- Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 June 2009 17:59
- Published on Wednesday, 03 June 2009 17:59
- Hits: 612
Nationally the Republican Party is suffering from what a marketing professional would call a crisis in brand management.
In other words, they have let their GOP identity, its label if you will, get hijacked by people who don’t necessarily represent the interest or concerns of the majority of Republican voters. At the very least, they aren’t personalities that are likely to help the party get back into power, either in 2010 or 2012.
Right now, in a bizarre twist, the primary GOP spokesmen are radio personality, Rush Limbaugh, and the ex-vice President, Dick Cheney. Each of them seems to basking in the attention, but in terms of helping their party regain its momentum, they’re both causing more harm than they are helping.
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 May 2009 17:48
- Published on Wednesday, 27 May 2009 17:48
- Hits: 672
It was the closest statewide election in the history of the Commonwealth and if Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate for Attorney General in 2005, had managed to garner just a few hundred more votes everything about this year’s election would be different.
More than likely, in the tradition of these contests, winning that election would have made Deeds the heir apparent for the Democratic nod to run for Governor. However, that’s not the way it worked out. Bob McDonnell won that election and now he is the GOP standard bearer in the race for Governor. As for the Democrats, they’re fighting it out in a primary. Oh what a difference a few hundred votes can make.
This year Creigh Deeds, the loser in that cliff hanger election in 2005, is one of the Democrats trying to get their party’s nomination for Governor. His only opponent, that is up until late last year, was Delegate Brian Moran from Alexandria. For the most part, it looked like Moran had the edge. Moran had more money, deep ties in vote rich Northern Virginia and a better organization. However, that simple dynamic got tossed on its ear when Terry McAuliffe entered the race. All at once it was a three person contest. Moran and Deeds were known quantities, but now, with McAuliffe in the race, and he is anything but a known quantity, it’s become a far more complicated picture.
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 May 2009 18:59
- Published on Wednesday, 20 May 2009 18:59
- Hits: 675
Virginia Republicans won’t be voting in the June Democratic Primary. They have already made their choice and that’s Bob McDonnell. Surprisingly, at least so far, the Virginia GOP and its candidates haven’t offered much commentary on the Democratic nomination battle. They’re staying out of it. However, if you were to ask the average Republican activist who they think would be the perfect opponent in November, the one that’s easiest to beat, the answer would probably be Terry McAuliffe.
The Democratic nomination, which will be decided on June 9, is intensely competitive. However, the dynamics have shifted considerably over what many expected just a year ago. For most of the past four years the assumption was that the nomination battle would be between former Delegate Brian Moran of Alexandria and State Senator Creigh Deeds of Bath.
The betting was heavily leaning towards Moran. Senator Deeds is a highly accomplished State Senator with a moderate record. However, Moran, with his high name recognition, experience as caucus chairman, and deep ties in Northern Virginia was given the edge. But, this simple match up was turned upside down late last year when Terry McAuliffe entered the race. No one, and this is still the case, knows quite what to make of him or his prospect for winning the primary.
Terry McAuliffe, unlike his two opponents, is a noted national figure. He was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005, and before that, he was a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. And that’s still a tie, as witnessed by President Bill Clinton’s campaign swing through Virginia for McAuliffe, that’s still very strong.
McAuliffe, most recently, ran Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008. McAuliffe has also amassed a large personal fortune and through years being one of the Democratic Party’s most successful fund-raisers, has ties to donors all over the country. He quickly put this background to work and is already vastly outspending his two opponents. He has staff, offices all over the state, and a large media budget. Say what you will about him, he doesn’t take on something half way.
McAuliffe’s resume is impressive, but there is one glaring gap in his CV and that’s his background in Virginia politics. He has none. He has never been involved in local or state politics and has never held elected office. In many respects he is the ultimate carpetbagger. And while that term may sound harsh, make no mistake come the November election, his lack of experience in Virginia politics is going to be an issue.
Then there is the matter of the Clintons. Virginia may have turned blue during the last election, but it has never been friendly territory for Bill or Hillary Clinton. Even the Democrats aren’t that warm towards the former first couple. President Bill Clinton lost the state in both the 1992 and 1996 elections and Hillary lost last year’s Presidential Primary to Barack Obama in a landslide. Virginia Republicans, for their part, know that any candidate associated with the Clintons will only help galvanize their party’s conservative base.
A McAuliffe win will also fit ideally into Republican nominee Bob McDonnell’s overall strategy. He knows that to win, particularly in Northern Virginia he needs to cast himself as a moderate. It’s not an easy task. Bob McDonnell is not a moderate, he is a conservative. But the former Attorney General’s task will be a lot easier if he can paint his Democratic opponent with a far left brush. Or at least far left enough that it makes moderate voters, the kinds the Democrats need to win over, uncomfortable. Thanks to the Clinton label this is going to be a lot easier than it would be with another Democrat.
While some Democrats may be convinced that Virginia, thanks to their impressive victory in 2008, has suddenly become a hotbed of liberalism, this is probably wishful thinking. Historically, Democratic successes in Northern Virginia have come, thanks to moderates. This is especially true of the now lightly blue outer suburbs of Loudon and Prince William. Tim Kaine, Jim Webb and Mark Warner all appealed to moderate middle class voters.
McAuliffe is a vigorous and determined candidate. He is trying to win over the Democratic Party’s liberal base while at the same time attempting to convince those a bit more skeptical that his fund raising prowess and national connections will be more than a match for the Republicans in November. This is a good strategy, but also one that shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to win in Virginia.
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 May 2009 19:32
- Published on Wednesday, 13 May 2009 19:32
- Hits: 565
Business Appreciation Week celebrates businesses of all kinds: large businesses, medium sized businesses, and small business. But it’s the small businesses that I think deserve a special recognition. The big businesses, and most of the medium sized ones, have enough capital, enough of a cushion, and of course the political clout, that though things are tough for them, they will probably weather economic storm.
However, small businesses are entirely different.
Their margins, the difference between having enough revenue, being able to make a payroll, and alternatively, not being able to pay the bills, is often surprisingly thin. And yet, small business keeps going. Even in tough economic times, individuals, partnerships, and small stock companies, fight the odds. Rather amazingly, even in tough times, entrepreneurs, people with an idea, a skill, or some special service, keep starting up businesses.
In America over half of the private sector workforce is employed by small business. But, here is a statistic that may really surprise you. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration as much as 75% of the high tech workforce is employed by a small business. Much of this is in information technology, but also includes small research firms and small scale high tech manufacturing. Companies like this, often with just a few employees aren’t at all uncommon in the Northern Neck.
Also, small businesses have a different footprint as opposed to larger scale enterprises. Over half are based at home. However, this is often a little more than running the family business out of the garage. Many consulting companies, not having the resources for a brick and mortar office, have begun to rely on “virtual” internet-based work structures. Of course, a host of small companies, particularly in construction and services, have been home-based for years.
Unfortunately, small businesses, whether it’s one of the many retail sales outlets in this area, or our many service and consulting companies, don’t have the margins that larger businesses have. What this means, is that when things get tight, they don’t have much to fall back on. Unlike the big banks, or the major car companies, no one is stepping in with billions of dollars in credit to keep them from failing.
Sometimes, the margins are awfully thin. A restaurant owner I was talking to last week was delighted that at last there was good weather and he had a weekend where business was strong. However, he said that it was getting so tight, that if he didn’t see a sustained increase in business he was going to have to start laying off waitresses and kitchen staff.
One of the sad realities for small business is that for the most part you’re on your own. And you face a host of obstacles. Just starting a small business can be a trial in itself. Sometimes it seems like the whole structure of government is operating with the goal of keeping you from getting started.
Employment rules are complex. Taxes and social security can be a bookkeeping nightmare. Rules and regulations, both state and federal all requiring this filing, or that impact statement, seem to come at you from all sides, and usually, for most small businesses, the owner is the one who has to cope with it all. Given all the taxes and governmental requirements it’s amazing that small business people ever find time to market their services and satisfy clients. But amazingly, in spite of all the requirements and all the challenges, small business remains the foundation of our American economy.
When our country was founded we were almost entirely a nation of small business owners. Usually, they were what we would today call single proprietorships. Men and women provided products, often hand crafted, as well as services, to a mostly rural economy. It was their spirit of independence and self reliance that fueled the American Revolution.
However, as our economy became more complex, businesses got larger, and so did government. The structure of our economy changed, but small business, from retail, to services, to restaurants, repair shops, and a host of enterprises too numerous to have any hope of naming in this space, thrived as well. Today, small business is under tremendous pressure. They are the first to feel the stress of a bad economy. But, amazingly, often on a month to month basis, they’re hanging in there. Surviving and providing, as they always have the very backbone of the American economy.
By David Kerr
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 May 2009 20:01
- Published on Wednesday, 06 May 2009 20:01
- Hits: 547
Last week, Senator Arlen Specter, the senior Senator from Pennsylvania switched parties and became a Democrat. This was a serious blow for Senate Republicans and for that matter, Republicans all over the country.
In a way, it was as if they were still losing the election of 2008. Some Republicans immediately called him a traitor and others, worried at what was behind it, expressed concern that it was a sign the GOP was losing touch with the mainstream of American voters.
One of the most immediate impacts of this switch will be in the Senate itself. The Democrats currently have 58 seats in the Senate locked up. However, with Specter’s defection and the likely seating of Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, this will give the party 60 seats in the upper chamber.
This number is important. Under the somewhat arcane rules of the Senate, it takes more than a majority to pass a piece of legislation. If opponents want to, they can, using the filibuster, talk a bill to death. They talk, and they talk, and they talk some more, and finally the other side, even though they have a majority, just give up and pull the bill from the Senate calendar. This mechanism was designed to avoid what Thomas Jefferson called the “tyranny of the majority.”
However, there is a way around it, but it requires that a bill’s supporters have sixty votes. Then, they can invoke what’s called “cloture,” bring debate to an end, and pass a bill with a simple majority. That’s why 60 is the magic number for the Democrats. With Specter, and assuming they can hold their caucus together, passing Democratic legislation, and in particular President Obama’s bills, is going to get a lot easier.
Specter’s decision to leave the Republican Party was based on two factors. One was ideological and the other a bit self serving. Specter’s support for the President’s stimulus bill enraged conservative Republicans. GOP Chairman Michael Steele even vowed to help defeat Specter in a primary. Such a statement is unusual from a national chairman. Not to mention reckless. However, perhaps the real reason was that Specter wants to stay in the Senate and that’s not going to happen if he stays a Republican.
Pennsylvania GOP voters are a lot more conservative than Specter and overwhelmingly they were ready to support his opponent in the GOP primary, former Congressman Pat Toomey. Toomey nearly beat Specter in 2004, but in a strange twist, it was President Bush and the Washington conservative establishment that saved the Pennsylvania Senator. Now, Specter, looking at certain defeat, decided to throw his lot in with the Democrats.
High profile party defections, while getting lots of press, aren’t all that rare. Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Richard Shelby, both Democrats, chose to become Republicans during the Clinton years. Each of them, arguably, decided they would do better under the majority Republicans than the then minority Democrats.
In 2002, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, formerly a Republican, decided to become an independent. However, he chose to caucus with the Democrats and in an evenly divided Senate that gave them a short lived majority.
Another notable party switcher was Phil Gramm of Texas. He was elected in the 1970’s as a Democratic Congressman (he went on to the Senate later), but in 1983, resigned, and ran in the special election as a Republican. It was an honorable way to handle the situation. He let the voters decide if they wanted him to stay their representative given that he had switched parties.
Specter’s defection however represents more than just one Senator looking for a way to stay in office. Specter is by no means a starry eyed liberal. His voting record is considered by non-partisan evaluations as moderate to conservative.
However, Republican conservatives have labeled him a RINO. That stands for Republican in Name Only. It’s a common barb used in attacking moderate Republicans, or even conservative Republicans with an independent streak, who veer away from conservative orthodoxy.
The only problem is that mainstream Republicans, people like my generally conservative neighbors, small business people, and just responsible middle of the road voters, are sometimes uncomfortable with the most strident conservative views. What’s more, they often like independent minded politicians. Right now for example, like it or not, the majority of Americans think that President Obama is most in touch with their needs.
Unfortunately, the Republicans, who could have used the recent debates in Congress as an opportunity to champion an alternative strategy, have mostly focused on being passionate opponents of everything the President wants to do. For some voters this is just fine, but for others, apparently the majority, it doesn’t look like good government.
What’s worrisome if that if the GOP, following its loss in 2008, decides that the way back to power is by becoming more and more conservative, they’re in for a big disappointment. Their success has always rested on the support of America’s moderate to conservative mainstream voters. If they lose this base, as they appear to be doing, they may be in for a long stay in the political wilderness. And as much as I not a Republican, the absence of a strong and viable Republican Party isn’t good for anyone.
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 18:55
- Published on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 18:55
- Hits: 618
I have two credit card accounts and for the most part I pay them off whenever they’re due. I would like to think I am a good risk. I pay my bills, have very little in terms of debt, make a decent salary, and oh yes, always put some money in the bank.
It’s the model of middle class responsibility.
So, I was surprised when I got a letter from the Bank of America. They decided that based on my credit history, my Visa credit limit needed to be lowered. Since I can’t think of when I have ever charged near the amount of the new limit, let alone the old one, I wasn’t that distressed.
But, I was annoyed.
I am a good customer, have been for years, and while they didn’t begin the letter with “Dear Deadbeat” I can’t say I appreciated it.
At that point, in something of petulant huff, I decided to study my bill in more depth. That’s when I got the big surprise. I know credit interest rates are high. That’s one of the reasons I try to never keep a balance. However, I had no idea how high the interest rate had gone.
The new rate, for any outstanding balance, which fortunately I didn’t have, was a staggering 33.89%. I don’t think that even the Mafia charges that much for a loan, but not having any contacts in the Mob, I can only guess.
Apparently my experience with a credit card company isn’t all that different from what other people in our area are experiencing. The banks are facing a sea of bad loans and this has prompted them to take a new look at their credit card accounts. They want to limit their exposure and at the same time get as much out of their paying accounts as they possibly can. This means lowering credit limits and upping interest rates. However, once again, in yet another public relations disaster for the financial industry, they carried it too far.
When it comes to credit limits the banks want to make sure that customers don’t carry more debt than they can service. This, after years of easy credit and letting almost anyone open an account, represents a new approach for these guys, but at least it makes sense.
One mechanism for determining a credit limit is past usage. If you are always borrowing to the limit, this is a cause for concern. Also, so are customers who pay off their accounts and don’t keep a balance.
The credit card companies figure that extending a big limit to these customers it represents an unnecessary exposure. To some extent, that all makes sense. However, other practices leave a bit to be desired. For instance, if you shop at stores where the customers have a high default rate, then that too is a prompt to lower your credit limit.
Since I make it a practice, being a good Scotsman, to shop at discount stores whenever I can, Big Lots being one of my favorites, this probably has had an effect on my account.
At the same time, the banks and credit card companies need cash. They’re losing money hand over fist so they’ve turned to credit card borrowers for an additional source of revenue. The rules on this are lax and all they have to do is increase the rates. It’s all legal, but responsible borrowers don’t like the idea of suddenly being told that their interest rates have doubled or worse.
What’s more, in most cases, no one ever told them their rates were going up in the first place.
For many, this sudden increase in interest rates is nothing more than an organized effort to gouge the consumer. This would be bad enough, but many of these banks are still receiving billions of dollars in federal aid and it just doesn’t sit well.
The President even had the CEO’s of the major credit card companies in for a chat at the White House. He made it clear, and this has strong Republican support, that he was supporting legislation to require them to notify customers before they change the terms of their credit card account.
If they raise interest rates or change a limit, they have to notify you ahead of time. That’s encouraging, but unfortunately, it’s unlikely that there are going to be any caps on interest rates. So, perhaps the best advice is to do your best to make your payments on time, and if you can, pay off the debt as much as possible. There is no need giving these guys any more business than they already have.