Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Coffee With Keith

Keith Rothfus likes to meet his constituents at coffee shops and other restaurants rather than a formal town hall like many representatives do.  He usually has these during the week day, and based on the pictures from his Facebook and Twitter pages, they are attended mostly by seniors.  I always wanted to see what one was like, so I found my chance when he scheduled an early morning one before work.  I attended his recent “Coffee with Keith” at the Coffee Buddha on Perrysville Avenue in Ross Township. 

The coffee shop is very small, but the coffee was very good.  I would certainly stop there again if I was in the area, but it is a little out of the way for me.  It has a front sitting area with a few chairs, and a couple chairs to the right of the counter.   That is about it.

I was expecting a sign or something announcing that Congressman Rothfus was having an event there.  Instead, he was sitting in the corner to the right of the counter with a couple people and two staffers.  I would not have known he was there if I wasn’t looking for him.  It seemed like a typical morning for the coffee shop.  I am guessing other patrons didn’t realize he was there.  From their point of view, it looked like a couple people sitting around kibitzing and drinking coffee.

This is the extreme opposite of a formal town hall I attended with Jason Altmire.  His was held at in a library meeting room which was packed.  The front row was Tea Party members all with video cameras on tripods to record his every word.  Jason seemed to know them all by name from attending other events.  His relationship with them seemed to be a strange combination of friendly and hostile if that makes any sense.  It was a loud and emotional event with people firing questions at him from all sides of the political spectrum.

The first thing I thought was that the coffee shop seems to work for Keith Rothfus.  I have met him a couple times in the past before he became a Congressman, and he has the same low key personality.  I don’t think he could command a big room like I have seen Jason Altmire or Erin McClelland do.  He doesn’t have the imposing physical presence or the personality for that.  I am not sure how he would handle an audience like a town hall that wasn’t completely friendly, but I don’t think it would go well.  I would love to see him have one in the evening to prove me wrong.

The coffee shop also forces the discussions to be less emotional.  The discussions were in hushed tones, because you were in a coffee shop and didn’t want to disrupt business during the morning rush.  A bunch of pissed off voters would have disrupted the business, and they are the ones that would have looked bad and be blamed.

I found the location affected the tone of the questions I asked, and his answers were not as ideological as you see in his speeches, and in his Facebook and Twitter accounts.  It was more conversational than question and answer.  For example, I asked him what he was doing to cross the isle and foster bipartisanship, and he talked about building relationships and focusing on getting to know his fellow freshman congressman.  He told a great story about going to Arlington with a group of freshman congressmen.  I suggested that maybe he should be in Washington rather than being off from early August until after the election except for one week, and he sheepishly agreed.  

Conversely, I came across a video of a debate he had with Mark Critz, and when asked about polarization in Washington, he blamed the Senate and the President and sounded like he would be part of the problem and not part of the solution.  This is consistent with what he posts in social media, and what his supporters expect to hear.  I would have liked to include a link to the video, but it was “unlisted,” so I did not think it was appropriate to include here.

I could have gotten into more controversial topics with him like his voting against Hurricane Sandy relief and the violence against women act, his blaming everything that is wrong with our healthcare system on the Affordable Healthcare Act or his denial of climate change, but a coffee shop with two other people just didn’t seem like the right place.  These are issues that he should discuss with his constituents, but in a more appropriate venue like a town hall.

The debates with Erin McClelland will not just be a clash of ideologies, but a clash of personalities as well.  Erin McCelland is very high energy, aggressive and can take over a room.  It will be interesting seeing how Keith Rothfus confronts that.  Two confirmed debates are the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce Debate on October 15th at Penn State, Beaver Campus, and October 28th at Laurel View in Davidsville, PA.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What does "done" mean?

I am a software engineer, and last week we had a discussion about what it meant to be “done”.  Some thought it meant when you get your work completed, and it went to the quality assurance group.  My boss thought it was when it got the quality assurance group’s blessing.  I tend to take it a step further and think “done” is when the customer is using it and it meets their needs.  Anyway, it got me to thinking about what Congress thinks “done” is.

Our former Congressman Jason Altmire’s definition of “done” was easy to find.  The one thing he was most proud of was the 29 bills he introduced that were passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by the President.  For him, “done” meant at the very least that the bill became law.

Erin McClelland is running for the House of Representatives in my district (PA-12).  Her definition of “done” takes it a step further than that.  She talks passionately about solving problems and that passing bills are simply steps along the way to solving the problem.  It seems that for any problem, she has a solution, a plan to implement it and facts to back it up.  For her, “done” is when the problem is solved.

Now let’s get to the House of Representative’s definition of “done”.  ­Speaker­­ John Boehner has often said “The House has done its job.  It’s time for the Senate and the President to do theirs” just before leaving town for one of their many vacations.   

Their definition of “done” is when they pass a bill and throw it over the wall to the Senate.  It is more than just talk, because you can see it in the quality of their work.  When your definition of “done” is simply completing a task with no concern for where it goes from there, then the quality is secondary.  You are just checking off an item and saying you did it.  I see that when a software engineer thinks “done” is when he or she can check off that something was completed.  If often comes right back with a bunch of issues.

The border security bill they passed in August was a good example.  After saying they couldn’t pass anything and that the President should deal with the child immigration problem himself, they passed the bill on August 1st just before leaving on a month-long vacation.  They had no concern whether it would pass the Senate or be signed by the President.  The President said he would veto it before it was even voted on.  Their one and only goal was to pass something, so they can say they did it.  As far as they were concerned, they were ‘done”, and Speaker Boehner said as much.

The other problem with their definition of “done” is that they are more likely to pass bills to make a statement like voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act at least 50 times, or to sue the President for doing something they wanted to have happen anyway.  One can go on and on about times Congress claimed they were “done” knowing that it will never become law.

If I just threw something over the wall with no concern for whether it can make it through to the next step in the process, I would be fired.  I would never let my son get away with that either.  However, that seems to be how the House works.

My own Congressman, Keith Rothfus, has been remarkably short on solutions compared to his predecessor, Jason Altmire or his possible successor, Erin McClelland.  His definition of “done” seems to be limited to pointing fingers and “holding people accountable”.  He has shown little interest in coming up with solutions and solving problems.  Most of his speeches focus on identifying problems and assigning blame rather than solving them.

Erin McClelland’s definition of “done” means that quality matters. Bills are written with the intent that they can pass the Senate and will be signed by the President, because they are intended to solve a problem and not just make a statement.  It means getting people together with different interests to agree on a solution that can make it to the President’s desk, because you or your party can’t just do it yourselves.

It is very easy fulfilling the House’s definition of “done” or Keith Rothfus’s definition as well.   It is hard work fulfilling Erin McClelland’s definition of “done”, but she has a history of getting things “done” in the healthcare field both in her own business, and using her expertise in fixing medical errors.

Our government needs more people that believe that “done” means that the problem is solved no matter how difficult the solution might be.  Replacing Keith Rothfus with Erin McClelland would be a very good start to changing the definition of "done".

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gridlock is the problem

I believe that our government can help improve the conditions to promote job growth and grow the economy, but they choose not to implement it.  It is not about doing what is best for the country, but all about winning and losing.  Republicans have voted against bills they wrote and sponsored only because President Obama said he supported it.  Time is wasted writing bills to make one side or the other look bad knowing full well they will never become law.

President Reagan would have gotten no where had he not had a partner in Tip O'Neill.  Barack Obama has no such partner.  Even when he takes a Republican position, the Republicans vote against it, because it would make Obama look good or help the county before the election. 

President Obama is regularly derided as foreign, socialist or worse than that.  How can you negotiate with someone you disagree with after you personally demonize him?

Even if the Republicans win the Presidency, keep the House and take over the Senate, they will not be able to implement their plans just as Obama can't implement his.  Turn about is fair play, and to think that the Democrats will not filibuster everything like the Republicans in the Senate do is just plain foolish.

We should electing people to Washington who believe firmly in breaking that gridlock and moving this country forward.  No matter who is elected President in November, Tea-Party candidates Kieth Rothfus and Tom Smith would contribute to that gridlock and make things even worse.  Electing them would reward gridlock and insure that it continues.

Their opponents, Mark Critz and Bob Casey, have shown that they can work with Democrats and Republicans, and can help to break the gridlock that is paralyzing the country, and move us forward.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Keith Rothfus and my family concerning healthcare

The Republicans have been running ads claiming that Mark Critz voted numerous times to not repeal Obamacare like Keith Rothfus wants to.  They never say what they would replace Obamacare with, so my only guess has to be to return to the status quo of 2008.  It got me to thinking about what would happen to my family if Rothfus gets his way concerning Obamacare and the Paul Ryan budget which I assume he would support.
  • My mother, mother-in-law, aunt and other older relatives could fall back into the Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole that was closed under Obamacare.
  • My nieces and nephews who are currently covered under their parents' health insurance because of Obamacare would lose their coverage and be on their own.  My son will have to deal with this as well when he is older.
  • When my wife and I retire in 20 or so years, instead of getting covered under the Medicare plan that we have paid into for the last 30 years, we will get the equivalent of a store discount coupon under the Ryan budget for our health insurance and told we are on our own to find private insurance.  Wish us luck with that one.
  • Insurance companies would no longer be required to spend 80% of their premiums on patient care as they are required to under Obamacare.  Instead we will have to continue paying premiums to build palaces like Highmark's or paying Highmark's CEO a multimillion dollar salary.  Keep in mind that Highmark is supposed to be non-profit.
  • I could go bankrupt without Obamacare if god-forbid, I have a serious medical condition.  I also would need those savings to pay for health care in retirement since Medicare would become a discount coupon.  Of course, that medical condition would qualify as a pre-existing condition later in life, so I couldn't get health insurance anyway.
  • We would again have to pay co-pays for preventative treatments like mammograms and colonoscopies.  I can afford it, but how many family members might forgo that to save money.
I suggest you look at your family's situation to see what would happen to you under a Republican administration.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Keith Rothfus again

What is it about this congressional district that Republicans have to lose twice?  Melissa Hart lost twice to Jason Altmire and Tim Burns lost twice to Mark Critz.  Keith Rothfus is taking his second shot this time in the new district against Mark Critz.  It caused me to look back at when he ran against Jason Altmire in 2010:
The issues haven't changed much and it looks like Mr. Rothfus will simply be replacing Jason Altmire with Mark Critz in all the talking points he used 2 years ago.  His first comments after the primary reflect that:
“The Cook score acknowledges what we already knew about PA-12, that the people of Southwestern Pennsylvania are concerned about the direction this country is headed, and that Keith Rothfus is primed for victory. Indeed, there are major differences in this race. Unlike Mark Crtiz who received only a 57% pro-life rating from the National Right to Life, Keith Rothfus will be 100% pro-life. Keith is dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable members of society, not the least of which are our seniors. It is Obamacare that ends Medicare as we know it, as it strips Medicare of $500 billion in funding at the same time the Medicare population is set to increase by 42%. Mark Critz supports this gutting of Medicare as he voted against repeal of Obamacare and voted to keep in place the panel of bureaucrats given the power to make our personal healthcare decisions. Keith Rothfus supports restoring the doctor-patient relationship and saving Medicare.

Mark Critz supports President Obama’s reckless fiscal agenda. Mark Critz represents the failed policies that have resulted in the unemployment rate being above 8% for 38 months. These policies have led us down an unsustainable path of debt, and Mark Critz seems quite comfortable with asking all of us to hold China’s water as they continue to be the United States’ lender of first resort. Keith Rothfus understands that we need to bring jobs back to Southwestern Pennsylvania, and that economic growth will generate new tax revenues to help us pay for the critical social programs that take care of and protect our seniors. He will fight hard to protect our seniors, protect our businesses, and be a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollar, a much needed change in this time of uncertainty."
Just replace Mark Critz with Jason Altmire and you are transported back to 2010.  I'll be writing about how Keith Rothfus wants to "save" Medicare and how his policies will negatively impact our families.

I also find it interesting how organizations like the National Right to Life come up with these ratings.  53% sounds pretty bad if you are a solid pro-life voter until you look into the numbers.  I looked at the National Right to Life website.  It was based on a grand total of 7 votes in 2011-2012.  Mark Critz voted on what they consider to be the wrong side of 3 of the 7.  Two of them involved repealing Obama Care, and it is a real stretch to say they had anything to do with abortion.  The third vote was an amendment that he voted against to cut funding for Planned Parenthood even though the money can't be used for abortions, but  then he voted for a different bill to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.  The remaining 3 votes really had something to do with abortion and he took the pro-life position on all three.  Just to show the value of these ratings, Mark Critz has a 100% rating from the National Right to Life in 2010, but it was on one vote that again had nothing to do with abortion.  To somehow claim he is less pro-life than Keith Rothfus is just plain silly when you look into the details.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dueling phone town halls

Call waiting is a nice feature that I rarely have to use.  Tonight Jason Altmire and the Mark Critz campaign held dueling town halls, and it was nice being able to switch between the two calls.

Jason Altmire fielded questions for about 45 minutes.  He said he had about 6000 people on the call.  It was pretty clear that they were not filtering the questions, and he capably answered whatever was thrown at him.  This included questions about a pro-Critz mailing that most of us received in the mail today and his vote for a balanced budget amendment.  One thing that has impressed me is his ability to clearly answer questions, and the patience he shows making sure the constituent understands.

Mark Crtitz was not on his own town hall.  It was primarily a union affair which included AFL-CIO PA President Rick Bloomingdale and Secretary/Treasurer Frank Snyder.  This call lasted about half an hour which was mostly spent talking about how Critz supports working families and Social Security, and asking people to vote for Critz.  They said there were 3000 people on this call, and took a couple questions.  I really wish Mark Critz had been taking part in the town hall.  After all, he is the candidate.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Can Mark Critz win in the General Election?

This question has been bothering me for quite some time.  Mark Critz wants voters in the primary to think of him as the better Democrat, but does that make him the better candidate in November and the better person to represent us in Congress?

Most of his support comes from unions.  I can't help but wondering if that is really because he is not Jason Altmire than anything else (Altmire becomes target for unions over healthcare law vote).  Many union leaders claim that Altmire promised that he would vote for health care reform, while Altmire says he told them he would likely support it but it depends on the final version of the bill.  I guess Altmire wanted to read it to see what was in it before voting on it.  Altmire's version of the union meetings is supported by some union leaders and those unions are supporting him.

One question I have is if Critz wins and the unions have succeeded in getting their revenge on Altmire, will they still be there as enthusiastically for Critz as they are now?  The only real difference between them is this promise that Altmire allegedly broke.  Critz is firm that he would not have supported health care reform either.

First of two of the issues that became large in this campaign are Altmire criticizing Critz voting "present" on a vote for a tea party budget that Altmire went against party leadership to vote "no".  The second is Altmire's vote for a balanced budget amendment.  In a general election, I think both issues could benefit Altmire and hurt Critz.  Voting "yes" or "no" and not playing games like voting "present" is an example of the kind of games many people here hate.  I liked that Altmire didn't play this game and voted "no", and I think a lot of voters in our district would agree.

I think that a balanced budget amendment would be a disaster for this country.  I don't think any rational Republican would really want it either if they were really honest about it, but Altmire or Critz won't be running against a rational Republican.  The concept, however, has widespread support.  Altmire's vote for the balanced budget amendment makes this a non-issue in the general election.  However, the Republican Tea Party challenger and the super pacs will beat Mark Critz like a rented mule over this issue.

Two other challenges for Mark Critz are that he is not as polished a speaker as Jason Altmire and he knows little about our area and we know little about him.  Critz's performance at a televised debate a couple week's ago was poor. The low point was when he stopped answering a question to say "My commercial is on TV.  Hey look at that." and pointed to a TV monitor off camera.  Parts of it were painful to watch.

Jason Altmire has been our representative for three terms.  He is very visible and is on TV quite a bit both locally and nationally.  His accomplishments are well known.  Mark Critz seems to be more comfortable working behind the scenes as he has for so many years under John Murtha.  This makes it a bit more difficult to see his accomplishments.  He also admittedly is just learning about our area having spent most of his life around Johnstown.  Will he represent this entire region or stay in the Johnstown area?  Altmire already has relationships built in our area as does the Tea Party challenger.

On Critz's side is his campaign manager, Mike Mikus.  Mikus may be the best campaign manager in our area having successfully lead both of Critz's previous campaigns, Altmire's second campaign against Mellisa Hart and most recently, Rich Fitzgerald's campaign for County Executive.  He probably knows Allegheny County and its politics was well if not better than anyone.  His knowledge and experience are the real reason this is a close race more than anything else.  If anyone can bring Critz to victory in November, it is Mikus.  I think he is outgrowing running local elections and is ready for a bigger challenge.  If Critz loses, I think any smart statewide candidate should snap him up immediately.

Jason Altmire has governed not as a loyal Democrat, but as a representative of our conservative Republican leaning district.  This positions him well for general elections, but makes him unpopular among liberal Democrats.  The things Altmire is being criticized for in the primary would make him a stronger candidate in the general election.  He can say he stood up to Nancy Pelosi (He didn't vote for her for majority leader.), unions and the liberal Democrats on one side, and stood up to the Tea Party and the Republicans on the other.  This plants him right in the middle even if it pisses off everyone on both sides.

Will Mark Critz portraying himself as a loyal Democrat and getting endorsements from people like President Clinton hurt in the general election?  I could easily see the Clinton endorsement commercials rewritten as a negative ad by the Republicans.  I could see the union endorsements, the voting "present" issue  and his vote against a balanced budget amendment all being used against him.  When I checked to see if he voted for Nancy Pelosi for majority leader I found that she sponsored a fundraiser for him.  That will be used against him as well.

The voters will decide who they want on Tuesday.  The Democrats in our district need to elect the best candidate that can win in November, because I don't even want to consider what it would be like to be represented by a Tea Party candidate who doesn't even live in our district.