Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lessig and the Change Congress Movement

Well... I have to come clean.

I am a dyed in the wool democrat.

When I cast my vote for Bill Clinton in 1992, it was the first time in my adult life where I voted for someone that actually won the Presidency. So, in the 7 Presidential elections in my adulthood, I have only voted for the winner twice.

I have spent most of my life within 30 miles of Redwood City, CA, that means I was born, grew up, went to school, went to college, settled after college and have worked my entire adult life in this area of the country. It is a great place to be and if I could afford to buy a bigger and better house in the area, I would.

I have been a teacher for many years and spent a considerable amount of time teaching American Government. Capuchino High School, where I have worked for the past 20 years, is directly in the middle of the 12th Congressional District in California. This happens to be the same high school where the late Rep. Leo Ryan taught.

When I taught American Government, I took a keen interest in local politics. I had candidates for city council debate in front of the students and I even had Rep. Tom Lantos, speak to my classes on several occasions. Tom Lantos has represented this district for the past twenty-five plus years, since there was a Republican in the seat in the two year period after Rep. Leo Ryan's death in Guyana during the Jonestown Massacre. Tom Lantos passed away two weeks ago from cancer of the esophagus. The area will have a special election in April to select a replacement for the remainder of the current term. It is a little ironic that the leading candidate for the seat is Jackie Speier, a former aide to Rep. Ryan and who was also shot at Jonestown. Jackie Speier has represented the area well in the state senate and assembly for the past 20+ years and was eventually forced out due to the new term limits law.

Now, a new candidate is emerging... Lawrence Lessig. Lessig is a Stanford University law professor, the founder of Stanford's Center for Internet and Society, the founder of Creative Commons and the leading advocate of reduced legal restrictions on copyright and trademark restrictions. I have read some of Lessig's work... I can't say that I am an expert on his writings, but I do agree with the things I have read, especially surrounding copyright and privacy. Will Richardson refers to Lessig as "one of his heros." In January of this year, Lessig announced that he would be changing his focus and concentrating on changing the political system in this country. He launched a new web site to spread his new message, change congress. Lessig's philosophy is that money has tainted the political process and that members of congress should not take money from special interests, earmark money for specific expenditures and support the public funding of elections. When I hear some of these things, I just remember Robin Williams performance in the Presidential Debate in Man of the Year.

So, Lessig hasn't decided to run ... yet. His collegaues created a 'Draft Lessig' wiki page and he has created his own exploratory web site. The video below reviews his past and current thinking on copyright, privacy and the political process. He is also very complimentary toward his potential opponent, Jackie Speier.

So, will Lawrence Lessig run? The question will be answered in the next week, but regardless, I think the conversation is going to change...

1 comment:

Emily said...

Like you, I’ve lived and worked in San Mateo County for many years. I’ve always been impressed with the representation provided by Jackie Speier. I don’t know a lot about Lessig, but he seems to have some good ideas.

While we know he’s for good government, clean elections and more flexible copyright laws, I have no idea what is positions are on a myriad of issues that are important to me: the War in Iraq/Middle East, Patriot Act, full federal funding for special education, woman’s right to choose, single payer health care…

But what really concerns me is that he has raised tens of thousands of dollars in a short time via the internet. And I’m guessing that 95% of these contributions come from people outside of the 12th Congressional District.

While contributions from Outsiders is not illegal, I’m not happy about the concept of people outside my district buying a seat in Congress so that their agenda (no matter how benign and well-meaning) can be advanced. Is this Outside Money influence ethically much different – in theory -- from PACs “buying” influence to further their agenda?

If I’m wrong and Lessig does have strong support and contributions from constituents in the 12th CD, I’d like to see him show that 12th CD support by publishing his contributor data by zip code (the ActBlue website states that detailed donor info is available to the candidate).

So from my perspective, after observing Jackie Speier represent me and my neighbors for 20+ years, I can’t remember I time I’ve been disappointed in her actions (and I’ve found many times when I’ve cheered -- like the Privacy Bill and the requirement for food producers to tell the State Health Department where tainted food was distributed).

I know (and like) what I’m getting by electing Jackie – why take a chance on promises from an untested individual???