Commentary & Community

Ethanol Fuels Pennsylvania Senate Differences

In his race for re-election, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey is touting his opposition to ethanol. Is this a winning issue for him? It just may be.

In 2005 and 2007, there was bipartisan support for legislation to impose and broaden the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). This law mandates that a certain volume of biofuel must be used in gasoline. Because ethanol is the only commercially viable biofuel, the RFS has resulted in E10 (gasoline containing 10% ethanol) being widely sold across the U.S.

While there was bipartisan support for this biofuel mandate in 2007, there is growing bipartisan opposition to it now. Senator Toomey is one of the most vocal critics of the RFS in Congress. He has worked with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein on legislation and amendments that would eliminate the mandate.

According to the Morning Call, Senator Toomey’s opponent does not share his view: “McGinty, a long-time clean-energy advocate who served as a top environmental policy adviser to former Gov. Ed Rendell and former President Bill Clinton, supports the use of corn ethanol as a renewable fuel that can replace the need for some fossil fuels, according to her campaign.”

Ethanol producers agree with McGinty, saying, “Ethanol is one of the best tools we have to reduce harmful emissions and fight air pollution from our vehicles.” However, a recent report from a University of Michigan researcher concluded, “Despite their purported advantages, biofuels — created from crops such as corn or soybeans — cause more emissions of climate change-causing carbon dioxide than gasoline.”

There is strong political support for ethanol in farm states, especially Iowa. Senator Toomey may have picked a good issue for Pennsylvania, however, since the state is increasingly important for fossil fuels. In addition, as Senator Toomey points out, the ethanol mandate can be a burden on the state’s refineries.

Do you support ethanol in our fuel? Or do you think that it’s time for the ethanol mandate to be repealed?

Memorable Debate Moments


The debate schedule for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates has been set. Starting September 26, voters will have a chance to see the presidential candidates in three debates and the vice presidential candidates in one debate.

Will these events produce any memorable moments? They may, given the track record of debates from the past:



Senator John Kennedy and Vice President Nixon faced off in the first televised presidential debate on September 26, 1960. From the effects of Nixon’s illness to the differing reactions of voters who watched the debate on TV compared to those who heard it on the radio, this debate has entered the realm of myth. One thing is certain – the Kennedy-Nixon debates set the stage for what is now a rite of passage for the major party presidential candidates.

  • Debate winner: Kennedy
  • Election winner: Kennedy



On October 6, 1976, President Gerald Ford faced Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in their second televised debate. The incumbent president’s chances to win the close race were not helped when he said, “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.”

  • Debate winner: Carter
  • Election winner: Carter



When running for re-election in 1984, President Ronald Reagan faced questions about whether he was too old to serve. Reagan put these questions to rest during his debate with Walter Mondale by quipping, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.”

  • Debate winner: Reagan
  • Election winner: Reagan



After he won the Republican nomination for president in 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush took a risk by choosing a young Indiana Senator, Dan Quayle, as his running mate. His opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, chose an elder statesman of the Democratic Party, Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, to be his vice presidential candidate. During the Quayle-Bentsen debate, the GOP nominee pointed out that he had “as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.” That line teed up Senator Bentsen to give his now-classic retort: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.”

  • Debate winner: Bentsen
  • Election winner: Bush/Quayle



Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore met for their first presidential debate on October 4, 2000. They discussed a range of issues, but what was most memorable for many viewers were the exaggerated sighs and head shakes form Gore. This body language led some to charge that Gore was being condescending, helping to boost the “regular guy” persona of Bush.

  • Debate winner: Gore
  • Election winner: Bush (although Gore won the popular vote)


What are your favorite debate moments? Share your highlights below!

Medicare Heats Up NC Senate Race

 In North Carolina, the Senate race between incumbent Richard Burr and challenger Deborah Ross is increasingly focusing on Medicare. Will Republican control of the Senate hinge on what North Carolinians think about Medicare reform?

At issue is Senator Burr’s 2012 proposal (never actually put in bill for) to restructure Medicare. When he announced it, Burr said, “We made a promise to our seniors that Medicare will be there when they need it most, but the program as it currently stands is broken. We have a moral obligation to our parents, children, and all Americans to take steps now to save Medicare. The Medicare program in its current form is unsustainable, and we have an obligation and opportunity to improve it for our nation's seniors within the next few years.”

Ross is charging that Burr introduced his plan to help insurance companies, not seniors. According to Ross, “some politicians in Washington want to fundamentally change Medicare by privatizing it and putting the insurance companies in charge. For example, Richard Burr has taken more than $1 million from insurance companies. In turn, he wrote a plan that would raise the retirement age, privatize Medicare, and give seniors a voucher that may or may not cover their health care costs. While this may help private insurers' profits, it will force seniors to pay more.”

Senator Burr has said he stands by his proposal. However, he also distances himself from it, saying, “We threw that out as an option as to what could be considered. Until you decide what you’re going to do with the Affordable Care Act, there’s no sense in even having a debate on what Medicare in the future looks like or how you make Social Security sustainable.”

What would Burr’s Medicare plan, dubbed “The Seniors’ Choice Act,” actually do?

  • Limit out-of-pocket expenses for seniors in traditional Medicare Parts A and B
  • Provide targeted care coordination for seniors in traditional Medicare
  • Increase the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 over 12 years
  • Starting in 2016, this proposal would have allowed seniors to receive funds from the government to choose a private Medicare plan

The last part is the most controversial part of the legislation. Senator Burr contends that allowing seniors to have choice for their Medicare plans will give seniors a “choice of a better benefit that meets their individual health care needs.” Ross calls it “privatization.”

Ross has also released a Medicare plan, which includes:

  • Paying doctors based on quality, not quantity, of care
  • Cracking down on inefficiencies, errors, and abuse
  • Giving consumers information and incentives to make better health care decisions
  • Ending the FDA backlog for generic drug approval

When Senator Burr says that Medicare is unsustainable, he is talking about the program’s future unfunded liabilities. The Senate Finance Committee’s Republican staff sum up the issue in a 2015 analysis: “Assuming current law remains unchanged, the Trustees project Medicare’s 75 year total spending in excess of dedicated revenues is $27.9 trillion. Again, using the CMS Actuary’s more realistic alternative scenario, that figure soars to $36.8 trillion.”

What do you think? Should Medicare be reformed along the lines of what Senator Burr has suggested? Or is Ross right to focus on minor fixes to the program?

The Saga of Felon Voting in Virginia

Governor Terry McAuliffe is determined to restore voting rights to tens of thousands of Virginians with felony records. It appears he will get his way prior to Election Day.

He first attempted to do so in April, when he announced a blanket order to restore voting rights to over 200,000 felons, saying, “There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it.”

Republicans said that the governor was overstepping his constitutional powers. Senate Republican Leader Thomas Norment said, “Gov. McAuliffe's flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Virginia and the rule of law must not go unchecked.” By a 4-3 vote, the Virginia Supreme Court sided with the Republicans and invalidated the governor’s action.

That did not deter Governor McAuliffe, however. He vowed to restore voting rights on a case-by-case basis to comply with the court decision. He is in the process of doing that, already restoring rights for 13,000 individuals.

Some Republicans claim the governor is playing politics by focusing efforts on felons who primarily live in Democratic areas of the commonwealth. Supporters of Governor McAuliffe point out that the man who preceded McAuliffe in the governor’s mansion, Republican Bob McDonnell, also restored the voting rights of some felons.

If McAuliffe were governor in most other states, this would not be an issue. Virginia is one of only 9 states that do not grant felons voting rights. Most states restore voting rights to felons after they serve their sentences. Some restore these rights to felons even while they are on probation or parole. Two states, Maine and Vermont, even allow prisoners to vote.

What do you think? Should felons be able to vote?

What’s in Trump's Economic Plan?

The economy is one of the major issues in this presidential race, with both candidates touting plans to create jobs. On August 8, GOP presidential candidate gave a speech outlining his “America First economic plan.”

What did Trump pledge to do in this speech?

  • Eliminate the carried interest deduction for income taxes
  • Reduce the 7 income tax brackets to 3. These would be rates at 12%, 25%, and 33%. In contrast, the current income tax brackets are 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6%
  • Cut the corporate income tax to 15% from 35%
  • Allow families to take a full deduction for childcare expenses
  • Permit American companies to repatriate income back into the U.S. with a 10% tax
  • Eliminate the “death tax,” also known as the estate tax
  • Issue a temporary moratorium on new federal regulations
  • Cancel all “illegal and overreaching” executive orders
  • Ask agencies to compile a list of unnecessary rules or rules that do not improve public safety, and then eliminate them
  • Withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • Impose tariffs on countries that “unfairly subsidiz[e] their goods”
  • Renegotiate NAFTA
  • Enforce American trade agreements with China
  • Lift federal restrictions on American energy development
  • Repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare
  • Force military allies to pay “their fair share” for protection
  • Reform the Veterans Health Administration

What do you think about Donald Trump’s economic plan?

Are Voter ID Laws Unconstitutional?

If you live in North Carolina, you can leave your identification at home when you go to vote.


A panel of federal judges recently ruled against the state’s voter identification law, stating:


  • Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.


Legislators supporting this law said they enacted it in order to combat voter fraud. The court essentially dismissed this as a pretext, saying that the law was enacted with “discriminatory intent” to suppress the votes of African Americans.


The court ruled against not only the voter ID requirement, but also other provisions of the law that altered election practices in the state. According to the court decision, the legislature imposed new requirements designed to affect African American voters more than voters of other races. For instance, African Americans disproportionately used preregistration of 16- and 17-year olds who will be 18 by Election Day. The 2013 law ended this practice, which the court concluded was a discriminatory action.


Attorney General Roy Cooper is refusing to appeal the decision, saying he agrees that the law is discriminatory. Governor Pat McCrory, who is facing a challenge from Cooper, condemned Cooper and the court decision:


  • We think it is the proper law, and it's amazing that the attorney general will not fulfill his oath of office to defend our laws of North Carolina. In fact, I question whether he should even accept a paycheck from the State of North Carolina anymore because he continues to not do his job.


The 2013 law made a variety of changes to the state’s election law, going well beyond just requiring identification to vote and ending preregistration. The federal court decision also invalidated provisions that allowed same-day registration, permitted out-of-precinct voting, and curtailed early voting from 17 days to 10 days.


To see how legislators voted on the final legislation, click here: Senate and House of Representatives.


Tim Kaine: Policy Overview


Support for both a well-balanced economy which is environmentally stable. Is in opposition to the Keystone pipeline. Supports the Clean Power Plan and has attempted to raise awareness concerning rising sea levels on coastal communities. However, Kaine has supported offshore drilling in the Atlantic. Additionally, he supported to fast track the construction of natural gas terminals.  



Kaine seeks a defined path to earn citizenship. He is a supporter of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Also, he sees education as an important factor concerning immigration. Hence he wants to make it easier for international students to receive their green cards. Has spoken about ‘talent’ being a factor of immigration and that the US immigration system should attract and retain the most talented of immigrants. Also, support efforts to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)      



Kaine has taken the stance the higher education should be more affordable. He, however, has not advocated for any form of free tuition at a public college for everyone. He co-chairs the Senate’s Career and Technical Education Caucus and supports greater access to community colleges for career pathways. A Strong critic of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and advocate for ‘record’ investment in Virginia education.    


Budget and Economy:

Kaine supports the notion of a striving for a balanced budget. Believes in a negotiating a solution to budget challenges through both spending cuts, revenues, and entitlement reforms. He views education and national defense as key economic priorities. As Governor of Virginia, he claimed to save 5$ billion dollars in government spending. Spending cuts were made through switching financing, reallocating accounts and withdrawing money out of the states ‘rainy day’ fund. He serves on the Senate Budget Committee and supports biennial budgeting.  Voted for the FY 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act that set government funding levels for the current fiscal year and extended numerous tax breaks without fully offsetting the cost.  



Kaine is personally against abortion however he sees no need for it to be illegal. He aligns with the primary holdings of Roe V. Wade and supports public abortion funding. Furthermore, he backs a parental consent law which has a judicial bypass in Virginia. He is against partial birth abortions with the exception that if it endangers the life and health of the mother. Additionally, the “informed consent provision” in Virginia is favored upon by Kaine; it involves the requirement of abortion providers to give women specified information concerning alternative options and health consequences. Has a faith-based opposition to abortion that reflects his policy stances.


Gay Rights:      

Kaine fall follows a very similar line to Clinton when it comes to gay marriage. So similar that he did not support it in 2001 however is now an advocate for LGBT rights by the turn of the decade. As Governor of Virginia Kaine has opposed traditional marriage bills and supported legislation that reduces workplace discrimination. He has also spoken for letting gay couples adopt children.


Foreign Policy:

Introduced bipartisan legislation to revise the War Powers Resolution of 1973 as well as to authorize the current U.S. military mission against ISIL. Advocated for Congress to have a formal role in approving the Iran Nuclear Agreement and was proud to co-author the terms under which the House and Senate considered the Iran deal in 2015. Open-ended nature of the Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Supports legislation that would repeal the Iraq AUMF approved by Congress in 2003.


Gun Rights:

A supporter of the second amendment and a gun owner Kaine believes in the right to bare arms with certain restrictions. In Congress, he voted ‘yes’ on banning high-capacity magazines of over ten bullets. During his time as Governor of Virginia, Kaine proposed a guarantee of strict enforcement of existing criminal laws. He also expanded the use of enforcement strategies such as Project Exile that target criminals who use guns rather than law-abiding gun owners.




Has had alternating views on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Recently rejects the deal in its current form. Advocate for the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), as well as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Kaine co-sponsored the Sugar Reform Act the created quotas and import tariffs to stabilize prices of sugar. 



Evolution of Superdelegates’ Influence in Presidential Primaries


At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week Bernie Sanders supporters have been rallying in an attempt to change the party’s rules on Superdelegates. This blog post outlines how Superdelegates emerged, the rules that govern them, and the arguments for and against their role in selecting the Democrat nominees for President and Vice President.

A quick history of Superdelegates

After a fractious 1968 Democratic Convention when the party elite nominated the pro-Vietnam War candidate, Hubert Humphrey, over anti-war Senator Eugene McCarthy – supported by many grassroots members – in 1970 the Democratic Party introduced an open caucus process, giving all members of the party an equal vote on the nominee.

However, over the course of the next three elections the Democratic Party suffered two Presidential landslide losses. First, in 1972, anti-war Senator George McGovern (S.D.) suffered an unprecedented 49-state defeat to Richard Nixon. Then, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan by 10 percent of the popular vote. The Democratic Party used the two failed candidates as scapegoats – arguing that the nominating process of Presidential candidates should be back in the hands of the party leaders.

Superdelegates were installed within the party to act as a guiding hand that ensured candidates be ‘electorally robust.' They were originally intended to represent 30% of delegates at the national convention, however, during the 1982 convention only represented 14% of delegates. From this point in time, the number of Superdelegates have since undergone incremental growth—reaching 20% of total delegates in 2008. However, it should be noted that the percentage decreased to 15% in 2016.


Current Rules behind Superdelegates

The DNC’s 2016 regulations for Superdelegates are contained within Rule 9.A of the Delegate Selection Material document. Superdelegates include:


  • “The Democratic President and the Democratic Vice President of the United States, if applicable; and


  • All Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives and all Democratic members of the United States Senate; and


  • The Democratic Governor, if applicable; and


  • All former Democratic Presidents, all former Democratic Vice Presidents, all former Democratic Leaders of the U.S. Senate, all former Democratic Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives and Democratic Minority Leaders, as applicable, and all former Chairs of the Democratic National Committee.”

Each of these individual Superdelegates represents only themselves when it comes to deciding the nominee. Superdelegates have the same voting power of a single delegate. However, Superdelegates are not required to vote by caucus or primary election results. This selection process makes Superdelegates autonomous over whom they choose to nominate.


Arguments for and against changing the Superdelegate rules

The case for moving away from the current Superdelegate rules has historical context – see the previous section on 1968 Democratic Convention – and contends that the influence of Superdelegates in the nomination process continues to be undemocratic. This argument prioritizes the collective will of the party over the established elite members.

However, the argument for supporting Superdelegates centers on electability and need to make the nomination process pragmatic for the future success of the party. Without Superdelegates, it is argued, the party would be open to hostile takeover that could undermine its core values. Superdelegates function to maintain the status quo and are required to ensure a ‘fair’ fight between candidates.


Get involved

What’s your position on Superdelegates? Participate in the debate by visiting the VoteSpotter Facebook or Twitter pages.

VOTESPOTTER connects you to your elected representatives. Get alerts when they vote, then tell them what you think. It's never been easier to make your voice heard.

Vote Spotter convention coverage blog -- it's all Trump

Our plucky new cub reporter was in Cleveland and whipped up this for VS:

Michigan delegates converged on Cleveland to support their respective candidates and the Republican National Committee's platform. Several Michigan delegates talked to Vote Spotter about what issues matter to them and why they're supporting Donald Trump, who accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday night.

Tamara Carlone, who was elected by the 11th congressional district as a Kasich delegate, supports the New York businessman and said the RNC's platform is more conservative than previous conventions.

“The RNC platform that’s been passed is very strong. It’s even more conservative than before, which I love," she said Tuesday. "I especially love the part on education and marriage."

"My candidate is Donald Trump. He wants to make America great again," Carlone added. "He wants to go back to founding principles and he wants to keep our nation safe."

Other issues important to Carlone are national security and supporting law enforcement officers.

"I have kids, I want them to be safe and I don’t want to have to worry about our cops getting shot and this type of thing, and I do believe once it’s said and done that [Trump] will unite us."

Don Evan, a delegate from Novi, said liberty-related issues, the Fourth Amendment, and immigration are most important to him.

"My biggest issues that are important to me are the liberty agenda and bringing us back to the constitution -- Fourth Amendment issues are really big for me, cell phone spying, things like that."

"I support Donald Trump because I really do think he's going to make America great again, policy wise," he said. "Immigration is obviously what he hit on hard and I think he's going to actually do it. No one else is talking immigration. Also, to them its just rhetoric."

Lauren Burress is a delegate from West Bloomfield who also pledged support to Trump prior to his official nomination, citing border issues.

"My candidate is Trump and it's because of the border issues. I'd like to see a wall. But also the northern border is very important," she said. "Nothing has changed, it's gotten worse."

Wes Nakagiri of Hartland cited trade and immigration as reasons for supporting Trump.

"I like [Trump's] position on immigration; I'm a fan of the wall," he said. "I like his position on trade. I don't think we really have free trade, I think we have managed trade. I think America is getting the short end of the stick on managed trade."

Marian Sheridan, alternate delegate for Donald Trump from West Bloomfield, said the RNC platform's section on simplifying the IRS and repealing the Johnson Amendment are important to her.

"What I like about the platform is the section on the IRS," she said. "I think it's very important that the code be simplified. I think that helps to de-weaponize the IRS."

"I like the repeal of the Johnson Amendment that's recommended in [the RNC platform] because I think it limits free speech of non profits. I think that's really important for non-profit organizations to have that freedom," Sheridan added.

Derek Draplin
CapCon Reporter