Monday, December 31, 2012

A Decade of Deeth

And a year of news.

Ten New Year's Eves ago, I decided to play around with this then-trendy thing called "blogging." It was just supposed to be a minor diversion.

But it turned out that with a little bit of effort, I got kind of good at it, good enough to actually make money for a little while, and prominent enough to attain minor celebrity in the small world that is Iowa politics.

So today marks the, believe it or not, ten year anniversary of the Deeth Blog, though the beret has only been around for the latter 5 1/2 of that. That's a looooong time for a (mostly) amateur political blog. For perspective: Daily Kos was only about six months old when I started.

The blog isn't the only outlet for me anymore, and even the concept of a "blog" is kind of Twenty-Zeroes. (We never did come up with a name for that decade.) Facebook and Twitter didn't exist back then. They're useful tools, but this blog is still the mothership for my public thoughts.

Thanks to you, the readers, for keeping me motivated to do this. And as always, my New Year's resolution, never honored, is to spell-check before I post.

Here's a quick review of the year.


Caucus night runs smooth for the Democrats - a 98.42% win for Obama over Uncommitted. Republicans? Not so much. My prediction of a narrow Ron Paul win is wrong, but I see the future: "How many Paul and Santorum people stuck around to elect delegates after the Romney and Gingrich people went home?" Three-fourths of attendees oppose the eventual nominee.

The debates remain lively, despite the failure of Jon Huntsman's Screw Iowa strategy, and nothing is more lively than Newt's moon base. The race for Fail Of The Month is between Michele Bachmann, out the day after caucus, and the Packers, in the first round of the playoffs.

There was a mass shooting somewhere.


Matt Strawn becomes the fall guy for the caucus count and the Paulistinians, led by AJ Spiker, take over the party structure. We move into legislative announcing and filing mode, and see an unprecedented number of primary challenges to GOP House incumbents. (In the end, only one challenge is successful.)

Nationally, we see the first shots in what later gets called The War On Women, as contraception - contraception?!? - becomes a primary issue half a century after Griswold v. Connecticut, and Susan Komen for the Cure destroys its brand by caving to extremism.

Prescient headline of the year: "How the Obama Campaign’s Top-Secret project Narwhal Will Change the 2012 Race."

There was a mass shooting somewhere.


This happens. Then this happens.

How can we announce we're off the air when we're off the air?

I drop off the face of the earth in a self-imposed sabbatical which I euphemistically called "writer's block." I could only think about one contest, the auditor primary, and I couldn't write about it. So I avoid political events except for a presidential visit. Other than filing deadline updates, followed by District Of The Day 2, I go silent to the point that I have to occasionally tweet that the blog is still alive. Eight posts in the entire month of May.

There was a mass shooting somewhere. The Iowa City tire fire may have been toxic, but it sure looked cool.

Mitt wins the nomination, or more accurately everyone else loses. We see the first of two Abraham Lincoln movies for the year, and I propose a series of sequels involving many presidents as vampire hunters.

After a stop at the Fibbin' Fisherman, Joe Seng kinda sorta gets the signatures for an improbable primary challenge to Dave Loebsack. The authorities rule that, well, you probably didn't really have enough, but you tried so you get to be on the ballot anyway.

Locally, Jeff Kaufmann steps down, Bobby Kaufmann and Dick Schwab step up. And a sad goodbye to our neighborhood school; my son Hayden said it better than I could.


Weipert beats Slockett, Schwab beats Johnson. Half a year later, the losing sides in both are still nursing grudges.

Deeth in Dixie: With my family, I take my first actual vacation in eight years, traveling through Mississippi and Ala-freakin-BAMA en route to Disney. On the road back, I follow the complete Ron Paul takeover of the state Republican convention. I arrive home to a dead garden which I never quite manage to revive.

A wild SuperPAC appears. Obama uses Define Mitt as Job Outsourcer. It's super effective!

There was a mass shooting somewhere. And at month's end ObamaCare is constitutional, as the Democrats begin to embrace the term.


Another presidential visit. Another mass shooting somewhere. And two girls disappear in Evansdale.

GOP state senate candidate Randi-Kaye: Shannon secedes and joins, let's see if I have the capitalization right, "the Republic of the united States of America." We start hearing more and more about voter ID laws, in a vote suppression effort that backfires. And does anyone remember Americans Elect?


The month of Chick-Fil-A's and empty chairs starts with A.J. Spiker making a full-partisan jump into judicial politics with a "personal" endorsement.

Another set of filing deadline stories, another round of District of the Day, and another mass shooting somewhere. The first Wisconsin cheesehead ever gets put on a national ticket; unfortunately it's not Russ Finegold.

Not sure who looked more foolish at the GOP convention: the Iowa delegation in voting for third place Ron Paul, or the convention podium for refusing to acknowledge non-Mitt votes, just like we pretended Penn State never won a football game from 1998 to 2011.

The term "legitimate rape" enters the lexicon. At some point we gave up on asking for Mitt's tax returns.

In the best moment in a whole series of Some Dude Republican legislative conventions, the options were so bad that a candidate volunteered from the audience - and won.

UI climbs a couple notches from number four to become the Number Two Party School.

All these things will be forgotten in a thousand years. But Neil Armstrong won't.


We didn't know for sure right away. There was a false alarm after the first debate. But in retrospect, the ball game ended September 17 when the "47 percent" video came out. Encapsulated every preconception and meme about Mitt in one sound bite, and in karmic perfection 47 percent is exactly what Romney won in November.

The month started off with a pitch-perfect Democratic convention (winners: Clinton 42 and in absentia Clinton 45) followed immediately by an Iowa City visit from Obama, Biden, Obama and Biden. It ended with a line halfway down the Ped Mall for the first day of early voting.

The Ron Paul backers refuse to give up, aiming their hopes at the electoral college. One Iowan opens her trap about it and is quickly dumped from the elector slate.

This happened:

NFL referees are locked out, and Packer fans suffer through the worst bad call since Bush v. Gore. Final impact: the Seattle "loss" costs Green Bay a bye next week.

There was a mass shooting somewhere.


In "the biggest liberal flip-flip since Birkenstocks" I come out of the closet in support of the justice center, earning a new nickname in the process, and my writing trails off late in the month as I get deeper and deeper into the work bubble of helping make the election happen.

There was a mass shooting somewhere.

Democrats worry, but keep working and turn to Nate Silver, who was comfort with decimal places. Republicans hide behind binders full of women and the rose colored glasses of "skewed polls."

Musicians for Obama: Ames gets Springsteen, Iowa City has to settle for Jon Bon Jovi. At month's end, their beloved New Jersey is clobbered by Sandy, and the state's governor shifts from bashing Obama on the stump to literally embracing him in the year's least likely bromance.

Pat Ward's death extends the legislative election season by a month (but the GOP holds the seat in the December special). And in another loss, we said goodbye to one of our greatest Democrats, George McGovern.

And my best tweet of the year, on style points, channels Chuck Grassley:

A good, if not perfect, winning night. Wiggins survives. Boswell does not. For once my predictions prove accurate, though not as good as Nate Silver's; he nailed the presidential map exactly. Main exceptions: I pick with my heart not my head for Christie Vilsack. Still, I was more rooted in reality than the Romney transition team or the Texas secessionists.

The Iowa Senate holds for Governor Gronstal, and Spinal Tap trades drummers again. Out with Jerry Behn, in with Bill Dix.

The justice center narrowly fails, and I crunch the numbers to show what I want to show: lefty opposition on larger justice system issues mattered more than conservative anti-tax sentiment. Back to the drawing board, sometime next year.

Nobody, not even the head of the CIA, can keep an affair secret. Except maybe James Bond. There was a mass shooting somewhere.


There was an especially bad mass shooting somewhere, and dead first graders are more real to most people than some "fiscal cliff." Still, Republicans don't seem to get the meaning of the word "lost" so here we sit on Deeth Blog Anniversary Day staring at an artificially created crisis.

With Dan Inouye's death and John Kerry's impending departure for the cabinet, Iowa tops  the Senate seniority list.

The musical chairs start moving for the upcoming supervisor vacancy as Sally Stutsman prepares for the Iowa House. Speaking of musical chairs, Flavor Flav makes it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, boyeee!

What have I missed, dear readers? That's what comment sections are for.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fiscal Cliff's Notes

I'm a thousand miles away from the action with no inside information at all. The stalemate lingers - while we're at it, here are some other politically useful chess terms.

Here's how I see the next few days in DC playing out. First, this happens:

John Boehner won't cut a deal beforehand that relies on near-unanimous Democrats and a handful of Republicans who'll put country before Norquist.

The clock rolls over into the New Year and the new Congress is sworn it. Boehner gets himself safely re-elected as Speaker. With that accomplished, there's a quick move to pass the tax cuts on the 98%. That gives the Republicans a fig leaf: see, we voted for a tax CUT! Some people get hurt along the way, sure, but war is peace and freedom is slavery.

We have close to a decade of this left, with the horribly gerrymandered House. One more sign of that from Massachusetts, where 36-year Rep. Ed Markey has rapidly emerges as the near-consensus candidate for the upcoming special Senate election.

A Massachusetts Senate seat tends to come open once in a lifetime. But it also indicates that the 66 year old Markey, a sure bet for a major committee chair if the Democrats would take back the House, isn't counting on that happening.

I haven't thoroughly researched it, but based on this list it appears that, if successful, Markey would be the most senior Representative EVER, as in, back to George Washington ever, to move to the Senate. Markey would drop from number 8 of 435 to number 100 of 100. The closest we have to it in the current Senate is Maryland's Ben Cardin, who served 20 years in the House before going to the Senate.

The current Senator #100, Brian Schatz, will quickly jump 13 places next week, and gets a one week edge over his elected Hawaii colleague Mazie Hirono. (But how will this affect me, Al Franken?) Politico has an excellent look at the internal Hawaii politics that let Gov. Neil Abercrombie to reject Dan Inouye's dying wish that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa get the nod. I can't remember the source but most astute observation: the dying wish letter was an indication that Inouye wasn't confident that Abercrombie would go that route.

Closer to home, with the presidential election safely over Terry Branstad has eased up, a little, on Iowa's toughest in the nation process for ex-felons seeking their voting rights. Better late than never, I guess, but it's worth remembering that the restrictions were literally the first thing Branstad did on day one of term 5.0.

Finally, just for fun, a long look at the making of the Blues Brothers. Scarface-sized piles of cocaine... and getting the band back together was pretty much the same in real life as in the movie. One scene in the movie is of particular relevance today.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Stutsman's Sendoff

Standing room only yesterday at the Board of Supervisors, and for once it wasn't over a zoning fight.

Thursday was Sally Stutsman's  last formal meeting as a supervisor. Stutsman was elected to the Iowa House in November and will formally resign next week to get ready for the session, which starts January 14.

50 or 60 of us, mostly county employees, packed the Board room for a half hour or so of tributes. It was unannounced, but chair Rod Sullivan conceded that Stutsman "might have figured something was up."

Gazette and PC have quotes and pix. I'd add: I've researched Board history and Sally is the only supervisor elected five times since terms went to four years in the early 70s, and her 18 year tenure is the longest since at least 1946, which is as far back as I went. Also to clear up a common point of confusion: what the post office calls a "Riverside" address, you and I would describe as "rural Hills."

If you miissed it, the county is hosting a more cakey punchy type farewell on Thursday January 10 from 3 to 5. (corrected date)

Once her resignation is official, the formal process of filling Stutsman's chair begins. That's decided by a "statutory committee" of Treasurer Tom Kriz, Recorder Kim Painter, and new Auditor Travis Weipert (who gets sworn in 8:30 Wednesday, January 2). They can appoint a successor or call a special election.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Truce is Over

Christmas is over and Mr. Potter has won. Time to start bashing the other team again:

"The Republican slide into total epistemic closure and political marginalization has now become a free-fall. This party, not to mince words, is unfit for government," writes Andrew Sullivan. "There is no conservative party in the West - except for minor anti-immigrant neo-fascist ones in Europe - anywhere close to this level of far right extremism." The British National Party's "incentives to emigrate" plan sounds a lot like self-deportation to me. But that outfits usually polls in the low single digits, not at the Romney level of - poetic justice - 47%.

If immigration reform starts to look serious, look for the Know-Nothing wing of the GOP, with Steve King in the front rank, to show its true mass-deportation colors soon.

But even "go away and don't talk Spanish in front of me in the Wal-Mart line" is a stance for something, something the GOP seems incapable of:
Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the party is against everything and for nothing.

Nothing on taxes. Nothing on gun control. Nothing on climate change. Nothing on gay marriage. Nothing on immigration reform (or an incremental, piece-by-piece approach, which will result in nothing). It’s a very odd situation when the losing party is the party refusing to negotiate. It may be how you disrupt, but it is not how you govern, or how you ever hope to regain a majority.
Today's big news will come out of Hawaii - the appointment of Dan Inouye's replacement. With time zones it'll be late afternoon. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making The Extreme Mainstream

Friday's press conference by NRA head Wayne LaPierre was so over the top that it took a couple days to absorb.

Sure, he was talking to his constituency rather than the larger public. That much was obvious. But how was he able to feel like he could more or less get away with rhetoric that extreme - doubling down on no restriction at all?

Anyone on the left with a position of equal significance who took the polar opposite position - repeal the Second Amendment - would be hounded out of their job within a news cycle. The extreme left limit in this debate is assault weapon bans, tighter background checks, and ammo clip limits.

As I've thought that through, it fits into a grand unifying theory.  In general, here in the Twenty Teens, the extremes of the right are part of the mainstream dialog, while the extremes of the left are not.

It hasn't always been like that. Maybe in the Sixties the extremes of the left were more in play, though that may just be my cultural bias since it's the pop culture remnants of the 1960s left that stood the test of time. The month of the Chicago convention riots, August 1968, the Doors and "Classical Gas" coexisted on top of the charts. Which would you rather remember?

The extreme may be out of reach, but it changes the dialogue. The theory called "the  Overton Window":

The political viability of an idea is defined primarily by the range of ideas that the public will find acceptable, rather than by politicians' individual preferences. At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.
And on issue after issue after issue, the right is so much winning the battle of the window that we can't even conceive of an equivalent on the left.

Look at the fiscal cliff. The right left "extreme" is defined as tax hikes on quarter-millionaires and Clinton-era rates in the 30s percentages, not Eisenhower-era rates that topped out at 91%.

On the Middle East, Chuck Hagel's mild views that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't have a policy of Whatever Netanyahu Wants are getting framed as "anti-Semitic." And we all saw what happened to Helen Thomas when she questioned the premise. But on the right, "a Greater Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan has always drawn strength from some American supporters."

In presidential primary politics, a rogue's gallery of fringe extremists were not only highly competitive, each in turn, but Rick Santorum emerged as a guy who could win states. The equivalent Democrat wouldn't even be Dennis Kucinich. It'd be Mike Gravel.

Republicans win state level primaries, if not general elections, by taking absolute anti-choice positions: rape, incest, save mother's life, no exceptions. On the left, we pro-choicers have to hem and haw and say safe legal and rare. No  one has ever campaigned on "life begins whenever the woman damn well says it does."

Even when it comes to ridiculous fringe conspiracies, the right is moving the window. Birtherism is alive and well, and seems to serve as a culturally acceptable way to say "I can't emotionally handle the concept of a black president."

I can't name a elected politician who's pushing the equivalent batty theory, 9/11 Trutherism. Maybe you can throw one counter-example at me. But that's not the point. The point is, they're not getting the attention.

"If it's crazy for calling to put armed police in our schools... then call me crazy,"  Wayne LaPierre said this morning on Meet The Press. (Here's my number, call me crazy.) But he's not crazy. He's defining the limits of debate and making the extreme mainstream, and without an equivalent push from the left, that right edge is going to change the outcome.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Nihilist Party

Last night's failure of House Speaker John Boehner's two day wonder "Plan B" is one more proof that the House Republicans are more commited to drown it in a bathtub nihilism than they are to public policy. This is what happens when we elect people who don't believe in governing to, well, govern.

This manufactured "fiscal cliff crisis" is the result of kicking the can down the road during another artificial crisis, the debt ceiling vote of summer 2011.

I know all about Godwin's law and I've been called names more than once. But as far as basic functionality, the US House is beginning to resemble the German Reichstag circa 1932, when a combination of Nazis and Communists, both committed to the destruction of the republic in different ways, combined to make governing impossible.

And we all know THAT didn't end well.

In parliamentary countries, a failure of leadership this big means you call a new election and start over. But thanks to that uniquely American institution, divided government, we have to play this hand for at least two more years, meeting the Einsteinian definition of insanity: doing the same thing over but expecting a different result.

OK, so with the restraints we have, what do we change?

The only hope I see is that Republicans are hoist on their own petard, that after the new year House Democrats, their numbers slightly boosted, can push through a plan more closely resembling the president's, and persuade enough Republicans to either join them or, more likely, abstain. If House Democrats hold completely solid, they need to pick up about a net 36 votes: 18 switches, 36 abstentions, or a combination of those.

They also need a Senate that's willing to let a plan pass with a simple majority, rather than a filibuster-proof super majority.

But reasonable, responsible Republicans are getting harder and harder to find. With districts increasingly safe, members are more worried about losing a Republican primary than about the general election.

So what I expect instead is: we go off this "cliff" and in artificial super-crisis mode, we enact something ill-considered. And it's long forgotten by the next election.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Snow Day Stuff

I'd planned to take today off for no good reason anyway, and the Iowa City schools started Christmas break anyway. But with traffic non-existent and stuff shut down, I've got a snow day mindset.

Republicans managed to beat the blizzard and complete their House 52 nomination convention. Dennis Litterer won and will face Democrat Todd Prichard on January 22 to replace One Packer Brian Quirk. (Worth noting today, with a Jan.22 vote there and a Feb. 5 vote here: Iowa law does not have any provisions for postponing an election. Bob Dvorsky can tell you all about that.)

Larry Sabato number crunches the electing some more. My favorite finding (item 9): the net impact of reapportionment - not redistricting but the re-apportionment of House members between the states - is a wash.

Our Own Matt Schultz goes to DC to testify about Rampant Voter Fraud in Iowa: six (6) possible incidents in 1.5 million voters. National newsmaker- or national embarrassment?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Stuff You May Have Missed

No official word yet on any defecting presidential electors yesterday, but reports are incomplete. In Alaska, where one Romney elector had threatened to vote Ron Paul, ballots were secret and sealed, so we won't know till early January. At that time I may need to eat the beret.

Pressure Mounts To Appoint The First Female Secretary Of Defense: "Aides and strategists of both parties see the stock of Michèle Flournoy, the former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, rising to replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta when he leaves the Pentagon — likely early next year."

The current frontrunner is former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel. I have some problems there; all the way back to Robert McNamara,Democratic presidents too often put Republicans in charge at the Pentagon. Heck, even before there WAS a Pentagon and they still called it the War Department, FDR named Republican Henry Stimson.

But the real issue with Hagel:
Picking Flournoy would also be a smoother path through the Senate than another leading contender, former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, whose criticism of the 'Israel lobby' has drawn criticism from Republicans and Jewish groups.
That's a plus for me. But peace doesn't seem to be a priority for the Netanyahu government, and this quote captures the mindset: "The Israeli settler movement has long been premised on the notion of a Greater Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan."

Of course, guns remain Topic A and two more pieces of interest: the great Nate Silver crunches the numbers as only he can and shows how guns are, on the individual gun owner or non-gun owner level, a defining issue between the parties. And Jeffrey Toobin reviews the gun lobby's deliberate misinterpretation of the Second Amendment.

And stay classy, Mitt: in a final middle finger to the media, the campaign that cut off staffer's credit cards so fast they couldn't pay for the cab ride home on Election Night is now busted for over-billing news organizations for travel and food expenses.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Iowa Tops Senate Seniority

With the death this afternoon of Hawaii Senator Dan Inouye, Iowa will have the most senior delegation in the Senate.

The unlikely duo of Republican Chuck Grassley, elected in 1980, and Democrat Tom Harkin, elected four years later, will have a combined 60 years in the chamber.

Grassley will rank sixth in seniority. Harkin will likely move up to seventh, assuming John Kerry (who has one day over Harkin) is named Secretary of State.

That's a far cry from Iowa's recent history. No Iowa Senator was re-elected between 1966 and Grassley's first re-election in 1986.

Until Inouye's death Hawaii had ranked first in seniority. Inouye was just weeks away from 50 full years in the Senate. His colleague Daniel Akaka had served since 1990, but retired this year. In the new Senate, with two freshmen, Hawaii will rank last in seniority.

The new senior senator is Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, elected in 1974, who will take over as president pro tem. That post is third in line to the presidency behind vice president and Speaker of the House.

All this is trivia compared to the remarkable life of Inouye, a true American hero long before he went to Washington. Inouye lost his arm charging machine gun nests in Italy in the last month of the European war. Here's how he won his Congressional Medal of Honor: "As the German inside the bunker reloaded his rifle, Inouye pried the live grenade from his useless right hand and transferred it to his left." And don't forget: this was when many of his fellow Japanese-Americans were in internment camps.

Inouye was a key player in gaining Hawaii its statehood, and in fact had represented the state since it was admitted in 1959, moving to the Senate after a brief House tenure. You owe it to yourself to read his staff's official biography and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's tribute.

Reports are that Inouye's last word was "Aloha." What better tribute to the state he loved.

Cynical Push for Death Penalty

We react viscerally to the death of children. So we are seeing in the wake of Newtown, and so we are seeing in the wake of another recent tragedy, the discovery of the bodies Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins.

The Iowa Senate's leading right wing noisemaker, Kent Sorenson, is pushing for the death penalty, and he's sensationalized the issue again today by enlisting the help of the murdered girls' families and relatives of other child murder victims.

This surfaces every few years in Iowa. The last serious push was in 1995, after the death penalty became an issue in the 1994 governor's race following the murder of Anna Marie Emry in Brighton. The Legislature was overwhelmingly Republican at the time. But there were still enough suburban moderates and seamless-garment Catholics in the Republican caucus to join with Democrats and block the bill.

Probably not so today, but Democrats still hold that one Senator edge so this likely goes nowhere. And that's what Sorenson is really about here.

The challenge to capital punishment opponents is the false equivalence of their opposition with a defense of indefensible crime. "Does this killer deserve to die" is a different question than "should we as a society kill them." Ironic that the conservatives who hate big intrusive government largely support the ultimate intrusion.

Humans can be wrong, individually, as a jury of 12, or even as a majority in an opinion poll. And the death penalty is irreversible. As long as it is an option, even for the confessed killer with incontrivertible physical evidence, there is a risk of it being used against an innocent person.

Obviously, my thoughts here will be linked to the post-Newtown push for gun control. The difference I see is that the gun control effort  is about saving lives, about preventing incidents like this from happening again and again and again.It's also done in the face of serious opposition, at a political cost at least for now. (But this really is starting to feel like a real shift in opinion.)

In contrasty, Sorenson's post-Lyric and Elizabeth death penalty push is the politics of vengeance and cynical exploitation, a base appeal to the least common denominator.

Sure, the grieving families agree.  But that doesn't mean they aren't being cynically exploited by Sorenson just the same. "This is going to end up at the feet of (majority leader) Gronstal," says Sorenson, revealing his agenda. "That's where we'll take our fight."

But justice, if there can be such a thing for murdered children, is more than just a campaign brochure issue.

It's Election Day

The real presidential election is today. Yes, it's time for that 18th century ritual, the electoral college.

I expect today to be more interesting than most. Iowa's Melinda Wadsley blew it by yakking about it too soon but I'm still betting the beret that at least one bitter-end Paulistinian slipped through in a state won by Mitt Romney, and thus Ron Paul will get at least one electoral vote today.

We've seen three of those in recent years. In 2000 a DC elector abstained to protests the District's lack of voting congressional representation. Of course, that was only a small electoral college problem compared to the larger problem of the person with the most popular votes losing.

John Kerry lost a vote in Minnesota when someone inadvertently voting for John Edwards for president and VP, and Michael Dukakis lost a defecting elector in West Virginia.

Speaking of John Kerry and Michael Dukakis, the 1988 presidential nominee may well be the interim placeholder senator when the 2004 nominee goes to the State Department.

And speaking of West Virginia, Joe Manchin is now probably the most conservative Democrat from the reddest state left in the Senate. So his comments on gun control this morning are interesting:
“I just came with my family from deer hunting,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I’ve never had more than three shells in a clip. Sometimes you don’t get more than one shot anyway. It’s common sense. It’s time to move beyond rhetoric. We need to sit down and have a common sense discussion and move in a reasonable way.”
Telling me that ammo clip restrictions are the direction this goes, if any. But don't forget: the electoral challenge most House members face isn't a general election; it's a Republican primary.

Also today: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is set to announce Senator Jim DeMint's replacement at 11 Iowa time, as a Nation awaits.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

More Thoughts on Newtown

Haven't really been able to focus on issues other than the Newtown shooting the past couple days.
It's not just about guns; it's about the helplessness of dealing with mental illness in America. This heartbreaking anonymous piece tells of one mom's struggle:  
No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
"Most likely outcome of all this is crackdown on mentally ill, rather than on guns," writes Garance Franke-Ruta. "Human tendency to punish the weak, fear the strong." Autism and Asperger advocates are already worrying about the stereotypes and backlash, especially after a New York Times profile of the shooter based on far too few facts.

Media mistakes are a significant issue in this case. "The media can do many things; one thing they cannot do is on-the-spot fact-checking of the cops," writes Erik Wemple.

Also: a previous study shows that bullying and homophobia has been a factor in many past school shooting cases. 

But why am I saying "many past school shooting cases"?   "Every country has a sizable contingent of mentally ill citizens," writes Gail Collins. "We’re the one that gives them the technological power to play god." 

So a lot of it IS about guns, and this time the talk feels different. As I said Friday, "On no other issue is America's urban-rural divide as big as it is on guns." And urban American just won an election: a solid presidential win, seats gained in the Senate, and only gerrymandering keeping the House red. This is an issue where urban America has long been stymied by white male cultural mythology. It's significant that the highest ranking politician making serious noise about gun control before this latest tragedy was the mayor of New York.

"The voters who Dems worry about on gun issues are pretty much the people the Obama coalition gave up on," Ben Smith wisely notes. "TN, WV, etc. Matter for House tho." The Blue Dogs are near extinction and the opportunites, few as they are, are in suburban areas that may be fiscally conservative but would be open to dealing with gun issues. At least that's the argument

Two similar but separate pieces by Max Fisher in the Washington Post and Atlantic on the other extreme on guns: Japan. "What is perhaps most revealing about looking at Japan’s gun laws, and seeing what makes them the most extreme gun restrictions in the developed world, is that it gives you a sense, for better or worse, of what American gun laws look like to everyone else."

But, of course, conservatives have long twisted the Second Amendment into an absolutist right. The smarter ones are staying quiet; the dumb ones are trolling in anonymity. Yes, I get called a Nazi for my birthday.

Friday, December 14, 2012

When is it going to be the day?

I've been mentally prepping a piece on the political exploitation of tragedy. But now we're hit with a different tragedy and a different politics.

As I write we are in the first hours after the Connecticut school shooting. The names aren't out yet, the grim body count keeps changing, but it's clear many people, mostly children, are dead.

I didn't grow up with guns. I don't understand guns, I don't like guns. On no other issue is America's urban-rural divide as big as it is on guns. Not on race, not on religion, not on the role of government, nothing is as big a difference in culture and mindset as guns. Rural America hears "gun control" and envisions the black helicopters coming to get their hunting rifles. Urban America looks at it as a way to stop tragedies like today.

And on no other issue has single-issue politics been as effective. It's almost a joke to even discuss "gun control" as a live issue. Congress didn't do anything even when one of their own members was shot in the head. The Democrats gave up after the very mild measures like the Brady Bill of the early 1990s, and even thouse small wins extracted a heavy political price. Saturday Night live spoofed it well in their debate parody on October 20, just days after another mass shooting: 
Candy Crowley: Okay. Our next question comes from Lisa Goldstein. Lisa?

Lisa Goldstein: I was wondering what either one of you would do to keep dangerous assault weapons, like AK-47s, off the streets?

Mitt Romney: Uhhh... nothing.

President Barack Obama: I would also do nothing. 
The sad part: I couldn't even find which one of the three mass shootings that month was being referenced. Because the day after that mock debate there was another mass shooting at a Wisconsin mall. We're numbed to it. The tragedy holds our attention for a few days, or even just hours, then fades.

Today we're in that moment of attention again. "Today is not the day" to discuss gun control, says the president's press secretary. Doesn't matter which president, which party. Our hearts go out to the victims. Just a sick individual. Cliche upon cliche.

It's common enough that we have a standard set of responses. We dispatch grief counselors - a whole specialty schooled in this scenario - but we never talk seriously about guns. The tragedy is always looked at outside the context of the policy.

But if today is not the day, when is it ever going to be the day?

Guns don't kill people, the NRA says, people kill people. True. But people without guns kill far fewer people. You can't stab 27 people - that's the body count at this moment - in minutes.

I'm never going to run for office again so I'll say it: If I could change one thing in the Constitution, it would be the Second Amendment.

But we need far more than a change of law, far more than even a change in the Constitution here. We need to sever the outdated frontier mentality that equates guns with the American identity. And it looks like we need to do that before we can break the political stranglehold that pushes "rights" to the extreme and facilitates tragedies like this.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stuck with Hargadine... For Now

Unfortunate news from Missouri:
Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine won’t be taking a similar position with the St. Charles, Mo., Police Department.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that St. Charles City Council agreed to hire Randy McKinley, who is chief of the Bloomington, Ill. Police Department.

Hargadine previously said he was interested in the position in St. Charles so he could live closer to family in the St. Louis area.
I think we should support Sam in his goal to spend more time with family, and our goals to get a justice center built, though we should do it a different way.

While I'm at it, can't folks who are all amped up about red light cameras and chickens do something like recruit some credible - important qualifier there, credible - candidates to run against Dickens, Mims and Champion next year?

Senate 22 Finally Over

No race seemed like a longer slog this cycle than Senate 22. It's been in play one way or another since Map Day: Pat Ward's move in, the primary challenge from Jeff Mullen, Democrat Desmund Adams' early launch, Ward's death...

All of it ended last night with the special election. Republican Charles Schneider defeated Adams 56.4 percent to 43.4 percent -- within a couple tenths of a point of Ward's unofficial posthumous margin over Adams last month.

In retrospect -- indeed, all along -- it seems Adams' chances depended on fundamentalist minister Mullen getting past moderate Ward in the primary. The partisan lean of the turf was just too red. It briefly looked like Democrats were going to go all in for the special, but my bet is polling numbers indicated it wasn't gonna happen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Latest House 52 Developments

A surprise last night at the Democratic convention in House District 52, as Assistant Floyd County Attorney Todd Prichard of Charles City won the nomination for the January 22 hurry-up special election.

News of Prichard's candidacy first popped up Monday afternoon. In contrast, retired teacher and coach Tom Sauser had announced immediately after just re-elected Democratic Rep. Brian Quirk resigned, and was Quirk's choice for the seat. UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland has the details.

Republicans have set their convention for December 19 and there will be a contest. The first name in was Dan Fueling of New Hampton, who's touting a Terry Branstad nod.

"Don’t be surprised to see a handpicked 'liberty' candidate jump in as well," opined Kevin Hall, but the second candidate doesn't seem to be that guy. Dennis Litterer of rural Ionia has a background in ag and Farm Bureau and has served on the Nashua city council and school board. So my bet is Yet Another person emerges.

Justice Center, Drug War Not On Priority List

The drug war and larger justice system issues that helped scuttle the justice center last month are apparently not a "legislative priority" for the county.

Supervisors, elected officials and department heads held their annual meeting with state legislators yesterday and did not bring up issues such as marijuana legalization or the drinking age. The justice center, and the role of state and federal law and local law enforcement policy in the defeat, were never mentioned.

The focus was instead on admittedly critical fiscal issues of property tax reform proposals and mental health funding.

"Make (property tax reform) as harmless to us locally as possible," said Supervisor Terrence Neuzil. "In general we did support the senate's version"

"We want to target small main street businesses rather than out of state big boxes," Senator Joe Bolkcom said of the Democratic-led Senate's property tax plan. "If the legislature wants to give commercial property tax reform we outght to pay for it."

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said "there are some pretty potentially heartbreaking stories" of people whol could fall between the cracks of mental health funding reform.

"We want to see that people are taken care of," said Rep. Mary Mascher. "We're up against people who don't necessarily believe that," she said of the Republican-controlled House.

As for justice system issues, County attorney Janet Lyness focused mainly on the relationship between county attorney offices and the state Department of Human Services."We as elected representatived from the county are mandated to represent a state agency, and if we don't agree with what DHS wants to do there is a conflict of interest and we are jeopardizing our law licenses. County attorneys need to go into cases to represnet local interest, and we want to work with DHS but we should not be representing them." Lyness said statewide, there had been an average of about 20 such situations statewide in two decades.

If the county had brought up drug law reform, they had at least one sympathetic ear: Bolkcom has re-introduced a medical marijuana bill.

Other legislators on hand, all Democrats, were Senator Bob Dvorsky and Representatives Dave Jacoby and Vicki Lensing. Sally Stutsman, representative-elect, was also there but sat as a supervisor, the job she will hold until next month.

The two Republican legislators, Senator Sandy Greiner and Rep.-Elect Bobby Kaufmann, were absent. Board staff said the two had been invited.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Scary and Exciting Times for Marriage Equality

A judicial bombshell Friday afternoon, as the Supreme Court announced it would hear arguments on two marriage equality case: California's Proposition 8, which narrowly passed in 2008 and which lower courts have found unconstitutional, and the 1996 Defense of Marriage (sic) Act (DOMA), passed by a Republican Congress and shamefully signed by a Democratic president, who now like so many people seems to have changed his mind on the subject.

Arguments will be heard in the spring, ans in a perfect storm of timing the ruling is expected in late June, right at the end of what's sure to be the biggest Pride Month ever.

Marriage equality opponents were remarkably silent Friday. It took Bob Vander Plaats nearly 72 hours before emerging from his cave with the other Neanderthals over at the famIly leader to pronounce:
We do not think that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn its own precedent from Baker v. Nelson in 1972 which upheld the statute in Minnesota  prohibiting same-s*x couples from marrying.  Baker v. Nelson concluded that “marriage is the union of man and woman” and as an institution, “is as old as the book of Genesis”.
The self-censorship is just precious, Bob.

Smart Republicans are staying quiet, too. They're still too chicken-(self censorship again) to confront the BVP base, which is too small to control a nation bat large enough to dominate their party. But they can read the demographics as well as Democrats can and, as George Will said this weekend, “Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying.”

Supporters of marriage equality, in contrast, were loud... but not celebrating yet.

See, the finality of the Supreme Court is scary. And seven months is a very. long. time. to. wait. The New York Times (via Towleroad):
The fact that the Supreme Court is hearing the cases hardly means it is about to ratify same-sex marriage. As supporters and opponents said in interviews, the court might well use these cases to find that there is no constitutional protection for same-sex marriage.
“There is no question that it is a risk,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California. “If they nationalize it and reject it, that’s going to take decades to come back to the court.”

Jubilation was tempered with apprehension as the implications of the decision were discussed across the country.
“That the Supreme Court is taking this up is truly exhilarating, but I’m very nervous and unnerved by the possibilities of what could come out of this,” said Don Romesburg, 42, an associate professor of women and gender studies at Sonoma State University.
“It is frightening to have our basic rights as citizens in the hands of just nine people, when four or five of them are deeply ambivalent, at best, about our very existence..."
Anthony Kennedy is unpredictable. Liberals got lucky with John Roberts once on the health care ruling, and that may not happen again.

But the worst that can happen is an unnecessary delay in the inevitable. "This is high risk and high reward," Iowa City's Zach Wahls wrote Friday. "And fortune favors the bold."

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Two Words and an Orphaned Election

A bombshell in the Iowa City school district yesterday as Superintendent Steve Murley, just days after re-negotiating his contract and raise (and time off) announced he was one of three finalists for the Omahas superintendent job.

If that should come to pass, Murley will leave behind some unfinished business: the February 5 vote on the district's revenue purpose statement, which is shaping up as one of the odder local elections I've seen.

The ballot question seems to be orphaned. There appears to be no organized effort, for or against, this proposal. Not to have an ego, but usually when a campaign is going on in this town I hear about it.  As an activist I'm sought after, as a journalist I'm looking for a story. I still have bruises on my arms from all the twisting to get me on the Yes side of the justice center.

A top-level administrative job like a superintendent inherently has a political dimension. I worked on two school funding elections - the 2003 bond and 2007 sales tax - with former superintendent Lane Plugge, and the man was everywhere. But Murley's only political effort seems to have been trying to recruit allies to run for the board in 2011.

You don't just put a question on a ballot and expect it to get approved. The case needs to be made. From the official side, there needs to be a clear explanation of what the proposal would do. There also needs to be an unofficial side to make the Vote Yes ask.

Since no one else is explaining this, I'm going to try.

First off, what little I've read about this is from conservatives trying to tag it as a "$100 million tax issue." A bit misleading. The 1 percent school sales  tax is going to stay. It USED to be a local option. But after Linn and Johnson counties, the last two holdouts, approved it in February 2007, it became a statewide tax. That 100 million figure was/is an estimate of how much would be raised.

The district's Officially Neutral case (pdf) is: 
Legally a new RPS has to be in place 60 days before the current RPS expires. ICCSD is beginning the 6th year of the original SILO RSP which only leaves four years remaining until this RPS expires. Without the community’s approval of a new RPS, the district must first use any sales tax collected under the SAVE program to reduce existing tax levies and until those are satisfied does not have the legal authority to plan to spend sales tax dollars on school buildings past 2017. This creates a significant barrier to “big picture” and “long-term” planning. 
Since the original revenue purpose statement doesn't expire till 2017, the district could have held off till this fall's school board election, and thus saved the cost of a special. But that would have put the question on the same ballot as three board members (Sarah Swisher, Tuyet Dorau, and  Karla Cook)

Instead, here, the strategy seems to be "put a question on the ballot fast so it looks like we're doing something." Murley and the school board were in such a hurry that they initially looked at putting the issue on the ballot this past week, on December 4, but cooler heads prevailed.

So what, if anything, is getting changed in the revenue purpose statement itself?

During the 2007 campaign there was if not a promise a strong implication that a big pile of the pennies would be used to fund a third comprehensive high school in the northern part of the district i.e. North Liberty. That pressure was a factor in the 2009 and 2011 board elections.

But now the school board is under a counter-pressure from east siders - always a high-turnout constituency in local elections - who want new and/or improved elementary schools.

I don't have a horse in that race. My kids' school was the one that closed. But as a public service, I dissected the 2007 revenue purpose statement and the 2013 proposal to see what this vote would actually do.

Full unedited language is here for 2007 and 2013 but to cut to the chase I removed the introductory and concluding whereas stuff and compared the actual revenue purpose statement.

To my amazement, I can only detect a TWO WORD difference. The 2013 proposal adds two words, bolded, to the original statement.

To provide funds to build and furnish a new school building or buildings; to build and furnish addition(s) to school buildings in the District; to remodel, repair, expand, and improve the school buildings in the District; to purchase and improve grounds; to furnish and equip district facilities.

Monies may be used for emergency repairs to respond to natural disasters, such as fire, wind damage, flood; unanticipated mechanical, plumbing, structural, roof, electrical system failures; environmental remediation; or to respond to changes in demographics that require construction of additions, demolition or improvements to school buildings or new school buildings.

Monies may also be used for the purchase, lease or lease-purchase of buildings, technology, or equipment (including transportation and recreation equipment) as authorized by law, to implement energy conservation measures, sharing or rental of facilities, procuring or acquisition of libraries, or opening roads to schoolhouses or buildings.

Monies also may be used to establish and maintain public recreation places and playgrounds; provide for supervision and instruction for recreational activities; or for community education purposes, including the operation of Family Resource Centers and all services provided at the Family Resource Centers; and any other authorized expenditures and purposes as permitted by law or hereafter authorized by law and designated by the Iowa City Community School District.

Monies may be used for the payment of principal and interest or retirement of general obligation bonds issued for school infrastructure purposes, loan agreements authorized by Iowa Code section 297.36, sales tax revenue bonds issued under Iowa Code section 423E.5, or property tax relief.
I don't see the phrase "North Liberty High School" in any of that.

So what does this vote mean? It seems to mean whatever you want it to mean. The more I look at this, the more it looks like a finger to the wind. Put it out there, see what happens, if it fails adjust as needed.

It's a Direction Of The District question. But Murley and the Board aren't defining that direction, which gives any coalition of the disgruntled the chance to do so. Are the disgruntled numerous, or just disproportionately loud?

In any case, it looks like Direction Of The District is going to be defined in Omaha before it's defined at our polling places.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Dahms to seek supervisor seat

Johnson County Democratic Party Chair Terry Dahms told the county central committee tonight that he plans to seek the open county supervisor seat.

The formal details have not been set, but Dahms said he expects the statutory committee of Recorder Kim Painter, Treasurer Tom Kriz, and Auditor-elect Travis Weipert to proceed directly to a special election rather than make an appointment.

Supervisor Sally Stutsman was elected to Iowa House District 77, with two years remaining on her supervisor term. She is respected - well, she is but I mean expected - to resign between January 2, the first business day of the new year, and January 14, the first day of the legislative session.

Dahms' term as chair expires in March. He said if his candidacy for Supervisor was unsuccessful, he would seek another two year term as chair.

Party vice chair Mike Carberry also said he was considering a run for supervisor.

In lesser news, I got my voting spot on the central committee back. I was elected on caucus night - held, as you may remember, in old precincts - but reprecincting landed three people in the two seats for my new precinct. I resigned to give two new people a chance, and one of them moved. So now I'm back representin' for Iowa City Precinct 11.

Kill THAT Rumor

Outgoing Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky is not seeking a soon to be vacant slot on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, shooting down a long-dormant rumor that just resurfaced.

"No need to worry about me for appointment or election," Dvorsky said in a Facebook discussion that started out about her but drifted to the vacancy. Supervisor Sally Stutsman was elected to Iowa House District 77 with two years left on her Board term, and will resign before the session.

Speaking of vacancies that aren't in South Carolina, did you know that there are technically FOUR empty seats in the Iowa House? We'd heard that GOP Rep. Steve Lukan, who was redistricted into a bad seat, resigned right after the session to start his new job as Iowa drug czar.

But before the election there were two, less publicized resignations: Republican Stu Iverson resigned on August 31 and Democrat Kurt Swaim left October 25. Neither was seeking re-election, and perhaps coincidentally both were paired up in redistricting. Bonus points to anyone who knows the story. Sometimes early resignations by lame ducks are no more than an IPERS technicality.

(UPDATE from a tipster: "Stu took a job as an AA for Behn. When Dix took over, he was out. Swaim took a job with the State Public Defender." Bonus points awarded.)

The big House vacancy, of course, is in District 52 where the OnePack, Brian Quirk, stepped down just three weeks after getting re-elected over an independent Some Dude. The date is set for January 22 and it looks like two well-known local names.

Democrats look ready to name retired coach - I like retired coaches as the son of one - retired coach Tom Sauser. The first Republican name mentioned is former New Hampton Tribune publisher Dan Feuling, who reports getting a call from the governor asking him to run. (That's not always tantamount to nomination in the Iowa GOP these days.) 

With next Tuesday's Senate 22 special, always a heavy lift, looking dicier, it'll be nice to send Sue home with a House 52 win.

A Tale of Two Chairs

My friend Sue Dvorsky is stepping down as Iowa Democratic Party chair.

My feelings are profoundly mixed, even though it's not a surprise. Sue and Bob were among the first people I met 22 years ago when I moved to Iowa, and I doubt I'm ever going to see someone I'm as close to personally in a position like that again.

But we've missed her in the local trenches while she's been in the "view from 30,000 feet" job, and while she says she needs a break, we locals know she won't be able to stay away.

This wasn't supposed to happen, you know. This job is usually a one and done. Sue was just supposed to be VICE chair in 2010. But then Mike Kiernan got ill and Sue stepped up. Just-retired teacher from Johnson County (!) was an unusual resume for a job that usually goes to a Des Moines rainmaker.

She inherited a rough hand in 2010: a brutal national climate, a terminally weak incumbent governor, and a House recruiting class with a lot of empty seats.She did the best she could, along with executive director Norm Sterzenbach (also stepping down) and the rest of a great crew. Chet Culver lost, as he would have to any Republican other than Bob Vander Plaats, and the House fell.

But the Senate held, and almost unique among the nation, Iowa held its three Democratic congressional seats. Heck, Roxanne Conlin even won a county.

With Terrace Hill gone for the first time in 12 years and Mike Gronstal busy herding his 26 Senate cats, the chair role became the de facto spokesperson job for Iowa Democrats. Dvorsky put her own feisty - that word just comes to mind with Sue - feisty brand on the task and was wonderfully quotable.

Sue fights hard and fights partisan, but maintains personal class. She stood up to bullying tactics of both the right and left - I'm gonna get in trouble for bringing THAT up again - and maintained dignity through an ill-advised Occupy blockade of her office.

When Terry Branstad tried to pull a rabbit out of his hat with the Marion special election, Sue and the crew successfully fought back, recruiting an unbeatable candidate in Liz Mathis and cranking the field machine up to eleven.

Dvorsky fought hard and successfully, alongside Republican chair Matt Strawn, to keep the Iowa caucuses first in the nation. Sure, it was less than perfect, and one ur-left grumbler called it an "Obama Nuremberg rally" (the same guy who dubbed me the "assassin of hope"). But it was largely through her efforts that the traditional caucus alignment happened at all.

The crown jewel, of course, was the just completed general election. Sue helmed the most intense field operation we've ever seen, with just a hair under half the Obama vote in the bank before election day. Democrats regained the voter registration lead even though we have not had a major intra-party contest (the thing that drives people to check a party box) since the 2008 caucuses. All those Republican gains from the 2010 primary and 2012 caucuses? Gone.

Democrats picked up seven net seats in the Iowa House, just a couple heartbreakers away from control, and most critically the Senate held.

Sure, Leonard Boswell lost, but frankly that was his fault. And in retrospect the 4th CD was unwinnable, but Christie Vilsack gave Steve King the fight of his life. And in eastern Iowa, where Republicans were supposedly making "serious" efforts," Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley scored solid wins.

A lot of other people were involved in all that, sure. But all in all, those are some solid laurels for Sue to rest on. Not that I can imagine her resting for long.

(Sue and Bob are great parents, too, and that's really their greatest accomplishment. It's been a sacrifice for the family with four Dvorskys in four places. It's been fun watching Ann and Caroline grow up and follow in the family footsteps.)

Compare all this to the unmitigated disaster that the other team is dealing with right now: internal factional warfare, a donor revolt, a national delegation that embarrassed the nominee, and an open feud between chair A.J. Spiker and the sitting five term Republican governor.

Funniest headline of the week comes from the Coralville Courier: It's time for the Tea Party and Liberty groups to take over the GOP. That hasn't already happened? Spiker's just the figurehead of a larger problem, and Strawn was the fall guy for problems that were primarily local. But they both show the difference a chair can make.

The Democratic chair will now go, quite frankly, to whoever Tom Harkin wants, which is how it usually works in his election cycles (and don't doubt for a minute that he IS running). State Rep. Tyler Olson is the first name getting mentioned. Whoever it is will have big shoes to fill. Welcome home, Sue.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

In Real Life

It has happened again:
An Egypt Air official told the paper an investigation revealed that the 48-year-old passenger, who owns a reptile shop in Kuwait, had hidden the Egyptian cobra in a carry-on bag. The passenger was trying to control the snake after it bit his hand and started slithering under the seats.
Need a little help from Samuel L. here:

It took me a little googling to decode the US Senate's rejection of the disability treaty yesterday, but it turns out it was, of all things, a home schooler issue.
The letter was organized by Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who said the treaty threatened US sovereignty and could force the parents of disabled children to send them to public schools. It drew the support of home-schoolers who also fretted that the treaty was, among other things, a sly way to force America to adopt laws enshrining “abortion rights, homosexual rights, and demands the complete disarmament of all people.”
You forgot evolution there. Anyway the home school angle explains Rick Santorum's involvement.

But despite that win, a couple losses for the GOP:
The Republican push to make it more difficult to vote this year — seen by many as a racially tinged attempt to keep Democratic turnout down — could not have failed more spectacularly, a top African American activist told a left-leaning think tank Tuesday.

Those Republican legislators flipped a switch with the African American vote, Hardy said, rekindling whatever enthusiasm had waned after 2008’s historic Obama win.
And where was that first of the month press release from A.J Spiker bragging about the Republican lead in Iowa voter registrations? Oh, yeah. Dems got the lead back. No bragging from me, since no party voters spiked even more, but TheIowaRepublican has an honest self-assessment:
The Democrats’ success can be attributed to their superior ground organization in the lead-up to the November 6 elections. The Iowa GOP held a registration edge of more than 21,000 at the end of July, but that lead quickly dissipated as Election Day drew closer.

The fact that Iowa Republicans held the lead three months before Election Day, but lost it in November, shows that the GOP Victory turnout apparatus was inferior.
TIR also has a good look a a recent conference on the caucuses.

Finally, Senator Jeff Danielson offers a just for fun map: all the towns mentioned in the country classic "I've Been Everywhere." I must make a correction, having spent a couple years as an overnight country oldies DJ. Hank Snow sang it first, way back in 1962, and Johnny Cash only covered it during his late-career American Recordings renaissance. But in fairness my memory is a little rusty; since it was a trucker song, I could have sworn it was by Dave Dudley.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Why Not Go Off The Cliff?

There is a big part of me that hopes the ongoing  negotiations fail and we go over the fiscal cliff.

It would be draconian, sure. I'm not a fan of austerity for austerity's sake. It would hurt people who depend on benefits, and it would reverse the slow but steady economic recovery.

Part of the reason I think going off the cliff is a live option is my fear that the Obama Administration will give too much and get too little in terms of the wealthy paying more in taxes. How many cuts are worth it to get a token tax hike?

But the real reason I'd consider it: It's the only chance we'll ever get to seriously cut the military budget - $500 billion over 10 years unless the cliff is avoided.

 Andrew Cockburn of the Los Angeles Times notes:
Much of that $500 billion is earmarked for items such as the F-35 "Lightning II" Joint Strike Fighter, which currently consumes no less that 38% of the entire defense procurement budget... Even were the aircraft a miracle of combat efficiency, such staggering expense would be unpalatable. But 20 years of development has produced a fighter that is more sluggish, with a shorter range and 50% less payload, than the F-16 it is slated to replace.
The Navy determinedly fends off all budgetary threats to the 3,000-ton Littoral Combat Ship, though at $500 million each we might expect more than a lightly armed (one gun, one defensive missile launcher) vessel with an inherent tendency to veer off course at high speeds and to develop cracks and rust.
The Army, meanwhile, wants to spend $34 billion (at least) on the Ground Fighting Vehicle, a troop carrier (which) failed its tests so dramatically that testers urged it not be fielded, but the Air Force shipped it to Afghanistan anyway, and has since adamantly refused to release any details of its actual performance.
The list goes on, but the picture is clear.
I don't like a meat axe approach, but I don't see another way lawmakers will willingly cut that much, an amount I believe is appropriate.

Another reason, more in terms of schadenfruede: It would disproportionately hit the red states. The states who vote Republican and complain about taxes are the same states who benefit the most from federal largesse, mostly military. Note the heavy overlap between states that pay in more than they take out, and states that voted for the president last month.

The Montgomery Advertiser:
7 percent of Alabama’s gross domestic product comes from federal defense spending on contracts and salaries — twice the national average, according to the Pew Center on the States. Federal officials, mostly at the Pentagon, spent $10.4 billion on procurement contracts in the state in 2010 alone. Such cuts would certainly take a heavy toll on procurement contracts — and the jobs linked to them — in Alabama.
Maybe I'm a little cold, but that's politics. Dance with them that bring ya. Outside of jobs at the Rock Island Arsenal, Iowa doesn't take as much of a hit.

Cockburn concludes:
Once in a while, a politician calls the military's bluff. Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recalled his admirals fighting to retain big surface ships because, though useless in combat, "our naval commanders thought they were beautiful and liked to show them off to foreigners."

It's unlikely that President Obama would ever express such sentiments, even if he harbors them. Nevertheless, even while the rest of us tut-tut over the perks of our high-ranking military caste, we might ask a few questions about where the really big money goes, and or whose benefit.
Maybe going over the cliff is too high a price to pay. But once we were over the cliff, we could have a serious discussion. What's more important: health care, or maintaining the highest level of military spending in the world? Social Security, or leaky ships? Faced with the fiscal reality of just how much we spend on the military, voters may finally be willing to cash in the peace dividend we were supposed to collect 20 years ago.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Monday clips

The first wave of Republican navel gazing about their poor performance with youth, women, blacks and Hispanics is over, only to be met with a second wave of problems with Asians and singles.

But Democrats have, or had, our own problems. Daily Kos is compiling final election returns by congressional district and has reached Iowa:
The 3rd and 4th districts in Iowa, though, show some differences between the Congressional races and the Presidential race: Vilsack-King in the IA-04 came in right around the presidential toplines, but Dem Rep. Leonard Boswell in IA-03 lagged Obama badly.
David Jarman notes: "Des Moines-area district may be the closest mirror of the national average: went 51.5% Obama/47.2% Romney."

One last, fatal, underperfomance from Leonard. If he had stepped aside and Christie Vilsack had run "right around the presidential toplines" in the 3rd, where she was registered to vote on Map Day, she'd have won.

The 4th CD was one race where I "predicted" with my heart instead of my head. It's a little gauche to blow your own horn too much, but results are in from Bleeding Heartland's election prediction contest:

If my predictive powers were all that good, I'd have played Powerball last week.

I also get a quote squeezed in at the end of Adam Sullivan's post-election talk with the parties.

And everyone bragging about how Romney carried the Election Day vote in Iowa? That's like Nebraska fans bragging they outscored the Badgers in the 4th quarter.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Family Feuds of 2016 And Beyond

This entertaining list of great family rivalries in American politics does NOT includes the Bushes and Clintons. Yet.

But with Hillary cracking jokes like this...
“Now we travel all over the world together and people say how excited they are to meet a potential future president of the United States, and of course they mean Jake,” she deadpanned to the crowd’s laughter. 
Note also that Madame Secretary is updating her position on marriage equality from Democratic Orthodoxy Circa 2006 to Democratic Orthodoxy Circa 2013:
But according to two sources, Clinton's aides have privately indicated to people that she will end up where her husband and daughter, Chelsea, have emerged on the issue - in favor of same-sex nuptials.
Her circle has "indicated privately that she feels like ... because of her role as the country's chief diplomat that it was appropriate for her to stay out of this" over the last two years, said one source, who added that the message was also that as soon as she's left Foggy Bottom "and she's given the right opportunity, that she will end up with the rest of her clan."
Update: even more tea leaves forming a Hillary 16 in the bottom of the cup.

Look for the resignation and the John Kerry confirmation soon after the first of the year. (Anyone else think the Susan Rice bashing is less about Benghazi and more about Republicans think Scott Brown can win a Massachusetts senate special election?)

Then the Hillary book comes out by Christmas with the book tour soon to follow. 2014 is spent campaigning for various Democrats across the country, probably with special emphasis on Christie Vilsack for Iowa Governor and the re-election of New Hampshire Sen. Jean Shaheen. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush keeps making his moves...

So by 2036 we see New York Governor Chelsea Clinton and Senator George P. Bush of Texas face off. Maybe Chelsea will be taking questions from the press by then.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday Talking Shop

The Tiffin recount is finished and absolutely nothing changed. Royce Phillips held his 16 vote margin over Jenny Carhoff for the second city council seat. Not a vote for a candidate, not a write in, nuthin'.

Even though it was withing the margin where Carhoff did not have to put up a bond, 16 votes is a lot in a city the size of Tiffin. Frankly, people are too quick to cry "recount." I've seen half a dozen in 15 years and probably two of them should have happened: Iowa City in 1999 (two vote margin) and University Heights in 2011 (one vote). The modern optical scan readers used here and across the state are remarkably accurate. Raise the question of post-election audits if you wish; that's a separate question from recounts.

Carhoff's motivations were probably sincere. But I've seen recounts used for the wrong reasons, too. The North Liberty recount of 2005 was pretty obviously a way to delay an outcome rather than reverse an outcome. And the conservation bond recount of 2008, a county-wide recount that shifted just six votes out of 73,000 when the Yes winning margin was over 500, was just a political statement by the losing side.

I think the legislature should look at the recount cost issue, specifically the bonds and the margins. They should also look at ways to combine more elections. There's no common sense reason why the February 5 Iowa City school funding vote, which covers more than 80% of the county's voters, shouldn't be combined with, say, a possible supervisor special election. But with divided government any sort of tweaks to election law are stalled because of photo ID.

Another pet peeve: people who resign immediately after getting re-elected. State rep Brian Quirk's out of nowhere resignation means 1) another special election and 2) the last of the 2009-10 class of conservaDems called "the six pack" is gone. Four lost in 2010 and one retired rather than face a likely defeat. But quirk won in `10 and was strong enough that he only drew an independent opponent this month. The weird part: the vagueness of the "future plans".

While the recount went on, other post-election work kept going. The election day registrations, though not all the cleanup work, are processed and Johnson County registration is at a record high 95,195. about 1000 higher than after the 2008 election.

All parties gained raw numbers, but Democrats dropped a full percentage point while Republicans dropped just 0.2%. The bulk of that went to No Party, though the third parties gained slightly (together they're less than half a percent). 

Sure, that Dem drop doesn't look good. Not to whistle by a graveyard or even the Lensing funeral home, but look back over the year. Republicans are back where they were right after the caucuses while Dems are down two-tenths of a point from then. Democrats regained a lot with the June primary, which was the first competitive intra-party  contest here since the January 2008 caucuses. They gained more with the big field program; their percentage didn't start dropping again until in person early voting started in late September.

The vast increase in independent registrations, typical in a presidential cycle, explains most of the shift. The majority of election day registrations are young people, who 1) are the most likely to register as independents and 2) lean Democratic in voting behavior. So while they're not checking the D box on the voter reg form, they're marking the ovals by Obama and Loebsack.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Number Crunching The Justice Center, Part 2

In part one of this dissertation, I examined and rejected the theory that high presidential year student turnout was responsible for the defeat of the justice center. That said, I need another explanation. Let's break out the numbers by partisanship and precinct. If you want them at hand, here you are.

I've worked on a lot of ballot issues over the years (though no one's called me about the next one), and they don't easily split along the standard partisan lines. You get uneasy bedfellows. The Yes side was a broad coalition of the center, or the Power Elite if you will, while opposition came from the wings and from outside the traditional left-right spectrum.

Yes reached the Establishment; the top score was 66 percent in Iowa City 2 on the near west side, dominated by the large Oaknoll senior complex. The precinct was county-average for president: Obama 68, Romney 30.

The Yes committee formally approached both major parties for an endorsement, and they got the Democrats. Most of the elected officials and people currently active in party leadership supported the measure. Part of that was conviction (no pun intended), part was loyalty to the elected officials. Aside: Janet Lyness and Lonny Pulkrabek were far better advocates than their predecessors were twelve years ago, both within the Democratic Party and in the larger community.

There were exceptions within the Democrats, of course, but mostly among people who'd drifted away from active party roles in recent years.

The Republicans did not take a formal position either way. Correction: The GOP declined to take either position in August, but formally endorsed No in September. (Thanks to Bill Keettel and Sheriff Pulkrabek for updating me.) Some members of what I'd call the Chamber of Commerce wing of the party, the kind of folks who get active in city and school campaigns, were on the Yes side. But from my observation the people who are active on the party side were mostly No.

People opposed the measure for different reasons, which are difficult to separate. I'll grossly generalize here; jump in on comments if you want to add nuance.

The left tended to talk about things like minority arrest rates, the general level of incarceration in the US, and the drug war. Conservatives tended to worry more about the price tag and their general distrust of county government. The left and right concerns both led to questions about the specific size of the proposal, the fear of If You Build It You'll Fill It. And libertarians small and big L tended to agree with all of the above.

Personally, I think it was right-sized for a building meant to last decades. But there was a sense on the left that, population growth be damned, nothing larger than present-day maximum population of about 160 beds was under any circumstances acceptable. I think that means revisiting the issue in 15 years, but we'll be revisiting it sooner than that anyway since it lost.

There were other scattered objections; the word "ugly" came up sometimes regarding the century-wide gap in architectural styles between the addition and the old courthouse. Republicans on the Yes side also reported that a lot of their partisan friends had what they called a Sheriff Joe mentality: put `em in tents and feed `em bread and water. Iowa law doesn't allow that -- indeed, Arizona law doesn't either. But then, the county can't unilaterally change federal and state drug and alcohol law, either, and that moved a lot of votes, too.

So by and large the objections can be summed up as: Larger Justice System Issues and Taxes.

Which was it? Both, of course. The result was close enough that winning over either the left or right could have been decisive. But if you're trying to figure out what to do next, what's MORE important? Ah, at last my thesis question: Was opposition from the left or right more numerically significant?
The justice center vote happened in as partisan a context as possible, a presidential election. We have direct measures of partisan voting side by side with the issue. We have precincted results for both election day votes and absentees. But that's complicated by two factors.

1) The No campaign started very late, just three or four weeks before the elction.
2) The early voting electorate skewed heavily Democratic since Democrats had a much larger absentee effort.

Both President Obama and the justice center performed better in the early voting than on Election Day. Obama scored a whopping 75 percent of the early vote, but dropped to just 56 on November 6, a 19 point difference on the way to a combined total of 67%.

The justice center actually won its supermajority on the early vote, just a hair over the required 60 percent, but lost outright on Election Day at 49, for a combined 56%. 55 point six four if you want to get technical; a No person or two has equated rounding with exaggerating so precision is safest.

How much of that skew was because more Democrats voted early and more Republicans voted late, and how much was because more election day voters heard the No message?

Look at the gaps. The justice center ran 15 points behind Obama in the early voting, but just seven points behind in the more Republican pool of election day voters. That makes me think liberal objections to big picture justice issues were more mathematically significant than conservative cost concerns. (About two percent of the total electorate voted third party or write in; I strongly suspect nearly all of those votes were No, and 2.1% is a lot in a 4.4% loss.)

Congrats again to No on the win, but their actual effort doesn't seem to have shifted much. The arguments No made late in the game were apparently out there to begin with, in people's heads if not in the headlines, during early voting. 

More evidence of that comes from the undervote. Early voters were a bit more likely to skip the question, with a 17% undervote rate early vs. 14% election day (combined: 15.8%). But three points isn't a lot on this stat. Compare that to another campaign where a No effort got a lot of late publicity: the 2010 judicial retention vote. Justice Baker was listed first and saw the highest total vote here. In the early voting, 25.4% skipped the contest, but on Election Day less than half that, 12.5%, undervoted. That was skewed some by Iowa City's 21 bar vote, where students voted heavily early, but that does tell me that information bias between early and late voters in 2012 wasn't a huge factor compared to 2010.

Finally let's look at the geography. The People's Republic does have isolated Republican precincts, and the courthouse Democrats have had a rural problem in recent years.

In the combined early and Election Day vote (using those combined numbers from here on down), Mitt Romney carried three of the 57 precincts: Jefferson East (greater metro Shueyville), Sharon Township, and Washington Township. All of them were below par for the justice center. But of the three, only Washington was an outright No at 55%; Yes was narrowly ahead in Shueyville and Sharon (yes, I'm fully aware that 50% plus one isn't a "win" in a supermajority context). Jefferson West (Swisher) broke almost dead even on both the presidency and the justice center. And in Big Grove (rural Solon), which Obama won by just 4 votes out of over 1100, the justice center was at an about average 55%.

It's also worth noting that Sharon and Washington, farm rural precincts as opposed to North Corridor subdivisions, are among the smallest. Washington's 55% No was, in raw numbers, 212 to 175. The two Jeffersons (Airplane and Starship, I call them) each saw roughly the 1500 total voters, about the same as a small to average urban precinct, and each contributed about 650 No votes to the cause.

The heaviest No voting rural precinct was Cedar Township (greater metro Sutliff) at 59% no. It was also the smallest precinct in the county with just 353 voters, and a 182-129 No margin. Cedar, historically very Democratic, is trending rightward. (Ironic, since the Sutliff Bridge reconstruction is one of the things conservatives point to when they bash county government spending.) The president won, but so did Republican state house candidate Bobby Kaufmann.

The most Republican urban precinct was Coralville 6, the Wickham School area, full of Escalades and big houses, where Romney scored 44%. Establishment Republican, not rural Republican, and they voted 63% Yes. And that was with over 1700 total voters and a 954-569 justice center vote, more than cancelling out those small rurals.

This is telling me that the problem was less a Republican problem and more of a Rural problem, maybe less of a tax problem and more of a trust problem.

Now let's take it downtown.

The highest No percentage in the whole county was 65% in Iowa City 19, the Iowa City Rec center precinct dominated by large off-campus apartment blocks. Precinct 20, the Senior Center precinct just east of downtown proper, was close behind at 61% No.

I know I said yesterday that the student vote didn't flip this. Overall, that's true. But that's because the student vote, as it stands in November 2012, isn't quite a monolith.

Note the difference between the on-campus and off-campus precincts.  Iowa City 3 and 5 are dorm-dominated. Full of freshmen and sophomores, who got here after the 21 Bar War of 2010. Those two precincts split about 50-50. It was the off-campus areas that approached or topped 60% No. Those students are a couple years older. They were here for the transition, and have had more time to have a negative experiece with law enforcement direct or indirect.

The off-campus precincts also have more non-student influence. Precincts 20 and 11 have some senior housing. Precinct 11 (59% No) also includes my own Miller-Orchard neighborhood.

Did those No votes above and beyond the 50-50 dorm split come from progressives?

The ur-progressive People's Republic precinct is the north side, Iowa City 21. They famously (under slightly different lines) pushed George W. Bush into THIRD place, behind Ralph Nader, in 2000. And they performed well for Obama, though not the best, at 77%. Precinct 21 also voted 60% No, below any rural precinct.

Note also the large raw numbers here. Precincts 11, 20 and 21 were remarkably close in total turnout, between 1741 and 1752. 19 was a bit smaller at 1458. But that's still bigger than rural Republican Jefferson West - and remember, they only voted 50% no while Iowa City 19 was 65% No. And Iowa City 21 contributed 850 No votes. Cedar was equally negative, but ony gave No 182 votes.

Our clincher? The same precinct had the highest number of No votes and the highest number (and percentage) of Obama votes. Iowa City's Fighting 18th, at Longfellow, voted 83% Obama and 53% No, a whopping 30 point difference that contributed 898 No votes.

One counter-intuitive thing: Iowa City 14, the heart of the Twain/Broadway area, made an impressive jump into the very top tier of Democratic precincts at 81% Obama, second only to Longfellow. You'd think Broadway would be a strong No vote - but it was about average at 55-45 Yes. Same percentage in Iowa City 15, which now includes the Lakeside apartments. And Iowa City 12, the Grant Wood School neighborhood that includes the Bon Aire trailer court, was supermajority supportive at 60%.

These are mixed neighborhoods, with empty nest homeowners or starter-house families living near large low-income apartments. These areas tend to be conservative in local elections, but as we see very liberal in general election years.

It's worth noting that midtown liberal precincts were more opposed than the southeast siders. It's easy for a professor to be an idealist. If you live at Broadway, you're more likely to know someone who spent a night on a mat on the floor or got shipped out to Muscatine or had to have a "private" meeting with their lawyer in the courthouse lobby. You're also more likely to have been a crime victim. Maybe the southeast side was more pragmatic about the genuine need and less willing to make an ideology-driven Statement (again: even many opponents acknowledged the need).

Maybe I'm seeing what I want to see. I'm trying really hard to adjust the beret for objectivity here. But everything, everything, everything is telling me that opposition in liberal/progressive city precincts played a larger role in the defeat of the justice center than opposition in conservative rural areas.

That's an emotionally satisfying conclusion, but also a more difficult one. If the justice center had been clearly beaten by a 21 Bar style monolithic student vote, you just shove it through in May or August when they're gone. Unfair, but practical. If it had clearly lost due to conservative objections to the price tag, lop off a floor and try again, and some variation of that might be in the mix.

But if it lost, as I conclude, because of the Iowa City Police Department and Campus Security and the drug war and the bar war and Driving While Black and the highest national incarceration rate in the world, that's a lot harder to fix in six months or a year.

Unfortunately, much of what needs to change is outside the control of the county. All Janet Lyness and Lonny Pulkrabek and the supervisors really have is a little discretion, within legal constraints, and a bully pulpit. Kind of like what I have here with a blog, only with more credibility.

As I said in my mea culpa endorsement, "I really, really wanted the existing jail to be full of drunk college students and harmless pot smokers; the problem is, that's not true." The success, if you can call it that, of the justice center campaign is that it went a very long way toward convincing the community that there is a real need. The issues of safety, of accessibiity, of court delays, those things are now on the radar.

But the flip side is, too many concerns have been dismissed with just stats. As I said at the Board meeting the day after the election, even though the community is aware of the problems and the stats, a lot of people simply don't care. They want the law enforcement behavior to change, and this is the only place they feel like they can say no. (For some reason the more appropriate local answer, voting out the city council that lets the policing policies happen, seems to be a non-starter.)

Maybe it's impossible. Maybe if supporters make adjustments on the left, they lose people on the right who recognize the need for the facility but also support the city-University led crackdown. Maybe we can't get a 60 percent consensus on this. But we need to try, and if you're trying to get to 60, my math tells me there's more votes to gain on the left than on the right.

And both the yes and no forces have work to do.

More of the burden is on the supporters, of course. People aren't convinced we're doing everything we can to cut the arrest and incarceration rates, in general and in particular.

Is the county willing to put drug prohibition and the drinking age on its annual meeting with the legislators, coming up next month? Are they willing to take these issues with them on a trip to DC, to take up, as one local official once said to me, part of their five minutes of the congressman's time?

Are they willing to drop simple possession and low-level dealer cases, even if it costs them a federal grant or two? Will they tell the Iowa City police to take drunk students home immediately instead of to jail for a night?

Are they ready to do those things loudly? In short, are they ready to take private criticisms and make them public? With names when needed?

Most critically, are the city and University willing to respond to the needs of the larger community, rather than their flawed sense of self-interest, and back down on the crackdown?

Opponents, hold your applause. It's your turn now.

Let's assume the supporters in high places are able to do those things I suggest. Are you willing to accept their good faith efforts in lieu of immediate state and national level change? Because this is a long haul deal. Marriage equality has moved lightning fast compared to most issues, and that's taken a decade from tentative civil unions (the medical marijuana of marriage) to likely Supreme Court action this fall. The drug war is about where marriage was a decade ago, and the drinking age isn't even on the horizon. I'm starting to think I'm the only person over 21 who actually cares.

Our own local senator, Joe Bolkcom, is sponsoring a medical marijuana bill next session. Bruce Hunter from Des Moines has a full legalization bill. Good for them. But the bills won't pass, this session or next. Is the effort, is the progress, the step forward from jokes to serious discussion, enough? Is some co-sponsorship and endorsement from other locals enough? Is a show of concern, a sense that we GET it here in Johnson County, a good start, or not good enough?

And while the progress is slowly, slowly being made, are you willing to support the real world benefits this center, or a variation of it, could provide?

That's what I did, hard as it was. I've been of two minds on this whole thing for years, and now I'm in the weird spot of saying Told Ya So to my own side. And I don't know whether my high-profile flip flop gives me credibility with both sides or with neither.

If you want to make a case that Read My Lips is what beat this, be my guest, but good luck backing that up. Or if you believe that decades of state and federal policy will stop and reverse in weeks and months, I hope you're right.

But my numbers as well as my convictions tell me the course to take.