senator herbert kohl & me

Soundtrack in my head: Robbie Williams, “Millennium”

Agent Dangerous Detective Gangster
OpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay

On my way to the cafeteria at work yesterday I was surprised to find myself greeted by Doug LaFollette, who is running for re-election as Wisconsin’s Secretary of State. Then I remember the email circulated at work saying that local candidates or their representatives would be in the cafeteria today greeting employees.  I thought that this would be a good opportunity to try to get specific answers from Senator Herbert Kohl about his positions regarding Net Neutrality. I’ve had serious misgivings about the U.S. Senator’s vague answers to my questions about the issue, and I thought that maybe this might be a good chance to get some clarity, since he’s up for re-election this year.

As I sat down to eat my lunch, I saw Jessica Doyle, wife of Gov. Jim Doyle making the rounds of the lunch tables, as well as Dave Mahoney, the Democratic candidate for Dane County Sheriff.

I originally called the Senator’s office in July because listed the Democratic senator as not having taken any position on the issue, unlike his Wisconsin counterpart Sen. Russ Feingold. Then in mid-August, I got a two-page letter from the Senator’s office responding to my inquiry. He spent much of the letter neatly summarizing the debate over Net Neutrality and outlining the positions and arguments of people on both sides of the issue. It was a nice summary, but it was very difficult to determine where HE, SEN. KOHL stood on the issue. The only place where I saw anything that resembled an opinion was where he said, “you can be sure that I am committed to developing policies that foster greater competition among service and content providers and lead to a wider service selection and lower rates to consumers. We must ensure that consumers have unfettered access to all Internet content free from discrimination and that broadband providers do not determine winners and losers on the information superhighway. However, at the same time, broadband providers need to be able to manage their networks so that the profusion of video content does not degrade the Internet experience for everyone.”

To me, that “however” looked like it could be a loophole large enough to drive an AT&T fleet truck through. What constituted “unfettered access,” or “winners and losers on the information superhighway?” Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but I noticed that he took no position on whether he thought that the two-tiered system proposed by the telcos constituted “equal access,” even though content providers paying a premium price to telcos would be able to have their websites download faster than others.  He did not say whether would join in any filibuster of the proposed communications bill until solid Net Neutrality provisions are added. Even more curious is how he mentioned, but didn’t state his position on S. 2917, the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act” introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)—he mentioned the bill (which failed to make it out of the Commerce Committee on an 11-11 tie) but only said that “a consensus on the issue of net neutrality has yet be reached” on the Commerce Committee. That has to be the first time I ever heard the word “consensus” ever used in the context of the U.S. Senate—I could just imagine one hundred pairs of hands in the Senate Chamber waving their fingers co-op style and “sparkling” their consensus to a given issue.

So I wrote back to the Senator’s office in September and expressed my concern about the vagueness of his position, and specifically asked him if we could count on him to oppose Senator Ted Stevens’ telecommunications bill (H.R. 5252) unless stronger Net Neutrality protections are added. Thanks to FCC and Supreme Court rulings in 2005, Net Neutrality does not currently exist as a law that can be enforced, and I said in my letter that if he didn’t take a strong stand now, it would be much harder to restore Net Neutrality in the future.

I have yet to hear a response.

So I had been thinking of printing an open letter to the senator about these concerns, but with this campaign event in our lunchroom, I figured I could just talk to the Senator’s representative and hopefully find out that way. So I walked over to Sen. Kohl’s table, but found that there was no one there—just a few pieces of campaign literature.

I wandered over to the table of Rae Vogeler, who is the Green Party candidate running against Sen. Kohl, and Rae herself greeted me. I’d heard that she was running a well-organized spirited campaign, and as I spoke to her, I was struck with how effective she was as a communicator and how articulate she was on the issues. She was well aware of the issue of Net Neutrality, and let me know that on her website there was a press release she issued speaking out in favor of Net Neutrality and calling upon Sen. Kohl to take an unequivocal stand in favor of Net Neutrality as well. (Later on, I found the text of it on her website here. I looked around the rest of the website and was impressed with what I saw.)

I asked Rae if she’d seen Sen. Kohl’s representative at the event today and she said she had not, so I decided to wander around a little and see if I could find the person. I saw Robert Lorge, the Republican candidate for Senate, but did not see anybody that looked like Kohl’s representative. As I wandered, Dave Mahoney, the Dane County Sheriff candidate, greeted me. After assuring him that he had my vote, I asked him if he’d seen a representative from Kohl’s campaign. He said he wasn’t sure, but pointed out a woman to me whom he said would likely know. I approached the woman and asked her if she’d seen Kohl’s representative, but she said she had not.

For a split second I thought about checking the bathroom stalls, but felt that would be more than tacky. This was starting to look like a scene out of Roger & Me, in which Michael Moore went on a quest to find Roger Smith, the GM executive at a time in which GM was laying of tens of thousands of workers in Flint, MI and building new factories overseas. Michael Moore and I might be similarly proportioned, but he’s better with a camera and better at growing facial hair than I am.

Of course, there could be many reasons why a representative from Sen. Kohl’s office was unavailable at the campaign event. Maybe the representative needed to step away for a little bit, or was called away in an emergency. I’ve never been involved with a political campaign, but it would seem to me that every campaign has to prioritize and make difficult choices as to how to spend its money and staff and volunteer time, and that Kohl’s campaign felt that they needed to put their resources in places other than my workplace lunchroom.

Out of fairness, I am going to make a public offer to Sen. Herbert Kohl’s campaign. I am willing to offer the Senator’s campaign use of space on this blog for the purpose of letting them publish and clarify his views on the issue of Net Neutrality—uncut and unedited. Or, as an alternative, I will post a link to any statement on either his Congressional website or campaign website regarding the issue. I’ve looked through both websites and haven’t found anything, but perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I did once attend a Rae Vogeler fundraiser. It happened like this—a few weeks ago I asked a former housemate what he was doing on a Saturday evening and he said he was going to see a movie with another friend of ours, but that afterwards we could all get together. The two of them picked me up at 8 p.m. and I was immediately taken to the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center where a fundraiser for Rae was taking place. Our other friend was active in the campaign and she even paid our donation to get in, though both of us chipped in, too. I’d heard good things about the campaign but was undecided about who I was going to vote for. I chipped in a few bucks because, well, I’m tired of Democrats taking my vote for granted. My former housemate and I didn’t even spend a lot of time at the fundraiser—he wanted to grab a drink at The Weary Traveler nearby, and after we got back, we’d missed Rae’s speech and to our surprise, the event was almost over.  I’ve got two witnesses who can verify this.  Also, when I mentioned the fundraiser to Rae yesterday, she tactfully said “Hmmm…I don’t remember seeing you–but then again the room was quite dark.”

But Rae impressed me a lot when we spoke yesterday. I much prefer someone who’s clear and unequivocal on the issues over someone who is vague and difficult to pin down. So Sen. Kohl, here’s your chance to set the record straight. Because right now Rae’s got my vote.

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