Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Give Up On The Fifth

Several blogs are buzzing about Anne Northup and the old fifth district.

Everyone read
Ryan Alessi’s article. Northup is a congressional loser. She will not refurbish the district’s luster.

The "Old Fifth" Defined and In-Depth

Over the past few weeks a common theme has emerged in the Republican gubernatorial primary: the importance of the “old fifth” among the chattering class. Ryan Alessi recently reported that the area could no longer be considered the GOP’s Gibraltar; Bryan Mills has compared candidates’ attempts to woo this area to picking blackberries; and the KY Enquirer’s Pat Crowley wrote that Anne Northup’s pick of Jeff Hoover as her running mate was part of an effort to “corral the Old Fifth.” (Notice the capitalization in Crowley’s column.)

Despite its obvious importance, there’s the real possibility that there are a still a few readers who’re wondering whether this is some reference to a Masonic rite, a mysterious organization that stresses the number “5” as a part of its philosophy, or even an area similar to that facility in Nevada called “Area 51”, where Kentucky keeps aliens and spaceships. In fact, the Old Fifth is, perhaps unfortunately, nothing quite so mysterious or fascinating.

With Northup-Hoover, Old Fifth Has Chance to Regain Lost Influence

The last time voters in the “old fifth” had one of their own in Kentucky’s Governor’s office was 1931. That’s when Knox County pol Flem “Flam” Sampson was Governor. Sampson is best known for his efforts to create the Kentucky Colonel system and the Kentucky Progress Commission.

While there isn’t a candidate from the old fifth in the race this year, Jeff Hoover, who’s running for Lt. Governor under Anne Northup, would be a nice consolation prize for the region.

Northup/Hoover Influence in Old 5th

Cyberhillbilly has some more of his enlightened coverage of the 2007 governor's race here, here, and here.

Jonathan really has the best coverage of this thing so far. These pieces primarily define the Old Fifth and explain Northup/Hoover's potential for influence in this important region.

Northup Heads to 5th District

Former Louisville Congresswoman Anne Northup is venturing far beyond the Gene Snyder Freeway … campaigning in what Louie Nunn used to call “the old Republican fifth.” That’s a reference to the once Republican majority district that was basically centered on Lake Cumberland. Redistricting after the 1990 census took the 5th east and turned it slightly Democratic in registration. But Southern Kentucky is still reliably Republican in its voting patterns and registration. Counties like Pulaski, Laurel, Whitley, Clay and Russell can quickly add up the GOP vote. Northup is introducing herself in those areas, accompanied by her running mate from Jamestown, House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover.

School is Open, Fletcher is Closed

From Blue Grass, Red State:

Governor Fletcher cancelled a scheduled visit to East Carter Middle School this morning. Reportedly, it was due to snow. That's kind of hard to believe, since he was apparently able to make it to Ashland, just one county east in Boyd, for his Get Healthy thing. I'm not there, though, so I'm not sure. Maybe it was due to snow, but it doesn't take away from the fact that he has a horrible reputation for 1) being hard to reach and 2) making commitments and then cancelling. Something comes up every now and then, for sure, and that is certainly forgivable. Governor Fletcher has earned himself quite a reputation on this, however, and it hasn't done anything for the initial arrogance with which he and his staff entered Frankfort.

Fletcher is a Friend?

Senator Bunning endorsed Anne Northup.
With friends such as these…

You Have No Excuse

Right to Life did not endorse Jeff Hoover’s previous campaign. The internet’s excuse? He failed to complete the organization’s survey.

This excuse is pathetic.

Candidates receive hundreds of surveys. They virtually never answer themselves. Despite being unopposed, why would Hoover not have an intern complete a five-minute form?

Questing Number Two

Anne is a true conservative? Why would her ticket include someone Right to Life wouldn't endorse?

The L Word

Senator Jim Bunning: “Anne is a true conservative who is able to appeal to voters, even in the most liberal part of state.”

Abortion and pork barrel spending. Bunning has said it all.

Complaining About the Sword

Until this year, Richard W. Pombo, the seven-term Republican congressman from the Central Valley, had never caused much fanfare about bringing home earmarks, the special local projects that circumvent the normal budgeting process. He was far better known for his work fighting environmental regulations.

All that changed in the closing months of this year’s surprisingly tight re-election campaign, when Mr. Pombo began trumpeting the money he had directed to his car-bound district — particularly $75 million for highway expansion, a gift for one of the most congested areas of California.

But it was not enough to persuade voters like Alex Aldenhuysen, a self-described independent, just out of the Navy and voting for the first time in two years. He said he was turned off by Mr. Pombo’s earmark talk. And in the end, Mr. Pombo lost his seat to a Democrat in one of the year’s most significant upsets.

A timeworn bit of political wisdom has been that larding one’s district with pork projects can act as an incumbency protection program. And the Republican leaders in Congress ardently followed that principle.

“The leadership talked all the time about how we’ve got to use earmarks to help these vulnerable members,” said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, who has become one of Washington’s loudest opponents of earmarking. “But what this election showed was that earmarks just aren’t that important to voters.”

The powers of incumbency could not outweigh far more pressing issues, this year, like the war in Iraq — which became the central point of most of the Democratic campaigns — or the scandals that tarnished the Republican Party as a whole. The abuse of earmarks itself became an issue in several races with some of their biggest users, including two senators and four House members who served on the appropriations committees that oversee federal spending, losing their seats.

It would be premature to write off the power of earmarks. Even in a highly unfavorable year for Republicans, some of the biggest pork-style spenders handily won re-election. And though Democrats have vowed to strip earmarks from unfinished spending bills, the practice is such an oft-used political tool that it may prove too tempting to eliminate.

“When you’re talking about institutional change, you need something sweeping to happen in an election,” said James D. Savage, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia and the author of a book on earmarks. “I think the incentive to use earmarks is still there because it’s one of the few tools a member of Congress can use.”

The number and total cost of earmarks reached record highs over the last two years, but they seemed to offer little help to some members.

Representative Anne M. Northup, a Kentucky Republican who was a member of the House Appropriations Committee, was defeated after five terms despite bringing earmarks to her district, which includes Louisville, that were worth more than five times that of two other districts without competitive races. Mr. Flake identified her as one of the Republican leaders who pushed for earmarks to help troubled incumbents.

“Anne Northup was in there saying we’ve got to have these earmarks to help certain members,” Mr. Flake said. “She was always saying how valuable they are.”

In an interview, Ms. Northup defended earmarks as a flexible budget tool for members of Congress, and she took issue with Mr. Flake’s conclusion that voters rejected politicians who relied on them.

Instead, she singled out one of the most notorious earmarks of the last budget cycle — $230 million to build a bridge from a small town in Alaska to an island with fewer than 50 people — as an anchor that dragged down other Republicans. Representative Don Young, an Alaska Republican who served as chairman of the Transportation Committee, guided a bill loaded with a record amount of earmarks, including his bridge project in his district.

“How do you explain to voters a $230 million bridge to nowhere?” Ms. Northup asked. Mr. Young, who has been chairman of the Transportation Committee since 2001, did not respond to interview requests.

A few weeks before the end of his re-election campaign, Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, issued an unusual news release. He added up all the earmark projects he had delivered to his state, boasting of bringing home $2 billion to a state with fewer than a million people.

Montana, Mr. Burns said, had been awarded a huge range of federal projects, from $597,000 for the Montana Sheep Institute to $8 million to encourage private space travel.

“That money is going to be spent somewhere,” Mr. Burns said in a debate at Montana State University, where the Burns Technology Center is named for him. “I want Montanans to get first share.”

Mr. Burns, a three-term senator who was considered one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, lost by about 3,000 votes.

“These vulnerables were literally screaming at the top of their lungs about what they’ve been able to deliver,” said Steve Ellis, a vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group.

Skip to next paragraphRepresentative Mike Sodrel, Republican of Indiana, was put on an influential transportation committee two years ago specifically so he could increase the amount of financing for his swing district, he said in a news release.

For Mr. Sodrel’s district, it paid off. He boasted that he had been able to increase transportation spending there by $220 million, or 37 percent, from the previous spending bill. Mr. Sodrel still lost his seat in November.

There were several races in which the ability to bring home hundreds of federal projects might have made enough of a difference to withstand a Democratic tide.

Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, issued dozens of news releases over the last 18 months boasting of the projects she brought home to a district that is considered evenly divided between the two parties.

There was $2.27 million to convert a mountain of garbage into a green energy center, $1.1 million to help keep residents of a fast-growing suburb from having to pay more in user fees for a new sewage system, and the latest installment in $2.7 million in federal disbursements to “evaluate freeze-dried berries for their ability to inhibit cancer.”

In a spending bill that never passed the most recent session of Congress, Ms. Pryce’s district stood to get the largest single earmark in Ohio — $1.75 million for a health research institute. In total, the Columbus area lined up about $4.5 million in special money.

By comparison, Portland, Ore. — a similar-sized metropolitan area with no contested Congressional seats — was to receive $625,000 in earmarks.

Ms. Pryce won by barely a thousand votes.

But she was in some ways an exception this year. Several Republican incumbents who tried a similar strategy of touting their earmarks were unsuccessful. Representative Charles Taylor, an eight-term Republican from North Carolina who lost his race, set up an interactive map on his re-election Web site to show the largess that he had directed to every county in his district.

"Click on the map to see how many of your taxpayer dollars Congressman Taylor has returned to your county,” it said, going on to detail items like $1 million for the creation of an Appalachian wine institute, $2 million to an astronomy center deep in the forests of Transylvania County and $3 million to a local school “to promote healthy childhood development and prevent violence.”

Mr. Taylor was chairman of the appropriations panel on the interior and environment, making him a spending “cardinal” in the House. His position may have led him to be caught off guard, said Mr. Ellis said.

“I think being an appropriator makes people lazy,” Mr. Ellis said. “They think they don’t have to do all the other important things for their district. It makes them feel bulletproof — ‘The voters wouldn’t be so stupid as to vote me out of office.’ ”

Mr. Taylor, who refused interview requests, lost his seat to Heath Shuler, who made excessive federal spending one of his campaign themes.

While people who oppose earmarks saw last month’s election as a rejection of the growing volume of special projects, others say that is the wrong way to interpret the results.

“Bringing federal projects home to a district helps an incumbent — period,” said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee. “Jeff Flake is totally misreading the results.”

He said Mr. Taylor and another member of the Appropriations Committee, Don Sherwood, Republican of Pennsylvania, had lost because of personal problems. Ms. Northup, he said, “was just in a bad district — it’s always been tight.”

He attributed Indiana’s three losses to poorly run campaigns.

But Mr. Flake cited his own state as proof that that pork does not ensure re-election. A fellow Arizona Republican member who had embraced earmarks, Representative J. D. Hayworth, lost his seat.

“In the end, the voters saw through it,” Mr. Flake said.

Mr. Forti attributed Mr. Hayworth’s loss to running a single-issue campaign, against immigration.

Still, Mr. Flake cites his own experience to back his point. Two years ago, Mr. Flake drew a strong opponent in the primary who rounded up several mayors in his district and made an issue of his refusal to tag earmarks for the home district.

Mr. Flake still won. This year, he was unopposed.
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