15th District Debate: Question 3

So everybody’s clear on what I’m doing here, I’m summarizing the candidates’ arguments with the data points they use to support them, and then contributing my personal arguments below them, in the interest of helping people sort out who’s right.

3: Why do people feel disconnected from their government?

Jake Towne Most people don’t believe their representatives are representing them at all. Describes open office plan: whenever constituents call, their feedback will be recorded on the website. Whenever Towne votes, he’ll tell you how he voted and why he voted. Towne says members of Congress don’t tell you why they vote on anything.

John Callahan As mayor I get to connect with the community, and that’s missing in Washington. When you look at the process and the enormous amount of corporate special interest money, no wonder people don’t feel they have a voice in Congress. Charlie Dent has accepted $1.7 million in corporate PAC money over his career. The important question is, are you representing the interests of the majority of people in your district, or corporate special interests? Citizens United allowed limitless contributions [for ads] for corporations, and undid 30 years of election law. The last thing we need in elections is more money. An organization in Philly is spending $500,000 on Dent, and we don’t know who their donors are – could be oil, banks, insurance companies. Charlie Dent voted against the DISCLOSE Act that would increase donor transparency.

Charlie Dent I’ve been attacked by MoveOn, SEIU, unions, trial lawyers and I’m not whining about it. People are upset when they see health care laws being jammed through with very little consideration, Cornhusker kickbacks, turning Medicaid into a 49-state program, a cap and trade bill that is a national energy tax. They don’t like sausage-making. Callahan, the trial lawyers, and the unions badmouth businesses on one end, and ask them to create jobs on the other. You can’t love workers and hate employers. Angry rhetoric has forced trillions of dollars to be sitting on the sidelines – not just corporations, but small and mid-sized companies. They are right to be afraid of Washington. I’m on the House ethics committee.

Jon Geeting Towne has some good ideas here, and I would love to see more politicians do a better job of explaining their votes and taking seriously their responsibility to pedagogy. The vast majority of voters have zero understanding of policy, especially economic policy. They take their cues from politicians they like, media personalities they like, and influential friends and neighbors who they talk about politics with. So politicians have a big role to play in shaping opinions, and it would be great to see them engage more with peoples’ questions in public and online forums where it’s harder for them to spin people. By the same token, it’s always going to be very easy for politicians to spin people who are forming opinions based on heuristics in this way, so I’m not sure how much this really helps.

Callahan’s point about being accessible as Mayor is a nice talking point, but there’s no way to scale that up in Washington. You have way more constituents, so each one gets less time with you, and most get none. Unless we make Congressional districts much smaller, or slow down time to create more hours in the day, a Congressman is always going to be less accessible than a Mayor.

That said, Callahan has the best point of all the candidates on this question, about the role of special interest cash in the system. People rightly think that banks, and oil companies, and health insurance companies are going to win all the time, because that is who funds Congressional campaigns. Indeed, Charlie Dent is a perfect example because his voting record lines up perfectly with the priorities of his corporate sponsors. But ultimately, I would put less emphasis on the amount of money being donated, and more emphaisis on the time crunch problem.

Because lawmakers are constantly campaigning as a necessity, they are constantly on the phone dialing for dollars and talking to donors. Since this is how they spend most of their time, they are naturally going to be most responsive to the interests of those donors. The rest of the time they are meeting with lobbyists. If we had a public financing system, lawmakers could spend fewer hours talking to donors, and more time reading up on policy and talking to the rest of their constituents.

Dent’s talking points here are 100% garbage. The ACA wasn’t “jammed through with very little consideration.” It is RomneyCare plus cost controls. The mandate-exchange-subsidies approach has been fleshed out over decades by economists and health experts, policy shops in both parties, notably by the Heritage Foundation. The Cornhusker Kickback, needed to secure Ben Nelson’s vote since no Republican votes were available, was stripped out of the bill and does not now exist, so Dent’s lied about that. Cap and trade is not a “national energy tax.” And most emphatically, policy “uncertainty” is not what is holding back businesses from hiring. The cause is weak sales, as confirmed by Kamran Afshar, the economist who the Chamber of Commerce pays to give them accurate information about the LV business environment.

Ultimately the best answer to this question, the one most supported by the evidence from political science, is that trust in government fluctuates with the economy. When the economy is doing well, people trust the government more. When the economy is doing poorly, people trust the government less. The only ideology that matters to most voters is real disposable income.

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