The Netroots Versus The Establishment

Originally published by NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

The unexpectedly strong showing of Democrat Paul Hackett in Ohio’s Aug. 2 special House election has Democratic bloggers pumped about their party’s political prospects. But an increasingly bitter battle between the Democratic “netroots” and the Washington establishment over the party’s political strategy and policy priorities could undermine such efforts.

The upstarts who believe that every GOP seat should be contested have had their fill of campaign “experts,” especially those at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and right now they are attacking their own party as harshly as they do the enemy.

“Every Republican should be on notice,” said Bob Brigham, a blogger at Swing State Project who traveled to Ohio’s 2nd District in the last days of Hackett’s race. “But so should the Democratic establishment.”

The netroots have a bold vision that is based on the 50-state strategy of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, the party gadfly whose 2004 presidential campaign ignited the fire within the belly of the liberal blogosphere. John Kerry doused Dean’s flame in that race, but the “Deaniacs” are true believers in his often-liberal ideology and unconventional thinking.

Their determination to fight everywhere, and to use in-your-face, sometimes vulgar rhetoric about the war in Iraq and the GOP “culture of corruption,” was apparent immediately after Hackett’s defeat. At TPMCafe, blogger Josh Marshall invited readers to name vulnerable Republicans. The query elicited several typical responses, like incumbents who won with 55 percent of the vote or less in 2004, but the tone of the comments suggested a passion for unrestrained political warfare.

One reader calling himself “Electoral Math” pointed to a blog-published list that identified the House races won by less than 20 percent. That kind of spread is unlikely to prompt many bets from the DCCC or any other Washington-based campaign group, but the reader saw reason for confidence. “A 12-point swing takes every seat on that list,” he wrote. “A more modest six-point swing takes 29 out of 47.”
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Sunshine Has Never Been Easy

Originally published at National Journal
By K. Daniel Glover

Advocates of open access to government documents are pushing for another update to the Freedom of Information Act, and they have the support of some key members of Congress. In June, the Senate passed legislation expanding FOIA that was sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the panel’s ranking member, and they have other FOIA bills in the pipeline. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee, is pushing companion legislation.

Strengthening FOIA may be difficult, however. Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, said that the emphasis on security since the 9/11 terrorist attacks makes reform a challenge. The Bush administration has been more secretive since then, she said, and the public is also “very concerned that openness makes terrorists’ activities that much easier.”

The circumstances today resemble those in the 1950s, when the initial congressional push for FOIA began. And back then, amid concerns about releasing sensitive data during the Cold War, it took 11 years to get the concept of “freedom of information” written into law.

FOIA was the brainchild of newspaper editors and writers. But their movement made little progress until Rep. John Moss, D-Calif., took his seat on the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee and was denied information he had requested from the Civil Service Commission. “I was convinced that if there was such a readiness to withhold information from Congress,” Moss said in a 1965 interview, “they must be withholding on a massive basis from the public and from others with less leverage.”

When Democrats regained House control in 1955 and Moss won a slot on the Government Operations Committee, he persuaded the chairman to investigate the issue. A preliminary study confirmed Moss’s suspicions, and he was named chairman of a new subcommittee to explore the topic further. The panel held its first hearing in 1955.

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‘Blawgmaker’ Hatches Bid For Senate Seat

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Clear majorities of Utahans have sent GOP songwriter Orrin Hatch to the Senate for three decades. But another prominent Republican hopes voters will sing a new political tune in 2006 — and he is using his blog to help serenade them.

The blogging lawmaker — I call his sort “blawgmakers” — is state House Majority Whip Steve Urquhart, and his quest seems a tad quixotic when you look at Hatch’s numbers. Hatch has never won less than 54 percent of the vote, and has snared 66 percent to 69 percent over his past three elections. According to the latest campaign finance numbers, he also has more than $1 million in the bank and has raised more than $400,000 in the current cycle.

Those aren’t exactly figures that embolden challengers, even those with a few years of experience and an electoral base of their own. The people who read the political tea leaves in Utah predict a tough campaign for Urquhart. While pollster Dan Jones called Urquhart “the most formidable candidate to run against Sen. Hatch in some time,” he also noted, “Sen. Hatch runs very well in the polls and would be very, very difficult to beat.”

Utah Republican Party Chairman Joe Cannon said the test of Urquhart’s popularity will come at the state GOP convention next May. Candidates who win 60 percent of the vote from the 3,500 delegates get the nomination outright and do not have to compete in a primary.

“Steve’s goal has to be to get 60 percent in that convention, something that’s very, very hard to do,” Cannon said. “It’s almost inconceivable to me that Sen. Hatch would lose a primary. His numbers are very strong. His likeability is very strong.”

But Urquhart, who said Hatch has lost touch with the needs of his constituents — and added that Hatch’s “song-writing career is interfering with his Senate work” — is undeterred by such talk.

When people back home need help from Washington these days, Urquhart said, they call Utah’s junior senator, Bob Bennett. “Effectively, he’s been doing the work of two senators” because Hatch, who briefly ran for president in 2000, prefers national recognition, Urquhart said. “It’s time for a change. We need a senator who pays attention to the state.”
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