Matt Miller’s Truth Campaign

I’ve hesitated writing about my friend Matt Miller’s Congressional campaign in California’s infamous 33rd District on the west side of Los Angeles because, well, he’s a longtime wonk-friend of mine. His candidacy is probably a longshot, although he has been endorsed by the LA Times. He’s an enlightened amateur, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget and a truly creative thinker when it comes to public policy.

And he’s worth your attention because he’s running that rarest of things: a truth campaign. He’s telling the truth about what he believes, no matter how unpopular it is–or worse, in his case: Complicated. He doesn’t fudge his position on the issues–in part because his positions have been elaborated in several (readable) policy books. And in more than a few cases, his proposals are unique, or nearly so. Certainly, they’re not the sort of positions normal politicians are willing to take.

Take Miller’s reaction to today’s report that climate change is already have a profound effect on our weather. He simply went to his library of policy papers and proposed the following: a carbon tax and dividend system. What’s that? Well, there’s been endless discussion about how to discourge people from using carbon-powered energy (at least, among those Democrats and Republicans who are not climate-change deniers). There have been all sorts of complicated things proposed, like a cap and trade system–which I will not explain here–in order to hoodwink the public into thinking they’re not actually being taxed for the carbon they consume.

Miller has taken the simplest possible route. He taxes carbon directly at the source, a gradually increasing system that eventually amounts, after ten years, to $1 per gallon of gas. But he returns the proceeds–the dividend–right back to the public in a monthly check. There have been endless discussions about this idea in wonkdom. Most involve the question of whether to give all the money back to the taxpayers. There are those who want to take some of the proceeds and use them to fund alternate energy sources. Miller takes a more direct free-enterprise route: he assumes that people will find ways to reduce their carbon usage and pocket (or spend) a nice chunk of their monthly dividend checks.

It probably doesn’t take much courage to propose an energy tax on the west side of Los Angeles (although the usual political route for Democrats is to acknowledge we have to do “something” about climate change and not get more complicated than that). In fact, Miller probably has opponents who want a more direct government hand when it comes to climate change–let the government, rather than the market, decide which new energy sources to support. (I should note that Miller’s idea has a quietly progressive aspect to it: poor people who don’t own cars, who–as Jesse Jackson once said–”take the early bus” would be getting the same monthly dividend as Hummer-drivers.)

The point is, Miller’s policies are not off-the-shelf, cookie-cutter plans selected by his policy staff. They are hand-made, fully realized. You may disagree with some of them. On some issues, like education, they fly in the face of your standard Democratic interest groups. But, having been through dozens of long policy discussions with Matt over the past 20 years, I can say this: his policies are what he actually believes.

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