Monday, October 05, 2015

Think Small

Art Small passed away over the weekend and I don't really want to minimize his death in a catch-all post, but Jeff Charis-Carlson already covered the basics.

Small's last hurrah was as Chuck Grassley's 2004 challenger. Art did the party a favor by stepping up when literally no one else was willing, and he didn't get the credit he deserved at the time for that stand-up act of citizenship.

Art's slogan that year was "Think Big, Vote Small," perhaps inspired by the legendary Volkswagen ads of the Mad Men age?

Small would have been a formidable Grassley challenger three cycles earlier, in 1986. That was the year Art left the legislature in an attempt to run for lieutenant governor - which was, at the time, an independently elected office with significant responsibility. Art fell short in the primary.

Between Small's passing and the death last week of Joe Johnston, it's really feeling like the end of an era...
I've dropped off the radar in the past week, falling behind enough on the news that even Yet Another Mass Shooting failed to get me writing. It's hard to write the same post over and over and over...

Caucus chair recruiting has moved from the low hanging fruit, mass email stage to the gentle arm twisting stage. 46 chairs lined up, 11 to go...
The yard on the left, spatially and ideologically, is mine. Early voting for the November 3 election started today and we saw a dozen Iowa City voters (including myself)  and one small towner at the office. Stop by and say hi to me, Travis Weipert and the crew.

Mark "Chickenman" Chelgren is announcing his candidacy against Dave Loebsack tomorrow, with a Free Beer! event in Iowa City. I have a feeling that in a presidential year, a race between an incumbent who's stronger than people think and an often abrasive state legislator is going to look an awful lot like Dave Hartsuch vs. Bruce Braley in 2008. By the end of that one, they weren't even inviting Hartsuch on stage when John McCain visited his home county...

It's funny; Republicans like to dismiss Loebsack as a fluke, but no one gets to term FIVE as a fluke. Meanwhile, Chelgren won his first term in the worst Democratic year in two decades by blindsiding an unsuspecting incumbent. by a whopping TEN votes. Then in 2014, his Democratic challenger made the most boneheaded unforced error of 2014*; instead of merely recycling Chelgren's "survey" mailer, he filled it out with smart ass answers and sent it back.  Would have cost us the state Senate if it weren't for Kevin Kinney.

* Only because Brandon Bostick in the NFC championship was technically calendar year 2015.
If Amy Poehler had shown up, Darrell Hammond's head would have exploded from critical Hillary mass. Val The Bartender - we hope this is a recurring character - pulls off the second best presidential candidate intro of SNL musical guest ever.  (No one will ever top Steve Forbes having to say "Ladies and gentlemen, Rage Against The Machine.") And at some point we need to see if Kyle Mooney can do a decent Bernie Sanders.
Speaking of Bernie. I met with some international visitors today through UIowa's CIVIC program, something I do periodically and always enjoy. We have a local blogger panel of myself, libertarian Joseph Dobrian, and Nicholas Johnson who's one of the more prominent local Sanders supporters.  They both liked my theory of the overlap between Sanders and Paul support.

My national readers don't get that theory. Only people who really know Iowa City seem to get that theory. If you had wanted to be at ground zero of the Sanders/Paul singularity, you would have gone to the Edward Snowden tele-lecture at the Englert last week.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Granholm to Johnson County BBQ Oct. 18

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm will be the guest speaker for the Hillary Clinton campaign at the Johnson County Democrats' annual barbecue on October 18, joining Bernie Sanders on the speaker list.

The Clinton campaign informed local Democrats Thursday that the candidate would not be attending, and that they would send "a high level surrogate (not a family member)."

Granholm was governor from 2002 to 2010, when she was term limited. Since leaving office, Granholm has hosted a cable show, served on faculty at the University of California-Berkeley law and public policy schools, and is co-chairing the Priorities USA super PAC.

Granholm was an early Clinton backer and frequent cable TV guest in 2007-08.  Once the nomination was settled, she took on the job of playing Sarah Palin in Joe Biden's debate prep. (No word on whether her impersonation rivalled Tina Fey's.) She also served on the Obama transition team.

As governor, Granholm signed the state law that moved Michigan's 2008 primary to January 15, in violation of the rules of both parties. The Michigan move pushed Iowa's 2008 caucuses to January 3.

Granholm was not the main force behind Michigan's 2008 move - that can be blamed on then Senator Carl Levin and then DNC member (now Rep.) Debbie Dingell. And she avoided the aggressive rhetoric of Dingell and Levin, who explicitly said the move was aimed at replacing Iowa and New Hampshire as first in the nation.

But in signing the bill, Granholm noted Michigan's "richly diverse electorate," echoing the frequent criticism of Iowa and New Hampshire's lack of diversity. She also stuck up for her state in the months-long fight over the Michigan national convention delegation (which was eventually seated with no penalty).

Granholm has often been mentioned as a potential cabinet member - but not a presidential candidate or running mate; as she was born a Canadian citizen, she's ineligible. She took a pass at an open seat US Senate run in 2014 when Levin retired. Democrat Gary Peters held the seat, in one of the few Democratic wins last year.

Sanders is attending his second consecutive Johnson County Democrats' barbecue, and for the second consecutive year he's getting paired with a woman from Michigan; Senator Debbie Stabenow co-keynoted with Sanders in 2014.

Hillary Clinton was one of five candidates (with Dodd, Edwards, Kucinich and Richardson) to attend the 2007 barbecue, which set an attendance record of 2500. She brought George McGovern along with her, and the 1972 nominee made his Clinton endorsement official at the event.

Local Democrats don't have final word yet from the Chafee, Webb, or O'Malley campaigns - and yes, I did ask O'Malley again.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Meal with O'Malley

Thursday afternoon the Martin O'Malley staff called up and made me an offer. They were going to be en route from Mt. Pleasant to Des Moines Saturday night, and wanted to know if I was free for dinner and an interview.

Well, I'm not going to say no to a one on one with a presidential candidate. So Saturday we met at the Midtown Family Diner - a nice locally owned spot that got the nod over the more famous Hamburg because of location, location, location: a brief detour from their route at a time when there was some risk of post-football traffic. (As the game was a 62-14 blowout, traffic traffic tricked out the whole second half.)

After some background - part of this was about him picking my brain, too - and some food I put on the Beret Of Official Journalism for a two cup of coffee interview.

Unlike some of the other candidates, you've got a lot of history with the caucuses, going back to the Gary Hart `84 campaign. What's changed between then and now in Caucus Land?

In 30 years lots of things have changed I suppose. Certainly the Internet has changed a lot of things. the way people get their news has certainly changed. But at the same time one thing that hasn't changed is the fact that individuals really matter and make a big difference. People that are respected in their communities matter. And that's what's exciting about this process is that in an era of big money it's still good to be some place that everybody gives you a fair shake.

And things like those local endorsements, being able to say, Joe Judge (note: the Judges had hosted an event earlier that day in Albia) is with me. That can make a difference here.
Yeah. All of that is huge. And it's also... I suppose what I find most refreshing and why I enjoy always being in in Iowa is that people have seen 1% candidates or 2% candidates that nobody else has heard of suddenly emerge.

I know people who still brag that Jimmy Carter slept on their couch.
Yeah. And the people of Iowa take pride, I think, in winnowing this process. And very often they are the ones that first identify that leader for a new generation and put that leader forward. And so I'm doing this campaign the old fashioned way, John, I am going county to county to county, the small groups of people that actually have respect in their community and know other people, and making my case for a better way forward for our country and what I have to offer at this time.

Maybe the caucuses have changes less for you - I mean, obviously you're not the staffer you're the candidate - but you seem to be running, of the Democrats at least, the most old-school kind of campaign, where you're going to the mid-size events and taking every question and shaking every hand you can, they can't get you out of the room... and you're not having a 15,000 body rally, and you don't have the Secret Service.

I remember in 1983 when I was working here for Gary Hart. John Glenn always had the big rallies. Tons of people would;d come to see John Glenn. Alan Cranston supposedly had sucked up all of the oxygen on the left. But I also saw my candidate continue to hang in there, go from county to county to county and offer ideas of substance, and some depth, and in the course of all of those talks on a chair, arrive at the needed message for those times and emerges as the alternative. And for all of the big crowds of John Glenn, he finished way down and Hart was able to finish on top of Cranston who was far better financed.

The great leveler, I think, and maybe the last sort of line of defense against big money running our process, is the process like this in Iowa, and to a very big degree your neighbors in New Hampshire who get to meet each of the candidates and who make a big difference.

Of course New Hampshire's got the different process with a primary, an open primary. There was a lot of criticism of caucus process in the 08 cycle. Obama did better in the caucus states than Hillary did. I just remember week after week after week Debbie Wasserman Schultz on MSNBC talking about how unfair caucuses were...
That was the Hillary Clinton talking point at the time.

Yeah. What do you think? Are caucuses - not the meeting and greeting process, the actual process of the night itself. The stand in the corner thing. Is that open enough?

I think it's very open. And I think it's very democratic. I think it's a good process. It tends to reward the better organized candidates, too. In 1983, I think after Iowa they sent me to Oklahoma, which was also... was Oklahoma a primary or a caucus?  I think Oklahoma was a caucus.  One of the few caucus states we won that year. So, I kind of like the caucus process. I think it's good for democracy. I mean, so much of what we do, we dial in. We drive through.

Are you excited for the debates finally coming up? I know you've talked about them a lot.

Yeah, I sure am. By this point 8 years ago, we had already had nine debates. And this year in the process we haven't had any. The Republicans have had two, very well, heavily viewed, publicized for weeks in advance with free media on CNN, letting everyone know who their candidates are. And we haven't. So our party needs to tell its story, not only of the progress of these last 8 years but who we are fighting for and the fight that we still need to continue here. So I'm looking forward to the debates, and I think we should have more of them rather than less. And hopefully more rational minds in the party will prevail.

Do you think it's possible now in the social media age for somebody to be flying under the radar and then make that great leap forward form a very distant second place to a big win in eight days, the way Hart did?

Yes. Although I was there at the time and it wasn't quite eight days. My experience was and what I hear back `cause I talk to our young people, our 30 organizers that are here in the state, is it's much the same process. Iowans, knowing how important their vote is, many people want to wait until they see the process unfold before they decide. Now fortunately, there are some people who want to be with you early, and those folks for the nucleus of your organization in any county or any district. But what I think the reason why it looks like somebody suddenly emerges is not because they suddenly emerge but because they were relentless in continuing to ask people , is there anything more I can send you on my candidacy? Is there anything more you and I can talk about. about the issues that matter to you, that my candidate might be able to address for you? And so as we roll out our policy statements and our policy positions, as people come to know my record and what I've actually accomplished in office, all of that comes together and gels in the end.

It's a remarkable process here when decision time is finally upon us, the debates have all happened, and it's time time for people to decide who they're going to be for, just to watch the networks light up and to see the relationships emerge. I felt after working for about two months in Scott County, after I got through that process. I felt like I had lived in Scott County for 10 years. I understood who knew who, who disliked who and why, and all of those things kind of gel in the end. And the candidate who gets rewarded in that process is the candidate who was relentless, who was all about ideas, and all about the national interest and governing.

Electability and experience is clearly part of your message, and yet we know... you're the turtle, the good Maryland Terrapin...

Fear the turtle!

Why do you think electability is not a bigger issue yet on the Democratic side? I got a theory, but I want to hear your theory.

Hmm. Why isn't electability a bigger issue in our party? Couple reasons. I think because it's early, and i Think in the early going people in both parties want to express their anger, frustration, discontent with the established leaders. People they feel that have let us down, gotten to cozy with powerful wealthy interest at the expense of our common good as a people. But I think the dynamic will shift, and as the debates start to happen I do believe that people will be looking at which of us can best win a general election. What do you think?

Well, my pet theory is that the Republican race looks like such a clown car right now that Democrats aren't worried about electability right now, because they feel like "are you kidding? We can beat any of these guys with anybody." My other theory is identity politics are playing a big part in all this. And in Johnson County at least, Move The Democrats Left is as much of an identity politics as Elect A Woman President is. So, with those dynamics going on, where do you fit in?

Identity politics. My son tried to explain this to me. I think the most important identity politics at the end of this process is which of us do people believe will fight the hardest for them and their family. I've always found that's the most important identity politics. In every race, there is a kind of a question that needs to be answered by voters about the two candidates - or the three, four, the five in our case. Which one of these people is on my side. Not only saying the right things, not only agreeing with my issues, but in the totality, which one is on my side? Which one had both the independence and the motivation and the emotional connection to fight for me and for my family? And I think that's the most important identity politics of all.

I know I'm an unknown right now, but that will all start to change once these debates start to happen, and the smaller number of people in our field will I think be a competitive advantage for me.

Just by division, you'll get more time than Scott Walker had to fight for in his last hurrah.

Yes, but what I will have to fight is a rather rigged process, where they try to hide the debates on Christmas weekend in New Hampshire, and in the middle of a big Iowa game here. That sort of manipulation and the limiting of debates, all of that will be a challenge. But I do believe that people throughout IA and NH, your serious voters and caucus goers, will be tuning in to those debates and will make sure that they see them. All of those very interested individuals are very aware there are going to be fewer debates. So I think you're going to see a higher viewership. So strangely enough, what they intended would be something that would suppress competition and circle the wagons around this years inevitable front runner I think will have the opposite effect on viewership. I think more people will want to view something that the party boss tries to hide from us.

I'm getting the feeling right now, between the rise of Trump, behind the very different movement Bernie Sanders is building, and now with John Boehner being squeezed out of office - I've got a sense of the wheels falling off the system (O'Malley laughs) more than I have since the Ross Perot era. Can the system be saved?

Yes. And that's what people are looking for. They're looking for the glue guy. They're looking for somebody that can pull it all together and invite all of us back to our table of democracy, remind us that we're good people and that our kids are depending on us to make our country stronger. And that's what people are looking for. Once we're done emoting, once we're done expressing our anger,. we're looking for an honest individual who can pull our country back together. Because the inequality, the injustice, the lack of confidence in the integrity of our own political process, all of these things are threatening to tear us apart. people are looking for a leader that can pull us back together.

Speaking of the process, you've talked about campaign finance reform, Hillary devoted a big speech to election process reform back in the spring. Other than campaign finance, what do you think the biggest improvements we could make to the actual electoral process, what do you think the biggest barriers are to participation, and what can we do about it?

During my term we tried to find ways to make it easier for people to vote. We extended early voting periods, did same day registration. There are some nations on this planet like Estonia that do on line voting. This is a country that is adjacent to Russia, and was once totally cut down by cyber attacks. So clearly they figured out, even as near as that threat is, how to secure online voting. And over the long arc of history, I think that's where it's moving towards. Despite the frustrations and some occasional detours, the march of our nation is towards fuller participation, with more and more people, and striving to make that easier with every generation.

I'd like to see us overturn Citizens United. I intend to talk in the course of this campaign about publicly financed congressional elections. I think the general public is on to the fact that we've turned our Congress members into telemarketers to special interests, and that;s not good for our representative democracy.

I've worked in elections for 18 years and I didn't see the same kind of gaming the rules, like the ID stuff, before Florida. So it seems like now it's acceptable in our political process to...

...make it harder for your opponents people to vote? Even if they're poor and sick and old?

Yeah. To try to rig the rules.

That's pretty outrageous, and we need to do a better job as a party of pushing back on it. What our party should be doing is running a wishbone offense to organize around two important principles: that corporations are not people, and the other one is to enshrine in the Constitution the right to vote. That's how a party could be helpful, rather than limiting debates or trying to figure out how to hide the Iowa debate on a Hawk eye game.

I hear a lot of good things about you. People like you. The one negative feedback I get is looking back to the 90s, to policing policies. Looking back, seeing how things have played out, what might you do different?

I wish we had been earlier implementers as  a state of body cameras. because as a city we were early implementers of the crime cameras on the corners that had been - Whole swaths of our city, entire neighborhoods, had been under a 24/7 drug dealer occupation for a couple decades. I was elected to restore justice to those poorest of neighborhoods, where it seemed like the police had given up. And that's what we did. I wish we had been earlier implementers in the body cameras.

But having said that, I rolled out a criminal justice reform agenda at the Urban League and some of the things we had in there were things that we did in Baltimore City. Things which sadly subsequent administrations stopped doing, but that actually work, and could be a model for police departments all across the country. Reverse integrity stings, a  civilian review board with its own independent staff. I believe nationally every department should have to report under standards and in a timely fashion its discourtesy, excessive force, lethal use of force.

So no mayor is without critics, and from the first day I ran there were those that said if I were elected, there would be a riot in Baltimore. And then 15 years later, after Freddie Gray's tragic death, some of these same voices found their way to cable news and said "look, this was all his fault."

The truth of the matter is, arrests peaked in Baltimore - and I did promise people there would be a heightened level of enforcement - and I won every council district, including those of my two opponents. Arrests peaked in 2003, and then they declined, along with crime, every year thereafter for the next 12. So the year before before Freddie Gray's tragic custodial death, arrests in Baltimore were actually at a 38 year low. So there are things that one might point to, things that led to a lack of police and community relations, but a heightened level of arrests was not one of them.

Some of the young men that you saw on TV that evening, 12 years ago they would have been six years old at the time that arrests reached their highest. And I was re-elected with 88% of the vote in the city - and I was still white when I was re-elected in a majority African American city. Some of the biggest numbers I received when I ran for governor I received from those poorest parts of Baltimore City where you saw the unrest and on the east side as well.

There's no one in this race who has treated this wound of race and law enforcement and violent crime in America quite as consistently or as persistently as I have. And during my time we actually improved police-community relations, and if I hadn't I wouldn't have been re-elected, or supported overwhelmingly in subsequent elections. And it is a fact that the 4 years with the lowest numbers of police-involved shootings, three of those four were achieved during my term of office.

All of us have a responsibility, and I said this in that talk to the Urban League, to save and redeem more lives. All of us have a responsibility to look at OUR criminal justice polices, laws, and ask ourselves what works? What serves? And what doesn't work and no longer serves, doesn't serve? And that's what I've done through my 15 years, including repealing the death penalty, driving incarceration rates down to 20 year lows, restoring voting rights to 52,000 people, decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, passing medical marijuana - did I mention the death penalty? It's getting late.

Is it possible to make it harder for the seriously mentally ill and the criminal to get their hands on guns without also making it harder for law abiding citizens, and can we have a one size fits all gun law that will work for Baltimore and, say, rural northern Wisconsin?

I think that banning the sale of combat assault weapons would be something that would be good for us to do as a country. It would be good four our homeland security, it would be good for the desire we have of avoiding these mass shootings, the magazines of 10 or more rounds. Background checks - I think all of those are common sense things that people could agree with. And we have to continue to push for it. There's no other developed nation on the planet that has this problem, that buries as many people from gun violence as we do. And it's possible to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill without impeding hunting and hunting traditions, and that's what we did in Maryland. I sent out a letter encouraging everybody to register to hunt. That's what we needed to do to preserve our open space.

Other than building the Trump wall on the border, foreign policy has been little discussed this election, at least what I've seen. What are you hearing about, and why do you think foreign policy has been kind of set aside?

I do have the sense that people's primary concern today is about their children's future, and the fact they're working harder and it feels like we're slipping further behind, for 70% of us. So that's the primary anxiety.

Having said that, I do believe there's a tremendous desire to have new thinking and fresh approaches when it comes to our foreign policy. I don't think either the Democrats or the Republican Party can say they've figured this world out. It's going to require a much more flexible, adaptable, nimble foreign policy. One that's more engaged, not one that's retreating behind walls and putting its head in the sand. So that's what I'm going to do my very best to speak to in these debates and in the remaining days of the campaign.

There's a connection between a more collaborative and engaged foreign policy and a more far-seeing national security strategy and an economy that works for all of us here at home, They're all connected. America's role in the world is to lead by example, because of a rising global middle class. But we can't do that if we're creating an economy that is increasingly, steadily, leaving more and more of our people behind. We've got to re-establish that economy of opportunity that allows people, whatever rung of the ladder they're on to be able to climb that ladder to better opportunity for their families and their kids. And if we do that then that will make our foreign policy more credible, If we do that we'll be a lot more effective at interrupting the propaganda of ISIS with our actions. If we lead on a humanitarian front by accepting the refugees from Syria that we were asked to accept, rather than kind of mumbling or pretending that 8000 is doing our part. It's kind of hard to have credibility if the only time people see us is at the other end of a drone strike. We need to dial up the whole of government approach to rising threats before they rise to a level where the choices are very binary, American boots on the ground or not.

So that's what I think people are looking for - a more far-seeing national security strategy, an engagement that dials up the diplomacy, and sustainable development in the whole of government rather than always reaching first for the military tool.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Notes on the week

Prepping for a big post tomorrow, so here's some notes on the past week for folks who prefer the blog format to the tweet format - yes, it's 2015 and blogs still exist.

Most of my week has been spent in my neutral role of caucus coordinator for the Johnson County Dems, and in trying to convince various buildings that, no, we really don't have caucuses in people's living rooms any more.
There wasn't room in Karen Kubby's living room last night for the crowd of 50 on hand for the four progressive city council candidates, in what's looking like a VERY clear cut Iowa City election. I was torn between "progressive icon" and "Godmother of the Iowa City left" in the tweet; the former was shorter.

Most predictable party change ever: marriage license denier and ex-jailbird Kim Davis, who was amazingly elected as a Democrat, formally made the switch to the GOP this week.  My bet is: Davis, who took over the job from her mom last year, was one of the last vestiges of the days when Appalachian courthouse politics remained nominally Democratic, even as coal country was shifting to the GOP first in presidential elections, then congressional, then state.

Question: What would have happened if the election clerk had refused on religious grounds to accept her change in voter registration?

Coincidentally, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson, who was increasingly out of step with the Republicans, changed his affiliation to Democratic last week. Oleson had been persona non grata with the Linn GOP since last year, when he backed his lifelong friend, Democratic Rep. Dan Lundby, in his unsuccessful re-election bid against Republican Ken Rizer.

Lundby's mom, of course, was legendary Republican Senator Mary Lundby, a giant of the GOP's centrist wing and Oleson's political mentor. Mary Lundby had personally asked Oleson to run for the Marion-based supervisor seat in 2008 when her terminal illness took her out of the race, and Oleson was sworn in at her hospital bedside, just days before her passing.

Oleson was also seen not long ago walking the Penford picket line with Bernie Sanders. So the change is not a total shock, and I'd say trading Kim Davis for Brent Oleson is a net gain for the Dems. Welcome aboard, Brent!

Longtime senator Dick Dearden is retiring next year and there's a primary lining up between his daughter, Pam Conner, and attorney labor Nate Boulton. Nate's a Columbus Junction native, and was one of my best door-knocking partners when he was still in high school in 1996. Will have to dig out the pix for some Throwback Thursday...

Critter of the Week #1:
Dylan, the older of my two cats, likes to remind me he's a Certified Mouse Killer, but all he ever seems to catch is this pink bunny.

Critter of the Week #2:
Speaking of yards: friendly advice to fellow west siders within earshot of the stadium. Yardsign damage is almost NEVER part of a Grand Conspiracy. It's usually just somebody who had a few too many. I bring mine in before the post-game foot traffic. And don't forget the Saturday before the city election is both a home game day and Halloween.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Walker Out, Hogg In

It makes sense that the high point of Scott Walker's presidential campaign was getting heckled by cheesehead-wearing protesters at the Iowa State Fair. Faced with his old familiar adversaries, bused in from Madison, you saw a little of the old Walker rage that made him a hero to teacher haters.

But without the immediate presence of his foes, Walker couldn't play hero-victim as easily, and he showed a deep streak of Not Ready For Prime Time. When the story of the Scott Walker presidential campaign is written, it will be a very slim book, as it formally lasted barely two months. And he's free to use my suggested title, From Ass To Asterisk.

My Wisconsin relatives are torn between the schadenfreude of his collapse and the realization that now he'll have more time to screw up the Badger state. It's hard to imagine him doing even more damage than he's already done, and between this and the Packers beating Seattle last night, it's a pretty good 24 hours for the cheeseheads.

Still, I have some regrets. For one, the price for this t-shirt I was planning to auction off at the Johnson County Dems BBQ next month just dropped.

I also have to eat yet another beret, as I had loudly and frequently predicted that Walker would, in the end, be the nominee. I thought his claim to fame, busting public employee unions, would unite both establishment and tea partiers, Because union busting is something that actually matters to the establishment wing of the Republican Party (see the career of Terry Branstad for more details.)

But to the Republican voter base, union busting is soooo 2011. They want what Trump is selling: mass deportation of Hispanics and "elimination" of Muslims. So Walker turned out to be not establishment enough for the establishment, and not crazy enough for the crazies - if only because the crazy bar his risen substantially this year.

So now I need to make a new bet as to eventual nominee...

That's an easy bet in Iowa's Democratic Senate primary. Rob Hogg is ending the exploring and making his announcement tomorrow. Hogg is just what I've been calling for since long before my own brief candidacy - someone who can rally the base, help the rest of the ticket, and be credible in case of the Last Minute Switcheroo Scenario where Chuck Grassley drops out at filing deadline and Pat Grassley runs instead. (A very slim chance, but possible.)

Bonus: Any candidate who exceeds expectations against Grassley - and expectations for Grassley challengers are very low - sets themselves up well for a future run at something.

Rob's a smart guy and his focus on environmental issues are a winner with the party activists who are likely to be voting in the primary. His Cedar Rapids address helps in the primary, too, as 1st District Democrats are likely to have the hottest congressional primary next year. He also has Iowa City roots, and Johnson County always punches above its weight in statewide Democratic primaries, because our courthouse primaries are de facto general elections for those offices and that boosts turnout.

So Hogg instantly ends Tom Fiegen's dubious claim to being "the leading candidate." Fiegen will no doubt continue his claims to being the "Bernie Sanders Democrat" in the race, but history tells us that such support is rarely transferable, especially when it's self-claimed.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Uncontested Races In Most Cities

The minimum wage increase passed by the Johnson County Supervisors may be a hot issue in the county's smaller cities - but in most cities it won't be fought out at the ballot box.

The filing deadline for most cities passed today, and of those cities only North Liberty and Swisher will see contested races.

Iowa City and University Heights, which have earlier deadlines because of their primary provision, will also have contested races, but not primaries.

Coralville will be much, much quieter than it was in 2013, when an open seat mayor's race and a big campaign effort by conservative group Americans For Prosperity boosted turnout to record levels. This year, Mayor John Lundell and council members Jill Dodds and Mitch Gross are unopposed.

Hills, Lone Tree, Oxford, Shueyville, Solon and Tiffin also have no contested races.

North Liberty will see four candidates trying for three seats. Incumbents Terry Donahue and Chris Hoffman are being challenged by new candidates Jay Johnson and Jim Sayre. The third incumbent, Colleen Chipman (of the Seelman-Mascher family) is stepping down.

In Swisher, where officials are planning a vote to opt out of the minimum wage, incumbents Mary Gudenkauf and Michael Stagg are challenged by Rebecca Neuendorf and Tiffany Dague in a race for three spots. (Sandy Fults is not running again.) Mayor Chris Taylor is unopposed.

In most cities, incumbents are running unopposed, or new candidates recruited by the current city officials are stepping up. Lone Tree will see a new mayor as Rick Ogren steps down; council member Sandra Flake is unopposed.

They said Don Saxton was mayor of Oxford for life, and he almost was, as he passed away just months after retiring in 2013. Saxton had been mayor for decades, but his chosen successor, Gary Wilkinson, lasted just two, and now no one wants the job. The winner will be settled by write-ins.

Two cities have ballot issues. Oxford will vote on a library levy. And as noted last month, University Heights, the last city where the whole council is up for two year terms every cycle, will vote on changing to staggered four year terms.

(Noted: de-construction is moving ahead at the St. Andrew Church property. Re-development of that land fueled three consecutive cycles of high turnout close elections between build it bigger and build it smaller factions. The build it bigger faction swept in 2013, and this year only one self-starter candidate is challenging.)

If the wage fight is going to play out in any city's election, it's in Iowa City's race for four seats (in three separate contests). Four progressive candidates - incumbent Jim Throgmorton and challengers Rockne Cole, Pauline Taylor and John Thomas - have pledged to support the higher wage, have hosted one joint event, and are planning at least two more, including one at the home of left icon Karen Kubby on September 25.
Meanwhile city staff - at the behest of incumbents Rick Dobyns and Michelle Payne, perhaps? - seems to be moving at a turtle's pace on an issue that really should be out in the open before people vote.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Debate Debate: Up to Clinton & Obama

I've long thought debates are over-rated. They sway few truly undecided voters, and the audience is mostly the true believers and the press.

That said, there's a fair amount of grumbling in the Democratic Party, and even in the higher levels of the Democratic Party, about the smaller number of debates in 2016 compared to 2008.

Most notably, the titular vice chairs of the DNC, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, in a rare open dissent, publicly called on chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to schedule more debate.

DWS's response to the debate debate was direct and blunt: "There will be six debates. Period." And she's not even bothering to hide her contempt for Martin O'Malley.
Classic stink eye there.

Let's address the donkey in the room here. Despite her official chair stance neutrality, Wasserman Schultz is pretty obviously in the Hillary Clinton camp, as she was in 2008 until the bitter end, and as she was when she spent months on cable shows defending her home state's rule breaking and attacking caucus states and early states. That, and her Israel First foreign policy views, are why I'm not a fan.

And let's also set aside the titles. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not really in charge here. No national party chair is, not when the party has a president in the White House.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is clearly not going to listen to the Sandernistas or the backers of the single digit three. There are two people she's going to listen to: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I'm not sure in which order. The public complaints only matter in the sense that they get the two people with the real power to act.

The push for more debates needs to come from Hillary herself, and for her to push for that she needs to be convinced it's in her interest. Or it needs to come from Wasserman Schultz's boss, the president, who is legacy focused, trying to deal with a WIll He Or Won't He vice president (won't) and may well want to stay out of it.

Hillary has said the right things...
"I debated a lot in 2008 and I would certainly be there with lots of enthusiasm and energy if (the DNC) decide to add more debates," Clinton said during a press conference in Portsmouth. "And I think that's the message a lot of people are sending their way." public.

But the important conversation about debates isn't the public conversation. It's the private conversation that is - or, more likely, is not - happening.

Hillary Clinton can absolutely hold her own in a debate, and none of the opponents are a Barack Obama or a John Edwards or a Joe Biden this time. She has nothing to fear, and I doubt she's scared.

But the mere fact of a debate makes Sanders and O'Malley and Webb and even Chaffee her equal for that 90 to 120 minutes.

And perhaps more important, because the main audience for that debate is not Truly Undecided Voters, but the media, the media (which as we all know just ADORES Hillary Clinton) gets to write the narrative. Somebody - not Sanders or O'Malley, probably Lincoln "Nothing To Lose" Chaffee - makes The Character Attack or The Iraq War Vote Attack, and bada bing, that's the national headline and sound bite.

If Hillary really wants more debates, she can get more debates. She calls Debbie Wasserman Schultz and says "I really seriously do want more debates." Barack Obama could make that call to Clinton and Wasserman Schultz too. Boom. Debbie schedules them tomorrow.

But not only is she not doing that, she's doubling down. "Six. Debates. Period." She's also willing to make herself the scapegoat and take the heat from the party base.

That tells us all we need to know about how the private conversations are going. And it's getting really late.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sanders to Johnson County Dems BBQ 10/18

You heard it here first: Bernie Sanders is the first confirmed presidential candidate for the Johnson County Democrats fall barbecue in Iowa City on October 18.

Sanders' presence could prompt other candidates to commit to the event, the county party's biggest fundraiser of the year.

In 2007, five candidates and multiple members of the Biden family attended, along with then-reigning Oscar best actor Forest Whittaker as an Obama surrogate. Hillary Clinton brought along George McGovern, who endorsed her at the barbecue. The 2007 event drew at least 2500 attendees.

In 2003, John Kerry brought Ted Kennedy to the Johnson County barbecue, and Howard Dean also attended.

Sanders was also one of the keynote speakers at the Johnson County Barbecue last year (seen above), in one of his first steps toward exploring a campaign.

Word went out to local Sanders backers late Friday afternoon that Sanders was hosting a house party in Iowa City on the same date as the barbecue, and the Sanders campaign has confirmed that Sanders will also attend the barbecue.

All the campaigns have had the October 18 date for months, and reports are that arms are being twisted up the food chain.