Thursday, May 30, 2013

No votes just add to the symbolism

Just about every government passes symbolic resolutions and proclamations. Generally these are non-controversial and unanimous things, but in Johnson County we're starting to see a pattern of dissenting votes.

This started, of course, back in March when under some unusual circumstances but fair and square Republican John Etheredge broke the Democrats' half-century monopoly on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

Since Etheredge was sworn in, the Board has passed eight proclamations, not an unusual number, including two to start off this morning's meeting.

The first was to honor Deputy Treasurer Betty Sass, who tomorrow marks 60 years of continuous employment in the treasurer's office. That's not a typo. That's sixty, 6-0 years which has got to be some kind of record somewhere. Betty's award sailed through on a 4 to 0 vote. (Terrence Neuzil was dealing with a media briefing on the flood, and thus was absent from the meeting.)

The next item was to proclaim June as Pride Month, which the Board has been doing for years. This time Etheredge voted no, while Democrats Pat Harney, Janelle Rettig and Rod Sullivan voted yes.

I duly noted the vote and inadvertently launched an epic Facebook flame thread that I'm probably going to regret repeating here.

Etheredge's supporters tried to argue that the vote was simply about the nature of proclamations. "Etheredge's vote is simple," wrote GOP activist Todd Versteegh. "He believes there are far better things for Johnson County government to be spending their time on than passing meaningless proclamations... Johnson County already has governmental policies that support and include all of its citizens."

Those policies were passed by all-Democratic boards well before Etheredge's tenure. In fairness, sadly, those votes weren't all unanimous either.

But set that aside. So proclamations are meaningless. Why not just vote them all down? Just say "Nothing personal, but I just don't think we should do these." That'd be fair enough.

But with proclamations as with property rights (do what you want with your land, except on Newport Road), John Etheredge is inconsistent. As noted the Board has passed eight proclamations since mid-March. Etheredge voted for five four: a Civil War memorial, Nursing Home Week, Foster Care Month and the one honoring the 60 year employee. He voted no on three: Pride Month, Marriage Equality Week, and an Earth Day proclamation that included this offensive Whereas: "human activities are resulting in global and local environmental change and climate change to the detriment of biological diversity." He was absent for the vote on Bike To Work Week.

No other supervisor voted no on any of these, though as noted Neuzil was absent attending to other County duties today.

So "proclamations are a waste of time" doesn't pass the sniff test. Wendy Luxenburg uses Occam's Razor to come to the more simple conclusion:
 "There is a pattern to the proclamations he supports and the ones he doesn't. Etheredge's vote has nothing to do with saying "we have better things to do" it has everything to do with saying "I don't think the County should endorse and support people who aren't heterosexual."
Republican Cyndi Michel seems, if inadvertently, to underscore Luxenburg's interpretation:
What month is going to be promoted for pride in the rest of the community? Or is that strictly limited to just the LGBT community?
The better question is WHY do/should one fraction of a community deserve special treatment over any other? I think July should be promoted as 'Happiness in ALL Other Sexuality" month. Let's be all inclusive why should one entity have special treatment?
I could be wrong, and if so I'll eat the beret and look forward to Etheredge's support on the next "substantive" LGBT issue.

But if I'm right, well, he got elected fair and square and it's a record to answer for in the next election, under very different conditions than the election he won. At the very least there's a burden of proof on him to refute the charge that he's unsupportive of the LGBT community.

So proclamations are empty symbolism? The symbolism gets even more powerful when negative votes are added.

Who's In Who's Out

So much going on that I need a checklist of rumors and announcements:

Michele Bachmann is out, and Democrats who are celebrating - granted, it's hard to resist - are forgetting that without her special brand of crazy, the once vulnerable Minnesota 6 is now Safe GOP again.

Marcus Bachmann, however, is not out yet.

There. The obligatory Out joke is out, out of the way.

Kent Sorenson is on the way out, but not admitting it. Hopefully he's out in a general and not in a primary. Would he be in any of this trouble if he hadn't mutinied on Bachmann a week before the caucuses?

The woman Sorenson beat in 2010, Staci Appel, is out for the 3rd CD, but might be in again.

Matt Schultz is out for the Senate and in for the current job. He's a base motivator for both sides so expect the Secretary of State battle of partisans between him and Democrat Brad Anderson to get nasty.

Mike Mauro is out since 2010. He was the Best Secretary Of State Ever because he was the only one in my political lifetime not using the job as a stepping stone. I still rank his defeat as a tragedy equal to the defeat of the three Supreme Court justices.

As for the Senate, Schultz's decision means every statewide and congressional Republican is out of that race. That leaves the GOP with Matt Whitaker as the Branstad-Gross insider faction choice, David "who?" Young as the candidate of the Grassley machine, talk radio host Sam Clovis as the tea partier, Joni Ernst as a wild card, and Drew Ivers as the likely Spiker/Paul candidate hoping for a splintered field and a convention nomination. And long-ago loser Paul Lunde as the asterisk, but no one cares about that any more than they care about Democrat Bob Krause for governor.

Jack Hatch is in, for governor, setting up a Battle Of The Mustaches with Branstad. Winner: New York's Jimmy McMillan.

No one seems to be stepping on Hatch's story. Though Tyler Olson is out, out touring the far corners of the state this week as well. He's wearing his party chair hat, but the rumor mill still has him in the governor mix. Jeff Danielson, however, is out.

Tony Bisignano, and his, um, colorful past, are in, for Hatch's Senate seat.

Kraig Paulsen is almost in, for the 1st CD. Linda Upmeyer may be in, for speaker next session, but Peter Cownie is in, as in in the mix too. Shades of the early 90s, when Mary Lundby got maneuvered out of a speakership she'd frankly earned.

Locally, a fresh face is finally in for City Council. And the Iowa River is out, of its banks, because the water is too danm high.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Misunderestimating Your Constituents

As we sadly saw in the recent gun control debate, there's a systemic skew to the right in American politics. But it's not quite what you think. It's not the massive power of single issue lobbys. It's the perception politicians have of their own constituents.

Republicans will invariably veer to their extremists, while Democrats are too often too timid with their base or too fearful that moderates will punish their "liberalism.". Turns out both are wrong.

In “What Politicians Believe About Their Constituents," David E. Broockman at the University of California, Berkeley, and Christopher Skovron at the University of Michigan find: "a substantial and pervasive conservative bias in politicians’ estimates of district opinion. Politicians are much more likely to erroneously believe that their constituents are more conservative than they actually are than to erroneously believe that their constituents are more liberal than they actually are."

The study covered Obamacare and same-sex marriage and found that conservative politicians overestimate the conservative leanings of constituents by about 20 percentage points; liberals overestimate by about 10 points; and centrist Democrats overestimate by about 15 points.

It's an old lefty cliché: "if the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow." But things only get enshrined as  clichés if they have some truth in them. It seems leadership opinion is ironically a trailing, not a leading, indicator. The flurry of Democratic politicians suddenly "evolving" on marriage equality this spring was a panicked attempt to catch up to public opinion.

We're starting to see hints of it in the drug war, too, as the first states are embracing full marijuana legalization. But, very tellingly, it was voter initiatives, not legislative action, that made that happen in Colorado and Washington.

This isn't a Grand Unifying Theory. It may not even be the largest factor on the right.  There's still the important dynamic of safely gerrymandered, mostly red, districts, where the only threat to re-election is a primary challenge from the right.

But in the context of a general election, it's encouragement for Republicans to cut the ties to extremes. And it definitely should encourage Democrats to be more boldly progressive.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Even A Know-Nothing Knows Some Things

I'm not shocked by anything Steve King says anymore, because I get that outrageous extreme statements are part of the act and part of the political calculus. In a safe red seat you have to watch your right flank and Steve has no worries in that department.

With King now safely, officially, and finally out of the Senate race, he's back on his career path which someday will mean a cash-in retirement to talk radio or Fox News. His latest statement illustrates that King is speaking to a very distinct niche of conservatives.

Conservatives agree on a lot but there's distinct differences of emphasis. There's money Republicans and Jesus Republicans and Gun Republicans and these days Anarcho-Republicans. King's distinct niche is as an ethnic cleansing culture warrior speaking to Know-Nothing, `Murican Republicans.
King argued that the 1986 immigration bill that Reagan signed into law is estimated to have brought amnesty to three million illegal immigrants.

He said conservative estimates show that, on average, each of these people brought in five others, leading to 15 million more people in the country, most of whom voted for Obama.

"[T]hey have to admit that Ronald Reagan's signature on the '86 amnesty act brought about Barack Obama's election," King concluded on the House floor.

"[I]t's clear to anybody that can do any kind of statistical analysis that Barack Obama wouldn't be President of the United States without Ronald Reagan's 1986 amnesty act."
King is eager to attack "amnesty." He very carefully avoids specifying any solutions to immigration other than "enforce the law." That's because he knows exactly how loudly he can blow the dog whistle for his hidden constituency.

For those unfamiliar with the term, dog-whistle messaging "employs coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup."

Polling shows a large subset, close to 30% but higher among Republicans, whose preferred immigration "reform" is mass deportation. Like the Know-Nothings of the 1850s or the distinctly northern, Catholic-focused, 1920s version of the Ku Klux Klan, they're hostile to an increasingly multi-cultural America.  They're especially hostile to a multi-lingual America. Don't talk Spanish in front of me in the Wal-Mart line.

They may be Know-Nothings but they're not stupid. I'm sure private conversations happen among the trusted locals, but the concept of political correctness has embedded itself deep enough that even in western Iowa average folks know that they can't speak publicly in favor of the mass deportation of more than 10 million people.There's a natural frustration to that, so they eagerly eat up anything that enforces their world view articulately yet without crossing that invisible line. They know what the implications of "enforce the law" are.

And Steve King's not stupid either. Or crazy. Extreme, sure, but savvy enough to know exactly which buttons to press. And here he's tied it up into a nice package. One alien menace, Hispanics, has elected another alien menace, a liberal African American.

The only real risk King took was blaming Reagan.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What Did We Win?

While state-level Democrats are claiming victory in the long-fought property tax bill, here in Johnson County we're wondering what exactly it was that Democrats got out of the deal.

The massive package of tax credits, rollbacks and reductions includes benefits for residential and commercial property owners, state income-tax payers and low-income workers. It will reduce property taxes statewide by billions of dollars over the next decade, while rebating hundreds of millions more through a new income tax credit and an expansion of the earned income tax credit for the poor.

The earned income credit, long a critical issue for Iowa City senator Joe Bolkcom. looks like the only tangible "progressive" item in the bill, and is dwarfed by the commercial property tax cuts. The deal was bad enough that Bolkcom. along with Coralville's Bob Dvorsky, were two of the six No votes on final passage.

An updated fiscal analysis released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimated the total property tax reduction at $3.87 billion statewide over 10 years. The state’s general fund will provide $3.13 billion to local governments to offset that loss, leaving an estimated $741.1 million reduction to be absorbed by cities, counties, school districts and other jurisdictions.

"If you hear anyone say counties and cities will receive a backfill of lost revenue, it is only partially true and will only be partly true if the state always keeps its word," said Supervisor Janelle Rettig, estimating that over the next ten years Johnson County's total annual loss will be $2.1 million and Iowa City $3.3 million. "Cuts in local programming, services, roads will happen even with a partial backfill. Also increases in residential taxes will happen. There was a way to do this thoughtfully and fairly and this isn't it."

It's not the first time over the years that we've seen this move, where the Legislature and governor - usually but not always Branstad - kick the can down the road, specifically a county secondary road.

"They decided to give away local government tax revenue, not their own," said Johnson County supervisor Rod Sullivan. "Now Iowa's cities and counties get to cut services so a bunch more of our money can flow to Bentonville, Arkansas."

As I write, early Thursday morning, the Senate has adjourned for the session. The Republican led House is yet to vote but nearly certain to approve. Meantime, Democratic legislators, especially those seeking higher office, need to be ready for the question: what did we win?

Monday, May 20, 2013

White House Honors Johnson County Recorder

Johnson County Recorder Kim Painter is being honored by the White House Wednesday as one of the country's pioneering LGBT elected officials.

Painter, first elected in 1998, is being named a “Harvey Milk Champion of Change.”  

"This award is a tremendous honor, and I'm deeply gratified," said Painter:
"I've been very fortunate in my political endeavors.  Being elected to serve the people of Johnson County was a great moment in my life, and it occurred because people were willing to look beyond labels and ideology and get to know me as a human being.  They felt I could provide strong service to the county, and I've tried to do that.  This award, having the name of Harvey Milk associated with it, is a bit daunting for me to grasp.  But I'm thrilled, and will carry it close to my heart."
While she's excited by the honor, Painter says she won't be able to attend the White House event in person. 

Painter noted that while she was the first out person elected in Iowa as a non-incumbent, other officials before her came out while already in office. "First and foremost in my mind is Bill Crews, who was mayor of Melbourne, Iowa, and came out in 1993. He was on the receiving end of some pretty rough invective at that time, as I recall, along with lots of support."

The White House release pretty much says the rest:  

White House Highlights Kim Painter as a
“Harvey Milk Champion of Change”
WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, May 22nd, the White House will honor Kim Painter as one of ten openly LGBT elected or appointed officials who are “Harvey Milk Champions of Change.”  The event falls on Harvey Milk’s birthday and will recognize these individuals for their commitment to equality and public service.

“When President Obama posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Medal of Freedom in 2009, he praised his leadership and courage in running for office.  Today, we honor Harvey Milk’s legacy in these ten outstanding public servants, who will surely inspire the next generation of public servants,” said Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President.

The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White house to feature groups of Americans – individuals, businesses and organizations – who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.

To watch this event live, visit at 3:00 pm ET on Wednesday, May 22nd.  To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program and nominate a Champion, visit

Kim Painter
Johnson County Recorder
Iowa City, IA

Kim Painter serves as Johnson County Recorder in Iowa City, Iowa.  In 1998, she became the first openly gay person to win election to public office in Iowa.  In 2007, she was selected by peers to serve as president of the Iowa State Association of Counties.  She has also chaired Iowa’s Commission on the Status of Women.  She and spouse Jessica Kardon have been together for 17 years. They married in Iowa in 2009.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Data as Destiny Part 1 and 2

There's enough grad student dropout in me to appreciate a good data set when I see one, and today I have two that explain a few things about politics national and Iowan.

One of my more vivid grad school memories was seeing one of my professors put down a nationally known scholar visiting Iowa for a guest lecture as a "popularizer," meaning the guest had an ability to condense a dissertation into a soundbite and get on TV, thus jeopardizing academic elitism and exclusivity. The University of Virginia's Larry Sabato is definitely a popularizer, but I don't consider that a bad thing.

Sabato looks at census data this week to study each state's "nativity rate."

No, not that Nativity. Definitely not that Nativity.

Sabato's "nativity rate" is the percentage of a state's residents born in the state.

His main fascination with the data is that his own Virginia, over the last century,has taken a huge drop from one of the most "native" states, over 90% in 1910, to one of the least at just under 50. Which explains a lot about the evolution of Virginia from a state that, at the height of the civil rights era and the old Byrd machine, closed its public schools - ALL public schools - for a year rather than integrate, into a state that twice voted for Barack Obama.

However, Sabato finds:

...a weak negative correlation (R = -.235) between a state’s nativity percentage and the percentage of the vote Obama received in the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. The analysis also tells us that nativity rates explain very little of the variation in Obama’s performance from state to state. In other words, a state with a low percentage of native-born residents was not clearly more likely to support the president’s reelection bid.

Me, I find this data set interesting as a non-native Iowan, born in the far off exotic land of Wisconsin. The top nativist state looks to me to be either 1) the racially polarized, lagging behind dregs of the deep South and Appalachia, with post-Katrina Louisiana always a demographic outlier; and 2) places that get very cold in the winter.

But what does it mean politically? There's very red places and very blue places on both ends. What I'm seeing is stability and strong parties in the most nativist states, and more political volatility in the states with the most in-migration. Just anecdotally - I dropped out of grad school before I got regression analysis tattooed on my brain, but then more of you are reading this post than would have ever read my dissertation - the states with the most newcomers are more likely to have swung one way or another recently. You'd likely a higher percentage of independents, or something like a hot primary or an out of nowhere winner. You even see that in high-growth precincts in a very nativist state like Iowa.

The data is 20 years old, but it would be interesting to layer this, or the 1990 equivalent, against Ross Perot's percentages. He did very well in those rootless places.

What I see in the more nativist states is strong party structures, longer incumbency, institutional stability. There's exceptions on both ends, of course.

The other interesting data set comes to us via Brad Plumer at the Washington Post. Filipe R. Campante of Harvard Kennedy School and Quoc-Anh Do of Singapore Management University find that “isolated capital cities are robustly associated with greater levels of corruption.”

That is, if your state capital is your largest city, you're less likely to see corruption than if the center of government is a downstate backwater.

Who tops the charts? Springfield, Illinois, of course, where they had to build a new wing of the state prison just to house ex-governors.

"The authors found that state capitals located in remote areas tend to receive less newspaper and media coverage. What’s more, voter knowledge about the goings-on in these isolated statehouses tends to be lower. And, as a result, voter turnout for state elections tends to be depressed."

Iowa, home of the $3 gift law, is in the clear here with our largest city as the state capital. However, the study just looks at 1976 to 2002. Illinois is still safe, sending two more governors to prison. But Kent Sorenson's presidential campaign shenanigans may move Iowa a notch or so.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Labor on Etheredge's Agenda

Looks like Johnson County is back to square one on the justice center, or if that's a dirty word the jail and courthouse. Most of the ink in the wake of Tuesday's meeting focused on the masterplan offered by the New Guy, Republican supervisor John Etheredge, but another part of his agenda, a cheap shot at organized labor, was overlooked.

Etheredge got elected in March basically to say NO, and he has: to the Newport Road zoning, marriage equality, and Earth Day. If he had kept his remarks short and sweet to "I think we need to build at the county farm, not downtown," he would have been OK. There are a fair of people arguing for a justice center, or at least a jail, at the county farm location. Though it's worth noting that the downtown justice center got roughly 55% of the vote twice, while the jail at county farm plan drew barely a third of the vote in 2000. And as Terrence Neuzil quickly noted, a post-election survey in 2001 showed that the location was a leading reason for the loss.

(Hint: If you build a jail other than where a jail is now, there will be people who do not now live near a jail who do not want to live near a jail. And in this case, those people have very big houses and will spend a lot of money on a No campaign. At least that's what happened in 2000.)

But Etheredge, possibly on the fly, rolled that out into a grand long-range vision in which he would sell off all the county's mid-town holdings, including the new HHS Building, and move all county operations to the county farm area. The old courthouse would become a museum run by... someone. (I had the best plan for that.)

County Attorney Janet Lyness did a remarkably polite, diplomatic job informing Etheredge that 1) the county had been through the County Campus discussion circa 2005 and 2) decided to create one, by closing the old Human Services and Health buildings and building the new HHS facility in 2008 across the street from the Administration Building in mid-town Iowa City.

But Etheredge's proposal to sell off a five year old building and a newly remodeled Admin Building aren't the biggest thing wrong with his agenda. I may be coming to this party a day late but I got something everyone else missed. Just to remind folks he's a Republican, he attacked organized labor and buying local.

Here's the audio; discussion starts 5:15 into this clip.
Harney: Anyone that's talked to the unions right now are saying that they are full, they don't have room for any more capacity right now for jobs. They are very busy, there's a lot of construction going on. And that's going to continue with $1 billion of work the University's proposing out there, that's going to continue to happen. Labor's going to be hard to come by no matter what we do. And the other thing I wanted to mention was the modular units. I went through that years ago when they had put those out around the courthouse. They had heating problems, they had water problems, they had all sorts of things out there. Unless you make something nearly permanent, you're not going to have something that's going to be real workable for those units when they're doing...

Etheredge: Well that's what I say, they would definitely be temporary. They're not designed to be there for decades. When you take a look at labor costs, I mean... do we have to go, really, do we have to use unions for everything? Because, I mean to me, that really opens it up. If you don't have to use unions for everything, you can use other businesses who, you know what, put in a lower  bid but the same quality. Again, we'd have to... with every building that goes up you have to have somebody out there to ensure quality. Which...

Sullivan: Well, we will take the lowest bid. I mean, that's... we did that over there (HHS Building) and frankly...
There were a lot of problems and delays that came up in the construction of HHS by low-bidder Tricon Construction of Dubuque, and there were quality issues even after the building opened. Back to the Board already in progress:
Etheredge: ...when he said he talked to the unions, they're full up, you know...

Harney: I'm not saying we'd only use union help. There's non-union help that's busy too, they're doing...

Etheredge: What I'm saying is, we wouldn't necessarily have to use someone who's located in Johnson County because if they're a higher bid, they're a higher bid. I've talked with a number of people, a number of contractors and commercial and industrial builders and they said there are people from even other states that are putting in way lower bids even though they'd have to move a lot of stuff here. Putting in way lower bids than the current in-state operations are. They said it was much greater than 10%. It's because they want the work. To me it's an optimal time to find some of those businesses that, you know, want the work. I see, you know, the economy, I'm forever optimistic, I see it turning around and really increasing and really getting back to what Americans like to do best and that is work.
A bit later, Etheredge brings up another conservative buzzword (start at 7:23)
Etheredge: When I was looking at some of the jail stuff, and I'm going to have to maybe ask Lonny about some of this because he knows a little bit more about it. But I saw there were a few places in Florida and throughout the country that actually taken their jail and essentially the whole operations, internal operations and essentially - you have sheriffs but you drop the prisoners off there and everything else is just privately run.

Pulkrabek: Yeah, the Code of Iowa says that the sheriff will and shall be responsible for taking care of the inmates. And then it also says that the Board of Supervisors shall fund that.

Etheredge: So I just was...

Rettig: So it prohibits outsourcing?

Pulkrabek: It prohibits privatization. 
Worth noting: Those internal jail jobs Etheredge wants to privatize are also union jobs.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

There Is No Party

A question I often get: "Why doesn't The Party DO" such and such. Usually it's in the context of "Why doesn't The Party make such and such elected official(s) act in a certain way." Second most common: "How can I get The Party to stop calling me at dinner time?"

Here's the thing about the American system: There is no such thing as THЗ PAЯTУ in the monolithic, Soviet sense. The definition of "the party" depends on the context.

There is a county party and a state party and a congressional district party and a Senate congressional campaign committee and a House congressional campaign committee and a state legislative campaign fund. Not to mention the candidates: local and state and federal all the way up to presidential. (And if you want to stop getting phone calls you have to telll ALL of them... and political groups are exempt from the national Do Not Call laws because, well, who wrote the law?)

The closest thing to The Party, a national convention, is just once every four years and really just for a couple narrow and frankly antiquated purposes; the last time we went into a national convention with any legitimate doubt as to who would be nominated was the `76 Republican convention.

The issue came up in a now-deleted Facebook thread: Will "The Democratic Party" support Candidate X, described charitably as "outside the party mainstream," if she's nominated? Can't The Party DO something? (Not naming any names but her initials are Swati Dandekar.)

Nomination politics are the broadest definition of "the party" we have. The party is anyone who chooses to vote in the primary. In an open primary state (which Iowa de facto is) that includes a certain number of crossover Republicans, independents, Greens, Libertarians, Whigs, Know Nothings, Bull Moosers and members of the Silly Party. The other levels of The Party are charged with electing the primary winner, but can't really control that process.

The ultimate job of a party is to elect its candidates. To a certain extent, a person who buys into a political process buys into the outcome. That's why it's so controversial for party activists to reject a primary nominee to openly support a different candidate. There's even rules against it at some levels.

Ironically, one of the few times I've seen a political party scuttle its own nominee was in Swati Dandekar's first race in 2002. Her opponent was caught sending emails with ugly racial undertones, and the Iowa GOP pulled the plug. Dandekar deserves to be bashed for a lot of things, but her heritage isn't one of those things.

Sure, a lot of people quietly leave a line blank on a ballot or silently vote for someone else. But some folks aren't satisfied with that. That's why some people are better suited to help individual candidates or for issue activism.

But with the white Southern realignment to the Republicans now complete, there are no more truly conservative Democrats or truly liberal Republicans. The bluest blue dog Democrat is more progressive than the RINOest Republican.

As for me, the Democratic Party isn't perfect. The social movements of the 60s dragged us kicking and screaming sometimes. But with that important caveat, the Democratic Party has been the most substantive force for progressive change in America for the last 80 years, and that's why I put my efforts into a party. Whatever a party is.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Opening the Hatch in Johnson County

In a night dominated by old stories of lost tools of the trade like walking decks and index cards, Senator Jack Hatch came the closest to making actual news Saturday night at the Johnson County Democrats Hall of Fame dinner.

Hatch acknowledged that recently leaked news that he'd formed an exploratory committee for governor, and he pledges to stand on principle. "For the first time in 8 years, we'll have a governor who won't make decisions based on polls," he said, in an implied shot at Chet Culver. "Democrats win when we vote with our heart."

Health care, now stalled in the legislature, has been Hatch's signature issue. "Iowa has highest percentage of children with health insurance in the country," but calling the Republican proposal "the most cynical legislation I've ever seen. It would cost more money and provide less care."

"We learned from 2010 that we can't sit on our hands and be disaffected," Congressman Dave Loebsack told the crowd. "We can't afford it. Our future is at stake. When I was a political science professor I used to hate when politicians said things like 'our future is at stake,' but this time it's really true."

Also on hand were Iowa Democratic Party chair Tyler Olson and his predecessor, Sue Dvorsky, who spoke on behalf of an absent Bruce Braley.

"This state is not going to just automatically replace Tom Harkin with Bruce Braley," Dvorsky said in one of her trademarked motivational speeches. "Bruce will need an effort out of here beyond what we now expect. It'll be our job to start right now."

While the early speakers looked forward, most of the evening was spent looking back by the night's lifetime achievement award winners. Sadly, one was absent; disability advocate Lori Bears died in March, far sooner than expected at age 50. "I don't think there was a more dogged activist for her cause than Lori Bears," said Loebsack.

The honorees were all female and appropriately for Mother's Day weekend, the theme helped tie the night together.

At long-ago JCDems fall barbecues, "the women were clearing the tables and the guys were out clearing out the kegs," said Anita Sehr.  Anita, who with her late husband Don, a longtime county supervisor, hosted countless Sharon Center caucuses in their home, told tales of the Carter, Glenn, Gore, and Bill Clinton campaigns.

"I'm a product of a broken home... politically," said Sehr. "My mother was a Democrat and my father was a Republican. Dad always said 'know something about the person before you vote.' Mom, not so much."

The honor to Jocye Carman also tacitly acknowledged a deceased spouse, law professor David Baldus. Carman is "a quiet progressive voice who never sought the limelight," said Sue Dvorsky, and that modestly was reflected in the speech.

Carman was one of several speakers who mentioned the unsuccessful 1980 Iowa ERA campaign. "In this community, it is the women who make things happen," she said. The ERA also fell short in 1992; a much abbreviated version that simply added the words "and women" passed in 1998.

Maureen Donnelly was one of the first people I met when I moved to town in 1990 and has been an omnipresence at campaign headquarters to the present day. Donnelly cut her teen in Connecticut town hall politics: "Where I grew up IrishCatholicDemocrat is one word." After moving to Iowa she found that the caucuses worked a lot like those town meetings. By coincidence Saturday was Maureen's birthday so we all sang.

"The Johnson County Democrats got me out of the laboratory and gave me many other experiences in life," said honoree Rebecca Reiter, who served as party finance chair for many years among other roles. "Central committee meetings can be a surreal experience. I remember a long discussion of the rights of lobsters," she said, though she did not remember how the lobsters came out in the debate.

Several of the honorees expressed a similar sentiment summed up by Donnelly: "Moving to Johnson County was the best thing that ever happened to me."

And all urged activists to keep working. "Time flies whether you're having fun or not!" said Sehr. "So have fun, get involved, you'll be really pleased with yourself if you can."

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rand Paul Hints At 2016

Senator Rand Paul offered just a hint, but the 2016 buzz was in the air at a Republican breakfast this morning in North Liberty.

"You want people who represent what you stand for," said the Kentucky Senator, "but also can talk to people who don't understand yet." The "here I am" went unspoken.

"Deb (county GOP chair Thornton) said I can speak as long as I want," Paul began, "and I can speak quite a long time," alluding to the 13 hour filibuster he gave in March against drone strikes. He managed to keep the talk to about 45 minutes including a few audience questions.

Senator Paul, son of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a 2008 and 2012 presidential candidate, seemed more linear than his father, with fewer tangents into gold standard types of issues. The senator focused on foreign aid and tax policy in a very casual speech, wearing jeans and boots and leaning against the side of the podium.

"We should not give one penny more to nations that are burning our flag," he said to applause from the crowd of about 100. "It's pitiful to pay people to be our friends." However, Paul emphasized US-Israeli friendship, an issue he's been criticized in the past.

On tax policy, Paul favors a 17% flat income tax rate.  "We should not be for revenue neutral tax reform, we should be for cutting taxes," offering praise for Calvin Coolidge's policies. "It is not inherently unfair" for millionaires and their secretaries to pay the same percentage rates.

However, Paul did offer some criticism or large corporations, particularly the auto bailout, arguing that big business shouldn't get more help than small business.

"I may not agree with everything (Paul) says," said county supervisor John Etheredge in an introductory speech, " but he has some great core principles. When you run as a Republican there are some core principles associated with that." Those principles weren't elaborated much in his speech but seemed tacitly understood by the crowd; Etheredge did note as he began that he'd been shooting assault rifles with some military friends last night.

Etheredge, a local GOP hero after breaking the Democratic Party's 50 year monopoly on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in a March special election win, was the only local elected official on hand. Rep. Bobby Kaufmann and Sen. Sandy Greiner had personal commitments. The event, piggybacked on last night's state party Lincoln Dinner in Cedar Rapids, was put together on relatively short notice.

Senator Paul working the crowd before the speech.

The four audience questions focused on marriage, taxes, Benghazi, and Audit The Fed (a signature issue of Paul's father).

"I believe in traditional marriage," said Paul, who said the issue should be left to the states. But he cautioned the questioner, who by implication seemed to be against marriage equality, "if you leave it to a national referendum you're probably going to lose."

"It's troubling to me that when they asked for help" in Benghazi, "somewhere up the chain they said no,"Paul said of the GOP's latest bugaboo issue.

Bob Anderson, state central committee member and immediate past chair of the county party, hinted at the divisions between old guard mainline Republicans (like himself) and the "liberty" faction that supported Paul's father in 2012 and took over much of the state party machinery. "You set a good example for unity," he told the senator, who met with his primary rival for breakfast immediately after his 2010 nomination.

A mix of "regulars" and "Liberty" folks were present this morning. I looked like the only Democratic mole, but I spotted Steve Sherman, who ran against Sally Stutsman for the state house last fall, and Christopher Peters, who challenged Bob Dvorsky as a Libertarian in 2010.

In general, the local activists seemed ready for the 2016 cycle to begin. "A lot of people ask, does it ever end?" said party activist Jason Glass of the long pre-caucus season. "But why does it have to?"

In strictly local stuff, county chair Thornton claimed some credit for Tuesday's defeat of the justice center. "In two votes in a row we've defeated the cathedral, Cadillac jail," she said of the issue. Republicans donated to the NO campaign and the Democratic Party endorsed yes, but activists from both parties were involved in both campaigns.

The Republican-led petition drive for a special election on a districting system for the Board of Supervisors went unmentioned, either from the podium or in any chatter I heard, and no petitions were seen. Has this issue slipped off the priority list?

Friday, May 10, 2013

City Gets Last LOL on Red Light Cameras

I am outraged, yet in awe, at the evil genius of Iowa City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes.

Dilkes has finally offered her opinion on the red light camera petition, now that City Clerk Marian Karr has finally finished her legally questionable micro-review of the second batch of signatures. One petition supporter, who actually thanked Karr on Facebook, said four clerks were reviewing the signatures in addition to the rest of their work.

Predictably, Dilkes determined that: 
the portion of the petition dealing with traffic-enforcement cameras is a referendum and is untimely, because the City Charter says a referendum petition must be filed within 60 days of the adoption of the measure in question or not until two years after adoption.

Dilkes said the sections on drones and license-plate readers were initiatives and timely, but the council has not authorized the use of those technologies and the city does not use them.
But here's the M. Night Shyamalan twist ending:
However, Dilkes, City Manager Tom Markus and other staff whose departments are affected by the matter are recommending the council repeal the camera ordinance anyway and adopt one similar in substance to the initiative portion of the petition.

Their reasoning is that the city has no immediate plans to install red-light cameras because the Iowa Department of Transportation is developing guidelines for the use of those and speed cameras on state routes, a process expected to last through the end of the year. Most of the intersections where Iowa City wants the cameras are state roads.
I see dead petitions

The idea behind the petition process - I'm just a clerk not a lawyer so I'm not going to argue initiative vs. referendum - is that you either get the council to do what you want or you get a vote. And Dilkes just pulled the rug out from under the petitioners... by giving them just what they asked for and nothing more.

Well, technically, it's not Dilkes giving them what they asked for. The council has to vote yet, but come on. This is Iowa City government. The council just does what the staff tells them. Gregg Hennigan finds a gem at Herteen and Stocker:
At least one council member who strongly supports the use of red-light cameras – the city had no plans to use speed cameras – said he’d follow that recommendation, albeit reluctantly.

“The biggest reason I hate to repeal it is I get tired of about being run over every time I go to the post office,” said Terry Dickens, adding he’d still like red-light cameras to eventually go up at Iowa City intersections.
Because for Terry, it's all about Terry.  Remember how his first priority after getting elected was to pass an ordinance to keep the homeless from begging in front of his diamond store?

By repealing, at least temporarily, red light cameras, the city loses no revenue. They can just pass it later after the DOT figures out the rules.

They also avoid a couple legal arguments. They still stand on their position that the red light camera part was a non-timely referendum, yet the supporters don't have anything to sue about if they get the ordinance repealed anyway.

More important, for me anyway, they avoid a showdown over Karr's definition of the "qualified electors" eligible to sign petitions. She has always contended that it means registered to vote at current address, and she aggressively strikes those who aren't. But in the election day registration era, any non-felon, of age U.S. citizen with an Iowa City address can, with documents, register and vote.

I would really, really, REALLY like to see Karr's definition tested and tossed out. But if the council incumbents can stop laughing long enough to pass the "drones" part of the petition, there's no ballot issue and no way to force the qualified elector definition to the test.

But the most important thing Dilkes' opinion accomplishes: it takes these questions out of the November election. The other two petitions - marijuana and 21 Bar Round 3 - are unlikely to qualify. I've been begging for a week to sign them and no one has contacted me.

So without the ballot issues for motivation, the petition supporters are less motivated to vote. Adopting the proposals will keep those unwashed heathens and (shudder) students from voting in the all-important re-election of Terry Dickens and Susan Mims. Now all people will have to vote on are candidates, and historically it's been much harder to get non-traditional voters out in the city election without ballot issues.

They council did the same thing in the 80s. You all know those Nuclear Free Zone signs at the city limits. That was a petitioned issue, too. The council passed the symbolic yet toothless measure to keep the issue off the ballot and keep the No Nukes folks from getting out to vote for Karen Kubby.

And the red light camera folks can't complain, because they got what they asked for. Do you think they realize they just got played?

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Masterplan

In my sleep deprived post election daze I've solved all our problems in one masterplan.

A certain faction of yesterday's No vote was persuaded on the merits of the justice center but disliked the architectural specifics of a new wing attached to the old courthouse. Don't damage the view, they said.

What no one was willing to say, very openly anyway, is that old courthouse is a white elephant, both beautiful and useless. Occasionally folks would say "it should be a museum."

Which is fine. But who pays for it to be a museum? Here's where we get creative.

Last week FEMA put the last nail in the coffin for funding of a new UI Art Museum. The federal actuarial tables say the current art museum can be repaired. Problem is, no one will insure the $500 million art collection in a building on the flood plain. See where I'm going yet?

The old jail is landlocked and can't expand. Who owns the land around it, that big flat parking lot? The University.

So the University owns a big flat lot, below the skyline, downtown. The County owns a building better suited to a museum than a courthouse on the top of a hill. The county needs a place, the university needs a museum. Deal? Wouldn't the Pollock look nice in the big courtroom? And the old flood zone art building could be repurposed as the Wendy O. Williams Memorial Department of Performance Art.

I don't have all the little details like, oh, square footage. And there's a contingent arguing for a non-downtown justice center, though I think a move from downtown costs more support than it gains (the lawyers want it downtown because that's where their offices are).

This is more an excercise in creativity than an actual plan. But I'll say this: Before we try this again the county needs more buy-in from University. And the city, and the state and federal legislators. Especially the city. They all need skin in the game, they all need to spend a little political capital.

Who Really Won?

It feels kind of weird to, for the second time, come out of the justice center vote with significantly more votes than the other side, yet lose. Clearly, a majority of the community is convinced of the need for this plan. Maybe even a super majority is convinced of the need for this plan, but just enough withheld their votes to protest other issues.

But when I headlined this "Who Really Won?" I wasn't grouching about Iowa's super majority law. Both sides went into tonight knowing the rules: Yes needed 60 percent to win.

I'm talking about strategy and rhetoric. The progressive message carried the day -- it's just that there were two progressive messages.

The Yes side offered tangible near future benefits. More space for classes and courts, speedier trials, keeping inmates closer to home. And we had a precision-targeted campaign focused on people who frequently vote in local elections. We were the "insiders," the "power elite," though I still don't know how I count as a member of THAT bunch.

No seemed to be targeting new voters, young voters, atypical voters, with stuff like cold-leafletting cars downtown, an effort 90% wasted on international students and shoppers from West Branch and Illinois voters. They portrayed themselves as a ragtag underfunded band of left and right outsiders. The message was almost exclusively left, focused on (very real) racial arrest disparities.

The No side lost the strategic war. There was no massive surge of student registrations or absentee ballots. 90-odd voters showed up at the IMU satellite site (which both sides worked hard) and that's OK for a local race. But in the only local race that's ever been swung by non-typical voters, the 2007 21 Bar vote, over nine HUNDRED showed up at Burge, and that was just one of several good days.

(Speaking of which: It's been almost a week and STILL no one has asked me to sign the Repeal 21 petition.)

So the voters were Yes voters. They just didn't vote Yes. No won the message war.

There were some murmurs last week about the No campaign finance report. It showed just over $2000 raised and only $75 spent between January and last week. There was a fair amount of No literature and signs around town. A lot of it did not include campaign disclaimers ("Paid For By Vote No New Jail.") What looked from a distance like a disclaimer and a union label on the No yard signs was in fact just a squiggly line and a .org at the end, which you wouldn't know unless you walked right up on one.

The donors listed were an interesting mix, more right than left. Of the $2000, $1000 came from a single donor: Michael Woltman, a doctor from rural Swisher and frequent GOP donor. Another $300 came from the Johnson County Republicans and $100 more for longtime local conservative donor Willis Bywater. The rest was a mix of small donations from the left voices who were most prominent in the campaign.

A little while after the last votes came in, this tweet showed up:
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is an American conservative political advocacy group headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. AFP's stated mission is "educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing citizens as advocates in the public policy process." The group played a major role in the 2010 Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives, and has been called "one of the most powerful conservative organizations in electoral politics."

AFP was founded with the support of David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch, both of Koch Industries.

So the right wing money lets the left wing carry a Screw The Racist Cops message, because in Johnson County that plays better than anti-tax boilerplate. 20 or 30 percent of Johnson County voters will automatically vote against any spending issue, so that message wasn't needed.

But with the voting safely over, AFP swoops in and claims a Taxpayer Revolt Victory in the People's Republic. Shamelessly brilliant. It will be interesting to see what gets listed on the No team's post-election campaign finance report.

I'm too beat - and yes, bummed - to crunch the numbers by precinct or compare to November. Will do that in upcoming days. Just a little bit short everywhere. I saw a lot of low 50s that needed to be high fifties, high fifties that needed to be low 60s, low 60s that needed to be low 70s. There's also that rural Mad At The County factor that everyone now sees but no one can quite define.

Meanwhile, the battle for justice in Iowa City continues. For the second time, over-enthusiastic and racially questionable arrest policies by both the ICPD and Campus Security have cost the county a needed facility.

The next front in that battle is this fall's city elections. If I still have friends on the No side - and I fear my flip on this issue cost me a few - it's time to work together. If red light cameras are your thing, fine. But if you're going to change the ICPD you need to change their bosses on the city council and that means recruiting and electing candidates. We are a college community and a racially and economically diverse community and our government needs to respect and reflect that.

In any case, tonight's real losers are the ones in jail. The ones shipped out to Muscatine, away from their visitors and their attorneys and waiting longer for trial and not getting in-house drug counseling and batterer's education - because someone's ideology is more important than their reality. Feel good, "progressives?" At least you really told the cops off.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Election Morning Notes

My traffic always spikes on Election Day, in part because people don't realize that because of my job I'm not available to write anything till very, very late.

So here's the drill for the day. The office gets turnout updates from the polling places at 9 AM, 11 AM, 3 PM and 6 PM. Those will be here.

Then at closing time - 8:00 for this one - we start putting the results up soon as they come in. Those will be here. Once that's all done we have a bunch of clean up and put away type work. By this time the victory party (Bob's Your Uncle on North Dodge for Yes) is long over. So I come home and write, depending on mood and exhaustion level.
Not gonna lie: Our little justice center vote is NOT the day's most interesting election. That would be the South Carolina special election where both candidates have serious negatives. Mark Sanford is a national punchline, philanderer, and serial liar; Elizabeth Colbert Busch is a Democrat.

Warren County is also voting, in a hot and divisive casino election. Is there any other kind of casino election? The Linn County casino vote on the same day as Johnson County's March supervisor election probably had a vote-reducing factor. There are only about eight paid journalists in the Corridor anymore and the casino vote overshadowed us. (Plus: everyone knows what a casino is and not a lot of folks know what a "supervisor" is.)

This time, Johnson County was the only game in eastern Iowa and the election got more coverage, especially at the beginning of early voting. We saw early voting levels more than double from the March vote, even though this is our third election of 2013, in what's supposed to be our off-season.

Because of this vote I'm a day or two behind the curve on Republican US Senate developments. “It’s almost like a play-in game to the NCAA Tournament,” TheIowaRepublican's Craig Robinson is quoted in USA Today. Perhaps that's because the candidates are all 16th seeds.

Matt Whitaker has the early post position, though Kim Reynolds, and by extension her boss, are openly backing Reynold's state senate successor Joni Ernst. It would drive us Dems insane to see Iowa get out of the Mississippi No Women club with a Republican. (Though I hear a promising female rumor from the 1st CD.)

But I have a soft spot for the first Officially announced Republican Paul Lunde. We last heard from him ten cycles ago and he has a long c.v. of defeats. His first race was a 1988 congressional loss to Neal Smith. He lowered his ambitions to the legislature in 1990, lost that. In 1992 he tried again against Smith, and as I recall the party pretty much scuttled him. Lunde's last run was for Congress again in 1994 when he lost the primary to Greg Ganske, who went on to upset Smith.

That's below Some Dude. That's Perennial Candidate. Compared to Lunde, Bob Krause for Governor looks serious.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Justice Flip-Flops

What's all this I keep hearing about a Just Ice center? Don't we already have a skating rink at Coral Ridge Mall?

Gilda Radner's not the only one who's flip-flopped on the justice center. I notoriously did so last fall, so my support this time is less surprising.

But today we have a couple prominent endorsements who were No in last fall's election but are Yes for tomorrow's special.
Throgmorton, the lone lefty on the Iowa City council, was also the only opponent in last fall's 6-1 council endorsement of a Yes vote.

Also significant: The Daily Iowan this morning switched its endorsement from No to Yes.
In November, we opposed the Justice Center on the grounds that it was too expensive and that jail overcrowding might be better combated by diverting more county resources into jail-alternative programs. Our position was naïve; we viewed the debate as too many do, in ideological terms — as a product of the tension between law and order conservatism and libertarianism. But the need for the justice center is ultimately rooted in pragmatism, in real concerns about the long-term health of the county’s facilities. We missed this point originally, and we believe those who view the justice center as simply an oppressive extension of the criminal-justice system continue to miss this point.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Wrong Friday Headline

Unless you're covering a high school sporting event, 9:35 on a Friday night is pretty much the Siberia of the news cycle. It was at that odd moment that Steve King decided to drop Da Bomb that he was not running for the U.S. Senate.

The casual news observer, or a national reporter at a distance, might think that was the big story of the greater extended weekend. But not really.

Every apparatchik of both parties had already come to the conclusion that King, despite a lot of posturing, was not going to make the move. Bruce Braley was well aware and moving ahead accordingly. The third tier contenders (Ernst, Roberts, Whitaker) knew it and started making conditional announcements. I'll run "if King doesn't," wink wink say no more. Bill Northey knew it Thursday when he made his decision not to run, much more newsworthy and significant because there was an actual chance he might have.

But Steve King's not dumb. He's not even crazy. Extreme, sure, but very calculated. He accepts state wide unelectability in exchange for district-level invulnerability. Democrats threw everything we had at him last year and still came up short, and post-Christie Vilsack we're looking at another Some Dude to put his name on the ballot and pull a third of the vote.

King knows he can hold the house seat through this district cycle and probably longer, and that he can exit to talk radio or Fox News whenever he wants. Why throw that away for a very tough fight?

The A list of candidates started and ended with King. Most of the B list, Latham and Northey and Reynolds, have already non-announced, leaving Matt Schultz the lone statewide office holder in the mix. The Republican bloggers - Hall and Vander Hart - know their own party's internal dynamics better than I do, so let them handicap Schultz and the C list.

Instead, I'm going to talk about the MOST important Iowa-related political news on Friday.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio persuaded state lawmakers to make a last-minute change eliminating Florida’s early presidential primary – a race in which the Republican could be on the ballot.

Rubio’s main concern was shared by lawmakers and operatives from both parties: Ensuring that Florida’s 2016 primary vote counts. The measure, barely discussed, was tucked in an election-reform bill that passed the Legislature by wide margins Friday.

New penalties by the Republican National Committee made the early primary too prohibitive for Republicans, who control the Legislature.

On Friday afternoon, Reid suggested changing the election law to ensure the primary vote jibes with party rules, effectively setting the date in early March of 2016.
For the last two presidential campaign cycles, Iowa and our unreliable ally New Hampshire have been fighting two mega-states, Florida and Michigan, for our traditional spot at the front of the presidential nominating calendar.

We still need to battle Michigan. Their stance has never been as much pro-Michigan as it's been anti-Iowa/New Hampshire. And Arizona also helped mess things up in 2012. But Florida was always about Florida, about getting themselves a seat at the table.

Calendar expert Josh Putnam says this probably puts Florida on March 1, 2016. "The big winners in (Friday's) maneuvering in Tallahassee were the national parties and the carve-out states;" (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina),  "especially South Carolina, which has had to push forward the last two cycles because of Florida to maintain its first in the South status."

If everyone else goes along, a HUGE if in nomination calendar politics, we could see ourselves caucusing - and with open races in both parties it'll probably surpass 2008 - as late as Groundhog Day 2016, a full month later than `08 and `12.

A whole extra month of campaigning will magnify Iowa's influence. An actual break over Christmas will recharge candidates and caucus goers, who won't have to leap straight from holiday mode to caucus end game. In college counties like my own, the students will be back, increasing the involvement of young people. All of this is a bigger deal than a campaign that was never going to happen.

And a more important Iowa means strengthened organizations on both sides. Rand Paul is in Des Moines Friday and Johnson County Saturday, raising party funds. It's already here, folks.

Steve King's un-announcement was interesting, and was a necessary precondition for the Senate race to get started in earnest. But it was both predictable and predicted. The sudden move to rational scheduling by Florida was both less predictable and in the long range more significant.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

21 Bar Round 3?

Profoundly mixed feelings here:
Union owner George Wittgraf and Martinis general manager Josh Erceg have filed an affidavit to commence initiative or referendum proceedings. According to the affidavit, the two are seeking to repeal the 21-only ordinance.
I'm exhausted just thinking about another round on this emotionally divisive issue. You think our city is polarized now, five days before the justice center vote? Think back to the fall of 2007 or 2010. This visceral fight brings out the worst Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students attitudes in the non-student population and, yes, more than a fair amount of self-interest from the bar owners.

The University is already on board with its trademark condescending attitude toward its own student body:
PAS community harm-reductions initiative coordinator Kelly Bender said the ordinance has been effective in reducing high-risk drinking and has been beneficial to downtown.

Bender went on to say that the only people who are against the ordinance are the few who weren’t able to adapt to it and just want more money.
Thanks for tarring me with that broad brush, Kelly, but I'm none of that. For me, a 49 year old grandpa with 28 years of sobriety, this has always been a simple issue. An 18 year old is an adult and adults should have adult rights. Ultimately I want to see the drinking age back at 18 where it belongs, and I'll support anything that moves toward that. But I seem to be completely alone in all that.
Nic Pottebaum, 22, who just completed a term as president of UI Student Government, said students probably would sign the petition. But with the law three years old, he thinks the issue has fallen off most students’ radars and he doesn’t hear a clamor for a return to 19-and-older bars.

“There has definitely been a huge cultural change downtown, as far as the students go,” he said, adding that he supports 21-only.
Thanks for the solidarity with the underclassmen, bro.
Mayor Matt Hayek doubts the City Council will be interested in reversing the ordinance.

“Over the last three years downtown has become safer, more vibrant and better balanced,” he wrote in an email. “The university is stronger and the sky-is-falling predictions did not come to pass. I think the community recognizes 21-only is working.”
I don't care, Matt. An 18 year old is an adult.
21-only supporters say the ordinance has been successful thus far, pointing to a 9 percent decline in the percentage of students who report engaging in high-risk drinking at least once during a two-week period, and the 19 percent decline in the percentage of students who report high-risk drinking on three or more occasions. That data was collected over a three-year span from 2009 to 2012 from a sample of undergraduate students at UI and published in the National College Health Assessment.
Don't care. An 18 year old is an adult.

The 21 bar issue is a microcosm of city government's attitude toward our young population. The last student-age student left the city council in 1983. Since then, the undergrads have been considered more or less a nuisance instead of what they really are: the lifeblood of our community. This issue isn't the one I'd pick to make a stand, but I'm an old man. If this is what they really want, that deserves some consideration and respect, and a framework of reducing alcohol abuse needs to address rights as well as responsibilities.

I doubt we're going to see this on the ballot, though. My first reaction on seeing the news was "where do I sign?" And I realized: I have no idea. The organizers seem far less organized than last time and far less organized than the red light camera group, who keep reaching the goalpost only to see the city clerk and attorney move it further back.

They've also picked the worst. possible. time. to try to get signatures. They announce on May 1 with a June 10 deadline, and the target audience is students?!? So you're petitioning through pre-finals, finals, and the interim before summer school? That's almost as bad as scheduling your caucuses on January 3rd. In 2010 the petitioners were gathering names, and thousands of voter registrations, in about March. (In `07 the petition was from the 21 side, and their target was townies.)

The other problem is one I've seen time and again with Iowa City ballot issues. People throw all their effort into the issue, but don't recruit candidates. So they pass the issue... while people on the opposite side of the issue get elected and reverse the issue within a couple years. If the 19 side had run student candidates in 2007, when 19 won, they could have elected three or maybe even four to the council, and the issue wouldn't have come up again in 2010 when a pro-21 council majority reversed the voter's decision.

We got student candidates in 2009, and in 2011 Raj Patel ran the best campaign ever by a young candidate and almost pulled it off. But without that turnout magnet of the bar issue, the student turnout didn't happen, and the 30 year string of Tuition Without Representation continued.

And now? Anyone? Anyone?

I'd do it myself but I'm too damn old. Even if I could run for two seats in my past lives as a 24 year old DJ and a 25 year old grad student, I'm too damn old. And 24/25 year old me had a lot more hair.

A Chat With Bruce Braley

Bruce Braley and I met for lunch and a discussion of the lay of the land yesterday.  Here's a few highlights.

Deeth: With this our first open seat race in 40 years, and the whole post-Citizens United dynamic, how do you keep your message going in a race like this once the outsiders start to pile on?

Braley: Well, I have done this enough to understand that you have to give voters a reason to show up and vote FOR you. You can't just depend on voter suppression to get them not to show up and vote for your opponent. And to me that means you've got to find a way to inspire voters into believing that you share their values, you understand the problems and concerns they deal with on a daily basis, you're going to be an effective listener, and you're going to take what you've learned and be a strong champion for the people of this state. That's going to be my strategy as I travel around the state talking about what I've done as concrete examples of bringing people together to solve tough problems, even when I was serving in the minority in the last Congress.

Deeth: Here's one I called wrong. I was expecting, especially after your role in the Energy and Commerce chair transition, that you were going to be sticking around the House for quite a while. Other than the obvious 1 out of 100 being more than 1 out of 435, what are you you hoping you can accomplish in the Senate that you weren't able to in the House?

Braley: Let's use the Energy and Commerce Committee as an example. In my opinion it's the best committee in the House of Representatives because it's all the policy issues that are so important to people. But it's an exclusive committee, which means that right now I serve on only one committee in the House. One of the best things about serving in the Senate is I'll be able to serve on as many as three or four, five committees and multiple subcommittees. And you also have the ability to have a much broader influence on foreign policy because the Senate has to ratify treaties. The average voter doesn't appreciate the significance of federal judicial confirmations in their lives. The federal judges, the district court, the appellate level and the Supreme Court have an enormous impact on the lives of Americans and Iowans. All of those things are reasons why having a chance to serve in the senate and having a chance to represent this great state is so compelling.

Deeth: And the Senate control is so important to the President potentially getting another couple of Supreme Court appointments in the next term.

Braley: That's right, because we've got this incredible backlog due to obstructionism by the Senate Republicans that's keeping these nominees from getting an up or down vote. And so we have vacancies, and that denies people justice.

Bruce wanted to make sure both the beret and Nile Kinnick were in the shot.

Deeth: Do you feel like the Senate is more or less dysfunctional than other parts of the system? What can you do for, say, filibuster reform?

Braley: I think the dysfunction is twofold. One is the interpersonal relations of the people serving in a body. The other is the parliamentary obstacles to getting things done. I've never served in the Senate but my sense is that people in the Senate may have closer relationships with their peers on the other side than people in the House do as a general rule. Now I pride myself on reaching out and developing strong relationships on both sides of the aisle in the House. But there's a lot of personal dysfunction. The parliamentary challenges are the inability to get things done due to the current filibuster and how it's being used-

Deeth: Like we saw on gun control.

Braley: That's right, and abused. So I would be very excited about working with some of my younger colleagues in the Senate who've recently come over from the House and have experienced how these obstacles are preventing even the most basic work from getting done, and trying to address those problems and continue Senator Harkin's work to try to make that happen.

Deeth: Locally we're having a courthouse/jail vote, and larger justice system issues such as minority incarceration rates, the overall incarceration rate, the drug war - those have come up locally as key issues in our debate. What can the federal government do to address some of these concerns?

Braley: The reason why many of those things that you just described have happened is because of what I believe is a misguided policy where legislators intervene and impose mandatory minimum sentences for offenses that in the past had smaller sentences. And the judge who was sentencing that individual had the authority to hear the facts and make an appropriate sentence determination to fit that particular defendant. By the legislature removing that we have filled up our prisons. We have a lot of people who are in need of serious mental health treatment who are occupying our jails and prisons. This is an issue I've been very focused on in the broader context of reducing gun violence. Most people would be shocked to know that the Los Angeles jail is the largest mental health institution in America today.

Deeth: Lonny Pulkrabek tells me that all the time.

Braley: We have a revolving door of people moving in and out of incarceration and mental health care centers and aren't getting the treatment they need to have better lives and to reduce the rime in society.

Deeth: I've had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around immigration reform because even though the demographics are shoring how critical it is politically for Republicans and also for the whole country, there's that dynamic of the GOP primary being a run to the right. I read a survey yesterday showing a third of Republicans won't accept any reform that lets the undocumented stay legally. By extension doesn't that mean mass deportation? How do we resolve that?

Braley: One word has kept us from having meaningful immigration reform, and that word is amnesty. That is always thrown out as an excuse for not moving forward. Where I grew up "amnesty" was where you broke the law and there were no consequences. The reform that I have supported and that many others in both the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats support, is something where there is accountability. If you break the law you are required to pay a fine, accept the consequences, be placed on probation, and if you satisfy the terms of your probation you get an opportunity for a pathway to citizenship. So when people talk about deportation I remind them we had the largest immigration rate in Iowa, in the United States, in my district in Postville. And I asked ICE to document the cost of that raid and the cost of the deportation that they used from some of the people that were convicted. And it was astronomical how much we spent to deport nine people to Guatemala. So when you take that and expand it out to the number of undocumented workers in this country? The same people who complain about this would never agree to pay the price tag of the actual cost of deportation. So that says to me that reasonable people should be able to get their handle on how we bring people out of the shadows, get them paying taxes at the state and federal level, paying into Medicare and Social Security, to stabilize those programs. To me there's a lot of huge upside benefits. And as we found out after the horrible tragedy in Boston, a lot of people who are in the shadows are also harder to track from a standpoint of making sure we're keeping people out of this country who shouldn't be here.

Deeth: One more? Election law reform. The President, Election Night: "We need to fix this." What do we do to fix this?

Braley: I'm very very concerned that given the current makeup of the Supreme Court, given the current makeup of Congress, it's hoing to be very challenging. I voted for the DISCLOSE Act after Citizens United came down, because the Supreme Court basically invited Congress to impose transparency and accountability requirements. And we did that, we got it passed in the House. It went to the Senate, and they came one vote short of being able to cut off debate and bring it to the floor where it would have passed. So given this current dynamic it's going to be very hard.

I think one of the biggest challenges we face is reapportionment. If other states had the same non-partisan reapportionment we do in Iowa, you would see a much different congress and much different state legislatures. So to me this is almost to the point where we were back when we had the one person one vote debate in terms of making sure that a person's vote matters. And I think we should be having a national conversation about that.