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.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Johnson County Absentee numbers, Week Two

I am only doing one thing right now, so that's what I'm writing.

Through close of business today our office had 16755 total absentee requests: 11660 domestic mail, 4647 at the office, 187 at a satellite and 261military and overseas mail.  …

The party breakdown on that is more that 3:1 Democrat to Republican, which is not unusual. In 2016 Hillary beat Trump 75-19 in Johnson on absentees. (These were the first results reported from the state, was all downhill from there.)

On the same day, 17 days out, in 2014 we had 15062 requests: 11576 mail, 2622 at the office, 795 at satellites, and 69 overseas.

17 days out in 2010 Johnson County was at 15495 requests: 8718 by mail, 1893 at the office, 4747 at satellites, 97 overseas, and 40 at care centers. Remember, all Johnson County stats from 2010 are skewed by giant campus-based satellites promoted by the referendum campaign to repeal Iowa City's 21 Bar ordinance. Many 2010 voters at the campus sites skipped the other contests on the ballot and voted only on the bar issue.

So Johnson County is 1260 requests ahead of 2010 (and, once you factor in the under-vote by the bar-issue-only voters, further ahead than that) and 1693 ahead of 2014. And many more of those votes are at the office and ready to count, as opposed to requests that are not returned yet.

We have more by mail requests than either 2010 or 2014. The office is more than double 2010 and nearly double 2014. Remember: That's 17 days of office voting in 2010 and 2014 but only 10 days this year.

The satellites lag, but 2010 was a unique case. We have had only one satellite site to date, on opening day, and the March To The Polls was directed to the office instead. The Johnson County satellite schedule begins in earnest next week with 3 days each at  UIHC and IMU  

In Johnson County Democrats have returned 25% of the requested mailed ballots, Republicans just 13%. Likely because the Dems absentee mailings were earlier than the GOP.

Bottom line: About 10% ahead on requests. More votes in the bank than in 2014 and more "real" votes in the bank than 2010 (once you exclude the bar-only vote).

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Johnson County Absentee Numbers So Far

Since everyone is asking and since I am OCD about numbers I am spending time on Friday night comparing Johnson County's absentee numbers to the last three governor years.

When we closed shop at 5:30 tonight, 25 days out, we had 11727 total requests. 8872 domestic mail, 230 overseas mail, 2438 at the office, and 187 at our opening day satellite.

Same day in 2014 we had 12198: 10150 domestic mail, 56 overseas mail, 1713 at the office, and 279 at satellites. Remember, that was with 12 days of office voting in 2014 and 2010, but only five days in 2018.

25 days out in 2010 we were at 12547: 7332 domestic mail, 93 overseas mail, 1257 at the office, and 3865 at satellites. Those numbers, like all Johnson County stats from 2010, are skewed by massive satellites on campus driven by the 21 Bar referendum.

2006 is such ancient history that it barely bears comparing: Just 5657 requests total, almost all by mail. Only 327 voters at the office in 12 days; we've seen more than that every DAY this week. Back then, the Republicans weren't even trying on the early vote; they were putting everything into their Bush era 72 Hour Plans for Election Day and teaching their base that early voting was "fraud." Terry Branstad put a stop to that in his 2010 comeback and the GOP returned to their big absentee mailings of the 90s.

So to sum up: Mail is behind 2014 but ahead of 2010, office is far ahead of past years despite fewer voting days, and satellites can't be fairly compared because of the unique situation in 2010.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

The Voters Have Spoken And They Said, Meh

"I thought the compressed cycle and the shadow of the general election would lower turnout. But it appears that Iowa City wants to squeeze in a full-fledged city election cycle. The real loser may be the Democratic ticket as this city council vacancy sucks up a lot of energy in the most Democratic county." John Deeth, September 5 

Called that one wrong,

Instead, the lesson from Tuesday's abysmal (9%) turnout Iowa City special election is more basic and more universal: In local elections, a big field of candidates means more people out campaigning means more turnout.

Historically, turnout roughly doubles between an Iowa City primary and the final election four weeks later. But that's in a normal cycle, with six or eight candidates on the final ballot.

Tuesday, with two people on the ballot instead of the five from the primary, turnout was up just 229 people, from 3966 to the 4195 we had Tueday. Nearly all of that increase came in the absentees, which bumped from 490 in September to 666 Tuesday.



(I almost hate to tell people but we got three countable ballots in Wednesday's mail, ruining the 666...)

And most of that absentee gain was because the short early voting window was one day longer; the auditor's office was closed the day before the primary for Labor Day, and we saw about 150 voters this Monday. Only 53 more people showed up at the polls Tuesday than voted at the polls September 4.

That's unheard of between a city primary and a final city election. Again: turnout usually doubles. Tuesday's turnout falls below the record low for a regular cycle city election of 4685 (9.7%) set in 2009. That was both a yawner and a blowout that was decided on filing deadline day when townies Terry Dickens and Susan Mims drew unknown students as opponents.

This election was at least closer, with no obvious pattern or key to Bruce Teague's win. He consistently did just a little bit better than Ann Freerks across the city. In precincts with significant turnout (the student vote was negligible), Teague topped 60% on the southeast side (Twain and Grant Wood), in precinct 6 (Village Green and Town and Campus) 17 (the old City High precinct) and 24 (Windsor Ridge).  Freerks led Teague on the absentees and in precincts 4 (Manville Heights), 8 (the Weber area), 10 (south central part of town) and interestingly in precinct 21, the lefty Horace Mann precinct temporarily voting at St. Wenceslaus Church.

But turnout was down in precincts 17 through 21, the progressive and downtown core of the People's Republic. Some of the vote may have been a shift to early vote - no doubt some folks who usually vote early had the calendar sneak up on them in the primary and realized too late that there was no voting on Labor Day.

But more of that may have been the smaller field, and more to the point WHICH candidates were eliminated in the primary. And I don't just mean the "vote for my friend" people who were motivated to get out by personal ties to the defeated candidates, and then skipped the second round.

The groups that know the most about getting out voters in local elections are the old guard/townie/Chamber of Commerce faction, and organized labor and its allies. Labor was supporting Christine Ralston in the primary, but she trailed Teague by 18 votes. The Chamber's choice, Brianna Wills, was just behind in fourth place, while Ryan Hall, favored by the left of the left, was fifth.

That meant the groups who know the most about boosting turnout were largely bystanders in the second election. On the surface it seems that slightly more of the Hall and Ralston vote shifted to Teague (Hall posted on social media Monday that he had voted for Teague), but there's another layer here.

The organized groups had favorites but they also had "Anyone But" candidates. The Chamber's historic boogeyman has always been the prospect of a student on the city council (which hasn't happened since the early `80s), especially a student as left as Hall. Labor-liberal types, meanwhile, were opposed to the Chamber's favorite, Wills - and it was her total collapse in the progressive precincts that knocked her from second place to fourth in the primary.

But the two Unacceptable candidates were eliminated, reducing that kind of motivation. Survivors Freerks and Teague were more or less acceptable to most of the Every Election Voters who chose to participate.

Had Hall gotten through the primary, you would have seen the townies energized like they haven't been since the last 21 Bar election in 2013. And had Wills survived, labor might have gotten seriously involved, rather than setting this election aside in favor of general election efforts.

Those general election efforts, by everyone, were just getting a good start in late August during the primary campaign, but were in full gear by late September. Opening day for early voting is next Monday and would have been last Thursday if not for the change in the election calendar that was part of the voter ID law. (As much as I hate losing 11 days of early voting, overlapping voting periods for two different elections are a logistical nightmare.) While the primary campaign was briefly able to draw focus, Tuesday's election truly felt like an afterthought.

Or maybe a preseason game?

One thing I got right after the primary: "Wills and Ralston both came close enough to be credible for a 2019 run, when four seats are up." Add Ann Freerks, with a first in the primary and a credibly close second Tuesday, to that statement. We may look back on City Election 2018 as just the opening round of City Election 2019.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Clash in Debate - Literally.

"Candidates Clash in Debate" is way too common a headline, and I have way too often joked that the Clash in a debate would be a good thing.

Finally, someone really did it.

Beto O'Rourke's reference to side two, track four on London Calling has won him a permanent place in my heart.

"Working for the clampdown" is not the MOST radical Clash reference Beto could have made - the very next song asks "when they kick at your front door, how you gonna come, with your hands on your hear or on the trigger of your gun" - but it's not a weak "should I stay or should I go" joke either. The opening line neofascism reference is sadly even more relevant now:



(The most offensive Clash reference I ever saw in politics was Giuliani using "Rudie Can't Fail" as rally music...)

I always wondered if the line "kick over the wall, cause governments to fall" was "kick over the wall BEcause government is going to fall" or if "cause governments to fall" was an instruction to the listener to overthrow the government.

If you are lucky, a band comes along in your formative years that changes your life. I was lucky enough that when I was 16, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon were there for me. I've gotten kicked a bit the last few years for being too pragmatist or too "establishment," but my roots, my catalyst that started me on the road I've been on now close to 30 years, are Clash. In the end I did cause governments to fall, in a small way, by knocking on doors and making lists.

By coincidence, I have been on one of my periodic obsessive kicks and for the last three weeks I have been listening to nothing but the Clash. I'm on a weekend road trip and on the way I listed to Sandinista, all the way through, uninterrupted. Even the biggest Clash fans know that's a true test of loyalty.

This morning I've prepped a quick primer for Clash neophytes who may want to work their way in. O'Rourke has offered the best starting point. Here's the order in which to learn the Clash.

1: London Calling - flawless from the iconic title track to the concluding hidden hit "Train In Vain."

2: The Clash (first album) US version - I may be a heretic here. But the US release cuts a few weak songs from the original UK version and adds some key singles including "Complete Control," "White Man in Hammersmith Palais," and "I Fought The Law." I cheated and homeburned a custom version that includes all the songs from both versions of the album, plus a few other early songs found on...

3: A good compilation such as The Essential Clash which includes the best of the other albums and some more singles.

4: Combat Rock, side one: the two biggest hits and two great album cuts, "Know Your Rights" and "Straight To Hell."

5: Sandinista. You needed the rest for a warmup. Sandinista requires commitment. Plenty of rewards but at 2 1/2 hours (six vinyl sides, two full CDs) it is literally marathon length.

6: The Clash, original UK version. If you survived Sandinista you're hooked and moving toward completism. Four songs here you don't have yet. Short and fast except for the breakthough cover of "Police And Thieves" (also on the US version).

7: Give `Em Enough Rope. The second album is a corporate-influenced attempt to crack the US market but the opening salvo of "Safe European Home," "English Civil War" and "Tommy Gun" is first rate. Also don't miss "Stay Free."

8: Side two of Combat Rock and/or the unreleased original mix of the album, originally titled and generally bootlegged as Rat Patrol At Fort Bragg.

9: Various compilations like Super Black Market Clash to fill in the pieces.

10: Mick Jones' solo work with Big Audio Dynamite.

11: Joe Strummer's Earthquake Weather (1989) and his late Mescaleros albums (three albums 1999-2003).

12: Joe Strummer's late 80s soundtrack albums - mainly instrumental but a couple vocal tracks.

954: A bad Sex Pistols bootleg from after Johnny Rotten left the band

8321: A post-2000 Motley Crue album

22,038: Cut The Crap. Released in 1985 after Strummer kicked Jones out of the band and immediately regretted it, this is Clash in name only and the worst thing Strummer ever recorded. To be avoided.

If you want everything all at once (except Cut The Crap) there is a beautiful but expensive box set called Sound System personally designed by Paul Simonon that includes all sorts of fanzines and stickers and buttons like we had back then.

Even I don't own that one but considering how bad CBS ripped them off I'm sure a download would be morally justified... meanwhile my vinyl Sandinista is framed and on my wall, to remind me where I started. And the world is a lesser place without Joe Strummer, who we REALLY need right now.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Key numbers in Freerks/Teague wins

With all five candidates closely bunched between 15 and 27%, Tuesday's Iowa City special primary would have been a great test case for ranked choice voting

Here's something you rarely see: All five candidates won precincts, and all five candidates finised last in precincts. Of course some of those "wins" were with 10 total votes or with 24%.

First place finisher Ann Freerks ran just a little bit better than the rest more or less across the board. But the decisive number: Bruce Teague beat Christine Ralston with big margins in precincts 2 and 6, both with lots of seniors (Oaknoll in 2, Legacy Pointe in 6). Take away either precinct, and Ralston is in 2nd.

That 18 vote margin is close, but not recount close. The closet ever city primary margin was in 2009 when Jared Bazzell trailed Dan Tallon by 7 votes for the fourth and last slot. (Tallon and fellow student Jeff Shipley were competing for the right to lose to Terry Dickens and Susan Mims; 2009 got decided on filing deadline day. Where are they now: Shipley is the GOP challenger to Democratic state Rep. Phil Miller in Fairfield-based House 82. End of tangent.)

Brianna Wills was wiped out (low single digit percents) in lefty precincts 18 and 21 and in 20, mixed student/senior. Take away those three precincts, and she jumps from 4th to 2nd.

Yet Wills and Ralston both came close enough to be credible for a 2019 run, when four seats are up. But Ryan Hall is in a weaker position than he was, after winning 41% last year. In retrospect it seems clear that a lot of that 41% was votes against incumbent Susan Mims, rather than for Hall.

The first choice of both labor (Ralston) and the Chamber of Commerce (Wills) lost, so it will be interesting to see alliances shift in next 28 days.

Turnout was about 1000 more than I expected. I thought the compressed cycle and the shadow of the general election would lower turnout. But it appears that Iowa City wants to squeeze in a full-fledged city election cycle. The real loser may be the Democratic ticket as this city council vacancy sucks up a lot of energy in the most Democratic county.