Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Who Wants my Vote?

Election signs, mailings, commercials, and videos are nice but what's in it for me?

  Iowa is holding its first Senate election without an incumbent in 30 years and the hotly contested election between Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst is less than two months away. Given Iowa’s track record of electing incumbents the winner of the election will be conferred with a Mafia-esque ‘made’ status and a lifetime job. Ernst is 44 years old and could serve 6 or more terms in office while the 57 year old Braley could serve 3 terms and they would be about as old as Tom Harkin, the retiring Senator whose seat the campaigning duo hopes to be elected to. The candidates have combined to spend $6 million dollars on the election while the desperation of both parties to win a majority in the Senate has spurned outside interests to spend almost twice that much on mostly negative campaign ads (Here is the spending breakdown).

While one of our Senate candidates is in the pockets of big corporations, the other one is missing committee meetings...Does anyone really care?

  I’ve gotten mailers and phone calls from both parties. The phone calls are tricky. I got a phone call last week with a recorded voice asking me who I was going to support in the upcoming election. Since it was an odd numbered day, I pressed 1 which on this day was the Braley button. Then the recorded voice asked what the most important issue to me was about the election and I pressed 2 which was immigration. Then the recorded voice asked me to press one if I thought we needed to reform immigration to let the ‘immigrants out of the shadows’ and to press two if I thought we needed to ‘secure our borders and enforce the current immigration laws’. I know that Braley endorses immigration reform but I pressed two just to see what the recorded voice had to say about that. I must have crashed the program because the recorded voice hung up.

Here's some 'guilt by association' pieces....

  Judging from the campaign commercials and literature I’ve received so far the hot issues in this election is Braley missing most of the votes of the Veteran Affairs Committee Meetings he’s a member of, Ernst being in the pockets of big oil companies who want to get big tax breaks for themselves and end the subsidies for renewable fuels, Braley complaining to a bunch of Texas lawyers that if the Republicans win the Senate an Iowa farmer who never went to law school would be the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, how Joni Ernst wants to repeal Obamacare and cut Medicare and other entitlements, and how Bruce Braley repeatedly voted for runaway spending.

  None of these issues resonate with me. I don’t care if Bruce Braley misses a bunch of votes or tells a bunch of Texas lawyers what they want to hear in order to raise money and if he did vote for runaway spending he had plenty of company from both parties. As long as the price of gasoline is hanging around $3 a gallon I’m just fine with big oil companies getting a few tax breaks and if Joni Ernst thinks she’s going to cut spending after politicians of all parties have rung up a 17 TRILLION DOLLAR Deficit all I can say is ‘Good Luck’. I don’t belong to a union and I’m not a farmer so right to work and agriculture issues don’t excite me. I’m already married so I don’t have any opinion on who should or shouldn’t get married. I’ve never been in the military and I'm already a citizen so veteran affairs and immigration issues don’t sway me. The recent spate of beheadings aren’t concerning me with since I'm not heading to the Middle East anytime soon. No, my concerns are more immediate and since I’m sure I’m not alone in common sense low-level thinking I’m using this post as a public service to let this year’s Senate candidates know what would get my as yet undecided vote.

  1.5 million Iowans voted in the 2012 presidential election. 20 percent of the voters in the current Senate election are undecided – that amounts to approximately 300,000 voters. So far 18 MILLION dollars have been spent on this Senate election and there are still two months left. Let’s say there will be another 18 MILLION dollars spent on the campaign (I think this is a low number). That makes 36 MILLION dollars being spent on 300,000 votes. That amounts to $120 for each undecided voter and since there is normally a lesser turnout in non-presidential election years the $120 figure is likely closer to $200.

  The 36 million dollars that is being spent to attract undecided voters will be going to the post office, printers, newspapers, internet advertisers like Google, television and radio stations, commercial producers and writers, consultants, etc… None of this money will be going directly to the voters. I think that’s wrong – why should everyone profit from my undecidedness but me? That money being spent to get my vote would look a lot better in my pocket than some advertising agency or Google. I’ve written before (Click here to read it) how Americans should have the freedom to sell their votes directly to the politicians instead of letting everyone else profit from our right to vote. I’d love to put my vote up for auction on eBay but while spending MILLIONS and MILLIONS of dollars to get out the vote and sign up voters and advertise for votes is legal selling the same votes is illegal. I’ll be very inclined to vote for the Senate candidate that will legalize vote selling and allow campaigns to bargain directly with the voters. With a presidential election and a likely Iowa Senate Seat up for grabs in 2016 this is an issue that all Iowans can rally around and profit from.

My 10 minute trip on I-235 took 40 minutes today. Even with one lane closed, there was plenty of room for Des Moines traffic if everyone could have looked at the accident without having to rubberneck...

  Another issue I’d like to see our elected officials address is our outdated highway system. The roads I use in my hour long commute are just fine as long as there aren’t any accidents – thousands of cars travel daily on Interstates 80, 35, and 235 at anywhere from 60 to 75 miles an hour sliding across the lanes with barely any regard for anyone or anything other than their need to get where they’re going as quickly as possible. The interstates have three lanes and even two lanes are plenty for Des Moines, Iowa but when there’s an accident everything stops as every car slows down to catch a glimpse wrecked cars and possible injuries.

  The government has already funded some traffic guidance signs on the interstates in Des Moines to let me know how many people have died in auto accidents this year and how many minutes it will take me to get to the next few exits. I’d like my next Senator to take this concept to the next level and replace the current signage that is a descendent of the old monochromatic computer terminals with the full color displays found in football stadiums. Whenever there is an accident, the new displays can not only let the drivers know about the accident, they can display pictures of the accident. Once the driving public has seen the accident on the big screen they wouldn’t need to slow down to see the wreckage and could resume their normal driving habits so I could get to work and get home faster. The accident displays will probably pay for themselves by selling ads to insurance companies or sending the accident pictures directly to the driver’s smart phones for a small fee. Reducing rubbernecking will not only make the roads safer – it will reduce road rage and get me my way quicker and could be a reality with some government seed money to incentivize the process. Up to now Joni and Bruce have been silent about getting me where I need to go faster but their ideas on this issue will play a big part in getting my vote.

2014 Daisy and Baxter beef stick award winner Jillissa (left) could devote more time to superior beef stick service if she could put Little Debbie snack cakes, 2 liter bottles of soda, chips, cigarettes, and beer all on one convenient EBT transaction. On the right was the mob scene at the Hawkeye Pantry last month. I could have been in and out with my AMP Focus Energy if the clerk didn't have to argue with every customer when they insisted on paying for their six-pack or smokes with their EBT card.

  While allowing voters to sell their votes would benefit voters and reducing rubbernecking would benefit commuters, my third and final election criteria would benefit all of Iowans. I go to a lot of convenience stores and often find myself waiting in line behind people who are buying beer, liquor, cigarettes, and maybe a few groceries. Many of these people use their EBT card to buy their groceries under the state's Food Assistance program and also try to pay for their beer, liquor, and cigarettes with their EBT cards. When the clerk tells them that they can’t pay for their beer, liquor, or cigarettes with their EBT card the customers are told that the ‘other’ clerk lets them do it all the time. A lengthy argument ensues; the customer ends up paying cash for his beer, liquor, or cigarettes; and if the rest of us in line are having a bad day or are in a hurry the process repeats itself with the next customer.

  I’d like to think my next Senator could help me get my beef sticks, coffee, or soda pop without having to play EBT roulette and I have a simple solution to the problem – make EBT cards eligible for beer, liquor, and cigarettes. The Iowa EBT program is funded by the federal government so the federal government can authorize these categories to be eligible for benefits. I discussed this subject at work and at chess club and many people said “Food Stamps are for food not for beer and cigarettes” but I beg to differ. EBT stands for ‘Electronic BENEFITS Transfer”, not Electronic FOOD Transfer. It may be a stretch to label cigarettes and alcohol as ‘food’ but beer certainly has some nutritional content. After all, can cigarettes, liquor, and beer be that much worse for a person than a $4 10 ounce bag of potato chips or $1 Little Debbie Lemon pies? This is a win-win situation – People that want to get beer, liquor, and cigarettes with their EBT cards can do so; convenience stores have fewer regulations to keep track of; and we all get out of the convenience stores faster. The gains in leisure time and productivity will more than make up for the extra medical expenses incurred by all the beer, liquor, and cigarettes consumed (and all these people seem to have the money to buy this stuff anyway). This is another issue the candidates have skirted around but if I had a gun to my head I’d say getting me out of convenience stores faster is my number one election year concern.

   And that’s my wish list for our two Senate hopefuls this year. These issues may seem trivial to some but they would improve the quality of my life in particular and all Iowans in general. In any event, I’d like to have the candidates talking about what they are going to do FOR me instead of talking about what their opponent is going to do TO me. If you have any issues to add leave them in the comments or better yet tell the candidates at and and let them know what will get your vote. It never hurts to ask.