awarding each contract and shall forthwith cause to be printed once, in the official newspaper, a brief notice stating the nature, duration, service and amount of the contract, and that the resolution and contract are on file and available for public inspection in the office of the clerk of the county or municipality, or, in the case of a contracting unit created by more than one county or municipality, of the counties or municipalities creating such contracting unit
Two of the bids raised questions for me. The first is $50,000 for David S. Lafferty, a lawyer and municipal judge, who is being paid to "Provide Legal Services Related to Bail Bond Forfeitures." Now, Mr. Lafferty may be the premier Bail Bond Forfeiture expert in the Northeast; but we wouldn't know it without a competitive bid. Without having an open explanation either on the Clerk's website or the Freeholders' website we actually don't know much. The Freeholders see is it fit to put up Commemorative Resolutions, but not ones allowing no-bid contracts.

The other one that struck me as odd was $663,720 to "Provide Healthcare Management Services" at the Bergen County Jail for a year. Once again, Correctional Health Services, Inc. (CHS) could be the best qualified provider, but because they didn't win a competitive bid we can't be sure. The County Watchers, a blog following Union County, doesn't give them particularly high marks. What makes it even more odd is that today on Page S-13 of the Record, a competitive bid for food service at the jail was announced. Why bid one and not the other?

Without knowing if they're the best for the job, we're left to speculate. Hmmmm. One thing both contract winners have in common is heavy political donations. With Papa Joe's affinity for giving contracts and patronage jobs to donors, could there be a connection? I can't say for sure.

According to ELEC, Mr. Lafferty has contributed nearly $24,000 to the Bergen County Democratic Organization since 1999. The folks over at put the total for he and his law firm at nearly $30,000. With CHS, it's something to watch for. They have been very active in Union and Essex County. In addition, former CEO and current Verona Councilman Robert Detore cut a check for $27,000 to the State party back in 2001. It does make one wonder.

In a state known as a worldwide punch-line for political corruption, no-bid contracts like those listed above don't help things. A way to close the credibility gap of the process is getting the resolutions on-line, either at the Clerk's or Freeholders' website. List the qualifications and the reasons and let voters decide if we're getting a good bang for the buck.

In the long run, taxpayers would best be served by eliminating the exception listed above. It nullifies the $17,500 threshold that is supposed to trigger a bidding process, and opens the door to abuse and the credibility issues of our County leadership. It's going to take elected officials with the moral fortitude to make the change, or the Republican Party to stop imploding and start offering credible opposition. One way or another, this process needs to come to an end.