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web posted May 22, 2000

Gerrymandering ban postponed

An effort to ban political gerrymandering in California has been postponed until the 2002 general election. "The consequences of one party drawing election district maps should be evident within a year," says proponent William Westmiller. The Fair Vote 2K Coalition, which had hoped to qualify the proposal for the November 2000 ballot, failed to collect the million signatures required before the May 25th deadline.

"For a totally grass-roots effort, we're delighted that we received support from across the political spectrum and we'll carry that effort forward," says Westmiller, who says there will be few alterations in the proposal to forbid the consideration of party registration or voting history in drawing the electoral boundaries for Congress and the state legislature.

The initiative was endorsed by the California Republican Party, Republican Liberty Caucus, Libertarian Party, Natural Law Party, and executives of the Reform Party, but the Coalition was unable to raise enough funds for paid petition circulation.

"This was never a partisan proposal," says Westmiller, "It's a simple, objective and clean method of drawing fair districts that will earn support from all fair-minded voters." Fair Vote 2K would take apportionment power away from legislators and judicial councils by requiring that district lines be drawn solely on the basis of population equality and geographic compactness. Democrats will probably have total control over the districting process when census figures are released next year.

"We'll be offering an objective proposal to the legislature when the time comes," says Westmiller, "and we'll be reporting on any gerrymandering elements in the legislative plans."

Fair Vote 2K Coalition
44 Summerfield Street Thousand Oaks, CA

B.C. tries another attempt to sue big tobacco

The B.C. government re-ignited its fight with the tobacco industry on May 15 by introducing new legislation allowing it to sue the industry and by bringing an insider on board for the fight.

The legislation is the province's second attempt at recovering an estimated $2 billion per year in direct and indirect costs associated with smoking-related illnesses, said Health Minister Mike Farnworth.

An earlier version of the bill was thrown out by the B.C. Supreme Court in February after the industry challenged it.

Just before introducing the new legislation, Premier Ujjal Dosanjh held a news conference with Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, the former tobacco industry scientist whose decision to go public about industry practices inspired the movie The Insider.

"The industry knows full well that adults are not the ones that give them the new business. It comes from the kids," said Wigand, who is being retained by the B.C. government as an industry expert.

The legislation introduced is designed to expose the "misconduct" of the tobacco industry, especially surrounding its targeting of young people as potential new smokers, the government said in a news release.

"The industry needs to stop preying on our children," Wigand said.

Smoking kills about 5 800 British Columbians every year.

A spokesman for Canada's tobacco manufacturers said the industry would rather work with the government to address health issues, but will not back down from a court fight.

"We will defend ourselves vigorously," said David Laundy, vice-president of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council.

"We're disappointed that the government has chosen to commit even more tax dollars to what is a long, drawn out, expensive legal battle," he said.

Laundy estimated it will take up to three years before a tobacco lawsuit makes it to court.

The tobacco council represents Canada's largest tobacco manufacturers, Imperial Tobacco, Rothman's, Benson & Hedges and J.T.I. Macdonald.

Farnworth said Newfoundland has decided to launch its own lawsuit using British Columbia's legislation as the model.

"B.C. and Newfoundland will be working closely together," he said.

As of last fall, five other suits were being considered, three in Ontario and two in Quebec.

Manitoba and New Brunswick have indicated they could also launch court action.

The court struck down the B.C. government's first attempt to sue when it ruled the act allowing the government to launch the action contained provisions that attempted to seek damages beyond British Columbia.

Attorney General Andrew Petter said the new law is clearer and no longer includes extraterritorial provisions.

Petter said the government will file a statement of claim, but didn't know when. He also wouldn't say how much money the government will seek in damages.

"What our action really shows is that we have no intention of backing down in our fight for compensation from the tobacco industry," Petter said.

"We maintain that tobacco companies have known for years that cigarettes can cause death and disease and are addictive."

Petter said the B.C. suit will allege tobacco companies:

  • Failed to warn consumers about the dangers of smoking;
  • Targeted children in advertising and marketing;
  • Suppressed research into the risks of smoking;
  • Attempted to negate public warnings about the risks.

B.C.'s Opposition Liberal leader Gordon Campbell said B.C.'s tobacco fights have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the Canadian Cancer Society said the B.C. legislation is a positive step in convincing other provinces to get involved.

Wigand, a former Brown and Williamson tobacco scientist, formed a non-profit organization, Smoke-Free Kids, to help young people decide not to smoke.

He met with Victoria-area high school students prior to arriving at the B.C. legislature for the introduction of the new legislation.

"This is about kids and this is about health," he said.

"Eighty-five per cent of the smokers say they all started before the age of 18. The industry keeps on getting new smokers from kids."

Wigand said taking tobacco companies to court has revealed much about their business practices.

"The courts have really forced them to take a new level of responsibility," he said.

"The litigation has brought documents out that have shown a tapestry and an archeology of misbehaviour. From my perspective, I don't know of any other way to get to it."

Laundy said Wigand's presence reveals an American-style approach to the tobacco wars where the government has chosen confrontation over consultation.

"What that shows is this is about politics, not health," he said.

Bush outlines plan for private Social Security investment accounts

Presidential contenders Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore confronted each other's plans to secure the solvency of the federal government's sprawling Social Security program on May 15, with each delivering speeches watched closely by seniors and younger citizens concerned about the availability of retirement funds later in this new century.

Bush was up first, with a long-anticipated speech detailing his until-now-undisclosed plan to create private savings accounts to allow individuals who pay into the Social Security system an opportunity to make a little extra through targeted investments.

Those who stand to benefit are younger members of the work force who would be granted the luxury of time to build up a significant savings portfolio by shifting a percentage of the payroll tax that would regularly go into Social Security into proposed private accounts.

"Reform should include personal retirement accounts for young people," a poised Bush told a crowd of senior citizens in Rancho Cucamonga, California. "We must give younger workers the option now of new opportunities."

The Texas governor took the lid off a series of proposed initiatives he said were aimed at keeping government's promise of retirement benefits to Americans. That promise would be fulfilled, he said, but the way in which it is fulfilled must change.

"There is a fundamental difference between my opponent and me," Bush said of Gore, who has frequently hit the Texas governor on the subject of Social Security overhaul in the course of the last two weeks.

"He trusts the government to manage our retirement. I trust individual Americans. I trust Americans to make their own decisions and manage their own money," Bush said.

Expanding on the accounts -- the core plank in his overhaul agenda -- Bush tried to stamp down on criticism from Gore and others that the investment of any portion of an individual's Social Security payroll taxes into stocks was too risky, by saying he planned for a system of checks and balances.

"Our government will establish basic standards of safety and soundness. There will be no fly-by-night speculators," Bush vowed.

"The overall stock market has never lost money over any 20-year period," he continued. "It is the best and safest way to build personal wealth."

Setting his sights on Gore, the Republican White House hopeful accused the vice president of hypocritically working to block most of the public from participating in a proven generator of wealth.

"People in Washington see the [stock market] as an opportunity, yet an opportunity they would deny others," he said. "Al Gore, who says this bipartisan plan is risky, has a substantial amount of his own money in the stock market."

"Independence should not be a gated community," he said.

Bush also pledged a continuation of current benefits for those at or near retirement. "For those on Social Security or close to receiving it, nothing will change. The government has made its commitment, and you have made your plans. These promises will be honored."

He also described portions of his plan calling for "lock box" payroll taxes intended to prohibit borrowing against the Social Security trust fund; a refusal to increase the current 12.4 percent payroll tax used to keep the trust fund solvent; and preservation of the system's current provision to pay benefits to widows, widowers and the disabled.

Bush's wide-ranging plan was somewhat short on detail, however. For instance, he did not reveal what percentage of the 12.4 percent payroll tax individuals would be allowed to invest in their accounts.

Gore followed Bush later that day with a Social Security speech of his own at Pennsylvania's Beaver College. The vice president has said in recent days that Bush's plan for private accounts, coupled with his $483 billion, five-year plan to cut taxes, could spell economic disaster.

Saying this issue is one of great national importance, Gore challenged the GOP hopeful to a public debate on Social Security reform, highlighting "the right way and the wrong way to do this."

"Social Security is a solemn compact ... Its basic guarantee of retirement security is based on its guaranteed minimum benefit," Gore said.

The Democratic vice president's plan is aimed at keeping Social Security solvent through at least 2050 by continuing to balance the budget, paying down the national debt and using the interest saved from debt reduction to shore up the Social Security Trust Fund.

Gore has argued that privatization plans would divert Social Security funds to the stock market and risk taxpayer dollars. A downturn on Wall Street, Gore warned, could bankrupt the entitlement program, force benefit cuts, or lead lawmakers to increase the retirement age.

"To turn Social Security into a system of winners and losers would jeopardize Social Security for all Americans," he said. "Gov. Bush's plan takes the 'security' out of Social Security."

"Under Gov. Bush's plan, even if your investments do well, others may not be so lucky," Gore continued. "You shouldn't have to roll the dice for basic retirement security, and shouldn't pay for others to do so."

New York Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton for Senate

With her husband at her side and some 11 500 other Democrats watching in the hall, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton received the state convention's nod as the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate from New York.

"I'm here tonight because I believe that New York's future can be even better than its past," Clinton said in her acceptance speech on May 16.

She said the election was about fulfilling the mission she felt she had in common with Democratic voters:

"To strengthen our families and protect our children. To improve our schools and extend health care to every New Yorker. To free our families and communities from the terror of gun violence. To strengthen Social Security and modernize Medicare. To ensure America's continued leadership in the world."

Some had termed the evening more a coronation than a convention because the vote formalized what had been expected for months.

Sen. Charles Schumer announced the nomination, which was seconded by Reps. Charles Rangel and Nita Lowey. The nomination of the nation's only first lady to run for public office was passed by a unanimous voice vote.

"I'm proud to be nominated by my friend Chuck Schumer, because I am looking forward to serving with him as part of a team on behalf of New York," Clinton said.

Lowey decided not to run for the Senate seat last year after Clinton expressed her interest in the post.

The convention was expected to be the largest in the state party's history, according to New York Democratic Party spokeswoman Judith Hope.

"This is the kind of excitement we haven't seen since Bobby Kennedy," Hope said on the eve before the convention during a news conference on the steps of the arena. Robert F. Kennedy was nominated by New York Democrats for the U.S. Senate in 1964. He won the election and held the office until he was assassinated in California while seeking the 1968 Democratic nomination for president.

State party members also elected at-large delegates and alternates for the Democratic National Convention this summer in Los Angeles.

"We have a united Democratic Party in the state, which I think is very good news for our party and our candidates," Clinton said.

She is seeking the seat currently held by retiring Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who has served in the Senate for some 25 years. A tribute to Moynihan was part of the convention events.

"For now, we say goodbye, we thank our party and the people of our state for a great run," Moynihan said at the end of his farewell speech.

In a continuing effort to dispel any concerns that her new residency only reflects a "carpetbagger" status, the first lady has campaigned heavily throughout the state, making stops in each of New York's 62 counties to discuss her plans on health care, education, agriculture, tax cuts and the economy.

Despite the nomination, it still is appropriate to refer to the first lady as the presumptive Democratic nominee for the Senate seat, but technically not as the actual nominee. The state Board of Elections does not certify a candidate as the official nominee until after primary day -- which is this September 12 -- even if only one candidate is running.

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