Sunday, June 1, 2008

Debating chickens

Annette Taddeo and the empty chair

The photo shows the bravery – lack of it, I mean – in our Republican congressional incumbents. They assert willingness to talk, set a date, ask to change the date, agree to a new date, and finally cancel. It’s a little dirty trick, taken, no doubt, from the Richard Nixon political playbook.

Some choice words of reaction from Annette Taddeo, whose date with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in the AFL-CIO arena last week was a bust: “Her not being here is inexcusable. … I really believe you have been ignored. … On Saturday she’s to be at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, but she didn’t have time for you.”

It was a fine display of temper from the Democratic challenger in District 18, which spans the beaches to Key West. Her event on Thursday marked three days in a row that the Republican incumbents blew off the Democratic candidates: Joe Garcia vs. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25) on Tuesday and Raul Martinez vs. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL-21) on Wednesday.

Here's how Joe Garcia describes it on his website:

For two hours, our community heard me discuss my plans to bring a safe and responsible end to the War in Iraq, revitalize our economy and pass a health care plan that covers everyone and lowers premiums. All they got from Mario Diaz-Balart was an empty podium.

Where was Diaz-Balart during this important debate? On an AM talk radio show to talk about his strategy of "dividing Cuban, and Jewish, voters."

That's not the kind of politics we need when our community is facing so many problems.

And over at Raul Martinez' website, they're accusing Lincoln Diaz-Balart of "elitist tendencies" for refusing to appear with Martinez at the labor forum. Dee-licious!

Fred Frost, who heads the union grouping, introduced Taddeo to a crowd of about 50 by noting that there are 14,000 union members in District 18. “I truly believe she (Ros-Lehtinen) has disrespected the South Florida AFL-CIO for the last time,” Frost said.

We will see. And this is not only a race for us in South Florida. The Sunday NY Times had us under the lens again. “Democrats see Cuba travel limits as a campaign issue in Florida,” was the headline.

That may be a little out of date already. Listen to Joe Garcia talking with people at last week’s naturalization ceremonies, and health care and gas prices are the first topics he pounds. But anyway, it’s at least interesting to see the national media paying attention to Cuba policy and the nuances of SoFla democraphics.

The Times article devotes a lot of space to the view that Cuba travel restrictions are on the way out. But at the end it quotes a contrary view from pollster Sergio Bendixen, who ventures that the Democratic challengers may be mistaken if they focus on Cuba policy.

“What do you gain by focusing your campaign on travel restrictions and remittance restrictions?” Mr. Bendixen said. “I don’t get it. It’s turning off more than half the electorate that’s not Cuban, and the people who would benefit from a change are a very small slice of the Cuban electorate. It’s a mistaken strategy.”

Having listened to all the challengers (repeatedly), I have to say that they are not focusing on Cuba the way Bendixen seems to think. Yes, two of them (Garcia and Martinez) are Cuban Americans, and Cuba policy is part of their stump speeches. But they know their districts and just how much is Cuban. Taddeo told her union audience last week that District 18 is “under 30 percent Cuban” and it’s far from the makeup that sent Ros-Lehtinen to Congress 18 years ago. Voters, including Cuban Americans, now have health care at the top of their priorities, she said.

Her speech opened with a telling anecdote from her background as a business leader who would travel to Washington to lobby Ros-Lehtinen on what the business community saw as top legislative priorities. Health care, for instance. “Our list of priorities was getting longer,” she said. “We are being represented by someone who does not vote in the best interest of our community.”

And, she pointed out, it was a business delegation asking for a yes vote on children’s health insurance, not a labor delegation.

Taddeo also thought it was noteworthy that Ros-Lehtinen now is changing some of her votes and talking to the Chamber of Commerce. “They all know me,” she said of the Chamber. “She doesn’t have the labor community. She doesn’t have the business community. Who does she have?”

Good question.