Restor­ing our faith in democ­racy af­ter Trump takes his leave

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group Pres­i­dent and CEO Congress for the New Ur­ban­ism Ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, Lead­ingAge New York, Latham Buf­falo

WASH­ING­TON – A cen­tral chal­lenge of the Trump era is how to deal ur­gently with the pres­i­dent’s trans­gres­sions while also tak­ing steps to pre­vent politi­cians from abus­ing power in the fu­ture.

Equally im­por­tant is restor­ing faith in our repub­li­can democ­racy as a gen­uinely rep­re­sen­ta­tive sys­tem that is open to broad par­tic­i­pa­tion and pro­tected from the out­sized in­flu­ence of the fi­nan­cially priv­i­leged.

Pres­i­dent Trump is do­ing far more to pol­lute the po­lit­i­cal “swamp” he loves to in­voke than drain­ing it. But this doesn’t mean that cit­i­zens wor­ried about the swampi­ness of our pol­i­tics are wrong.

So here’s a chal­lenge to cit­i­zens and the me­dia alike: Pay at­ten­tion this week to the House de­bate over H.R. 1, per­haps the most com­pre­hen­sive po­lit­i­cal-re­form pro­posal ever con­sid­ered by our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Per­haps it’s in­evitable that Trump and his an­tics will al­ways get more at­ten­tion than any bill that in­cludes lots of pro­vi­sions. Leg­is­la­tion makes us work our brains a lot harder than Trump does.

But let’s not hear the ex­cuse that there’s no point spend­ing much time on leg­is­la­tion that, while likely to pass a Demo­cratic House, has no chance in the Se­nate.

That less-rep­re­sen­ta­tive body – al­ways re­mem­ber that Wy­oming has as many sen­a­tors as Cal­i­for­nia – is con­trolled by Repub­li­cans and led by Sen. Mitch Mc­Connell, R-Ky., who hated cam­paign fi­nance re­forms when they were pro­posed in the early 2000s by his late GOP col­league John McCain, and de­spises them still.

The House pro­posal, sniff the cognoscenti, is merely a “mes­sag­ing bill.”

Ac­tu­ally, no. It’s a marker, a bill worth fight­ing for in the fu­ture. Re­call that ver­sions of Medi­care, the Ten­nessee Val­ley Au­thor­ity, and more ex­pan­sive civil rights pro­pos­als all lan­guished in Congress or were de­feated be­fore they passed.

What com­mends H.R. 1 is its com­pre­hen­sive­ness. It brings to­gether tra­di­tional re­form­ers (with strong in­cen­tives en­cour­ag­ing can­di­dates to rely on small rather than large con­tri­bu­tions, and tougher dis­clo­sure re­quire­ments of who is pay­ing for what ads) and civil rights ad­vo­cates (with pro­vi­sions for au­to­matic voter reg­is­tra­tion, ex­panded early vot­ing, a ban on un­jus­ti­fied voter purges and re-en­fran­chise­ment of those who have served felony sen­tences). It also lays the ground­work for re­new­ing the Vot­ing Rights Act’s ef­fec­tive­ness.

H.R. 1 has a bat­tery of mea­sures to deal with eth­i­cal lapses spe­cific to Trump. These in­clude tough pro­vi­sions on pres­i­den­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est and a re­quire­ment that pres­i­den­tial and vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates dis­close their in­come tax re­turns.

And it con­fronts core prob­lems our democ­racy faces by ban­ning ger­ry­man­der­ing and call­ing for the use of pa­per bal­lots in fed­eral elec­tions to pro­tect against hacked vot­ing ma­chines.

There’s more there, but you get the drift. For all the talk of Democrats be­ing di­vided be­tween “the left” and “the mod­er­ates,” this bill has sup­port from all wings of the party.

The left and cen­ter both worry about the un­due in­flu­ence of cor­po­rate money and bil­lion­aires on our pol­i­tics. And, need­less to say, po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion is not par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar in any ide­o­log­i­cal camp.

As with any bill, the ques­tion needs to be asked: Is it ad­dress­ing real, widely rec­og­nized prob­lems, or is it more of a hobby-horse re­flect­ing con­cerns that may be valid but are hardly front-burner?

Fred Wertheimer, the vet­eran po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist who helped de­velop H.R. 1, of­fered as clear an an­swer as I have heard about the gen­uine ur­gency of fix­ing our democ­racy.

“We have a cam­paign fi­nance sys­tem we haven’t seen since the Gilded Age,” he said. “We have ef­forts at voter sup­pres­sion we haven’t seen since the days of seg­re­ga­tion. We have ger­ry­man­der­ing at a level we have never seen be­fore. And we have a pres­i­dent who raises fi­nan­cial abuse and cor­rup­tion is­sues we haven’t seen in gen­er­a­tions.”

Now, tell me again: Why should we ig­nore what the House is up to here and just go back to the lat­est in­cre­men­tal de­vel­op­ment in the Michael Co­hen story?

Of course the Trump saga mat­ters. Friends of de­cent gov­ern­ment should wel­come the fact that Congress – scratch that, the Demo­cratic House – will be put­ting a lot of time and re­sources into get­ting to the bot­tom of a va­ri­ety of al­le­ga­tions against the pres­i­dent.

But we must also pon­der what our democ­racy will be like af­ter Trump, and be­gin tend­ing to what is in such des­per­ate need of re­pair.

As for the op­po­nents of H.R. 1, they need to tell us if they think our pol­i­tics are work­ing just splen­didly.

I’d love to hear them try to make that case. And if they don’t, what ex­actly would they do to drain the swamp?

E.J. Dionne Tak­ing down the Sky­way will open up op­por­tu­nity

The Feb. 28 and March 2 ed­i­to­ri­als in The Buf­falo News on the fate of the Buf­falo Sky­way got it ex­actly right. Buf­falo and the state of New York have a once-in-a-cen­tury op­por­tu­nity to in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture that meets mul­ti­ple com­mu­nity goals: en­hanc­ing mo­bil­ity, pro­mot­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, cre­at­ing jobs, and reimag­in­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of Buf­falo’s water­front.

Gov. An­drew Cuomo’s an­nounce­ment last week of a $100,000 de­sign com­pe­ti­tion to de­cide what will re­place the Sky­way un­der­scores the ur­gency and op­por­tu­nity to trans­form Buf­falo’s water­front with am­bi­tion and imag­i­na­tion, in a state that has al­ready shown lead­er­ship in re­plac­ing ag­ing high­way in­fra­struc­ture with de­signs that re-knit com­mu­ni­ties, open up re­de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, and meet cities where they are to­day, not where they were a half cen­tury ago.

New York al­ready has nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of this lead­er­ship, in­clud­ing the work on the Robert Moses Park­way to ex­pand the green space of Ni­a­gara Falls State Park, an ap­proach the Congress for the New Ur­ban­ism rec­om­mended in 2014. When fin­ished, it will be the park’s largest ex­pan­sion since its cre­ation in 1885. Else­where in New York, state and mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers are re­mov­ing high­ways in Rochester, the Bronx, and in Buf­falo, where New York State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion is re­con­sid­er­ing its for­merly car-ori­ented plans for Sca­jaquada and Kens­ing­ton Ex­press­ways.

Con­gress­man Brian Hig­gins and his col­leagues have led the charge for more than a decade now to re­con­sider the enor­mous, un­re­al­ized po­ten­tial in the lo­ca­tion where this 100-foot-high bridge now blocks the river, de­presses land value, sep­a­rates cit­i­zens from a su­perb nat­u­ral as­set, and hin­ders eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The Sky­way’s cur­rent con­di­tion rep­re­sents an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity for Buf­falo. Tak­ing it down will un­lock great po­ten­tial in­stead of main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo. That’s the fu­ture for Buf­falo.

Lynn Richards providers stems from a Med­i­caid re­im­burse­ment rate that hasn’t in­creased in 10 years and is in­suf­fi­cient to meet es­ca­lat­ing costs. Med­i­caid pays 20 per­cent less than the ac­tual costs of care, providers strug­gle to at­tract and re­tain a qual­i­fied work­force that has al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment op­tions of­fer­ing sim­i­lar pay for less de­mand­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Un­for­tu­nately, in­ad­e­quate re­im­burse­ment and other chal­lenges have forced sev­eral non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions and lo­cal gov­ern­ments to sell or close their nurs­ing homes.

No one should have to tol­er­ate poor care such as the cases fea­tured in the se­ries. Our rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Al­bany and Wash­ing­ton need to pro­vide the nec­es­sary re­sources that will im­prove the crit­i­cal care needs of our most frag­ile se­niors.

Dan Heim

Trump is hard to de­fend, even for his blind loy­al­ists

The Repub­li­can party has long ac­cused the Democrats of be­ing “soft on crime.” The Repub­li­can party also rou­tinely refers to it­self as “the party of law and or­der.”

I sub­mit that the Repub­li­can party is also “the party of gut­less, spine­less and hyp­o­crit­i­cal syco­phants,” bow­ing to the will of Don­ald Trump. How else can you ex­plain their sup­port for Trump and his fam­ily?

The Repub­li­can ire con­cern­ing the House in­ves­ti­ga­tion ques­tion­ing Michael Co­hen last week be­lies their fruit­less 33 hear­ings into the tragedy in Beng­hazi, which ul­ti­mately led to no crim­i­nal charges at all. The Repub­li­cans are de­fend­ing the in­de­fen­si­ble; a reck­less, ly­ing, slan­der­ing, cheat­ing and dis­hon­est Don­ald Trump, a man who has no re­spect for the rule of law!

Repub­li­cans on the Hill who sub­serviently con­tinue to stand by this un­fit pres­i­dent will learn it wasn’t worth it. Their loy­alty will never be re­turned from Trump, who has never been loyal to any­body, ex­cept to him­self. These de­fend­ers will be tar­nished for­ever and be “rel­e­gated to that dust­bin in his­tory,” not a good legacy to leave be­hind.

Larry Gustina

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