Sunday, September 14, 2014

Harkin Steak Fry Tweets Compiled

Here's how we live blog in 2014.

News Flash:

Elsewhere in Iowa:


Also noted: Murphy's exceptionally high decibel level.

I may have gotten the last steak at the last steak fry; they were already putting leftovers away
And what I missed: great come from behind win!

What Do I Expect?

I'm going to miss something today, between the million things at one nature of the Harkin Steak Fry and the likelihood of spotty 4G with every journalist in Democratic pol in the state on site. You'll get what you get when you get it. Times like this I miss the all star team we had back at Iowa Independent in 07-08.

I expect to be steered to Harkin, Harkin, Harkin all day. But that won't work and everyone knows it won't work. 

I expect SHORT. The speaking protocol is Harkin, Hillary, Bill. It's Harkin's last hurrah so he'll talk as long as he wants, and Bill of course will go on all day as well because this kind of thing is exactly what he loves. So she's in the middle and will leave people wanting more.

I expect NO POLICY, except maybe an issue-based shot at some Iowa Republican candidate, and even that's better left to Harkin.

I expect one very well rehearsed, carefully parsed, soundbite length reference to 2016 and that will be the national lede.

What am I curious about? How open vs. controlled Hillaryworld will be.

What do I WANT? Just one reference, which would likely be well rehearsed, carefully parsed, soundbite length, to Iowa, caucuses in general, and First In The Nation. Something to move on from the caucus-bashing, Iowa bashing and accusations that followed third place.

Then she's welcome back and we can talk some issues.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pate's Partisan Postal Plan

Way back when in Paul Pate's term as secretary of state, election administration wasn't the highly partisan battleground it's become in the post hanging chad era.

Pate has changed with the times, as his recent editorial showed, and he gladly toes the Republican Party line that massive voter impersonation is an actual problem and only voter ID can solve it.

But beyond this solution in search of a problem, Pate is offering a "solution" that causes more problems than it solves.

"I believe no one should be touching your absentee ballot except you, an authorized election official or a postal worker," Pate writes in a soundbite that's not as simple as it seems.

The idea is to end the practice of "chasing," where campaign volunteers and staffers pick up ballots from voters and deliver them to auditor's offices. It's a practice that helps Democrats. The demographic reality is, Democrats have to work much harder to get their marginal voters to follow through. Pickup and delivery helps, so Dems do it.

"I propose to eliminate absentee ballot couriers from the election process," Pate adds. That term "courier" is an interesting one, and one that points to the problem with the Pate plan.

Under current law, anyone except a candidate can pick up and return your ballot. But for two cycles, 2004 and 2006, Iowa had a cumbersome "ballot courier" law that limited who could chase ballots. There were mandatory yet pointless training sessions (summary: duh, you have to bring the ballots back), a tedious check in process, and cumbersome paperwork.

Democratic campaigns were willing to do the extra work. But the biggest burden wasn't on campaigns. It was on the general public.

"No one should be touching your absentee ballot except you, an authorized election official or a postal worker." What about your spouse? Or your parent? Or your adult child? Or your care provider? Countless times in 2004 and 2006, I had to tell spouses they could not return their partner's ballot, and go through the absurd step of instead directing them to the mail box outside.

The mail is the other problem here. County auditors across Iowa have been battling the Postal Service the last few years about postmarks.

Iowa law says that to count a mailed ballot, it has to be 1) postmarked by the day before the election or 2) delivered in person before the polls close. But due to budget cuts, very little local mail is postmarked anymore. When auditors raise the issue with postmasters, they're basically told Too Bad So Sad.

So if you put your ballot in the mail box on Monday, there's a good chance it won't count. By eliminating ballot chasers, Pate would eliminate one more way by which an absentee voter could get their ballot in on time and counted, and make it harder, not easier, to vote.

That's a false priority, compared to Brad Anderson's goal of making  Iowa the highest turnout state in the country. Something to remember before you send that ballot back.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Getting All Partisan and Elite

First I'm gonna be partisan.

David Atkins has one of the best brief descriptions of the present state of the Republican Party. It requires a demographic setup by Jonathan Chait:

The Republican Party constructed a geriatric trap for itself. Just how it will escape is hard to see. It is a small-government party whose base is wedded to the programs that constitute a large and growing share of government. The inability to touch the benefits of any old person, in combination with its still-extant support for defense and fanatical opposition to tax hikes in any form, have driven Republicans to propose massive cuts to the small share of government that benefits struggling workers. This priority has, in turn, saddled the GOP with the (correct) image of hostility toward the unfortunate.

Atkins continues:
The easiest way for the Republican Party to escape would simply be to abandon its pretense of fiscal austerity—it is, after all, a kabuki show that closes up whenever a Republican is president—and wholly embrace becoming a party of elderly voters driven by cultural resentment. The GOP could, in effect, treat cuts to Social Security and Medicare as equally sacrosanct with cuts to the military, and then suggest that literally everything else in the budget be cut first. If they can get a Democratic president to go along with it, then so much the better for them.

Some Republicans are doing that already, of course. But the challenge for conservatives is that a new generation of lawmakers and activists grew up actually believing the Objectivist rhetoric of fiscal austerity and intend to see it enacted. Not only are Republicans unlikely to start treating spending on retirees as a sacred cow, they’re even moving away from protecting military spending as well.

GOP leadership knows that in the medium-term it has to reach out to younger voters and voters of color. But their base rejects out-of-hand any of the policy changes that would be required to even begin to do that. 

So instead the GOP just plods along incoherently, moving opportunistically to capitalize on fear and cultural prejudice, but lacking in a broader strategic vision for its future. It’s so hostage to its own extremism and demographic traps that it can’t even take advantage of an amazing opportunity to enact their policy agenda, even when a Democratic president offers it to them on a silver platter.
Think that's partisan? Well, ain't NOTHING more partisan than a little gerrymandering. It's the second thing us Democrats leap to when assigning blame for losing control of the House, right below the Koch Brothers.
(Pro tip: Hollering "Koch Brothers" isn't about motivating actual voters, who have no idea who they are. It's about motivating donors.)

But back to gerrymandering, Nate Cohn looks at Pennsylvania as a test case and argues the problem is more a matter of birds of a feather flocking together.
“The fact that Democrats do so much better in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh than the Republicans do in their best counties is responsible for the entire Democratic advantage in Pennsylvania.”

The result is that Democrats win Pennsylvania but aren’t positioned to win a majority of its congressional districts.

“This wasted vote problem has been steadily getting worse for Democrats. Both parties have made gains in base areas since 1992, but the Democratic gains are larger.
Kevin Drum is more direct:
Gerrymandering is what it is. The best studies I've seen suggest that it accounts for 6-8 additional Republican seats. The rest of the Republican advantage is due to the incumbency effect; self-sorting; natural Democratic clumping in urban areas; and a few other minor things.

So: Is gerrymandering responsible for Republican control of the House? No. Is it partially responsible? Yes. What's so hard about this?

Enough partisanship. Time to get elite. This Politico survey of an "Elite 50" is most interesting for the places where elite opinion and public opinion diverge. Much of the difference seems to reflect education and economic class differences between a panel of experts and a random survey. Most notable:

Elite opinion is much more likely to accept the reality and human causes of climate change. The general public is to some extent in denial and refusing to accept that major lifestyle changes (like living closer to where you work, not driving a car everywhere, and not building refrigerated cities in the desert) are going to have to happen.

A majority of the general public is supportive of marriage equality, which would have seemed like a miracle a dozen years ago when Howard Dean was a "radical" for supporting civil unions. But a very large minority is still opposed. In contrast, elite opinion is near unanimous for marriage equality.

In foreign policy, opinion leaders overwhelmingly sees the Iraq war as a mistake and Afghanistan as the right call. But the general public more evenly divided, still unable to balance supporting the troops with opposing a policy.

The general public, probably thinking in terms of jobs and economy, see China as the greatest international threat. But elites, no doubt thinking through China's obsession with "stability," see Putin's Russia as more dangerous. On the other hand, the general public is scared of Kim Jong Un's atomic posturing, but elites see it as empty threat.

And surprisingly, elites and the public are in line on drug policy, with near-identical majorites in favor of marijuana legalization.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Dems with 33 To 1 Absentee Lead

Democrats in Johnson County hold a whopping 33 to 1 advantage over Republicans in absentee ballot requests.

Through Friday afternoon, 3567 Democrats in the county had requested early ballots for November 4, vs. only 108 Republicans. Another 1275 no party and third party voters had turned in requests, but the Democratic field canvass had collected most of those.

That 33 to 1 ratio is probably at its peak. Republicans are just getting started, with their first absentee request mailing landing in mailboxes late last week. Still, they'll be hard-pressed to even come close to catching the Democratic head start by Election Day.

GOP operative Don McDowell wrote Wednesday:
RANT: I don't often do this, but it's become a pet peeve of mine...and it needs to be said. People who refuse to vote early by mail or at the county auditor's office because they seem to think that voting on Election Day at the polls is somehow more "patriotic" is just a completely asinine argument. To my knowledge, I have NEVER not voted early.

When you wait until Election Day, you are actually opening yourself up to more mail pieces, more phone calls, more door knockers, and the like because the local party apparatus and the local parties do not want to take you for granted, want to ensure you do not forget, and so they continue to pursue you and perhaps waste money on you. What a shame.

If you vote early and get it out of the way, you get your ballot in the "bank" and your preferred political party and preferred candidates can instead focus their precious time, resources, and volunteer activity on those that are low propensity voters and perhaps ACTUALLY do need persuasion. Not to mention, what happens if the weather is bad or you have an emergency on Election Day?

Join me in 2014 in voting early. I challenge you. I will submit my absentee ballot request to vote early. Voting is patriotic. What's not fun is losing elections because you did not do your part to narrow the pool of voters that need focusing on. Get with it and pledge to me that you'll never be guilty of making a faulty argument that somehow voting on November 4 is more patriotic than voting on September 30. Democrats in Iowa have it figured out. Republicans in Iowa have not yet.
I couldn't agree more. But a few items, like "unpatriotic," sound like things he's hearing.

The Iowa Republican's Craig Robinson adds:
Republicans are simply getting out worked when it comes to early voting. It’s not difficult to institute an early voter program, it just requires staffers to get out of the air conditioned campaign office.

When it comes to early voting, Republicans continue to call it good with a couple of mail pieces, while Democrats swarm neighborhoods looking for votes. While this could impact congressional races and the U.S Senate race, where it will really have an impact is in local legislative races.
And courthouse races.
These comments seemed timed to coordinate with the GOP absentee mailing and illustrate some of the hole Republicans have dug for themselves.

Terry Branstad always had good vote by mail operations in the 1990s. But post-Florida, Republicans spent the 2000s decade teaching their base that early voting was wrong, implying it was somehow "fraudulent." Heck, Matt Schultz built a whole brief career out of it.

So now Branstad is back in the ball game. He's smart and he's never lost, and he and his people know that a strong early voting program is an essential component of a winning field operation. But they're running into a base that thinks in terms of the old "72 Hour" program, that focused the whole effort on the last hours before Election Day, or as we call it in Johnson County "Late Voting Day."

Also hitting the mail this weekend was an absentee mailer from NextGenClimate, an independent but D-leaning group. Not sure how it was targeted but my wife got one and I didn't. Possible explanations: 1) targeting women or presumed single women (we have different last names). 2) Targeting perceived weak voters. My record is almost spotless; still kicking myself for missing one uncontested school board election in 1992. Koni hasn't missed one in years but on paper her Iowa voter record shows a long deceptive gap, as she lived and voted in Missouri for several years.

Put them all together and throw in the in-person early voting that starts Sept. 25, and this year will likely be the first gubernatorial election in Johnson County with more early votes than election day votes. We topped that 50% mark in the last two presidentials and in two wintertime special elections. But in 2010, even with the massive student satellite voting that the 21 Bar issue brought out, we still got 52% of the total turnout on Late Voting Day.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Dvorsky Defers to Anderson, Kinney

"You're the only politician I've ever heard get up and not say a word about himself - at his own event!" Brad Anderson told Bob Dvorsky and a crowd of about 50 gathered for Dvorsky's annual local fundraiser in Coralville.

There's reasons for that, one being that Dvorsky is unopposed this year. But Bob also knows for that next term to mean anything and to keep his job as Appropriations chair, he needs to help elect other Democrats, especially Senate Democrats. So he turned the spotlight over to Secretary of State candidate Anderson and to Kevin Kinney, the Democratic candidate in open, Republican-held Senate 39, a must-win race for both parties.

"People are very much wanting a change, and we can capture this seat from the Republicans," Kinney said. "It's overwhelming to me to see the support I'm getting from everyone."

Along with Kinney, Anderson is a high priority both for Bob and for Sue Dvorsky, who chaired the Iowa Democratic Party through the 2010 and 2012 general elections. "We couldn't put out all the fires and we lost Mike Mauro," in 2010, Sue Dvorsky said.

"The mission of that office is to expand accessible voting," she added. "It is a foundational race. If we cannot get back to the Iowa value that voting has to be easy and accessible, if we cant get this fixed, we will be struggling for the foreseeable future."

The Dvorskys were among Anderson's first supporters, but Brad said he had to work a little harder to win over the immediate family. "My nine year old asked, Dad, why are you running against John Kerry?" (Even in a political family, that's pretty remarkable civic awareness at age 9.)

Anderson's goals for the office include online voter registration, an option to sign up for permanent absentee ballot status, and getting Iowa to number one in voter turnout ahead of Minnesota.

Recent polls show the race between Anderson and his GOP opponent, Paul Pate (who held the office from 1994-98) extremely close. "I've never seen a poll like that, tied to a tenth of a point," he said, citing one of three recent polls.

Responding to criticism that his campaign is focused on attacks on incumbent Matt Schultz, who lost a congressional primary, Anderson said: "When Pate announced he said 'I want to continue the good work of Matt Schultz' - and then tried to delete it."

 "The advantage we have in this race is organization, said Anderson. "At some point Pate will be competitive in fundraising, but there's no time to match us in organization."

Other political folks in the audience were too numerous to name. I tried, but then I gave my notes to Bob to make sure they all got introduced and didn't get them back. And that anecdote is a better end to the post than a list of names.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

History Lessons

A couple weeks back at a Brad Anderson fundraiser, retired UI history professor Shel Stromquist gave a deeply moving account of his experiences as a Freedom Summer worker in Mississippi in 1964. I noted: "Stromquist still bristles as he remembers how Lyndon Johnson failed to support the Freedom Democrats."

The flip side of that last piece involved three giant figures in 20th century Democratic politics, and the last survivor of these, Walter Mondale, offers his thoughts here.
“Lyndon said to Humphrey, ‘If you want to be the Democratic vice presidential nominee you better settle this Mississippi issue.’ Humphrey in turn said to Mondale, ‘Fritz, if you want to be the appointee to the Senate to replace me to become vice president, you had better settle this Mississippi delegation issue.’ They just kept passing the buck from Lyndon to Humphrey to Fritz.”
That thing where an ideological candidate counter-intuitively does well in an ideologically opposite region? I've seen it on small scale locally, where, say, a Green or lefty independent in a race with no Republican will run best against a prominent Iowa City liberal in a rural conservative precinct. Why? It's a low info race and people are voting AGAINST. Here's how that works in Florida, where socialists lead in statewide primaries in the Panhandle because Dixiecrats are voting against Obamacrats.

What happens when an official is too infirm to serve, but won't step down? I have personal experience in that, and here's a look at how South Dakota was short a senator for three whole years.

And you think Braley-Ernst is getting nasty? A look back at one of the epic Senate battles of all time: Jesse Helms vs. Jim Hunt, North Carolina, 1984.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Labor Day 2014

Dave Loebsack said he's been accused of pulling punches in his Thursday debate with opponent Mariannette Miller-Meeks, but the congressman told a Labor Day crowd at the Iowa City Federation of Labor picnic, "If you were wondering why I was holding back, that’s not gonna happen anymore.”

City Federation of Labor president Jesse Case was more direct: “Loebsack’s opponent and the Koch brothers can kiss our ass.”

While Loebsack's demeanor is a bit more professorial, he said he was proud of his long support of organized labor.  “This is one congressman who’s not afraid to say the word Union, not afraid to say the word Labor” He said his priorities include ending wage theft, raising the minimum wage, and closing close tax loopholes. “My opponent will not stand against policies that send jobs overseas.”

The congressman was the leadoff speaker at the noon event and left promptly to attend other labor events in the Quad Cities and Burlington, but plenty of other political and labor figures filled the gaps between the burgers, brats and pot luck sides.

Today's event marked Case's first Labor Day as president of City Fed. He had been vice president until the death of longtime president Patrick Hughes on August 6, and was elected president two weeks ago.

Mark Patton of Habitat for Humanity announced that the group would build a home in honor of Hughes, a long time Habitat volunteer and part-time staffer.

Case is helping organize a labor action weekend for September 20. “Labor’s role in this election has to be more than just our name only and a little money," he said. "We need people at the doors.” 

“We will not hand out endorsements unless candidates understand our issues,” he added.

The was no Ready for Hillary presence but Jeff Cox spoke on behalf of Bernie Sanders, noting in a non-subtle shot at Clinton, “He’s never served on the board of Walmart.” Sanders is scheduled to attend the Johnson County Democrat's barbecue on October 5.

Other elected and candidates on hand included: Secretary of Agriculture candidate Sherrie Taha, State Senators Joe Bolkcom, Bob Dvorsky and Senate Candidate Kevin Kinney; Reps. Mary Mascher and Sally Stutsman and House candidates David Johnson and John Greener; Supervisors Rod Sullivan, Janelle Rettig and candidate Mike Carberry; Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, Recorder Kim Painter, and city council members Jim Throgmorton and Kingsley Botchway of Iowa City, Mitch Gross of Coralville, and North Liberty mayor candidate Amy Nielsen.

And County Attorney Janet Lyness, who topped things off with an Ice Bucket Challenge.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Courthouse Races Mostly Settled

It was overshadowed by sales tax language, but the county filing deadline passed Wednesday and three of the four courthouse races are uncontested.

Janet Lyness won renomination with 69% over challenger John Zimmerman in the June Democratic primary, and the loss seems to have driven Zimmerman right out of the state. Gregg Hennigan reports that Zimmerman has taken a public defender job in Missouri. In any case, Janet's win was convincing enough to deter any other rivals and she will begin a third term in January.

Also uncontested are treasurer Tom Kriz and recorder Kim Painter, also Democrats.

That means the only courthouse race is the supervisor contest for two seats. Republicans only nominated one candidate, incumbent John Etheredge. He faces a very different electoral climate than the low turnout race he won in March 2013. In a hotly contested, very partisan general election year, he starts as an underdog against the two Democrats, fellow incumbent Janelle Rettig and challenger Mike Carberry.

In late surprises, two cities with special elections on the November ballot will see contested races. In North Liberty, appointed mayor Gerry Kuhl is being challenged by Amy Nielsen, who applied for the council vacancy created by Kuhl's appointment as mayor.

Theory: after the bitterly divided era of North Liberty city politics during Dave Franker's tenure as mayor, Tom Salm was the anchor that held the city together. With Salm's sudden death, city factions are sorting themselves out again...

In Solon, city council appointee Steve Duncan is being challenged by Kevin Samek, who served on the council 2003-07.