Missed Opportunities

A week or so ago we had two gubernatorial candidates in the office, Republican Kevin Smith and Democrat Jackie Cilley. I did my best to push both of them on their weaknesses. Smith says Concord needs reform from someone who understands business, but he’s spent most his life working closely with the legislature, not in the private sector. I couldn’t understand how someone with 15 years working in Concord who listed his understanding of how the system worked as one of his chief assets could be the architect of that system’s reform. Cilley, meanwhile, said she was “looking” at everything, but she refused to be specific about what taxes she would increase to pay for the services she wants government to provide.

It wasn’t until after Cilley left, however, that I stumbled on the big question I wish I’d asked her. Cilley has refused to take “the Pledge,” something just about every New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate has to take. It is a promise not to institute a broad-based income or sales tax. Cilley said she isn’t planning to institute such a tax, but she wants all options on the table. Further, she said, she doesn’t believe in pledge politics. It poisons the atmosphere. She resoundingly rejected the pledges Republicans took about taxes, singling out Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge.

I could understand her position, but then after she left I took a look at her website. I went to the issues page and scrolled to the bottom where she discusses her position on same-sex marriage. It reads:

I was proud to support marriage equality as a state Senator. I would never support taking away a citizen’s rights and believe that marriage is a private decision for couples to make rather than governments to decide.

I would never support taking away a citizen’s rights — that sounds to me like a line in the sand, a promise, an ultimatum, something Cilley swears she will never do. When put next to the heading Same Sex Marriage, I get the distinct impression she is making a pledge. She is promising, pledging, never to try to repeal same-sex marriage.

Why is it OK for Cilley to engage in pledge politics on the issue of same-sex marriage while rebuking pledge politics when it comes to taxes? I’m not sure. It seemed a big hole to me. I would imagine many politicians, like many people, have clear views on social issues that are not subject to changes. Stating them clearly for the record isn’t a bad thing. Promising your constituents you will stick by that position after they send you into office isn’t a bad thing either. That, essentially, is a pledge. It is a campaign promise. I would say it is one you make particularly forcefully, but that’s still what it is. So to hear Cilley decry them in one context yet make one in another (albiet without using the word pledge, but a rose by any other name is still a rose…) is strange. It makes me wonder if all this talk of pledges is just politics. It’s something I’d like to ask her. Hopefully I’ll get another shot.

Why It Sucks to Be a Democrat

Ever thought about running for political office? If so, do yourself a favor, throw in with the G.O.P.

Why? Because being a Democrat sucks.

We have had candidates streaming into our office, people running for everything from county attorney to sheriff to state representative to governor. Many of them sit down with our editorial staff to answer questions and discuss their views. I view it as my job to make that experience tough, something they hopefully remember. No matter their political affiliation I want to shoot holes in their platform. I look at it as testing them to see what they are made of, whether they have whatever it is voters deserve.

A recent visitor, Jackie Cilley, is running for the governor’s seat, and her visit got me thinking about how hard it is to be a democrat today. The Republican Party today has a strong bias towards one thing — cutting government. It has gotten to a point where longtime establishment Rockefeller Republicans have told me they feel ostracized in their  own party. Dept and spending need to be slashed, the argument goes, even if it threatens our nation’s credit rating (last year’s debt ceiling debate).

With that in mind, think about what it takes to run as a Republican. Think about how those candidates address editorial boards like ours. What would you like to do about taxes? “Cut them.” Should the government regulate (fill in the blank)?  “No, government is the problem. We need to get government out of the way.” What should we do about unemployment? (Or health care, or public transportation, or the banking sector, or…) “Again, we need to get government out of the way. Let the public sector work. Government is not the answer.”

It is an easy game. The unrestrained free market mantra in vogue with the G.O.P. right now has an obvious script, and anyone can play.

Democrats, however, have a harder task. They have to talk about services and taxes, and they have to get it right. It’s easy to point out education funding got cut and the roads are in disrepair, but how do you plan to generate the revenue to rectify that problem? How can we be sure your new environmental (labor, financial, etc.) regulations will be reasonable, not onerous? How do you plan to pay for increased unemployment benefits (social services, health care, etc.)?

These are no easy answers. There are lots of pitfalls, lots of opportunities to look like you’re just trying to grow the state machine. There is no mantra you can memorize to handle every question. The challenge is much greater than that Republicans face.

It used to be the two parties both agreed government provided a needed service, it was just the degrees that differed. It was a Republican, not a Democrat, (Nixon) who created the Environmental Protection Agency. It was President Eisenhower who created the interstate system. But today the boundaries have shifted. Democrats are the only ones arguing for services (mostly), while Republicans are itching to eliminate everything.

And it’s the Democrats who face the uphill battle.

Moving Up

Cool news — I have been promoted to News Editor at the Conway Daily Sun. It isn’t really like I’m anyone’s boss, and I didn’t take anyone else’s position, but I will now be responsible for coordinating our day-to-day coverage to ensure we have more strong stories more consistently. It means trying to coordinate everyone a little better, although my reporting duties have not changed. I’m psyched, and the first few days of it have been going well. Now let’s just hope I deliver a strong front page.

Surrealism on the Big Screen

Sometimes it’s all about the photograph, but sometimes words can paint the more complete picture.

I was in court this afternoon and happened to sit in on the arraignment of a young woman charged with stealing a credit card and using it three times. She looked to be in her early twenties, with long brown hair and glasses. She looked like she could easily have been on break from college, only the prosecutor said she isn’t. She also isn’t employed, and she was already out on bail for burglary charges. I wasn’t there for the young woman’s hearing, but the clerk would be busy until it was over so I figured I’d sit through it rather than wait in the hall.

The proceeding was different than others I’ve been to. Instead of a judge sitting at an elevated desk at the front of the room there was a large screen television mounted at the witness stand. The court was doing a video arraignment, the clerk told me, something they’d just begun within the last month. On top of the television was a cylindrical camera, roughly the size of a soft drink cup, what pointed at the defendant. In the lower right corner was a square showing what the camera was capturing. The rest of the screen was for the judge.

A judge an hour and a half away came to the screen at the push of the button, and everyone in the room rose as if he had just walked in. The judge’s clerk (there were two — one in the room the young woman, the prosecutor and I were in, and then one with the judge) read the charges the young woman was facing — one count of theft and three counts of credit card fraud. The prosecutor, a sergeant with the Conway Police Department, read an affidavit that said the woman stole the card from an associate and charged $500 on it. He also mentioned her other pending cases, and that she was after money for drugs.

This girl looked like she could have been taking classes at any university, or working in the coffee shop down the street. I’m not sure exactly when, but around the time the prosecutor asked the judge to set bail at $5,000 cash she began to cry.

She continued to cry as she stood and pleaded to the television that she did not want to go to jail. “I just want to go home,” she said, her voice broken. I wonder if she noticed the bailiff, just in front of her and to the right, sending a text message on his cell phone. “I have no one here,” she said. $5,000 would be too much.

I’ve never had to post anyone’s bail, but as I sat there watching her cry I considered it. They will eat her up in jail, I thought. The judge listened as she cried and spoke. Her back was to me, but I could see her reflection in the television screen as she wiped her eyes. I had to look away. And I wasn’t alone. There three other police officers in the room, and they all were looking at their feet, at the ceiling, anywhere but at her, embarrassed and sad for her but at the same time mad at her.

The room felt cold. I couldn’t help but envision the photo I wanted, the photo I knew would capture the inhumanity I was watching. It would take a wide angle lens, and it would be in black and white. In the foreground would be the bailiff’s phone, open in his hand, held next to his leg. Beyond him would be the young woman, slightly out of focus, her hands over her face. Beyond her, in the middle, would be the judge, just inches tall on the television screen deciding her fate.

I’m not sure what I saw in that room, what it says about humanity, the electronic age or the future of justice. But I did see something that struck me as an opportunity for art to make its social commentary. The room felt cold, the justice system felt cold, in a way it never has when there is a human sitting at the front of the room.

This young woman didn’t get that, however. She got a $5,000 cash bail. And with that she got a free ride to the house of corrections, and orange jumpsuit and shackles.