Sunday Political Brunch: Political Odds and Ends

Sunday, April 23, 2017


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Mark Curtis

Congress is coming back to Washington, D.C. this week after a two-week recess, or as the members call it, “a district work period.” Many in the public and the press call it a “vacation,” but for many Senators and Representatives it’s a busy time to meet with constituents across districts and states. Having been a staffer for two members of Congress, I can tell you it’s mostly work; not play. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Coal in Your Stocking” – Sometimes in the world of politics, a local, or regional issue will go national. That will happen this week when the Coal Miners Protection Act is up for a final vote in the House and Senate. The bill would provide health insurance for 23,000 retired miners who lost coverage after their coal company employers went bankrupt. The legislation mostly affects Appalachian States (see photo above), but coal is mined in places such as North Dakota, Illinois, and, Wyoming, too. A controversial inclusion to also pay for workers’ lost pensions will stir opposition and debate, especially in non-mining states. That provision is likely to fail.

“Not All Politics is Local” – Yes, this issue hits close to home in West Virginia where I work now, but it also raises concerns about “who” pays for “what” at the federal level. The issue with the pensions revives worries about what happens in other industries. If Chrysler closes and goes bankrupt, should taxpayers have to pay for its worker pensions, too? Coal supporters say their pensions will be paid for by monies from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, but what about other industries with no such revenue stream? This issue is likely to expand; not go away.

“It’s Not a Trump Referendum” – Much was made this week about a special election in Georgia to fill the seat of former Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) who is now President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also once held this seat, so it’s a reliable Republican stronghold. But this week, an upstart Democrat named Jon Ossoff won with 48 percent of the vote, against a field that included 18 candidates, including many Republicans who split the vote. Since he did not win a majority, Ossoff must now face former Secretary of State Karen Handell (R-GA), in a two-person runoff election. It’s a new race.

“What’s Trending Matters” – The national press – and a lot of politicos on both sides of the aisle – obsess about these races, which are truly minutia. One race, does not a trend make. Maybe Democrat Ossoff will ultimately win; maybe Republican Handell will save the seat for her party. It’s a net-sum gain of zero for both parties. This Georgia Congressional district is just one of 435 nationwide. How can either side claim it as a bellwether for Trump, 2018, or, any other outcome? You want a trend? In the 1994 midterm election, Republicans gained 54 seats in the U.S. House and took the majority for the first time in 40 years. In 2006, Democrats won 31 seats and took back control with the first female Speaker of the House in charge. Both elections made history.

“Throw Up My Hands” – As much as I preach against reading too much onto one single election - or a few – I am swimming against the media tide. Later this year, New Jersey and Virginia will both elect new Governors – the only two states to do so in an odd-numbered election year. In the past, results have produced such notables as the states’ two current chief executives: Gov. Chris Christie, (R-NJ) and Gov. Terry McAuliffe, (D-VA). Both their wins were attention-getting; yet, neither of their wins moved the national political needle an inch. Whomever wins this year in the Garden State or the Dominion State will be interesting, but not a trend.

“On the Other Hand” – Virginia remains a notable state to watch, though. The once solid red state from 1964 to 2004, has gone blue in the past three Presidential elections. It’s truly an important swing state with 15 Electoral College votes. I say this because in the field of Democratic Presidential possibilities, I am handicapping Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). The once Governor-turned-U.S. Senator has a similar resume to recent Vice Presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine, (D-VA). I think Warner has White House potential, more so than Kaine. Keep watching!

“Proof of My Point” – Speaking of special elections – where a lot of political viability is in play – we had another recent result in Kansas. Republican Ron Estes was elected to the House of Representatives to replace former Rep. Mike Pompeo, who is now CIA Director. Again, there were hopes a Democrat would win the seat – in a so-called Trump referendum – but the issues were mostly local, and national politics was not the determining factor.

“Why Does This Happen?” – As much as I hate political hype and handicapping, it’s part of our election culture. Whenever I speak to Rotary Clubs and other groups, the first question is always, “Who is going to win?” Then audience members tell me how much they hate how we overdo polling in the media (and I’m not saying I disagree with them). You can’t win!

“Kim Jong Un-Done” – I’ll be honest, it is frustrating and sad to me as a U.S. citizen (as well as a reporter in the free press), to watch what is happening from North Korea. Dictator Kim Jong Un threatens to launch a nuclear missile attack on the United States or other closer targets, yet his missile launches have so far been a disaster. But, sooner or later I worry he’ll get it right and at least hit a closer target than San Francisco – say South Korea. What’s the proper response? What should President Trump do, and will we have a united U.S. response. I believe we may be days away.

“Why All of This Matters?” – Yes, the next significant election – as far as trends are concerned – is November 2018. That’s a long way off. A lot of big decisions – whether on Obamacare or North Korea – will come well before then, and could be big factors in the outcome. Today may not be a factor; tomorrow might!

What worries you the most right now? Just click on the comment button at


Related Slideshow: Trump’s Win - What Does it Mean for Rhode Island?

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Jennifer Duffy

Cook Report

"We don't really know what a Trump presidency means for the nation, never mind the smallest state.  One of the unintended consequences of last night's results is that Sen. Jack Reed won't be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Chalk that up as a loss for RI."

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Pam Gencarella

Head of Ocean State Taxpayers' Association

"Trump’s win means that his signature issue, illegal immigration, could have a big impact on RI, hopefully reversing our course as a sanctuary state and saving the state taxpayer millions of dollars.  While we agree with his 'repeal and replace' Obamacare stance, we have no idea what that means to the RI debacle known as UHIP.  It is not a stretch to believe that federal funding for this kind of system will be off the table so, will RI be stuck with this massively expensive system that still doesn’t work and that is expected to cost another $124 million to fix?  

Trump's belief that there is significant fraud in the Food Stamp program and the policies that may come from that belief could have a negative impact on RI's local economy since there are businesses in certain cities that rely heavily on this program, fraud and all. On the upside, we may be able to ditch the UHIP program if there is significantly less need for processing welfare program requests (ie. Medicaid and food stamps) resulting from fewer illegal immigrants and less fraud.  While we are ambivalent about his touted child care policies, if enacted, it may force our legislators to revisit the ever growing state cost of subsidies in this area and possibly reduce the fraud and abuse in this system." 

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Kay Israel

Professor at Rhode Island College

"With a Republican President and Congress, Rhode Island will probably be excluded from the 'fruits of victory."  

The congressional delegation will be able to vocally make their presence felt, but in the long term it's more symbolic than substantive.  

For Rhode Island it's a matter of holding on and waiting until '18 or '20 and a surge in Democratic influence."

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Jennifer Lawless

Professor at American University

"The RI congressional delegation just became even less powerful than it was. With unified government, Trump doesn’t need to quell Democrats’ concerns or acquiesce because he’s worried about a Democratically-controlled Senate.

His appointments will reflect that. His executive orders will affect that. And the conservative policy agenda he puts forward will affect that."

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Len Lardaro

Professor at University of Rhode Island

"Well there's a few things -- because there's not going to be gridlock, that's a big difference if it had been Hillary and a GOP Congress, in which nothing would got done. We'll at least get a half a billion in infrastructure that's going to pass which will have an impact.

I think you'll see there will be reduced reliance on government nationally -- and that's where we'll stick out like sore thumb. We've relied way too much on government -- and our government is highly inefficient and ineffective.  Maybe, just maybe, in this who cycle of things we might be forced to be small and more efficient for once.

A couple of other things -- interest rates jumped. The one to follow is the ten year government bond rate -- which is tied to mortgages. It went from 1.7% to 2.05% in one day. The point is -- if the ten year stays high, mortgage rates will start going higher -- and in the short time people will run to re-finance. 

That's the short term impact -- but then if rates stay hight, that will make mortgages more out of reach. And we just passed a bond issue to limit open space -- housing has limited upside here.
The next thing -- the Fed Reserve will go ahead with tightening next month. A strong dollar will hurt manufacturing. When the dollar is strong our exports become more expensive overseas. 

Our goods production sector -- manufacturing and construction -- in the near term will do a little better, but as time goes on will be more limited. But something you won't hear, is there are lags in fiscal policy, of six months to year. So we won't really see the effects until the third our fourth quarter of 2017, going into 2018."

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Mike Stenhouse

RI Center for Freedon and Prosperity

"As the unbelievable turned into reality this morning, it struck me that the presidential election was not really all about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It was about a fed-up people, revolting against a corrupt system - the "beast" - that relentlessly favors insiders. Hillary personified the beast, while Donald personified the slayer.

Sadly, based on election results in our state, Rhode Island's version of the beast lives on. I fear our political class has not learned the lessons from the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump movements - and will continue with their government-centric, anti-family, anti-business status quo."

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Kristina Contreras Fox

VP of Young Democrats of America

"A Trump Presidency means the validation of the ugliest part of America. In RI, as with the rest of the country, the hammer of his hatred will fall hardest on minority communities. Being a blue state doesn't make us immune from this danger.

Trump won over 35% (39.5) of the vote here! We need to look in the mirror, and not lie about what the reflection shows us. No more hiding underneath a blue blanket. I expect those who claim Democratic values to be true to those values. The gulf between words and actions have turned into fertile ground for Trump's message to grow here in RI. If you call yourself a Democrat, if you claim to stand in opposition to Trump, now is the time to prove it. Show up and fight back."


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