Texting while driving is just stupid.

That’s not to say I haven’t done it, mind you. Not at all, I certainly have. But in the course of doing it, I thought to myself, “this is stupid.” And I kept going. I’m not proud.

But now a new bill passed in the New York State Senate and sponsored by our local Sens Alesi and Robach is aimed at putting the weight of hefty fines behind preventing me and every other idiot on the road from continuing to play with fire. Better than that, the new law makes cellphone safety training a part of pre-licensing for new drivers. Even if they ignore the advice of that education, its good that kids be given an introduction:

Senate passes tougher texting bill | Democrat and Chronicle | democratandchronicle.com.

The thing about it is: what is next? What is the new gadgety thing we can do with our phones? With our cars? With our clothing? And are we really going to need to wrangle with an entirely new set of laws just to prevent the same old thing, distracted driving?

I’m sure I’ve discussed this in the past. I’m sure I will again. There needs to be a blanket law that can cover new emerging technologies and make it clear that distracting yourself while driving isn’t ok just because there’s no specific ban on it.

The New York State Senate has created a new website for themselves as part of their commitment to open government and civic participation at NYSenate.gov. The new site bases itself around the “Web2.0” style technologies that are expected of modern websites, rather than trying to stick stuff into an existing site with duct tape. Lets run through some of the more impressive features:

The front page is nice and crisply styled with an eye towards the blues and muted fades that made my.BarackObama.com so popular and continue to make whitehouse.gov a successful site. As a web designer, I look to a front page to immediately inform the reader what a site is about and give them instant access to the things I want them to see. On the Senate site, the first non-navigational thing you see is a form that allows you to look up your Senator, with another form for getting updates immediately below that. There’s lots more information on the front page, including the latest happenings in the Senate, video clips and popularly-browsed subjects.

One of the more interesting facets of the website is the Legislation Markup feature, which allows users to view and comment on all pieces of legislation currently under consideration. It’s like Thomas meets Flickr.com or something. It’s very nice to see that if I wanted to – and I just might – I could send my readers to comment directly on a piece of legislation before the Senate, rather than having to sign some petition that may never get viewed.

The Reports section lists the most recent officially released reports and the Open Data Reports section includes a lot of study results on budget issues and other more granular details we don’t often get access to in New York.

You can also get deep inside the committee structure of New York’s Senate, a thing which is much more deeply nebulous than it’s name implies and much less discussed than committees in the U.S. Senate, so much the talk of Washington so much of the time.

I’m sure there’s lots more stuff to look at, and you’ll all be able to very shortly: within an hour or two. Stay tuned!

I’ve been busy trying to find gainful employment, so I don’t know how long this story has been out there. But the Democrats in Albany are discovering “perks” Republicans granted themselves for being in the majority that are just insane. The Brunomobile, for example, is a rolling fortress filled with swiveling leather captain’s chairs and a golf course. And to go along with that monstrosity, they found – and this is not my trademark hyperbole – 800 parking spaces per Republican Senator, reserved just for them.

Must have been nice.

Well, NY Senate Republicans, John McCain and Hillary Clinton seem to disagree, but even the Rochester Business Journal’s readers don’t buy into the “Gas Tax Holiday” garbanzo that they’re selling:

Rochester Business Journal – Snap Poll

Nearly two-thirds of respondents oppose a gas-tax holiday this summer.

It’s a shame the RBJ is so insistent on selling their papers instead of embracing new media with any kind of gusto. They don’t publish any internals to the polls, which would be helpful.

Jon Greenbaum, intrepid blogger for DFE and organizer for Metro Justice, checks in with a discussion of the reform prospects for Industrial Development Agencies this year.  I certainly hope he’s right that reform might be possible this year.  Trouble is: politicians have a very, very hard time letting go of their cash cows, and unregulated free tax write-offs for companies that build their businesses locally are a big, fat-old cash cow.

Willa PowellSaturday afternoon, I got to sit down with Willa Powell, Rochester City School Council member and candidate for the Democratic nomination to challenge Joe Robach in the 56th New York Senate district. Unlike other candidates for the Democratic nod, Willa has been running a grassroots, bottom-up candidacy that has received little to no attention from the mainstream media in this city.

We sipped coffee at Spot Coffee and discussed such diverse topics as A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, the ARM mortgage crisis (Mrs Powell worked a lot with mortgages in her time at Citibank), blogging, journalism and the upcoming race for the Senate with all it portends. Willa is a very engagingly-intelligent woman whose blue-collar roots shine right through with her take on the upcoming race.

She told me that, in her position as a School Board member, she sees an immediate need for change in the rules they’re restricted to following. She said that the issues that matter most to her, education, poverty and others, are all much more directly impacted by things happening in Albany than in Rochester. Its this that drives her to challenge for the Senate seat, despite a fair amount of pressure – even intra-party pressure – to seek lower offices first.

Willa is also a Clean Money, Clean Elections advocate, which of course is regarded by this blogger as a key issue for a Democratic-led State Senate, should we have the good fortune of getting one. Mrs. Powell points out that the current incumbent, Joe Robach, spent four times his opponent in the last election but didn’t get himself any more votes than before. As her website points out, her candidacy is, in large measure, about bringing someone to Albany who understands the value of a dollar. That is something that Mr. Robach’s record of candidacy certainly does not bespeak.

But she also questions the top-down approaches of Sandy Frankel and Rick Dollinger.  Mrs. Powell charges that both candidates have been going after the large donators and the movers and shakers of the party for their campaign money, and neither seems to have engaged in a very wide-ranging ground game that engages small donors or the grass roots.  She points out that engaging in the same kind of big-money competition that has kept the incumbent where he is might lead to a victory, but might also lead to the same sort of politics, where a Senator is now beholden to his or her moneyed constituency of contributors.  With CMCE so close to passage in the coming years, it seems worth while to consider this fact when choosing a Democratic nominee.  It’s also worth noting that CMCE was one of the four top issues Willa raised in the announcement of her candidacy to the Democratic Party, whereas the other two candidates threw Clean Money on their platforms after the fact.

You’ll be hearing more from Willa on this website in the coming few weeks.  I’m planning on doing a more in-depth interview with her soon, and more plans are in the works.  But check out VoteWilla.com and read up on her candidacy in the mean while!

The celebration is all over Democratic New York: Assemblyman Aubertine won his bid to fill the 48th district State Senate position, edging out Will Barclay. That narrows the majority in the Senate to a single vote for the Republicans:

Dems’ win in NY Senate race shrinks GOP edge — Newsday.com

Republicans’ longtime control of the Senate weakened Tuesday night as their majority shrank to a single seat with the upset victory of Democrat Darrel Aubertine in a special election in northern New York. With all precincts reporting, Aubertine had 52 percent, compared with 48 percent for Republican Will Barclay.

Those of us who’ve been advocating for CMCE for the last few years know that the Conservative Party will not allow such a thing, but with the majority greatly weaked, things begin to look possible.

Well, I’m certainly glad Sarah and I got in early! We were married by Reverend Jenn of First Unitarian a few years back, and there may not be another marriage by that church for a while.

Channel 13 is reporting that the First Unitarian Church of Rochester has decided not to sign marriage licenses for straight couples in protest against New York’s ban on gay marriage. My first reaction to this is that it’s throwing the baby out with the bath water: if you stand on the side of love, how can you refuse to honor it where you can? But their explanation makes a whole lot of sense, at least to me:

More Work to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage – 13WHAM.com

Unitarian Co-Minister Scott Taylor compares it to the discrimination seen during the Civil Rights era.

“As ministers we were basically agreeing to serve the white-only counter for the state,” he said.

So, as hard as it is to think that this great church cannot do it’s work – what I think is the most important work a church can do, fostering love – the truth is that the law in this state makes that work impossible to do completely either way.  And as the article points out, there’s very little chance that the law will change any time soon.  The Republican Senate will not pass any law legalizing gay marriage, and while its not explicitly said in the article, I have my doubts as to whether the Democrats in Albany would be willing to risk the political exposure if ever they got the majority in the Senate.  Perhaps I’m just cynical, but based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think so.

RochesterTurning is reporting that there may be a retirement coming on the Republican side of the New York State Senate this year.  If so, that’s one of only two more seats needed for the Democrats to take control of the Senate.  As one commenter there points out, Joe Bruno is unlikely to be sitting idly by while this happens, so it remains to be seen what comes next.

And I can tell you for certain that the Conservative Party in this state, upon whose largess most Republicans get elected, is absolutely digging it’s heels in on CMCE, so they’re going to be very, very concerned as well.

More’s to come, certainly.  Stay tuned!

I’ve recently been involved in a few lobbying efforts with Metro Justice for the Clean Money, Clean Elections campaign, and have gained some small amount of insight as to the state of affairs in Albany.  If you’re wondering why there’s been very little talk about public campaign financing on this site or others in New York, its because the conversation has run a bit dry in the absence of legislative movement, and legislative movement won’t happen until we turn over the state Senate.

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Crooks and Liars does a good job of contrasting Hillary Clinton’s speech on the floor of the Senate in 2002, voting in favour of the Iraq resolution and what she’s saying now about that vote which she has never recanted and never will:

Crooks and Liars » Hillary Clinton Defends her 2002 Iraq War Vote — through Attack

Senator Clinton briefly outlined why she voted as she did, that her vote was not one for preemptive war but for further UN weapons inspections, and that she had President Bush’s personal assurances that all avenues would be taken to prevent war, war as an option only of last resort.

Specifically, she said,”mine was not a vote for war . . ” As though you get to vote for different things than everybody else does. Everybody voted on the same resolution.

Well, OK, anyone who reads this website knows I’m not a big supporter of Hillary. But for chrissakes, this really needs to be said: if you say you didn’t know we were going to war, you’re either a fool or a liar.

Because we all knew, didn’t we? There was never a doubt in my mind that George Bush and Dick Cheney had every intention of going to war, and neither was there any such misapprehension in any of my non-politician, non-Washington friends, Right or Left. Even the least-interested person I knew was aware of what was happening and that we were going to war.

And after that, she and Barack Obama’s voting records remained roughly the same on the war: both voted to fund the war time and time again. She insists that if he was as sure of his convictions against the war, he shouldn’t have funded it. I say that if she was as sure that she only wanted war as a last result – and if indeed she was surprised by the result of her vote – she was under equal obligation to do the same.

But she didn’t. And now she questions Obama’s judgment.

Here is an interesting passage and quote from the WaPo discussing Barack Obama:

GOP Doubts, Fears ‘Post-Partisan’ Obama – washingtonpost.com

“Partisanship is underrated. There is a time and place for it, and more time and place than we realize,” he said.In Obama’s first years in the Senate, he showed little interest in the middle, where moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats coalesce, often to thwart their leadership.

Partisanship is underrated. So if you do right by a small percentage of Americans over the objections of everyone else, that’s much better than trying to move the country in a direction as a unit? The second sentence doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you read it twice. What does he mean by “often to thwart their leadership?”

In any event, the words “bipartisan” and “centrist” do not mean the same things. “Centrist” is essentially wishy-washy triangulation, whereas “bipartisan” simply means two sides agreed on something. It’s certainly true that a “centrist” policy, being inherently limp-dicked, is likely to get “bipartisan” support, but that does not mean that a good politician cannot get support from both sides of the isle on a policy from one of the wings.

But there are people on both the Right and the Left who will not let the hyperpartisanship go.