Friday, July 16

Teresa For First Lady

Today, prospective First Lady Teresa Heinz Kerry spoke at a fundraiser for the Democratic gubernatorial campaign at the Convention Center in Seattle. The proceeds will help the eventual winner of the Democratic primary in September.

Sims

King County Executive Ron Sims spoke first, mainly focusing on tax reform. He says that the state's middle class is one of the most overtaxed in the country, and it's time to fix our tax structure. Elsewhere, Sims has proposed introducing a small, graduated personal income tax that would partially replace sales and property tax while reducing unpopular fees.

Speaking the gay marriage debate, Sims referred back to civil rights movement he grew up around to state his belief that there's no such thing as half a civil right. He also said that in a state that's fallen to 49th in K-6 class size, and 39th in teacher pay, significant improvements need to be made to be competitive with other regions.

Gregoire

Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire drew a parallel between herself and Heinz Kerry, noting that both were married to veterans of the Vietnam war, and were both determined to see that troops returning from Iraq got a grateful welcome. She said that she agrees with a statement once made by President Kennedy that a job is the best social program. Of Republican candidate Dino Rossi, she said that his moves to cut forty thousand children off healthcare and his opposition to the right to choose would take the state in the wrong direction.

Gregoire said that affordable and accessible healthcare was a right. She has previously said that she intends to use the employer bargaining power of the state government to negotiate better rates for state employees, and extend those rates to business. She has also proposed adopting a single billing system with a single form for doctors to use, saying it would reduce paperwork that adds to confusion and overhead.

Locke

Governor Gary Locke introduced Heinz Kerry, but not before talking about why he's proud to be a Democrat. He said that he was proud to be a member of a party that believed in equal rigts, equal opportunity, finding people work, and giving a voice to members of society who wouldn't be heard otherwise. He gave equal emphasis to saying he was proud that Democrats "don't believe that government should be scorned and dismantled," or view dissent as unpatriotic.

Speaking of President Bush, Locke contrasted the administration's unwillingness to extend unemployment benefits and efforts to cut overtime pay with a tax cut that gives more benefits to the top 1%* of taxpayers than to 90% of the public combined. In spite of Bush's promises to governors to fund No Child Left Behind, he said that after the massive tax cuts, the administration now claims there's no money for it. On healthcare, Locke said, "this administration has called in sick, and failed to report for work."

With that, Locke introduced Teresa Heinz Kerry as an exceptional leader and philanthropist. He noted that last year she was given the Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal for Humanitarianism from Johns Hopkins University.

Heinz Kerry

Heinz Kerry began by praising the two gubernatorial candidates, noting that after the primary in September, they'll only have around four weeks of general election campaigning and they'll need help. She also had kind words for Dennis Kucinich, whom she described as "wonderful."

On the campaign trail, Heinz Kerry said she'd seen that people in America aren't cynical and still have hope that if they work hard they can succeed. In spite of job losses, underfunded schools, and many other worries, people still want to believe.

"We have to work today to have leadership in our country that when they talk about values, they value them," she said. Speaking of growing up under a dictatorship in Mozambique, she noted that many people around the world only dream of the freedom we have here, "and we have got to cherish it."

Heinz Kerry studied government at a South African university, where the American form of government turned out to surprise her with people in opposite parties sponsoring legislation together and forming friendships. She noted with some amusement that in America, people from opposite parties sometimes even married each other. She said that around the country, both Republicans and Democrats were being shortchanged by this administration.

Explaining John Kerry's commitment to public service, she said, "all of us are public servants in the making if we choose to be." She said that Kerry was "offended and angered" by the way vets were being treated, saying the administration was speaking out of both sides of their mouths. Also, she said that you can't pretend to honor the firefighters of 9-11, then ignore their needs and close firehouses.

Speaking about foreign attitudes towards the U.S., Heinz Kerry said many people honestly wonder why those in other countries are angry. She compared it to having an unusually gifted child. You might not love them more, but you expect a lot. If that child messes up badly, your disappointment is greater because "your hopes were so high." She said that people around the world who love and admire the U.S. think of it as an idea of freedom, and of opportunity available in return for hard work. She said people are afraid that the idea is not sustainable, and that it may be gone forever. That they want to believe, and want their children to believe it's possible.

Heinz Kerry says there is nothing silly, soft, weak, or utopian about multilateralism. Instead, she says that religion, nature, and common sense dictatetaking care of each other. She asked, "is diplomacy a sign of weakness, or a sign of interest and engagement," suggesting that diplomacy should not be picked up on Monday and put down on Thursday. She asked, "is complexity a sign of doom, or a sign of opportunity?"

If Kerry wins office, Heinz Kerry says that "our work begins that day." She said Americans will need each other more than ever to rebuild the country and act as public servants. She went on to talk about Kerry's intentions for an administration, saying first that "we will have an attorney general who respects the Constitution of this country."

Regarding the environment, Heinz Kerry said that there would be someone at the EPA who valued it. She said she considers it a crime that scientists there have been embarassed, and some have felt forced to leave. She said that people's lives depend on the work they do, and that it isn't forgivable to work against wellness and safety. She said earlier in her talk that when it came to damaging the environment, "any right minded conervative would tell you [it's] not only dumb, it doesn't pay off." She expressed disappointment that Republicans had abandoned a tradition of conservation going back to Roosevelt.

In terms of education, she said it was important to see investment in it as a huge commitment, and that it was important to provide parents whatever help they needed to do a good job. She said a Kerry administration would offer a $4,000 tax credit for parents with children in college, and $2,000 towards a grandchild's education for seniors willing to volunteer for 10 hours of community service a week. For students willing to give two years to community service, they would get four years of full tuition at a state university, or an equivalent amount to spend at a private institution.

And Heinz Kerry said it was important to return to old principles of conservation and waste prevention. That the country should take advantage of lightweight materials and energy alternatives to reduce fuel consumption. Noting that even oil producing nations outside the Middle East are known for their instability, she said the country should never send a child to war over dependence on oil.

Finally, she said "We have a spirit of optimism that is particularly American. ...We must fight for it and never lose it.

* By way of reference, the top 1% of income earners made over $250,000 a year as of 1997. After years of spin, Republicans have managed to convince 19% of the public that they are in the top 1% tax bracket, with another 20% under the impression that they will reach it someday. It's as classic an example of American optimism as ever there was, but these beliefs distort the tax debate when public figures use nebulous terms such as 'top 1%.' I suspect that the polling data above would have been far more realistic if respondents had been asked if they made, or expected to make, over a quarter million dollars a year.

There's a time to use percentages in the tax debate, and in my opinion, that time is when talking about the share of taxes paid as a percentage of wages. Every such comparison shows that lower income citizens generally pay as high a percentage of their wages in total taxes (federal, state, local, and FICA) as their higher earning compatriots, and in states like Washington, they pay more.

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