Friday, March 09, 2018

What Rural Voters Think Johnson County Supervisor Districts Would Look Like

What Johnson County Supervisor Districts Would Actually Look Like

Want to see the math and the history? These posts from five years ago have turned out to be evergreens.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Gereric Mass Shooting Response

Re-post as needed.

Liberals are losing the gun debate because we are too timid. We are either pleading a vague "do SOMEthing" or offering the most obvious and easy solutions - the background checks and the machine gun bans. While the other side's response is literally "do nothing."

It's time to start asking for more significant measures, moving the terms of debate and saying what we really think about guns.

The fundamental problem is that there is a sliver of the electorate who are single issue gun voters. And they really do literally believe that even the mildest of regulation is a slippery slope toward the government taking away their guns.

It's not about the NRA money. It's about the ideology. The NRA money just follows to the people who are already inclined to the ideology.

My uncle in northern Wisconsin is one of these people. He told my dad "I would vote for Hitler before I would vote for Hillary" because he literally believed she would send the feds to take away his guns.

Their numbers are tiny but their influence is magnified in low turnout Republican primaries. And their absolutism has closed the Overton Window of acceptable terms of gun debate into a narrow crack above the sill that you could block with a towel.

So how do gun absolutists respond to tragedy? Usually, with silence.  But after Las Vegas, Bill O'Reilly slipped and said what they really think. In October he wrote: "This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are. The 2nd Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection.  Even the loons."

It seems from the context that O'Reilly was only describing, not fully endorsing, this view of mass shootings as a sad but necessary evil - but it's the best summation I've ever seen of the otherwise unspoken mindset.

So what do I think about guns?

I loathe guns.

Guns are barbaric.

We need more people to say that. We need to create a culture where it is just as acceptable to declare loathing of guns as it is to declare love of guns.

It is not going to be possible to make it harder for the mentally ill to get guns without also making it harder for regular people to get guns. We need to make it harder for regular people to get guns and we need there to be fewer guns.

We need to destroy the myth that we "need" hunting to control wildlife populations, and we need to restore an environment with more natural predator-prey relationships.

We need to fight back against the "culture" and "values" arguments for hunting/guns just as hard as conservatives push back against marriage equality and choice. No. I don't like your "lifestyle."

Unconstitutional? Hey, the right proposes unconstitutional shit All. The. Time. It doesn't (usually) pass but it moves the terms of debate.

I have much more to say but I'm not ready to and I think it would be counter-productive. Hey, what I've already said may be counterproductive.

Am I an extremist? Sure.

But I'm less extreme than "mass shootings are the price of a free society and the correct response is to do nothing." Yet that position is in the mainstream and mine are not.

What seems to be different about this shooting is that the kids are speaking out and that they were aware enough mid-crisis to send messages and take pictures. Also relatively unusual that shooter was captured alive.

Of course the fact that school shootings are common enough to have patterns to compare is literally insane.

Machismo is part of the problem. Another part of the problem is that we have 89 guns per 100 people while even countries with "lots" of guns have more like 30. Background checks and bans on "extreme" guns are NOT enough. We need to start demanding FEWER guns in America. We need to reduce a gun ownership rate that's TRIPLE that of places like Canada. We need to treat 89 guns per 100 people as the public health hazard it is.

I am sure the thoughts and prayers of conservatives are sincere. But they think of the gun violence epidemic as mere tragedy, as senseless, as no more possible to control than weather. But "this is the price of a free society" is policy. It's ideology.

No. This is NOT the price of freedom. All freedoms have limits. And when it comes to guns we need less "freedom."

Time to move the mainstream.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

How to deal with Ernst?

A tweetstorm turned into a blogpost:

In order to come up with an effective attack on Joni Ernst, Democrats have to first understand her appeal - and they seem incapable of that.

Urban Democratic activists instinctively want to attack the Ernst persona - and that kind of attack plays right into her hands. Her persona is EXACTLY WHY SHE WON. What exactly is WRONG with being a Harley-riding Guard-serving farm gal in Iowa, anyway?

Most Democratic activists still think of Ernst as a fluke and a joke who was only elected because 2014 was a bad year and because Bruce Braley was a spectacularly bad candidate. Both those things are true but they don't explain the depth of the loss.

Periodic reminder that Ernst's pig castrating ad debuted the same day as Braley's "Grassley a farmer from Iowa not a lawyer" video leaked. That timing was not an accident. And that day was the day I knew Ernst would be the next Senator.

Here in the People's Republic of Johnson County in 2014 I had more random discussions initiated by non "political" people about Ernst than any other pre-Trump candidate.

And they can all basically be summed up as: that crazy pig lady can't possibly WIN, can she? And in private I answered yes. Yes she can. Wish I had written it but I was trying to be a Team Player.

It was a classic case of the Democrats' "Everybody I Know" problem: no one I know is voting for her, so she can't possibly WIN...

Ernst's bread bag schtick actively turned off voters in Johnson County and other scattered lefty enclaves. But what my people couldn't and still can't understand is: It plays very, very well in about 95 counties.

The Ernst persona is a cultural signifier that repels urban and activist liberals but connects with more or less everyone else in Iowa.

That forces an anti-Ernst effort to be about record and policy - and detailed wonky campaigns about record and policy tend to work best with the kind of urban liberals who are already turned off by Ernst.

In contrast, the attack on Grassley was easy: Too Old. Which didn't work (and may not have worked even with a younger Democratic nominee) but at least it was an actual vulnerability. Attacking Ernst on persona is attacking her strength.

Friday, February 02, 2018

My Caucus Endorsement

Monday night's Democratic caucuses have gotten more discussion than usual off year caucuses because of the seven way primary for governor. As political blog readers know, Iowa law says that if no one gets 35% in the June primary, a convention settles the nomination.

I don't think that will happen; I expect an outcome like the 2014 Republican Senate primary where one candidate gets hot at the end. But multiple campaigns are prepping for the possibility.

Some people and campaigns are pushing for preference groups like we have at presidential caucuses. This is not an automatic thing like it is in a presidential year. Someone has to make a motion, and it only takes a very small share of the room (15%) to force groups.

I believe that the last thing Iowa Democrats need right now is literal division.

I also think that many - not all, but many - of those who are pushing preference groups do not have the long term best interests of the Democratic Party in mind. There will be people at the caucus who would rather repeal and replace the Democratic Party than build it. And I have not devoted the last 27 years of my life, since literally the day I moved to the state, to the Iowa Democratic Party and the Johnson County Democrats only to watch us become the Occupy-Revolution Party. Issues are one thing, but that rhetorical style and those tactics cannot and will not win in this state and will set us even further back.

I long ago chose and endorsed my candidate for governor, for both policy and personal reasons, and nothing between now and primary day is going to shake my support for Nate Boulton.

But support for governor and caucus night behavior are different things. The important thing about caucus night is not preparing for an unlikely what-if scenario. It's building the party for the general election.

That's why I am not going to vote to go to preference groups. If they happen, I will caucus as Uncommitted, even though I have already decided to support Nate.

I ask all Iowa Democrats to join me. If a motion for groups is offered, please do not support it. If they happen, no matter who you support or if you have not decided, please come over to the Uncommitted corner with me.

Let's not divide on caucus night. Let's unite.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Senate Bandwagon Ends With Endorsement

Thompson began to write extensively about how it was rumored that Muskie was addicted to a West African drug called Ibogaine, an upper of sorts that keeps a person awake in a very menacing fashion. Thompson speculated that this was probably the reason why Muskie had been acting so “erratic” of late. Unfortunately, he could not confirm it one way or the other because he had been banned from the campaign. Readers and other reporters took the allegation seriously and questions were put to the Muskie campaign. Denying the charge, Muskie expressed outrage. After the campaign ended, Thompson stated that he never accused Muskie of using Ibogaine. “I said it was a rumor to that effect,” Thompson explained. “I made up the rumor.” 

I never said I was running for State Senate in District 37. All I said was that I was moving into the district, and that a big announcement was coming soon.

Both of those statements are cold hard objective facts, but a surprising number of people have jumped to the wrong conclusion. How could that have ever happened?

The fence of the former Smallest Farm in the Miller-Orchard neighborhood has been dug up and we closed on the house in Iowa City Precinct 9 on Tuesday. The move is in progress and if anyone wants to help haul boxes and furniture, Friday and Saturday are the big days. (If anyone wants a sublease, you can have a big yard with a close-in location.)

The big announcement in Senate 37, however, comes not from me but from my friend Zach Wahls.

I first heard of Zach the way most of us did - through his iconic and viral "two moms" speech to  an Iowa legislative committee in 2011. One of my jobs as a now senior activist is to spot and help new young talent. Johnson County has had a poor track record of electing young people and I've long wanted to fix that. Too often we export our young talent - but Zach grew up local and has long been committed to building his life here.

And as soon as I got to know Zach as a person and not just a video, I knew we had a special talent here.  Zach isn't a show horse coasting on his moment of fame. He took that lightning-strikes opportunity and built from it.

Wahls' first big project was Scouts for Equality. Like so many Eagle Scouts Zach was frustrated by the Boy Scouts' anti-LGBT policies, which had been in place since since 1978 and successfully defended all the way to the Supreme Court. That meant change had to come from within, and Zach and the Scouts For Equality team led a three year effort to successfully persuade the Boy Scouts to voluntarily change the policy.

But Zach is not  a one issue person and in his campaign he plans to focus on health care, education, and workers rights. He has a depth of knowledge and interest in a broad range of issues, and the homework a candidate and legislator needs to do.

He's done the political hard work too, locally in the trenches and on the road helping other candidates  And he's an all-around great guy who hasn't let political celebrity get to his head.

I'll miss voting for Joe Bolkcom and Mary Mascher, and I regret not having one last chance to vote for Bob Dvorsky. (I lived in Coralville my first five years in Iowa, but moved before Dave Jacoby ran.) But my life transition has given me the opportunity to participate directly in this open race.

And I am proud to support Zach Wahls to be my next state senator.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

New Look Voter Cards First Stage Of Voter ID Law

UPDATED: For not the first time, the Secretary of State has changed the game plan, as announced at a training of election staffers this week; in a surprise there has been an improvement.

Iowa voter cards will have a new look this week as the details of the state's new voter ID law kick in, starting with a big mailing this week.

Under the provisions of House File 516, an Iowa driver's license is the default voter ID. (This also includes Iowa DOT non-driver ID cards. For the sake of brevity, from here on out every time I say "license" I also mean "or non-driver ID.") There are some other limited options, but these options do NOT included licenses from other states or student IDs.

Voters who do not have an Iowa license are supposed to be sent a special ID card to use instead. This provision of the law was added, likely with some reluctance, to help HF516 withstand legal challenge. Rulings on laws in other states have held that, if a voter ID is required, a free alternative must be allowed.

Over the weekend of November 18, the Secretary of State processed a cross-reference between the Iowa license database and the driver's license database. They also changed some reports in the voter system so that new voter cards will conform to the details of the new law.

Many voters who actually have Iowa licenses did not have them on their voter records. Some simply left them off the registration form, because more people remember their Social Security numbers than their licenses. One or the other is required (I'm skipping some detail here). But most of the newly included license numbers were for people who registered before 2003, when the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) kicked in and we started asking for license numbers.

During debate over HF516, the Secretary of State's office frequently cited 85,000 as the number of active status Iowa voters without an Iowa license number, but after processing, that estimate has jumped to 123,000. Under terms of HF516, the Secretary of State will do the initial mailing to these voters. After that, voter ID cards will be sent out as part of the routine work of processing registrations by county auditors (translation: I get to do it.)

There will be two different kinds of voter cards. The terminology is a little confusing, and which one you get depends on whether or not you have an Iowa license. They are fold-over cards and look identical from the outside.

This is the "Voter ID" card that people without Iowa licenses will get. The initial mailing to the 123,000 people currently registered without an Iowa license is scheduled for December 6 - a very off-time for the election cycle, so many of these very very important cards will be ignored, misplaced, or discarded before they're needed next year.

In a change from the original plan, this first wave of cards will be mailed in an envelope with a page of explanation. After that, they will get sent as cards.

It's worth noting that these cards look very, very different than the Iowa licenses that most people will be showing. That singles out these voters and makes them more obvious to people who want to challenge voters at the polls.

See also the PIN listed just below the signature space. If you don't have an Iowa license and want a mailed absentee ballot next year, you will have to include this obscure piece of data on your request form.

And, in a nasty bureaucratic twist: Even though your friendly local election staffer can look at your voter record and see this number, they cannot use it to complete your form. They will have to contact you by phone or by snail mail, during an early voting window that has shortened from 40 days to 29, to get you to give them a number that your friendly local election staffer can not only see, but that they can find more easily than you can.

Voters who do have an Iowa license will not be part of this week's mailing. They will still get a card in the mail whenever they update or change registration. But this will be called a "confirmation card" or a "verification card" to distinguish it from the "ID card."

Note the prominent "This notice will not be accepted as identification at the polls." (It may not be in color depending on your county and its printer.)

One not as big but still significant change with these cards: The correction and change space that was on the old voter cards is now gone. That was an easy and fast way for voters to make changes by mail. Just write in the stuff that changed and sign it. Now they'll have to complete a full voter registration form. There's also a bar code missing from the confirmation card that used to speed up my work a lot.

Both of the new cards were programmed into the state voter registration system over the weekend of November 18, so there are a few already in circulation. After the initial mailing by the Secretary of State next week, both these cards will be mailed out by auditors regularly, each time a voter registers or makes a change. Which one you get depends on whether or not you have an Iowa license.

Any time there is a large voter card mailing, many cards are undeliverable. When mailings are returned as undeliverable by the post office, auditors are normally required to place voters on "Inactive" status, a preliminary step to cancellation. Voters who are inactive through two general elections get cancelled.

Because of the voter ID law, there's an extra mailing going out to a particular, non-random group of voters, and because they're being sent an extra mailing, they're more likely to have a card returned to sender.

In a big change of plan that seems to have been written by lawyers, this one-time mailing will be an exception. The letters (envelopes with a card in them, that is) will go back to the Secretary of State, not the auditor, and voters will NOT be inactivated from this mailing. That's because inactivating people from this mailing could be seen as illegal "targeting" of certain voters.

Since they're not getting inactived, this isn't AS horrible as what I had feared at first - but sill, these are the people who need to get these cards to vote. And the population getting these cards (or not getting these cards) is the most mobile and least rooted group of voter, exactly the kind of people that the legislators who passed this law would rather see not voting.

Many conservatives (and even some "liberals") have never gotten over Symm vs. United States, the 1978 Supreme Court ruling that held that yes, college students DO get to vote in their college town. Most people have begrudgingly accepted that students should get to vote for president (the only ballot most students actually cast) but resent young people weighing in on local things like tax questions or how old you have to be to get into the bar.

The unspoken implication of HF516's refusal to accept valid out of state licenses and student IDs at the polls is: Kid, you're supposed to be voting an Illinois absentee ballot. But 20 years on the job tells me that the most likely way a student gets to cast a counted vote is to do it at school.

After the Secretary of State's match-up between the voter file and the license database, there were 7030 Johnson County active status voters without Iowa license numbers, who should be getting cards in this week's mailing. That's 7.7% of the county's total active registration.

Because the last "big" election was the presidential, most voters have not updated their address since the fall of 2016. In my town, most young people move every year on August 1, so the voter ID cards will be getting mailed to LAST year's address - which means more cards returned to sender and not getting delivered.

So let's guess at just how accurate these addresses are.
425 people without Iowa ID numbers have voted since the presidential election. Another 165 have registered since the presidential election and not voted yet. Odds are these are good addresses.
4324 last voted in the presidential election, and these voters are likely still registered at their fall 2016 addresses.

1306 last voted before the presidential election, and 810 registered before the presidential election and have never voted. Many of these people have moved away, and actually should be inactivated and ultimately canceled.
Any of these people needing to re-register will need to do a paper registration form - because Iowa's online voter registration system is only good for people who have Iowa license numbers.

Here's some more stats on the 7030 voters without license numbers.
  • 5977 of them are going to addresses in the city limits of Iowa City. Iowa City is 51% of Johnson County's registration, but is getting 85% of this mailing.
  • 3437 cards are going to the core student precincts - Iowa City 3, 5, 11, 19, and 20. That's  49% of the mailing going to just 11.5% of the registration. 1334 cards are going to dorms, almost all to fall semester 2016 addresses.
  • 55% of the people getting mailed ID cards live in apartments or dorms vs. 23% of all active status Johnson County voters.
  • 1621 cards are going to voters under age 21; almost all of that is students because townie kids living with parents are likely to have Iowa licenses. 
  • 260 cards will go to voters over age 80, another group at risk under the ID law.  Some of them have surrendered or lost their licenses and not bothered with non-driver IDs. Other have never has an Iowa state license or ID, and have moved here late in life to live closer to children and caretakers. (People who are in nursing homes and care centers are exempt from the ID law, but not every facility qualifies.)
  • And if you want to get partisan: The mailing of 7030 cards is 5% more No Party than overall registration, 4% less Republican, and 1% less Democratic.
Mail can be iffy, especially at the holiday season. Anyone who believes they should have gotten an ID card (remember, only the people without Iowa licenses will get these) and hasn't gotten one by Christmas should check in with their auditor.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Gala Grumbling

I skipped out on the Iowa Democratic Party's big event Monday night, not out of any objection but in part because of the scheduling. I will say one more time that while the name change needed to happen, the new name of the event formerly known as Jefferson-Jackson is so aesthetically lame that I refuse to use it. Sounds like a new variety of apple.

So I see predictable praise of candidates from supporters, comments that it was a nice event from many who were there, and assorted grumbling from some who were there and from more who were not.

The grumbles fall into three categories:
  1. the weeknight timing and choice of speaker;
  2. the optics of having an event that is very obviously two-tiered with "elite" and "cheap" seats; and
  3. the larger issue of high dollar fundraising. (And even the "elite" seats at The Event Formerly Known As JJ are mid-dollar seats. There's always a truly high-dollar "clutch event" where the biggest donors get face time and a picture with the Big Shot.)
I've been in the periphery of speaker recruiting on the local level and it's challenging. Iowa makes it more challenging, and the year after a presidential election without your party in the White House makes it even harder. The axiom is no politician goes to Iowa by accident, and the 2020 hopefuls are just not ready to put themselves under that First In The Nation spotlight yet, says the man who used to have a Days Since Hillary Has Been To Iowa countdown on this page.  

That limits you to either an Obama (and even Michelle is not immune to speculation) or a non-politician. And measured by attendance and entertainment value, Alec Baldwin was a success. 

While attendance was good, there was still the optics problem that a weeknight in Des Moines was "for Polk County only" - a common complaint in IDP circles in the last year.It did contribute to my decision not to attend. (While I'm lucky and have lots of time off work except in October and early November, I was just wrapping up an extended Thanksgiving vacation on Monday and didn't want to extend that another day.)

You don't on-purpose go for a Monday night. The way scheduling this kind of event works is: you line up the speaker and the speaker says "I'm available this date." Then you either set that date or you say "Sorry, Alec, but a Monday night is a deal breaker" and look for another speaker. 

Clearly IDP did not want to deprive all of America from Baldwin's Trump impersonation by asking for a Saturday night, though we could have brought in the whole cast and said "Live, from Des Moines, it's Saturday Night." 

(I'm shocked they had the self-awareness to actually play this clip at a Democratic Party fund raiser.)

As for the optics problem of a multi-tier event, with higher dollar donors seated for dinners and general admission in bleachers: We've heard grumbling about "elitism" from the bleachers but it might be interesting to ask some of the bigger donors. Here's a gentle reminder that all other things being equal (which they admittedly sometimes aren't) it is a good thing to be able to give the Democrats a lot of money.  Most of our high end donors, at least in Iowa, are good people and not corrupt influence peddlers. So let's ask them what they like and dislike about the setup and see what "frills" they would be just as happy to do without.

Johnson County is egalitarian, sometimes to the detriment of our bank account. We have had a long-term and explicit policy that no one is turned away from an event for inability to pay.

The Johnson County Democrats have two main events each year. The big one is our fall barbecue which is low-dollar (usually $20ish) and egalitarian seating at cafeteria style tables. The draw is speakers, usually candidates or out of state big names. We get a few new people at this, usually drawn by the speakers.

The other event is our spring Hall of Fame event which is a little higher dollar, dinner table style seating (though it's just coffee/dessert) and centered around the honorees. The people who show up at this are the long-time activists who know the people being honored. Candidates are introduced but don't speak; Dave Loebsack gives a short speech but the tone is not Re-Elect Me, it's The Congressman Is Here To Honor Your Lifetime Award. He always has a good story about each honoree.

Both these events have "host" levels, but the recognition is just a name in the program and not a better seat. At the BBQ you sit wherever; at the Hall of Fame the front seats are reserved for honorees and their personal guests.

Not every arm of the party is as loud about it as the Johnson County Dems, but it is almost always possible to get into an event for little or no money.

It's not easy to get into a closed door clutch event, because those are often controlled by the Big Name themselves and not the event host. But there are Regular Folks at those. I've never paid the four-figure donation for a clutch event, but I've been invited to them as a Key Local Activist or as a Person With An Interesting Story. My experience is the people who are there based on money only get the handshake and the picture, while the invited Regular Folks get better quality time.

It's almost always possible to get into the main speaking event free. You can volunteer and get in. Despite my lucrative career as a political consultant, I usually don't pay to attend events. I make the invitation list as a volunteer, that's my donation, and I show up. Most events also need regular volunteers without a special skill set.

Another way to get in free: Campaigns or unions buy blocks of tickets and give them to supporters. I was offered tickets to Monday's event by Nate Boulton's campaign because I'm supporting him.

Or if you're a long time activist who's short on bread, the organizers often just let you in.

Here's the problem. Unless you're already to some extent an "insider," you don't know about any of this. You see the price tag, get sticker shock, don't go, and express frustration. 

The best thing you can do as a political junkie - if you're reading a blog, you are - is to let the new people know about this. Make the circle of "insiders" as much bigger as you can. You still won't reach the person who only reads the article, but if you can reach the person who's at their first meeting, that makes it just a little better. 

One SCC member who skipped last night's event suggested an explicit income-based sliding scale. Maybe that would help (Johnson County generally lists something like "student price"), but one problem Johnson County has with its no-pay policy is people who CAN afford to pay but don't. Not a big problem, but one some people take advantage of. In the end, the purpose of the event is to raise money and "it's a fundraiser but you don't have to pay" is a mixed message. There's a risk that if you ask Bill Gates for $25, he will give you $25 and no more.

Also. consider this: No volunteer wants to get told or feel like their hours are less important than someone else's big check. But neither does a donor want to be told "money doesn't matter" as they're pulling out the checkbook. Granted, it's more often one way than the other, but everyone wants to feel good about what they do.

The big picture problem of high dollar based fund raising is harder to address. The real solution, donation and spending limits or public finance, is a LONG way off, will require a super-majority level consensus to amend the Constitution which is impossible in the current polarized environment, and can't happen till we win under the current, bad rules.

So we need interim solutions. Unfortunately I only have negative answers. Unilateral disarmament on principle will cost us even more elections. Magic internet small dollar money has only been shown to work on either presidential campaigns or the very limited circumstances of special elections that are the only game in town for a little while. (And which sometimes has the unpleasant side effect of unrealistically raising people's hopes.)

And if we're going to build a stronger small dollar base, we have to ask and ask again and keep asking. A more aggressive effort to solicit small donors runs the risk of creating the impression that we aren't interested in anything BUT money.  We need rank and file people who can't give anything more than a vote. We need volunteers to knock on the doors.

But we need staffers. We need flyers. We need signs. We need offices. Yes, we need ads. 

And to do those things, we need money.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Alabama Senate

Roy Moore is going to win. In the privacy of the booth Alabama Republicans willing to take a chance on a Moore expulsion and a chance at a do-over. But if not, Moore is better than letting a Democrat have a seat from Alabama (!) for 4 years. There's no way in hell  they're gonna let Doug Jones win this. If they can't force Moore off the ballot, which it looks like they can't, they'll vote for him and they'll seat him.