Friday, February 12, 2016

Making The Caucuses Happen: What Next?

The Johnson County Democrats are holding a caucus chair debriefig  on Monday the 22nd at 7 PM at the Iowa City Public Library. That may be the first of many, many steps in figuring out What To Do Next.

But before we launch into a long, system-wide  Reform And Review Process we need to realistically assess our chances of survival, and we can't do that until we see who the ultimate winners are.

Either way, it doesn't look good on the Democratic side; many of Bernie's folks are convinced The Fix Was In (pro tip: HRC2016 plates don't help - even in my little local role there was a reason I stayed neutral until literally the moment that Uncommitted was non-viable.)

And Hillary's folks are mad that they had to break a sweat and that the best field staff ever assembled had to bust their butts for months to just barely beat a 74 year old socialist who's been a Democrat for about 10 minutes, and with under 50%.

It seems our best hope is that President Ted Cruz owes Iowa a debt of gratitude. And First In The Nation isn't worth THAT. The only thing President Cruz has to offer Democrats is tips on Canadian citizenship.

But if Hillary or Bernie wins, the Democrats become a non-event for 2020 and the fight for First becomes a Republican fight - which nevertheless impacts the Democrats.

An unspoken truth: The meltdown wasn't anything new. It was just more visible because it was a tie. There were just as many problems in 2008. There were even MORE problems in my county in 2004, when turnout jumped from 5000 in 2000 to 11,000. The apocryphal story is that so many places ran out of so many forms in 2004 that people signed in on a pizza box. I never saw the box. But I did see paper towels.

But there were other stories those years: Obama's historic win in 2008. And in 2004...


So the national press didn't care about our pizza box, because Howard Dean yelled... and because it wasn't a tie.

In the early, TOO early, discussion, the raw body count is the thing people want to talk about. But the body count is not the be all and end all, and is not even the biggest problem.

The problem with the body count, which no one in a position to truly know will say on the record but which everybody understands implicitly, is that the New Hampshire Secretary of State believes body count plus committed delegates is a PRIMARY not a caucus, and he WILL have the first primary.

And don't compare the Dems to the Republicans. the Republicans fudged it. They have uncommitted delegates. Their votes will get automatically cast on the first ballot in proportion to the caucuses... but on a second ballot which after the splintered result of New Hampshire seems plausible, all bets are off. We could still be hiding a stealth Rand Paul delegation. But not likely. For one thing, you can only get away with stealth once, and for another thing the results.

If Democrats try that trick we're asking the DNC for TWO exceptions: the early date AND an exemption to the delegate selection rules.

OK, So we know it's tough, but why not ask anyway? Counter question: why burn our energy and use our very limited supply of chips (since Tom Harkin's retirement Iowa Democrats are in the weakest position nationally that we've been in decades) fighting a battle we can't win?

So setting aside the raw vote count issue for now, what else can we do?

All hands on deck. IF we are ever going to have anything remotely resembling The Caucuses As We Know Them ever again, we need 100% institutional buy in from all the key non-"political" players. First has its critics even within Iowa, but First is important to our economy and our national reputation, sullied as it may be. As I told the QC Times, the schools don't just belong to the schools, they belong to the whole community. People need to look at it as a civics thing rather than as a politics thing.

And newspapers: give those small county parties a break and run those caucus site ads as a public service. Or legislators: repeal that archaic requirement, and a lot of other archaic legal publications. Even Pole Bean County has heard of this Interweb thing. While you're at it, maybe require schools to cancel activities on caucus night. The only way to manage the crowds is to basically shut down everything else and treat it like Game Day for the whole state.

Fixing It With Technology Is Harder Than It Sounds. Yes it would be nice to sign everyone in on laptops. But it's hard to maintain the infrastucture of computers and data that we use to conduct elections, and that's with tax dollars and permanent staffs.

First matters. A lot. And not just for the free Demi Lovato concerts and selfies with Cornel West. It matters because the campaigns build an infrastructure and volunteer poll that transfers over to the general election, and because the candidates bring in a lot of money and visible support. The important part of the caucuses is the year before, not the night. Without First, we never see a candidate. We get a week of TV ads and maybe one rally at the Des Moines airport.

First is clearly the ONLY remaining justification for our system, which as early as 2004 had outgrown its Town Meeting roots. The cost of first is two hours in a crowded gym. If you want to trade the whole year before so that you can get an absentee ballot, I won't judge. But understand that it's one of the other, not both, because...

We can't just switch to a primary and automatically keep first, for reasons stated above. Keeping First had been a 40 year bipartisan fight with 48 jealous states and one uneasy frenemy.

Go ahead and make the ask for the body count, but don't get your hopes up. Don't invest all our energy in offering that as our big reform when it probably fails New Hampshire's test.

In fact, don't waste too much energy in trying to figure out how to fix the present system because...

It may not be our choice anymore anyway. This was our last chance and we blew it again. I say WE and AGAIN because the national press does not see this as a 2012 Republican problem and a 2016 Democratic problem. They see it as an IOWA problem.

If we lose First, just have a freakin' primary. The historic town meeting is over, a victim of its own success and excess, so the ONLY rationale for our system is First. MAYBE have a February caucus for the central committee and platform stuff, but absolutely NO president stuff. Maybe even move it to the odd year just to be safe.

I want to keep First but from my purely personal perspective? I'd have the overtime from an extra election in 2020 instead of burning my vacation days again. And my county that cast 11.4% of the votes would count for 11.4% of the result, not 6.5%.

If we lose an early state slot, forget Super Tuesday. Maybe we get something. We lose First to New Hampshire because the Beltway likes them better. Shorter flight, longer history. But maybe we keep a slot as an early carve out state with South Carolina and Nevada.

That's a hard sell, too, because of the Lack Of Diversity card and pent-up hostility and schadenfruede from other states. Debbies Dingell and Wasserman Schultz would love to replace Iowa with Florida or Michigan.

So maybe we get lumped in with the other 46 states and can't go until Super Tuesday. In that case, forget it. The glory days are over. Just combine it with the statehouse and courthouse primary - maybe move that earlier, maybe not. At this point, maybe all we deserve in 2020 is a June primary between President Hillary and Lyndon LaRouche.

Let A Thousand Oaknolls Bloom. The credentials cats say I'm being too negative so I want to end this upbeat.

When the satellite caucus was announced last spring, I was a skeptic. I had favored a very limited proxy vote system,  and I also worried that the satellites would be overkilled. I though that a campaign - OK, the Hillary campaign - would come in and demand dozens of sites as a "show of strong support."

I now wish my worst fears had been realized.

There were only four satellite caucuses in the whole state. Mere tokenism to show the nation that we were being "more inclusive," that was completely lost in the dead heat coin flip news cycle.

Three of those caucuses were duds - a grand total of ten people showed up. But Oaknoll was the crown jewel. I wish to God that the image of Iowa the nation took away was Oaknoll, not coin flips.

Oaknoll is the biggest retirement community in Iowa City, full of retired professors and every-election voters. Civically engaged, but not always comfortable driving at night or cramming into a gym. I played a tiny role in it - I mentioned to a resident that the satellite program existed, and she ran with it.

127 people signed up (the deadline was a month out) and 109 showed up - dominating the other sites. Oaknoll netted Hillary a one state delegate equivalent gain - important in a 3.7 delegate win, and they were just a couple bodies shy of sweeping the three state delegates.

But more importantly, it let 109 people participate who might not have, and it took some strain off the precinct's regular site at the Roosevelt school gym. (It was still a black hole of Calcutta - but that was the precinct I wanted to send to the Studio Arts building that argued they belonged to Menards and not to the public.)

Yes, I was a skeptic. But now I wish there had been a satellite caucus at every retirement community. I wish there had been a satellite caucus at every dorm. I wish there had been a satellite caucus at every large student apartment complex. I wish there had been a satellite caucus at every neighborhood center - just to take the strain off some of those mega-sites.

This, if anything, is the future. If the rooms aren't big enough anymore, we need more, smaller rooms. There would be a lot of logistics to work out, sure. But if there is any future for a neighborhood style caucus, it's in getting back to the true neighborhoods.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Making The Caucuses Happen: What Happened?

Contrary to rumor, I have not committed ritual seppuku over the problems of caucus night. But since I'm the guy who organized the caucuses for Johnson County, where we had some of the most intense crowding and craziness, I can see where people might have thought so.

Mostly this week, I've been in the Credentials Bunker. The national press may only care about delegate COUNTS, but the locals care who the actual delegates are, so they can start herding those cats to a March 12 county convention that now seems much more significant than it did a few months ago. As in 2008, expect all the seats to get filled.

Because the caucuses were for once on a sensible February 1 date, but the county convention date stayed mid-March, there's a whole month less to prepare.

Xavier the Credentials Cat is in very poor health so it's safe to say he has seen his last First In The Nation. According to Captain Obvious, much the same could be said of the caucuses themselves. I should have known we were in trouble when just days before the caucuses, Dave Panther sold the Hamburg Inn. Bad omen.

You are not ever going to get the 2016 raw body count. Stop asking. Releasing that would be like deciding after the Super Bowl:
I'm just glad the national media fixated on coin flips, because it was one of the only things that went RIGHT.

You have to fight to even get the attendance by county out of the state party. I'll happily announce ours: of the 171,000 Democrats who attended statewide, 19,513 were in Johnson County. That counts 109 at the Oaknoll satellite caucus (more on that tomorrow). That's 11.4% of the statewide turnout for only 6.5% of the state delegates.

And yes. I calculated the post-realignment body count. I have that number, by precinct, right here on this very computer.

Not gonna tell ya.

I don't feel I have the authority to do that beyond my own precinct, Iowa City 11, which went 353 for Bernie and 73 for Hillary. (I live in a student precinct - that 85% youth vote figure people cite for Sanders is right on the nose.)

I will tell you that the body count is, in percentage, pretty close to our Johnson County delegate breakdown of 210 for Sanders, 142 for Clinton, and poor lonely Brad Kunkel of rural Solon for Martin O'Malley.

Precinct Attendance Delegates Sanders Clinton
Big Grove (O'Malley 1) 165 4 C 1 C 2
Cedar 56 1 E 1 E
Clear Creek-Tiffin 235 6 N 4 N 2
Coralville 1 389 7 S 5 S 2
Coralville 2 409 7 O 3 O 4
Coralville 3 201 4 R 2 R 2
Coralville 4 276 7 E 5 E 2
Coralville 5 320 7 D 4 D 3
Coralville 6 414 7 C 3 C 4
Coralville 7 416 8 E 4 E 4
Fremont-Lincoln-LT 106 4 N 2 N 2
Graham 73 1 S 1 S
Hardin 58 1 O 1
(coin flip!)
O
Hills 62 2 R 1 R 1
Iowa City 01 591 11 E 5 E 6
Iowa City 02 440 9 D 5 D 4
Iowa City 02 Oaknoll 109
C
C
Iowa City 03 499 6 E 5 E 1
Iowa City 04 658 8 N 4 N 4
Iowa City 05 636 6 S 5 S 1
Iowa City 06 454 10 O 5 O 5
Iowa City 07 345 6 R 3 R 3
Iowa City 08 465 8 E 3 E 5
Iowa City 09 491 9 D 5 D 4
Iowa City 10 235 6 C 4 C 2
Iowa City 11 430 6 E 5 E 1
Iowa City 12 323 8 N 5 N 3
Iowa City 13 393 7 S 5 S 2
Iowa City 14 490 9 O 6 O 3
Iowa City 15 243 6 R 4 R 2
Iowa City 16 557 10 E 6 E 4
Iowa City 17 935 12 D 8 D 4
Iowa City 18 859 12 C 8 C 4
Iowa City 19 438 6 E 6 E 0
Iowa City 20 646 7 N 6 N 1
Iowa City 21 759 9 S 7 S 2
Iowa City 22 463 7 O 4 O 3
Iowa City 23 679 11 R 6 R 5
Iowa City 24 443 8 E 4 E 4
Jeff East-Shueyville 177 5 D 2 D 3
Jeff W-Monroe-Swisher 165 5 C 3 C 2
Liberty-PV 79 2 E 1 E 1
Newport 368 7 N 3 N 4
North Liberty 01 205 6 S 4 S 2
North Liberty 02 253 6 O 4 O 2
North Liberty 03 276 6 R 3 R 3
North Liberty 04 201 6 E 3 E 3
North Liberty 05 194 6 D 4 D 2
North Liberty 06 353 8 C 5 C 3
Oxford 112 4 E 2 E 2
Penn-East Lucas N 567 9 N 4 N 5
Scott 105 4 S 2 S 2
Sharon 56 1 O
O 1
Solon 169 5 R 3 R 2
UHeights 241 4 E 2 E 2
Union 90 2 D 1 D 1
Washington 66 1 C 1 C
West Lucas 75 3 E 2 E 1
total 19513 353 N 210 N 142



S 59.49% S 40.23%

And given that Johnson County 1) went heavily for Sanders and 2) Johnson County turnout was in proportion nearly twice its delegate allocation... well, you can speculate on who "won" the hypothetical statewide popular vote.

But then, Al Gore and Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and look what good that did them.

No, the lack of a body count isn't the biggest problem.

The fundamental problem on caucus night was, and will continue to be, that enough rooms that are big enough simply do not exist. Even if the parties GET all the biggest rooms, it's only enough to make bad situations slightly less bad. And we - by we I mean the Johnson County Democrats and Republicans working together as a team - we didn't get all the biggest rooms.

In my own defense: I nailed the turnout projection. We had 227,000 in 2008 and 125,000 in 2004. I aimed right for the middle of that, and 171,000 was right on target.

I nailed the turnout projection for the STATE.

The problem was, I was projecting Johnson County on that model, and I was wrrrrr. I prepped for 15,000 - right between the 18,163 of 2008 and the 11,169 who came out in 2004. I knew some of our rooms would be overcrowded - but they were already the biggest rooms that were both available and - key point here - willing to host.

(If I had it to do over again, given our pass the hat take, we should have sprung for $750, half the market rate, for a hotel ballroom in Iowa City 23. But we were balking at much lower expenses. Tangent within a tangent: On a county chairs call Thursday before the caucuses, many rural county chairs were stressing about the cost of the legally required newspaper ad. Pro tip: Do what we did and go halfsies with the Republicans. Overall, in fact, partnering with the Republicans was the smartest thing I did.)

But as it turned out Johnson County, despite punching way above its weight in 2008, actually UNDERperformed because of the mid-winter break January 3 date. I took that into account in the student precincts (a challenge, since we've reprecincted in between) but it turns out the vote suppression of the January 3, 2008 date was nearly county wide. The only places where my projections were right on were in the outlying rural precincts.

I also failed to foresee that Bernie Sanders would turn out to be an especially appealing candidate to young voters, and my projections were most wrong in precincts like my own. That was a late surge. The week before the caucuses I met with my precinct captains from both the Sanders and Clinton camps. Team Bernie expected 230, and Team Hillary expected 170. I clarifed with both that they meant TOTAL bodies, not just their own people. I prepped for 200 and worried that at 200 the room would be jammed.

I got 430.
Given that I misunderestimated so badly, my own Precinct 11 caucus went reasonably well. I was lucky that my Hillary captain and my Bernie captain were buds, so there was no nastiness between the teams. (It got ugly in Precinct 20.) When the room was jammed, both sides - I say both because poor O'Malley only had four people - both sides agreed that Team Bernie would move most of their crew to an overflow room.

Despite a long line at 7, we didn't run out of forms, we had everyone signed in by 7:25 and were aligning by 7:30. Viability was 65. Bernie was solid on five delegates and Uncommitted was never in contention with just nine of us.  Hillary was one body short.

At 7:50 I moved, which made Hillary viable.

By 8 there were three die-hard uncommitteds; we shortened the last alignment to five minutes and they scattered. I announced the delegate count as locked in, and by 8:10 400 of my 430 people were out the door. During the exodus I got Bernie Guy, Hillary Guy, and my secretary to help report results, the App worked fine.

Delegate selection took about five minutes by the time honored Put Your Hand Down To Be An Alternate. I put my hand down first.

Tangent within a side bar:

One of my favorite stories about the George McGovern campaign comes from, of course, Hunter Thompson's masterpiece Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail `72. It details a credentials fight at the 1972 convention:
Illinois had two delegations at the convention. One was Mayor Daley’s and the other was a “new politics” delegation led by Chicago alderman Billy Singer and Reverend Jesse Jackson. So before the convention could vote on a nominee, it had to decide which one of the 170 member Illinois delegations was “official.” Most people expected a 50-50 compromise—but the convention eventually voted to replace Daley’s “regulars” with the “rebel” Singer/Jackson delegation—thus alienating another Democratic Party kingpin (along with George Meany)… and saddling McGovern with the hellish task of trying to heal The Big Split in the party before he could focus on Nixon. It proved to be a fateful decision. Meany bolted the Democratic Party entirely, taking a big chunk of Organized Labor with him—and Daley stayed in a “neutral” funk until somewhere around mid-October, when he finally realized that a GOP victory in Chicago might take him down, along with McGovern/Shriver. But by then it was too late. Chicago “went Democratic,” as usual, but not by enough to carry Illinois...
By that point McGovern had lost control of his own movement, a risk Sanders still runs. But back to my point, Team Bernie, at least on a small scale, isn't making the Kick Mayor Daley Out Of The Convention mistakes. 

Even after the mass exodus, the room was still two to one Bernie. It would have been very easy to look at me, the guy who made Hillary viable, and boot my ass off the central committee. But they didn't. In fact, no one else wanted the job - I had to twist the arm of the Bernie Dude to get him to take the other slot, but he did. So we got a Unity Ticket which was a nice accident.

As I go through my credentials boxes, I see that over and over. Bernie takes the precinct, but a Hillary supporter, or a party regular who chose Bernie, in the committee slots. There was absolutely no effort at a Ron Paul-AJ Spiker style takeover. Bernie knows that, if it happens for him, he needs the whole team.

I did the projections myself, and I take full blame for that and for a couple bad precinct chairs. A couple people we though would be good got overwhelmed. Some people were slotted in out of necessity because no one else lived in the precinct.

A really easy minor repair, assuming we have anything resembling our present system in 2020: In elections we bring in workers from outside the precinct all the time. They just vote early. But in a caucus, if you do that you lose your vote- and I've seen dedicated people do that, give up their own vote to go sit and wait for no one to show up at the smallest rural precinct. Small rules change: let a temp chair from outside the precinct participate in the caucus they're chairing. You shouldn't be punished for doing the party a favor.

A couple other bad chair decisions were out of internal central committee politics. It's really hard to tell someone who's at every meeting and very eager to chair "their" precinct that they don't have the skill set. It's hard to tell pollworkers that, too. But at least you can fire the worst pollworkers. In an all volunteer organization - and everyone forgets, almost all of this is volunteer - you get what you get.

The turnout projections, though, were my bigger mistake. I have NO idea what guidance  other counties got. I got none. I DO know that when I opened the packets shead of time I found one pad of 25 voter reg forms in the Iowa City precinct 3 packet. You may have seen them live on MSNBC caucus night. That's a dorm precinct and that one pad was used up by the first 25 people in line. I added another 300 forms. We still ran out because we got 499 people.

I don't want to throw the IDP staff under the bus. They worked hard, were responsive, and did their best. The failure was strategic. They did what they were hired for - but they were not the people for the job that was needed.

What the IDP needed was a field marshal, a caucus czar: a top tier person with both election administration AND political experience. They needed Mike Mauro - and he should be at the top of the list to head the inevitable Blue Ribbon Panel. Or someone a lot like Mike Mauro, a former big county auditor or an election administrator who did some time in the political trenches in a past life.

Which of course is exactly why I volunteered for the role in my county.

I started on that job in June and I started by lining up sites.

Now comes the part when I throw people under the bus.

I heard grumbling from other counties that after the crowds of 2008, former sites were reluctant to host caucuses again. I got a few turndowns from churches - controversial to begin with in the very secular People's Republic - because "we don't want to be political," or "we turned the Republicans down last time," even though I was making the ask together with the Republican chairman.

But I understand. All it takes is one unhappy parishioner who doesn't know that the Dems and GOP are totally OK with each other on this. As private facilities they can do what they want - and several churches were gracious hosts to both parties.

However, for public facilities there's a code requirement: sites taking public funds have to provide space for free in presidential years. I'm still following up on bills that were sent in spite of that requirement... and in spite of the law people still find ways to say no.

The staffer I worked with at the Iowa City School District was at best minimally compliant with the law, in a passive aggressive way. But she refused to follow up on some key requests. We were refused access to West High because of scheduled school events. I asked, five months in advance, about rescheduling. Never got a response, and eventually I was told by some Democratic higher ups; let it go. "We've never asked schools to cancel events before."

Well, as it turned out: this year we should have.
As a direct result of being denied West High, the Johnson County Dems came under social media attack for racial insensitivity, because the alternate site the ICCSD provided was outside the precinct and 3 miles away from a minority neighborhood, and not on public transit. (The Republicans did have caucuses at West because they needed smaller rooms.) So when I'm getting called a racist on Facebook because I'm sending the Pheasant Ridge neighborhood to Borlaug Elementary, I'll defend myself with the back story: because they wouldn't move a West High choir rehearsal with five months advance notice.

I also asked in September about an early out night for after school programs, also got no response, and also got asked to drop it. We were unable to get into some sites till after 6, when people were already lining up to sign in at 5:30.

At least the ICCSD was minimally compliant. We probably could have won some lawsuits against the University of Iowa if we had enough time and hadn't been under pressure from both state parties to nail down sites.
  • The Levitt Center operates under the legal fiction that the University of Iowa Foundation is not a part of the University, and refused to let the Republicans caucus there. The land under the building belongs to the University, so probably a strong case.
  • The Theater Department simply said they were not available and refused to let us look.
  • The new Boathouse not only refused to let us look, they refused to even return my calls without getting permission from the athletic department.
  • Studio Arts claimed that since they were leasing the building (Iowa Citians know it as the old Menards) they were not bound by the law and that their lease prohibited any other use. Again, taking tax dollars, required to host.
But number one on my shit list, now and forever, is the University Lecture Committee. Was I EVER pressured hard to drop this one. But the caucuses are over, and now so is the truce.

It was absolutely boneheaded of the Lecture Committee to schedule their biggest speaker of the year, Laverne Cox, on caucus night. I was told "it was the only night she was available." To which the only appropriate answer would have and should have been, "that's the night of the caucuses, it won't work. Maybe next year."

The Lecture Committee tried to argue that by moving up the time to 5 PM, people leaving at 6:15 could still make it to the caucus on time. Maybe, in about four precincts tops, you could have made the walk. Remember the mob scene on caucus night? Try to picture yet another bunch of last second arrivals.

But even worse: at the last minute, a week before the caucuses, the lecture was cancelled. Or, more accurately, the cancellation was announced. How far in advance did they know that February 1 was a no go for Cox? I've heard tell that the Lecture Committee was holding off on the announcement in an effort to get a new date and announce it as a reschedule, not a cancellation.

So the Iowa Memorial Union main ballroom sat empty on caucus night. (The Republicans had some smaller rooms in the building, and also a site at Petersen dorm; the Dems were at MacBride and the Field House.) We sure could have used the Main Ballroom space for the Mayflower students who had to travel to CORALVILLE and cram into a church that had 1142 people for two precincts. (Another thing I was wrong on: putting Iowa City 23 five miles away from the precinct because there was no other site did not reduce turnout. Well, except for the people who got stuck in the traffic jam and never made it.)

So that's some of what went wrong. Tomorrow: What next - and one thing that went right.