Wealthy Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack is locked in a tight and bitter Congressional race against a progressive Democrat with an inspiring story. While her campaign focuses on red-baiting her opponent (yes, they still do that in 2012) a new nonpartisan analysis shows that Mack scores "zero" on voting for the interests of the middle class.
Actually, make that less than zero. Mack has actively worked to undermine middle-class interests, including those of her own constituents, many of whom are struggling underwater homeowners. She's also displayed withering contempt for some residents of her own district, whose neighborhoods she laughingly agreed was a "third world toilet."
There's something particularly distasteful about seeing someone who earned her Congressional seat the "old-fashioned way" -- that is, through nepotism, cronyism and big-money politics -- describe the homes of her own constituents that way.
What's truly "third world" about Mary Bono Mack's district is the fact that it's represented by somebody who seems to think like a Latin American caudillo.
Middle Class "Mack Attack"
TheMiddleClass.Org (a project of the Campaign for America's Future, where I am a Senior Fellow) recently analyzed the voting record of every member of Congress and created the Middle Class Voters Guide.
As the Huffington Post noted, this was a truly nonpartisan analysis that scored some Democrats poorly. As might be expected, however, Republicans as a group scored worse. A number of them, in fact, scored an absolute "zero" on representing the middle class.
Representatives with that dubious distinction include Paul Ryan -- and Mary Bono Mack. How does a Representative get a "zero" on middle-class issues, anyway? Here's how Mary Bono Mack did it:
Bono Mack voted for the Ryan/Romney/Republican budget, which (among other things) would dismantle Medicare as we know it and leave an ineffectual voucher system in its place. That budget also cuts funding for everything from cops on the beat to early warning of floods and hurricanes.
Although Bono Mack expresses concern about the national debt, she voted against the Progressive Congressional Caucus budget that reduces that debt. It would also create middle-class jobs and rebuild schools and bridges.
She voted to extend the Bush "millionaire and billionaire" tax cuts which would give her fellow millionaires an average tax break of $160,000 every year -- while leaving middle class and lower-income Americans on the ropes financially.
Bono Mack also voted to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to extend jobs-killing "free trade" to South Korea, and against employees' rights to organize.
In a better world, Mack's voting record would be the focus of the campaign. Instead her team is going after opponent Raul Ruiz, an idealistic young physician with an inspirational life story, for statements he made as a young activist at Harvard.
The attacks on Ruiz for youthful actions don't seem to be working. Ruiz went door to door in the Coachella Valley as a young man, asking for donations toward his education and promising to serve the community once he graduated.
He kept that promise.
Changing the Subject
Nobody has accused Mary Bono Mack of a lifelong passion for political engagement and social change. She married the much older pop musician turned restauranteur Sonny Bono at the age of 25. Sonny reportedly entered politics after becoming frustrated with the red tape it took to open his Palm Springs restaurant. That's not a problem most people can relate to.
But my musical background prevents me from saying anything bad about the guy who wrote "Needles and Pins." Sonny and Cher may not have been my favorite musical group, and Salvatore Bono's greatest musical gift may have been self-promotion, but he succeeded on his own terms -- and he wrote some good songs. I think I would've liked him.
Bono's tragic death in 1998 opened the door to a political career for his wife. Many fine public servants entered politics the same way, including California's admirable Representative Lois Capps. Bono Mack should be judged on her merits and her own record.
It's not a good record. No wonder she's trying to change the subject.
Bono Mack's political views reflect the economic interests of her big-money donors far more than they do that of the middle-class and lower-income voters in her district. She's raised more than $11 million since 1998, and her top contributors include The National Auto Dealers Association, ATT, the National Realtors Association and the National Home Builders Association.
No wonder she's shown so little interest in the plight of her district's homeowners, who have seen their housing values plummet and foreclosures go through the roof. Higher-income homes are rebounding in her district, but years of plunging home prices have left her middle class constituents saddled with debt, stripped of their savings and facing a wave of foreclosures.
That big-money focus has continued in this year's campaign, where Bono Mack had raised more than $1.8 million as of last report. Her top industry contributors include Comcast and Qualcomm, which is undoubtedly the result of her fight for big telecom companies -- and against consumers.
Roughly half that money -- nearly a million dollars -- comes from PACs, while more than $700,000 comes from large individual contributors.
Mack's got about a third more money in her coffers than Ruiz, according to the data -- and that's not counting third-party ad buys from corporate-funded organizations like Karl Rove's American Crossroads GPS. Ruiz has received more than twice as much from small contributors, but that doesn't make up for his shortfall from the big-money crowd. In this tight race, he'll take every penny he can get from small contributors.
"Thank you!!!!" Mack wrote to the jock. "I heard some of your remarks with the councliman from Coachella. You were great!!!!!! Unbelievably great!!! Third World Toilet? That was too funny ... You rock and are so damn funny and smart! Hey, how come you don't send me poems and Shakespeare anymore? I miss that!"
It's a measure of Bono Mack's tastelessness that even the radio host seemed embarrassed and responded coolly.
A group of high school and college students responded more thoroughly to Bono Mack's email, after her office issued a placid and ineffectual denial:
"I welcome Bono Mack to walk the streets of Duroville, especially after the recent torrential downpour so she can experience firsthand what it really is like to live a life where the very air you breathe may be poisonous and where the streets you walk are covered in waste."
Bono Mack voted to gut environmental regulations.
"If Bono Mack is making such remarks when she thinks no one is noticing, what stops her from feeling the same way about neighboring cities?"
Or, to put it another way, what does she think about the "47 percent"?
"The living conditions of Duroville are not comedy sketch material. Treating them as such is tantamount to playground bullying."
"I would appreciate very much if our Congresswoman would see the Eastern Coachella Valley's current living conditions as a call to action rather than a source of amusement."
But you can't cut taxes for her wealthy friends in Palm Springs unless you ignore living conditions, not only in the Eastern Coachella Valley, but anywhere outside the enclaves of the wealthy and powerful.
Time For Change
Mary Bono Mack isn't a bad person. Her stands on gay rights and prescription drug addiction are commendable.
But she doesn't seem to know or care very much about the lives of her own constituents. Maybe that's because she's so wealthy she doesn't share their problems. It can't help that, as the wife of a Florida politician (Rep. Connie Mack), she doesn't spend much time with them anymore.
Whatever the reasons, Mary Bono Mack is hopelessly out of touch with most people's fears and concerns. She's been unhelpful -- in fact, downright destructive -- to the economic needs of the middle class. The voters of her district would be wise to select someone who can truly represent them as their Representative in Washington.
P.S.: Additional items of interest
Campaign for America's Future is running an ad campaign which tells voters about vulnerable Representatives who have low ratings in the Middle Class Voter Guide. You can contribute to the campaign by clicking here.
There's more information on Raul Ruiz here.
You can hear "Needles and Pins" on YouTube -- by the great Jackie DeShannon, the Searchers (the British group who had a big hit with it), and the Ramones. (This isn't Joey Ramone's best performance -- his pitch is off in places -- but I still maintain that the under-appreciated lead singer was the male Ronnie Spector).
You can learn more about Sonny's co-writer, the brilliant if troubled Jack Nitszche, here.
There's also a very decent cover of "Needles and Pins" by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty.
Fun Fact: Tom Petty's hometown of Gainesville, FL, is just a couple of hundred miles from the home district of Mary Bono Mack's husband, Rep. Connie Mack.
More Fun Facts:
Connie Mack's district is 2,541 miles from Mary Bono Mack's district.
Connie Mack is not to be confused with legendary guitarist Lonnie Mack. Lonnie, like Sonny Bono, earned his rewards solely through his own talents and effort.
By contrast, Connie Mack got his political career through family connections -- a trait he shares with his wife, and with his party's presidential candidate. Mack's father was a prominent Representative and Senator, and he had political connections on his mother's side too.
Our political system, especially our system of campaign funding, gives enormous advantages to wealthy and well-connected people like Connie Mack, Mary Bono Mack and Mitt Romney. Those advantages aren't available to idealists like Dr. Raul Ruiz.
The name we have given to that political system is "democracy."