Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fudge elected Congressional Black Caucus chair

Marcia Fudge is moving up on Capitol Hill. The Cleveland congresswoman was elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus for the next two years, increasing her visibility and maybe her clout.

As head of the caucus, Fudge will become a spokeswoman for black Americans in Congress and across the country. “It automatically gives her a leadership role in Congress,” Louis Stokes, the other Clevelander to have held the position, told the Plain Dealer.

Winning the post is a reversal of fortune for Fudge, who’s been in Congress since 2008. A year ago, she was facing an aggressive primary challenger, state Sen. Nina Turner. But Fudge wasn’t as weak as Turner thought; she announced her reelection campaign with most every big local Democrat united behind her, and Turner backed down.

Fudge sounded like Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson yesterday when she said the Black Caucus focuses on “the least of these,” meaning the needy – though they’re both referring to one of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel of Matthew. The caucus, which held a job fair in Cleveland this summer as part of its focus on lowering unemployment, is expected to defend Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the upcoming negotiations on the fiscal cliff.

Speaking for the Black Caucus (which is growing from 40 to 43 members next year) will surely increase Fudge’s visibility, but what about her clout? Seniority matters a lot in Congress, and Fudge doesn’t have much of it. Will the chairmanship give her a shortcut to power, and influence on Cleveland’s behalf? Maybe, Fudge seems to think. “It puts me to some degree in position to talk to the leadership more often,” she told the PD’s Sabrina Eaton.

Links to our past coverage of Marcia Fudge:

-My Most Interesting People interview with her after her election to Congress.

-Mansfield Frazier’s 2010 commentary on her growing role as a player in local Democratic politics.

-Afi-Odelia Scruggs’ profile of Fudge from 2007, when she was mayor of Warrensville Heights.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Taxmageddon looms, but Voinovich sees a way out

Now that the election’s over, the country’s political conversation is changing fast. President Obama and Congress have less than two months to confront the budget crisis known as the fiscal cliff or, better yet, Taxmageddon. What will happen?

Former Sen. George Voinovich thinks it’s time for Obama and the Republicans to bargain: Medicare and Medicaid cuts in exchange for tax hikes on the wealthy.

“We’re trying to warn people about the cliff,” says Voinovich, the Ohio co-chair for Fix the Debt, a centrist group trying to lay the groundwork for compromise.

The Bush-era income tax cuts expire Dec. 31. So does the payroll tax holiday that boosted our paychecks two years ago. Big across-the-board cuts to defense and domestic spending are set to kick in Jan. 1. That double shock to the economy would probably plunge us into a new recession.

Confronting the cliff means confronting the parties’ 20-year disagreement on taxing the wealthy. Obama wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire for households making more than $250,000 a year. Republicans don’t. But Voinovich, a moderate Republican, thinks his party ought to strike a deal.

“[We have] to lay out the contours of reform of Medicare and Medicaid,” argues Voinovich. “Then we need tax reform, pro-growth, which would broaden the base, lower the rates, and raise revenues and reduce the deficit.”

But just when he starts sounding like Mitt Romney, Voinovich draws a distinction.

“That was one of the problems with Romney,” he says. “Romney said [tax reform would] be revenue-neutral. But most of us who’ve been around know that if you’re going to make cuts in spending, you also have to raise revenue. So those people in the higher bracket end up paying more money!

“Almost everyone I know that’s in that category says, ‘George, I’ll pay more taxes if you can guarantee me we’re going to get this ship back on an even keel.’ ”

During the campaign, Voinovich recorded a radio ad for Romney, in which he accused Obama of having a “deeply partisan vision” that kept him from working with Congress. But “neither party has clean hands,” he says now. Perhaps thinking of this Plain Dealer cartoon about his radio spot, Voinovich mentions Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

“I think McConnell made it clear he wanted to defeat the president,” he says. “He has not been as cooperative as he should be.”

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner came close last year to the sort of “grand bargain” Voinovich supports. Voinovich thinks Boehner will ultimately stand up to the tea party wing of his caucus to avoid the fiscal cliff, even at the risk of losing his job as speaker.

“I really believe John Boehner would have given up his leadership to do the right thing,” Voinovich says. “I think [he] will do the right thing. I think John knows how bad things are.”

Voinovich thinks confronting the fiscal cliff may mean limiting popular tax deductions for home mortgages, charitable giving and health insurance. It’s an austere vision.

But he believes momentum is building for a compromise. “There’s a deep feeling that people in Washington have got to get their act together and get something done,” he says. “With the right effort, I think we can.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Protect your vote: How to make your ballot lawyer-proof

Four days until the election, and both sides are preparing for overtime.

The Democrats and Republicans have their legal teams on standby, just in case a swing state's vote falls inside the margin of litigation.  An NPR report this morning speculated that if Ohio is too close to call, the parties could wage a post-election battle here as fierce as Florida's in 2000.

The stakes are high, but you can protect your vote with a few simple steps.  Here's how to lawyer-proof your ballot and make sure it gets counted. (The links are for Cuyahoga County, but most of the advice applies anywhere in Ohio.)

If you voted by mail: track your ballot online.  Use the UPS-like Track Your Ballot page on the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections website to make sure your ballot made it in.  If it says "Returned," it's in and accepted. 

If it says "Challenged," you're one of the less than 1 percent of mail-in voters who left some info off your ballot identification envelope.  You'll get a letter in the mail asking you to correct it by mail or in person at the Board of Elections office. You'll have until Nov. 16 to do it.

If you haven't sent in your mail-in ballot yet: Double-check that you followed all the directions. Be sure to include your name, signature, address, and ID number (driver's license, last four digits of SSN) on your ballot identification envelope. If not, your ballot will be challenged (see above).

Put your ballot in the identification envelope, seal it, and put the identification envelope in the larger mailing envelope. Then mail the ballot soon.  It has to be postmarked by Monday -- or dropped off at the Board of Elections by Tuesday.

If you're voting in person: Know your voting location and precinct number. They’re on your voter-registration card and other mailings from the Board of Elections. Or you can look them up here if you're in Cuyahoga County or here if you're anywhere in the state.

The precinct number tells you which line to get in. (Ballots cast in the right polling location but the wrong precinct line -- "right church, wrong pew" votes -- are hotly contested in election litigation.)

Bring photo ID -- a driver’s license, state ID or military ID. Or use a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check with your name and current address.

Avoid the provisional ballot envelope, if you can. If a poll worker pulls out a yellow provisional ballot envelope, ask a lot of questions to be sure you need to use it. Try to solve the problem first.  If you forgot to bring your ID, go home to get it. If you’re not in the poll book, check your registration card or the wall maps to confirm you’re in the right precinct.

If you do vote provisionally, fill out the envelope carefully, and call the Board of Elections afterward to find out if your vote counted or if you need to follow up by visiting the office.

Mark your ballot carefully. Reread your ballot before you turn it in. Make sure you didn’t double-vote in any races, that you didn’t make stray marks, and that you filled in your choices completely. If you make a mistake, ask for a new ballot.

Update, 4 pm: The New York Times reports that the Democrats will have 600 lawyers in Greater Cleveland on Election Day, while the Republicans will have 70. "If it’s close, you will see both sides running to court," says Jeff Hastings, chair of the board of elections.

Stuart Garson and Rob Frost, the local Democratic and Republican chairs, are trading suspicions that the other side might be perpetrate some Election Day impropriety or deliberately spread misinformation or sow confusion.  They both sound alarmist, but who knows?  Another reason to follow the advice above -- and give yourself plenty of time to vote on Election Day.