Sunday, June 24, 2007

"Obama pledges to drive out the old cronies"

Concord Monitor (NH):
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama pledged yesterday to put an end to the rampant cronyism and special interests that he said have taken the country away from the average American. Hurricane Katrina victims should not still be in trailers, he said, and war veterans shouldn't come home to squalor and neglect.
Under an Obama administration, government jobs would be put out to bid - not awarded to friends - and lobbyists would be barred from giving gifts to lawmakers, Obama said. Staff would be hired based on their qualifications, not their party affiliation, and prohibited from working on contracts or regulations related to their former employers.

Finally, all pending legislation, tax breaks and special projects would be posted online before they are endorsed so voters could weigh in.

"It's time to renew a people's politics in this county, to ensure that the hopes and concerns of average Americans speak louder in Washington than the hallway whispers of high-priced lobbyists," Obama said to an invitation-only crowd of about 150 at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Manchester.

Obama shook hands with some audience members after speaking but did not take questions from the audience or reporters.

It's the first time Obama has delivered his "Taking Back Our Government" policy speech, but the themes will sound familiar to anyone watching the New Hampshire primary closely. In Goffstown in April, Sen. Hillary Clinton pledged nearly identical reforms and raised nearly identical complaints, sometimes using the same words.

John Edwards proposed similar reforms in 2004.

Obama's plan differed from Clinton's on some specific points.

In her speech, Clinton did not say she would keep new employees from working on regulations and contracts related to their former employer. Obama would prohibit a new employee from doing so for two years. Clinton said she would prevent cabinet officials, a small group, from lobbying her administration. Obama would prevent all political employees - a much larger group - from lobbying the administration.

Clinton did not mention banning gifts from lobbyists; Obama would bar gifts from lobbyists and lobbying firms in any amount to any employee of the executive branch.

Obama's campaign staff did not respond directly to observations that Obama hit the same themes in his speech yesterday that Clinton and Edwards have talked about before. Reid Cherlin, spokesman for the New Hampshire campaign office, offered his own comparison between the Obama and Clinton proposals.

"The restriction on people coming into the administration and regulating their former industry and the restriction on former appointees lobbying the administration constitute the strongest government reform proposal of anybody in this campaign," Cherlin wrote in an e-mail.

Obama stressed that point yesterday. "When I am president," he said, "I will make it absolutely clear that working in an Obama administration is not about serving your former employer, your future employer or your bank account. It's about serving your country and that's what comes first."

The crowd invited to the speech liked what they heard yesterday and welcomed Obama off his speaking platform with an ovation and, in some cases, items to sign.

Kevin Gray of Manchester said he was excited to hear a candidate promise a transparent and accessible government. He especially liked that Obama intends to put legislation and lawmakers' pet projects online for voters to see.

"And closing down the lobbyists is huge," Gray said. "Lobbyists are infiltrating the government."

Peter Sullivan, a former state representative from Manchester, said he is supporting Obama in large part because he has been so active on ethics reform. (Obama said yesterday he was made his party's point person on ethics in Congress because he had championed ethics reform in the Illinois State House.)

"For those of us who have worked on reform," Sullivan said, "(Obama) is pointing out specific proposals. I think it's fantastic."

Patricia Bedford of Bow has been a Clinton supporter but came to Manchester yesterday to hear what Obama had to offer. Like the others, she was impressed and excited. "I'm reconsidering (supporting Clinton)," Bedford said. "This is new and refreshing and he seems very committed to change."



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