Friday, July 17, 2020

Some Of You May Die, But It's A Sacrifice I Am Willing To Make

Let's call it what it is.

Forcing Iowa schools open isn't about schools.

It's about Big Ag.

Agribusiness owns this state and has told its elected officials we're not closing. Their profits are literally more important than life and death. Big Ag wants everyone and everything to stay open and unmasked, and they're forcing their bought and paid for governor to deny local control, because they don't want any jurisdiction to set any precedent that could close a meat packing plant for a day.

Agribusiness doesn't really care what The People's Republic Of Johnson County does. But if we are allowed to issue closing orders and mask mandates, then Louisa and Muscatine counties are too, and they care a LOT about that.

See, if we shut down the stores because they're not safe, and we tele-commute to class because it's not safe, we're going to have to acknowledge that working jam-packed into a meat packing plant isn't safe, and we simply can't have that. Our bars and schools have to stay open so their meat packing plants can. I won't see my 85 year old parents in Wisconsin for a year because West Liberty Foods and Tyson in Columbus Junction can't close.

If we were able to issue mask mandates and closings, but had to make exemptions for agriculture and meat packing, that would be bad for those workers. But it would at least provide more protection for some of us. Instead, we are all lowered to the least common denominator of the slaughterhouse floor.

Iowa is literally the worst place in the world to be right now. America is handling COVID worse than any nation, and Iowa is handling it worse than any state.

We've long known agribusiness sees its workers as disposable.

Now it's clear they think the rest of us are expendable too.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

An election like no other

We passed a milestone yesterday in Johnson County: we have mailed out more ballots for the June 2 primary - 21,367 - that we have for any other election. That's ANY other election; the old record was 20,951 in the 2012 presidential. We've seen more total early votes, of course, once you add in satellites and voting at the office. But only 99 people (disproportionately county employees and people fixing mail problems) took advantage of drive-thru voting in the first two weeks.

The request total is also above the TOTAL primary vote of 18,675 that we saw in the record turnout 2018 primary. I'm not calling that record broken yet, not till we see what comes back. Personally, I expect a higher than average rate of unreturned ballots once people realize 1) the presidential race isn't on the ballot 2) there's only one contest on the Republican side, and 3) that contest is NOT the sheriff's race, which is on the Democratic side. To the rest of the state, this is a US Senate and congressional primary, but in Johnson County, where primaries are local, it's a sheriff primary.

Usually, gigantic vote by mail numbers like 2012 are racked up by months and months of Democratic doorknocking, but the June 2020 primary is being driven by making things easy: a postage paid absentee ballot request in every voter's hands. Not QUITE as easy as letting people sign up to automatically get a mailed ballot every election (a VERY popular item which I hear VERY often on the phones), but better than many other states and WAY better than most Republican run states. As you know I'm not the biggest Paul Pate fan, but in this case I believe he's sincerely motivated by safety and legit trying to do the right thing.

This sets a precedent, though. Having allowed the traditional 40 days of mail voting, instead of the 29 that the GOP legislature trimmed it to in 2018, and having mass mailed requests, it'll be very hard for Pate to back away from those measures in November.

Under normal circumstances, which the current plague is certainly not, I don't much care for voting by mail. It adds a third party, the post office, between the voter and the auditor.  The post office is rising to the occasion, but more people involved mean more mistakes, and delay is inherent. Handing someone a ballot takes seconds, mailing someone a ballot takes days. (Add another postal round trip and more days to that if the person also needs the request form mailed. Iowa's system of a separate request for each election is the most labor intensive way to do this.)

If you vote by mail you also don't have the helping hands of the office staff and pollworkers double checking the easy to forget stuff like signatures and seals. It's a process more prone to mistakes.

But once states go vote by mail, which Iowa de facto has for this election, they don't go back. The birth of All Vote By Mail was a statewide special election in Oregon in early 1996. Voters liked it so much that they passed a 1998 initiative to make ALL Oregon elections all mail.

I'm predicting that the 2020 cycle will be the last presidential election with any traditional, precinct based polling places. COVID is just the last straw in a trend that's been coming. It's getting harder to get workers and polling places. More and more locations don't want the chaos and the perceived security risk. This is especially true of schools, who would rather play security theater to parents than, well, actually do anything about guns.

The other issue is an accessibility standard that is above and beyond ADA and a mindset that everyone will be DRIVING to the polls. You can't vote at a dorm because there's not parking or a circle drive for Grandma to drop Grandpa off at the door to go vote - at a COLLEGE DORM. So the 1000 students who would be taking stairs or the elevator to the polls have to go several blocks away instead in order to accommodate Hypothetical Grandpa.

All these things combined mean that the future of elections is mail and vote centers. I'm also expecting President Biden to put an end to caucuses and to kill off New Hampshire along with us. Why reward two states that blew him off?

Iowa is in the bizarre position of not only having a bizarre virtual convention cycle - hey, DNC, I though Virtual Caucus was a BAD thing! - but having district and state conventions where the presumptive nominee is not viable. As a district/state delegate I am not allowed to switch, and I have to keep voting for my dropped out candidate, Elizabeth Warren, until the second ballot of the national convention. If there is one.

Why would I want to go to the national convention, even if it is in my native state?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, says she has floated the idea to DNC Chairman Tom Perez of hosting the party convention in a "gigantic" stadium.

“Get a gigantic stadium, and put people six feet apart," Pelosi said. "Then maybe instead of having 80,000 people there you would have 16,000 people there, and just do it all in one day.”

Miller Park does have more than twice the capacity of Fiserv Forum at nearly 42,000, but the type of stadium Pelosi suggested does not exist in Milwaukee. Lambeau Field and Camp Randall exist as in-state possibilities for this type of a move.
Oh, THAT'S why. National delegate is highly competitive, but I stand a better chance of that than I do of getting Packers tickets. This may be my only way into the Frozen Tundra. Someone has to DIE for you to get Packers tickets.

It would be a fun last hurrah for the last caucus season. South Carolina, which was the whole ball game in 2020 (Iowa's result, when we finally got it, was completely irrelevant), will be first in 2024. That should help Vice President Harris get off to a good start. As for me, I'm just glad COVID didn't hit a month earlier in my 750 body caucus room.

Back to the June primary, the unprecedented turnout makes gaming out the winners especially hard. There are going to be many, many more infrequent voters and de facto No Party (WHY do people love the word "independent" so much? WHY are we taught that?) voters than you usually see in a primary.

Personally, I'd like to see much stricter timelines and laws on party changes. The deadline should be before candidates file, so you have to actually choose your party based on its overall principles, rather than crossing over for one specific candidate. I'm on the wrong side of history there, with all the trends being toward open primaries and the even worse Top Two, but it's a hill I'll die on. If you're so proud of being an "independent" (sic), let us partisans choose our party nominees, and go vote in the general election.

That's another thing we're seeing in part because of the COVID driven vote by mail election: dramatic shifts in party affiliation in my county. In Johnson County it's been a triple whammy, with each stage leading to Democratic gains.

Normal party registration trends between elections are a slow steady shift away from parties and toward No Party, driven mainly by registrations from the DOT. When parties gain, it's big and all at once, from primaries, caucuses, and list maintenance mailings (which inactivate voters who are on average younger, more mobile, and No Party - in short, students who moved away).

In mid-September Democratic registration sat at 46.55% in Johnson County. At that point big pre-caucus registration drives started, culminating in caucus night itself with 21,436 attendance and a net plus of 4000 Democratic registrations (new or changed) in one night. When that was done, Democratic registration had shot past the old record of 49.24% (at the June 2016 primary) all the way up to 51.04%.

After a brief backslide to 50.74% caused by cards coming back from caucus attendees with bad addresses (read: missing apartment numbers), the countywide list maintenance mailing kicked in, and long-departed students started moving to Inactive status (my best catch this time was a sorority girl who last voted in 1994). The Democratic share passed the caucus peak and climbed to 51.69%.

The Republicans were dropping through all this, part of a trend that saw them dropping steadily ever since the 2016 caucuses. They were at 21.92% in April 2016, but bottomed out at 17.71% on March 23 - their lowest level in the county since 1976.

The third whammy, the primary mailing, reversed this trend for Republicans, and even further accelerated Democratic registration. Through yesterday, Democrats were up to a whopping 53.69%, while Republicans have recovered to 18.46%. The registration trends from the mailing have coincidentally mirrored the changes from the countywide mailing, with a ratio of 2.9 registered Democrats for each Republican, up from the historic, anecdotal two to one ratio long seen in Johnson County. (Third parties are less than 1% and have been slipping through all three waves of registration activity.)

In fact, Democrats are now for the first time nearly doubling the No Party voters. No Party last led the Democrats for about three years from the 2000 presidential election till the 2004 caucuses. As recently as mid-December they were at 33.85% - well behind the Democrats, but incrementally climbing each week with those apolitical registrations from the DOT.

Then the caucus wave kicked in, with people starting to get affiliated before the mid-January list printing deadline. After the caucuses No Party had slipped to 30.32%. They briefly recovered to 30.58% by March, with the inactivations from bad caucus addresses coming 100% out of the Democrats and with the usual share of people immediately switching back (if you do that, I don't think you should vote in the June primary, but that's just my opinion...)

The countywide mailing reversed that trend and pushed No Party down to 29.83%, and before they had a chance to recover the primary absentee mailing hit. A normal primary mailing would just go to known primary voters or to party members, but this went to everyone, in effect actively encouraging people to affiliate with a party.

And many have. No Party slipped below their old record low (28.61% at the 2016 primary) ten days ago and now are at just 27.13% of county registration. Johnson County is now close to a point where Democrats have a three to one  lead over Republicans and a two to one lead over No Party.

Despite all this registration activity, actual new registrations have been very flat. Total active status registration bottomed out at the end of processing the countywide mailing on April 17 at 90,370. A month later, despite Democrats jumping two full points in registration share and Republicans gaining 0.6%, with corresponding No Party and third party losses, total registration is up just 55 people at 90,425. New registrations are almost immediately balanced by other counties taking voters away from us - many of those from the Dorm Diaspora. (Under-discussed issue: the census impact of COVID, and vacant campuses on April 1, on college towns.)

That shows that just about EVERYTHING about this election is being driven by that statewide mailing. It's been an election like no other, but it feels like the future.

Oh, as for my own ballot? Brad Kunkel, of course, for sheriff, the three incumbent supervisors, and Greenfield.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

An Unconventional Situation and An Unconventional Brain

My initial reaction to the Iowa Democratic Party's decision to postpone county conventions hasn't been good. In part that's because locally, our local decision was pushed by the venue cancelling our site reservation before we could consider what we wanted to do on our own.
I had some negative feelings about the convention site host because of some caucus issues. (The caucus chair in that precinct made it work in a not as good site, but I still think the Iowa code section that says tax-supported facilities "shall provide the space required" means "SHALL," not "unless there's a ball game." If we ever have a caucus again, which I doubt, we need to press that point or strengthen that law.)

In part my bad reaction is because of some other pre-existing conflicts with some other people and, now that I'm out of the closet about it, because of my place on the autistic spectrum and the impractical obsessions I get as a result.
I reject advice, sometimes even good advice, if I have rejected the person. And then I can't apologize, even if I should, because I'm still mad about the initial conflict. I don't know if I can find a way to sincerely apologize to the person I privately told to 🤬 off this week without some action on their part to make good the original thing I was angry with them about. I know that's wrong of me... but that's the kind of thing I struggle with.

I feel like I was treated unfairly on something a very long time ago, and that everyone else who has done the same thing I did since then has been treated differently. The backstory:

I'm the only person in our local organization who has ever been sanctioned for not supporting a nominee. I was removed as first vice chair in 2000 for refusing to support Al Gore, even though I did not violate any formal rules by publicly endorsing a non-Democratic candidate. All I did was loudly, but privately, express my opposition.

Yet every person since then in our county party who has done what I did, or even more, has been given a pass. Yeah, that still makes me bitter. Why is it OK to refuse to support Hillary Clinton or Fred Hubbell or Terry Dahms, but not Al Gore? Why is it OK to not back the nominee unless you're Deeth? My brain needs to have a WHY and it needs to have fairness, and I react badly when I don't get that. I'm asking for the same that was asked of me, which I was unable to do, and then I resent when others who can't or won't do it don't suffer the consequences I did.

Us Bill Bradley supporters were told, in almost these words, "you lost, 🤬 you, get on board." Which was exactly the wrong way to handle me, and so was belittling the issue I had with Gore. But nowdays, we are expected to kiss up to the supporters of the losers and listen to their "demands." That may be smarter politics, but I'm still mad that I didn't get the same respect in 2000 (or, for that matter, in 2004). Which makes me less inclined to extend that same courtesy. That's not smart politics for me, but that's the struggle in my head. Holding grudges sucks but my brain can't let some of them go.

Maybe this disclosure just makes me look foolish. 

The funny thing is, I now realize that my bitter opposition to Al Gore was a case of an autistic obsession of mine outweighing practical politics. That's not to say that, if I had it to do over again, I would do something different. The PMRC was wrong and those hearings, during my college radio days, were too formative a part of my political DNA. I never got over it, and I understand my brain well enough now to know that I never will, even though time has passed the underlying issue by. All I can do is try to laugh about it.

Anyway, I am trying hard to wrap my head around this whole virus thing in my own way, and it's hard work. I understand all the facts but something about this crisis is pushing all my oppositional defiant buttons and I don't understand why which makes it more frustrating. My weird on the spectrum brain lets me accomplish some amazing things, but sometimes it's a real barrier as well. 🤯

Thursday, March 05, 2020

The End Of Persistence

Thank you to Elizabeth Warren and all her organizers, volunteers, and supporters. I was proud to caucus for her and I am proud to support Joe Biden now. Since Warren is not going to be president, I hope to see her not on the ticket or in the cabinet, but where she is: in the Senate, nudging the Biden Administration in a more progressive direction.

More important thoughts for Iowa Democrats:

It is critically important for supporters of Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigeig to attend county, district, and state conventions. Not just for national delegates (which are locked in at the CD level, even for the dropped-out candidates), but for state central committee and other important offices. (And platform, if you care about that, which I don't.)

With Biden's poor showing in Iowa, if the supporters of the dropouts abandon the conventions, the Sanders faction will take over all those critical offices. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for the Sanders faction in the Democratic Party. But it should not be a disproportionately large or loud place. I welcome anyone who is willing to join the party and follow the rules (which Sanders himself is not). 
Some of those rules are: support the nominee, the national convention is not a deliberative body or place to protest, and end your campaign when the writing is on the wall.

If everyone shows up, the Sanders faction is weaker (26% of the Iowa state convention) than it was in 2016 (roughly 1/2 of state convention). But if only Biden and Sanders state delegates show up, it's 62% Sanders.

And since most of the mainstream team-player 2016 Sanders supporters abandoned him for other candidates, the remaining core of Sanders delegates is even more likely to act out in negative ways. There are good Sanders people - but at each level of convention in 2016, the supporters got more and more hard core and more and more difficult, culminating in Jill Stein signs at the national convention. Some states chose Bernie Or Busters as presidential electors who refused to support Hillary in the Electoral in College. We can't afford that kind of stupidity. A Biden win is going to be very, very narrow.

It will be a challenge, motivating the supporters of the former candidates to spend all day at a dull convention. The new no-re-align rules make it harder. But it is absolutely essential to a united party and a successful year. We need an actual effort to make this happen.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Vegas, Baby: A Series Of Tweets That Aged Badly

I looked at the Nevada crosstabs. 2/3 with voters under 40 and 50% with Hispanics in a field with six people seriously contesting the state. Unless something radically changes in the next week, which I hope, Sanders gets a too big to fail lead on Super Tuesday.

(UPDATE: Something radically changed. Continuing on with my thoughts at that brief moment:)

Trying to imagine how a CCI-Occupy style "coordinated campaign" with a non-Democrat leading the ticket is going to work for a agribusiness rural Democratic Iowa House challenger, when the alternative is not a Green New Deal Democrat but a home school Republican.

I'm not assuming there would BE a coordinated campaign. I assume there would be a Sanders campaign and that any down-ballot candidates who were not affiliated with Our Revolution would be on their own. Result would be a whole lot of ballots with only president marked. I can totally see Sanders hitting 75% in Johnson County and not winning a single other county in Iowa

I'm not even assuming that were he to win the nomination Sanders would even condescend to appearing on the ballot with "Democratic Party" under his name. He can pledge to appear on the ballot in the general as a Democrat and he can get rid of the (I-VT) today, if he wants. He won't. Hostility to the party is too big a part of the brand. 

If Sanders wins nomination (more likely than not) and if he cares about reaching out (less likely than not), respect for the Democratic Party as an institution matters to a lot of us who have been in the trenches fighting to make it better for a long time (30 years for me).  There's a lot of wise and experienced people within the Democratic Party who should not be thrown away simply because we prefer a different approach and don't salivate at the words "revolution" and "oligarchy."

I've long said losers don't get to make demands - but candidates who reach out to supporters of defeated rivals (Obama, Bill Clinton) tend to do better than those who say "F*** you, we won, get on board" (Gore, Kerry). But as noted, hostility to the Democratic Party as an institution is a core part of the Sanders brand, so I don't expect it. I think that's a net negative for him, but I hope I'm wrong.
Other thoughts on Nevada: I thought I was silly for giving all the caucus chairs a flipping coin, until Nevada gave everyone a deck of cards.
Cannot stop laughing at these big empty Nevada caucus rooms. Heard MSNBC saying early vote was 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 over caucus attendance. Not sure if that was that precinct or overall. But explains empty rooms. My bet is NSDP underestimated how popular early vote would be. Also, NSDP is a terrible acronym because, well, NSDAP.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Last Minute Point Of Personal Privilege

While I have publicly ruled some candidates out, I have not endorsed because of my caucus leadership role. I want to thank all of the campaigns, including those no longer with us, for their help and support through the last 8 months.

Four years ago I made a point of walking over to the Uncommitted corner first. I don’t think I fooled anyone, most people had figured out I was with Hillary, but I wanted to make that point.

But with the raw vote being reported this year, I want my first alignment choice to be reported for a candidate rather than Uncommitted, and I might as well be open about it. And I’ve worked hard enough that I deserve my say.

Koni and I will caucus for Elizabeth Warren tonight.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Prepare for crowds, changes and commitment: Caucus tips from John Deeth

John Deeth, a caucus organizer for the Johnson County Democrats and political blogger, shared some advice for aspiring caucusers.

Be in it for the long haul

Caucus night is like game day. It’s exciting and we all want the Hawks to win. But you don’t expect to walk in, watch a game highlights clip and go home. You’re there for a long time, two or three hours for the caucuses. And not every play is an exciting thing like a long touchdown pass. Sometimes you’re stopped at the line of scrimmage, the ref throws a flag and you have to sit around and wait while the three refs talk among themselves and figure out the call and everyone else is confused. And you can’t expect to show up 15 minutes before kickoff and get a parking space across the street from Kinnick Stadium.

Prepare for crowds

The caucuses in Johnson County are going to be very, very crowded. It’s important to remember that everyone, including me, is a volunteer and is legitimately trying to do their best in a tough situation. The caucus process was never meant to be a mass participation event that was the equivalent of an election. It was meant to be the handful of core party activists in the precinct — 20 or 40 people who were familiar with the process and rules and were meeting at their friend’s house. In some parts of Iowa, it’s still like that: In 2016, the mean average attendance statewide was 102 people, and the median was just 65, so that kind of process still works in most of the state. But in Johnson County, the average was 342. We had seven of the 10 biggest precincts in the state and 19 of the top 40. Our biggest was 945 and we expect to top 1,000 some places this time. And a process that was designed for 20 to 40 people does not scale up well to a crowd of 1,000.
Find your caucus location: Registered Democrats / Registered Republicans
We’ve done better with rooms than we did in 2016 but there are some places where the biggest room in or near the precinct is not big enough to hold everyone we expect to attend — and there’s nothing that can be done about that. There is not going to be enough parking anywhere, so walk or carpool if you can.

Things may look different than past caucuses

There are a couple changes to the alignment process this year. The biggest is that the raw vote count at the end of the first alignment will be reported. In the past, the Democrats never reported vote counts at all, just delegate numbers. So a caucus-goer who is supporting a non-viable candidate on the first alignment will need to decide: do I realign now, or do I stay with my first choice candidate to get my vote counted, and then move at re-alignment time?
The other change is that, once you’re in a viable group, you can’t move. It used to be that campaigns would send people over to another group to make them viable and hurt a different candidate. Example: We had a place last time where Hillary was at two delegates, Bernie at one and O’Malley was just short of viable. Hillary’s crew sent some spare people over to O’Malley to make him viable so that Bernie would not get another delegate. You can’t do that anymore.

Do some research, and choose a strategy

It will help to have a realistic and honest assessment about your candidate’s chances. I’ve never been in a situation where my candidate was not viable in my precinct, but there have been years when I knew my candidate’s chances in the big picture were poor, and that’s emotionally hard.
A friend of mine who supported a candidate who has dropped out had this advice: “I used to have a candidate, now I have a choice.” You can move to a second choice, or you can move in a way that hurts the candidate you like the least. That’s a tiebreaker you can decide for yourself. Is it more important to me that my first choice be recorded for the history books, even though they’re doing poorly and may drop out later tonight? Or is the overall direction of the party and campaign more important?

Undecided? Get ready to commit.

One thing I worry about here: In the past, a lot of undecided people would just go to the Uncommitted group, and then make their decision at realignment time. This year, there’s a risk of getting stuck in an Uncommitted group that’s accidentally viable. So if you’re Uncommitted, you need to keep track of that, and you may need to move sooner than you want to.

Feel free to dress to impress

This isn’t an election, where campaigning in the polling place is illegal. This is a party meeting and you’re allowed to try to persuade people. Nothing is secret. (That’s actually one complaint about caucuses versus primaries — some people very strongly want to make their choice in secret. In other states, there were complaints in 2016 about bullying in caucus settings.) Shirts, stickers and buttons are OK. So are signs — though we are telling campaigns in Johnson County not to put signs on the walls. Candidate signs should be held. Our site hosts are concerned about messes and damage, and they’re being very gracious about letting us use their buildings (even though in some cases they’re required to by law, it’s still appreciated).

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 277.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Goodbye To My Buddy

For the first time in 22 years, I do not have a cat. My buddy Dylan had 19 years of adventures, the last 15 of those with me.

Dylan was active and frisky until pretty recently - he gave us all a scare back on October 12 when I left the door open and he was outside for 12 hours (he was an indoor cat). After that I started spending extra time with him, grateful he had come home.

But he went downhill not long after that, and it had was becoming clear that he wasn't going to be here much longer. Saturday night I stopped what I as doing and just sat with Dylan on my lap, watching the fireplace, with a sense that it was the last time.

I had a vet appointment scheduled for tomorrow but I knew it was just a matter of them telling me what fatal diagnosis it was and how much time was left.  But just last night he was being silly - I was afraid his face was bleeding until I smelled ketchup.

Dylan was a long time Democat, supporting the ticket in 2004.
Last night he curled up and slept by my head. like he so often did - he had the head and his son Xavier used to keep my feet warm.

He had an accident and couldn't get to the box, which woke me up at 5 AM.  It wasn't the first time he didn't make it, and I patiently did laundry and worried.

I couldn't get back to sleep, so right before I went to work I gave him his second, or was it third, breakfast of the morning.

That's where Koni found him, curled up by the food dish. We don't know what happened and don't need to.

So now he's with the great cat herd in the sky with his son Xavier, with Butter and Spot, and with Shadow.