Friday, January 11, 2019

Feenstra (and more?) vs. King

Well, the inimitable Steve King has finally put his foot in his mouth one too many times, and now he has a serious primary challenge coming up from state senator Randy Feenstra.

This isn't a token challenge like Cyndi Hanson ran last year, or even a half-serious effort like Rick Bertrand tried in 2016. As you can tell from the state and even national Republicans poling on, this is the real thing.

And it's the correct strategy. You can't win a GOP primary running as a moderate, and Feenstra, who represents the number one Republican district in the state senate (the Orange Free State of Sioux County)  is as conservative as they get.  He'll get the moderate's votes anyway, just for being Not Steve King.

If elected, Feenstra will have exactly the same voting record, with none of the embarrassment. He's Steve King without  the Geert Wilders retweets - and without the weakness of running 10%  behind the ticket in a general election.

That weakness is King's real crime in the eyes of Republican leaders. This challenge is not happening because it's the right thing to do. It's happening because of Democrat J.D. Scholten's near miss last year proved that King has become an under-performing liability to the rest of the party.

The GOP is worried that in a presidential year, King could actually lose the seat, and losing one vote in the US House for two years (because a Democrat would certainly lose next cycle to a non-King R) is a higher price then they are willing to pay. Without King IA04 is rock solid Safe R.

So Democrats  need to be careful what we wish for in the primary. If we want to hold the seat on a fluke for two years, cross our fingers, and see what happens in 2022 redistricting, the best scenario is a narrow King primary win. Or, better yet - a primary where King wins with under 50% because of multiple opponents (the technical term is "Clown Car Effect").

But if we just want to exchange King for an equally conservative but less offensive Republican, that may be worth crossing over. (Personally I'm opposed to crossing over in primaries, for any reason, but I seem to be one of the few any more.)

Democratic voters considering a crossover also need to think about a possible US Senate primary. If there's an interesting race developing, voters will have to choose between Beat King Now and Who Can Beat Ernst Later.

The Senate primary may also look suddenly attractive to Scholten or another northwest Iowa Democrat. If you get into the 4th District race, and King loses the primary, you just lost 10 points off your general election tally and the race is over. You also lose all the out of district and out of state money you can raise with the concise fundraising pitch "I'm running against Steve King."

This discounts the possibility of strategic voting, Democrats crossing over to stick Republicans with the weaker candidate, King. (The technical term is "ratfucking.") Very  few voters think or vote like that. They cross over to sincerely vote  for (or against) someone.

If there's a big crossover in Story County of students and professors eager to dump King, his team will get a heads up and have time to react- because of the primary being at the spring semester/summer session break, a lot of folks will have to vote early.

Closer to home for Feenstra, his state senate seat is on the presidential cycle, so it's up or out. That means an open seat primary for that job on his home turf, and the turnout spike helps him. When this seat was up in 2004, it saw general election level turnout in the Republican primary, because in Sioux County the primary is the de facto general election. Kind of like my county only opposite and more so.

But four years later, when Dave Mulder retired, Feenstra walked into the seat unopposed, and in three terms he has never had a primary OR general election opponent. In fact, he may not even have had an opponent when he was Sioux County treasurer before that. So he's somewhat untested as a candidate. You know who else was a county treasurer in that same era - a certain governor.

Feenstra briefly considered a run for state treasurer in 2009 but didn't; instead the GOP ran one Dave Jamison, who was both a county treasurer and a close "ally" of Kim Reynolds, but has had, well, a few problems of late...

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Why Romney Can Speak More Freely

A lot, maybe too much, is being made of Mitt Romney's Washington Post piece attacking Donald Trump on character:
To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.

I will support policies that I believe are in the best interest of the country and my state...
 (Which leaves him room to tsk-tsk Trump while voting for his agenda)
...and oppose those that are not. I do not intend to comment on every tweet or fault. But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.

There's a reason why Romney is able to go after Trump on his way (back) into office, instead of on his way out which is the only time most other Republican officials suddenly find fault. And that reason is not Romney's standing as the Republicans' presidential nominee once removed.

It's his current home state (he's so rich he has three), Utah.

Utah, and to a lesser extent the next-door Mormon part of south Idaho, was the only place where social conservatives rebelled against Donald Trump over character issues. Trump took only 45% in one of the most conservative states in the nation. Conservative independent Evan McMullin, a fellow Mormon and a Utah native, won 21% of the statewide vote.

It's possible that because Utah is SO red, with such a low ceiling for Democrats, that people felt comfortable with a protest vote. If a third of Republicans had defected to a third party in South Carolina, Louisiana, or Mississippi, Hillary Clinton could have relied on a strong black Democratic base in those states and squeaked by with 40% plurality wins. You can kind of see why Republicans stayed in line there.

But that doesn't explain Tennessee, where the Democratic base is smaller with Clinton at 35%. That's beyond reach and safe enough that more Republicans who were truly disturbed by Trump's style and behavior could have safely bolted. Yet Trump was at 61% there, with Gary Johnson just short of 3%. Alabama (Trump 62, Clinton 34) is similar, though Roy Moore has since proved that even Alabama has its limits.

It also doesn't explain the difference between Utah and a couple of other similar red states with similar racial demographics and similar mid-sized cities -  but different religious demographics.
Oklahoma is the clearest example. Hillary Clinton won 29% in Oklahoma, about the same as her 27 in Utah. Yet in Oklahoma, predominantly Southern Baptist, Trump was at 65%.

Nebraska is mixed Catholic and mainline Protestant. It's a less clear example because of their congressional district elector system, but the state as a whole was uncompetitive. Hillary was only at 33, but Trump was still at 59.

The big trade-off - ignoring "grab them by the pussy" in exchange for the judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade - kept social conservative Republicans in the Republican column in most of the country. The only place you see defection at the double digit level is Utah. And that has to be more than just "McMullin is from here" or "it's safe to vote third party in Utah." I don't know exactly what, but that seems to be something uniquely and specifically Mormon.

What all this means is that a substantial part, at least a third, of the Utah Republican base is legitimately Never Trump. So unlike most Trump critics within the GOP, Mitt Romney is not vulnerable to a challenge for re-nomination, which is a bigger threat to most red state Republicans than losing to a Democrat. And that, more than any residual stature from his presidential campaign, is why he is more free to go after Trump than any other Republican with aspirations toward re-election.

That's assuming he would even want to run again in 2024 at age 77. If this Senate term is a one-and-done career valedictory and Romney is an instant lame duck 🦆 he may feel even more free to rhetorically challenge Trump. This will probably not, however, affect his actual voting record.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

House 55 a failure of strategy as much as law

The battle for House District 55 is now de facto over, with the courts kicking the question of 29 ballots that were barcoded rather than stamp-canceling postmarked back to the Republican-controlled Iowa House, which will undoubtedly refuse to open the ballots and will rule incumbent Mike Bergan a nine vote winner over Democrat Kayla Koether.

Leave aside the court's failure to define what legally constitutes an "intelligent barcode" or a "postmark." That issue is moot anyway. The Legislature will almost certainly eliminate the postmark issue by saying ballots must arrive before the polls close - which will be clear, but which will count fewer votes.

If so, they should make up for that lost time on the front end and allow auditors to mail domestic ballots 45 days out, which is what overseas and military voters get, or even the 40 days we had till this year. More time means more problems solved. But that's a different issue.

The issue I am concerned about is tactical, not legal.

Yes, I want to #CountEveryVote. But this needs to be said: Relying on vote by mail cost Koether and the Iowa Democratic Party the election. 

For at least the last ten cycles IDP has bullied voters toward mailed ballots, no matter what. You're a Bad Democrat if you don't fill out your ABR - even if you would be better served by a satellite site or a courthouse vote, even if you want to join the opening day March To The Polls, even if you are 100% reliable on Election Day - even if you work in an auditor's office!

I am never going to fill out an ABR. Don't even ask.  I have a convenient polling place three feet in front of my desk. Granted, most voters don't work in a courthouse, but even leaving that aside, I would never trust something as critical as a ballot to the Postal Service. They don't have the resources to do the quality of work they did 20 years ago. I have one bill without online payment available, and I don't even like sending that $25 to Von Maur in the mail.

(Why can't we vote online? Or, if you insist on voting by mail, why can't we do the whole request process online without requiring an original paper copy as follow-up?)

Vote by mail has its place and its uses but it is far less reliable than other methods of voting. But IDP pushes a one-size-fits-all program that emphasizes mail over all other voting methods.

1000 people at satellite sites or the auditor's office is 1000 votes, or maybe 995 because mistakes still happen. But 1000 ABRs is 900 votes and 100 problems - ballots lost in the mail or thrown away. People not understanding.  People filling forms out just to make the volunteer go away, either never intending to vote at all or intending all along to go to the polls, where they may now have to do a provisional ballot because of that ABR.

Voters are not even informed that satellite voting and the auditor's office are options - because staffers want to make their vote by mail quota. If you push a voter to the office or a satellite, that doesn't count toward your quota. And don't pretend there isn't a quota. In the 2004 cycle I heard stories of staffers having their friends fill out duplicate, triplicate, quadruplicate ABRs to boost their numbers. (They still only got one ballot, but the unit of measure was requests.)

I attended trainings last summer to help teach doorknockers. They were TOLD, first thing, they HAD to fill out an ABR. When I brought up satellites and office votes I was barely acknowledged. Volunteers were also told they could not leave a blank request form with a voter. At that point I undercut the staffer and corrected that misinformation.

None of this is criticism of the staffers - it's criticism of the plan.

Well, congrats. Those 29 ABRs in Winneshiek County counted toward some staffer's quota. But they didn't count when it mattered. How many of these 29 (non) voters were right in town in Decorah and could have been asked to make a quick stop at the courthouse? How many could have been steered to the satellite site at the Luther student union? How many of these (non) voters were in populations actually best served with a mailed ballot - rural, mobility challenged, or out of town? These are not hypothetical questions; I'd like numbers.

It's way past time for the state party to back off on shoving vote by mail down everyone's throats, adapt plans to local needs and local political culture, and fully inform voters of all voting options.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Elected Official Factoids

With Endless Election Season finally over following Royceann Porter's election to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, we have a more or less final roster of the elected officials who will represent Johnson County in the coming year.

A total of 219 elected officials represent Johnson County voters at all levels of government, from Donald Trump to dogcatcher (the official title is "Canine Control Commissioner"). That's not counting school boards for districts that are mostly in other counties. The county has a dozen school districts but only four are mostly in our county - one more complication of the new combined city-school election we will see next November.

Just kidding about Canine Control Commissioner (if we did elect dogg catchers there could only be one choice), but 84 of these officials are township officers - 21 clerks and 63 trustees who deal with fire and cemetery budgets and fence disputes in the rural area. These seats are rarely contested and sometimes decided by write-ins when no one files. Four of these township seats are currently vacant, though two appointments have been decided but not yet finalized (the incumbents who tried not to run are getting re-appointed anyway). I'm including those two people in the stats below.

The township officials are on average older and more male than other officials. We have a big gender gap - 70 of the 219 elected officials are women and 147 men. When the township offices are excluded, the gender balance gets much closer - 55 women and 80 men. Several governmental bodies are female majority, most notably the four women, one man Board of Supervisors.

Other types of diversity are harder to document and since I don't want to leave anyone out I won't go too far down that road. To the best of my knowledge we have four African Americans in office - Porter,  Iowa City council members Bruce Teague and Mazahir Salih, and Iowa City school board member Ruthina Malone.

30 of the 219 offices are elected on a partisan basis, and of those 30 there are 21 Democrats, including every seat that is controlled solely by Johnson County voters. Though we are the People's Republic, we have 51 registered Republicans representing Johnson County voters, from Trump to the trustees. These are either partisan officials at the state or federal level where other counties have outvoted us, or locals in officially nonpartisan office.(Township offices were partisan until 2006.)

135 of the 219 officials are registered Democrats, and 31 are registered no party. None are registered with third parties, though we have had a Green school board member and a Libertarian mayor in recent years.

The median age elected official is Kathy Swenka of the Clear Creek Amana school board, by coincidence celebrating her 58th birthday today. Excluding the township officials makes Porter our median age official; she turned 53 last week.

Seven of our elected officials are under the constitutional minimum of 35 to be elected president. The only one under 30 is new state senator Zach Wahls, who at 27 is the youngest by nearly four years. Tyler Baird of the Lone Tree city council, at 31, is next youngest.

Our oldest elected official is Union Township trustee Donald Johnson, who turns 90 next week. At 85, Chuck Grassley is next. Nine officials are over 80, all township officials except Grassley and Dottie Maher of the University Heights city council.

Grassley is also the official who has represented Johnson County the longest. Grassley has held public office since 1958, serving first in the legislature and then the US House, but he did not have Johnson County voters till his first Senate win in 1980. At least a dozen officials have served continuously since before the turn of the century; my data on first election dates for township officers is incomplete.
Among strictly local offices, the official with the longest service is a matter of definition. Jim Bartels has been on the Tiffin city council continuously since 1989. Tom Gill of the Coralville city council won his first term in 1987, but voluntarily took two years off at the turn of the century.
However you define the new champ, the old leader was Bob Dvorsky. He was continuously in office from his first Coralville city council win in 1979 until his retirement from the state senate this year, save for a gap of a few days in 1994 when he resigned from the state house  to run in a state senate special election. That allowed the two special elections to be combined. To my knowledge he's the only legislator who has ever done that and I can't repeat the story enough.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Porter's win a sign of long term change in Johnson County

Johnson County's endless election season, which went into overtime after the sudden death of Supervisor Kurt Friese on October 26, finally ended Tuesday with Democrat Royceann Porter's barrier-breaking win over Republican Phil Hemingway.

The December 18 election wraps up a run of four large elections in four months, with the November 6 general election and a September-October pair of Iowa City council elections in which Bruce Teague replaced Kingsley Botchway. It's the busiest run of elections since 1993, when we had a cluster of six in seven months: a school bond in May, a June-July pair in Iowa City to replace a city council member, and the usual fall run of September school, October city primary, and November city election. (The school election goes away next year and gets combined with the November city election.)

I worked in the auditor's office back in the Grunge Era, though not in elections. I was a part time minute taker, and I learned far more about politics in two years of meetings than I did in five years getting a political science degree (the extra year was spent drinking). I learned that zoning fights were the nastiest because that's where the money is.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors was a rural dominated body back then, led by the traditional part-time officials who were mainly farmers. They only met twice a week, and some members were rarely in the building except for meetings.

That was just... how it had always been. Sure, we had newcomer Joe Bolkcom, the first Iowa City progressive ever elected to the board, but he was a skunk at the picnic and had trouble even getting his motions seconded. There was a sense that, despite all their other functions affecting the whole county, the Board of Supervisors "belonged" to the rural voters.

As we can tell from the Hemingway campaign's rhetoric this election, some people still think so. More than once I heard from voters: "city people shouldn't be allowed to vote for supervisor."

We had our ugliest special election ever in that era. A supervisor resigned out of the blue and the appointment committee named Don Sehr, a gruff but likeable big old farmer from Sharon Center who had served three board terms in the 70s and 80s. The liberals petitioned for an election and Sehr lost the nomination at the Democratic convention to Pat Gilroy, a longtime party activist and one of my many mentors who is sadly no longer with us.

Sehr bolted the party and ran as an independent, and won convincingly. The mood was so nasty that one of his supporters came to the Gilroy "victory" party to laugh at us.

Sehr won that 1994 special election with 4291 votes to Gilroy's 2571, and that was one of the key elections in developing one of my formulas for understanding Johnson County politics. As I wrote before Porter's election:
There is a "Farm Vote" constituency in Johnson County. Not all rural voters are part of it, and  it includes some old timers in town, but "Farm Vote" is the best shorthand label I have.  These voters will not support a progressive candidate for supervisor - that office in particular more than others.

It's made up of Democrats who will back a Tom Harkin or a Tom Miller, but maybe not a Hillary Clinton or a Bruce Braley. It's made up of sophisticated local Republicans more motivated by business than ideology. It's made up of independents who care more about who is in the courthouse than in the White House.
That Farm Vote has been consistently 3000 to 4000 votes, in presidential elections and in low turnout specials, all the way back to at least 1992 .

The "Farm Vote"

Election Measure Total
1992 general Duffy minus Bolkcom 3802
1994 special Sehr total (win) 4291
2000 general Neuzil minus Thompson 3376
2000 general Smalley minus Brown 3761
2004 general Harney minus Sullivan 4435
2008 general Harney minus Sullivan 4273
2010 special Cardella total (loss) 3764
2012 general Neuzil minus Sullivan 2788
2013 special Etheredge total (win) 3142
2018 general Heiden minus Rettig 3086

Tuesday's election fell right into that pattern. Hemingway won 4167 votes. He got the Farm Vote. He got EXACTLY the Farm Vote. In 1994, when we had just 59,000 registered voters in the county, that was a win number.

But now we have 97,000 registered voters, and that growth has been almost entirely in the cities and not in the Farm Vote. Porter won 5444, twice what Gilroy earned so long ago.

Our results for this election almost exactly - turnout within 100 votes and similar shares of the vote - paralleled the January 2010 special election in which Democrat Janelle Rettig, who had been appointed in October 2009, defeated Republican Lori Cardella, who had led a petition drive to force the election. (Cardella's number is slightly lower than Hemingway's because a third candidate took 332 votes, mostly from her.)

That election was a barrier breaker, as Rettig became the first out LGBT supervisor elected in the state. Porter breaks a barrier, too, as Johnson County's first black countywide office holder.

There have been African Americans in Iowa City office recently - current council member Mazahir Salih, former council member Kingsley Botchway, and former mayor Ross Wilburn. We've also had school board members LaTasha DeLoach and Ruthina Malone.Those jobs are non-partisan (though all those people are Democrats). You have to go back to state representative William Hargrave in the early 1970s to find a black Johnson County Democrat in a partisan office.

That's a very big thing for the Johnson County Democrats. At the nominating convention, a friend of Porter's who came along for personal support asked me, "where are all the black delegates at?" Having nominated, campaigned hard for, and elected Porter, the county party is now walking the walk when it comes to visible support.  Barack Obama is one thing, but that thing is over and this thing is here and now and local, and Porter's deep roots in the local African American community will further strengthen the ties.

There is still a lot of work to do in Johnson County on race; after the one forum, we heard comments about Hemingway "sounding better" and being more "articulate."  But I think Porter's seat at the Big Table will help shift those perceptions of what a leader in Johnson County looks and sounds like, and I hope our next convention we will be less monochromatic.

Adding to the diversity, Johnson County may have the most female county board in the state with four women - Porter, Rettig, Lisa Green-Douglass and Pat Heiden - and one token male, Rod Sullivan. Add in recorder Kim Painter and county attorney Janet Lyness and that's six women to four men in the courthouse.

The Democrats did not take this win for granted. The memory of the March 2013 special election, in which Republican John Etheredge upset Democrat Terry Dahms, is still fresh. Everything that could go wrong in that election did go wrong, including self inflicted wounds - a split other than the rural-urban split that led some "progessives" to throw Dahms under the bus. There were no such splits this time, though a few people were unusually quiet.  (Hemingway has some ties to some left Democrats through the failed fight to keep old Hoover Elementary School open.)

Porter comes out of the Teamsters and this is another big win for local labor, which has been on a winning steak of late.

There is, however, a cloud to this silver lining.

Porter carried the election day vote in Iowa City and University Heights by two to one, 67-33%, winning every urban area precinct except North Liberty 6 (which includes rural Madison Township voters) and, losing by one vote, Coralville 2. But Hemingway won every rural precinct and led in the rural part of the county by a whopping 73-26.

Zoom in on the precincts and you see Porter carrying Iowa City 21 (the Goosetown part of the north side) with 88% and Hemingway winning Washington Township (Frytown and rural Kalona) with 95%. We saw these kinds of differences in the general election results, and back in the Rettig-Cardella election, but not nearly this extremely exaggerated.

So there is a lot of rural work to do. Johnson County has office holders who can bridge this gap. Senator Kevin Kinney is most prominent, but a couple of our small town mayors, Christopher Taylor of Swisher (who is also county Democratic chair) and Lone Tree's Jonathan Green (who served a term on the state central committee) are also noteworthy.

Unfortunately, Republican affiliation is becoming more and more a part of rural cultural identity - nationally, in Iowa, and even in the People's Republic. Gigabytes have been posted trying to "solve" that issue, and I don't know if it IS solvable.

There's certain to be some kind of backlash in rural Johnson County to Porter's win. There has been a years long simmering effort by Republicans to force supervisor districts, but the rhetoric has shifted, perhaps because of this post where I show the math.

A district map would not produce the Board that the Farm Vote would see as "fair and representative," which would be a farmer from Solon, a farmer from Oxford, a farmer from Sharon Center, a farmer from Lone Tree, and one token liberal from In Town.

We used to have boards like that, and part of the rural resentment is that they no longer have that kind of over-representation. Rural Johnson County is 16% of the registered voters, and they have 20% of the supervisors in Lisa Green-Douglass. We also have one supervisor, Sullivan, who grew up on a family farm and carries that experience whatever his current residence is.

A district plan would not even produce the map Linn County had until this year with a "donut" rural district surrounding the cities. A district plan in Johnson would produce three Iowa City districts, a Coralville seat, and a district that would be just over half North Liberty, and would be more likely to shut out rural representation than increase it.

Instead, the backlash move will probably be for a reduction in seats from five to three. The Farm Vote may have concluded that they can't control or win a seat, but at least, they think, they can try to force two liberal Democrats out of a job, and if they're lucky it might be the black woman and the lesbian.

But they have to win an election to make that happen, and Johnson County urban voters are much much more tuned in to such gaming-the-rules shenanigans and local inside baseball  issues than they used to be. At the time of the March 2013 loss I wrote:
Johnson County has a lot of lefties who will call their legislators about an amendment to a bill that won't even get out of the funnel, rather than calling their neighbors to get out and vote in a local election. We have a lot of ivory tower types who are above gauche townie things like a zoning fight, which is why Iowa City's council had been business conservative dominated all my 20+ years here.
Those days are over. The Iowa City council, after decades of Chamber of Commerce control, flipped in 2015 with the sweep of all four seats on the ballot by the "Core Four" progressives. Iowa City business conservatives have learned that they will never again elect an unreconstructed townie good old boy like Terry Dickens or Ernie Lehman, and that to win they have to appeal to at least some liberals.

Tuesday's election may have been the same watershed moment in county politics. Hemingway had a lot of advantages - name ID from his general election and school board runs and a low turnout off-cycle election a week before Christmas that gave his Farm Vote base an edge. But he fell 1300 votes short as city turnout swamped that constant, steady, stagnant, finite 4000 person Farm Vote.

The rurals punched above their weight - but there are just a lot more voters in town than in the country. If the shrinking share of the county vote that is rural wants a seat at the table, they need to build a coalition and find a candidate who also appeals to the much larger base of voters in Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty.

And the old-fashioned philosophy that the county supervisors should do nothing except plow and grade the roads and rubber-stamp rezonings does not appeal to voters in Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Supervisor Special And The "Farm Vote"

The field is set in the sprint to the December 18 supervisor special election as Democrat Royceann Porter faces off against Phil Hemingway, the Republican who just lost the general election to Pat Heiden and Janelle Rettig.

The campaign's biggest controversy to date, though, has come from former Democratic supervisor Pat Harney, who tried for the nomination at the November 20 Democratic convention only to lose to Porter 109-42.

It was clear even before November 20 that there was no base in that convention, made up of people who were motivated by governor candidates, party offices, and platform planks to go out to last February's caucuses in a blizzard, for a rural moderate candidate. But the winner still has to carry the election itself, and Johnson County Dems still have not quite recovered from the shock defeat in the March 2013 special election.

In his speeches to the convention, Harney argued that rural voters felt neglected and would not support another Iowa City progressive candidate. Porter's race wasn't QUITE mentioned (she would be our first black supervisor) but it was certainly a strong subtext.

Left unasked in a brief convention Q & A was the question of whether the losing candidate would back the winner. And in the last few days, remarks have surfaced on line and on radio that Harney has a Hemingway sign on his property (a prominent spot on Highway 1). When asked by the Press-Citizen, Harney said the sign was not his but declined to say who he would vote for.

I am disappointed in Pat and I am in no way defending him for not clearly and immediately endorsing Porter. But Harney was very successful in winning elections in this county for a very long time - four contested primaries and four general elections, the convention defeat is his only loss - and in his unfortunate and misdirected convention speech he made a point.

There is a "Farm Vote" constituency in Johnson County. Not all rural voters are part of it, and  it includes some old timers in town, but "Farm Vote" is the best shorthand label I have.  These voters will not support a progressive candidate for supervisor - that office in particular more than others.

It's made up of Democrats who will back a Tom Harkin or a Tom Miller, but maybe not a Hillary Clinton or a Bruce Braley. It's made up of sophisticated local Republicans more motivated by business than ideology. It's made up of independents who care more about who is in the courthouse than in the White House.

This vote was buried (but, as you'll see, still measurable) in the high general election turnout last month, and Hemingway lost badly. But now Democrats need to outnumber them in a more challenging situation, without months of buildup, without statewide and national attention to voting, with people busy or out of town.

The Farm Vote has a sense that the Board of Supervisors should "belong" to them and people like them, because for more than a century it did, in the same way that the Iowa City council "belonged" to the Chamber of Commerce for decades until the Core Four win in 2015. There wasn't a single urban progressive supervisor until Joe Bolkcom in 1992, and the Board didn't get a solid liberal majority until after the 2014 election.

The Farm Vote is well organized year round, election season or not, though a natural social network of churches and clubs and coffee drinking sessions. The word gets through their grapevines. These people WILL vote and they will NOT vote for Royceann Porter.

If you look back at supervisor elections over the past 25 years you see a very strong pattern of how big the Farm Vote is. You can go back to Harney's margin over Rod Sullivan in the 2004 general, you can go back as far as Charlie Duffy's margin over Bolkcom in the 1992 general election (those were vote for three contests), and it's almost the same. 

The "Farm Vote"

Election Measure Total
1992 general Duffy minus Bolkcom 3802
1994 special Sehr total (win) 4291
2000 general Neuzil minus Thompson 3376
2000 general Smalley minus Brown 3761
2004 general Harney minus Sullivan 4435
2008 general Harney minus Sullivan 4273
2010 special Cardella total (loss) 3764
2012 general Neuzil minus Sullivan 2788
2013 special Etheredge total (win) 3142
2018 general Heiden minus Rettig 3086

You can even go back to which two Democrats and one Republican they were backing in the 2000 general election and which one Democrat and one dropped-out-but-still-on-the-ballot  Republican they were not - and the two measures almost exactly line up which is some pretty sophisticated voting behavior.

It doesn't matter whether the candidate was personally conservative or rural (Pat Heiden is neither), but it's a measure of perception and of who this constituency was supporting and opposing.

As you see, it's also almost exactly the same number of people in presidential elections and in low turnout specials, whether the stakes are victory itself or just bragging rights. It's a remarkably consistent pattern across 25 years of elections.

Note that Cardella got more votes in her losing race than Etheredge got in his win. Or, put another way, the regular Democrats outnumbered the Farm Vote in January 2010 and did not in March 2013. I'm confident Porter and the Democrats can outnumber the Farm Vote - but we need to work, and now you know just what needs to happen.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Double The Fun And The White Album

Today's an important anniversary. Most Americans, of course, will think of 1963. Though technically I am considered a "boomer" based on my December 1963 birth, I've always believed you aren't a Real boomer unless you remember where you were for JFK.

But that's not the anniversary I'm talking about.

Nor am I talking about the OTHER event of November 22, 1963 - the British release of With The Beatles, which was more or less turned into the American MEET The Beatles.

No, I'm here for the other Beatle release, five years later: Today is the 50th anniversary of the White Album.

That anniversary was celebrated with a deluxe reissue full of demos and alternate takes, AND by a return to the top ten for the first time since it's original release. I had hoped it would re-enter the charts at number nine, number nine, number nine. But it did just a little better at number six.

I first came to know the White Album as I turned 17, in the terrible weeks after John Lennon's murder. Sure made "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" more disturbing.  It had other sinister associations at the time thanks to a certain cult leader, which led U2 to lead off their 1988 cover of "Helter Skelter" with "this is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, we're stealin' it back."  But there's no true Evil in the grooves, and the White Album has triumphantly outlived that and come down to us as a portrait of a band at the peak of its powers.

The conventional wisdom has long been that the White Album is "the sound of the Beatles breaking up" (they are wrong; that would be "Let It Be") and the very deliberate rhetoric of this reissue is to revise this history and present a portrait of the group working together. It's loaded up with friendly and playful interaction highlighted in the famous "Esher demos." Often bootlegged but heard here in near-studio quality, are basically Beatles Unplugged, hanging out at George's house and just playing for each other, and oh yeah the material is the Freakin' White Album.

But my favorite so far is an actual studio track, a ten minute version of "Revolution 1," the slow, non-single version that starts side four of the original release. It's the main take, without the horns and the shooby-doo-wops that were overdubbed later - and it goes on longer. And the part after the original record fades out is, as you recognize in fragments, what eventually turns into the core of "Revolution 9," the sound collage that many people rate as the Beatles worst track. (They are wrong; that would be "Run For Your Life.") Number 9 makes a whole lot more sense after you hear the whole take of Number One.

At 107 tracks and 5 hours and 46 minutes, the full version of the expanded White Album is a real time commitment - I still haven't finished, and I've been known to go through all 2 1/2 hours the Clash's entire Sandinista triple album in one sitting. Yes, even Side Six.

In an era where even downloads are old fashioned and streaming is the main tool of music distribution, time constraints seem quaint, especially the roughly 20 minute programme of a vinyl album side. But that's how the White Album was originally heard, that's how I formed my music listening experience in the 1970s and 80s, and that sense of the appropriate length of a musical selection still colors my brain. And those constraints - the 40 minute LP, the 80 minute CD, the 90 minute homegrown cassette mix tape - shape the art too. Decisions on what to keep and what to shelve got made based on those formats, and Stevie Nicks is STILL mad that time constraints kept "Silver Springs" off Rumours and made it a B-side instead.

Even by the standards of a vinyl era double album, the original White Album is long, long, long (see what I did there) at 93 minutes and 43 seconds. I can't find another "classic" major artist vinyl era studio double LP that's within ten minutes of the White Album. In fact, it's only ten minutes shorter than the TRIPLE All Things Must Pass and the double plus EP Songs In The Key Of Life - and the Beatles put out a seven minute single at the same time.

You may know it.

Blonde On Blonde, Electric Ladyland, Tommy, Layla (sorry George but that's a better Patti Boyd record than "Something"), Exile On Main Street, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Tusk, London Calling, 1999, Zen Arcade, Double Nickels on the Dime, Daydream Nation - all those albums fit on a single 80 minute CD, not that I would ever burn them onto CDs. That would mean 20 minutes or less per side of vinyl.

There was some criticism when Prince's Sign 'O' The Times came out in `87, just as vinyl was fading and CDs were growing, that it was just barely too long for one CD and was sold and priced as a double. It's RIGHT on the line at 79:58 and could have been trimmed to fit with nobody but Prince noticing.

Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti is 82:39 but a half hour of that is outtakes from their previous three LPs. Drop one song and you fit, and you make the very short 1982 odds and sods release Coda one song less skimpy.

Others of note: Quadrophenia (81:33), The Wall (80:54 that could have been fit under 80 through edits to sound effects alone), Elton John's 1976 Blue Moves at 84:47 with a LONG instrumental intro to the first track, and The River at 83:38 with a couple filler tracks. That's still just 21 minutes per LP side.

Even the one song per side Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes is only 81:14, and the interminable early Chicago albums clock in under 80.

After spending way too much time looking, the only studio double I can find longer than the White Album is Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything? at 96:57, nearly 24:30 per side.

How much is too much? That question has surrounded the White Album for half a century now. It's long been a parlour game among Beatle fans to list a single LP White Album, as producer George Martin begged them to do.

Paul disagrees.

There is NO too much. I wouldn't trade away a moment. Not a single "hold that line! block that kick!" in minute eight of Number Nine, not the syrupy strings of "Good Night" (but the unplugged version on this set with John, Paul and George on harmonies is gorgeous), not "Piggies" (why do people hate "Piggies"?), not Ringo's first goofy attempt at songwriting, not "Why Don't We Do It In The Road," none of it.

Except MAYBE "Honey Pie."

 And this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for a six hour White Album - and a few days off to hear it.

Monday, November 19, 2018

2018 General Election Number Cruncher

Two weeks ago I left my office at a relatively early 11:20 PM and headed a few blocks to what, based on everything I had seen all day, I expected would be a victory party.

As I arrived I saw flocks of people leaving, looking like the cat had just died, and one of the first filled me in that they had just called the governor's race for Reynolds.

It's taken me a couple weeks to absorb that, to catch up on the mental pile of election cleanup work confronting me in what is now just 40 hours of work a week, and to absorb the local numbers. And as I look at the Johnson County numbers, I see a landscape with little relief, a monochrome map of dark blue and darker blue.

Johnson County could not have done more. We got Obama-level turnout and Obama percentages. I say this not to brag, but to acknowledge that our best in the People's Republic is not enough to win the state. It is a necessary condition, yes, and we have to do it again each and every time, but we have to do something else somewhere else.

But as I look at my local numbers, a landslide this deep inundates any minor differences, and the partisanship of a general election masks subtle local trends.

The biggest trend to note is turnout.

I had estimated (this is literally my job) about 58,000 total voters - 30,000 early and 28,000 on Election Day. That would have been an incremental increase from our old "real" record of 52,959 in 2014. (2010 was technically bigger at 53,855 but that was with 2500 undervotes for governor and a weird turnout spike on campus caused by a bar age admission issue.)

We had seen the increase coming during early voting, which ended up 4000 over my prediction, and ordered more ballots from the printer. Almost immediately on Election Day it became clear we would need them. By the 11 AM turnout update we decided to ship out everything we had. Campus still lagged, but they kicked in before the 3 PM update. We had to print a few extra in-house for one of the dorm precincts but otherwise we were fine.

Turnout ended up at 68,262, nearly 15,000 above the record and closer to the presidential record than to the old midterm record. Like I said: Obama turnout.

And the Democrats got Obama shares of the vote.

Better, in fact: Barack topped out at 69.9% in 2008. This year, Dave Loebsack led the Democratic ticket in the "seriously" contested races at 72.4%, a notch above Fred Hubbell's 71.6 and just below treasurer Mike Fitzgerald's 73.3 over token Republican, um, ... (I had to look) Jeremy Davis. (Tom Miller won 84% in a race with a Libertarian and no Republican.) With his TV name ID, State Auditor-elect Rob Sand ran just a little bit better than the other down-ballot challengers; there was very little gap between Tim Gannon and Diedre DeJear.

By coincidence the Johnson County vote split almost exactly between early voting (34,119) and election day (34,143), for the closest race of the election. That makes comparing numbers easy. And almost race by race, the early vote numbers were 15 to 16% better for Democrats than the Election Day tallies. So many Democrats voted early that there were a disproportionate share of Republicans left yet to vote on Election Day. Still, Hubbell's 64% of the Johnson County Election-Day-Only vote was far better than he did in any other county, and his 79% on the absentees approaches Kim Jong Un levels.

Johnson County voters had their eyes on the prize and were in no mood to protest-vote. The write in vote nearly vanished in 2018, dropping from 964 (1.25%) in the presidential to just 24 votes for governor.
Voters exercised their write-ins on an obscure back of the ballot race for a two year short term on the Soil and Water commission, where no candidate filed. 3319 voters cast write-ins with the winner, appointed incumbent Bonnie Riggan, tallying just 93.

The back story on that is Soil and Water had two separate contests: two full four year terms and the two year term. WHY state law doesn't just have everybody run in the same race and give the third place person the short term, I don't know.

The language on the paperwork is non-intuitive and asks if the candidate is seeking "to fill a vacancy." EVERY appointee gets this wrong - they think "the seat isn't vacant - I'm in it." Some township people got it wrong, too. But township officials only need to re-do an affidavit. Soil and Water commissioners need signatures.

So on the day before the deadline, all three incumbents filed for the two full terms. The next day, the deadline passed and no one had filed for the short term. Rather than run against her colleagues, Riggan withdrew to run as a write in for the short term.

But the blank line on the ballot caused much electoral amusement. Everyone and their cousin thought it would be cute to get their friends to vote for them. There were at least three social media campaigns going on. And us election workers couldn't explain any of this to voters, who usually only asked after they had their ballots, because explaining the story pretty much says, vote for Bonnie.

The overall non-two party vote fell from 7.6% for president in `16 to just 1.8% for governor this year. If you thought Gary Siegwarth of the "Clean Water Party" would be a refuge for Hubbell-hating lefties, you were wrong as he scored just 0.4%.

So the bulk of the third party vote (1.35%) went to Libertarian Jake Porter, taking a big drop from the 3.6% won by 2016 presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Porter's statewide 1.6% means the LP loses the full party status it craved for decades after just two years, the same fate that befell the Greens in 2002. And it wasn't just a top of the ticket thing - the LP was under 3% in all of the D vs R vs L contests (typically third parties do better in down ballot races that some voters see as less "important.")

The third party contender I was worried about was Daniel Clark, a former Bernie Sanders national delegate who defected to Jill Stein and who was running as an  independent against Dave Loebsack.

There was pro-Clark paid Facebook advertising claiming to be from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA says it wasn't really them), and the far left has always had a chip on its shoulder about Loebsack. My theory has always been: Since he beat the last anti-war Republican, Jim Leach, the left expected Loebsack to be at the left edge of the party - today we would say "Bernie" or "Alexandria," but in the vernacular of 2006 it was "Kucinich."

I worried that, because of Loebsack's history of big Johnson County wins, disgruntled lefties unhappy about a Hubbell-led ticket but eager to defeat Kim Reynolds would use their protest votes against the supposedly "safe" congressman. But the mood was to punish Republicans for Trump, and that meant voting for Democrats. Clark fizzled at just 0.7% - enough to swing some races, but not enough here. What's funnier is the 1.7% won by Libertarian nominee Mark Strauss, who apparently did not get the memo that "Republican" Christopher Peters is a small l libertarian who used to be a big L Libertarian.

Loebsack and Hubbell had near-identical totals in Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty. They were in the 80s in many Iowa City precincts and Hubbell topped out at 90 in precinct 18.The congressman ran about 500 votes and 3% better in the rest of the county, allowing him to carry Jefferson East and Cedar Township where Hubbell didn't. Both lost the county's two historically Republican townships, Sharon and Washington.

Two places that turned around a bit were Oxford and Lone Tree. Both swung heavily to Trump, but Hubbell took 53 and 54%. Loebsack was in the upper 50s and low 60s, same as 2016, so the swing in the presidential may have been about that race and those two candidates.

Our only top tier legislative race was in Senate 39 where Democratic incumbent Kevin Kinney easily dispatched Republican Heather Hora. Kinney rolled up a 68-32 margin in fast growing North Liberty and Tiffin, and only narrowly lost Jefferson East, Sharon, and Washington. The negative TV ads that tried to paint Kinney as, in effect, a Johnson County liberal backfired due to Kinney's popularity and persona. It's hard to call an ex-deputy sheriff soft on crime.

Liberal hopes were high for Jodi Clemens, challenging Bobby Kaufmann in House 73. But Clemens only carried the Johnson County part of the district 54-46, not enough to overcome Kaufmann's margins in Cedar County and in heavily Republican Wilton in Muscatine County.

This district has tormented local Democrats for close to 20 years, since the 2001 map, as it looks so good on paper but is so loyal to Kaufmanns pere and fils.

Clemens carried the Johnson County early vote two to one but lost election day 55-45, and this mostly rural part of the county saw a higher share of election day voters than the city precincts did. She topped 60% in the small piece of Iowa City in the district and in Scott Township, a technically "rural" precinct that is trailer court dominated. But Clemens only narrowly carried Solon and lost the surrounding townships.

This race is an object lesson in how a purist stance on campaign finance reform functions as unilateral disarmament. Clemens had a firm policy of individual donations only (though she did accept money from county parties). That got her crossed off all the labor lists, the women's lists, the environmental lists, and, if she was ever in consideration, off the state party's target list.

The House 73 northeast corner shares Senate District 37 with Coralville and far west Iowa City. After a solid win in a serious primary, Zach Wahls had a near walkover in the general , defeating Libertarian Carl Krambeck 82-17% in Johnson County. Wahls was in the 70s in the rural areas and in the 80s in town.

Wahls spent much of the cycle helping other candidates. He's raised leadership-level money before even taking office and with Hubbell's loss he immediately becomes one of the most prominent new faces in the Capitol. The RAYGUN t-shirt is no doubt coming soon. The national publicity just keeps happening, too:

Libertarian Krambeck did almost as well as Joe Bolkcom's Republican challenger, Pat Wronkiewicz, in Senate 43 (most of Iowa City). Bolkcom crushed his first ever GOP opponent 79-20%. "Wronk" did best, ballpark of 30%, in the two dorm precincts, 3 and 5, where there was at least some awareness that he was a student, and in precinct 24 in Windsor Ridge which is just a smidge less blue than the rest of town. (Same is true of precinct 8 but that's in Wahls' district.) The Republican reached 35% in Hills, which counter-trends in local school elections but is reliably blue in general elections.

The one courthouse race was for the Board of Supervisors and the two Democrats beat the one Republican. Pat Heiden and Janelle Rettig took near-identical totals in Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty, with some variation by precinct and with Heiden slightly ahead.

I noticed a trend I have never seen before: the two Democrats rotated names as the law requires and there was a noticeable advantage across the Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty precincts for the person listed first. It was almost as if a lot of the new voters in this high turnout election were unaware they could vote for two. The flip-flopping roughly balanced out, though.

In the remainder of the county, though, Rettig ran 2000 votes behind Heiden and 352 votes behind Republican Phil Hemingway, who is running in the December 18 election to replace the late Kurt Friese. He'll likely face the winner (and maybe the loser?) of Tuesday night's Democratic nominating convention; the GOP meets Saturday to presumably nominate Hemingway.

No surprise that Phil's strongest showings were in Sharon and Washington in the southwest, and in Cedar Township in the red-trending northeast corner. He also narrowly carried Swisher and Sheyville, and won Cosgrove by one vote over Heiden. Rettig was not, however, shut out in the rurals, carrying Hills.

With only one Republican in a vote for two race, the undervote was high.  The average voter cast just 1.5 votes in the supervisor race. That means on average half the voters skipped an oval - probably many more when you take into account people who skipped the supes entirely. Early voters marked 1.58 ovals on average, while the more GOP election day electorate marked just 1.42 and undervoting was at its peak in the precincts Hemingway carried.

Well, that was fun. Let's do this again in four weeks.