Thursday, January 31, 2008

Josh Lanier challenges Chambliss for Senate

One poll does not a horse race make but the results via Zogby released Jan. 28 demonstrate that Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) will have to fight for his reelection this year.

Asked whether Senator Chambliss deserves to be re-elected or whether it is time for someone new, just 38% said he deserves another six–year term in Washington. Nearly half – 49% – said they think it is time for someone new to represent Georgia in the United States Senate, while 13% said they were unsure on the question.
Chambliss has raised $4 million for his war chest -- not too shabby with help from his pal Cheney -- but the winds of change are a-blowin' across our nation including Georgia. The Zogby poll shows that Chambliss' opposition -- the promising challenger Josh Lanier about whom I've previously written -- could give ol' Shameby a thumpin' by campaigning on issues with Chambliss ties to an unpopular president considered "incompetent", an "idiot", and a "liar." And that's Chambliss' Achilles heel. Perhaps exposing Shameby's record could help move the "unsures" into Lanier's camp.

[Keep reading... More about the poll and a Chambliss fact check after the jump.]

First, a word about the poll commissioned by Friends of Josh Lanier -- Hi y'all! -- and its methodology. Zogby used a blind biography of two unnamed contenders, Candidate A and B, "a common tool of the public opinion research profession [to] measure the qualities that individual candidates bring to a political race." Party affiliation was not mentioned during an online survey of 860 likely Georgia voters conducted Jan. 9-11. The "Blind Biography Description" comparisons read as follows:
Candidate A (Sen. Saxby Chambliss) is a sitting U.S. senator and former four-term Congressman. This candidate has been a supporter of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, has proposed a national sales tax to replace the current income tax, voted against the expansion of the child health care program known in Georgia as "Peach Care" and opposes the creation of any kind of national health insurance system. This candidate opposes a voluntary public financing of elections and accepts contributions from Political Action Committees. This person is married with two children.

Candidate B (Josh Lanier) is a former staff member in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and a former national association executive and businessman. This candidate is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War. This candidate has opposed the policies of President George W. Bush, supports ending the war in Iraq, is opposed to a national sales tax and supports the expansion of the child health care program known in Georgia as "Peach Care" and supports the creation of an optional, national, single-payer health care system. This candidate supports the creation of voluntary public financing of elections and does not accept campaign contributions from Political Action Committees or any contribution higher than $100 This person is married with four children.
A margin of error at +/- 3.4% means the results are tight -- 47% for Josh Lanier's vs. 45% for Shameby's blind bio description. More details:
The survey shows 90% of Democrats would support Lanier, while 82% of Republicans would support Chambliss. Among political independents, the Lanier bio leads by a 57% to 32% margin, with 11% undecided. Younger voters are much more attracted to the Lanier bio, while older voters favored that of Chambliss. Men heavily favored the Chambliss bio, while women heavily favored the Lanier bio.
The survey also found that Lanier’s desire to reform the campaign finance system resonates well with a strong majority of respondents, as 69% agreed with a statement that corporate and political action money has corrupted the election and political process, and the influence of special interests must be removed in order to make real progress on issues important to average Americans.
That support continues when respondents are asked if they would support a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate to create a system of voluntary public financing of elections in an effort to limit special interest group influence, as 62% say they support the bill, and 32% of those people say they would strongly support such a measure.
My takeaway strategy for Josh is to bang away at Chambliss' record and his rubber-stamp loyalty to Bush -- tarring Shameby as Washington politics as usual and emphasizing how Lanier's positions and experience differ. Arguably, Chambliss' name recognition is presently higher than Josh Lanier's, but with a well-run campaign by Josh up to Georgia's July 15 primary, that could change quickly.

A critic of the Zobgy poll, Amy Dominello, attempted to discount the results -- "Chambliss’ bio in the poll all but states that he also takes candy from small children. Democratic candidate Josh Lanier looks like a Georgia peach in comparison." And she implied that the blind bios were biased since the "poll was commissioned by Friends of Josh Lanier" as if Zogby was bribed to skew the data. My experience with commissioning third-party research is that survey companies protect their reputations by remaining objective or they don't stay in business for long. Another thing: The critic didn't fact check the bios to evaluate the validity of their content.

So let's take a look at Candidate A -- Saxby Chambliss -- and his record.

1) Indeed, Chambliss is a "sitting U.S. senator and former four-term Congressman." Check.

2) Shameby "has been a supporter of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq." In fact, he has marched in lockstep with Bush and his disastrous war policies.

According to WaPo's Congress votes database, "Saxby Chambliss has voted with a majority of his Republican colleagues 92.2% of the time during the current Congress" making him one of Bushie's loyal obstructionists particularly in thwarting efforts to withdraw troops from Iraq. For example, Chambliss voted against H.R. 1591, which would have provided $124.2 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and set "benchmarks and a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq."

Additionally, the legislation allocated $5 billion for health care improvements "for returning soldiers and veterans," $8.9 billion for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, $2.25 billion for for port and mass transit security to "bolster homeland security programs, and $3.5 billion for "emergency drought relief for farmers." Plenty more at the link. Ultimately, Bush vetoed the bill.

For a comprehensive overview, Chambliss has:
  • Voted NO on redeploying US troops out of Iraq by March 2008. (Mar 2007)
  • Voted NO on redeploying troops out of Iraq by July 2007. (Jun 2006)
  • Voted NO on investigating contract awards in Iraq & Afghanistan. (Nov 2005)
  • Voted NO on requiring on-budget funding for Iraq, not emergency funding. (Apr 2005)
  • Voted YES on $86 billion for military operations in Iraq & Afghanistan. (Oct 2003)
  • Voted YES on authorizing military force in Iraq. (Oct 2002)
Chambliss has supported Bush and his Iraq War policies. Check.

3) Chambliss has "proposed a national sales tax to replace the current income tax." Georgia Trend of February 2005 wrote:
Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Rep. John Linder have sponsored a bill in Congress to do away with income tax and change our system to a 23 percent national sales tax. Income taxes would go away, as would the Internal Revenue Service....

...President Bush is lukewarm to their plan. According to a spokesman in Sen. Chambliss' office, the bill will probably be changed or modified a great deal. He said the senator and Rep. Linder introduced their bill to promote discussion of the issue, and they both will support whatever the president comes out with later this year.
Ah, yes. Chambliss would, of course, follow Bush's lead. Nonetheless, he did introduce a national sales tax to the Senate -- the Fair Tax Act of 2007 -- that would have effectively repealed the income tax. Check.

4) Shameby "voted against the expansion of the child health care program known in Georgia as 'Peach Care.' " And Chambliss did. Oh, he had an explanation but it doesn't fly for two reasons. First, Shameby voted "against the $35 billion expansion, which was to be paid by raising taxes on tobacco" for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) that provides federal funding for Peach Care. His reason: He opposed the tax increase, specifically a tax on tobacco. Why is that? Could it be due to his tobacco contributors? More importantly, Shameby doesn't fathom that: in every four children in Georgia live in poverty, and 42% of Georgia's children live at or below 200% of poverty. Forget that when children live in poverty, they are at increased risk for poor health, emotional or behavioral problems, depression, anxiety and learning disabilities. Don't bother to mention that making sure that poor children have access to adequate, affordable healthcare is a key to avoiding those negative outcomes-outcomes that fill our hospitals and our jails, at the expense of taxpayers. Sen. Chambliss must stay on GOP message by tossing out buzzwords like "socialized medicine" and wringing his hands about the cost of the program to taxpayers. Funny, I haven't heard him complain about the ten billion dollars a month we spend on the war in Iraq.
Neither have I. Like so many of the obstructionist Repubs in the Senate, Chambliss used a phony argument: "Georgia taxpayers don’t want to pay for a family of four in New York making $80,000 a year. This was meant to cover those with families who are struggling.” If Chambliss thinks that a married household earning $80,000 in New York with two kids wouldn't struggle in today's economy, he's clueless to the cost of living of that state, the continuing cutbacks of employer insurance benefits, the explosive rise of health care costs, higher deductibles, denied coverage, and escalating insurance premiums across America.

Such a situation could apply to Georgia families. Shameby's argument sounds exactly like a talking point lifted straight from the Republican spin tank, the Heritage Foundation. IOW, Shameby's tone-deaf, partisan response to the plight of middle-class Americans and Georgians certifies him as a member of the anti-kids crew. What kind of family value is that?

Shameby also suffered from "flip-floppers disease" by saying he supported SCHIP but voted twice against it. Bottom-line, Chambliss opposed federal funding for Peach Care. Check.

5) Chambliss "opposes the creation of any kind of national health insurance system," a position out of touch with and way behind on the state of health care:
In 1994, 37 million Americans were uninsured. By 2007, that number had ballooned to 47 million. Between 1996 and 2007, the average employee's spending on health premiums for his family shot up 85 percent -- and incomes, of course, have not followed.

"My personal index," says Len Nichols, director of the New America Foundation's health policy program, "is the ratio of family premiums to median family income. In 1987, it was 7 percent. Today it's 17 percent. That fundamental dynamic, that health care costs are growing so much faster than economic productivity, means that even though unemployment is so low and the macro-economic indicators are good, there's still intense, acute anxiety." In other words, the concerns that once appeared only during recessions are now an enduring fact of American life. The health care system is so expensive, so unwieldy, so unstable, that today's participants feel much like the victims of the early-'90s recession.

Business also seems exhausted by the ceaseless march of health care costs and ready for reform. In 1994, when managed care was just beginning to squeeze cost growth, health spending grew by a mere 4.1 percent. It looked like the private sector might prove able to control costs just fine. But the gains from managed care dissipated as the 1990s wore on, and in 2005, health spending grew by 7.2 percent. Much of that cost was borne by the business community.

"It's a global competitiveness issue," says Charles Kolb, president of the Committee for Economic Development, a business coalition. "And even if it weren't, it's a cost issue. Health care costs are growing at a rate that's simply not sustainable. [Our members] are in the business of business, not the business of health care." ...

...Wyden's Healthy Americans Act is a universal coverage bill that opens up federal employee-style insurance menus to everyone in the country, subsidizes insurance up to 350 percent of the poverty line, and slows spending growth. Remarkably, Wyden's bill is cosponsored by six Republicans: Robert Bennett, Judd Gregg, Norm Coleman, Lamar Alexander, Mike Crapo, and Chuck Grassley. One of those Republicans is from Utah, the most conservative state in the union.

As Kevin Drum noted a few years ago, "Corporations that offer decent healthcare to their employees are currently at a disadvantage compared to both domestic competitors who don't cover their workers as well as to overseas competitors whose workers rely on national healthcare systems.... ...In the U.S., Medicare recipients are far more satisfied [PDF] with their health coverage than those with normal employer-based health plans. Stunningly, even the poor, who largely rely on Medicaid and emergency rooms, are more satisfied than those with employer plans."

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll from 2007, two-thirds of Americans "say the federal government should guarantee that all Americans have health insurance — and a similar number says providing health insurance for all is a more serious problem than keeping health care costs down."

Yet, what has been Shameby Chambliss' position? According to spokesman Justin Tomczak for the Chambliss for Senate Campaign:
While an advocate of PeachCare, Chambliss voted against the expansion, because he believed it "was a big step towards universal health care," according to Tomczak.

"PeachCare in Georgia is a great program, but we have to make sure that it's focused on those who really need it," said Tomczak. "We don't feel that the taxpayers should be funding health care for everybody."
And what's Chambliss' Senate record on health care?
  • Voted NO on requiring negotiated Rx prices for Medicare part D. (Apr 2007)
  • Voted YES on limiting medical liability lawsuits to $250,000. (May 2006)
  • Voted NO on expanding enrollment period for Medicare Part D. (Feb 2006)
  • Voted NO on increasing Medicaid rebate for producing generics. (Nov 2005)
  • Voted NO on negotiating bulk purchases for Medicare prescription drug. (Mar 2005)
  • Voted YES on $40 billion per year for limited Medicare prescription drug benefit. (Jun 2003)
  • Voted YES on allowing suing HMOs, but under federal rules & limited award. (Aug 2001)
  • Voted YES on subsidizing private insurance for Medicare Rx drug coverage. (Jun 2000)
  • Voted YES on banning physician-assisted suicide. (Oct 1999)
  • Voted YES on establishing tax-exempt Medical Savings Accounts. (Oct 1999)
  • Rated 0% by APHA, indicating a anti-public health voting record. (Dec 2003)
Chambliss opposes a national health insurance system. Check.

Chambliss "opposes a voluntary public financing of elections and accepts contributions from Political Action Committees."

I haven't yet found any official statements by Chambliss in opposition to public financing of elections. He is not a co-sponsor of the S.936, the Fair Elections Act Now or the related Senate bill, S.1285. Josh Lanier, however, has agreed to "follow the parameters of the Fair Elections Now Act that was introduced in the Senate last year."

Actions speak louder than words in Shameby's case. On government reform, he:
  • Voted YES on allowing some lobbyist gifts to Congress. (Mar 2006)
  • Voted NO on establishing the Senate Office of Public Integrity. (Mar 2006)
  • Voted NO on campaign finance reform banning soft-money contributions. (Feb 2002)
  • Voted YES on banning soft money donations to national political parties. (Jul 2001)
  • Voted NO on banning soft money and issue ads. (Sep 1999)
Open Secrets shows that Chambliss has received nearly $2.4 million in PAC contributions for his 2008 campaign. A breakout of PAC money shows that he derived more than $1.5 million from business contributors, $12,500 from labor, and $242,340 from ideological sources. His top contributors include Southern Co ($69,500), Troutman Sanders ($46,645), Citigroup ($40,800), Intercontinental Exchange Inc ($33,450), Lockheed Martin ($27,600), and much more at the link. He has also garnered almost $960,000 from out of state sources.

It's safe to say Chambliss isn't following the Fair Elections Now Act guidelines and he DOES accept PAC money. Check.

7) Chambliss "is married with two children," an indisputable fact. Check.

Two final footnotes to Chambliss' record not mentioned in the Zogby survey. Chambliss never served in the military and his despicable smear tactics against former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) earned him a special place in the rogue's gallery of slimebag politics.

You can examine Josh Lanier's biography, his commitment to clean campaigns, and make your own comparison to the Candidate B description. My checking confirmed Lanier's profile.

The AJC Political Insider reported that Josh Lanier will officially announce his Senate candidacy after Super Tuesday.

This Georgia Democrat is looking forward to that day.