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Changing Politics as Usual: Why We Need Andrew Romanoff, the Grassroots Choice

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Tuesdays with the Speaker
As Speaker of the Colorado House, Andrew Romanoff opened his Capitol office doors to the public every Tuesday, inviting anyone to bring his/her concerns to him. It was the Speaker's way of bringing some balance to the statehouse, where the influence of lobbyists predominates. Romanoff has always been the grassroots legislator, close to the people, walking precincts, not just his own, but also those of other legislators - one way he helped build a Democratic majority after only four years in the House, two as minority leader.

Andrew understands what a tone-deaf Washington does not. Talking to people where they live, in the precincts, provides the best measure of people's well-being. There is a real sense of frustration among voters across the spectrum, as many in the corporate-controlled states of America generally perceive fewer real choices in post-2008 elections. Political columnist David Broder describes a "two-party straightjacket" and an explosion of the disaffected hungering for something different - something other than politics as usual. Current top-down corporate party control greatly limits voters' choices to that of the "other" in each election cycle, or to just staying home.

While Broder attributes the disappearance of a political center to party polarization, the likely culprit is corporatization of the two major political parties, both of which lean evermore rightward. Republicans are falling off the right edge of their flat earth, even as Democrats triangulate to the right on many issues, from health care to energy and banking regulation. In a process accelerated since Newt Gingrich goaded lobbyists in 1994 to get on board with Republicans or be frozen out, both parties have become firmly ensconced in the pockets of their corporate puppet masters.

What's the Matter with Politics?
The frustration for grassroots Democrats is watching the center of many debates shift ever-further to the right, even as Democrats have squandered their majority, and, worse, have tried to compromise with Republicans intent only on overcoming democracy. Rahm Emanuel may flippantly dismiss progressives ("where are they going to go?"), but many in the broad middle, the disaffected grassroots, feel abandoned by the presidential promise of real change. Several in my community who were brought into the system two years ago with the promise of "change you can believe in" now express the futility of voting, seeing only status quo politics.

Much disaffection surrounds Democrats' failure to make the best case for reforms (often progressive solutions), e.g., of health care, energy policy and financial institutions. Democrats too often make Republicans' case for them. Despite Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck's assertions of a "lurch to the left," issues are largely framed by Republicans on the political right, with little if any countervailing perspective presented by Democrats.

Such failures leave an opening for the political right to successfully play on fears of financial and environmental crises that they themselves set in motion over the past three decades. Chaos, distortion and crises serve as allies of those seeking to stomp out democracy and drown government in a bathtub. Right-wing warmongers have succeeded in drastically shifting spending to the military, further excuse to wipe out all social spending (including Medicare and Social Security), and to generate budget crises at every level, from federal to state and city. Republicans run up huge deficits, and then complain about them when they are no longer a majority.

Andrew Romanoff has it right - real change will not occur until we end the flood of corporate cash that washed away consideration of real health care reform, and watered down Wall St. reform, as Congress continues to surrender these debates to corporations. The cesspool of corporate cash is exacerbated by the right-wing Supreme Court majority that counts money as speech and endorses unlimited, unchecked spending by the wealthy.

Corporate v. Grassroots Choice
Michael Bennet made his millions as a protege of Philip Anschutz, his corporate connections launching him on his trajectory toward appointment by Governor Ritter to fill former Sen. Ken Salazar's seat. The appointment dumbfounded the majority of Coloradans, who knew nothing about Bennet, and in a preference poll rated Andrew Romanoff their first choice for the seat. Bennet had vowed to dedicate five years to his tenure as Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, the time reduced to 3-1/2 years when the Senate seat came open. To some, Superintendent Bennet is remembered best for his attempts to superimpose a business model on the schools.

Senator Bennet has accepted large amounts of corporate cash, by the most recent accounts over $6 million.

Media pundits facilely dismiss any differences between the two Democratic U.S. Senate Candidates. View a 2-page contrast of some of the candidates' positions, and logos of some of Senator Bennet's corporate donors.

Some of Bennet's votes siding with big lobbies:

Banks
Bennet ranks among the top ten congressional recipients of Wall St. cash, the very groups that he oversees on the Senate Banking Committee.

Bennet voted with Wall St. bankers for lukewarm reforms and against breaking up too-big-to-fail banks, thus exposing U.S. taxpayers to future bank crises.

In 2009, Bennet opposed and helped defeat the rewriting of primary home mortgages so people can stay in their homes - an option permitted for those with second homes.

Oil Companies
Not only do many oil companies not pay taxes, they also receive tax credits. Even as some oil drilling corporations have compromised or destroyed large ecosystems while reaping record income of hundreds of billions of dollars a year (net, not gross), they have paid no federal income taxes.

Perhaps to the chagrin of the League of Conservation voters that endorsed him in January, Sen. Bennet voted in June against closing tax loopholes in order to require oil companies to pay federal income tax.

Cutting oil company special tax deductions, preferences, and credits would save the government an estimated $45 billion over the next 10 years.

Romanoff notes that oil and gas companies have also bought themselves exemptions from many regulations, including the safe drinking water act, clean air act, and others.

Health Insurance & Pharmaceutical Lobbies
Insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies wrote health care reform with billions in subsidies and inflated profits for themselves. Bennet touted the second best choice of a public option, but abandoned it, and never even considered best case reform of Medicare-for-All. Romanoff has expressed the folly of short-circuiting and conceding the health care reform debate to the corporations.

Ironically, Democrats produced health insurance reform centered around the unsustainable Republican "free-market" model of for-profit health insurances that siphon off the top 30% of every health care dollar (moderated to perhaps 25%), while shifting rising costs to customers. The real outrage should be that U.S. taxpayers are forced to subsidize to the tune of billions of dollars these private for-profit health insurances.

The Republican model limits choice to insurers, not to true choice of providers that would be available with a "Medicare-for-All" model, had Democrats made the best case for reform. Democrats will yet be held responsible for the unsustainable "free market" model of health care. Eventual requirements of for-profit insurers to cover all prompted the following forecast by the president of one insurance agency, ColoHealth.com, in its hardcopy May newsletter: "we believe that these changes will cause even higher rate increases of 100% to 200%."

As for keeping employer-provided health insurance, Fortune magazine reveals that some corporations, e.g., AT&T, Verizon, and Deere, are considering dropping employee health coverage to pay the lesser cost of a penalty.

Gun Lobby
Bennet has proved all too willing to bow to the extreme gun lobby, reflected by his votes to weaken concealed carry laws, to permit guns in national parks, and to void gun-safety laws in Washington D.C., as a condition of granting the District of Columbia a voting member of Congress.

The Corporate vs. The Grassroots Choice
Obama supporters are being told that they should support the "president's choice" for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat, and that it is good that Bennet collects huge sums of corporate money. Obama's group Organizing for America, ostensibly organizing around issues, has effectively become Organizing for Bennet in Colorado, where the group leases space and works out of the Democratic state party office.

Senator Obama rejected corporate PAC money. Presidential candidate Obama lagged considerably in Iowa in 2007. His 2008 Iowa caucus win is attributed to a stunning grassroots campaign of youth from many states knocking on voters' doors. The president should understand and respect the right of the Colorado grassroots to select their own senator.

As much as the corporate party structure has fought it, Coloradans have a unique chance this year to elect a smart, unbought senator not beholden to corporate money, and able to articulate issues to the grassroots, not from the distant position of a privileged elite. It is the difference between the corporate choice and the grassroots choice.

Our democracy is on life support, and the corporate media and political punditry cynically reduce politics to a horse race based on corporate money, rather than occasion for a serious analysis of issues. Public financing of campaigns is needed at all levels to begin to level the heavily tilted political playing field among candidates.

Romanoff offers a game-changing moment, the chance to elect someone willing to make the people's case, free of bondage to corporate cash. Grassroots, not top-down politics, generates change. If we do what we've always done, we get what we've always gotten.

As Andrew Romanoff said at the State Assembly:

"We can settle for the status quo, where we sell Senate seats to the highest bidder and turn Congress into a wholly owned subsidiary of the industries it's supposed to be regulating. Or we can say no. We can reject the politics of business as usual, the pay-to-play culture that corrupts Washington and corrodes our country."

To check your Colorado voter registration, to register to vote in the primary, or to change from unaffiliated to Democrat in order to vote in the Democratic primary, do so at www.GoVoteColorado.com before July 12. Denverites will get a mail-in primary ballot. Check with the County Clerk about other county elections.