Cash for Clunkers?

Rick Perry’s campaign has recently experimented with paying volunteers. The Dallas Morning News “Exclusive” story outlines the campaign’s program for rewarding volunteers for their recruiting efforts. Their system would provide small cash bonuses to volunteers who successfully sign up primary voters.

Cash-4-Clunkers-car-480I suspect that one of the motives behind this effort is to create the impression of excitement and activity early in the campaign season. Both the Perry and Hutchison campaign have been criticized as ineffective and this may their way of demonstrating the campaign’s vitality without going on the air with television ads at a time when Texans probably don’t want to see political ads.

This seems like a risky idea. One paid volunteer remarked: “I’ve been apolitical all of my life. But then I see what’s going on with the current [presidential] administration. I decided to step up and do my part. I got a big mouth, and I know a lot of people.” Making previously apolitical big mouths the face of your campaign means taking some chances with what these people say and do. The Republican party has already suffered from its association with some of the characters that occupy the fringes of the far right.

Another risk of paying volunteers with cash is that you attract people with the wrong motivation. Just as ACORN. Campaign professionals are well trained and have to maintain the reputation that keeps them in business. Volunteers have a deep commitment to the candidate and the cause. Paying people small amounts of cash may bring together the worst tendencies of volunteers and mercenaries by mixing the amateurism of volunteers with the uncertain loyalty of the mercenaries. Perry and other campaigns have used point systems or candidate-specific rewards (t-shirts, access to the candidate, etc) that would appeal to the loyal volunteer while offering little to attract non-supporters.

Texas Republicans have generally run smart and creative campaigns. It will be interesting to see what the Perry campaign gets for its cash.

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A story in the Austin American Statesman probably better reflects changes in campaigns as they begin to embrace social media. Social networks are valuable to campaigns because they mimic some of the characteristics of the natural flow of political information between friends. Also, using Facebook or Twitter to get your message out is cheap. The campaign consultants I’ve heard from emphasize that it’s important that the candidate not be allowed to use these without supervision (actually, not use these things at all and instead have their communications staff generate such material). Like everything else in the campaign, the message flowing through social media must be part of a carefully crafted strategy and it only take one unfortunate post to seriously sidetrack the campaign for days.

The 2010 Money Primary – Round 1

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Texans for Public Justice has released its analysis of fund raising for the 2010 governor’s race through June 2009. The full report is available in .pdf format.

The first contest in elections today is the “money primary.” Before the first primary vote is cast contributors will have spoken and defined which candidates are considered viable. Perry and Hutchison clearly lead the field with about $14 million each (although that includes $8 million transferred from Senator Hutchison’s Senate campaign war chest). Neither seems to enjoy a clear advantage over the other. However, those totals are impressive. There’s no reason to believe that Perry or Hutchison will slow down and we can expect the records to start falling in that primary race.

Source: Texans for Public Justics

Source: Texans for Public Justice

The full report has lots of tables and analysis. For example, bout 60% of Perry’s cash and 34% of Hutchison’s cash comes from donations of $25,000 or more. Perry’s average donation from individuals ($1,559) is about twice as large as the average individual donation for Hutchison ($847). Perry also seems to be getting a larger share of his funds (18%) from “institutional donors” (political committees and business) than Hutchison (5%).

Some of these figures will shift over the course of the campaign. One large direct mail campaign could bring in a flood of small donors that could lower the average contribution while a major high dollar fund raising dinner could drive the average up. As a federal candidate Senator Hutchison had to raise her funds in smaller individual donations allowed by federal law and her team may start chasing bigger donors once the get fully acclimated to operating in the more wide-open rules of Texas campaign finance law.

The report also has tables on money raised by zip code. Perry does especially well in Austin while Hutchison fares best in Dallas. Both candidates seem to be doing well in Houston.

Texans for Public Justice  attempted to look at contributions by gender. Some donations were hard to categorize, but it appears that Hutchison is doing significantly better with women than Perry.

Meanwhile, watching the numbers on the Democratic side should tell us a lot about who are the viable Democrats will be. With their campaigns just getting started, Tom Schieffer, Kinky Friedman, and are barely showing up. Because no Democrat has “scare money” (the large war chest that can intimidate potential opponents) other Democrats might jump in the race and the field looks wide open.

And just remember: We’ve still got a full year until the general election.

Term limits – 2009 edition

Term limits has returned as an issue in both city and state politics in Texas. In Houston, outgoing Mayor Bill White stirred a small storm with the suggestion that the limit of three, two-year terms put in place by Houston’s voters in 1991 is too restrictive. The comments section in the story in the Houston Chronicle revealed a great deal of angry disagreement.

Texas has been the source of a lot of noise on term limits for members of the U.S. Congress. Despite the noise the state does not have term limits. It’s very hard to reconcile the passion among the state’s conservatives for term limits with their embrace of Rick Perry’s campaign to extend an already record tenure in office. Apparently, anti-government voters feel that their own candidates can not be tainted by a decade of holding power.  Kay Bailey Hutchison has called for term limits for governor, she has already embraced and then abandoned term limits for Congress. She’s not alone. Congress has lots of former champions of term limits who have seen the light and decided to stay.

Kinky Friedman has summed up the case for term limits in memorable terms: “Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed regularly and for the same reasons.” Many citizens believe that their elected officials lose touch with average citizens when they stay in office too long.

There are a lot of good reasons to avoid term limits. Office holders with experience may be the best equipped to resist the pressures of the permanent bureaucracy and lobbying corps. If inexperience was such a great asset, the Houston Texans would already have their first Super Bowl ring.

There is no limit on how long you can work behind the scenes in Austin and just because someone is new to a particular office does not mean that they’re not already tainted by politics. Anyone who has looked at Texas history can tell you that corruption doesn’t take long to master. Effective governance does.

As always, beware of easy answers.

Restoring the Governor’s Mansion

The Texas Governor's Mansion after the June 2008 fire.

The Texas Governor's Mansion after the June 2008 fire.

According to the Austin American Statesman, fund raising for the restoration of the Texas Governor’s mansion passed $3.5 million. Many of the state’s ex-governors (or their families) have generously chipped. Dolph Briscoe and the family of Price Daniels have given $100,000 each!

You can give money to the restoration fund through a page on the state’s TexasOnline site.

You can learn more about the mansion through the Governor’s web site.

Mexico abolishes slavery in Texas (or tries)

Texas on the Potomac, an interesting blog from the Houston Chronicle, has an entry today in their excellent “Today in Texas History” series noting that on September 15, 1829, Mexico abolished slavery. Texans resisted President Vicente Ramon Guerrero’s decree and Texas was later exempted from the ban on slavery. However, the colonists remained distrustful that Mexico would again impose their ban on slavery.

Barbers v. cosmetologists

The battle between barbers and cosmetologists is one of those classic organized interest battles that most of us seldom notice. However, an Austin-American Statesman story highlights the clash over the regulation of the grooming industry in Texas. This debate is no small matter to the state’s 110,000 licensed cosmetologists and 13,000 barbers.

Floyd the barber

Floyd the barber

The fight is over the right to shave. Currently, only barbers can legally offer a shave. Cosmetologists are battling over the right to shave as well as the meaning of “shave.”  The Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation regulates 29 occupations and industries in Texas (including both cosmetologists and barbers). The TCLR uses advisory boards from each profession to guide them.

Does Texas really need distinct categories for cosmetologists and barbers? Does Texas need any regulation of the people who tend to our hair? This may not be the sexiest of regulatory issues, but the conflict over who we trust to shave the public seems pretty typical in many regards.

Medical tort reform in Texas

The business page of the Fort Worth Star Telegraph had an interesting short article on health care reform and tort reform. It’s been interesting to watch Congressional Republicans and President Obama talk about tort reform for a couple of reasons:

(1) It’s not a federal issue. This is an area where state laws would need reform and there’s not much that Congress can do without getting into the role of the states. Obama and company can talk about it, but I don’t see where there’s much the federal government can do without nationalizing tort law.

(2) Texas and many other states have already tackled the issue. As the article points out there hasn’t been much of an impact on rising health care costs in Texas. It has helped attract doctors. However, it hasn’t solved the problem of health care costs.

Maybe we shouldn’t view tort reform through the lens of health care costs. Dragging the politics of health care reform into the court room isn’t going to protect the integrity of our justice system.