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Friday, October 31, 2014

Democrats should vote Libertarian in the 22nd District this year

The Democratic candidate for State Rep in the 22nd--John Mackenzie--is a good guy, a smart man, and a pretty typical Delaware Democrat.

Before you vote, I'd like you to ask yourself this question:  is one more Democrat in the General Assembly actually going to change anything in Dover?

If you look closely at his positions on the issues, you'd have to say, "No."

On Education:  John sees some of the problems, but doesn't present a plan.  In that Legislative Issues piece he just put in your mailbox, his list of what's gone wrong is actually very similar to (if much narrower than) the critique I've been presenting publicly for the past three years:  an antiquated funding system, money spent in Dover instead of classrooms, and State overreach in the "Priority" schools mess.  But this is as close as he ever gets to telling you what he'd do about it:
The first step toward improving our public schools should be modernizing this patchwork finance system, correcting the inequities, and simply spending smarter! ... 
The most important step toward improving our public schools should be to restore local governance and accountability to the communities they are supposed to serve.  DOE is taking over our schools.  These are our schools.  It's time to take them back.
Nice sentients, but no real proposals.  Nor does John talk much about high-stakes testing, Common Core, teacher evaluations, or the impact of charter schools on the traditional school system.  Oh, wait, he has talked about charters and resegregation, but what he said to the Delaware Chapter of Americans for Democratic Action seems to contradict his praise of local school boards:

Charters are re-segregating DE schools; socially divisive; cherry-picking passively if not actively. DOE and the state board of ed have really made a mess of this, but I'm not sure local districts and school boards will manage this a lot better. 
Which is it, you have to wonder?  Does John trust local school boards or not?

I'd ask you to contrast his rather vague ideas with my very specific plans to fix education financing, to reform the DOE bureaucracy, step back from high-stakes testing, give more autonomy to local school boards, and improve the way we educate special needs children. 

If you're wondering, I've been in the public square dealing with education issues since Governor Castle and Carper appointed me as Co-Chair of the Delaware Social Studies Curriculum Frameworks Commission in 1992.  This past April, I was the person who laid out the whole sordid story of the failure of high-stakes testing in the pages of the News Journal.  It was my research that revealed that DOE is not using test results to measure its own work with special needs students, and again my research that explained how (and why) DOE re-defined poverty earlier this year.

On Health Insurance:  John gets it (and then misses it).  He gets that there is a Highmark monopoly in the private insurance market in Delaware, but he attributes that to the Affordable Care Act with a rather vague reference to the General Assembly.  He really can't afford to be much more specific than that, one suspects, because after all he's a Democrat.  The $175 million sweetheart deal that brought Highmark to Delaware was crafted primarily by (Democrat) Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart and by (Democrat) Senator (now President Pro Tem) Patti Blevins.  Anybody who aspires to becoming the next freshman Democrat knows he's got to tip-toe around that.

But more to the point--the point John misses--is that his solution to ever-rising costs is a mirage.  John, again calling on his credentials as an economist, tells us in his Legislative Issues that we should implement across the board
a promising 'patient-centered medical home' model of health care with coordinated teams of providers supported by an efficient electronic medical records system.  Providers would be paid on health outcomes rather than on numbers of office visits. 
I strongly support this reform of our state Medicare and Medicaid programs, and will push for adoption of 'patient-centered medical homes' in the private insurance market as well.
One tiny little problem with this plan:  the research doesn't support it.  A February 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded:
A multipayer medical home pilot, in which participating practices adopted new structural capabilities and received NCQA certification, was associated with limited improvements in quality and was not associated with reductions in utilization of hospital, emergency department, or ambulatory care services or total costs over 3 years.  
It turns out that the early glowing studies of the benefits of Patient-Centered-Medical Homes in Vermont and North Carolina (which generated all the initial positive vibes for the idea) don't actually show any significant cost savings or improved health outcomes.  Moreover, the most recent studies suggest that PCMH is a business model rather than a patient service model.  Here's what an Urban Institute study recently concluded:
The danger posed by the current enthusiasm for the concept is that it could cause unproven models to be adopted on a wide scale before evaluations of existing pilots can show us what works in what situations, and what levels of reimbursement are needed to get providers to engage in all the new activities encompassed by the medical home model. This could lead to a failure to improve quality or save costs...
Finally, you should know that the loudest cheerleader for the PCMH concept (besides John Mackenzie) is ... Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.  So John, who roundly and correctly criticizes Highmark for mercenary monopolist profiteering, adopts as his solution ... exactly what the monopoly wants to implement.

There's sound strategy for you.  It guarantees that the continued government silence about Highmark's smothering dominance of Delaware's entire healthcare system will not be addressed next year on the floor of the General Assembly.  In case you're wondering, I've been working on this issue for years.

One last note on health insurance:  John's passion for the Patient-Centered Medical Home in a mixed Medicare-Medicaid-private insurance system must be pretty recent, because five months ago he told Delaware ADA that his preference was something else entirely:

I would like to see Delaware follow Vermont’s lead in establishing a single-payer system. 
So now you know what John's position on health insurance is today (PCMH) and what it was five months ago (state single-payer).  The only thing you don't know is what it will be in January if you elect him.

On Taxes:  John supports an increase in the gas tax.  Here's what he said in the Legislative Issues that appeared in most of your mailboxes this week:
We need legislators who will rebuild voter trust.  If we're going to raise the gasoline tax, the revenues must be dedicated to rebuilding the Transportation Trust Fund.
On his Facebook page, John (an economist), has actually argued that raising the gas tax ten cents per gallon won't really make the price of gas go up that much.  His argument is that retailers and refiners will voluntarily eat up to 50% of that increase (just because they're nice, I guess):
ECON 101 lesson: The GA is debating a 10 cents/gallon increase in DE's gasoline tax. You might think this will simply increase retail gas prices by 10 cents. But like most taxes, the gas tax is shared between buyers and sellers: consumers pay a higher price while retailers receive a lower net price, and some of the sellers' tax burden gets passed pack up the supply chain to wholesalers to distributors to refineries.... 
If you actually go read the post, you'll discover that this confidence in the good will and generosity of Exxon and Valero not to pass on the total increase is based in equal measure on trust me, I'm an economist, and an internet app called "Gas Buddy."

The reality?  Research has consistently shown that raising gas taxes hits the middle class hardest, and the simplest way to rebuild the Transportation Trust Fund is to (a) stop looting it every year, and (b) start diverting some of the money we've wasted on corporate welfare back into rebuilding our infrastructure before we start talking about raising gas taxes.

On Development:  John follows Mike Protack's lead.  I know that might be hard to believe, because Mike's about as far from a progressive Democrat as you could get, but it's true.  At the GHADA candidate's forum in September, in the NCC Council debate with Janet Kilpatrick, Mike suggested that what needed to be done with hypothetical "golf course" to be laid out at Three Little Bakers was to turn it into a county park.  That's John's position as well (again, quoting Legislative Issues):
The most logical use for this land is as a county park, and I would solicit financial help from the state to make this happen.
The problem?  As Janet pointed out to Mike Protack, even if the Delaware Supreme Court upholds the Superior Court ruling and forces Pike Creek Recreational Services LLC to lay out a 130-acre "old course," it's still private property.  Neither the County Council nor the General Assembly can simply wave its hand and turn that private property into a public park.  This is a very strange position for a candidate who presents himself as not just an economist, but a specialist in land use and open spaces to take.

On the Second Amendment:  John thinks many gun owners are "deviants" who bear watching.  Here's his response to Delaware ADA about potential bans on high-capacity magazines:

Unfortunately, dickering over the specifics--hollow-points? silencers?--kind of legitimizes the gun nuts. Most of these people who "need" cop-killer bullets, concealed carry or high-capacity magazines are deviants and should be identified as such. 
Look, we can have different opinions on gun rights.  I'm not an advocate of trying to make ourselves feel safer by taking away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.  But I don't characterize people who want stronger gun control as "gun grabbers," either, because all that you do with that level of invective is shut down the conversation.  We can't afford to shut down that conversation; it's to important to a civil and safe society.

If you're a gun owner, can you imagine having a serious conversation with somebody who's already written you off as a "deviant"?

On mischaracterizing his opponent:  John's attacks on Joe Miro don't hold water.  

Instead of dealing with the positions that Joe put forth for supporting the casino bail-out, John recently released a campaign mailer suggesting that Joe did so because of campaign donations.  I agree with John that bailing out the casinos (especially by taking the money from the Transportation Trust Fund) was wrong, but here's an important point:  people can be wrong with integrity.  Just because I disagree with Joe's arguments doesn't mean he's dishonest or unethical.

Likewise, here's what John said to Delaware ADA about Joe Miro and constituent services:

An effective legislator is an educator. We share similar visions and goals for our community, but we differ on how to achieve them. That’s [what] constituent service is about: you and your constituents identify problems and find solutions together. My opponent does not even hold regular open meetings for 22nd RD constituents... 
Seriously?  John's going to attack Joe Miro on constituent services?  What district do you live in, John?  Joe goes to every civic association meeting, every PTA meeting, and pretty much every coffee shop where there are at least three people from the district sitting together talking about potholes.  One of the toughest mountains to climb in deciding to run against Joe Miro is convincing people that the bad policies he supports in the General Assembly are at least as important as what he does in the community, and that I'll be equally dedicated to constituent services.

To attack Joe Miro on that issue shows one of two things:  either you don't really know the district you live in, or you're willing to throw anything up against the wall to see if it will stick, regardless of whether or not it's true.  Or both.

As far as openly differing with Joe on substantive issues, I've really only seen John talk about the Community Transportation Fund and a stoplight near the Woodside Creamery.  That's not making a convincing case for replacing an incumbent.

On being a Democrat:  John became one so that he could vote in primaries.  Seriously.  Here's what he says on his campaign Facebook page:
I was an Independent for years, until I got tired of being shut out of DE's primaries: they often determine the outcomes of general elections! 
So if you're planning to vote Democratic just because you've always voted for Democrats, ask yourself--how long has John been a Democrat, anyway?

As I said at the outset, John's a good guy and a smart man, but here--in his third election campaign--he's still not quite ready for the job.

What I'd like you to do (the four of you still reading to the end) is take the time to look at my plans and positions, and my resume for the position before you make a final decision to vote Democrat because you always have.

Then vote the issues and the candidate, not your party.


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  2. Nor does John talk much about high-stakes testing, Common Core, teacher evaluations, or the impact of charter schools on the traditional school system.
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