WatchSonoma Watch

HERTZ: How we can fix America’s political system

Richard Hertz


“I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.” — W.C. Fields

Where to begin in order to make America’s political system function more like the founders had in mind? There are no easy answers but I’ll take my swing at ringing the reform bell by identifying the three biggest challenges I think we need to address:

  • Reducing the influence of money in politics
  • Reducing the importance of political parties in decision-making
  • Reducing the level of apathy and anger many have towards politics and government

Notice I say reduce rather than eliminate, because realistically, a reduction is probably the best we can hope for. I also say we need to address because if we want meaningful political reform, then we, as voters, need to be better informed and reconsider our priorities for evaluating candidates.

Let’s face it, special interest money will always find a way to ooze under capitol doors. Many will cling to political parties to avoid having to think for themselves, and there will never be a highly rated TV show based on Americans’ love of politics and government.

But knowing voters are paying more attention would give elected officials a reason to pause before casting votes that could be seen as harmful to constituents. They might also become more fearful of the consequences of accepting large contributions and freebies from special interests.

In upcoming blog posts on Watch Sonoma County, I’m going to conduct an ongoing Consumer Politics 101. We’ll look at these and other problems with the goal of identifying specific steps individuals can take do something about them. I also want to show people how they can follow the political debate without taking up a lot of their time.

We’ll do this through several means:

  • Posts that explain how critical parts of our political system work or are supposed to work
  • Links to informative news stories about special interests and the actions of lawmakers that benefit contributors or enrich themselves
  • Providing a road map to great websites (which many are unaware of) that connect the dots between money and politics
  • Online quizzes you can take to make sure you are not living in a current events blackout zone
  • Interviews with those in the political know to whom you will also be able to post questions
  • And written posts or short videos that take you behind the scenes to see how things really work in the political world

The focus of this blog will be different than that of most other political analysis or commentary. While I believe there are some significant differences between the two major parties, the bigger problem that makes government so dysfunctional is the institutional corruption that has become an entire industry.

Making the endless solicitation of campaign contributions from special interests politically unacceptable behavior, and shuttering the revolving door between elected officials and lobbyists, are both important prerequisites to achieving meaningful political change in the U.S.

I’m not undertaking this to convince anyone with deeply held views that they are right or wrong about any specific issue, candidate, political party, or ideology. Rather, it is intended for people with busy lives and open minds who would like to be better informed and come to their own conclusions.

This blog’s for you! Thanks!

Bodega Bay resident Richard Hertz owns Hertz Research, which conducts polling for news organizations, public agencies, businesses and other organizations. Contact Hertz at richard@informedandengaged.net.

34 Responses to “HERTZ: How we can fix America’s political system”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Skippy-you lost all credibility when you mentioned Ann Coulter.

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  2. joet says:

    @Follower – I agree. I think you get it. And I agree that there are Democrats who don’t get it because of partisan blinders just as we are seeing evidenced in contributors from the right in this column’s comments.

    This is why I support Mr Hertz’ efforts to point out that corruption is behind today’s economic and political problems. Voting out a lot of politicians in 08 and Obama’s efforts at reform have failed. Cleaning house again and the Tea Party’s efforts at reform have also failed.

    It’s not about changing the politicians, blue and red. We need

    1. campaign finance reform – perhaps public funding only
    2. much more lobbying regulation
    3. media deconsolidation – we simply to easy to rule by few voices with media monopolies in place
    4. term limits

    Reducing corruption is pro-American. Supporting corruption is anti-American. These are truisms. And I can’t believe all the people below with knee jerk reactions against Mr Hertz — voices claiming to be conservative! — who simply support corruption.

    Where are the moderates who actually want a strong America?

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  3. joet says:

    @Paul – You’re illustrating the problem. Facts exist outside of opinion. A fact isn’t liberal or conservative. A fact is how things plainly are. The problem with all those who don’t believe in knowing the facts first is that they tend to be very inaccurate.

    Surveys have verified this. Some people who are only interested in a partisan viewpoint simply don’t have the facts right. This is unfortunate for America. This is unfortunate for us moderates.

    Another serious problem is this idea that Democrats tax and spend and Republicans do not. Or that spending is just plain bad.

    Look at this chart.

    Those areas where spending is greater than revenue all correspond to a recovery. The first one is the Great Depression under FDR (D), the second was under Reagan (R), the last is the one under Obama(D). Recoveries require spending and are exacerbated by austerity programs – plain economic fact backed up by case studies spanning a century. It happened in the US in 1937, in the UK now, and plainly observed across Europe by example and counter-example.

    And no we don’t need the 90%+ tax on the wealthy of the Great Depression — economists agree that was a bad idea. But increasing our debt by having those tax rates far less than they were under Reagan is probably a bad idea. There’s a sweet spot in there somewhere. We can’t be pushing for extremes.

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  4. Serious Fish says:

    @ Follower. I agree it’s not D or R. Both parties have been corrupt and ineffective resulting is a slow and dying death to a great society.That’s why there is open conflict with one feature being the battle for”freedom” versus those who want”free things.” Thnaks.

    @joet. I agree with PD that we should try to stick with the issue in the post and no personal attacks. A curve or fast ball is OK but needs to be civil. I would like to follow up on one of the “Follower’s” points.

    General Electric is planning to move its 115-year-old X-ray division from Waukesha,Wis., to Beijing, China. In addition to moving the headquarters, the company will invest $2 billion in China and train more than 65 engineers and create six research centers. This is the same GE that made $5.1 billion in the United States last year but paid no taxes-the same company that employs more people overseas than it does inthe United States. Obama appointed GE Chairman Jeff Immelt to head his commissionon job creation (job czar). Immelt is supposed to help create jobs.I guess Obama forgot to tell him in which country he was supposed to be creating those jobs. Both parties allowed GE not to pay taxes and essentially drive the company out of the country to China who owes our debt. Is this OK or is a problem?

    Perhaps you would write an opinion piece with facts and let the forum respond.

    @Lisa. There a few short points to mention. Ask the PD why it is essential to have an anonymous feature in this public forum. It’s been explained before but perhaps you would believe them. Don’t read the “nick name” posts if you feel they are not credible. It’s somewhat like “hearsay” in listening to evidence.

    I would like to suggest that in the interest of the forum that you continue to present your comments and opinions. However, being a paid advocate on an issue reflects more the marketing and public relations part of your job and may reduce the credibility of your comments. It does for me anyway.

    I don’t know you or who you are but none of the posters should have thin skin and when some one has an agrueable perspective shouldn’t take their marbles and go home like the SRJC and SSU professors.

    On the other hand I could say Tuesday, 11/28/11 was a great day. Lisa M. promised never to comment on WSC again and Barney Frank is leaving the U.S. Congress!


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  5. Follower says:

    Your use of the word “partisan” implies that you think this is a D-vs-R problem. If that is what you mean, I think you’re wrong.
    My main issue is spending. The ONLY reason that is “my” main issue is the constant droning on by the Democrats to raise taxes and Republican capitulation.

    I would fully support higher taxes if the government wasn’t so blatantly wasting the money they already get.
    And when I say “wasting”, I’m NOT referring to spending money on programs I don’t agree with. THAT is a separate issue.

    I’m talking about things like Solyndra.
    GE not paying ANY taxes.
    50% of Americans paying NO Federal income tax.
    New government buildings that make you feel like you just walked into Bill Gates’ house.
    (Have you seen any of these new multi-million dollar Fire Stations? Schools? Etc…)
    The new CHINESE bridge from Oakland to T.I.
    The billions of dollars the government pours into enforcing new regulations that do NOTHING but stifle economic progress.
    Like busting pot clubs while selling guns to Mexican Drug gangs.

    No, I really don’t care WHICH “party” stops this insanity.

    It just needs to stop BEFORE we start talking about more taxes.
    They need to close the boarder BEFORE we start talking about Amnesty.
    I need to see some arrests on Wall Street BEFORE we start talking about bailouts.

    Any takers? Democrat? Republican? I have a vote and it’s all yours regardless of your “party affiliation”.

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  6. Paul says:

    In response to Joet: The problem with your statements is that we do get the liberal so called “facts” pounded into us on a daily if not hourly basis. Whether it’s CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NPR or The Press Democrat, we are overdosed on “facts” on everything from the jobless rise and fall to global warming/cooling/climate change. Pick the topic and the liberal media has all the “facts”.

    It is those in the constituency that are actually listening and understanding ALL of the FACTS that are questioning the failure of the current administration and its attacks on our Constitution and our very way of life.

    I would hope that it would be difficult to govern this country when your agenda is so obviously socialist. The very thing our Founding Fathers (in both the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers) warned against. Many of our Sacred Military Cemeteries are filled with those that fought against this very thing.

    The real corruption exists in the hearts and minds of those that would undermine the very foundation of what has made this country great. Thank God for those who are standing by their principles and speaking out against the “change” that is failing.

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  7. joet says:

    It’s strange how the author can simply point out that corruption exists and the means by which it does exist, and suddenly have a legion of those on the right attack him on unrelated charges.

    This illustrates two serious issues with today’s politics in America

    1) there is a strong partisan aversion to reality-based policies and opinions if real facts differ from partisan opinion

    2) partisan blinders have resulted in such strong feelings that there is no appetite for even knowing the facts before forming an opinion

    How is that anyone should be able to govern when a segment of the constituency fails to listen to facts before forming opinions?

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  8. dan roberts says:

    for a response look to my web site: danrobertsforcongress.com and read “when is enough,enough? submitted to the pd but not printed.

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  9. Follower says:

    “Those whose interests I champion are not going to disappoint me” we are going to disappoint them.
    They warned us repeatedly of the dangers of growing government. They set forth very clear means for us to reign in government when it over reached and abused it’s powers. We’re just not doing it.

    This country became what it is by keeping government out of the way of free people and allowing them to pursue the American Dream however they saw fit.
    Some succeeded, some failed.
    Many of those who succeeded changed man kind forever. As did many who failed having learned from that failure and out of survival, got up to fight again.

    But today government is there to make sure there is no failure.

    “If at first you don’t succeed, hop on board the Socialist Express because maybe success just isn’t for you”!

    Trying to legislate fairness through equity, funded by taxation is not going to work. Man may have been created “equal” but a man’s place in society isn’t. It never has been, it never will be and no law is ever going to fix that.

    Some people will never be satisfied with “enough”. Some people will work for people who are never satisfied with enough and some people will pursue hand outs from both. You can’t change human nature.

    Stop re-electing people who promise to do just that.

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  10. I Hate To Be the One to Tell You says:

    Hertz, turn your printer off if you are going to tell us how we would be so much better off under a democrat socialist regime. We get it. We hear it everyday in the mainstream press.

    Save your expensive ink and continue to poll for the politicians.

    California needs to return to the center right. It is wacky left and broke because of it. Way too much public sector union influence, too much debt, too much spending, too much borrowing and just about too much of everything else.

    Exceptions, water, common sense and a decent educational system. California use to lead to way, now California is leading the way into the political ditch.

    It’s not the system that needs reform, its the socialist politicans who have ruled over this state granting entitlements and inacting stupid regulations that have driven business out of the state and driven unemployment up, up and up until we have an ongoing great recession.

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  11. Graeme Wellington says:

    Enough already. Let’s see the first blog installment. I’m sure I can blow gaping holes in everything this guy can dream up. How about letting me be James Kilpatrick to his Shana Alexander? Dueling blogs?

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  12. Originalist says:

    Perhaps if our Constitution was followed as it was written would help. Many of us believe the Constitution was never written as a so called “living document”.

    It was to be amended and added to by the people. It was not to be amended by courts. Every colony had laws against abortion or followed British law which prevented abortion. Yet our courts ruled those same colonies ratified a right of a women to choose???? Hardly!!

    When one judges were tarred and feathered and run out of town, now they claim someone gave them immunity from the law, but they never inform us who gave them that immunity. Was it God? Because the people and sovereign authority in this country never gave it to them! That immunity has ruined this nation!

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  13. Paul says:

    Our politcal system does not need fixing. What it needs is people/politcal leaders to respect the constitution and not keep trying to “change” it.

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  14. Serious Fish says:

    Good luck Mr. Hertz as the PD lacks the creative ability to come with an idea that will at least fill space. In reality be need to identify leaders who can actually bring about change. If you plan to introduce resources from both sides it will be the same old cat and mouse game. THis is given away by anyone who quotes W.C. Fields. As a suggestion you could editorialize your concept to “Our political system is staggering corrupt and we are going to fix it.” Identify and prioritize the problems and those who can really fix the problem. However,as Porcelian Punisher implies people in Sonoma County would still follow the union money and vote for Woolsey, Tompson,CBOOB Pelosi, Boxer and the rest. For the record you say what political affiliation you poll for.

    “Reducing the money in politics” would e good fun start.


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  15. Paul says:

    The media says: Tea Party = Bad, Occupy = Good. Is there any bias here? What we have is a severe blurring of what our founding fathers had in mind. If you truly want your eyes opened you need to read Mark Lavin’s book Liberty and Tyranny. I know, you libs will say he a conservative mouth piece. In reality he is a constitional attorny and presents things logically and understandable. Do yourself the favor or your life and read the book. It should be a text book in all schools and would give this blog some solid grounding.

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  16. sarkyfish says:

    Richard Hertz neglects (deliberately?) to identify two of the biggest challenges currently undermining our political system: the media and pollsters both of who mislead with politically, biased assumptions and questions to dominate our national dialog. And, oh my, it looks like smiley face Richard works for both of them.

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  17. Hey PD,

    How would you like to shoot your readership through the roof ?

    You should split the page down the middle.
    2 bloggers on the same page.
    Left / Right.

    Open this thing up…cage match style.

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  18. Steveguy says:

    I would hope that this effort can be informative, with different views.

    I am a semi-fiscal type, almost libertarian in some aspects.

    So I may rant on the right wingers that hate gays and are against any abortions, or against a Dem for too much wasteful ‘ feel good’ spending..

    Ohh, the spending of BOTH parties. And the constant fundraising that lobbyists lavish them with.

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  19. Canthisbe says:

    Richard Hertz’s stated goals are laudable.

    Some observations:

    Given the importance of the issues, why hasn’t the PD been doing this or more of this in its main section? Why farm it out to a third-party and bury it in a blog? As I see it, one of the main problems with politics is that many, probably most people, are uninformed or worse, mis-informed, about economic and political matters. There are a number of reasons for this, but one is that the mainstream media (which is still what most people see the most) does a poor job of covering those issues. There are a number of reasons for that, including that too many people would rather read useless gossip and sports than real news. (sports has its place and I read it to – so go easy on the “rebuttal comments”) and that the mainstream media has its agenda and is highly left-wing skewed (you know, those tingles down the leg) – not just a “right-wing rant t- but widely acknowledged by the press itself. How many people will take the time to read a blog that’s not on food or the latest sales?

    Some skeptics might wonder if Mr. Hertz can live up to his stated goals. It is well know that polls can be skewed by how the pollster asks the questions, who they ask, who they have ask the questions, etc. There also seems to be a some possibility that people and organizations hire pollsters that might be favorable towards the results that they want and if they don’t get them they may not hire that pollster again. (Not implying that Mr. Hertz could be influenced that way – don’t know the man or his views, politics or who he does polls for.)

    I hope Mr. Hertz can accomplish his goals and that his blog does not turn into a partisan piece or an infomercial.

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  20. bill says:

    Both Republicans and Democrats are knee deep in corruption. The rest of us are left holding the bag. I thought Obama would change the system but he brings in Geithner and that tells the real story.

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  21. David R. says:

    Mr. Stevens, you can be suspicious, but perhaps a closer reading of the column would serve you better. Mr. Hertz specifically mentions “the endless solicitation of campaign contributions from special interests.” The fact that you believe that Mr. Hertz does not include unions as a special interest reveals your own prejudices.

    And Follower, the notion that average citizens taking money from the government in return for nothing is the single source of problems in this country is laughable. So much of the financial sector in this nation is given over to turning a profit through the manipulation of monetary instruments, as opposed to actually earning money by producing something tangible and of real value. If you think the poor and hungry of this country are your enemy, you’re going to be sorely disappointed by those whose interests you champion.

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  22. Graeme Wellington says:

    @David R.

    Where is there any conservative voice anywhere on the Press Democrat staff? Does that side ever get aired anywhere except among the readership? Is anyone needing to “rush” to that conclusion?

    Of course this guy will be a flaming liberal. You don’t expect objective news here do you? You can’t expect objective opinion either. Hasn’t happened before and it won’t now. Don’t blame the observers for noticing the track record.

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  23. Lets Reconsider This says:

    Hopefully this is just not another flack for the left point of view. It is so tiresome to hear how bad the Tea Party is and how right the democrats are.

    But given the origins of this paper, I am not willing to put on my rosy colored glasses just yet.

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  24. Josh Stevens says:

    I’m suspicious of the fact that Mr. Hertz made no mention of the influence of Union Money in elections,where tax payers money is laundered through municipal unions to support Democrats exclusively to the detriment of our state budgets.

    Anger and dissatisfaction with government is not only necessary,it’s healthy.Beware of people who tell you differently.

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  25. Follower says:

    We can’t “fix” the political system because we have come to a point in our society were it has become acceptable to use the power of the government to take what you didn’t earn from others.

    There is no longer a stigma attached to living on the government dole.

    We have been conditioned over the years to believe that if we fail to succeed it must be because we are victims of people who did succeed.

    The concept of personal responsibility has been perverted by political correctness and is now used as a tool by those who seek power to convince the public that they “need” the government to relieve them of the consequences of failure.

    The experiment failed.
    Enjoy what’s left.

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  26. David R. says:

    The goals of Mr. Hertz seem laudable, and if the comments posted below it are any indication, help couldn’t come a moment to soon.

    It’s seems pretty telling that, when a columnist with apparently a fair amount of experience observing the worlds of government and politics, aims to discuss those worlds in an attempt to empower voters, more than one commenter immediately rush to labels like “liberal.” Of course, since liberal means open-minded, it’s also fitting that obviously close-minded people employ the term as an epithet.

    I also find it fascinating that, in the face of an informed observer simply talking about aiding voters in making informed decisions, still other commenters seek to demonize the poor. Some people pay no income tax, you say? I guess it’s irrelevant that some people have virtually no income of which to speak.

    For a democracy—or, more accurately, a representative republic—to function for the benefit of the greater good, the citizens need to be in it together. Unfortunately, with the comments seen here, it’s all too clear that many are simply out for themselves. Mr. Hertz, I wish you luck in achieving your stated goals, because it’s painfully obvious that we need informative, knowledgeable voices to educate the electorate.

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  27. Comments From The Street says:

    The problem is the politicians have developed entitlement groups who are dependent on government for their income. California leads the way with a state legislature that has passed and continues to pass entitlements on to the few taxpayers left and they cannot afford to pay the bills.

    Half of the population doesn’t pay income tax. What does that say about entitlements?

    Every little group is a victim and deserves a special law to compensate them for being victims. Personal responsibility is something that is avoided at all cost. Someone else is at fault, the 1%, wall street, capitalism, etc.

    Everything is excused and only needs and understanding ear. Well, that isn’t the way it works in the real world.

    Political parties play an important role in this society and this government. Government always has to be checked. The problem right now is that the country is basically center right politically, but the current occupant of the White House is a liberal socialist as are many of the local elected officials in Sonoma County.

    The liberals, often with the help of some republicans, have spent and borrowed until the checking account is dry and they can’t agree how the economy is to be fixed. More borrow, tax and spend or no more taxes and cut entitlement programs.

    You need to ask the right questions to get the right answers. I would think more about the questions and then write your blog.

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  28. Steveguy says:

    Shaming the greedy out of office may do some good. After all, it is said that more than 1/2 of a day in the life of a Calif Legislator is spent fundraising. But legislators refuse to publish their schedules, as it would show how much they whore around for paltry sums that reward contributors greatly. Even the bribers think that politicians are bought cheap.

    BOTH parties.

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  29. Ed says:

    Sounds good. I’m particularly interested in the opportunity to post questions and the videos that show how things really work.Go for it!

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  30. Social Dis-Ease says:

    1)Recognize and purge our society of Agenda 21.
    2)Restore adherance to the Constitution & Bill of Rights.
    3)Set the Free Market free.

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  31. Steve Humphrey says:

    This should be interesting. However, our founders built in a system of party controversy intentionally. It goes all the way back to the Federalists VS Anti-Federalists…which we now know as Republicans and Democrats. A system that has controversy was viewed as a healthy sytem. Conversely what would we have if we had one party in control, or two parties that totally agreed with each others idiology? Certainly not a representation of the people or the Republic as it was framed.
    What is missing, that our founders possessed, was a deep commitment to high moral values and a common interest in what was best for the country.

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  32. Skippy says:

    A person could do as well or better just by reading Ann Coulter’s weekly column.
    We will see if Mr. Hertz’ blog is truly informative or simply another thinly disguised liberal distraction.

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  33. Porcelain Punisher says:

    Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.

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