Jul 31, 2009

I’m so glad Dick Pombo didn’t know how to Unite and Conquer

If Dick Pombo was on Twitter, he would get a #fail.

This past congressman devoted his entire political career to savage our planet’s environmental resources. He’s best known for attempting to cease the Endangered Species Act, because, according to him, it put “rats and shellfish” before people. Really, Dick? I would think you would be all for saving rats and spineless creatures…

The name of the act he was trying to pass was ironically called the “Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act” and if it would have passed, we could have said good-bye to every single endangered animal by 2015.

Somehow this past Congressman was able to gain enough support to pass legislation that stopped habitat protections from being operated on 150 million acres of wilderness and that lifted a 25-year moratorium on drilling for oil off the shores of the U.S.

In politics and when building coalitions, you’ll be lucky if you never run into the Pombo’s of the world. These people often have a lot of power and somehow manage to get support. It’s easy to get enraged when dealing with someone that’s fighting for very opposite ideals.

When dealing with people like Pombo, do some research and figure out what key messages are going to convince people that the opposition is wrong. Instead of listing 1,356 reasons why species need to remain protected, have a few well-crafted messages that speak to values that we all can relate to (see: sustainability, humanity, protection).

Jul 30, 2009

Being able to Unite and Conquer often means finding the source

It’s tempting try and convince everyone and their mother why your issue matters and why your policy or change is essential, but in order to really unite and conquer, it’s often more effective to find a central source.

With issues with religious undertones and debates, it’s important to educate the person who has the most control: the church, congregation or temple’s leader. This video shows how the HRC is reaching out to these people. While the video has a powerful message of people of traditional religious convictions changing their minds, the most exciting part about this outreach is the effect it is going to have. By reaching one religious leader, the HRC is reaching hundreds of people that those leaders have influence over.

Whatever change your are trying to make, find out if there are any influencers that you can educate in order to increase awareness and spread your message to a larger audience. By spreading this message, you’ll be able to unite and conquer much more effectively.

Jul 27, 2009

Report card for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition: A

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition does an amazing job of promoting their cause and getting people to take action. Through their actions they have helped pass a bike plan that will make San Fran one of the most bike-friendly cities in the US. The plan includes 45 new bike lanes on city streets.

Instead of focusing on lofty goals, like getting everyone to ditch their cars (but, hey, I drive a hybrid!) and ride bikes instead, they’ve focused on values like safety, community, sustainability, and the environment. They also did research and found out what people wanted and needed in order to make their goal (by 2012, 25% of San Franciscans will use bicycles as a frequent mode of transportation) become a reality. What did they find out? That in order to make the streets safer for biking, they needed to get more people out of their cars and onto bikes. How would they get them to do this? Well, they had to make the streets safer for bikes.

By promoting safety, community and sustainability, this group has been able to make strides in legislation in order to help citizens get the safe, bike-friendly streets they need.

And these values and strategies have paid off, because of their efforts, the number of people using bikes as a form of transportation has doubled in the last decade. Now, “over 30,000 San Franciscans use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation.”

Jul 23, 2009

Tom Tancredo definitely knew how to divide, but not how to conquer

For the 10 years he was in the House, Tancredo was dead set on deporting every single undocumented worker and ceasing all forms of immigration all together. One of his most famous examples of how dead-set he was on accomplishing this goal is that he “wanted to deport the family of an undocumented high school boy who was profiled in The Denver Post for his perfect grades.”

What’s interesting is that (as with most of us in America) he is the grandson of immigrants. I still don’t get the logic behind arguing against immigration when you yourself wouldn’t be here if America hadn’t had an open door policy. But anyways, Tancredo was notorious for urging Americans to reject “the siren song of multiculturalism.”

It should be pretty obvious that Tancredo and I are on opposite sides of the spectrum, especially on this issue, but the key takeaway is that when running into the Tancredo’s of the world, look for the good.

While his views of immigration are, well, archaic at best, he does have a few values that most people would be able to agree on. For instance, he sponsored the Sudan Peace Act, which was passed unanimously in the Senate without amendment seven days later, and was signed into law on November 21, 2002.

Need more proof he has a heart? After the Columbine shooting, he gathered resources in order to respond to the Beslan school hostage crisis in Russia. He helped orchestrate Colorado students, who made thousands of cards and letters for the Russian children, which he and his wife passed out to the survivors.

If you’re in politics, coalitions, or just interact with people for that matter, it becomes obvious that we can’t always agree on everything. When working with people, especially those that you disagree with on big issues, it’s important to look at the good in them. If Tom Tancredo had focused more on working with people, instead of shutting them out via his harsh views on immigration, he would have had more successful terms in office.

Jul 21, 2009

If only Bella was a donkey, then this video would be perfect

Sure, it’s a corny comparison, but you have to wonder if two completely different species can forge a loyal and trusting relationship, than how come two humans with differences can have such difficulty doing the exact same thing?

Regardless of your political persuasion, there are always going to be people that have a view (or a few) that are different than yours. In any situation where you’re working together, whether it’s in a coalition or in politics, differences need to be put aside. Some of my good friends are Republicans, and no, we don’t agree on everything, but we were able to find issues and values that we could agree on and just focus on those things.

Just as Bella was able to look past the fact that Tara is an elephant and Tara looked past the fact that Bella is a dog, we should be able to look past differing values and views and see the things we have in common. Maybe someone you’re working with is against abortion, but you both can agree that women should have the right to breast feed in public. Focus on the issue you both agree on, not trying to convince them that abortion should be a woman’s right.

Wait until you’ve been friends for a while to do that. :)

Jul 20, 2009

Report card for The Education Coalition: B

The Education Coalition, a group of more than 1.7 million parents, teachers, school board members, school employees and administrators in California, are opposed to massive education budget cuts. The Coalition does an excellent job of informing concerned citizens of exactly what’s going on. Their website constantly refers to the facts that show the detriment about to affect California if the budget passes:
  • Shutting down every school across the state for 34 days.
  • Increasing class sizes statewide by over 50%.
  • Reducing per-student spending by more than $1,600.
  • Laying off a quarter of a million bus drivers, janitors, food service workers, maintenance workers, and other education support professionals.
  • Laying off 140,000 teachers.
  • Cutting more than $41,000 per classroom.
  • Eliminating all music, art and career technical education programs statewide with room to cut even more.
For that, they get an A for effort.

One thing the coalition could benefit from is focusing more on the implications of the proposed budget cuts and the values attached to education. Making it clear that reduced education spending means children aren’t as prepared for college, tuition costs will rise making it harder for students to obtain higher education, children won’t get the attention they deserve with even larger class sizes, children that need special attention will fall even further behind and almost half a million Californians will be out of work—thus affecting their families as well. Education cuts mean a harder future for all children and less opportunities for success.

Jul 15, 2009

No one wants to invite Congressman James Sensenbrenner to their birthday party

A huge part of being able to unite and conquer is being able to work with people that are different than you and being able to make friends with those people. Not only is Sensenbrenner a Glamour Magazine “Do Not,” but he also gets the Unite and Conquer “Do Not” stamp of disapproval.

He’s stuck on the outcomes. No matter the issue, his solution pretty much always has something to do with being behind bars—throughout his career he has proposed and fought for legislation that would turn 12 million undocumented immigrants into felons, subject anyone soliciting illegal drugs to a teenager to ten years or more in prison, and incarcerate college students for not turning in their hallmates for illegal activities. He also wants anyone who utters an obscenity on the air to face criminal charges. And, he has no shame about this, going on the record, he has said, "I'd prefer using the criminal process rather than the regulatory process."

He refuses to work with anyone different than him. In 2005, “Sensenbrenner's iron-fisted rule of the judiciary committee was on nationwide display…during a televised debate over reauthorization of the Patriot Act. When Democrats began discussing the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, the chairman abruptly ended the meeting and cut off their microphones. When Democrats refused to leave the room, Sensenbrenner's staff pulled the plug on C-Span and turned out the lights.” As Jon Stewart put it, "He literally took his gavel and went home."

He even has trouble working with people like him. "He treats us all equally," said Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA). "He treats us all like dogs."

As a trust fund kid with a $10 million fortune, Sensenbrenner has little compassion for those less fortunate. Several years ago, he won approval for a bill that made it harder for American families who were overwhelmed with debt to declare bankruptcy. And he didn’t stop there. The congressman refused to even think about adding an exemption from the bill's restrictions for victims of Hurricane Katrina—and even voted against the aid package that was to help the victims of the hurricane to recover from the life changing disaster.

If you want to learn anything from Sensenbrenner, it’s definitely what not to do. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that we won’t have to work with our own Congressman Sensenbrenner. And when that happens, it’s obvious that it will get pretty frustrating. My advice is find any common ground you can (shoes, traveling, etc.) that isn’t related to politics, look for any traces of humanity (a love for family, animals, etc.) and work as hard as you can to keep your cool.

Jul 14, 2009

Sotomayor is right person for this important job

My op ed in the Arizona Republic today, as it originally appeared:
Of all the decisions a president will make during his or her time in office, the selection of a new justice to serve on the Supreme Court is a decision that may well have the longest impact on our country. The presidency changes hands every few years, but federal judges hold their jobs for life. The decisions they make from the bench will affect us in more ways that we can imagine.

Because this position holds such sway over the course of our country, it's good news that President Obama chose Sonia Sotomayor as his first nominee to the court. And we should be proud to support her.

As a former constitutional lawyer, President Obama has a real understanding of the importance of the court and the way it operates. He knows what it means to be an excellent jurist; therefore, was able to clearly lay out the kind of person he was looking for to serve the United States.

President Obama said he was looking for someone with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity. He wanted a nominee who would uphold core constitutional values through a common-sense understanding of how laws affect the daily realities of people's lives.

Consequently, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that Judge Sotomayor rose quickly to the top of his list. Not only does she have impeccable academic credentials, (Phi Beta Kappa at Princeton as an undergraduate; editor of the law journal at Yale after that) but she also has an inspiring life story and experience with how court rulings can affect the lives of real people.

Sotomayor grew up in a housing project in the Bronx. She was encouraged by her mother's belief in the power of education and her own strong work ethic, and she excelled in school, going on to attend two Ivy League universities. When she graduated from law school, Judge Sotomayor became an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, and tried scores of serious criminal cases over five years. It was practicing real law in front of a judge and jury that Sotomayor got firsthand knowledge of how our justice system works.

She was nominated to be a District Court judge by President George H.W. Bush, and then to be a Circuit Court judge by President Clinton. If confirmed for the Supreme Court, Judge Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed for the Court in the past 70 years.

The most important issues of our lifetime, from education to the environment and consumer safety to civil rights for all Americans, will come before the Supreme Court in the coming years.

It's difficult to overstate the importance of the Supreme Court, and we cannot forget that this branch of government is co-equal to the executive and legislative branches. We need justices who possess excellent qualifications, a real understanding of the law, and a record of open-mindedness on the bench. We need Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Jul 13, 2009

Michelle Rhee : Has the conquering down, but needs to work on the uniting

In this TIME video, Michelle Rhee’s very controversial tactics are highlighted. She has been getting mixed reviews, everything from being called a witch to being called a savior. Regardless of your opinions of her tactics, she is ensuring that all of her efforts are focused on the success of the students.

At first listen, it sounds harsh. Hundreds of employees have been terminated, schools have been shut down, but a closer look shows children are benefitting.

While, I agree with Rhee’s passion for making sure each student can reach their full potential, her strategy could use a little fine tuning. She is, without a doubt, working for a better educations system, but she doesn’t seem to be working with people. Teachers, administration and parents are obviously frustrated with her tactics, closing schools and firing people, leaving schools understaffed (if only if it’s for a short time) – and as far as I can tell, she’s leaving them out of the conversation.

The best way to include them? Focus on the values they all can relate too. A better future, equality, and opportunity. These are all values that people can agree on—and will also agree that certain sacrifices (especially short term) are worth the end goals.

Jul 10, 2009

Report card for ONE: A+

ONE does an amazing job of appealing to all kinds of different people. How do they do this? They screaming from the podium that we need to pour all our resources into education—they’re promoting values that we all can share. Like equality, hope, life, health and economic stability.

For instance, while the offer shocking stats, like “75 million children are out of school around the world, a figure equivalent to the entire primary school-aged population in Europe and North America,” they always bring it back to what these statistics truly mean. In the case of education, it allows all these children a better way of life and the ability to escape poverty—and it also helps out future generations by positively affecting health care and the economy.

Another example is with the issue of Water and Sanitation, they let people know that, “Across the world, 884 million people do not have access to clean water and 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation,” but they also focus on the fact that safe drinking water and sanitation prevents thousands of child deaths, but also allows children to go to school (because they aren’t spending hours each day getting water).

All in all, ONE does an excellent job creating awareness of the urgency of these issues, but they also always bring it back to values—which makes it a lot harder to argue.

Jul 8, 2009

America is the land of opportunity, so why be selfish?

In this video DJ Boo talks about the true meaning of being an immigrant and the implications it has on the world.

As he points out, allowing immigrants to come and pursue their dreams in America, often means that they can better help out their family and community members that they left behind. As DJ Boo says, and I’d have to agree, a common argument that many people against immigration make is that the immigrants steal jobs. Well, often these people are coming with a less than equal education to those of us in the United States, which often places them in the jobs that most Americans don’t want to work.

Certain values that should be promoted when talking about the benefits of immigration include equality, fairness and opportunity. The more diversity within the United States the more varied views there are that are brought to the table, which creates immense opportunity in all arenas—health care, the economy, the environment, etc. As a country founded by immigrants, it would be selfish of us not to allow others looking for a better opportunity in. 

Jul 7, 2009

Arizona Budget Update: What Happened and What Comes Next?

So many of you have asked me for more details about our state budget situation, wanting to know what happened yesterday, what it took to get there, and what comes next. 

This will tell you all that I know - please feel free to post it and pass it along as you see fit.

January 20 - June 30: Brewer refuses to negotiate with Democrats, and Republicans ignore Democratic calls for a bipartisan process. Democrats ask Brewer repeatedly to call all 4 leadership teams to her office to start a 5-party negotiation process to solve the largest budget crisis in our state's history. Those calls go completely unheeded - we don't even get a response to our letters! Democrats create and publish a budget solution, available at www.strongerarizona.com. Democrats oppose Brewer's call for a sales tax increase because it's too expensive for middle class families and isn't fair. Instead, we offer several other ways to increase taxes in a fair way that spreads the burden fairly across the state. Democrats continue to call for comprehensive tax reform to prevent future crises.

June 30 - Republican leadership and Governor Brewer had an agreement to (1) pass that horrid budget containing deep cuts to education, health care, social services, and public safety; and (2) pass a one cent sales tax referral to the ballot that, if approved by the voters, would somewhat lessen the severity of the cuts mentioned in (1) above. The Speaker and President vowed to get as many R votes for this package as possible, the Governor committed to getting Democrat votes for the tax increase referral. The Speaker collected 29 votes for the tax increase, the President collected 13. The Governor was unable to deliver the 2 votes needed in the House and the 3 votes needed in the Senate, despite attempts to buy off Democrats (we don't work like that!). So, the budget passed without the sales tax increase.

July 1 - Brewer vetoes about 70% of the budget, saying that legislative leaders didn't fulfill their end of the deal because the sales tax referral didn't pass. Her vetoes place Arizona out of compliance with all federal requirements for stimulus money, jeopardizing about $2.7 billion in federal money. She also vetoes the entire K-12 education budget, which means no funding for schools as of July 15.

July 2 - Legislative leaders, Republican and Democrat, come together to discuss: (1) how to solve the immediate crises created by Brewer's vetoes - no stimulus money and no public education system; and (2) working together to create a new budget for 2010. We agree to act on July 6th, the first day of special session. Nothing was "given" on either side to make this agreement - we just all recognized that this had to be done to save public education in our state, and to save our chances to get stimulus money from the federal government.

July 6th - 4 bills are passed unanimously by the Legislature. #1 - we fund K-12 education at the 2009 level, plus a 2% inflationary rate required by state law. This means schools stay open, class sizes stay reasonable, and teachers are rehired. #2 - we agree to negotiate on 5 smaller "chunks" of funding for K-12 education, with resolution required by October 1st. Until we negotiate an agreement, schools can spend what they've already budgeted in these areas: soft capital, desegregation, career ladder, early kindergarten, excess utilities. The October 1st deadline was self-imposed - if we don't have an agreement by then, schools automatically get full funding in each of these 5 areas. #3 - we make a technical change to state law regarding how local governments pay the state for health care. This was a federally required change in order to qualify for stimulus money to pay for health care. The Governor's veto last week eliminated this "fix" - so we put it back in law. Now we meet the federal requirements for stimulus money. #4 - we adjourned the special session so that "rank and file" members don't have to come to work every day while no formal action is taking place. To have them come to work every day when we don't have an agreement yet simply wastes state money. This change says that legislators will only get paid on the days that we come to work (duh, right?).

Tomorrow - Republican and Democrat leaders in the House and the Senate will meet to set a schedule for our work. We have to negotiate about 70% of the state budget from scratch, and that takes time. We have to redo the budget in several key areas: higher education, health care, social services, and some portions of k-12 education (see above). These areas are the top concern for Democrats, so this is very important to us. This is going to be hard - we have a deficit of about 2 billion right now, and that's a hard hole to fill. So leadership will work on crafting an agreement that everyone can live with. I anticipate that this will be the hardest thing we've ever done at the Legislature.

In the coming weeks - As we work, House Democratic leadership will communicate with our "rank and file" members via phone conferences to make sure that everyone agrees with what we're working on. Once we have a resolution to this budget shortfall, all members will be called back to the Legislature by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President and we'll vote on a budget package.

House Democrats are happy that - finally - we are working in a bipartisan manner to solve this massive problem. We have always said that this problem is too big for partisan games, and we have always called for all 5 parties to work together to solve this problem. I am sad that it took 6 months of failed leadership by the Governor and the Republican leadership to get to this point - the Governor would have made things a lot better for the state if she'd called us all together months ago, like Democrats repeatedly asked. But we can't change the past. Instead, we have to focus on the present and the future. 

The coming weeks are very important - the four leadership teams in the Legislature will have to continue working together to get this done. It won't be easy. In fact, it'll be incredibly hard. But our state depends on our ability to get this done.

House Democrats commit that we'll negotiate in good faith, holding true to our values and priorities. We believe that we must protect our state's vital infrastructure for the future - education, health care, and programs that serve and protect middle class families. This is the frame of mind that we take into this process.

Wonderingmind42 should lend his mind to environmental coalitions

In this video, wonderingmind42 describes logical deductions one can make when thinking about the global climate crisis—but in a way you necessarily wouldn’t think of—and in a way that makes it very hard to argue.

His argument is that the question of whether the global climate crisis actually exists is mute, either way the odds that we actually should be proactive about making a change, and the consequences of not acting, far out weigh the option that there is no global climate crisis and we should not act.

And to go in for the win, if he added a few values, such as protecting our future generations, sustainability and stewardship, no one in America could argue with his points.

Jul 3, 2009

Have a happy and safe Fourth!

I hope everyone has a great, safe Fourth of July weekend!

I'll be attending the special session on Monday, so be sure to follow me on Twitter for the latest updates on the progress (hopefully). The other Democrats and I will be working hard to get the Governor to negotiate with us and to ensure that Arizona has a budget that will help solve the fiscal crisis, but also does not leave people behind that need help the most, like children.

Despite all this political turmoil, I truly hope that everyone has a happy Fourth of July.

Jul 2, 2009

The Importance of Health Care Reform

In this TIME video, Denise was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 27 and was diagnosed after losing health insurance. Fortunately, for several years she was able to get coverage under her husband’s policy. But, given the tumultuous economy, her husband was laid off recently, and they have been forced to cover her medical bills themselves. She has even been rationing medication to save on costs.

The video also states that a recent Kaiser Foundation Study estimates that in this year alone, more that 5 million people are likely to lose their health care benefits, adding the already staggering 45 million people without health insurance in America and 25 million underinsured.

Watching stories like this reminds me how fortunate I am to be the voice of these people who need quality and affordable health care. To learn more about what we’re doing in Washington, D.C. to ensure that people like Denise and her husband don’t have to struggle, please watch the video below.

Governor Brewer's lack of leadership and willingness to work together

Jul 1, 2009

Confirming Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court Justice

As I’m sure you’re well aware, because after all, if you’re following me, you’re at least slightly interested in politics (but if you’re following me just to see what I’m wearing click here to get the back story), many Republicans and Conservative activists are planning to do whatever they can to delay the floor vote on Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court until September or later. They are accusing “the federal judge and President Barack Obama of espousing a view of the judiciary based on empathy that is little more than racial or gender prejudice.” All I have to say to that is, come on, really? You guys still play that card? I thought most people realized it wasn’t even valid in 1972. It’s pretty obvious that the real reason they don’t want her as a Supreme Court Justice is because she has different views than they do. And if anything, what she meant is that she’s not like most federal judges (old, wealthy, Anglo) and can relate to minorities of all walks of life and will bring a more diverse perspective.

Now, I could go on and on about how incredibly wrong they are—but as you’ll find out in my book, stomping and screaming gets you nowhere. So, I’m asking that you take action. Please visit the Facebook Page, Confirming Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court Justice and send a letter to your Senators asking that they support President Obama’s nomination before the August recess.

Also, if you have time, check out this video done by Time—it emphasizes the significance of her nomination.