Mark Assini appeared on Connections on WXXI, hosted by Evan Dawson this afternoon. Dawson is smart and one of the best reporters in Rochester. At an hour, Connections is the right length for an in-depth interview. WXXI callers are generally well-informed and they ask good questions. Yet, despite the best efforts of all involved, I think that this hour didn’t do much to inform the voters of the 25th District, because Mark Assini isn’t running to be the disinterested arbiter of abstract policy. Assini is running to join the majority of the most radical Congress in modern history, one which has done very little other than attempting to shut down the government and repeal Obamacare. So having a discussion that resembles a policy seminar at the Aspen Institute, rather than a real-world examination of how Assini would end up voting, is simply a waste of time.
Over the past 8 years that I’ve been writing on Congressional elections, I see the same pattern in local media. During the Spring and Summer, the candidates suck up all the free media they can by appearing before editorial boards and on radio shows where they are asked about their theoretical views on “policy”, a discussion that is completely removed from the realities of how they would act in today’s dysfunctional Congress. Then, the candidates retreat to a fortress of solitude to prepare for the couple of debates that will occur during the late Summer and Fall, where the only pointed questions that are asked come from one candidate to the other. Finally, we have a month of toxic TV and radio spots that are full of misinformation and bile.
The TV spots are always with us. Debates in a district like this one are going to be limited because the incumbent will always want to avoid the possibility of screwing up. So what’s left is Spring and Summer, and during that time I’d like to see at least one media opportunity where the candidates are asked tough questions relevant to how they’d vote next year, not about what they want in some perfect world. A good way to do this would be to take a dozen tough votes in Congress and ask the candidate how they would have voted. The obvious question for Assini, using that technique, is whether he would have voted to repeal Obamacare. All you need to know about this particular forum’s ability to suss out Assini’s real intent in running for Congress is that Dawson did not ask that question. Read on if you want to learn about the rest.
Dawson started with a question about the Isla Vista killings, referencing the remarks of Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims, who blamed the NRA for the death of his son. Assini tried to deflect this by calling for better treatment of mental illness, which is rich, since he generally opposes Obamacare, which will overall increase coverage of care for mental illness. Dawson did get Assini to say that background checks were a good thing. I’d like to see the small print on that one.
Assini pegs his hopes of winning on the difference between midterm and Presidential year turnout, and it was clear from his interview that he wants to use the economy as a key issue in the race. Rochester, he pointed out, is the 5th poorest city in the US. So what does he want to do? Cut corporate taxes and do something about the Chinese trade deficit.
Assini began with the assertion that our corporate tax rate is #1 in the world, which elides the fact that our effective rate is about 1/3 of the published rate and the 11th lowest in a ranking of 27 wealth nations. Dawson followed up with that, and Assini claimed that we “just don’t fare well”. On China, Assini called for tariffs.
Then came the callers. First, one who advocated single-payer healthcare. Assini says he “has no issue looking at” a single-payer system, but he doesn’t want one. Dawson asked him about Obamacare, and he said he liked all the parts everyone likes (such as no pre-existing conditions, and keeping kids on your policy). He doesn’t like the changes to Medicare Advantage, which helped pay for the Affordable Care Act (which is what Assini called it now that “Obamacare” is a popular term). Assini smeared together Medicare and Medicare Advantage, even though only Advantage was cut, and that program was a version of Medicare where extra benefits were paid due to subsidies to insurance companies (as Dawson pointed out via reading a Slaughter press release). Assini did his best with that by pointing out that he supported Chuck Schumer’s position that Advantage cuts should be delayed in 2015.
One of the callers asked about medical costs. Assini said he proposed expansion of exchanges to cross state lines, and he proposed covering the medical needs that were not covered by one of the callers’ policies. How would he pay for that as part of a caucus whose sole achievement on healthcare was to vote for the repeal of Obamacare a couple of dozen times? That obvious question, as I pointed out above, wasn’t asked.
Assini did his best to distance himself from Republicans in Congress by saying he would have voted for an extension of unemployment benefits, and by saying he wouldn’t be focused as closely on Benghazi as House Republicans. He’s against Federal control of education, but wouldn’t abolish the Department of Education (which is a “moderate” stance for Republicans in Congress).
Assini didn’t say anything stupid, and he did his best to sound reasonable. Someone listening to him for the first time might think that he’s a conservative Democrat, and the way this game is structured, nothing happened that would make one think otherwise.