January 25, 2008

Here is the question I submitted for the upcoming Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Politico.com:

Many parents of young daughters would love to see a woman become president. But we want our daughters to know that they can do so based on their own merit and accomplishments, perhaps even using their own name, not because they are married to a powerful man. If you become president, what should we tell our daughters about how you did it?"

January 11, 2008

There's been lots of talk lately that the GOP may be heading for a possible brokered presidential nominating convention. I don't think that will happen. Instead, I suspect the GOP candidates who lose the next few primaries will have trouble raising the cash they need to compete in the final round of primaries, when the winner of the GOP nomination will be determined, in all likelihood, well before the convention. My bet: probably McCain, maybe Huckabee or Romney.

A much more interesting story is developing on the other side where the Democrats have two very strong candidates, Clinton and Obama, who seem certain to remain well-financed right up to and through the convention, fighting toe to toe all the way. Right now, the media is all focused on the Hillary resurrection story, how she came back from the dead in New Hampshire, where she got her mojo back, in part, with some good ol'fashioned gender-baiting.

But here is an angle most of the media have missed. Mathematically speaking, I just don't see how Hillary can win the nomination. Here's why: no matter what Hillary does, she can't seem to get her support above around 40 percent. That was true in Iowa and New Hampshire, although her support bounced around quite a bit up to that limit in both places, and it is also true of the polls for the races upcoming. In other words, 60 percent or so of Democrats are consistently voting against Hillary. She's stuck around 40 percent.

Likewise, Obama also has been generating up to about 40 percent or so support thus far, give or take a few percent which the two candidates pass back and forth in different states depending on the demographics. Edwards, the only other candidate still standing, gets the rest, his 10 to 20 percent. Many people are wondering why Edwards is still in this thing, why he is hanging in there. But his 10 or 20 percent of the delegates may well be enough to give him the balance of power at the nominating convention. If the present trend continues, Edwards will control the swing votes that Clinton and Obama need to capture the nomination on a second ballot.

Now, in a close contest between Obama and Clinton, who will the Edwards delegates vote for on a second ballot? Clinton? I don't think so. Not given the hostility most hard-core Edwards supporters feel for the NAFTA-tarred Clintons. And if Edwards gets out before the convention, where do his voters go? Well, one could argue that if they were for Clinton they would already be for Clinton. In Iowa, Obama was the second choice of most Edwards voters, according to the associated press. So, in the face of these obstacles, how does Hillary get the 2025 delegate votes she needs to win the nomination? At the moment, it is much easier to see how Obama gathers enough delegate votes to be nominated, assuming he continues to win his share of delegates, including in the critical California primary, where he has some very deep pocketed support.

On the other hand, one plausible but nightmarish way Hillary might cobble those 2025 votes together is if she arrives at the convention without enough delegates to be nominated, less than Obama and Edwards have together, but then the 20 percent of delegates who are so-called super-delegates, primarily elected officials, including many insiders who are politically indebted to Hill and Bill, manage to put her over the top, essentially overruling the majority of popularly elected delegates. In other words: Bill and Hill save their political hides but lead the Democrats off a cliff. It wouldn't be the first time.

But my main point here is that while this is far from wrapped up, it sure does look like when it comes to gathering enough delegate votes to actually be nominated, Obama is in the driver's seat.

Thanks to the editors at the San Jose Mercury News for printing the Op Ed I wrote with Rich Hansen, President of the Foothill-De Anza Faculty Association, in support of Proposition 92 on the Feb. 5th California state presidential primary ballot. The op ed follows:

Community college funding needs protection from legislative raids

By Hal Plotkin and Rich Hansen
Article Launched: 01/10/2008 01:35:16 AM PST

California's community colleges operate in a perpetual state of extreme budget uncertainty. Ever since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the Legislature has treated community college fees as a source of general fund revenue. When money is needed to balance the state budget, the Legislature boosts student fees. This discourages attendance, damages programs and undermines the economic future of community colleges.

California's state budget shortfalls should be financed in a more rational and less counterproductive way. In addition to making other improvements, Proposition 92, on the Feb. 5 ballot, establishes fair limits on community college student fee increases. Some claim it goes too far. But given recent history, it's clear that without Proposition 92 the Legislature will continue to pick the pockets of California's politically defenseless community college students.

Higher community college fees discourage attendance, which in turn lead to more budget cuts, until the entire system hits a new low in terms of access and affordability. This destructive process has been repeated countless times. Each time, community colleges are forced to cut classes and student services despite high success rates and demonstrated need. The last time, more than 300,000 students were turned away statewide.

Remarkably, Proposition 92 is opposed by the California Teachers Association. CTA leaders fear our state's current budget deficit will grow if community colleges get what they need. Those fears are misplaced. Recent studies indicate that every dollar of public investment in our community colleges generates at least $3 in increased local economic activity. The real danger to our tax base, and to California's economic future, is under-investment in education, particularly in locally accessible community colleges that train our future workforce.

Proposition 92 will reduce fees from $20 to $15 a unit and tie future fee hikes to the state rate of inflation. That will create the budgetary stability community colleges need to make the most efficient use of limited resources, including through sound long-term planning. The state's community college board of governors will gain the ability to hire and fire the highest level management employees, a power that is now improperly vested in the governor. Proposition 92 will also ensure that community colleges receive their fair share of state education funds as promised by 1988's Proposition 98, a level of funding the Legislature has delivered only once in the last 20 years. Proposition 92 will remedy that inequity without allocating any new resources, and it will stop the Legislature from using community college students as an ATM.

The dire need for Proposition 92 illustrates a point that should have been learned long ago. California cannot support an adequate infrastructure and a modern education system with a property taxation scheme that resembles 14th century feudalism. When Proposition 13 passed three decades ago, voters wanted to protect senior citizens from being taxed out of their homes. It's a safe bet that most of them did not want to give a permanent and growing tax break to a select group of wealthy corporations just because they owned property before 1979.

California's economy thrived in the last generation largely as a result of our fine public education system. Community colleges are a vital part of that system. A good K-12 education is essential - but not enough. Community colleges require budgetary and student fee stability in order to produce the steadily growing numbers of graduates, who earn more and pay more in taxes, that California needs to pay its bills and remain competitive in the future. Vote YES on 92.

HAL PLOTKIN is a member of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Governing Board of Trustees and RICH HANSEN is president of the Foothill-De Anza Faculty Association.

I did not originally support Senator Barack Obama for president primarily for one reason. I didn't think he could win. I simply did not believe, perhaps I would not let myself believe, that the same electorate that twice put the likes of George W. Bush into the White House would elect this young, one-term African-American Senator to the highest office in the land notwithstanding his obvious political gifts. I thought the Democratic Party should play it safe and nominate someone like Senator Joe Biden, someone capable, qualified and non-controversial.

But Senator Obama has changed the game. He is bringing millions of new participants into the political process. It is now very clear that if Senator Obama wins the nomination there will be an entirely different, and more representative, electorate in November of 2008. They won't be the same folks who elected Bush. Instead, there will be millions of new voters, including more people of color, young people and others who did not see their own lives and struggles reflected by the recent nominees of the Democratic Party, whether it was Clinton, Gore or Kerry. Senator Obama has changed all that. He has electrified and involved exactly the groups whose participation is needed, and has been needed for so many years, to change the way our federal government works. In short, Senator Obama is breaking through the cynicism that, more than anything else, has crippled our political process. We can take our government back from the big money interests who now own it if, and only if, enough of us believe it can be done and participate in bringing it about. Senator Obama is in the process of making that happen.

Standing in the way are the Clintons, Bill and Hillary. I'm sorry to see how they have tarnished their reputations and legacies in this race. For many, Hillary's seemingly happy attempt to smear Obama during the most recent presidential debate ("we're just getting started here," she chuckled gleefully at one point) was the last straw. For me, the last straw was Bill's decision not to resign after he crippled his administration, and along with it the progressive agenda of the Democratic Party, after his stupid escapade with Monica Lewinsky. Let's remember the Clintons were prepared to destroy her reputation, too. Only a soiled dress prevented that. Had Bill Clinton done the right thing and resigned Gore would have become president, almost surely won re-election, and our nation would have been spared the misery of the last eight years. Instead, the Clintons put their personal needs and desires above those of the Democratic Party, the nation and their own supporters. It was about them, when it should have been about us. Not surprisingly, they are doing it again. It is time for them and for Bill in particular to step back from the center of the national stage. In time, if Hillary really is as brilliant as many who know her say she is she could emerge from Bill's shadow and become a formidable political force on her own. That hasn't happened yet. But it could. I, for one, would be happy to see it.

In the meantime, though, there is only one candidate remaining in the race this year that offers our country the new birth of idealism and involvement it so sorely needs. And that candidate is Senator Barack Obama. He has my vote -- and my prayers.