Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Is Bill Halter A Progressive We Can Trust?


"But he's just as bad as I am"

Lara Bergthold is an old and trusted friend. For as long as I've known her she's been a fierce progressive activist. I've seen her in action as Chair of the Board of People for the American Way for many years, always fighting the good fight and always for the right reasons. She is the President of Production for Act III Productions, Norman Lear’s production company, and was the legendary Executive Director of the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee. In 2004 she served as National Political Director for General Wesley Clark’s presidential bid and then served as National Deputy Political Director for the Kerry campaign as a liaison to the entertainment industry.

I heard from her moments after I jumped for joy that Lt. Governor Bill Halter had announced he was going to primary Blanche Lincoln, adding him to Blue America's Send The Democrats A Message fundraising page. She wanted to know how much I knew about him and if I had spoken with him about the issues. "Well," I told her, "I have a request into his campaign for an interview, and I think I can talk with him tomorrow." She thought I should have waited to speak with him before raising money for him. I asked her to write up her own thoughts on Halter. She did:

Senator Blanche Lincoln has definitely earned a challenge from the left, but no one was more surprised than me to see that Bill Halter had stepped up in that role. A conservative Democrat who consistently and loudly touted his pro-military, pro-business beliefs running as a progressive populist? It's been a couple years since I've lived in Arkansas, but the definition of what makes someone progressive sure has changed.

I worked with Bill on General Clark's Presidential campaign in 2004, both traveling together with the General and then as National Political Director for the campaign from Little Rock. All of us who worked with him consistently saw him giving advice that favored moderate-conservative solutions to problems. Yes, he may have had a religious conversion to populism but when did it happen and what convinced him his earlier stances were wrong? Has anyone asked him the hard questions about his positions? And is there any evidence to suggest that, once elected, he will continue to espouse those positions?

Given his fervent embrace of General Clark's military background, I wonder where he stands on the buildup of troops in the Afghanistan War, or the withdrawal of troops in Iraq. Given his dismissiveness of most core constituency groups including labor, I wonder where he stands on the Employee Free Choice Act? (The Plumb Line says they have the answers to some of these questions-- at least as of now.)

His resume touts the creation of a state lottery in Arkansas. Progressive? Populist? It says he has helped organize free clinics to offer health care to people without insurance. But does that mean he'll stand up to the health insurance companies in the US Senate? Where does he stand on the public option? Cap and trade? Women's issues?

I realize we're all trying to find a way to elect someone other than Blanche Lincoln to the US Senate in Arkansas. But is this the guy? My experience with him says no, and I urge you to take a second look as well...

-- Lara Bergthold

Last night I was up on the phone really late talking with Doug Kahn about the way the Halter campaign was starting to unfold. He's as dedicated to Blanche Lincoln losing her seat as everyone else is at Blue America, and he put together a little addendum to Lara's post. I asked him for a paragraph at around 10pm, which he expanded slightly at 3am. He calls it:


So Arkansas Lieutenant-Governor Bill Halter is running for the Arkansas Senate seat of Blanche Lincoln, and I’m kind of tickled. I don’t care that the all-knowing FiveThirtyEight has awarded Blanche Lincoln a blue ribbon as the 10th most valuable Democrat in the U.S. Senate. (Because for someone who claims to be a progressive to say that is d-u-m-b stupid.) She’s a sell-out to the Blue Dog branch of the Democratic Party, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the health insurance and financial services industries. (I’ll let Howie tell you how much she’s gotten from the corporate vampires.)

[OK, glad you asked-- she's raised $7,103,906 so far this cycle and has just over $5 million as cash on hand. Wall-Mart is her third biggest single contributor and Blue Cross/Blue Shield is her fifth biggest. In terms of industries, #1 is law firms, #2 is health professionals, #3 is Wall Street, #4 is AgriBusiness and #5 is Big Oil. In the last year she's gotten more from lobbyists than anyone in the Senate but Reid, Dorgan and Schumer, $172,985. She got the most bribes from AgriBusiness of anyone in the Senate, $551,300, almost 4 times her closest competitors, the notoriously sleazy Richard Burr and Chuck Grassley. She's gotten the 7th biggest haul from Wall Street, the third biggest haul from Big Insurance and the second biggest haul from the Medical Industrial Complex. She sure is beloved on K Street; too bad everyone back home hates her guts for selling them out.- Howie]

Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu slumped over like wax candles in a heat wave when Pharma and Aetna and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Gomorrah turned up the heat. She played a crucial role in ditching the public option (threatened to filibuster it), without which health care ‘reform’ is an affirmation of and a capitulation to the American model of health care run by bean-counters in private industry. Single payer? Hah!
A bunch of us have been running ads telling the rock-solid loyal low- and middle-income Democrats in Arkansas that Blanche Lincoln isn’t helping them. We think that getting her out of the Senate is a good thing even if a Republican takes the seat; it’ll give the progressive Democrats more leverage in committee. She’s the head of the Agriculture Committee, in favor of the ethanol push (moronic!) and opposed to Agriculture Department inspection regimes that make hog and cattle products safer. Don’t you want her off the Health Subcommittee of the Committee on Finance? (Max: How much facial surgery is too much?)
We can take a tiny bit of the credit for driving Blanche Lincoln’s polling numbers underground, and encouraging a credible primary challenge. We need the worst Democratic incumbents to lose power; and even if Halter votes exactly the way Lincoln has, he’ll have less seniority, less power. And he may give populism a boost as a credible strategy this fall; maybe even in Congress this spring and summer, on jobs and financial regulation, consumer protection.
Bill Halter’s campaign announcement was almost all pablum, but not entirely. He said he was proud of helping raise the minimum wage. (Don’t laugh. The idiots of the Chicago School of economics claim it raises unemployment, and we desperately need people who’ll push back against them.) He took a shot at insurance company profits. He proudly took some of the credit for getting state lottery money for 20,000 college scholarships. And he said “unemployment is at a 25-year high.” Jobs. College. Minimum wage. Dissing corporate loot. What were you expecting? Bernie fucking Sanders?
You’re lucky he’s even in the race. This guy is doing a primary challenge against a sitting Senator, political suicide unless he wins or Lincoln drops out (not that much of a long shot, if you ask me). And for the time being, he’s coming at her from the progressive side. He’s complimenting you people by jumping into the race! It could never happen unless you had already proved progressives can raise money for their candidates. Get a grip on yourselves and be happy there’s a perception out there that there’s such a thing as a progressive gravy train. $500 from me tonight.
You know what? I don’t really give a rat’s ass if Bill Halter believes the progressive arguments he’s mouthing. I just want him to jump on the progressive bandwagon. When I look at the United States Congress, particularly the Senate, I don’t see an overwhelming number of truly principled representatives of one rationally-put-together ideology or another.
When I see a person on TV who purports to represent a cause, or who’s been chosen as a typical example of a group (like desperate housewives, or tea-party activists, or whatever), I don’t think, “Oh, that’s what people in that group are like.” I think, here’s someone who first and foremost wants to get in front of a camera, and succeeded. A hot-dog. And if you’re thinking, “Doug, it takes one to know one,” that’s right! Bill apparently saw an empty space in the Arkansas spotlight, and stepped in to fill it up. Let’s check this one off the list and move on to the next piece of work.
You damn well better hope that Halter has a knack for getting in front of the camera, and that he keeps up the populist line. When he does, I’m going to throw cash money at him, try to encourage him. He’s helping make the political world safe for progressives, including all of you. If Halter flames out badly in fundraising, it makes us look like the pajama-clad slackers that Rahm and Company think we are. If he does well, we look good. If you really need to sit around nattering about Purity of Essence, well, go ahead and be like that.
But I think you’ll get over it, and realize this is no time to be proud (if there ever is one). I’ve basically been fairly pleased with myself, with fighting for a public option. The public option would be the beginning of the end for corporate health insurance; they’re right about that, you know. But how many decades of unnecessary suffering will this route cause on the way to single payer? I know, in the scheme of things, the public option is a pathetic shadow of what truly progressive legislation would look like, and I should be embarassed I’m aiming so low. The people I’m fighting for deserve better from me, but that’s what I’ve got. You got better game?


John Brummett at Arkansas News has some interesting takes on the race and he's on the ground in Little Rock and talking directly to Halter. His conclusion: "This is going to be something. A debate driven from the left in red-state Arkansas. Blanche Lincoln with $6 million and counting, and Halter with maybe that much himself by the time the on-line liberal network fully engages."
-- H.K.

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At 4:36 PM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

Howie, no offense, but Halter/Lincoln is a sideshow. Arkansas is incredibly conservative, and boasts a fair number of Democrats who felt Lincoln was *too* progressive. It's fair to say that whomever gets the Democratic nomination is going to lose to whatever skunk the Republicans can put up, unless they can outstink it.

At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arkansas has been electing Dems forever, and Halter is right in line with the populist style of the kind of Dems they love.

At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an incredibly stupid thing to say - " I don't care if Halter only mouths progressive ideas, I just want him to say them"!! That's the kind of thing that makes the left look completely clueless.

Get a grip folks.

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous SqueakyRat said...

I do think there's some value to the message that outright treason to Democratic values can cost you your Senate seat.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger DisgustedWithThisGarbage said...

Bill Halter is a Progressive. He is soliciting funds from Daily Kos - dailykos.com - the Progressive Party/liberal website. His ad says that he is being sponsored by MoveOn.org a Progressive/liberal group - that gave 88 million dollars to help elect Obama in 2008 - and ActBlue - another Progressive/liberal political action committee. They claim to have collected almost 1.5 MILLION dollars for Mr. Halter.

The Progressive Party has been working for decades...and America let her guard down, and has unknowingly elected Progressives who hide in the Democratic Party. These Progressives, like Mr. Halter - will continue to destroy us financially, morally, and spiritually. Read their websites: dailykos.com and firedoglake.com

Look for Mr. Halter's ads throughout the sites...they are there for all to see. He is not hiding his extreme views - but neither is he advertising them on his generic campaign website.

Why not, Mr. Halter?

Balakirev: There are no true Democrats anymore - Progressives are the new Democrats. Conservative Democrats have moved to the Republican party. Do your own research.


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