Russ Hurley for Congress in 2018 (Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District)

Ohio's_2nd

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.

Teapot RussMany 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.

King Court 2Since 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:

  1.  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.

Hurley

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?

 

 

Russ Hurley for Congress (Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District)

Ohio's_2ndIn Ohio, the second congressional district has been gerrymandered to be reliably Republican.  It combines a sliver of Cincinnati, where I live, with large rural counties in southern Ohio, stretching over 100 miles away.  No matter who wins the Democratic Primary, Brad Wenstrup, the Republican incumbent and Tea Party favorite, will probably win reelection.  However, there is reason for hope: this has been a strange election cycle.

There are three declared candidates in the Democratic Primary: Russ Hurley[3], Ronny Harrison Richards[3], William Smith[3].

OCT12_Smith

 

Truck driver William Smith has represented the Democrats in this race before. In 2012, he won the primary despite having no discernible campaign. (How did this happen?)  He seemed to be base his appeal on common sense, but he didn’t seem to have any.  After being nominated, Smith continued to not campaign, with the predictable result in the general election. In 2014, Smith declared again, and came in a close third in the Democratic Primary with almost a quarter of the votes, despite not actually doing anything to campaign.  Again this year, he is not campaigning.  Apparently, he just likes to see his name on the ballot.

 

RichardsRonny Harrison Richards also participated in the 2014 primary, coming in second, beating the invisible Smith by less than a percentage point.  He seems to me to be a traditional liberal Democrat, showing strong support for unions, for women’s equality, and for protecting the environment.  If he wins the nomination, the Democrats, presenting essentially the same familiar message, will loose again.

HurleyThe only candidate with a reasonable hope of taking advantage of the shake up that seems to be going on in this crazy election cycle is Russ Hurley. I say this for one simple reason: his top priority is legalizing marijuana. If last year’s ballot initiative legalizing marijuana had not been such as blatant money making scheme, it probably would have passed. Ohioans, even the conservative rural voters of southern Ohio, are ready to end the prohibition of marijuana, and a candidate who makes this a cornerstone of his campaign is likely to attract a lot of attention.

Teapot Russ

So I am joining Willi Nelson and the TeaPot Party in enthusiastically endorsing Russ Hurley for Congress.

 

 

Legalizing Marijuana in Ohio

marijuana-leaf-joint-140423

Back in the 70s, when I was smoking a lot of pot, I assumed that it would become legal once the baby boomers gained political power. However, instead of being legalized, this drug which I had found to be relatively harmless remains listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, prime target in that international catastrophe called the War on Drugs.

According to a Quinnipiac Poll, over half the voters in Ohio favor allowing adults “to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.”  Given this, you would think that some opportunistic, politically astute legislators would get to work on a bill to do just that.  However, this does not seem to be about to happen any time soon.  Fortunately, Ohio has a remedy for such inaction: the ballot initiative.

Some entrepreneurs looked at this situation and saw an opportunity.  Following the lead of Colorado and Washington, they put together a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana.  Like the entrepreneurs who managed legalizing casino gambling in Ohio, they crafted a document that would give control over the industrial production of marijuana to a limited few, who happen to be those who sponsored the ballot initiative.  They formed an organization,  called “ResponsibleOhio”, consisting 10 investors or partnerships who each put up $4 million, mostly to fund the campaign.  They succeeded in collecting enough signatures to get the issue on the 2015 ballot, where it will appear as Issue 3.  If the initiative fails, they stand to loose a bundle, but if it passes, they get a huge payoff.  If you were an investor used to backing startups, this might appear to be a good opportunity.

Issue 3 Illustrtion

                                                    Summary from the Toledo Blade

Except for the crass attempt to grab financial control over the new industry, ResponsibleOhio has crafted a thorough and reasoned solution to a very complex problem. Key to their approach is the establishment of a new state agency, the “marijuana control commission,” to regulate the new industry.  The ballot issue explicitly addresses medical marijuana, retail establishments, taxes, and a host of other concerns.  Of course, banking services for this semi legal industry will be problematic, and if the federal government decides to put its foot down, all this is for naught.  However, in general Issue 3 appears to leave enough flexibility in the new commission and in the legislature to enable Ohio to successfully manage the change.

In contrast, one can look at the document put forward by “Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis”, which seems to be the stoner’s version of marijuana legalization.

Driving Under the Influence

This problem is bad enough with alcohol.  People don’t want to have a significant increase in accidents caused by driving while under the influence, whatever the drug involved.

In Washington state,  the framers of the legalization initiative addressed this issue by specifying the amount of THC that a driver could have in his blood stream and still drive legally: 5 nanograms per milliliter.  This is so low that many saw it as a way to re-criminalize the medical marijuana.

The “Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis” draft takes the opposite approach:

“Drug testing for cannabis metabolites is prohibited for any purposes, and if any are found through medical testing, it still may not be used as proof of current intoxication, since there’s currently no accurate way to determine that.”

Evidently, theses guys see no reason to coddle the up-tight drivers of Ohio.

The version actually on the Ohio ballot addresses the problem by declaring it illegal to drive or operate heavy machinery while under the influence of marijuana, and mandating that the General Assembly write laws to enforce this.  Since this, like all direct ballot initiatives in Ohio, is an amendment to the constitution, it is reasonable to allow the legislature some authority in the details, like setting the legal limits for THC in the blood stream.  I have not encountered any complaints about this part of the amendment.

Enhanced Penalties for Selling to Minors

This is a complex ballot initiative.  The summary that appears on the ballot is over a page, and the one provided by Yes On 3 is much longer.  There is one detail that the Republicans in charge thought not important enough to include on the ballot, but concerns people who deal with teenagers, especially in the minority community.  It increases the penalties for selling marijuana to minors, adding “child endangerment” to the offense.

Of course, most of those selling to minors will be minors themselves.  So the proposed amendment doubles down on the failed strategy of trying to control the black market by putting more people in jail, though it limits the target to the young.  This seems mean-spirited, and it is sure to have negative consequences.

I would like to see this language changed.  Unfortunately, one of the problems with a ballot initiative is that it is very brittle.  You cannot amend it.  You have to take or reject the whole thing.

The Opinion of Pro-Legalization Groups

In general, I have no quarrel with speculative investors trying to get a return. However, I cannot stomach using the Ohio Constitution as fodder for an investment scheme.

I am not alone.  The Green Party, which states “Cannabis/Hemp is to be legalized, regulated and controlled like cigarettes and alcohol”, opposes Ohio Issue 3 “exchanging an illegal cartel, for a legal one, representing the worst of cannabis capitalism.”  Likewise, the Libertarian Party, which proclaims that “It’s time to re-legalize drugs and let people take responsibility for themselves”, calls Ohio Issue 3 “a crony scheme to line the pockets of a few wealthy investors.

Other organizations find themselves somewhat reluctantly supporting the issue as it stands.    NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) endorsed the issue with a caveat: “The board expressed concern over investor-driven initiatives where the investors will profit from the passage of the initiative.”  Similarly, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which led the drive to legalize marijuana in the state of Washington, has come out in support of the issue, arguing, “This may be our last chance for years to come.”

It is time for the Ohio chapters of the ACLU, NORML, the Green Party, and the Libertarians to get together and craft something they can all support.  These groups are not used to having enough political power to get anything done, and consequently, not used to having to compromise.  However, as long as the pro-legalization community remains fragmented, Issue 3 might be the best we can hope for.

Issue 2

Remarkably, the Ohio legislature did take one action in response to the this initiative: they adopted a Proposed Amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit constitutional amendments setting up monopolies or cartels such as the one in Issue 3.  Significantly, this is before the voters as Issue 2 If both Issue 2 and Issue 3 pass, we have a conflict. The framers of Issue 2 are in power.   They claim to have crafted their amendment so that it would take precedence over Issue 3 and “prohibit from taking effect any proposed constitutional amendment that appears on the November 3, 2015, state-wide ballot creating a monopoly, oligarchy, or cartel for the sale, distribution, or other use of any federal Schedule I controlled substance.”

Welcome to direct democracy.  What a mess.

My Vote

For myself, this is a painful decision.  I adamantly support legalizing marijuana, but I am angered by the blatantly corrupt constitutional amendment that is before us.  I am tempted to vote for both Issues 2 and 3, hoping they both pass and letting it get sorted out in the courts.  The phrase “careful what you wish for” comes to mind.

I have concluded that giving special privileges to a select few is destructive to our democracy and that the people of Ohio can come up with a better proposal to legalize marijuana.  I will Vote NO on Issue 3, YES on Issue 2.