Friday, December 19, 2014

On Your Mark, Get Ready....

With the beginning of the new Congress in January 2015, controlled by the Republicans, there is no clear champion of disability rights. If we are smart, we need to see this as an opportunity rather than a deficit. We should build bipartisan pairs of champions on every committee that affects people with disabilities. This window of opportunity will not last long and we must be prepared to offer potential candidates of these bipartisan pairs support for and concrete ideas that improve lives of people with disabilities and strengthen our position as a strong, aggressive advocate for disability rights internationally.

In the Wall Street Journal today Kim Strassel has written an interesting opinion piece, "A GOP Strategy Begins to Emerge" ( Strassel gives several examples of what the GOP has learned over the last six years, broadly speaking, what works and what doesn't work. One interesting tidbit was that Democrats joined Republicans this year "to expand access to charter schools, expedite natural gas exports, and ban taxes on the Internet." Another tidbit is that many Democrats, like Republicans, oppose the medical device tax. And a final one, Republicans realize they have a greater chance of getting substantive changes they want, by sticking such things in spending bills.

One of the GOP's big motivators over the next two years is/will be to show us it knows how to get things done. In such a climate, the GOP will be interested in bipartisan collaboration, meaningful, and yes, clever, negotiation, and new coalition building. We should spend the holiday season reading, thinking, and deciding how to put ourselves on the agenda early before all the "opportunity space" is taken in the new Congress.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. When available, learn who the Republican chairmen and Democrat ranking members on committees in the House of Representatives and Senate are.

2.  Discuss and select issues on which you would send them a message.

3.  Be informed about what is coming up on the calendars in the House and Senate.

4.  Share your interests/messages with others to build coalitions around priorities.

Have a great holiday season, and rest up for 2015. It is going to be an exciting year for us!

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Saturday, December 13, 2014

An open letter to Senator Harkin

Dear Senator Harkin:

As you are about to start the next chapter in your life, I would like to give you  something to think about and work on. How about that? Not a thank you letter. Not a-you-will-be-missed-letter, but a to-do letter! I can do that because I am 70, retired, am president of United States International Council on Disabilities, and have a sense of urgency. I started my congressional staff career working for Democrat Congressman Paul Simon of Illinois in the summer of 1980. After the fall election, Austin Murphy, Paul Simon's replacement for the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Select Education, let me go. I was hired by his Republican counterpart and worked for Republicans thereafter. In 1980 I met Bobby Silverstein and our paths have been intertwined ever since. I was Bill Frist's staff director when you relinquished the chairmanship of the Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy to him in 1995.

In the past there has always been a great deal of bi-partisanship on disability legislation. It must be restored. You could help make that happen. You are being heralded as the last great champion on disability rights. We need more champions, many champions in Congress. You could help make that happen. Each chairman/woman and each ranking member of each congressional committee that touches the lives of persons with disabilities should be our champion. You could help make that happen. The Senate and the House should not continue to assume that it is appropriate or effective to let one person do all the heavy lifting on disability matters. So many took a walk on ratification of the CRPD. 

People with disabilities, their families and friends belong to more than one political party. They vote. They work for candidates. They contribute to campaigns. They represent a substantial component of the population.  Their issues are everyone's issues -- jobs, health care, education, housing, economic prosperity. You could help them get organized, form a PAC and strengthen their voice.

We are the senior generation. We have an obligation to speak candidly with each other and to others, and do the things necessary to help the next generations have a bright future.

Thank you.

Patricia Morrissey

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Future from Here

My brain is a very active thing. Sometimes it chooses to do thinking, when I prefer to chill. Last night was special. The U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD) held its inaugural fund raising gala at the Institute of Peace. Although I may be biased, being USICD's new president, I'd say it was a smashing success.  Most ticket holders showed up (200+) in spite of the weather; we had a harp and a bag pipe, great food and beverage, hors d'ouvres, and a turkey buffet. The best part was when we gave Professor Gerard Quinn of Ireland and Senator Tom Harkin awards for their tireless efforts on behalf of disability rights. 

Today Senator Harkin talked to many advocates by phone urging that we ask all potential presidential candidates in 2016 where they stand on ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). That is a great suggestion and one to put in our hip pockets.

I have decided that the focus of my blog for awhile will be the Senate. We need to get to know the new Senate -- the new chairmen on committees that are important to us, the new members that need to shape their priority list, and the ones who may be retiring in 2016. We should each adopt a Senator for the next two years. We should learn as much as we can about him or her and offer to help this Senator on things that are important to him or her. Gradually, we can introduce them to disability issues, advocates, and challenges, through conversations, talking points, and visits to special places where great things are happening and places where things need to happen.

If we each adopt a Senator and do the things I've suggested here as well as other actions, over the next two years the bipartisan interest and support for disability rights will be refreshed, restored, and expanded. It would be beyond amazing if, by 2016 we have 100 Senators who understand the power of inclusion, accessibility, and opportunity from the perspective of us with disabilities and our allies.

Please decide to adopt a Senator and see how you can change the climate in Washington,D.C.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Please checkout my Kindle book --  A Moral Imperative:  U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Book link:  Take 2 will be out in February 2015. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Senate Vote on the CRPD Is Unlikely

It appears that a vote on the CRPD is not going to happen. The 67 votes we want aren't there according to reliable counters of votes. The Senators who are with us, 61, still are, but six more would not publicly commit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will not schedule a vote without an assurance that there will be 67 votes in favor of ratification of the CRPD.

I am going to spend my time, going forward, raising money for the USICD so that it will positioned well to share the U.S. experience with the ADA with others overseas and learn about innovative approaches to disability rights issues from other countries to share in the U.S.

I know right now we all have the urge to be angry, to vent, and to blame someone. Do that with your friends in private. Our best collective course is to celebrate and sustain the great partnerships that were formed during the CRPD campaign, to introduce ourselves to the new Congress, and ask all those Senators, who have said we are the international leader on disability rights, to help us secure federal funds to do/show that.

There are many heroes who you may want to know and thank. Their names are in the forward to my book (Link: If you want to thank them though this blog, you can comment on this post and I will pass your thanks on to them.

Unless a miracle happens and Senator Reid gives us a vote without a guaranteed outcome -- so we will know specifically who is and who isn't for access, freedom, opportunity, and disability rights and believes in the strength of our Constitution -- this is my last post on the CRPD.

If you plan to attend the U.S. International Council on Disabilities Gala (visit to buy a $75 ticket), December 2, 2014, 6-8:30 p.m. at the Institute of Peace, 2301 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., please come up and say hello. I'll be there.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Common Grounder

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Letter to Young People of the USA: The CRPD and You

Dear Young Friends,

The future belongs to you. Those of us ahead of you would probably get a C- grade for stewardship if the determining factor was success in obtaining the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Right now Washington DC is a crazy place. The president is about to take unilateral action on immigration and the Republicans are very upset about it. The Senate and House are about to pass legislation to build a transcontinental pipeline that environmentalists don't like and on which, the president kept deferring a decision, to appease them. I suspect he hoped it would just go away. In the midst of all this the Association of University Centers on Disabilities had its annual meeting. Many of you, who are trainees at universities, went on Capitol Hill to talk to staff about disability issues, including the ratification of the CRPD. Since the day you made this trip to the Hill was the first day back for members, you probably did not get the undivided attention of staff or senators when you raised issues.

Many people who have written or talked about the younger generation of Americans have said that you are concerned about the environment, care about other people, want to do things to make the planet a better place, and have tremendous debt because of your education. You like a good cause and can be motivated to take action to make things move in the right direction.

Well, you can sure help us now. We have next week and perhaps two weeks in December to bring about a Senate floor vote on the CRPD. Here are the things I urge you to do.

1. Gather with a number of your friends, scan this blog for some talking points on the CRPD, and then everybody make calls to Majority Leader Harry Reid's Office (He is from Nevada and controls the Senate schedule until the end of this session of Congress, which ends in mid-December) and ask for a floor about on the CRPD. His number is -- 202.224.3542. Senate offices count calls for and against the CRPD, so they are worth making. You could also put messages on Harry Reid's Facebook page ( and through his Twitter account (@SenatorReid). Unless you're from Nevada, email messages don't work because staff only read those from the state of Nevada ( So if you're not from Nevada you can't really weigh in effectively via email.

2.  IF you're not from Nevada, you and your friends should also contact your state senators and urge them to call Harry Reid and ask him to arrange for a Senate floor vote on the CRPD.

3.  Keep track of your efforts and if you are willing, share them with me at Please put CRPD in the subject line.

4. If you are lucky enough to get into a conversation with a live person in a Senate office, here are the points I would make.

-- The U.S. must join the 151 countries that have ratified the CRPD.
-- Disability rights do not stop at a geographical border -- they are principles that are universally celebrated, sought after, and recognized as a sign of country's commitment to human rights.
-- Please find the way to find the words that will overcome differences among Senators. Those of us who are young, with and without disabilities, want the U.S. to remain a strong, influential voice for a more accessible world that offers unlimited opportunities for each of us to participate and contribute to community life.

Young friends, if you help us in the next few weeks we stand an excellent chance of securing ratification. We need your energy. We need your voices. We need your vision of the future.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Monday, November 10, 2014

Low Hanging Fruit

Senators will be back in town on November 12th. Republicans are focused on taking over the Senate, planning on how to get things done, and packing boxes. Democrats are focusing on what they can do between now and mid-December of this year, determining on what they can agree with Republicans when they take over the Senate, and backing boxes. On one thing Republicans and Democrats agree – the American people want them to figure out how to work together. In my October 1, 2014 post I reported on a poll that was taken of 1,000 likely voters. It was not a poll of disabled voters, just 1,000 voters. A majority, who identified themselves as Republican, Democrat or Independent, thought that ratification of the CRPD was a good idea. Our job this week is to convince Senators that these poll results make sense, that ratification of the CRPD makes sense, and that by debating it and voting on it, they will be doing something that the American public supports. They will be showing that they can get along and agree on disability rights and making a move that improves the U.S. standing in the world.

If you're in town for the AUCD conference, please take time to visit your Senators and ask them to ask Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell to let the Senate process play out on the CRPD. Let's have vigorous debate and a vote. If you're not in town but have a phone, computer, or other device with which you could communicate with your Senators, please do so. It's time Senators consider ratification of the CRPD as low hanging fruit from which they will both receive benefit, short term and long term.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

CRPD: What Should Happen Post-Election?

Campaigning highlights differences among candidates, not common ground on issues or similarities on the role of government. A small portion of those eligible to vote, voted. Media coverage said that young and minority voters were especially scarce. One of the reasons given for the 38% voter turnout was government gridlock.

No one can dispute that we have a "new day" ahead of us with the success of the Republicans in capturing control of the Senate. Those of us who have a strong interest in immediate ratification of the CRPD have an opportunity. We should urge Senators Reid and McConnell to let Senate process proceed to a vote on the CRPD. It is an affirmative move with broad implications.

First, it will demonstrate that both the current and future leaders of the Senate agree a tested Senate process should play out on the CRPD. After all, this is a democracy. Senators have the right and obligation to let the American public know how they view the CRPD.

Second, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the CRPD call for nondiscrimination on the basis of disability. Any individual with a disability should have access to opportunities (in education, health care, employment, training, housing, leisure, and more) available to others and be a full participant and contributor to community life. Such principles are universally endorsed and should know no borders. Senators should embrace the chance to reaffirm these principles for the nation and the world. After all, disability rights have experienced a long history of bipartisanship in the U.S.

Third, 151 countries have ratified the CRPD. We need to let the rest of the world know where the U.S. stands. We need to get the Senate vote on the CRPD behind us, so we can move on.

A large number of Senators should want a vote on the CRPD. Senators who are retiring or leaving the Senate will welcome a vote on the CRPD to add to their legacy. Senators who have offered support for the CRPD in meetings, in hearings, correspondence, and statements, will finally have the chance to take the only action that really matters. Senators, who have asked us to wait till after the election, who needed more time, can let us know unequivocally where they stand. Senators who have a new six-year contract with their constituents, can cast a vote that is right and safe. Senators who want the CRPD to be defeated soundly can test their powers of persuasion during debate.

If you agree with me, let Senators Reid and McConnell know.

Thank you,
Common Grounder

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It's Risky to Go into the Weeds but Sometimes You Have No Choice

In an article (
 he wrote in July 2014, Michael Farris, Chairman of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), said that the new reservations, understandings, and declarations (RUDs), which are part of the resolution passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee July 22, 2014, are not strong enough to protect the right of parents to homeschool their children with disabilities.

First, he quotes a Congressional Research Service article from 2001. It defines the differences among reservations, understandings, and declarations. I have to admit that these dated definitions appear weak, confusing, and of questionable value. That said, there have been other views written and stated by legal scholars more recently as well as more recent Supreme Court decisions that strongly suggest RUDs have legal value (see my posts for 10/12/13 and 6/4/14).

Second, although Farris doesn't like the CRPD, he raises the fact that the U.S. ignored the provisions in a treaty the U.S. has ratified (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)) when it attempted to deport a  homeschooling German family, who had overstayed its visa. The U.S. Government came to its senses and is now letting the family remain here. If they had gone back to Germany, the parents could have been jailed. I supported the German family being allowed to stay here (blog post 10/5/13).

Well, it seems that Farris likes the words in some treaties, but not the CRPD. There are two provisions on homeschooling in the new resolution on the CRPD. Farris could recommend some text from his Constitutional amendment on parents' rights (blog post 11/8/13). He could recommend text from the ICCPR. Either could be a framework for a conversation for an amendment to the resolution.

Farris implies that government officials cannot be trusted and they will use treaty obligations in nefarious ways. When in court making the case for the German family to stay here, his legal team used various laws and treaties to make the case. This is the way of lawyers, throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. So, Farris uses treaties when it suits him. He doesn't mind challenging the states' right to educate by proposing a constitutional amendment when it suits him.

I think it is misguided and bordering on tragic that ratification of the CRPD can be high jacked by a single-issue force that selectively uses facts.

In this week before the election please talk to your Senators. If either Senator supports the CRPD, ask him or her to ask Majority Leader Reid for a floor vote. If not, ask him to vote for the CRPD.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Problem with the Senate

There are 435 Representatives in the House of Representatives. Each represents a district rather than a whole state as do Senators. Representatives, if not retiring, must run for reelection every two years. When elected, Senators serve six-year terms. So some of the dynamics and pressures that Senators react to are different than their House colleagues. They have more time to think about things without worry about fund raising non-stop. The Senate is called the "deliberative body". In the abstract, they have more time to ponder. However, in reality they must absorb and deal with everything the 435 Representatives cover. There are only 100 Senators, about 1/4 the person power the House has. That creates three problems for the likes of us.

First, Senators focus on what they think it is important to them and only WHEN they think it is important. Second, staff guard Senators' time as if it were the gold in Fort Knox. So you only get to a Senator if the Senator wants to see you. Third, staff have tremendous power because they influence what a Senators sees and does. The net effect of these parameters is that any issue, any constituency, is lucky if it has one champion for its cause. Senators as a practical matter divide things up. They just don't have the time to be well-versed and champions of too many causes or experts on too many issues.

So here we are with little time left. Senator Harkin is our champion and he's retiring. If we want a vote on the CRPD, he's the one expected to convince Majority Leader Reid to schedule a floor vote without unrealistic conditions (i.e., a guarantee of 67 votes if a floor vote were scheduled). That's a heavy load. But, other Senators think it's Senator Harkin's job. They have their own priorities.

Well, at this point I think the only way Senator Reid will schedule a floor vote without conditions would be if tons of Senators, who support ratification of the CRPD, ask Reid for a floor vote. Making that happen is EVERY Senator's business, not just Harkin's. They all have a vested interest in disability rights, the U.S. standing and credibility in international circles, and what a major, diverse, constituency block has been advocating for, for a long time.

So, over the next 10 days ask every Senator to talk to Reid. If you do we may be able to do what needs to be done -- join the 150 nations that have ratified the CRPD.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Friday, October 24, 2014

CRPD: Whoever Heard of a Guaranteed Vote?

When the CRPD came up for a vote on December 4, 2012, Majority Leader Harry Reid thought he had the votes. Former Majority Leader Bob Dole was on the floor of the Senate, using a wheelchair, and had received assurances from several of his friends that they would vote for the treaty. The vote was 61 to 38. Those for the treaty fell short by six.

All people who have talk to Senator Reid or his staff have said that he will not bring the treaty up again for a vote until he has a guarantee of 67 votes for it. That's the number you need at a minimum to pass an international treaty.

A vote is sacred. Especially on polarized issues on which the feelings are strong. With such issues elected officials tend to keep the way they plan to vote between the themselves and God and even then they could change their minds. That's the way it is. In all honesty there was no way we can guarantee Senator Reid 67 votes even if we wanted to.

There are probably some Senators in both parties that wish a vote on the CRPD would just go away. They don't want it. They don't need it. Senator Reid is doing them a favor by setting the bar for a vote so high.

Well, whether the Democrats retain or lose control of the Senate on November 4, 2014 we need a vote on the CRPD sometime between November 12th and when the Congress closes down for Christmas. We need to know how each Senator feels about the CRPD, and what he/she has to say about it. For us a vote on the CRPD is a special vote. What Senators say about the CRPD before the vote is important to us. When Senator Harkin retires from the Senate this year we will be looking for new members to partner with us and champion disability issues that come before the Senate in the future.

However the vote on the CRPD would go, I think political strategists on all sides will be able to find a spin to suit a particular agenda. Their agenda Is not our agenda. Our agenda is to strengthen the position of the U.S. in the area of disability rights around the world and identify potential partners on disability issues in the Senate.

In a little over a week we will be voting. In the meantime gets some FaceTime with your Senators.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

CRPD: Don't Miss an Opportunity to Connect "Live" with Senators

There are 14 days until election day on November 4, 2014. Anyone who's tried to schedule a meeting directly with a Senator realizes that it's no easy task. Meetings with many interest groups are relegated to staff only. The circumstances are different if you're a big supporter, a close friend, a witness in a hearing, or a donor at a fund raiser. Granted, a Senator's time is precious, more valuable than gold, therefore, they have to have effective gatekeepers and be good delegators. So how do you get to them? The answer is as plain as the nose on your face. You get to them back home at a public event. At these events you can ask them questions, tell them what's on your mind, and ask them for their support for something. Gatekeepers have only partial control and everyone hears and sees how they respond to you.The situation is perfect. So folks it's time to get off our derrières, find those guys, and talk to them before they return to Washington D.C.

Now we have real leverage and access before we vote. If each of us would just make one attempt to say something to a senator between now and election day, think about the impact that would have!

Last night Senator Bob Dole was on the News Hour with Judy Woodruff (CRPD discussion begins at 4:00 minutes She asked him at one point if he thought the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) would be voted on by the Senate. He said that it could come up for a vote when the Senate returns on November 12th and before it leaves for Christmas, which will be the end of the current Congress. If the CRPD does not pass by then, we have to start over. In addition, the pundits project that Republicans will take control of the Senate in January 2015. If that happens our task will be even more challenging.

If you have been reading this blog or have visited, you know what to say to a Senator when you encounter him at a public event within the next two weeks. Those of you who live in states where the Senate races are very, very tight have incredible leverage. In these races the margin of error is around three points. In these races the differences in polling numbers between candidates are often under three points. That means that the race could go either way. That means one conversation with you about the CRPD could be a deciding factor in who returns to the Senate or who enters the Senate for the first time. Think about it. Then, if you really care about disability rights, find a Senator and talk to him. If two people do this it looks pitiful. If we each do it, it projects real power. A choice like this should be a no-brainer.

Common Grounder 

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Personal Point of Privilege

This morning I was elected president of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. Here are my acceptance remarks...

Thank you for this honor. I know I have assumed a great and important responsibility. I would like to make three points.

First, I think a leader should be practical, realistic, and a problem solver. I am those things.

Second, goals are important. I looking forward to building upon USICD past and current  efforts. Long term financial stability, expanded partnerships with young people, organizations, and government, and sustained visibility for USICD in all disability rights campaigns and initiatives are the goals in which I have a special interest.

Third, in my experience, the things that lead to success are a willingness to lay the ground work, use effective communication strategies, and invest in consensus building.

Thank you for this special opportunity.

I hope you will join USICD if you are not a member and consider attending USICD's gala in December. For details visit

Pat Morrissey

Monday, October 13, 2014

CRPD: A Critical Time to Weigh In

Every poll I look at shows that in races for the Senate, the differences between candidates is often only two or three points in tightly contested states. So if you live in places such as Louisiana, North Carolina, Kansas, Georgia, South Dakota, Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa, Kentucky, and perhaps other states you have more leverage than you'll ever have at any other time to get the attention of those running for the Senate.

In states where there are two newcomers running for the Senate you have the opportunity to get their support for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) if it were to come up for a vote in the new Congress that begins in January 2015.

In states where a Democrat is running for reelection you have the opportunity to ask that Senator to request that Majority Leader Harry Reid schedule a vote on the CRPD in November or December 2014.

In a state where a Republican is running for reelection you have the opportunity to ask that Senator to support ratification of the CRPD.

In a state where a Senator is retiring in January 2015 you have the opportunity to ask that Senator to consider his or her legacy, his or her commitment to human rights, and the standing of the United States within the world community.

Each person running for the Senate wants your vote on November 4, 2014. PAC money is in play now. Political ads are running non-stop. But the bottom line is voter turn out. If you tell a candidate that you intend to vote, as do your family and friends, and that where the candidate stands on the CRPD matters to you and those you know, it will have an impact.

Ratification of the CRPD will cost nothing, but it will strengthen U.S. credibility as a leader on disability rights. It requires no changes in existing laws or the passage of new ones. It will give the U.S. the right to engage other countries, which have ratified the CRPD, in developing and shaping accessibility standards. It will not alter the balance of power between the federal and state governments. It will not affect parents' right to home school their children because that right is controlled by state not federal law.

Please take the time to talk to candidates for Senate as well as Senators who are not up for election. By reaching out to them you can affect how the U.S. responds to a treaty that is going to change the social landscape around the world for the better with or without us. If the U.S. is a player this change will happen more quickly, more smartly. And in return, the U.S. will learn from other nations how to more effectively, more efficiently build inclusive societies in rural and remote areas in America.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The CRPD and Georgia

By my count we have 27 days until the midterm elections on November 4th. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has told us that unless we have a guaranteed count of 67 Senators in favor of the disability treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), we will not get a Senate vote on it.

In Georgia Senator Chambliss is retiring at the end of the current term and Senator Isakson is up for reelection this November. We are six votes short of the 67 we need for passage of the CRPD in the November-December time frame. That is why these two Senators are so important to us. If we could convince them to support the CRPD, we would need only four more votes to reach 67.

The National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency authorized by Congress to advise the government on disability policy, is having its quarterly meeting in Atlanta Georgia right now. NCD will hold a press conference on the CRPD at 2:30 pm today. Here are the details:

The Press conference will immediately follow the NCD meeting, October 7, 12:30 in Atlanta, Georgia

Location: Shepherd Center, 2020 Peachtree St.,  Atlanta, GA  30309

Jeff Rosen, chair of National Council on Disability
Mark Johnson, Georgia disability advocate
Kim Gibson, executive director of Disability Link, Decatur, Georgia
Ryan Johnson, Center for Leadership in Disability, Georgia State University
David Morrissey, executive director of US International Council on Disabilities

If you live in the area I hope you attend.

There is no doubt in anyone's mind, both supporters and opponents of the CRPD, that we are at a critical point in the ratification campaign.




1. With all the conflicts going on, and the U.S. assuming primarily a military role, at least in the media presentation of these events, we need to project a positive, compassionate, view of the U.S. as a country committed to human rights and helping people rebuild their lives. Ratification of the CRPD would help us do that.

2.  Conflicts always result in many people who are newly disabled. We must be prepared and willing to help these people reestablish their independence and productivity. They, as others will, want to help their land of conflict rebuild.

3.  Many people in this country and abroad do not understand why we have not yet ratified the CRPD. If we were to fail in ratifying the CRPD, we would foster a lack of trust among many people here and elsewhere about the level of our commitment to assisting people with disabilities to lead full lives.

4.  Many who oppose ratification have negative feelings about the U.S. being a fully-engaged partner in the world community. We cannot let this view prevail. It is counterproductive. It diminishes the standing and influence  of the U.S. It raises speculation about our real motives in any negotiation.

5.  Today in Georgia we could make a turn in the right direction. Please be part of this turning point and contact your Senators and urge them to do two things: first, ask them to urge Senator Reid a hold of floor vote on the CRPD, and second, to vote for it when the vote occurs. All Senators should hear from all of us within the next 27 days, and a few more press conferences wouldn't hurt either.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

CRPD: New Poll Suggests Those Concerned About Disability Issues Could Affect Outcome in Tight Elections

A non-partisan group,, contracted two polling firms, one Democrat (Greenberg Quilan Rosner Research) and one Republican (North Star Opinion Research) to survey 1,000 likely 2014 voters about disability issues. The survey was conducted from September 20-24, 2014 in states considered “Senate battleground states” – Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and West Virginia. If you want to see the results of the full survey on disability issues go to this link --

Thirty-one percent said “yes” to the question “Do you, a family member, or a close friend have a disability?” Wow, that’s almost 1/3 of the 1,000 surveyed. Here’s another interesting result. When those surveyed were divided into two groups – under 50 years of age and over 50 years of age and asked -- “Do you, a family member, or close friend have a disability,” the percentage was 60 percent for those under 50 and 55 percent for those over 50. When these 1,000 voters were divided politically, 56 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of Independents, and 56 percent of Republicans answered “yes” to the question -- “Do you, a family member, or a close friend have a disability?” So disability is equally represented among all three political persuasions.

The survey question that stood out for me was – The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, also known as the Disability Treaty, is an international human rights treaty of the United Nations modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Treaty encourages the adoption of laws around the world that promote accessibility, equal opportunities and end abuse and discrimination of people with disabilities. The Treaty will not change existing U.S. law or add additional costs to its budget. Do you favor or oppose the U.S. Senate ratifying this treaty?”

The answers were energizing: 83 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents, and 50 percent of Republicans surveyed favored Senate ratification of the CRPD.

Please share these results far and wide, but especially with Senators and their staff. This poll has meaning. For a Senator in a tight race, it means that paying attention to and being willing to commit to supporting and voting in favor of disability issues, such as ratification of the CRPD, could mean the difference between winning or losing the November election. This poll, perhaps the first of its kind, is nationally representative, has a 95 percent confidence level, and a 3.10 margin of error. Its implications should not be dismissed or ignored by any candidate that wishes to serve in the Senate in January 2015.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Monday, September 29, 2014

The CRPD and the Kansas Senate Race

Guess what? According to the Washington Post in Kansas Greg Orman, the Independent candidate running against Republican Senator Pat Roberts, has raised Roberts’ vote (against) on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and his treatment of Senator Bob Dole. Orman said, “…he [Roberts] voted against a U.N. treaty banning discrimination against people with disabilities, despite Dole’s personal plea. He threw Bob Dole under the bus on the U.N. treaty on disabilities….”

The Rasmussen Reports poll (September 19thhas Orman five points ahead of Roberts. Chad Taylor, the Democrat candidate, dropped out of the Senate race. The Roberts-Orman match up is being closely watched because of the question of who will control the Senate, come January 2015. Orman, who has said he will caucus with the majority in the Senate if elected, could be in a powerful position. If control of the Senate comes down to one member, that is. The Republicans need a gain of six seats, or five plus Orman. Democrats, over all have been gaining strength in the last week (see, so who controls the Senate in 2015-2016 could come down to a nail-biting end.

This means the CRPD has made it into political prime time. We didn’t bring it up, a candidate did, and it made it into a front-page story in the Washington Post. We need to see more press/media coverage. We need to play a role in making that happen. If Orman saw the value in mentioning Robert’s position on the CRPD, other candidates in other Senate races may see the value too. That is, if we bring it to their attention at candidate forums and town hall meetings, as well as through their press offices.

Four things to remember: First, we have leverage now that we won’t have after the elections on November 4th. Second, the CRPD is not a trivial, single topic issue – it is about how millions of people with disabilities, their families, and advocates are viewed and treated by society. Third, the U.S. standing with regard to credibility on human rights is precarious, and needs a push in the right direction. Fourth, in order to build momentum, we need to go public about what we do and learn by using social media (i.e., Twitter, #CRPD).

Please choose to be politically active right now and urge all Senators and candidates to state their position on the CRPD and to urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to hold a vote on the CRPD.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Sunday, September 28, 2014

CRPD: What Is at Stake?

Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) may be considered by the Senate when it returns November 12th after the mid-term elections. However, it will only happen if we get moving.

Win or lose the same group of Senators will return to Washington, D.C. for a session that will include a break for Thanksgiving and then end sometime in December before Christmas. If a vote does not occur on the CRPD during that time, then it will not be taken up again unless the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee elects to hold hearings, draft a resolution, and successfully gets it voted out of Committee in 2015-2016. Basically, it's a case of starting from scratch for the third time.

The current Chairman, Robert Menendez (D, NJ), if he remains Chairman, may not be thrilled about bringing the CRPD up again because Senator Tom Harkin (D, IA), the man who has done much of the pushing since the spring of 2014, will have retired, and won't be around to help. For Senator Menendez there will be many priorities. The CRPD may not be one of them. Then, there's also the possibility that Republicans will take control of the Senate. They need six more seats. The polls are showing their prospects are good (see That would mean most likely that Senator Bob Corker (R,TN) would become Chairman of the Committee. He opposes ratification of the CRPD. So in all likelihood no action of any kind would happen on the CRPD in 2015-2016.

I offer this background to point out a stark fact -- Senators of both parties need to hear from us now while they are home/before the elections while we have some leverage. What leverage, you say? Democrats are worried about voter turn out in tight races. Republicans are delicately shifting to the center to pick up independent votes in tight races. We can influence voter turn out. We can affect which way independents turn. BUT ONLY IF WE BECOME A VOCAL VOICE IN SUPPORT OF THE CRPD at candidate forums and Senators' town hall meetings. By asking where EVERY Senator stands on the CRPD, and if they are for it, asking if they will ask Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) for a floor vote before Christmas, we can get the CRPD to a vote before Christmas.

Of course such actions/questions will have much more traction and build momentum if we report what we learn on social media and inspire others to do the same. It would be as simple as saying "Senator X supports #CRPD and will ask Senator Reid for a vote" on Twitter.

If you want a full picture of what Senate seats are safe, sort of safe, at risk of being changed, sort of at risk of being changed, or toss ups see the Real Clear Politics map --

I sure hope everyone goes into high gear, goes to events, and starts reporting what they learn on Twitter. We have five weeks to demonstrate our leverage, so let's do so with gusto. Ok?

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

CRPD: What Doesn't the Opposition Understand?

I have been reading the tweets of the opposition to ratification today. They all thank Senator Mike Lee. Today Senator Lee blocked Senator Harkin's unanimous consent request to proceed to debate and a vote on the CRPD. The request would have allowed two hours of debate each for both sides, those for and against ratification. The Harkin request was the SAME ONE OFFERED ON DECEMBER 4, 2012 to which NO ONE OBJECTED.

Many questions are swirling in my head. If Senator Lee did not object then, why did he object today? Do Senator Lee and those who agree with him fear debate? Do they think we will stop trying? Why do they not acknowledge the changes in the CRPD that address their concerns? Why do they dismiss, ignore, or decline overtures to allow amendments to the CRPD resolution? The RIGHT remove for Senator Lee today would have been to amend Senator Harkin's request to allow for floor amendments to address perceived unresolved issues.

The foundation of the opposition has crumbled. They fear they cannot win a fair debate. Their objective is defeating ratification, rather than writing a clear resolution. It is beyond unsettling that people who think like this can win just by stalling a vote.

We must show them that the substance in the CRPD is powerful, consistent with U.S. principles, values, and laws, and will do no harm. To do that we need a debate. To do that we need a vote.

The alternative, no vote, is untenable. The U.S. was not created out of fear of what people could do to each other but out of a promise of what we could do if we worked together and recognized the rights of all.

Everyone knows I want a vote THIS WEEK. Look at all the empty time on the Senate floor today. There is time to debate a CRPD resolution. Senator Harkin's effort is not the end. We have another chance if Senator Majority Leader Reid would schedule a vote. He wants us to wait till after the elections, November 4th. He wants a guarantee of 67 votes before he schedules a vote. I bet there are enough fence sitters to get us to 67 if Senator Reid would schedule a vote between now and Friday. If enough of us suggest it to him maybe he will. His number is 202.224.3542.

If he doesn't agree with us, then read my last blog post. It outlines what we need to do between now and November 12th when the Senate returns.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

CRPD: There's Always Tomorrow

"There's always tomorrow". That was Scarlett O'Hara's mantra in the movie classic, Gone with the Wind. That seems to be where Senate Majority Leader Reid is on giving us a vote on the CRPD before the Senate closes down.

The Senate is likely to shut its doors on Friday, instead of September 23rd. Senator Reid's staff has said he is willing to hold a vote on the CRPD when the Senate returns on November 12th after the elections (November 4th), IF WE GUARANTEE HIM THAT THERE ARE THE 6 more votes in the yes column to get us to the 67 we need for ratification. Nice. A vote in September would give us the information we need to galvanize us to vote, get our friends to vote, and lay the ground work for a great future -- where elected officials focus on what is important to us.

I have several theories.

One, although for different reasons, neither Democrats (Harkin being an exception)
nor Republicans (Ayotte being an exception) are crazy about a vote on the CRPD.

Two, neither Democrats nor Republicans see any connection between a vote on the CRPD and re-election prospects and their control of the Senate.

Three, in November-December Democrats and Republicans will have new justifications for not holding a vote on the CRPD. For example, the Senate will be in from November 12 to 20, before breaking for Thanksgiving. Do you think during that time that ratifying the CRPD will even be on anyone's radar? And with Christmas looming in December, come on!

So what do we do?

One, between now and Election Day attend town hall meetings of every incumbent. Ask how he will vote on the CRPD. Ask what he will do to help get us get a vote in November. If he doesn't give specifics, ask for them. Whatever answer(s) you get should influence your vote. Whatever answer(s) you get you should broadcast on social media. On Twitter use #CRPD.

Two, contact Senator Reid's office and ask, if we are going to get a vote, on what day it will be, then broadcast what you learn in social media, even if you get a vague answer.

Three, keep calling Senate offices. Ask what the Senator's position on the CRPD is and broadcast it on social media. If the Senator is for ratification of the CRPD, ask what he plans to do to get us a vote. Broadcast what you learn on social media.

You have the ability to turn things in our favor. The folks inside the beltway (myself included) could have been smarter, faster, or more clever. Now it really is your turn. Please make the time count.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Monday, September 15, 2014

CRPD: If Senators Reid and McConnell Were Smart

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) has one thing at the top of his list – hoping/working to see that the Democrats retain control of the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) has two – getting re-elected in November and working to secure control of the Senate. In tight races a vote on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) this month could directly affect specific races and control of the Senate. Reid and McConnell need to realize this.

First the numbers. Every two years 33/34 Senators out of 100 face re-election. This year 36 Senate races are in play, because of three special elections. The states in which Senate elections will occur are AL, AK, AR, CO, DE, GA, HI (special), ID, IL, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MA, MI, MN, MS, MT, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NC, OK, OK (special), OR, RI, SC (special), SD, TN, TX, VA, WV, WY. (I highlighted those that are really in play.)  Currently Democrats hold 21 of these seats and Republicans hold 15 seats. It will take a six seat-shift for the Republicans to take control of the Senate. If the November 2014 election results in a 50-50 split, Democrats would retain control, because Vice President Joe Biden, the President of the Senate, could break any tie vote counts.

Democrats have a 10 Senator advantage, 55, 53 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with them (Sanders (VT) and King (ME)). Six to 12 seats are in play according to many sources. The most recent are and Republicans are estimated to hold the advantage by many sources who track polls, but shows the Democrats gaining leads in many contested races.

There 54 million people with disabilities in the U.S. Let’s assume for the sake of discussion a conservative 5.4 million know and care about the CRPD, and a measly 3 million vote this fall. Even though this estimate is modest, remember they have friends and relatives to whom they talk, who also vote. Then you have the veterans, business, and religious groups who have made CRPD a priority. So, in total we could have 5 million votes or more in play: voters, who vote for Senators, because the Senators voted for ratification of the CRPD; voters, who vote against Senators, because the Senators voted against the CRPD; AND, POTENTIAL VOTERS, WHO STAY HOME AND DON’T VOTE, IF THERE IS NO VOTE IN SEPTEMBER ON THE CRPD.

Here’s my take are where a vote in favor of the CRPD could help the incumbent:

Alaska.  Senator Mark Begich (D, AK) had things shifting in his favor till he associated his opponent with a killer, who killed two elderly people after an early release from prison. Begich's move has back-fired. The race is once again neck-in-neck. He should be urging Senator Reid for a CRPD vote to return to a more favorable footing with his voters. Disability organizations are very politically active in Alaska.

Arkansas.  Senator Mark Pryor (D, AR) is a centrist, in a dead heat with his opponent. He knows, like his father before him, that in mid-term elections like this year, the Republican base historically comes out in greater numbers than Democrat base. He should be saying to Senator Reid, “If you want to hold the Senate, you need to help me turn out my base. A vote on the CRPD would help make that happen.”

Kansas.  If Pat Roberts (R, KS) wants to keep his seat, he should want a vote on the CRPD in September. Senator Dole (former Senate Majority Leader, disabled vet, from Kansas) has urged Roberts to vote for the CRPD. Roberts has no Democrat opponent now, and his independent challenger is attracting many Democrat in addition to Independent votes. Roberts needs votes that show he has moved in the right direction on important issues like the CRPD.

Kentucky.  If Senator Rand Paul (R, KY), likely Republican presidential contender can shift to more moderate positions, as he has in recent days, Senator McConnell should welcome and push for  a vote on the CRPD in September to show he is a leader that Kentucky doesn’t want to lose. The disability and veteran communities are strong, politically active, and watching to see if McConnell has the wisdom to help get the CRPD to a vote.

Louisiana. Senator Mary Landrieu (D, LA) although safe in terms of absolute percentages, is likely to face a run off if she fails to get 50 percent in the open primary. If she were willing to speak up on the CRPD and ask Reid for a floor vote on the CRPD, that could get her the 2 to 3 percentage points she needs to get to 50 percent. In her state the disability community is savvy and inspired by leadership moves.

Mississippi. Thad Cochran (R, MI) learned through his primary the benefits of moving to the mainstream. A vote on the CRPD would help him secure his support among mainstream voters, people who care about civil rights.

North Carolina.  Senator Kay Hagan (D, NC) strongly supports the military and veterans. She should be urging Senator Reid to be holding a floor vote on the CRPD. She knows that 20+ national veterans groups actively support the CRPD and her Republican opponent is within striking distance of beating her as things are.

Those of us in the disability community want a vote on the CRPD in September. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell need to take the long view. If they want to be viewed as leaders they must be willing to make smart choices. A vote on the CRPD promises some positive outcomes for both of them in the short term and for the U.S. in the long term. Failing to join hands and hold a vote will alienate potential voters – because the Senate will demonstrate its inability to act on something that makes so much sense.

If you agree with me, please let Senators Reid and McConnell know.

Thank you.
Common Grounder