Governing in Divided Government

The pre-primary season is winding down and the primary season is upon us. The field of candidates will now start dwindling a little faster than it has over the past year. There have been numerous televised debates, town halls, campaign rallies, and new stories.

We have heard countless questions from moderators and from voters themselves. But in all this time, there has been one question that I have not heard asked that should be asked of every candidate that is running. How do they plan to govern with the other side?

independent2It essentially doesn’t matter which candidate wins the presidential election in November when it comes to this simple question. It all hinges on the Senate. Regardless if the winning candidate’s party is in control of the chamber, the opposition will still have enough to invoke the filibuster. And there is the possibility that the opposition could be in control of the chamber as well. Neither side will have a filibuster-proof majority.

Partisan divisiveness has gotten worse in the past several years. We have seen what happens when neither side want to work together and instead just point fingers. This goes for the halls of the Capitol and the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

We need candidates that are willing to step up and acknowledge that in divided government it becomes necessary to govern with the other side and govern by that mentality. It cannot be an all-or-nothing approach. And it is up to us, the voters, to ensure this and to hold our elected officials accountable to it.

Presidential candidates will spout off promises and tell their voters what they want to hear. But when the dust settles, and we have a winner, then it’s an entirely new situation. They must figure out what they have in common and work through their differences keeping open communication the entire time.

A recent RCP poll average gives Congress a 14-percent approval rating. As we vote, we should remember that as well. We have repeatedly said that we are tired of brinkmanship and going from one crisis to another with only immediate fixes and not long-term solutions. The time has now come to elect candidates that can and will work together regardless of the ideological divide.

So how do the various candidates plan to govern with the other side? I guess we should start asking and find out.

Of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: An Act of Treason?

There’s nothing like a slight treasonous scandal to pull a political writer out of a little sabbatical. When hearing of this, I didn’t think it was something that I could sit on the sidelines for. So here I am immersing myself in a political debate that should have bigger ramifications than it probably will.

Treason is defined in the dictionary as:

1. the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
2. a violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state.
3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

It is the only crime that is specifically mentioned in the US Constitution. (Article 3, Section 3)

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

Keep your mind on what you just read as there is a possibility that you will be contemplating them as we go through this whole ordeal.

The United States has been negotiating for a nuclear agreement with Iran since 2006 along with 5 other countries which is known as the P5+1 group. The five countries are the US, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China, and the +1 being Germany. The goal is to keep Iran from having nuclear missiles. In 2013, and interim agreement was reached with a comprehensive agreement due later this month.

With the deadline approaching some Senators have expressed concern over what a final comprehensive deal might look like and have a desire for the final deal to be debated on voted on in the Senate as a treaty would be under Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution. However, freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark) has gone even a step further by submitting a letter with 46 other signatures of Republican Senators to the leader of Iran expressing that any nuclear treaty with the country would not be upheld once President Obama leaves office.

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Now let me bring in the Logan Act which was passed by Congress in 1799. It prohibits unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. Violation of this act is a felony.

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

Under Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution, “[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…” The President has the power to appoint ambassadors and to conduct negotiations with foreign governments. The Senate does not come in to the equation until the vote for approval is needed. By this, Senator Cotton does not have the authority to approach Iran on any subject that is concurrent with the ongoing negotiations. To have done so is a violation of the Logan Act.

According to a recent article on Politico, this is not the first time that one party has accused the other of violating the Logan Act. Republicans screamed it in 1987 after Congress cut off aid to Nicaragua’s Contra rebels. Democrats ran (and ultimately won both chambers of Congress) in 2006 on forcing then-President George W. Bush to come up with a timetable for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Speaker Pelosi would also go against the wishes of the White House in 2007 and travel to Damascus to meet with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

So where does all of this then fall in? If it has been done before then should we just brush it aside again? In this case, I would suggest no. It does violate international law. It does undermine the full faith and credit of the US, which is already shaky in the world as it is especially in regards to Iran where neither side completely trusts the other. Senator Cotton had no authority to write and send that letter which was in an effort to derail negotiations with a foreign government before a final deal is reached. It was out of his jurisdiction as a US Senator.

Remember those definitions of treason at the beginning? If this isn’t it then it comes dangerously close to that line. The overall goal of the letter was to do harm and to instill a sense of a betrayal of trust and confidence against our country.

The Battle of Small Town America and the Minimum Wage

The following is an Op-Ed.

This might be considered a more conservative piece from me.  Last week the city of Seattle passed legislation that raised the minimum wage in that city to $15 an hour.  As this is an election year, and one in which Democrats are expected to lose seats in both chambers, this has become a hot button topic with both parties resorting to their partisan talking points to motive their base of voters.

For those that have been protesting for the past several months, the increase in the minimum wage by the city of Seattle was a major step.  Though I do think that minimum wage should be higher than it is currently, I think Seattle may have gone a bit overboard and placed it too high even though it was set at what the protesters have been wanting.

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Courtesy of ABC News/Fusion

A Facebook friend recently had discussion about this, and he made some valid points in his argument that are often overlooked with all the partisan rhetoric. Though we tend to place the focus for this debate on fast food workers, it also comes down to those “mom and pop” stores as well.

Big chain stores like fast food places and stores like Target can usually absorb the increase with a slight bump.  But it’s the “mom and pop” stores —  those little neighborhood places — that will bare the brunt of such an increase.  It is places such as these that have to work to make a profit and afford the few workers that they do hire.  With such an increase, most of them won’t be able to keep their staff which could result them going out of business since they are not able to deliver the same customer service as before.

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Courtesy of The Atlantic

According the the above chart, as of 2011 the bulk of minimum wage earners are 16-34.  This encompasses high school and college students and those just after college.

Now I should point out that during college I had a minimum wage job, and I had a different minimum wage job for a couple of years after graduating… which was in 2002.  I did not want either of these jobs to be my career as I had just completed 4-years of college, but it was a way to make money and gain some valuable work experience.  I continued to search for a career job during that time.  And like now, 2002 wasn’t the best time to be looking for work.

So what if I would have had to stay at that minimum wage longer than I did?  I knew that I could work my way up and get a promotion which would have included more money.  I would have taken the matter into my own hands rather than expect the government to do something about it.

If someone doesn’t like that they earn just minimum wage and have to work several jobs, then why not apply for jobs that pay more? Why not work to get promoted at the place you already work… maybe a manager or something similar?  We all have access to a “free” public education through high school.  We always have the choice of going to college (or back to college) or even to a technical school which would provide us access to jobs that pay better.  This is not the cheapest route to take, and that part of the topic is for another discussion.

There still needs to be an incentive for someone to better themselves.  If I’m making $15 an hour at McDonald’s or Target, what is the incentive for me to go to college and get a degree when I could just start work and save those thousands of dollars?

Some might argue that it would force universities to lower tuition to try and lure prospective students.  But in reality, the exact opposite would happen in that the universities would start raising tuition even more as enrollments declined in much the same way that airlines keep raising prices to make more money (and cover expenses) though they knock more people out of being able to afford it altogether.

Also last week, the government released numbers stating that the number of jobs had returned to pre-recession levels.  My reaction to this was whether the jobs that have been created are of the same caliber as the ones that were lost.  Have we replaced good-paying jobs with minimum wage jobs?  Are we adding more wood to the fire to make this issue even bigger or are we creating the types of jobs people can make careers from?

My overall point is quite simple: take charge of your own life rather than letting the government do it for you. If you don’t like making minimum wage then take steps to work your way out of it.  It may take some time, and it may not be the route you want to take, but it can be done.  And yes, let’s raise the minimum wage slightly to an acceptable level that won’t force small businesses out of business.  Remember, it is suppose to be the ‘minimum’ wage… the base, so to speak… and not necessarily a career wage.

Reforming the Electoral College

The way we elect the President and Vice-President in the US is quite unique compared to the way we elect every other elected office.  We don’t elect them directly. Instead, we vote for Electors who then cast votes for President and Vice-President.

Electors from each state are supposed to cast their votes for whichever candidate won that state’s popular vote… “Winner Take All.”  Every once in awhile there is a rogue Elector that casts a different vote.  It doesn’t matter how many votes a candidate won the popular vote of a state, that candidate will receive all the Electoral Votes, except in the states of Nebraska and Maine which reward their votes based on whichever candidate won the congressional district.  The extra two votes are then given to the winner of the state’s popular vote.

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2 of the US Constitution

Only four times in American history has the Electoral Vote and the Popular Vote been different… 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000.  There have been numerous calls for Electoral reform since the 2000 election but nothing has gained a lot of attraction.  To completely abolish the Electoral College, there would have to be a constitutional amendment.  But to make changes to how those electors are awarded (without abolishing the Electoral College) could be easily done without changing the Constitution as each state has the right to determine how it rewards the Electors.

After the 2008 election, Republican legislatures in several states which did include several swing states like Virginia tried to change how their state’s would cast their ballots.  Their plan was similar to Nebraska and Maine but with a little tweak.  The Electors would be determined by whoever won the congressional districts.  The difference would lie in how the other two Electors (the ones that represent a state’s Senators) would be chose by whichever candidate won the most districts instead of the candidate that won the popular vote of the state.  This did not sit well with Democrats and nothing came from these plans in any of the states.

There is a movement that is gaining traction though.  It’s called the National Popular Vote (NPV).  This would require a state’s Electors to vote for whichever candidate won the national popular vote in an election.  This way the winner of the popular vote would not lose to the winner of the Electoral College as happened last in 2000.

As of now, 11-states plus DC have enacted NPV legislation. (The Hill) It accounts for 165 Electoral Votes in total so far and needs only 270 in order for it to become active in the states that have passed the legislation.  Of the states that have enacted such legislation, most of liberal-leaning such as Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, etc.

2012-Election-Results-by-CD

2012 Election Results by Congressional Districts

But as this new debate continues in other states, there is the question as to whether this is any better than the current system.  Each state is separate from the others.  The Founding Fathers wanted there to be state autonomy and unification under the federal government.  Each state gets to choose how it decides its Electors in the broader election.  But is it fair to have a state’s Electors cast their votes for a candidate that the people of that state didn’t choose simply because more voters throughout the rest of the country voted for the other candidate?

As of April 15, 2014, Oklahoma was one of a half-dozen states considering NPV legislation.  Can anyone imagine that state casting is Electoral Votes for a Democrat despite the people of the state voting for the Republican candidate in large numbers?  Oklahoma is one of the “reddest” states out there.

Yes, NPV is an effort to make sure that every vote counts and not just those in swing states as our current system does.  But it almost sounds as though the NPV would overrule a state who’s population disagreed with the popular vote.  And without most states (more than 270 Electoral Votes) being a part of this plan, it would focus all of the attention on to the states that do have such a law enacted should it become so.

According to a 2007 Washington Post Poll, 78% of Democrats support direct popular vote in future presidential elections.  60% of Republicans and 73% of Independents also support such a move.  But would a direct popular vote shift focus to the major cities and away from the rural areas since that is where the bulk of the population lives?

Maybe states should consider what Nebraska and Maine have.  Rewarding Electors by the popular vote of each congressional district and giving the candidate that wins the popular vote of the state the extra 2 votes.  Though it has only happened once in the two states that currently use this method (Nebraska-02 in 2008), most states have districts that swing in the opposite direction of a state’s typical Electoral Vote.  There are Republican districts in California and Democratic districts in Texas.  Suddenly, both parties would focus on those particular districts and any swing districts.

There is no definite answer to the solution to the way we elect our President and Vice-President.  There are pros and cons for any option.  We just need to make it as fair and balanced as possible so that the majority of Americans feel included in the political process and there is not a focus on just a handful of states.

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