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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Narcissists Are Back

Senate Seven Sees Sore Loser

He's ba-aaaack: Following through on a Monday announcement, gadfly and ex-school board member Jonathan Narcisse has revived his "Iowa Party" label from 2010 and filed for governor today. His running mate is one Michael Richards, presumably not of Seinfeld fame.

For his sake, I hope Narcisse remembered to write "governor" on every page of his petitions. That shortcoming kept Narcisse off the Democratic primary ballot. He threatened to follow through as a write-in, but there was scant evidence of an effort.

Narcisse ran stronger in 2010 than people remember, pulling more than 20,000  votes for 1.86%. That's just a couple thousand votes short of the magic 2% that would earn the "Iowa Party" full political party status, with a box on the voter form and a primary in June 2016. Suggested logo for the Narcissists: a vanity mirror.

The Iowa Party had only one other candidate in 2010, and the connection between him and Narcisse was in name only. A full-status party with full ballot access but no actual organization can be taken over by anybody, and used for pretty much anything, pretty easily. The 1998 primary of the orphaned Reform Party drew just 395 voters statewide, and that was with a three way governor primary. In 2002, the Greens had an actual organization and drew 439 voters who wanted to Make A Statement, as they had no contested races. Many counties had no voters at all in these primaries.

Other factoids from the first two days of filing:

I'm a firm believer that when you buy into the process and run in a primary, you agree to abide by the choice. And many states have so-called "sore loser" laws that keep defeated primary candidates from running in November. But Iowa does not, and Senate 7 Democratic Primary loser Maria Rundquist has filed for the same seat as an independent.

Jim France beat Rundquist in a close but low turnout primary, 599 to 483. There's little discernible precinct pattern, as more than half the vote was cast early and the precinct results looked more like baseball scores than basketball scores. Rundquist is Hispanic while France is Anglo, which may or may not be a factor.

Senate 7 is a key race for both parties. It was an open seat Republican gain in 2010, with Rick Bertrand winning a contentious race by just 222 votes. A People's Front of Judea splitter! makes a Democratic gain harder.

Democrats might have benefited from a split Republican vote in southern Iowa House 80. Jared Godby,who clerked for Pat Grassley and then interned for grandpa Chuck, is running an independent campaign here against GOP freshman Larry Sheets. But, after a serious disappointment in 2012 when Joe Judge fell just 110 votes short in the open, new in redistricting seat, Democrats now have no candidate.

In open House District 10, the Tom Shaw seat, it looked like former GOP senator Mike Sexton was going to walk in without a primary or general election opponent.  Libertarian Lynne Gentry will prevent that. (Still no Democrat, in the seat that belonged to Dolores Mertz four years ago.) Also filing for the LP: Keith Laube in the state treasurer race.

I missed one of the Some Dudes in the US Senate race, and he filed Monday: Rick Stewart, who's biking around the state and appears to occupy an old hippie lefty libertarian niche.

Also missed one of the Republican convention nominees: Thomas Hess in House 34, picked last week at the same convention that nominated Jonathan Lochman in overlapping Senate 17. Both are veterans, but other than that Hess appears to meet one of the official definitions of Some Dude: " If you Google Some Dude's name, you'll find very little information-probably just the news article or blog post where they were first mentioned as a possible candidate." Hess will have an uphill fight against incumbent Bruce Hunter in this solid Democratic seat.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Filing Season Resumes: Convention Summary

Three weeks to go before the final filing deadline for the Democrats and Republicans to fill those empty slots on the state-level ballot. They've had a few conventions. Let's get up to date on developments since the June 3 primary.

We all know the big ones, of course: David Young emerging from the indecisive Republican primary and 3rd District Convention, Adam Gregg nominated at the GOP state convention to challenge Attorney General Tom Miller, and Sam Clovis taking the state treasurer nomination as consolation prize for a second place finish in the Senate primary. So the Republicans now have a full slate for the statewide offices.

Late starting state legislative candidates nominated at party conventions are often Some Dudes, like I was. But sometimes there's a winner among the late starters, most notably Brian Moore, who lost a Democratic state senate primary in 2010, switched parties to the GOP, and beat a Democratic House incumbent that fall.

I've seen a few scattered stories about convention, but no one-stop shop, so I'm writing the story I wanted to read:

Senate 17: Republicans think they see an opportunity here after Tony Bisignano won a tough, divisive Democratic primary. The GOP nominated young veteran Jonathan Lochman last week. But the numbers in Jack Hatch's open seat almost certainly mean that this was decided in June.

Senate 33: Republican Harry Foster nominated to challenge Democratic incumbent Rob Hogg in a solid Democratic Cedar Rapids seat

House 38: Democrat Christine Sherrod will challenge GOP incumbent Kevin Koester in the more swingy of the two Ankeny districts.

House 39: Democrats nominated former city council member Tom Leffler to challenge GOP freshman Jake Highfill. Highfill has some negatives, but he weathered those in the 2012 general and in a three way primary this year.

House 40: Republican Ronda Bern was nominated post-primary to challenge Democratic freshman John Forbes in an Urbandale seat that looks Republican on paper. Of all the convention nominees to date, this one looks the most significant.

House 78: Democrat John Greener was nominated to challenge Republican Jarad Klein in the Washington-Keokuk county district. This is the more Republican half of the ground zero open Senate 39 seat.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Filing Season Resumes: Third Party Rundown

Tomorrow the Secretary of State's doors open for third party and independent candidate filing. In general, Iowa has not too easy but not too hard standards for that, with similar numbers of signatures. Below, some names to watch for the next three weeks.

One small point of contention: Democrats and Republicans get to file much, much earlier, in February and March, but the third parties can only file in this July/August window. It'd be a small but fair thing to give them a shot at the earlier filing window, too.

Governor is the important race for third parties. If they can score 2% or more, they earn full party status, with a primary and everything, for the next two years when they have to get 2% again for president.

That standard is relatively hard compared to other states, but in 2008 Iowa established a compromise "political organization" status where you can register with a qualifying third party. Third parties don't have primaries but still have to petition to get on the ballot. Iowa's two qualified third parties, the Greens and Libertarians, seemed OK with that, The goal was less about ballot access and more about letting people register with them.

Still, full party status would be a bragging point. Libertarians "nominated" Lee Heib for governor and running mate Ryan Ketelson at a party convention. "Nominated" really is more of an endorsement, with no official legal meaning till the papers get turned in.

Libertarians are also running 2010 nominee Jake Porter again for Secretary of State and Keith Laube for state treasurer. Doug Butzier is running for US Senate. And it looks like they have candidates in three congressional districts: Gary Sicard in the 1st, Ed Wright in the 3rd and Forest Johnson in the 4th.

The Greens, in contrast, are quiet, with no evidence of any candidates anywhere. They only ran for president in 2012, and had one legislative candidate in 2010.

The Socialist Workers aren't good at getting votes, but are aggressive at selling newspapers and getting nomination signatures. Their perennial candidate, David Rosenfeld, looks like he's running for governor this year.

As for pure independents, there's some odd names seeking the US Senate. Perhaps most interesting is Ruth Smith, who has run against Joni Ernst before: in the 2011 special election where Ernst replaced Kim Reynolds in the State Senate. Smith had been Reynold's 2008 opponent as well. Before that she lost for county supervisor twice. Those runs were as a Democrat, but in 2012 she became an independent to challenge Joel Fry for the state house.

So, what's the deal? Her website is loaded with cartoons about campaign finance reform, and includes LOTS OF UPPER CASE AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!1!  My bet is: she got triaged out in her legislative races because she was in tough to un-winnable seats and couldn't raise money, and blamed the Democratic Party.

The other Some Dudes who may file include Jay Williams, who has a similar platform as Smith but at least uses bold instead of upper case, and Bob Quast, who likes term limits and guns.

Bleeding Heartland reports that Bryan Jack Holder, who announced in the 3rd CD Republican primary but failed to make the ballot, will try a tea partyish independent campaign.

And you never can tell what Jonathan Narcisse will do...


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Irish Overload: O'Malley for Kinney



The open Senate District 39 race, critical to both parties for control of the Senate this fall, is drawing attention all the way up to the level of potential presidential candidates.

The saying is, no politician ever comes to Iowa by accident, and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley made his second Iowa visit in a month today, headlining an North Liberty event for Kevin Kinney, the Democratic candidate in the key open, Republican held seat.

As if O'Malley for Kinney in a bar called Rocky O'Brien's wasn't enough Irishmen, the event also drew a surprise visit from Senator Tom Harkin, who bragged about winning a Guinness pouring contest on Capitol Hill.

Locals on hand included Senator Bob Dvorsky, Representative Mary Mascher, supervisor candidates Janelle Rettig and Mike Carberry, county attorney Janey Lyness, new North Liberty mahor Gerry Kuhl, and Mitch Gross from the Coralville city council, who sported a Baltimore Orioles shirt for the occasion.

The interest in Senate 39 by possible candidates is bipartisan. Texas Governor Rick Perry will visit the district on August 10 for Kinney's opponent, Republican Mike Moore.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

I've Heard All The Chicago Jokes Already

Matt Schultz has death on his mind.

Not the death of his political career at a district convention, where he was the first serious candidate eliminated. No, the lame duck Secretary of State...

I like the way that rolls out. I'll say it again. The lame duck Secretary of State...

The lame duck Secretary of State is pursuing his voter fraud crusade beyond the grave.



In this week's episode of The Voting Dead Schultz, looking for one last shot of publicity, takes what's actually a positive step and gets his usual partisan spin on it. Original release:
The Iowa Secretary of State’s office provided county auditors information from the Social Security Death Index regarding possible deceased voters.

"It’s important that our voter lists are accurate and this routine check of information in the Social Security Death Index will help county auditors determine which voters are deceased and should no longer be on the voting rolls," Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz said.

An example letter sent to county auditors can be found here. Prior to removing any names from the voting rolls, county auditors will analyze the information to determine whether the deceased individuals are matches to voters currently registered to vote. A total of 1234 individuals were initially matched as currently being on Iowa’s voting lists and listed in the Social Security Death Index. County auditors also previously reviewed Social Security Death Index information to improve the voter lists in 2012. 
That last sentence reveals that this is a relatively routine thing. But it doesn't appear to have been accompanied by a press release in 2012. And it didn't produce fear mongering headlines like

Iowa county’s voter rolls filled with deceased residents

Worked like a charm. Routine election administration gets exaggerated into fuel for the base and motivation for the Republican "voter integrity" efforts we're sure to see this fall.

So, how do those of us who work on the official end of things kill off dead voters?

I've long been obsessed with getting dead people off the rolls, and it dates back to my early volunteer days. We had a brand new volunteer who started making calls, and on about call three she got the widow on the phone and asked for a guy who had just died. Tears on both ends of the line, the volunteer had to leave for the night... and never came back. So when I got a job a few years later working with elections, one of my goals was getting the rolls as clean as possible ESPECIALLY when death is the issue.

First thing to remember about anything to do with voter file administration: the most important thing is the MAIL. Prior to Motor Voter - passed in 1993, effective in 1995 - Iowa had a simple system. Four years without voting or re-registering and you're out. The Help America Vote (sic) Act of 2002 (HAVA) made some other changes but Motor Voter still plays the bigger role.

Since Motor Voter, everything is designed to make it HARDER to remove voters from the rolls. No one can be canceled just for not voting. All we can do is send reminder cards once every four years, process names from the postal National Change Of Address (NCOA) database, or accept notices from other election offices that someone has moved away.

And of course death. The Iowa Department of Public Health keeps data on deaths in the state. They used to send out lists but now there's a lookup. Those still have to get processed locally. There's some lag time so what we do is start every morning with the obituaries. Seems morbid, but it's very effective. Johnson County got good marks in Schultz's press release; we only have 15 voters that he thinks are dead.

So how do people get missed? Not everyone has a published obituary. And not everyone who lives here, dies here. Out of state deaths are especially tough to track.

The Social Security Administration keeps a short leash on its data. The Death Index is relatively public, but not easy to query en masse. If you're looking up your grandma, sure, and occasionally useful if you're looking up a specific voter who you've been told is dead (though in recent years, more records have driver's license numbers and very few have full SSNs). But harder to compare to a voter file.

HAVA has an underlying assumption that voter registration is handled at the state level, and requires all states to have a state level database. And Iowa does have that database. But Iowa law says voter registration is handled at the county level.

So what happens with big-level data dumps like the death index or cross-state matches is: the secretary of state gets it, then passes data on to counties for processing. Again, routine with no press release required.

Frankly, there are bigger list maintenance problems than dead people. Death is clear cut and relatively straightforward. We get official notice, we take them off. The bigger end of life problem is long-term cognitive decline.

In the pre-Motor Voter era, elderly dementia got addressed through the four years and out process. Now, as long as grandma keeps getting mail, she stays on the rolls, which often leads to frustrating conversations with care providers. By the time the adult children are asking how to get grandma off the rolls, she's beyond the point where she can sign her name to a simple form asking to be removed, and in Iowa power of attorney is specifically excluded from elections and voting issues.

And the other, bigger problem: what else can a lame duck, soon to be on the job market Schultz do to our election process in a year when the razor-close Ernst-Braley race could determine control of the whole Senate? All the more reason to pay attention to what looks to be the marquee downballot state race, Brad Anderson vs. Paul Pate...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Warren vs. Clinton: Multiple Perspectives

Why She Should:
If Warren joined the race, she would not win, but she would till the ground, putting grit and the smell of earth in the contest. She would energize the Democratic Party’s liberal base, which would then stir up other Democrats who seek to moderate or contain that group. Warren would challenge the Democratic Party on issues like corporate power, income inequality, and entitlements. She would be a long shot and she would have nothing to lose—which means she could keep talking about those ideas out loud.

If you are a Clinton Democrat—which based on that polling is a redundancy—it’s hard to see how a tough competitor who might weaken your candidate would be a welcome thing. But without a get-in-shape primary, would Clinton be ready for the close punches of the general election? Her book tour suggests she’s rusty. A Democratic coronation would start the general election attacks early, without the benefit of a clear GOP opponent she could counterattack.
Why She Shouldn't:
Warren 2016 is a fantasy. She has repeatedly given flat denials, including a pledge to serve out her six-year term, and most recently telling the Boston Globe “I am not running for president. Do you want to put an exclamation point at the end of that?” Even if Warren privately keeps the door open a crack in her mind, if she has a hard head she’ll leave the symbolic, quixotic primary challenge to the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Polling data and anecdotal reporting suggest Hillary Clinton’s base of support in the Democratic Party is broader and deeper than ever, with bitter opponents from 2008 turned into “Ready for Hillary” foot soldiers. Any 2016 drama will likely be over faster than you can say “Wesley Clark.”
Why It Doesn't Matter:
1. "Clinton is insanely popular among Democrats, now more than ever... That's higher than any conceivable Democratic challenger, and it doesn't even factor in the big advantage she has in resources and experience."

2. "Clinton doesn't have the kind of glaring vulnerability with Democrats she did last time around because of her vote in favor of the Iraq War."

3. "Clinton's strength in 2008 was always exaggerated by hubristic political consultants and the legions of journalistic lemmings who accepted their claims uncritically."
Who Else Might: Note that Martin O'Malley will be back in Iowa next week. He's headlining a fundraiser for Johnson County's own Kevin Kinney, state senate candidate in open Senate 39. Details: Saturday, July 26 at Rocky O'Brien's Pub, 720 Pacha Parkway in North Liberty. (O'Malley for Kinney at O'Brien's? Pat Murphy should get in on this.) Suggested donations start at $25.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Will District Get Dworshaked?

I have no favorite in the upcoming appointment for the open Iowa City school board seat.

But my trivia skills have been called upon to address one facet of this process. The rumor mill says that Karla Cook, a former board member elected to a short term in 2011 but defeated in 2013, has the inside track.
It's pointed, but it's interesting, and it took me a couple days to think through.

Five of the nine applicants lost in their most previous appearance on a ballot. Phil Hemingway and Jason Lewis also lost in 2013. Former board member Orville Townsend won one term in 1986 but lost narrowly in `89 (which may or may not be beyond the statute of limitations). And John Weihe, after several terms on the Coralville city council, tried and failed to move up to mayor in 2011.

Actually, make that six out of ten applicants losing their last election, counting both Herbert Hoover's application and his reeeealy big loss in 1932. Bonus points for whatever wag thought of that, but If I was picking a dead president for the school board, as a former Roosevelt parent I'd have to go with Teddy. He lost his last race too, in 1912, but can you really call this losing?



But Cook's case is notable because she was in the same office and defeated. Hemingway, on the other hand, can argue that he was "next out" in both 2011 and 2013. Fifth for four seats in `11, fourth for three seats in `13.

That's a tricky argument. If four seats had been available, it doesn't mean Hemingway WOULD have won. It would be an alternate voting universe with different behavior and maybe even different candidates. Hemingway was many people's first choice but more people's LAST choice.

I crunched numbers after last fall's election and noted especially heavy "under" voting - voters choosing only one or two candidates instead of the allowed three - in North Liberty and Coralville. The North Corridor group was backing incumbent Tuyet Dorau and newcomer Chris Lynch, the two candidates from Coralville, and added a tag line "IF you cast all three votes, cast your third vote for Sara Barron," an east sider acceptable to the west. IF was the key word, and a lot of those third ovals were blank. With four seats open, it's very possible Barron would have pulled votes from people who liked her but had prioritized Dorau and Lynch.

A similar question came up at the county in 2009 after supervisor Larry Meyers died. Larry had knocked off Mike Lehman in the 2006 primary, and Lehman was one of a dozen who applied for the vacancy. Mike's defeat was definitely an issue in that process. Meyers' supporters objected, and former auditor Tom Slockett had an iron clad rule of not considering anyone who had lost their most recent election for anything.

But there was also strong sentiment for considering Lehman, given his experience. The other two appointment committee members decided he deserved an interview and he got one vote for the appointment, but Janelle Rettig got the other two and later won the special election (Lehman didn't have any role in the petition for the election; that effort was Republican Party led).

Earlier this year, Oxford appointed a city election loser. Gary Wilkinson was in mid-council term when he was elected mayor to replace the irreplaceable Don Saxton last November. The council appointed Lorena Loomis, who had finished third in the race for two seats, to the last two years of Wilkinson's council term. That was completely non-controversial, unlike pretty much ANYTHING involving the ICCSD these days, and Loomis may even have been the only applicant. Those jobs often go begging.

And the other difference: Loomis was, like Lewis and Hemingway, a candidate who tried and fell short, not like Cook or Lehman, incumbents who had been tossed out. To get to exactly Liebig's scenario, "filling a vacancy with someone who was recently voted out of that very office," we have to journey to the Truman era and to Idaho.



Like every other Republican in the country, Senator Henry Dworshak was expecting a big GOP year in 1948 against Hapless Harry. Idaho's other senator, Democrat Glen Taylor, had joined Iowa's own Henry Wallace on a Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn-Famous Potatoes Progressive ticket which looked likely to split the Spud State's Democratic vote. And Dworshak had beaten his opponent, attorney general Bert Miller, a decade earlier in a House race.

The Wallace ticket fizzled, Give Em' Hell Harry sizzled, and took Idaho, and carried Bert Miller to a narrow win over Dworshak. The Idaho Republicans did, however, hold the governorship...

...which proved important just nine months later when Senator Miller dropped dead of a heart attack. The Republican governor promptly sent the defeated Dworshak back to the Senate.

Idaho voters didn't seem too upset, especially since the previous Senate vacancy a couple years earlier had been filled by a governor who appointed himself. (Always a bad move in the long run. You have to do it like West Virginia's Joe Manchin did: appoint a placeholder, then run yourself.) Dworshak won the 1950 special election and two more terms before he, too, died in office.

So Leibig proposes adding "Dworshak" to the political vocabulary and I'll let him claim credit. A narrow, specific, useful term limited to the exact scenario of appointing a former incumbent to the same office from which they were recently defeated. Sample usage: "Will the schoolboard do a Dworshak?" "They're thinking of Dworshaking the appointment." "Will Cook be Dworshaked back into office?" "The school board is a bunch of Dworshaking Dworshakers." Say that three times fast.

But no endorsement here. This is just an exercise in trivia, proposed grammar, and alleged humor. Like I say, as an ex-Roosevelt parent I still feel some bemused detachment from school board drama.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Dead Ramones

The Dead Ramones would be a great name for a punk rock tribute band. Irreverent and simultaneously paying tribute to two of the greatest.

Tommy Ramone is dead now, the last survivor of the original four members, the level head and steady beat of those first three timeless albums, Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket To Russia. The reunion is complete and rock and roll heaven just got a lot louder.

It's usually big brothers who pass musical tastes down to their younger siblings, but in my case I first heard of the Ramones from a friend of my youngest brother, an aspiring drummer who noted that I'd already discovered the Clash and Costello on my own and started quoting lyrics at me. The lines I most specifically remember: "beat on the brat with a baseball bat" and "sittin' here in Queens / eating refried beans."



I got the joke right away. These were smart guys, smart enough to be dumb.

Tom Erdelyi never really WANTED to be Tommy Ramone. He just wanted to produce and help write - he claimed the band's signature song "Blitzkrieg Bop" was mostly his. Joey was supposed to be the drummer and Dee Dee was supposed to be the singer. But that didn't work. The vision was in large part Tommy's, no one else could play the drums quite right, and the other three insisted.

I'm not sure when I got them all but I remember squeezing three whole albums onto a 90 minute cassette, 20 songs to a side, and getting Pleasant Dreams, the sixth album, when it was new at Christmas 1981. So by then I was hooked.

And by then Tommy was gone, moving from the drum kit to the producer's board because he hated touring, then kicked out of that role when Phil Spector took to an obsession with the band, replaced by Marky just before the band was captured on film in the brilliantly ridiculous "Rock and Roll High School," stupid enough to be worth staying up till 3 AM to see on cable. Other bands were considered, but it would have been nowhere as funny without the absurdity of the leather jacketed punks as teen idols, with blonde cutie PJ Soles crushing on gangly, snaggle-toothed Joey. Dee Dee was so high that they cut all his lines except one: "Hey, pizza! Let's dig in."

That one line could probably have been a whole song; they had lyrics almost as minimal.


Non-mainstream records, even on major labels, were sometimes hard to find out in the provinces and hard to buy back before infinite playlists, when each album was an investment in and commitment to that band. So being a Ramones fan was a real statement back then, long before the t-shirts became ubiquitous, worn by kids to young to have seen even the last shows in 1996 let alone the CBGB's heyday of 1975, and before "Hey! Ho! Let's Go!" was a stadium chant. For sports teams, rather than for the Ramones filling the stadium with fans and getting credit where it was due while they were still with us.

When I finally got my hands on the airwaves - which the Ramones desperately wanted - for a college radio show, I eagerly played the Tommy-produced album "Too Tough To Die" - the irony in that, with all of them gone relatively young - and the import single of "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg," knowing nothing of the political stress that song caused between lefty Joey and conservative Johnny, though some militarism was clear in a few lyrics and some artwork.

I also knew nothing of Joey's obsessive compulsive disorder, but in retrospect I see that my love of familiar repetition, of endlessly repeated memes, makes me a natural Ramones fan. The same BANG bang-a bang-a bang-a BANG bang-a bang-a bang-a riff in every song, the absurdist lyrics ("be nice to Mommy, don't talk to Commies, eat kosher salamis"?!?), the reduction of rock music to its absolute minimum struck a chord in me. Or struck one of three chords in me.

I go through kicks once in a while, where I returned to one particular beloved band for days and weeks at a time and don't want to play anything else, when nothing else sounds right. And as chance would have it, I was on a Ramones kick last week, so Tommy's death landing just when it did was a little more immediate than it might have been had I still been on, say my Harry Nilsson kick or my Church kick.

They weren't a family, of course, they were just four guys who adopted the same stage name as part of the act. And It's an odd coincidence, but none of the original four Ramones had any children, so the DNA is a dead end.

But the legacy of the music is an inheritance for all of us. THAT's immortality. Gabba gabba hey, guys.