The voters of Cincinnati have been carefully divided up into two congressional districts, both of which are reliably Republican. The gerrymandering is particularly obvious in the 2nd district, which reaches to Pike County, roughly 100 miles away from the carefully carved appendage slicing through Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
Currently, this district is represented by Brad Wenstrup, a tea partier who beat the incumbent Republican in the 2012 primary. Unlike many tea party types, Wenstrup is no lightweight. A former pediatrician, he is intelligent and articulate. He runs a very professional congressional office. His campaign already has a half a million dollars on hand. Given all of the advantages of incumbency and the demographics of the district, whoever runs as his opponent is sure to be a long shot.
In order to win in this district, the Democrats need to step outside their usual box and give the voters something to be excited about in an off-year election. In my opinion, there is one issue that can generate that excitement: the legalization of marijuana.
Many Years ago, when I was smoking pot regularly, I assumed that when my generation came to power, marijuana would become legal. Belatedly, this is starting to happen. It has been legalized in a few states, and many more, including Ohio, have approved if for medical use. However, the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule I drug, putting it along side heroine and other highly addictive drugs. It is time end this prohibition at its source, through national legislation. A Quinnipiac poll says that most Americans (60% to 34%) agree “that the use of marijuana should be made legal in the U.S.” This is a winning issue.
In the 2016 Democratic primary, there was one candidate for congress who put the marijuana issue front and center: Russ Hurley. This is why I endorsed him then. Now, he has started an on-ine campaign for the 2018 primary and asked me to endorse him again.
Since that primary, I have had the opportunity to meet Russ at his place of business: the King’s Court Master Barber & Shoe Shine Service. I have not seen him address a crowd, but he strikes me as a down to earth guy who might appeal to the stereotypical Trump voter in a way that Wenstrup, with all his polished professionalism, might not.
I like candidates who let you know where they stand. Hurley has done this, publishing his “top 10” issues. Since this blog is about my point of view, here is what I think of each or Hurley’s points:
- Legalize industrial hemp and marijuana adding trillions of industrial $$$ into our economy. Saving 100s of billions on law enforcement. Eliminating the need for many prison cells across the nation. Close private for profit prisons and re-purpose them for indoor agricultural use making them more profitable for owners and providing even better jobs to the communities in which they reside.
One might question the wisdom of putting the marijuana issue first: we clearly have other important issues facing our nation. However, the legalization of marijuana is what distinguished Hurley from the rest of the field in the previous primary, and it makes good sense to put this first.
Closing private, for profit prisons is a separate issue. Even if we succeed in legalizing marijuana, the current Attorney General seems bent on incarcerating our way through the current opioid crisis, which will generate plenty of new prisoners. America already jails a larger percentage of its population than any other developed nation. This is horribly misguided. Furthermore, we have a history of using prisoners for profit, and it is ugly. We need to stop this now.
However, once we close the private prisons, we do not need to be directing the owners in how those facilities will be used. Free market entrepreneurs excel at producing wealth from existing assets; they should not need our guidance.
2. Create a living wage increase commensurate with CEO to minimum wage pay scale from the 1960s and double military base pay.
The increasing inequality in the distribution of wealth in our nation threatens the very foundation of our society.
I support increasing the minimum wage as one step in addressing this problem. Seattle has set it at $15.00 an hour, which seems reasonable target to me.
As for military base pay, I do not know what is reasonable. Currently, a Private (E1) with less than 2 years of experience earns $19,198.80, which is what someone earning $9.60 an hour would make working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year. Clearly, the base pay should be increased if we are increasing the minimum wage. Doubling it seems over the top.
The growth in CEO wages in the last few decades has been obscene; we cannot simply replicate this obscenity throughout our society. “Commensurate with CEO to minimum wage pay scale from the 1960s” might sound fair, but as near as I can tell, this would put the minimum wage somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 an hour. This is ridiculous. Hurley, using different sources, thinks it would be about $28 an hour. Still ridiculous.
3. Equal rights at work (equal pay) or home (marriage) and at the doctors for all people (ALL MEANS ALL) in the USA.
In the bathroom too, although I think it’s fine that he didn’t mention that.
4. Create high speed rail and help update and improve inner city public transportation.
We need major improvements in our transportation infrastructure. However, it seems strange to emphasize high speed rail and inner city problems given the district that Hurley seeks to represent.
5. Return retirement age back to 65.
I oppose this. We are living longer, healthier lives. I think it reasonable to move the “official” retirement age up, as is happening now. However, since I myself retired early, you may call me a hypocrite.
A more important improvement to Social Security concerns the earnings cap on the tax used to support it: this should be raised.
6. Fix immigration with a true path to citizenship. provide better border security by creating more military bases across our border to keep terrorists out.
I support a quick path to legal status for people who are here. This is much more urgent than the long term path to full citizenship.
Border security is problematic. While it is plausible that some minuscule fraction of the people entering this country illegally are terrorists, this threat is magnified beyond all reasonable sense of proportion by our politicians. Trump’s giant wall will not help much; nor will Hurley’s army bases. This should not be on the high priority list. We already waste more than enough money on security theater.
7. Strengthen and expand the A.C.A. until single pay comes for a vote.
Here, I think Hurley has exactly the right approach.
8. Eliminate corn subsidies for ethanol replacing corn with hemp, leading towards 100% renewable, cleaner, cheaper and closer to home energy sources.
I know Russ thinks hemp is more efficient than corn as a source for ethanol. This might be true. However, there are lots of ways to produce ethanol, and corn is clearly not the most efficient choice. Thus, I agree that we should move away from corn subsidies.
I think the government has a role to play in subsidizing the production of ethanol from renewable sources. I would prefer to support multiple options, rather than have the politicians choose their favorite.
9. Fund adult and child education building new schools.
We need to spend more on education. However, I don’t think providing buildings is the best way to involve the federal government in this. So here, I agree with the goal, but perhaps not the specifics of the proposal.
10. Expand wind and solar power, updating our power grid to eliminate the 30% lost energy every day.
Improving our electric grid is a major priority. Efficiency and flexibility are needed to make use of these newer, less predictable, power sources.
We also need to protect it from cyber attack. I think there are vulnerabilities here that the government could help address.
Thus, my judgment on Russ’s top 10 issues is mixed: I am enthusiastic about some of them, other I find are too strident. In my opinion, there are also a few things missing from this list:
- Paying for it all. Politicians talk only of benefits, never of costs. Several of the objectives that Russ lays out cannot be reached without allocating the necessary financial resources. This money has to come from some place. There are several options available: borrowing the money, reducing the amount spent on defense, or taxing people who have money. If Hurley is going to be specific on these priorities, he needs to be prepared to talk about how they are going to be funded.
- Simplifying the tax system. As long as our system is so complex and littered with so many loopholes, arriving at a fair method of taxation is impossible.
- Providing good government, compromising when necessary to move us closer to our long term goals. In normal times, this would not even be worth mentioning. However, today there are politicians who take pride in their obstinance. As a result, our politics has become toxic and dysfunctional. Our constitution was founded on compromise. We need representatives in congress committed to making our democracy work.
So often, campaigns are based on platitudes so broad and bland that it is impossible to have anything constructive to say about them. Russ Hurley has stated positions that are clear and specific enough that I can have an opinion. I appreciate this. That my opinion differs from his in several points does not upset me; since I think for myself, it is inevitable. I can endorse a candidate who is ready to lead us in what I perceive as the right direction, and is able to analyze problems, and evaluate proposed solutions. What I am concerned with is that he is pointing in the right direction and is able to think things through.
This brings me back to issue number 2, concerning the minimum wage. What Hurley proposes might sound fair, but I don’t think he has thought this through at all. Hurley’s position is so far over the top, so impractical, that I question whether he can be taken seriously as a candidate. I cannot endorse such lame thinking.
In 2016, I moved from one part of Cincinnati to another, crossing that carefully gerrymandered line. So I longer vote in the 2nd congressional district. However, if I had the opportunity, I would seriously consider voting for Hurley, despite my misgivings.
Did I mention that he supports the legalization of marijuana?