Monday, March 31, 2008

McCain Narrows Gap in Iowa Electronic Markets

McCain Narrows Gap in Iowa Electronic Markets

John McCain is narrowing the gap against the Democratic nominee, whoever that may be, in trading on the Iowa Electronic Markets.

The University of Iowa College of Business project, in which traders use real money to measure candidates' chances, has had a strong predictive track record since it started in 1988. In the winner-take-all general election market, the Republican contract (McCain isn't named) was trading at 47 cents, meaning investors think there is a 47 percent probability that the Republicans will win the popular vote. The Democratic contract still leads at 53.3 cents, but only a month ago the Democrats were leading by 57 cents to 35 cents.

In the primary election markets, McCain's price has stabilized in the mid-90s since his win in the Jan. 29 Florida primary. On the Democratic side, there has been some volatility, but Barack Obama has rarely dropped below 70 cents since Super Tuesday. On Monday morning, Obama was trading at 79 cents, with Hillary Clinton at 15.2 cents. The "rest of field" contract, which presumably at this point means a savior candidate coming to the rescue at a deadlocked convention, has slowly inched up to 4.2 cents.

Democratic Legislators Reframing Collective Bargaining Bill

Democratic Legislators Reframing Collective Bargaining Bill

Eastern Iowa legislators at a weekend Leauge of Women Voter's forum in Iowa City worked to shift the rhetoric on the collective bargaining bill.

"This just allows public sector people equal rights," said Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville. "But the press is so biased they talk about 'union demands.'"

"I think it just equalizes the playing field as to what issues can be bargained," said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City. "I don't understand why an equal playing field creates problems for administrators."

Governor Chet Culver has threatened to veto the bill, saying it hasn't received enough public debate, but Mascher countered: "It's something Democrats have supported for many many years. It needed to be done a long time ago."

"I really don't think it will have an enormous budgetary impact," said Mascher. "90 percent of contracts are voluntarily settled, and this won't change that at all."

"Public employees understand that if we strangle the employer we're strangling ourselves," said Rep. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids. "The folks we're talking about are also taxpayers."

Taylor said the proposal simply expands the number and nature of items which may be negotiated. "In negotiations, there are the mandatory subjects like wages, and there are permitted subjects," said Taylor. "Open scope just says if one side wants an issue on the table, they have to talk about it. 34 other states have it. It's not a new idea, it's just a new idea for Iowa."

Dvorsky said any contract items would still have to be negotiated, and the process works both ways; local governments could place previously off-limits issues on the table. "Any time we can give a little more respect and dignity for public employees, it's good," he said, adding that open scope would improve relationships with bargaining units.

"One of the issues is teacher prep time," said Mascher, who is an elementary school teacher. "Whenever we got to arbitration, we had to start talking about 'break' time, as opposed to prep time. It's important for us to be able to negotiate prep time."

What did I find over the weekend

What did I find over the weekend

  • Classic Wisconsin humor:
    Cars lining the street. A house full of young people. A keg and drinking games inside. Police thought they had an underage boozing party on their hands.

    But though they made dozens of teens take breath tests, none tested positive for alcohol. That's because the keg contained root beer.

    The cops were not amused.

  • A MyDD diary comparing military experience and presidential campaign success. Bad news for McCain: Since 1992, the non-vet has beaten the vet every time. (Texas Air National Guard ony counts if you show up.) The last time a veteran beat a non-veteran was Nixon-Humphrey.

  • Hot button ballot issues this fall. No mention of the Iowa Idiot Amendment.

  • Don't eat anything that doesn't rot.
  • Sunday, March 30, 2008

    Smallest Farm Report

    Smallest Farm Report

    After that liveblog yesterday, I spent the rest of the weekend in actual physical labor on the vastly expanded Smallest Farm in Iowa. This included a visit today to the puny 2005-2007 site of the Smallest Farm, to dig up some perennials that were grown over late last July when we made the move out of Bohemian Paradise.

    Most of the weekend's effort was expended on a wabbit fence. My five year old thinks it would be way cooler if it was electrified, but I tell him we just want to keep the bunnies out, not cook them. Nevertheless, the subject keeps coming up. Of course, if I really wanted to Kill The Wabbit I'd let Dylan, the cat who likes mouse killin', outside.

    Since 1994 there's only been one year (2003) when I had absolutely nothing in the ground. I went through a stretch of seven years (1998-2004) when I was never in the same space two years in a row, and in 2001 I had a garden that was 20 feet long and nine inches wide; a pole bean fence along a narrow strip at the edge of a parking lot. The last three years were pretty minimal, just a defiant insistence that I put a few seeds in a tiny inappropriate space.

    But this year is the Big Expansion. Here's the basic plan. The south garden is about 30 by 50 feet and will be the site of the pole bean fence, the corn field, the giant pumpkins and assorted squashes. The peas are there too but will be long gone by the time the squash vines get there.

    The middle garden is long and skinny, about 15 by 40. Mostly tomatoes and peppers, and I'm going to try eggplant again, but the north row will be a wall of sunflowers. Both these gardens will have salad-sized odds and ends tucked in.

    The north garden was tilled but after a winter-long discussion with my dear wife, over the conflict between location of trees and sunny spots vs. where the kids like to play, it has been determined that the north garden will grow boys instead of veggies. There's a small remnant to the west that will have a pole bean teepee, as a compromise between play and crops. We've also got a fully enclosed rain barrel with the drain spout piping straight in.

    This is the old orchard part of Iowa City, just at the bottom of the Benton Street hill, and we indeed have an orchard consisting of one apple tree. Mid-summer we'll figure out what kind of apples we have and act accordingly.

    I'm trying to make the case that this is going to save money in the long run, as I shell out the bucks to replace all the garden tools and equipment I lost after five years of apartment life. But I suspect it'll turn out like dad's fishing boat: a lot of time and money for a few bucks worth of fish -- and my kids like their veggies about as much as I liked fish.

    But dad had lots of fun fishing.

    Saturday, March 29, 2008

    League Legislative Forum

    League of Women Voters March Legislative Forum

    It's 9:34 and the League forum is underway. Today we have Dvorsky and Bolkcom from the Senate, and Mary Mascher and Linn County's Todd Taylor from the House. Attendance is off due probably to the Sueppel funeral schedule conflict. We have a few other noteworthies who I'll drop in. (T. Neuzil, L. Pulkrabek, T. Dahms, R. Bailey, P. Fields, among others)

    Starting off with Bolkcom. Second funnel was yesterday but "nothing's ever dead until we actually adjourn." Health care still out there, Senate hoping to take it up this week. Amendment is reviving the idea of insurance advocate. Open records open meetings also moving.

    The junior high kids aren't here, that's a first.

    Bolkcom continues: conference committee working on the smoking ban. "We hope to find the votes the week after next for legislation that's protect 99.9% of workers." Collective bargaining bill: "the governor has some concerns." Nicely understated, Joe.

    Bob Dvorsky next. Major appropriations bills moving out of subcommittees. Three types of bills exempt from funnel: approps, ways & means, leadership. And those are some of the major bills. Open meetings moving. Voting machine bill signed.

    Mascher up next at 9:44. Education appropriations is out of subcommittee. Has more community college $ than governor's budget. Smoking conference committee: "we believe whatever comes forward will be a better version." Working on adult dependent abuse bill. Model core curriculum is still alive -- "It brings everyone up to an equal bar." Bottle bill: was referred to Ways & Means. "We believe it still has a pulse, we're not sure if the heartbeat is still there." Compulsory attendance until age 17 also got through funnel. (Do they get funnel cake during funnel week?) Statewide SILO is still alive. Collective bargaining bill: "I think it just equalized the playing field as to what issues can be bargained. I really don't think it will have an enormous budgetary impact" on local govts. "It's something Democrats have supported for many many years. It needed to be done a long time ago"

    Todd Taylor is here, dressed casual. He was here in the first place because his day gig is with AFSCME, and he's one of many labor folks here. Justice system budget is basically status quo. Some federal $ dropped off, so some of the "new" expenditures are just making up for federal cuts. Labor committee: Collective bargaining bill: "There's the mandatory subject, the permitted subjects, and the illegal subjects" (Illegal=retirement.) "Open scope just says they have to talk about it. 34 other states have it. It's not a new idea, it's a new idea for Iowa."

    Open to the audience at 9:56. Barbara Beaumont is first with bottle bill. Mascher: "The governor is really adamant about something coming forward, if nothing else an increase for the distribution centers so they can stay viable." Expansion of containers is also still alive. There's a taskforce to look at just doing it curbside. Bolkcom: "We've been at stalemate" between distributors and recyclers. "I don't believe we've found a solution yet." Only about 300 Iowa cities have any kind of recycling. "The grocery stores are not going to be able to accomodate 300 million more containers." Doesn't think anything but study will pass this year.

    Nile Jessen (?) of NAMI, one of cohosts, is next. Questions about medication funding. Dvorsky: HHS committees put the $ back in, so we're in good shape. Mascher: there's a bill for a health insurance mandates commission (I missed the #). 6 or 7 bills with mandates, so those will be first topics discussed. "This is one of our ways to get mental health parity, with substance abuse included, on the table."

    Lori Bears of ARC asks about autism bills at 10:05. Mascher: a couple bills out there dealing with immunization, which is controversial because there's not consensus with health care community. (Correction: the junior high kids ARE here.) There's also a bill to establish task forces at AEAs. Bolkcom: there's also bills for state to assume county portion of Medicaid match. Also: crisis MH services bill ($6 million)

    I'm off my game this AM and not catching things as fast as usual.

    Several people rush the mike at once. Sue Dvorsky gets up wearing the teacher hat. "We all want to thank all of you for the committment you've shown to working people and public employees." Gets applause. "There seems to be an apocalyptic nature to the rhetoric about this. This is not an armageddon bill." Taylor: "It's common for the private sector. If we strangle the employer we're strangling ourselves. The folks we're talking about are also taxpayers." Mascher: "One of the issues is teacher prep time. Whenever we got to arbitration, we had to start talking about break time as opposed to prep time. It's important for us to be able to negotiate prep time. I don't understand why an equal playing field creates problems for administrators. 90% of contracts are voluntarily settled, and this won't change that at all."

    Bob Dvorsky: "Any time we can give a little more respect and dignity for public employees, it's good. This just allows public sector people equal rights, but the press is so biased they talk about 'union demands.'" Everything has to be negotiated, isn't required, and it works both ways; govt's can bring up additional issues too. Will improve relationship with bargaining unit people. Bolkcom: I remain hopeful Culver will sign.

    John Oxley (?), a social work grad student: worked on a needs assessment for adults with special needs recreational activities. Dvorsky discusses independent living centers.

    Eve Casserly asks about a broad range of senior-related issues. Bolkcom touches a lot of bases that I missed while someone ran something else by me. Mascher says dependent adult abuse bill is going to get through; also need to address pay of caregivers. Dvorsky says it'll be hard to expand case management, because it's a tough year fiscally. Taylor says they're trying to get $ into Senior Living Trust Fund.

    Anti-smoker Beth Ritter-Rubeck mostly just says thanks, asks for an update on exemptions. Bolkcom is on the conference cmte. "What'll be in the bill is what can get the votes, and the conference committee is trying to determine what those exemptions will be." Comes down to a handful of members. Could be smoking on gaming floor only (all or part) Dvorsky: "The perfect is the enemy of the good, and I don't think we can pass a perfect no exemptions bill." "The casino is a big concern." Likely exemptions are casino floors and vets home. "99.9 is better than zero." Mascher: "I don't want the bar and restaurant exemption. The only reason that went in was we wanted to keep the bill alive in the House, to get it to a conference committee. I do believe we're going to get something this year." Taylor: "The bar and restaurant provision is kind of the whole point of the bill." As of now conference committee is closed so no new angles.

    Chris Squire with more tobacco. Bolkcom: we need 4 GOP votes to confirm Tom Newton at Dept of Health and we may not have that. Sounds like there's a cooling off period in play for the appointment. Dvorsky says deadline is 4/15. "Eventually he'll get confirmed or there'll be a recess appointment."

    Neil Daniels asks more on autism; Mascher: "We don't tend to act on things when the experts disagree" and on this there's disagreement between experts and public.

    Conservation Director Harry Graves asks about SJR 2002, natural resources $. Taylor: I'm on committee and it passed out unanimous this week. As it's constitutional, it has to pass next year. 3/8 of a cent sales tax for environmental programs. Earliest it can make the ballot is 2010 general election. Some question about doing it by constitution, rather than out of regular funds, so it'll be a tax debate. Mascher: I'm supportive, but there's also the same-sex marriage amendment. "The concern is that this will open up that debate. As soon as you open the issue of constitutional amendments, this could come into play, and that debate would be very hurtful and detrimental."

    Emily Bladel, social work student, on renewable energy. Bolkcom: "It's deader than a doornail, to put it bluntly." The utilities are lining up against any progressive energy legislation.

    Ann Bovbjerg on Bush "stimulus" rebates, getting satirical. "If you use it to pay off your credit card, you're depriving the banks of late fees." In that general vein. Bolkcom: "How many people are tearing their checks up?" No hands go up. With state not taxing those, they forgo $70 million of revenue. Mascher: "We should be lobbying federal officials for an economic stimulus package that crates jobs. This is woefully inadequate and does not address the problem." Taylor: "The enormous cost of the war is hurting our overall economy." He has an unemployment modernization bill -- died in funnel but leadership may revive it. Items like extended training benefits. "It was $42 million just to send you the note saying you were going to get the rebate."

    Bob Welsh: consumer protection act. Mascher: Died in committee. (I'm picturing "I'm just a bill" here.) Dvorsky: things'll be better post-election.

    11:04 and the kids are on. The war, animal testing and neglect, teacher salary (now that's a question that'll get ya brownie points). Even less students than usual this week.

    Bolkcom: it's been a good year for animal protection in legislature. But pet protection in domestic abuse cases -- that died in House committee. Dvorsky: "I'm supporting a candidate -- and the other candidate does too -- who wants to end the war sooner rather than later." (The all-Dem panel is split 50-50 with the senators with Obama and the reps with Hillary.) Mascher: need to end the war; we've got a lot of wounded people coming home and we can't forget them either. Many vet bills in legislature to cover gaps that feds aren't providing. There's a role for animal testing -- we have human testing too, we need to benefit others. Animal testing necessary but needs to be done in a humane way. UIowa does a good job. Taylor: passed exotic/wild pet bill last year.

    They wrap early(!) at 11:17.

    Friday, March 28, 2008

    Passing It Along

    Just Passing It Along This Morning

    Linkfest day.

  • Chris Bowers looks at just how hard Hillary's delegate math is, and Jay Cost at Real Clear Politics has a D.I.Y. spreadsheet.

  • Semi-confirmed reports that Speaker Pelosi dissed the high-end Clinton donors threatening to withhold donations to the Democratic Party over remarks they saw as too pro-Obama. Pelosi allegedly said “Hillary’s just acting bougie, to impress her bougie little friends.” Oliver Willis plays the class card:
    These people are symptomatic, quite frankly, of the negative that came along with all the good President Clinton did during his tenure. The moribund liberal wing of the party, defanged after the losses of Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis, gave way to the big check writers, the elite crowd whose cash did prop up the party for the short term and helped President Clinton gain his office. But for the Democratic party and the progressive movement they have been a waste. Just look at the congressional seats lost during Clinton’s tenure, look at how unprepared the party was to field a coast-to-coast slate of candidates under Terry McAuliffe’s leadership - a party chairmanship that was all about fundraising to the exclusion of getting majorities and a president elected.

    These are the hangers-on who look down their plastic surgery noses at Governor Dean’s 50-state strategy and his middle class demeanor even as the party begins to regain its role as a truly national party. These are the people who think nothing - nothing - of throwing a tantrum because us people, us regular Joes and Janes, had the gall to not vote and caucus for the candidate they bankrolled and sought to shove down our gullets the way they always do. Instead we chose to vote for a candidate whose donor base is almost 2 million strong.

  • Joe Klein raises my nightmare scenario:
    Let's say the elders of the Democratic Party decide, when the primaries end, that neither Obama nor Clinton is viable. Let's also assume—and this may be a real stretch—that such elders are strong and smart enough to act. All they'd have to do would be to convince a significant fraction of their superdelegate friends, maybe fewer than 100, to announce that they were taking a pass on the first ballot at the Denver convention, which would deny the 2,025 votes necessary to Obama or Clinton. What if they then approached Al Gore and asked him to be the nominee, for the good of the party—and suggested that he take Obama as his running mate?

  • Down the ballot: A seat by seat look at the California congressional races. And corporate tool Al Wynn, defeated in the Democratic primary, is bailing on his term six months early, walking off the job and likely costing Maryland taxpayers a special election.
  • Non-political: How bad grammar becomes good. And a brilliant and hilarious Keith Richards interview. Author's note on Keef's voice: "It’s not speaking, actually. Or at least not what you think of as speaking. It’s more of a slur-mumble. Words run together and then get coated in cigarette smoke and that thick accent. It makes you wish he provided his own subtitles. I mean, when I transcribed the tapes from this interview, I had to listen to each sentence maybe three times to decode it."
  • Personal note: The Smallest Farm 2008 is officially underway, as the first pea seeds went into the ground Wednesday.
  • Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Michigan Primary Law Overturned

    Michigan Primary Law Overturned

    Not only did Michigan's Jan. 15 primary break Democratic National Committee rules -- the law authorizing it was unconstitutional to boot. But the Hillary Clinton campaign, like Terry Schiavo's relatives, won't let the idea of a do-over die.

    A federal court ruling Wedndesday was another setback to the do-over. Judge Nancy Edmunds riled that the section of the primary law that allowed only the Democratic and Republican parties access to the list of voters from the Jan. 15 primary was unconstitutional. A lower court ruling on the issue last fall nearly scuttled the Michigan vote, until the state Supreme Court ruled that the voter list provision was constitutional.

    Way back when, at a time when every observer expected the nomination to be settled by now and the Michigan and Florida delegates to be seated by a magnanimous nominee, this court battle was not a fight between campaigns. The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three minor parties. Michigan does not have voter registration by party, which is why the list is so significant as an organizing tool.

    "This is the relief we asked for," said Thomas Wieder of the ACLU. "We did not ask for distribution to our clients. Our view is either everyone gets it or nobody gets it." The overturned law set a Wednesday deadline, 71 days after the election, for turning lists over to the parties.

    Michigan Democratic chair Mark Brewer zinged the plaintiffs. "If the Michigan Democratic Party cannot get the lists, then our friends at the ACLU may have driven the final nail in the coffin of any re-vote in Michigan," he said. But Judge Edmunds said the Jan. 15 vote is a fait accompli. "Nothing I'm going to say or do" affects the results of the Jan. 15 vote, she said. "That election is on the history books, and it doesn't disappear because the law that created it is off the books. That's the political reality."

    The Michigan Democratic Party contends it needs the Jan. 15 voter list to conduct a party-run primary or caucus, because of DNC rules that prohibit someone who's voted in a Republican primary or caucus earlier in the year from participating later in a Democratic contest.

    Many Michigan Democrats crossed over on Jan. 15, in part because top-tier candidates Barack Obama and John Edwards were not on the ballot. Some Democratic mischief maker urged crossover votes for Mitt Romney, who went on to win Michigan, in order to stir the pot in a Republican nomination fight that at the time seemed very muddled. The idea was that a Romney win would stretch out the monination process and keep Republicans beating each other up, while the Democratic nominee sailed along unscathed. Kind of funny, isn't it? The GOP contest was all but settled two weeks later with a John McCain win in Florida.

    "This is basically the final straw in preventing us from having a do-over election," said Michigan Democratic spokeswoman Liz Kerr. "People would get a chance to vote for a candidate in both parties. That's just not fair."

    But undeterred, the Clinton campaign issued a press release urging Obama "to join our call for a party-run primary and demonstrate his commitment to counting Michigan's votes." Team Obama had no comment.

    Republicans, who settled this fight months ago by taking away half, but not all, of Michigan's delegates, seemed satisfied with the ruling. "From our standpoint, it has never been about who has access to the list," said Michigan GOP spokesman Bill Nowling. "It has been about whether or not Michigan should move its primary up, and we did that."

    Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    School Board Terms May Go To 4 Years

    School Board Terms May Go To 4 Years

    School board terms are likely to lengthen to four years and special elections will be fewer and farther between, under legislation that has passed both houses of the Iowa Legislature. The proposed legislation would also test out “voting centers” in low turnout elections.

    House File 2620
    passed the House Monday and headed to the Senate, where the similar but not identical Senate File 2312 passed earlier.

    Some school officials opposed the four-year terms out of concern that a board majority could turn over at one election. But Patti Fields of the Iowa City school board backs the legislation. “It is hard enough to find candidates to run to make the elections competitive, let alone four to knock off four,” she said.

    “41 states have school board terms of 4 years or more.” Fields told Iowa Independent. “It can take two to three years for school board members to get a good understanding on how things work and run, and a four year term actually gives members a year or two to really work effectively. Right now it is possible to have a new board member every year, and that can have its disadvantages.”

    Fields also said auditors are very supportive of the bill as it would reduce the workload of school elections in even numbered years, which fall less than two months before general elections.

    Fields, who is completing her first three-year term this year, said her main reason for supporting the bill is the money involved. “Locally it is $10,000 to 12,000 a year, but as a state it is a million dollars a year,” she said. “I do not believe that we are being good stewards of tax dollars holding elections every fall for a possible 5 percent voter turnout.”

    One step that might increase that turnout is the voting center provision of the bill. Voting centers would allow voters to vote on Election Day in a precinct other than the one in which they live, such as a polling place they drive by on the way to or from work. The provision is designed to test out the voting center concept in lower turnout city and school elections, and would not apply to primary and general elections.

    Under both versions of the legislation, ballot measures would have to be held either with regular elections or on predetermined dates during the year. In Johnson County in 2004, five cities held nearly identical cable franchise elections on three separate dates. With the primary and school elections thrown in, this meant an election a month during the run-up to the presidential election.

    The bill would also codify the agreement between the Secretary of State and small political parties that has, since January 1, included the Greens and Libertarians on voter registration forms. Minor parties need to have run a candidate for statewide office in the last ten years and get 850 signatures on a petition to qualify for “political organization” status. They can lose that status if statewide registration drops below 150.

    Tuesday, March 25, 2008

    Idaho Weirdness

    Idaho Weirdness and Nicknames

    The Idaho filing deadline just passed and it looks like we'll finally be rid of un-resigned senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig. But he may -- OK, slim chance -- be replaced by Marvin "Pro-Life" Richardson. Actually, no: Mr. Richardson legally changed his name to Pro-Life. That's it. Pro-Life with hyphen. This may drive the New York Times style editors crazy; will they call him Mr. Life?

    Of course, no one will ever top Byron Low Tax Looper, the guy who whacked his opponent.

    In other Idaho weirdness, one candidate lists his address as Desert Hot Springs, California. "The most unusual GOP primary hopeful is California realtor and frequent candidate Hal Styles Jr. -- who has never set foot in the state -- but said he plans to move to Idaho within the next six weeks."

    Monday, March 24, 2008

    Five Dead in Iowa City: A Sad Ballad Repeats Itself

    Five Dead in Iowa City: A Sad Ballad Repeats Itself

    Hollis Brown
    He lived on the outside of town
    Hollis Brown
    He lived on the outside of town
    With his wife and five children
    And his cabin fallin' down - Bob Dylan, 1964

    Bob Dylan told today's story, better than any journalist could, more than 40 years ago in “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” Five found dead in Iowa City home. Does this ever bring back a flood of memories.

    Seventeen years ago, I was in a radio booth wrapping up my 4 p.m. newscast on a snowy Friday afternoon. The station secretary poked her head in and said, "Did you hear about a shooting on campus?" I stuck my head out the window and heard the sirens coming. Then the phone started ringing.

    That was November 1, 1991, and I was in the middle of the storm as the facts pieced together.

    The mass killing is to journalists what a bright comet is to astronomers. Unpredictable, unexpected, spectacular, yet ultimately unrelated to the long-range work. You drop everything else to stop and look. Every class, every bit of training, every experience of a journalist, is designed to train you for this moment, when The Big Story happens on your turf, so you can put your head down and work on instinct and adrenaline when the deadline is NOW.

    It's meatball journalism, just like the meatball surgery Hawkeye Pierce used to talk about on "M*A*S*H." You remember to measure your words carefully on a moment's notice, parsing the equally cautious police statements. Accused. Alleged. Apparantly. May have. Holding back on writing the conclusions that you, and nearly everyone else, have already jumped to. Right now, I have to put in the disclaimer that "police have not yet confirmed that the body in the van is the adult male resident of the crime scene."

    Lightning isn't supposed to strike twice in the same place, but here we are again, for the third time in my county. First there was the bank shooting by a struggling farmer in 1985 that became a symbol of the farm crisis. Then there was the campus shooting by a disgruntled student in 1991. That was always the word we used, "disgruntled." It was headline and sound bite shorthand for "the guy was pissed off because he thought he deserved The Big Award and the other guy got it."

    Now today: The family of an indicted banker -- cautious with the words here, remembering my training -- is found dead. So much is different now -- the blast phone calls and mass e-mails to warn the public didn't happen or even exist in 1991. And even though it's also "on the outside of town," Bob Dylan's crime scene on a bankrupt farm seems far away from 629 Barrington Road, in Iowa City's high-end Windsor Ridge subdivision. But so much is the same.
    You prayed to the Lord above
    Oh please send you a friend
    You prayed to the Lord above
    Oh please send you a friend
    Your empty pockets tell yuh
    That you ain't a-got no friend

    What can you really add? A person under some sort of intense pressure decides there is no resolution but murder-suicide, ending it all and, facilitated by an easy to get gun, taking a predetermined list of lives with them.

    You feel that same cold but exciting chill of danger, even though, as we found out later, the event was over and done with before we ever heard about it, even though the shooter had a specific plan and the public at large was never truly in danger.
    Your babies are crying louder
    It's pounding on your brain
    Your babies are crying louder
    It's pounding on your brain
    Your wife's screams are stabbin' you
    Like the dirty drivin' rain

    I remember breaking into “All Things Considered” with each bit of information, thinking "just deal with it like a tornado warning." I was live on the air repeating the story to radio stations all over the country, and even to one in Australia, I was top of the NPR national news for an hour. I remember the details of updating the body count. Four dead, two wounded… now five dead, one wounded. "Plus the gunman." You never count the gunman in the body count. I stayed at the station nearly all night and was back at my post at 5 a.m., packaging it all for a national editor.
    Your grass it is turning black
    There's no water in your well
    Your grass is turning black
    There's no water in your well
    You spent your last lone dollar
    On seven shotgun shells

    There's standard boilerplate pieces to add to the story. If it's a visual medium you need the picture, usually cribbed from the yearbook. You need a voyeuristic reaction from friends or neighbors of the public. That was the worst part for me, wandering downtown on a Friday night sticking the microphone out at random students. The story is what everyone is talking about, but no one wants to talk to you, no one wants to share their grief, their shock, or even their relative indifference. You also need to throw in the heart-wrenching detail. In this story, that should be easy; four children are dead. In my case, one of the victims was an organ donor whose sister needed a transplant, but by the time officials at the scene found out it was too late to harvest the organ. "Harvest the organ." One of those horrific phrases you only use in stories like these, like calling a no-longer-living-and-breathing-person "remains."
    Your brain is a-bleedin'
    And your legs can't seem to stand
    Your brain is a-bleedin'
    And your legs can't seem to stand
    Your eyes fix on the shotgun
    That you're holdin' in your hand

    I felt guilty afterwards. I won awards and I made a fair amount of money on stringer fees. Fifty dollars from this network, 100 bucks from that one. I was a starving grad student at the time, and frankly it helped. Guilt or something led me to donate to the victim fund, but even now I feel funny, both for feeling the emotional need to say that and for not turning over every dollar.

    It was really good work under pressure, but it was hard to feel any pride, any sense of accomplishment. Something awful happened; I was just -- no, not "lucky," that's entirely inappropriate, even though something like this can be a career-making moment for a journalist. Dan Rather's road to the CBS anchor chair began in November 1963. He was the local guy in Dallas who just happened to be there when big news happened.
    There's seven breezes a-blowin'
    All around the cabin door
    There's seven breezes a-blowin'
    All around the cabin door
    Seven shots ring out
    Like the ocean's pounding roar

    No, not lucky. I was nearby by chance and did this parlor trick with words and voice that I knew how to do. I just did my job.

    Two days later, I was at my girlfriend's apartment, finally getting some sleep, when I heard a loud bang. It was a door slamming, but in my sleep-deprived state I thought it was a gun. I sat straight up, wide awake, paused -- and then just started sobbing, as the weight of what had happened finally hit me.
    There's seven people dead
    On a South Dakota farm
    There's seven people dead
    On a South Dakota farm
    Somewhere in the distance
    There's seven new people born.

    Michigan Delays District Conventions

    Michigan Delays District Conventions

    Hoping to buy some time to get out of their self-imposed delegate dilemma, the Michigan Democratic Party has postponed congressional district conventions scheduled for Saturday.

    The Detroit News reports that the conventions have been pushed back to April 19 -- one week before Iowa's district conventions and three days before the next major event in the nomination fight, the Pennsylvania primary.

    The Michigan conventions will choose 83 national convention delegates, who as of this writing will be split along the lines of the state's calendar violating Jan. 15 primary and are not going to be seated. Hillary Clinton won that vote with 55 percent to 40 percent for "uncommitted," while leading rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards took their names off the ballot. Another 45 Michigan delegates will be picked at the state central Committee meeting on May 17, and 28 more are superdelegates.

    Last week the Michigan legislature failed to work out plans for a do-over primary before its spring recess. The main live proposal still on the table is the "half Nelson" plan floated by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, where delegates chosen in Michigan and Florida's rule-breaking primaries would be seated with a half vote each. This would parallel the Republican Party's delegate penalties and would fall within DNC rules.

    Monday Clips

    Monday Clips

  • "Clinton probably has to win North Carolina’s May 6 primary to fight on with a real chance" -- but "John Edwards is unlikely to endorse either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton before the nomination is decided."

  • Ron Paul seems to have ruled out a Libertarian run, but watch for Bob Barr. The former Georgia congressman (redistricted out of office in `02) and Clinton 42 impeachment prosecutor switched his registration to Libertarian a couple years back, and Ron Gunzburger at Politics1 reports that he's looking at a Libertarian run, and it sounds like it's with Paul's tacit blessing. As I have to do every time I mention Barr, note that he was born in Iowa City while dad was attending Iowa Pre-Flight during WWII.

  • Massive writer's block over the weekend while I dealt with Easter and plans for the Smallest Farm. The Bunny arrived and ate all his carrots. (You know how you leave cookies for Santa? We leave carrots for the bunny. He only likes the GOOD kind with the green tops, like Bunny Rabbit used to eat on Captain Kangaroo. This meant stopping at three stores before I got lucky at Coralville New Pi.) As for the garden, peas should be in the ground this week.

  • Grandfatherhood must show: for the first time in my life I was asked if I wanted the senior citizen discount. I was so bemused that I blew my chance to save some $.
  • Friday, March 21, 2008

    Friday link dump

    Friday link dump

    Woke up this morning -- isn't this race getting just about Soprano ugly? -- to the Bill Richardson Obama endorsement. (John Edwards was on Leno last night, but no endorsement. For a week with no primary, we're on info-overload: with Wright-gate and The Speech, Passport-gate, and Schedule Dump Gate. Hard to tell yet how any of it spins out or which has the most impact, but they all kind of bury Richardson. My guess is The Speech was decisive... but Bill, this would have meant SO much more before Super Tuesday, when HRC won your state by a razor-thin margin over BHO. Or even before Texas.

    My actual stories are stalled so here's what I've been reading this week:

  • How Hillary's vacillating attitude on the caucus states hurt her:
    Hillary is genuinely, thoroughly distrustful of the caucus process. At the urging of her advisors, she swallowed her misgivings and campaigned in Iowa. Her defeat in Iowa left her feeling burned, and confirmed her doubts. She had, reports the Washington Post, "become allergic to caucuses, deeming them unfair." That aversion, as much as anything else, is the reason why Clinton now finds herself facing an all-but-insurmountable chasm among the convention delegates.

    Hillary was not willing to roil voters in those states when her nomination appeared inevitable by using her substantial clout on the DNC Rules Committee to eliminate caucuses, nor to mandate changes to their procedures, back when the primary rules were being debated and enacted. When she thought she could win in Iowa, she poured time and resources into the state, never uttering a word about her dislike for its process. In Nevada, she held her fire until the Culinary Workers endorsed her rival, and then focused her ire on the at-large caucus sites, which (somewhat ironically) were designed to remedy many of the inequities she decried. But it seems fairly clear that her distaste for the caucus system is genuine, and deeply rooted.

    My problem with Clinton's present approach is that she has crossed over from critiquing a system she dislikes to attempting to subvert it.

    Not strictly accurate: She was implicityly Iowa-bashing before the caucuses even met, probably in anticipation of the third place. As I liveblogged on Jan. 1: "You'll be standing up for those who can't be at their caucuses."  The troops can't be at the caucuses, she notes, shift workers can't be there. 

  • As Iowa City cracks down on panhandlers, a black guy asks for change.

  • If the race gets past Pennsylvania, here's how to win Indiana. "Avoid the following issues: the firing of Bobby Knight and daylight saving time."

  • A long read combining two of my favorite subjects: extreme geography and food crop biology. Learn about the Svalbard seed vault.
  • Thursday, March 20, 2008

    Three Legislative Candidates Drop Out By Deadline

    Three Legislative Candidates Drop Out By Deadline

    Three Iowa Legislative candidates quit their races before Wednesday’s withdrawal deadline, including the only primary challenger to an incumbent Senator.

    Pella city council member Bruce Schiebout dropped his Republican primary challenge to Chariton Republican Paul McKinley in District 36. McKinley is also unopposed in the general election, though parties have until Aug. 15 to nominate a candidate.

    In Senate District 22, where Republican Larry McKibben is retiring, Marshalltown minister Tom Bower left the GOP primary race. This sets up the fall matchup between Republican Jarret Heil, a former staffer for Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Tom Latham, and Democrat Steven Sodders of State Center, a deputy sheriff and former county party chair.

    In House District 29, where Rep. Ro Foege announced his retirement two days before the Mar. 14 filing deadline, Solon Democrat Shawn Mercer withdrew his candidacy. Lisbon attorney Nate Willems is now unopposed in the Democratic primary and will see Republican Emma Nemecek, who lost to Foege in 2006.

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Iowa House Matchups

    Top November Iowa Legislative Matchups

    November may seem like a long way off, but many of the top races that will decide control of the Iowa Legislature have already taken shape.

    Some fall matchups will be settled in the June 3 primary. But in other seats, the picture is already clear. Here's our top five Senate races and top ten House contests.

    Senate District 16: Tom Hancock, D-Epworth
    Hancock knocked off short-term GOP incumbent Julie Hosch narrowly in 2004. Hosch took the seat narrowly in 2002 after incumbent Tom Flynn got burned in redistricting. Cascade car dealer Dave McLaughlin and Gary Lee Culver of Wyoming will face off in a Republican primary.

    Senate District 18: Mary Lundby, R-Marion, retiring
    Rep. Swati Dandekar is the Democrat’s top pickup hope. Dandekar became the first Indian-American woman elected to a state legislature in history, and the first Democrat to win her Marion district, in 2002. Lundby, who is stepping down to run for a newly reorganized Linn County Board of Supervisors, had solid wins her whole career. District demographics lean Republican, but Dandekar has been personally popular and charted a moderate course in the House. Republican Joe Childers, a Marion banker, seems to be the primary front-runner but he faces horse rescue activist Karla Sibert of Palo in June.

    Senate District 22: Larry McKibben, R-Marshalltown, retiring
    Democrat Steven Sodders of State Center started running before McKibben quit. He’s a Deputy Sheriff in Marshall County and former Marshal County Democratic Chair. Republican Jarret Heil has been a Grassley and Latham staffer. He'll face Marshalltown minister Tom Bower in a primary Update: Bower has withdrawn. This was close – 800 votes – in the 2004 general.

    Senate District 38: Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa
    Reilly was a Democratic gain in 2004 when he knocked off Neal Schuerer. He won his own normally GOP turf while breaking even in Schuerer's Iowa County base; most of the margin came out of Grinnell. Republican Michael Hadley of Richland is a 30 year local fire chief and active in the Farm Bureau.

    Senate District 42: Frank Wood, D-Davenport
    Wood won by only 480 votes in 2004 against two-year incumbent Brian Sievers in a district that has part of west Davenport and large parts of rural Scott and Clinton counties. The GOP has a top-tier challenger with Davenport alderman Shawn “the Hammer” Hamerlinck. Think there’s any negative campaigning possibilities for a guy with that nickname? First the Hammer has to nail down the nomination in a primary against Thomas Black, a Lowe’s manager running on an anti-smoking ban platform.

    House District 9: McKinley Bailey, D-Webster City
    Young veteran Bailey beat three-term incumbent George Eichhorn – now making a long-shot U.S. Senate race against Tom Harkin --by over 1000 votes in 2006, rolling up most of that margin in Hamilton County. The GOP is running talk radio host Jamie Johnson.

    House District 21: Tami Wiencek, R-Waterloo
    Wiencek, a former KWWL anchor, was one of the Iowa GOP’s few bright spots in 2006 when she knocked off long-time incumbent Don Shoultz. Democrats are challenging with Kerry Burt, a former Hawkeye football star who’s now a mortgage and insurance dealer and part-time football announcer. Burt co-founded and volunteered for The Black Alliance, a nonprofit organization that addressed issues of young black men. He’s made previous unsuccessful runs for mayor and city council. This district is Democratic on paper, but Wiencek is well known from her TV career.

    House District 36: Swati Dandekar, D-Marion, running for state senate
    Gretchen Lawyer is running (literally, she competes in foot races) on the Democratic side; she’s a teacher taking time away from the classroom to be a mom. Marion City Council member Nick Wagner took 47% against Dandekar in 2006 and is the Republican candidate again.

    House District 39: Dawn Pettengill, R-Mt. Auburn
    This will be Pettengill’s first test since her end of session party switch last year. Democrats would dearly love revenge with Terry Hertle of Vinton. He serves on Benton County Community Foundation board and he and his family have been active in ag and county fair activities.

    House District 44: Polly Granzow, R-Eldora, retiring
    Democrat Tim Hoy, the former mayor of Eldora who came just 260 votes short of knocking off Granzow in 2006, is trying again this year. Annette Sweeney of Alden hopes to hold the seat for the GOP.

    House District 75: Eric Palmer, D-Oskaloosa
    Call it a comeback: Danny Carroll of Grinnell, who lost his seat to Palmer in 2006, is running again. The 2006 race was dead-even in Mahaska County; Palmer rolled up his 700 vote margin in Powesheiek and largely on the Grinnell campus. This district overlaps with half of the the Senate District 38 race.

    House District 80: Nathan Reichert, D-Muscatine
    Reichert won a big 2004 upset when he beat Barry Brauns, who was trying for a comeback after two years out of the House. Republicans ran Muscatine County sheriff Greg Orr in 2006 but Reichert won a surprisingly strong margin. City Council member Robert Howard is the GOP challenger this time. Muscatine has been trending blue in recent years – Democrats took control of the Board of Supervisors in 2006 – but it’s got to bother Iowans for Tax Relief head David Stanley that a Democrat holds his old legislative seat.

    House District 84: Elesha Gayman, D-Davenport
    Gayman has been on the GOP hit list since day one. The youngest female legislator in state history scored a major 273 vote upset against Jim Van Fossen (the elder) in 2006 in west Davenport and Scott County. Farmer Ross Paustian of Walcott, past president of the Scott County Farm Bureau, hopes to take the seat back for the GOP and has raised more money than Gayman so far. This overlaps with the District 42 senate race.

    House District 89: Sandy Greiner, R-Keota, retiring
    Greiner never really seemed to get over losing out in a triple-pair redistricting that cost her a Senate seat after only two years. She ran for the House instead and beat a weak opponent in 2002. Was targeted in 2004 by Mark Shearer, who had two legislative careers in four different districts. Finally she had a surprisingly close race against underfunded Mark Nolte in 2006. Becky Schmitz can thank a big margin from the Johnson County part of this district for her 2006 Senate win. The GOP is running young farmer Jarad Klein; the Democrats have farmer and soybean board member Larry Marek.

    Clock Running Out On Michigan Do-Over

    Clock Running Out On Michigan Do-Over

    The votes aren't there yet for a do-over in Michigan, say state senate leaders. Combined with legislative recesses and legal deadlines, that means Code Blue for a re-vote. Paging Dr. Dean, stat.

    The proposed legislation set a June 3 date and would have approved spending privately raised funds for the election, but "the votes aren't there to do it," said state senator Buzz Thomas, who's also a co-chair for Barack Obama in Michigan. Senator Gretchen Whitmer, who backs Hillary Clinton, concurred, saying the do-over was "on life support" and in need of CPR. Ben Smith at The Politico says only two of 17 Democratic senators would commit to the do-over. That's with two-thirds support needed to fast-track the legislation.

    The state House goes on recess for two weeks beginning Friday, and by the time the state Senate ends its recess on April 14, they will have missed deadlines. State law requires 60 days advance notice of an election, and DNC rules require that the primary be held before June 10. Of course, DNC rules also required Michigan to vote no earlier than Feb. 5, but they voted on Jan. 15 anyway. The DNC rules committee responded by taking away all Michigan's delegates.

    Team Clinton is pointing fingers, saying that Obama's supporters are dragging the process out and blocking a do-over that would probably help Clinton close the gap between herself and Obama. “There’s only one hold up. That is Sen. Obama," said Clinton advisor Harold Ickes. "Period. End of story,” he added, channeling Tony Soprano.

    But one of Clinton's top supporters disputes the math. "I think if we had a vote in Michigan, it could easily be close," former Gov. Blanchard told Talking Points Memo. "The amount of delegates wouldn't make much difference."

    Clinton herself is stirring the pot, with a campaign stop in Detroit Wednesday morning.

    Florida solutions may still be possible; the latest on the table is Sen. Bill Nelson's plan to seat the delegation elected Jan. 29 with half a vote each, which is both parallel to the Republican penalty for too-early states and within DNC rules.

    But Michigan is more problematic than Florida because Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot. Michigan voters had a choice of Clinton, an already withdrawn Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel (who, even though he's already endorsed a Green candidate, is technically still in the Democratic race) and an uncommitted line, with no write-ins. Clinton beat uncommitted, 55 percent to 40 percent.

    Another problem with a Michigan do-over was heavy crossover voting, much of it tactical, in the concurrent Jan. 15 Republican primary. Top blogger Kos made the argument and on Jan. 10 summarized the case:
    Michigan Democrats should vote for Mitt Romney, because if Mitt wins, Democrats win. How so?

    For Michigan Democrats, the Democratic primary is meaningless since the DNC stripped the state of all its delegates (at least temporarily) for violating party rules. Hillary Clinton is alone on the ballot.

    But on the GOP side, this primary will be fiercely contested. John McCain is currently enjoying the afterglow of media love since his New Hampshire victory, while Iowa winner Mike Huckabee is poised to do well in South Carolina.

    Meanwhile, poor Mitt Romney, who’s suffered back-to-back losses in the last week, desperately needs to win Michigan in order to keep his campaign afloat. Bottom line, if Romney loses Michigan, he's out. If he wins, he stays in.

    And we want Romney in, because the more Republican candidates we have fighting it out, trashing each other with negative ads and spending tons of money, the better it is for us. We want Mitt to stay in the race, and to do that, we need him to win in Michigan.

    That worked to some extent, as Romney won. But here's the problem: DNC rules explicitly say, "No person shall participate or vote in the nominating process for a Democratic presidential candidate who also participates in the nominating process of any other party for the corresponding elections." That means anyone who crossed over -- disproportionately Obama supporters, since Clinton's people could actually vote for their candidate -- would not be able to vote in the do-over.

    "I regret that that might be the case, but it's a national party rule and we have no choice but to follow it," said Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer.

    "There are valid concerns about the proposal currently being discussed, including severe restrictions on voter eligibility and the reliance on private funding," said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor. "Local election officials have indicated that they may be unable to discharge their responsibilities under the timetable this law sets."

    As for long-time Iowa hater Kos, he wrote Tuesday his goal has largely been accomplished:
    To me, this was never about Obama or Clinton. It was about breaking the stranglehold that Iowa and New Hampshire have enjoyed at the top of the nominating calendar for far too long.

    In short, if the DNC cannot enforce its rules and its calendar, then there's no way in hell we'll ever keep Iowa and New Hampshire in check. No matter what calendar the DNC created, Iowa and New Hampshire would move up their contests. And candidates, fearful that the states would ultimately be counted, would be forced to campaign in those states.

    So the message had to be sent, no matter how unpopular, that the DNC calendar was sacrosanct, and that its rules would be enforced. That message has now been sent.

    Florida and Michigan played a valued role in this battle, proving they would risk their representation in order to demand a say in our nominee. It was a gamble that didn't pay off, obviously, and there's great irony in the fact that a later primary would've made them that much more influential this cycle.

    But the original sentiment still applies -- they risked huge in order to demand a say, and that sentiment will guide big changes in our nominating calendar in the future.

    There's wide acceptance that this system is broken, that the Iowa/New Hampshire monopoly can no longer stand, that the caucus system is profoundly lacking, that the delegate apportioning system leaves a lot to be desired, and (at least in the party's rank and file) that the super delegate system is less than ideal. Each one of the challenges we've faced this year in our path to the nomination has given us much-needed impetus for future reform.

    But Carrie Giddins, who was the Iowa Democratic Party's communications director during the caucuses, launched a pro-Iowa counter-attack in the New York Times. "Party leaders in Florida and Michigan knew exactly what was going to happen when they decided not to follow the calendar rules," she wrote. "They have no cause to be angry at the early states that protected their status with the pledge." Giddins called for splitting the Michigan and Florida delegates 50-50 between Clinton and Obama and said, "Do-overs are what children do on a playground."

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    Media Gets Iowa Wrong

    Media Gets Iowa Wrong -- Again

    The actual count of Iowa's elected Democratic national delegates is Obama zero, Clinton zero, Edwards zero. Iowa won't elect any national convention delegates for six weeks. But you wouldn't know it from the national press coverage of Saturday's county conventions. Most reports at least implied that the national convention delegates have already been chosen, and that Edwards national delegates were switching their support to Obama.

    Here's what actually happened Saturday. The county convention delegates elected on caucus night met and elected delegates to the congressional district and state conventions (the same pool of people go to both). Most of the national delegates are elected at the April 26 congressional district conventions; the rest are elected at the state convention June 14. So Saturday Democrats didn't choose the national delegates: they chose the people who will choose the national delegates, and who gets the national delegates will depends on who shows up and how they do or don't switch.

    Not an easy thing to squeeze into a sentence or two. An Iowan, of course, nails it; here's Thomas Beaumont's Des Moines Register lede:
    Barack Obama put himself in position on Saturday to capture a larger share of Iowa's national convention delegates than he won on caucus night in January...

    Of the national media, Ben Smith at The Politico has the best combination of accuracy and snazz in a concise lede:
    A pretty stunning gain out of Iowa for Obama, where an Iowa Democratic official confirmed to me just now that the county convention results will translate into a 25-14-6 edge for Obama over Clinton and Edwards.

    June Kronholz at the Wall Street Journal has a very accurate and complete lede:
    At county conventions over the weekend, (Edwards) won 373 delegates to the Congressional District and state conventions where Iowans will select the 45 pledged delegates to send to the national convention in Denver.

    Sen. Barack Obama won 52% of the 2,500 delegates who will go on to the next two tiers in the national delegate-selection process and Sen. Hillary Clinton won 32%. The 2,500 were winnowed from nearly 14,000 delegates who were selected to attend this weekend’s conventions at Iowa’s Jan. 3 first-in-the nation caucuses.

    Simple disclaimer words like "estimated" or "projected" would salvage most of the stories. Check this from Huffington Post:
    Democrat Barack Obama expanded his fragile lead in delegates over rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday, picking up nine delegates as Iowa activists took the next step in picking delegates to the national convention.

    More than half the 14 delegates allocated to John Edwards on the basis of caucus night projections switched Saturday to Obama.

    Democratic Party projections said the results mean Obama increased by nine the number of delegates he collects from the state, getting a total of 25 compared with 14 for Clinton and six for Edwards.

    Not 100 percent, but headed in the right direction.

    MSNBC delegate guru Chuck Todd walks through the district by district math better than anyone, but still doesn't make it entirely clear that the national delegates haven't been chosen yet:
    So the trashing of the caucus process was not good for Clinton's campaign, which got killed at the Iowa county convention re-caucus. Obama picked up an additional nine delegates, mostly from Edwards’ January 3 haul. The overall delegate take for each candidate: 25 for Obama (that's up from 16 ); 14 for Clinton (that's down one from her 15); and six hung with Edwards (down from 14).

    Teddy Davis of ABC starts to get it right:
    Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., saw his delegate lead over Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., grow by 10 on Saturday when Iowa Democrats took the second step in picking national convention delegates.

    But then he drops the ball.
    As a result of Saturday's county conventions, Obama gained nine delegates, Clinton lost one, and Edwards lost eight delegates.

    How about "Obama stands to gain nine delegates," not "gained" none delegates? Two more words, a lot more accuracy.

    Peter Slevin at the Washington Post anthropmorphizes the "national delegates" a bit, making the unfilled potential seats into people taking actions:
    Sen. Barack Obama picked up nine more pledged delegates in Iowa, state Democratic officials said late Saturday night, as thousands took part in county conventions.

    All but one of the delegates had been among the 14 won Jan. 3 by former senator John Edwards, who has since dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. Election-night projections showed Obama getting 16 delegates and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton 15.

    With the other six standing firm for Edwards at the county conventions, Obama's camp claimed 25 delegates from Iowa to 14 for Clinton.

    Well, not quite. The six Edwards national delegates can't "stand firm" -- because they haven't been chosen yet.

    But Forbes gets it worst:
    During a week without a national primary or caucus, Barack Obama managed to add to his delegate lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. Over the past weekend, nine of the fourteen Iowa delegates pledged to John Edwards threw their support to Barack Obama.

    The brief article fails to even mention county conventions.

    Florida: No Do-Over

    Florida: No Do-Over

    "The consensus is clear," Florida Democratic Chair Karen Thurman wrote in a Monday release. "Florida doesn’t want to vote again. So we won’t."

    Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

    The latest on the lack of a solution:

    Thurman pulled no punches in Monday's screed and aimed the blame straight back at the DNC Rules Committee and at the early states:
    When this committee stripped us of 100% of our delegates last year, some members summed up their reasoning by saying, “The rules are the rules.” Unfortunately, the rules did not apply to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina when they, too, violated the DNC calendar by moving from their assigned dates.

    The early states moved their dates in response to Michigan's move to Jan. 15, and saw no objection from the DNC at the time. In fact, South Carolina Democrats adjusted their date from a proposed Jan. 19 to the final Jan. 26 date at the behest of the DNC.

    Thurman also invoked the image of the 2000 Florida recount in bitterly noting that the Republican-backed bill that moved the Florida primary up to Jan. 29 was bill 537 -- coincidentally, the final official number of votes separating Bush and Gore in 2000.

    One Florida legislator, Dan Gelber, says the resolution is up to fate. "Since an actual primary redo or a caucus are not plausible options," he wrote on his blog, "this will mean that Florida Democrats will essentially be delegating their fate to providence -- e.g. the nomination is decided before the convention -- or the good graces of the candidates themselves -- e.g. the candidates agree on a way to apportion Florida’s delegates."

    A 50-50 split is one option, which has some favor in the Obama camp. Not surprising, since Obama lost the Jan. 29 vote 51 percent to 34 percent. Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City, a law professor and Democratic activist, writes of another split he calls "the least worst solution" in the Des Moines Register:
    "Go ahead and violate the party's rules, seat delegations from Florida and Michigan, but allocate those states' delegates' votes according to the percentages of total elected delegates each candidate has earned nationally in rule-abiding states."

    This seats the delegates, which might satisfy party elites. But it would mean that ultimately, the votes of Floridians wouldn't count.

    Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, one of the main backers of the mail-in do-over, has another idea, one that might even fit within the rules. He has suggested that delegates be seated based on the Jan. 29 results, but with a half vote each. This would parallel the Republican penalty for states that broke its calendar rules, and the Republicans have accepted that and moved on.

    The 50 percent penalty -- which some are dubbing the "Half Nelson" -- would fit within DNC rules, which have a mandatory 50 percent delegate penalty for calendar breakers -- "unless otherwise provided." The rules committee chose to otherwise provide last summer in the hopes of heading off the calendar jumping and enforcing the calendar. They could otherwise otherwise provide if they so choose when they meet next month.

    This helps Nelson's candidate, Clinton, a little. Based on the Jan. 29 results, Clinton would have won 105 delegates, Obama 67 and the departed John Edwards 13. Make that 52 1/2, 33 1/2 and 6 1/2. The AP reports that Nelson discussed this idea with Clinton and Obama on the Senate floor last week.

    Should Dems Split Nomination Like 1836 Whigs?

    Should Dems Split Nomination Like 1836 Whigs?

    Democrats facing their irresistible-force-meets-immovable-object nomination fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may be wishing they could somehow nominate both.

    They can, actually.

    Let's hop in the Wayback Machine and travel to 1836, when one political party had not two, but three presidential candidates.

    The Whig Party, which has the second funniest name of any dead political party just behind the Know-Nothing Party, was just in the process of forming around the basic ideology of hating President Andrew Jackson and dodging the slavery issue. The Democrats, perhaps persuaded by Jackson's track record of dueling with people he had disputes with, quickly settled on Vice President Martin Van Buren. But the Whigs were split between General William Henry Harrison of Ohio, Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and Senator Hugh White of Tennessee.

    So they nominated all of them.

    Quick Electoral College 101: We regular folks don't vote for president. We vote for presidential electors, and they vote for president. In almost every state it's a winner take all system. That's how it was in 1836, that's how it is now.

    The Whig strategy in 1836 was to win a majority of electoral votes by running each candidate in the region he was strongest. Webster represented the party in New England, Harrison (pictured) ran in what was then called the Northwest and White was the candidate in the South. If between the three of them they could manage to win more than half the electoral votes, they could either consolidate behind one candidate, or throw the election into the House of Representatives if they preferred. It had only been twelve years since a four-way presidential election had produced an Electoral College deadlock that had been settled by the House, so it wasn't an unthinkable strategy.

    It was a compromise; the Whigs were big on compromises. But it was an unsuccessful strategy, as Van Buren and the Democrats won a clear Electoral College majority. The experiment served as a sort of 1840 Whig national primary, as Harrison became the de facto front-runner by getting more electoral votes than Webster or White. We all know the rest: the economy tanked in the Panic of 1837 (recessions had more dramatic names back then), Harrison won in the Tippecanoe and Tyler Too campaign of 1840, and gave a really long inaugural speech in the rain. Next year, William Henry Harrison dollar coins will be minted for three times longer than he actually served as president.

    Could such a strategy work today? No, not dying after a month in office, I mean running different candidates in different states. Since candidates file with each state, there's really not a legal barrier. The barriers would be more political. Would the public stand for the shenanigans? Maybe not, with the grumbling about popular vote in the primaries and the role of the superdelegates. But then, just eight years ago a president was sworn in with fewer votes than his opponent, thanks to the 18th century wonders of the Electoral College, and the streets did not flow with the blood of the nonbelievers.

    A March 6 Survey USA series of polls showed both Obama and Clinton leading John McCain in the Electoral College. Obama beats McCain 280 electoral votes to 258, while Clinton defeats McCain 276 to 262. But the patterns are quite different. Obama loses some border states that Clinton wins, but does better in the Great Plains and Rockies. One of those Great Plains states is Iowa, where McCain beats Clinton but loses to Obama.

    Let's suspend our disbelief and assume that the Democrats deadlock and come up with a mashup candidate as a compromise: Barack Rodham Obama, or Hillary Hussein Clinton. Time to play with maps and numbers.

    First let's look at the primary results, a familiar map to anyone who's been watching election coverage.

    Obama is in green and Clinton in orange, with the yet to vote states in gray and calendar cheaters Michigan and Florida in black.

    Now let's look at which candidate runs stronger in a general election against McCain according to Survey USA.

    In this map, the gray states indicate Clinton and Obama run within two points of each other. This is a similar map, but not identical. In a few Deep South states where Obama easily won primaries, Clinton runs just as well as he does; probably one set of votes trading off for another. And interestingly, Obama runs better than Clinton in Texas.

    Now let's see what happens if the Democrats adopt the 1836 Whig strategy and run the stronger candidate in each state.

    It's not a squeaker anymore -- it's a landslide, 341 electoral votes for the two Democrats vs. 173 for McCain, with Tennessee and Virginia too close to call (see data table below). Obama even picks up two electoral votes from Nebraska, one of the two states that split their electoral votes by congressional district.

    Then they settle it with a deal in the smoke-free room, or if that fails, they can settle it the way Andrew Jackson settled his disputes. They'd still be eligible to hold office in Iowa, thanks to the 1992 dueling amendment. Just remember: if it's raining on Inauguration Day, cut the speech short.

    Survey USA, 3/6/08: McCain vs. Stronger Democrat


    Electoral Vote

    stronger DemPrimary Winner
    Alabama51%41%9 ClintonObama
    Alaska48%43%3 ObamaObama
    Arizona51%39%10 ObamaClinton
    Arkansas40%51% 6Clinton (Obama loses)Clinton
    California40%51% 55ObamaClinton
    Colorado41%50% 9Obama (Clinton loses)Obama
    Connecticut34%55% 7ObamaObama
    Delaware41%50% 3ObamaObama
    Florida42%51% 27Clinton (Obama loses)depends
    Georgia54%41%15 ObamaObama
    Idaho52%39%4 ObamaObama
    Indiana50%41%11 Obama-
    Iowa41%50% 7Obama (Clinton loses)Obama
    Kansas50%42%6 ClintonObama
    Kentucky50%41%8 Clinton-
    Louisiana51%41%9 ClintonObama
    Maine39%53% 4ObamaObama
    Maryland40%53% 10ObamaObama
    Massachusetts37%55% 12ClintonClinton
    Michigan44%46% 17Obama (Clinton loses)depends
    Minnesota42%49% 10ObamaObama
    Mississippi51%42%6 ClintonObama
    Missouri48%44%11 ClintonObama
    Montana47%39%3 Obama-
    Nebraska45%42%32Obama (wins 2 of 3 districts)Obama
    Nevada41%46% 5Obama (Clinton loses)Clinton Clinton (Obama won delegates)
    New Hampshire44%46% 4Obama (Clinton loses)Clinton
    New Jersey42%47% 15Clinton (Obama loses)Clinton
    New Mexico43%50% 5ObamaClinton
    New York33%55% 31ClintonClinton
    North Carolina47%45%15 Obama-
    North Dakota42%46% 3Obama (Clinton loses)Obama
    Ohio40%50% 20sameClinton
    Oklahoma50%42%7 ClintonClinton
    Oregon41%49% 7Obama (Clinton loses)-
    Pennsylvania46%47% 21Clinton (Obama loses)-
    Rhode Island37%54% 4ClintonClinton
    South Carolina48%45%8 ObamaObama
    South Dakota47%43%3 Obama-
    Tennessee46%46%tietieClinton (ties, Obama loses)Clinton
    Texas47%46%34 ObamaClinton (Obama won delegates)
    Utah50%39%5 ObamaObama
    Vermont29%63% 3ObamaObama
    Virginia47%47%tietieObama (ties, Clinton loses)Obama
    Washington38%52% 11Obama (Clinton loses)Obama
    West Virginia42%47% 5Clinton (Obama loses)-
    Wisconsin40%51% 10ObamaObama
    Wyoming54%35%3 ObamaObama
    District of Columbianot polled- 3ObamaObama
    Total  17334124 tied-

    Spring Break

    No Spring Break In Real Life

    It's a shame there's no spring break in real life, but while the boys are home all week, I'm off to the office. I never did understand how students could afford the week long road trip; the most exciting place I ever went over spring break was North Dakota for a speech tournament.

    After the 13 hour marathon of the Johnson County Democratic convention (which gave me my highest traffic Saturday ever), I was pretty apolitical yesterday. The big story of Saturday seemed to be "Obama gains from Edwards" but that didn't play out at all in my county where the numbers were virtually unchanged from January 3. The national press also frames it as "Obama gains delegates" when in fact Iowa does not elect any national delegates until the congressional district conventions.

    My big project yesterday was planning work on the Smallest Farm In Iowa, which this year will no longer claim the title of smallest. The snow has mostly melted off the three tilled patches of the football field sized back yard, and peas and salad goodies should be in the ground in a couple weeks.

    Grandson and mom are home from the hospital. And while Butter is irreplacable, Xavier The Cat With Bad Behavior is working to fill his old job of getting in the way of the computer while I'm writing.

    Here's a couple links for you:

  • Poblano at Kos has a great "Six kinds of voters" diary that inadvertently makes the case for instant runoff voting.

  • Iowa House candidate Nate Willems has a front page MyDD diary.
  • Saturday, March 15, 2008

    Johnson County Update 2

    Johnson County Update 2

    Final alignment

    Obama 183 (+4 from caucus), 73 delegates
    Edwards 82 (exactly same as caucus), 33 delegates
    Clinton 77 (+7 from caucus), 31 delegates

    As of 3:22 groups are still working on the Put Your Hand Down To Be An Alternate system of election. Sorry for the relative lack of blogging but I'm co-chairing credentials; the numbers are what you really wanted anyway.

    4:25 -- Team Hillary and (after some arm twisting) Team Obama successfuly winnowed their lists, but Team Edwards is balloting. Think about it; the rationale for staying with a defeated candidate is to move forward as a group, so everyone in the group wants to move forward and no one wants to back down. With Edwards also viable in Linn County (hat tip to my II partner Lynda Waddington) there's a fair chance that Edwards can be viable in the 2nd District.

    So everything's stalled for now.

    Common Iowan
    reports that Edwards realigned in Marshall County; final delegate split Obama 24 Clinton 8.

    5:22 and there's a good county results thread at Kos.

    6:10 and the platform is still slogging along with the diehards.

    Johnson County Numbers

    Johnson County Numbers

    First Alignment

    Obama 180 (+1 from caucus night)
    Edwards 74 (-8)
    Clinton 72 (+2)
    Uncommitted 10 (+5)
    Richardson 5 (-1)
    Biden 1 (+1)

    Viability 52

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    Primary Preview

    Legislative Primary Preview

    The paper are stamped and filed in Mike Mauro's office, and the lineups are set for the June 3 primary. Let's take a look at the contested primaries for the Iowa Legislature.

    The biggest primary field on the Senate side is in the seven-county District 48, where Republican Jeff Angelo is stepping down to spend more time with his family and his blog. Both parties have contested primaries. Clarke County treasurer Kim Reynolds of Osceola looks like the leading Republican but will have a primary with contractor Jim Parker of Villisca. On the Democratic side, 18 year Adams County supervisor Kevin Wynn will see a primary against Ruth Smith of Lamoni, a physical therapist and part-time teacher with two unsuccessful runs for county supervisor, and Matthew Brown of Thayer. In a seven county primary, it can come down to the friends and neighbors vote.

    The only primary challenge to a Senate incumbent is in District 36, where Pella city council member Bruce Schiebout is challenging Chariton Republican Paul McKinley, who lost the senate GOP leadership fight last year. Never mind -- Schiebout quit. The winner doesn’t have a November Democratic opponent on the horizon, though parties have until August 15 to hold a nominating convention.

    Four open Republican seats, in addition to the Angelo seat, will see GOP primaries. In Senate District 20, where John Putney is leaving, Keystone farmer Tim Kapucian was the first announced Republican candidate. He's being challenged by Richard Vander Mey of Traer, who won only 28% in a 2004 primary challenge to Rep. Lance Horbach. The winner will face Democrat Randy Braden, the Vinton-Shellsburg superintendent.

    In Marshalltown-based Senate District 22, Jarret Heil appears to be the Republican Party favorite to take over for Republican Larry McKibben. Heil has been a Chuck Grassley and Tom Latham staffer. Heil will face Marshalltown minister Tom Bower in a primary for the right to oppose Democrat Steven Sodders of State Center in November. Update: Bower quit.

    In Marion’s Senate District 18, long held by Republican Mary Lundby, banker Joe Childers of Marion and horse rescue activist Karla Sibert of Palo face off for the GOP nod. The winner will see Democratic Rep. Swati Dandekar in the fall.

    Two districts will have Republican primaries for the right to face incumbent Democrats who narrowly won first terms in 2004. Cascade car dealer Dave McLaughlin and Gary Lee Culver (suggested campaign slogan: “No Relation”) of Wyoming will face off in a Republican primary in Democrat Tom Hancock’s District 16. In Davenport’s District 42, the Republicans have a top tier recruit against Sen. Frank Wood in Davenport alderman Shawn “the Hammer” Hamerlinck. First the Hammer has to nail down the nomination in a primary against Thomas Black, a Lowe’s manager running on an anti-smoking ban platform.

    On the House side, four incumbents face primary challenges. In District 22, anti-coal plant activist Don Shatzer looks to send Rep. Deborah Berry back to Waterloo. The district has a short but charged history with an indecisive four-way 2002 primary and two special nominating conventions. The primary will probably settle the race where Republicans didn’t file.

    The too conservative for some tastes Rep. Geri Huser, D-Altoona, is being primaried by Matt Ballard in District 42. And Rep. Wayne Ford, D-Des Moines, faces a three-way race against Charles Hoffman and community organizer Tyler Reedy in District 65.

    The lone Republican incumbent with a primary challenge is Rep. Jim Van Engelenhoeven of Pella. Marc Held, also of Pella, is part of a complicated family custody case and running to draw attention to the issue. The primary winner faces Democrat Pat Van Zante.

    There are some crowded fields in open or promising districts. The biggest crowd is the four Democratic candidate field in District 16, where Republican Chuck Gipp is retiring. Three Decorah Democrats see an opportunity here: 2006 candidate (41%) Tom Hansen, 2004 Senate candidate (45%) John Beard, and John Franzen. The fourth Democrat Allamakee County Supervisor Lennie Burke, of Dorchester. Decorah City Council member Randy Schissel is the lone GOP candidate.

    Three Democrats want to challenge first-term Rep. Dave Deyoe of Nevada, who beat Democrat Susan Radke by about 700 votes in 2006. Radke is running again; she’ll see a primary against Josh Eaton, an IBEW member, and Sam Juhl, who got national attention in 2005 when he was elected mayor of Roland at age 18. He's a DMACC student in addition to his civic duties.

    There is also a three way primary in open House District 13, where Mason City Republican Bill Schickel is leaving. 2002 nominee Lionel Foster, longtime head of Mason City’s human rights commission, is trying again; builder Texas Newman and retired teacher Sharon Steckman are also running. Steckman’s husband Alan was the nominee against Schickel in 2006 so maybe the yard signs are reusable. Mason City Councilman Scott Tornquist is the GOP candidate.

    Two more three-way primaries in solid Democratic districts will probably be decisive. In Dubuque’s District 27, Rep. Pam Jochum is hoping to move to the Senate. Labor leader Francis Giunta and Charles Isenhart, former executive director of the Dubuque Area Labor-Management Council, will face off against Adam Mennig, a Clarke College student who’s already won a seat on the Dubuque School Board. Office supply manager Lou Oswald will try on the GOP side.

    The last tough race in House District 92 was when representatives Phil Wise and Rick Larkin got paired in 2002 redistricting; that Democratic primary broke sharply on Ft. Madison vs. Keokuk lines and Wise (and Keokuk) won. Now Wise is retiring and there are two Keokuk candidates, both with United Auto Workers roots: Jerry Kearns and Ron Payne. This would seem to favor the one Fort Madison candidate, who also packs a lot of name ID: Former county supervisor, current Ft. Madison Chamber of Commerce head, and onetime congressional candidate Tracy Vance. Retired Keokuk police officer Gary Ramaker is the one Republican.

    The only House district seeing primaries in both parties is District 59. GOP Incumbent Dan Clute is leaving after just one term. Republican candidate Chris Hagenow ran a credible but failed county recorder race against a divided Polk County Democratic Party. He’ll see Susan Murphy of Clive in the primary. Windsor Heights mayor Jerry Sullivan appears to be the main chance Democrat, but ISU computer scientist Mark Matel is also running.

    In House District 29, Rep. Ro Foege, D-Mt. Vernon, surprised most folks with a late retirement on Wednesday. Lisbon attorney and ex-Howard Dean staffer Nate Willems filed Thursday and was expected to be the only Democrat. But Shawn Mercer of Solon got his 50 signatures in time, so there’ll be a Democratic primary. UPDATE: Mercer withdrew. The winner faces 2006 Republican candidate Emma Nemecek.

    In three seats, Republican have primaries to replace retiring Republicans. Insurance adjustor Jason Schultz of Schleswig faces farmer and school board member Don Friedrichsen of Holstein in District 55. That'll probably decide who takes over for Clarence Hoffman. Ankeny Community Education Director Kevin Koester and attorney Jeff Wright face off in Carmine Boal’s District 70. Matt Pfaltzgraf, a University of Iowa student government leader, is making the Back Home run on the Democratic side. And a classic conservative vs. moderate battle is brewing to replace Walt Tomenga in District 69. Erik Helland of Grimes, who was a John McCain staffer, started early and has Iowans for Tax Relief backing. Al Lorenzen, of Granger, has a Bob Ray endorsement on his home page and some residual name ID from Hawkeye basketball days a couple decades ago. No Democrats sighted yet.

    Democrat Bob Kressig has seen two very close races in District 19. Republicans will choose between Carlin Hageman, a UNI speech/hearing professor, and Marshall Shoemaker, a Ron Paul supporter.

    Republican Adam Vandall of Newton will try again to beat Democrat Paul Bell in District 41; he won 37% in the 2006 general. Vandall faces Susan Schmidt of Kellogg in the primary.

    Des Moines Democrat Bruce Hunter has been unopposed in primary and general elections since taking over late in the 2002 cycle. There’s two Republicans this time: Chris Sanger and Jeremy Walters. Walters lost to Geri Huser in District 42 in November 2002 by a wide margin.

    Bloomfield Democrat Kurt Swaim had it easy last time after his Republican opponent effectively quit the race in protest of negative party mailings. Two Republicans will primary this year for the right to face Swaim : John Bridges of Centerville and Howard Hubbard of Floris.