Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sodders: I will not run for Congress in 2014

After a recent trip to DC to check the landscape, and a public consideration of a candidacy, State Senator Steve Sodders announced this AM that he is NOT running for Congress.
For Immediate release: 31 March 2013

For More Information: Steve Sodders (614) 751-4140

*Sodders: I will not run for Congress in 2014*

*State Senator Steve Sodders of State Center today announced that he will not be running for the U.S. Congress in 2014: *

*Sodders released this statement to supporters and the news media: *

“I want to thank all my family members, neighbors, friends and other Iowans who have reached out to me with their encouragement to enter the race for Iowa’s open U.S. House seat in District 1.

“Despite this encouragement and the appeal of serving more Iowans in the U.S. Congress, my family and I have decided that I will not run for the U.S. House in 2014.

“I love being a citizen-legislator in Iowa, working as a Deputy Sheriff in Marshall County, and serving as a State Senator to my constituents in Marshall, Tama and Black Hawk counties. I have also been entrusted by my Senate colleagues to serve in the leadership position of Senate President Pro Tempore.

“I am proud of our bipartisan efforts in the Iowa Legislature to grow Iowa’s middle class by improving the quality of our schools, by expanding access to affordable health care for all Iowans, and by increasing job opportunities in every county in our state. I am more motivated than ever to ensure that the dream of a larger middle class in Iowa becomes a

“I ask for your continued support as we work together for this great state.”
This leaves former House speaker Pat Murphy of Dubuque as the only announced  Democrat in the seat Bruce Braley is leaving for a US Senate race.

There's a lot of pressure from others and me to look for a strong female candidate in this race. All eyes are on Senator Liz Mathis...

Friday, March 29, 2013

An Unfortunate Pose

Sorry to step on Iowa .Gif-t Shop's turf. But this shot was on the front page of KCRG's site this AM:

Wrong arm, but of course a 180 flip and Branstad was all like:

I'll leave additional `Shopping to those with more skillz, but beware the inherent risks of Godwin's Law.

The raised arm gesture used to be called the Bellamy Salute and it was how we used to say the Pledge of Allegiance… until the 1940s when a different leader with a mustache ruined it for everyone. It's number 11 on the Top Ten List of Innocent Things Changed Forever Because The Nazis Liked Them.

Hitler was all like:

Mel Brooks was all like:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Board Backs Equality

Thanks to the four Democratic Johnson County Supervisors who voted today to back marriage equality. Just symbolic, sure, but symbols matter.

Unfortunately the vote was not unanimous as the lone Republican, John Etheredge, voted no without comment.

A special thanks to one supervisor in particular:
In 2009, the supervisors voted to send a letter to other Iowa counties in support of the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. Pat Harney voted against that proposal. But he voted for the proclamation Thursday and said no matter whether someone believes same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, the issue was about everyone receiving the same rights, so he would support it.
Changing position on a high profile issue is hard for anyone in politics (I know) so I especially appreciate Pat for joining Democrats from President Obama on down in coming around on this.

(Just me, or is this kinda hot?)

Salon has put together a fascinating "Gay Marriage Courage Meter" with an x axis of time and a y axis of risk and an XX chromosome-XXchromosome and an XY chromosome-XYChromosome…  anyway, it's a fascinating read and the earliest bravest one is the first congressman I ever voted against, Wisconsin's Steve Gunderson, the lone Republican to vote against DOMA. It wasn't his district that did him in - he won a tough GOP primary after getting outed in 1994. It was the Gingrich-era House Republican Caucus that made him a pariah. (Irony: The Newt was sleeping with one of Gunderson's staffers; you now know her as Mrs. Gingrich III.)

But there are still holdouts:
Now that Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) have switched, just nine Senate Democrats remain in opposition, a core group that includes some of the party’s most socially conservative members: Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Bill Nelson (Fl.), Tom Carper (Del.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.).
Landrieu, Pryor, and Carper are up in 2014, though Carper's delay in blue Delaware is odd. Pryor should note that former colleage Blanche Lincoln almost got knocked off from the left in the 2010 primary, and was a goner against the Republican that fall. Johnson is retiring. The others have four to six years of social change before they face the voters, and need to lead.

Me? I have a LOT of trouble believing that Iowa is in the bottom ten states at only 2.8% gay… but then I'm from Iowa City.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

We Had To Destroy The Village To Save it

I'll… just… leave this here.

Opponents of a 70-home subdivision proposed for rural Johnson County are not going down without a fight. A handful of them plan to start a hog operation across the street from where the homes would be built

"Shitting in your own nest" is supposed to be a metaphor, not a literal game plan. See also the term spite house, "a building constructed or modified to irritate neighbors or other parties with land stakes. Spite houses often serve as obstructions, blocking out light or access to neighboring buildings, or as flamboyant symbols of defiance."

It's a high risk strategery that could backfire and cost the Newport Road Gang some of their allies, like urban environmentalists and certain extremely high salary University athletic staff. 

I had an ellipsis there in the midst of Gregg Hennigan's paragraph:

...and also will actively campaign against the county’s justice center project...

because… screw you that's why?

Iowa City attorney Jeff McGinness said Wednesday. 

AKA Iowa City School Board member Jeff McGinness. Welcome to our reality soap, The Real Housewives of Johnson County.

Tomorrow's Board of Supervisor's meeting should be epic. In addition to the third and final vote on the zoning in question…

…there's also a resolution supporting - topic of the week - marriage equality. Will be interesting to see how the new Republican supervisor walks THAT fine line.

As for the Dooley zoning, the great irony here is that the Dooleys were among the strongest opponents of development in the Newport Road area… until they weren't anymore. Which sums the whole saga up well.

Nobody Better

My somewhat limited life goal as my age odometer rolls toward five-oh is to be the Nate Silver of my corner of the world. The guy got his start "Moneyball" style with baseball stats, then turned his focus to political numbers, at first just on a plain ole Blogspot blog like this. Now gone pro, he nailed every state in 2012 and gets presidential shout outs.

Yesterday Silver turned his genius to the marriage equality trendlines, in light of a couple just re-elected red state Democrats (McCaskill, Tester) who'd come out - I love this term in this contest - for equality. Silver asks, where will their states be by 2018, and as usual both answers and overkills:

By 2016, however, voters in 32 states would be willing to vote in support of same-sex marriage, according to the model. And by 2020, voters in 44 states would do so, assuming that same-sex marriage continues to gain support at roughly its previous rate... It might require a religious revival among the youngest generation of Americans to reverse the trend.

That caveat captures the diminishing opposition.  It's getting easier to list the Democrats who haven't yet signed on to full equality than the ones who have. Marc Ambinder looks at the unprecedented speed of society's flip and concludes:

Once the barrier to gays serving in the military fell, and...nothing apocalyptic happened, and once a few states began to experiment with gay marriage, and...nothing apocalyptic happened, the only remaining arguments against same-sex unions are religious and provincial. They're small. They're associated with bigotry. No one wants to be a bigot.

On the flip side, TheIowaRepublican's Craig Robinson fights history:

"Sure, gay activists want marriage rights, but what they are really after is validation of their lifestyle."

Umm... yeah? You say that like it's a bad thing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Bracket For The Rest Of Us

I know jack about college basketball, but finally here's a bracket I know something about: MSNBC's Senate Madness!

Kentucky is a #1 seed here, and I don't mean Ashley Judd. Harvard definitely outshines Florida Gulf Coast... but my money's on Southwest Texas Teacher's College to win it all.

Ana Marie Cox has the Tweet Of The Day:
No, actually, we Iowa Democrats had it, if not on vinyl then at least on cassette single in our 1994 platform.

Yes, it seems pro-equality is the new Democratic orthodoxy, save for a dwindling handful of scaredy cat red-state senators on the 2014 ballot (and Mark Warner "coming out" today, with his seat up in `14, means Virginia is a blue state).

But before I get too confident, a cautionary tale: I remember when the ERA was an emerging consensus, too.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Clip Show

The piece that has the chattering classes chattering this week: Is Hillary Clinton Too Conservative To Become President? True, that headline is designed to pull ya in, but the tl;dr v ersion is: Hillary's positions have been frozen in time circa June 2008, due to the above the domestic fray nature of the State Department, and she has some catching up to do (see: this week's endorsement of marriage equality).

As an Iowa activist I can say this much: it's impossible to overstate how big a deal Clinton's vote for the Iraq War, and her refusal to distance herself from that vote, was to the Democratic base during 2007. Don't forget she came in third, behind the not yet disgraced John Edwards, in Iowa. True, a lot has happened since, and she remains the one to beat. But that's what we said in March of 2005, too.

The real question is not "Is Hillary Clinton Too Conservative To Become President?" It's 'Is Are the Republicans Too Conservative To Become President?" That seems to be a yes, at least according to Andrew Kohut at Pew:

In my decades of polling, I recall only one moment when a party had been driven as far from the center as the Republican Party has been today.

The outsize influence of hard-line elements in the party base is doing to the GOP what supporters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern did to the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s — radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.
That does a disservice to the memory of McGovern, a far more serious figure that, say, a Palin or a Santorum. But to an extent it's true that the supporters, rather than the elected leaders, were a big part of the Democrats' "sixties problem" that we didn't completely electorally recover from till Obama. Difference is, with the present day Republicans it's boith teh supporters AND the electeds that are fueling the problem.

Case in point: Rick "Oops" Perry. National Journal argues that The Platypus could, by his base driven refusal to accept federal funds for Obamacare, hasten the inevitable, demographic-driven drift of Texas from red to blue.

As for Obamacare, a term Democrats learned to embrace last year, the Kaiser Foundation quantifies what we've known since about November 2010: "Obamacare’s most popular provisions are its least well known." And conversely, the best known provison, the individual mandate, is the least popular.

Finally, in the glossary of neato political terms from other countries, in Australia a leadership challenge is called, for some reason, a "spill."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Multiple Articles on Multiple Members

Well, just two articles, but that counts as multiple.

A lot of proportional representation advocates look to multi-member districts as a way to make the legislative body more fairly represent a divided electorate, and maybe even get some seats for some smaller parties.

Via Larry Sabato, Thomas Schaller looks at the history of US congressional elections and notes it was relatively recently - the 1960s - when states were still electing at-large members:
A few states continued to use statewide, at-large multiple-member districts while others featured one at-large, single-member House district to select one House member statewide while carving out the remaining seats into single-member districts within the state. At the highwater mark in the 88th Congress (1962-63), a number of states — including Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas — elected a total of 22 of the 435 House members from multiple-member or at-large single-member districts.
The civil rights era put the end to most of these, because of the unfortunate fact that white voters were reluctant to elect non-white candidates. Those seats gave way to the modern system of districts carefully drawn to predict outcome.
Indeed, had states continued to use at-large statewide or multiple-member districts, there almost certainly would be far fewer non-white U.S. House members today; to recognize the difference, one need only compare the much lower share of African-American, Asian or Hispanic U.S. senators.
Of course, the last elected African-American Senator got a promotion.

I've often thought that multi-member districts could also address the issue of gender imbalance. The way the Democratic Party gets a 50-50 gender balanced national convention is: separate contests. Male National Delegate and Female National Delegate are separate contests at the district and state conventions. Men run against men, women run against women.

You could do that with Congress as well. Have every district elect two members, one male one female. Heck, you could even designate Senate seats as male and female.

I'm really getting off into the fantasy land of constitutional amendments here, and I have yet to answer the transgender issue. So lets move on to the next take on multi=member districts: a way to save special election costs.

Joe Mathews argues that despite protests to the contrary, people actually do vote The Party Not The Person:

Ask yourself (or a person you meet) to give you the first and last name, and any other distinguishing personal details, of the person you voted for last year for Assembly. (Few people will be able to answer this question). Then ask if you know the party of the person you vote for last year for Assembly. (Most people will remember that much).

In this insight lies the solution to the problem of low-turnout special elections: letting people vote for the party.
Mathews proposes a party list system.
That would mean letting the parties list its candidates in order of preference on the first round ballot. You’d vote for the party, and not the person, which is what you do already.

Party lists would work much better if the state moved, as it should, to multi-member districts and proportional voting. With, say, a 20 member district, a party could list its 20 choices in order. If that party won, say, 12 of the seats, the first 12 people on its list would take office. Those remaining on the list would serve as alternates.
Then if, say, one of the top 12 Know Nothings died, Know Nothing #13 would move up from alternate to member.

I'm a party hack so I like anything than enhances the role of the parties. But even if you don't both articles are worth a read and some thought.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Human Rights Does Humane Thing

Jail opponent Jeff Cox's attempt to get the Iowa City Human Rights Commission to oppose the May 7 justice center referendum backfired when the commission voted not to take a stance.

Indeed, at least one member seemed inclined toward the yes position:
Commission member Shams Ghoneim said she could not support the proposal not to take a stance on the justice center, citing the human rights concerns she has for those currently being housed in the Johnson County Jail.

“I think it’s important to address the issue of human rights violations we are currently witnessing,” she said.
A few key paragraphs pop out in Lee Hermiston's Press-Citizen story:
Justice center opponent Bob Thompson told the commission he wasn’t completely against the justice center, but he wanted to see more alternatives to incarceration.

“I’m not opposed to the justice center, per se, and a lot of us on the vote no side aren’t,” Thompson said. “What we want are alternatives.”

Jim McCarragher said the CJCC has identified numerous jail alternatives that can’t be implemented without additional space.

“You know what we’re talking about with space, it just isn’t there,” he said. “I get the feeling we’re being held hostage. You can’t do it now. You can’t do it today. You can’t do it tomorrow.”
So. Pretty much open acknowledgement on both sides that the the no side is, plain and simple, a protest vote. Nothing wrong with that, I've cast a few of those in my life. But the time for that protest vote is this fall when we can toss Terry Dickens, Susan Mims and Connie Champion out of office for failing to improve the behavior of the Iowa City Police Department, the real source of the disproportionate minority contact problem.
Dorothy Whiston said the conditions in the current jail — the lack of space, programming and housing some inmates outside of the county — equates to “human rights abuse.” She urged the commission to pressure Iowa City to participate in a study the county is exploring that would study disproportionate minority contact throughout the local criminal justice center and identify solutions to those issues.
"Participating in a study" would be nice. But that rhetoric from the Yes side is too mild. Maybe responsible committee members can't be as to the point as I can.

The minority arrest rate problem is a CITY problem, and to a large extent the student arrest rate is a city problem. The current council majority kinda sorta wants the justice center, but not nearly as bad as they (and, sadly, their Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students voter base) want the downtown crackdown. The courts and the county are left to pick up the pieces, and without the space they don't have the tools they need.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March Meh-Ness

I'm never all that excited about March Madness, mostly because the most derogatory thing you can call a Division I men's basketball player is "senior." Case in point: Kentucky's drop from champs last year to NIT this year.

And that #65 play-in game was more fun when it was just one game, not four games to get teams #66, 67 and 68 in. So it sucks that just much more to be in the NIT. Senator Ashley Judd is still cheering, but looks a bit disappointed.

That race - and it WILL happen - is even gonna get nasty on the hoops level: Mitch McConnell is a fan of arch-rival Louisville. At least Cardinal Red and Wildcat Blue match the parties.

Of course sports rivalries aren't EVERYthing. I voted for a Bears fan for president, even though his opponent's running mate was a fellow Cheesehead. But what CAN sports tell us about politics?

It can tell us when NOT to do politics, for one thing. In Johnson County, Hawkeye games are mandatory down time for campaigning. MAYBE just some visibility for the game day traffic, but definitely not anything DURING the game.

But what can the sports and teams you like tell us about your politics? National Journal is trying to join the March Madness by recycling a story from last fall that doesn't really tell us much. The elaborate graphs are really about geography and demographics, kind of like saying renters make good Democrats.

The team with the "most Republican" leaning fans is the Alabama Crimson Tide, followed by the Texas Rangers and, in a lingering legacy of John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves. The "most Democratic" fan base goes to the New York Knicks. with the Boston Celtics and San Francisco Giants next.  This tells us zero about sports and nothing that we didn't already know about Alabama and New York.

As for the sports themselves, by far the most Democratic fan base is for the WNBA: female, urban, young and largely minority. The most Republican fans? The men's PGA tour: older, male, suburban, and despite Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, mostly white.

The largest audiences - pro football and the Olympics - line up just to the right of the center line, but close enough to touch it. Their sheer mass audiences help explain that. More fans mean they're more like all of us. Baseball and, back to our point here, college basketball, are in the same neighborhood.

The only interesting thing here is that the college football audience is to the right of the pro fans. Maybe that's just the Southern geography of the highest level of competition and the most intense fans. The Southeast Conference could be a third NFL conference.

More interesting, to me anyway, is this Sports Illustrated article that has absolutely no use for filling out your bracket: the Coolest Person to attend - not necessarily graduate, a one semester dropout counts - every one of the 68 tournament schools.  The Wisconsin Badgers score a very high #4 seed with super-producer and Garbage man Butch Vig. I approve... but is he really cooler than James Dean? There is not a scale of Cool that goes higher than James Dean.

Judd, of course, misses the list along with her team. But the real loser here is Kurt Vonnegut.

Monday, March 18, 2013

GOP Elite Wants Defeat On Marriage

It's a big day on the marriage equality front. There's a new Washington Post (soon to be behind a "leaky ass" paywall) poll showing a best-yet 58% approval for gay marriage. And today is the day Hillary has finally decided to come out of the closet. 

Can it be just five years ago that, even in the middle of a Democratic nomination fight, both Clinton and Obama had to pretend they were in the dwindling "between a man and a woman" camp? Or less than a decade since Howard Dean was a radical for supporting civil unions? (And of course, this is a she is So Running move.)

But the smartest thing anyone has said about marriage today comes from Josh Barro at Bloomberg:
Even after marriage equality becomes a settled issue in the north, Republicans will have to deal with the embarrassing problem of southern Republican politicians and voters clinging to their anti-gay laws -- much in the way that the retrograde racial politics of some southern Republicans have created national branding problems for the party in recent years...  It will be like if Loving v. Virginia had never happened, and Mississippi still had a law against interracial marriage in 1990.

Gay marriage opponents are going to lose the fight; the only question is whether they will lose it in a way that is quick and painless or long and ugly. If Anthony Kennedy or John Roberts vote to strike down all the state bans on gay marriage, Republicans will be furious with them, but the justices will in fact have done the party a huge favor.
At the beltway elite level, leading Republicans know this is over. They know that the social issues are toxic to young voters and to the growing libertarian wing of the party. The have as much as admitted it in their post-election post-mortem released this morning (here's the whole thing). They know the evangelical base is on the wrong side of history.

The problem is: that base is still a sizable chunk of that primary vote, and they're not going to let go any more than the conclave was going to pick a pro-marriage equality pope. (At least he's talking to his former foes.)

Maybe the Republicans need to win by losing, not just at the Supreme Court but at the polls. The Christian conservatives will argue that they've never really nominated one of their own, a Huckabee or a Santorum or, less credibly, a Gary Bauer. I say, let `em. Go ahead and nominate an all-out social conservative in 2016. Talk about no-exceptions abortion bans all you want. Feel free to lose 44 2/3 states. (The 5 1/3: Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Idaho, Wyoming and the 3rd CD in western Nebraska.) 

That'll get these issues off the table once and for all. Hey, if it's the right thing to do, I don't care if it helps Republicans. It'll give them more time to explain their equally foolish economic policies.

Greens to Host National Convention in Iowa City

Something different for county fair/RAGBRAI week: the Green Party is holding its annual "national meeting" July 25-28 in Iowa City (at the IMU).

That's about it for the details, so time for my periodic comment that people really aren't using the third party options on Iowa's voter registration forms.

The right to register in a third party was a big fight last decade, as the Greens and Libertarians took the matter to court. Iowa's bar for party status was a bit high - 2% every two years for the top of the ticket office, president or governor. Ross Perot (`96) and Ralph Nader (2000) made it, but Reform and the Greens lost full status in the next gubernatorial race.

In a compromise settlement (later made law) worked out under Secretary of State Mike Mauro, the Greens and Libertarians were able to petition for "party organization" status. Voters can register with these parties, but they don't have primaries.

After all that, only 3046 of the state's 1,974,196 active status voters are registered as either Green or Libertarian. (Unfortunately, the Secretary of State's stats lump the two together as "Other.") There's no benchmark for the Libertarians, who never had full-party status. And despite the success of the libertarian movement, its growth seems to be outside the Libertarian Party.

But here in Johnson County, Green registration is about one quarter what it was in 2002 when the party had full status. That's more a function of the times and, frankly, the results of 2000 than a matter of the different level of party status; only a tiny handful of a few dozen voted in the uncontested 2002 Green primary. And from 2000 to 2004, roughly 90% of the Nader/Green vote shifted to the Democrats.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Writer's Workshop

Montezuma Record publisher Chuck Dunham has suddenly become Iowa's best-known writer for his politically incorrect correction of Stephen Bloom's claim that Iowa lacks diversity:
Hyphenated, unspellable, and oriental names may get you the big bucks
Or maybe Dunham's stereotypes just reinforced Bloom's stereotypes.

The salary publication is fair enough. Here in Iowa City the Press-Citizen prints public salaries, even my government union goon hourly rate, annually. I grew up expecting that as a son of public employees, and anyway the most important thing about Dad's job headed its own special section of the paper ("ONALASKA BEATS HOLMEN ON GAME-ENDING BASKET").

But the subtext is of course what matters here. This one subhead in the middle of a University salary list encapsulates the xenophobic, don't make me press 1 for English mindset that makes Steve King a "mainstream" figure and endangers serious efforts at immigration reform.

It also captures the attitude toward the University out in the non-metro counties, the places that are losing population while just a tiny handful are growing. A vibrant, world-class institution that benefits the entire state? Nope. Furriners and hyphenated woman's libbers taking our money.

That subtext comes into sharper relief in Dunham's interview with James Lynch, where Dunham says: “In lily-white Iowa it does seem they ("Orientals") are over-represented compared to the rest of the population.”

Oh. I see. A lily-white state needs a lily-white faculty? “If I had found on that list Hans Jorgenson, Jan Jorgenson, Lars Jorgenson, and Eric Jorgenson, I would have noticed it. But it wasn’t there.” Looks like our diversity outreach needs a stronger Scandinavian component. Henceforth faculty recruiting will begin in Decorah, and the Writer's Workshop will include "Ya Can Tell A Swede But Ya Can't Tell Him Much: Advanced Seminar on Ole and Lena Jokes."

(Since I'm from Iowa City and thus I'm supposed to be PC, pleeeeease note that I'm picking on my own heritage here.)
As a fellow writer, I can tell Dunham is in a slump, so here's some tips to shake things up a little.
I don't know Montezuma well, but here's an interesting demographic fact: Poweshiek County is one of the few places in the state where the county seat is overshadowed by a much larger city. (Nevada in Story County, and I'm told Dakota City in Humboldt, would be the others.) Grinnell, with its liberal student population, is several times the size of Montezuma. So you can see where there might be a bit of anti-academia resentment.

Dunham was a Republican legislative candidate back during my first stretch of journalism in 1990, when I got to both interview him AND vote against him. Back then the state senate district stretched from Coralville west to Grinnell. Dunham bragged that he was spending only $4 on his campaign. He no doubt spent many times that by using his own print shop for the campaign, but he made a big deal out of that $4 number and sent out press releases on the back side of rejected photocopies. Dunham lost a landslide, but given King's later success maybe he was just ahead of the curve.

“The relatively high numbers of employees with names from Asia and the Near East is interesting," opines Dunham. "While there are SMiths [sic] and Jones, there are eleven Ahmeds to only 30 Browns."

That's the growth in Iowa, and if you look below the tenured faculty and football coach salary level, you see the even greater growth in the Garcias and Gonzalezeseses.  We're becoming a multicultural America, a multicultural Iowa, and yes even a multi-lingual Iowa. Difference is, here in Iowa City and increasingly in places like West Liberty and Columbus Junction, we know that's a GOOD thing.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Regrouping with The Johnson County Democrats

Johnson County Democrats are gathering at the Iowa City school district offices for our biennial - biannual? - every two years - reorganizational meeting.

This isn't the meeting we expected. Our outgoing chair Terry Dahms was supposed to get a rousing sendoff to the Board of Supervisors. But that didn't work out, so instead we're in navel-gazing, regrouping mode. Dahms is not running for chair again, and the main papabili seems to be vice chair Mike Carberry.

Tonight is Officially three meetings in one because of the nature of our rules. Frankly, an excessive focus on boring bylaws kind of stuff is part of our New Member Repellent problem. Some of it is inherent to any organization, but we could really stand to streamline.

Meeting One is a "normal" meeting for routine business. One of the likely items is a discussion of the justice center election on May 7. We have a two-stage process - bylaws again! - for endorsing non-partisan things. We have to pre-endorse it one month with a 50% majority, then officially endorse at the next meeting with 2/3. With our next meetings April 4 and May 2, we need to pre-endorse tonight in order to fully endorse in any sort of meaningful timeframe before the election. 

The Democrats endorsed the November justice center issue, which won 56% support but needed 60. To be honest, that endorsement sailed through at low-attendance meetings in July and August, and we could see a more... vigorous discussion tonight.

There's also the possibility of electing new members at Meeting One, who will immediately be able to vote at Meeting Two, the officer election. We have to split them up because the agenda for the officer election is locked in by either constitution or bylaws, can't remember and don't care which: Item One is election of chair. 

Once we see the white smoke and we Habemas Chair, we elect the other officers: 1st Vice Chair (what you Republicans would inexplicably call "co" chair) is traditionally in charge of GOTV efforts. 2nd Vice Chair is the events/parades person. Then we have Secretary (meeting minutes/notices), Treasurer (campaign finance reports), Finance (fund raising), Data Management (the list geek, I'm the incumbent), Candidate Development (liaison to caddidates and possibly recruiting), and Public Relations (press releases, website, social media). Two offices are on a different cycle. Platform chair (Dennis and Robin Roseman co-chairing) is elected by the platform committee and affirmative action chair (Diana Coberly) is elected by the convention; both those are in even years.

Meeting Three is the "off-year caucus" which is frankly one of the more pointless exercises we do, but it's required by the state party. It's basically a chance to pass resolutions and "nominate" - not elect, just "nominate" - new members (as opposed to the new members we just nominated and elected at Meeting One?) The biggest difference is that Meetings One and Two are voting members only. In Meeting Three any Democrat in the county can participate.

Still with me? Watch this space.

We're underway just five minutes late, which for us is pretty good.

Dahms offers his thoughts: party in good financial shape, more members and better attendance than two years ago, won big last fall. As for this month's election: "A lot of things just didn't come together. It was just not my destiny to get this job." Notes he was interviewed twice for TV, but editors refused to air it because opponent did not make himself available to balance the story. "The North Corridor completely blew up, and that was a factor. I don't see how you can throw out 15+ years of planning and a vision. We protected our land use plan but this is not going to go away." The justice center isn't going away either. "We'll be well organized in two years, we learned something for this."

Carberry to Dahms: "You worked hard on your election; we as a party didn't. I don't think it was your fault, don't let yourself think that."

Electeds on hand: Mascher, Rettig, Sullivan, Pat Hughes of Oxford Township, Brad Kunkel of Solon city council.

We elect three new members and pass the justice center pre-endorsement with no dissent. Low key discussion. Again: this just puts it on the agenda for the April meeting where it needs a 2/3 vote for a formal endorsement. We take a moment to remember Lori Bears.

Mary Mascher says she's having some luck moving forward on a bill that gives more voting rights to people in mixed-purpose senior living facilities (think: Oaknoll.) There's some opposition from the Secretary of State, but Republicans Guy Vander Linden and Jack Drake are helping Mary on the bill. Oaknoll residents weren't allowed mailed ballots last year; they either had to vote with the nursing home team or in person. The Iowa Veteran's Home had similar problems, and Vander Linden and Drake are both vets.

7:45. Shifting gears to officer elections. Parliamentarian Tom Larkin is temporary chair until the party chair is elected, and reviews rules. We had strongly contested chair elections in 2007 and 2007.

Past chair (09-11) Dennis Roseman nominates Carberry. No other nominations. Unanimous. As chair of People's Republic of Johnson County, Carberry says, he may write a little red book. Carberry takes over the gavel.

Gerene Denning elected vice chair (in absentia but she knows). Second vice chair is Pete Ungaro, a sheriff's employee who drove the parade truck last year.

Now a slew of re-elections: secretary Steve Damm, treasurer Pete Hansen, finance chair Dan Tallon, me as Data Geek, Karen Disbrow for PR. A new post, liaison to the UDems, goes to Katherine Valde, our outgoing second vice chair. (She's also running for UI student government president.) We didn't fill our candidate development slot; Carberry says building a bench, even in the non-partisan city and school offices, is a priority for his term. "We took a lot of things for granted in the (special) election, and we're going to suffer for it for the next year and a half. We can't let that happen again."

Our parliamentarian gently reminds us to close the organizational meeting and move into the offyear caucus at 8:08. Only eight minutes behind and we started five minutes late. Dahms reads the highlights of letters from Bruce Braley and Brad Anderson. Carberry reminds folks to check the party box on the Iowa tax return (right above the signature).

The Rosemans take over for platform resolution discussion. (Technically not "platform," but I'm not sure all the distinctions.) I keep forgetting to vote while I write. Some discussion of revisiting the county land use plan, but no actual resolution offered. Dahms (who's still chair of the planning and zoning commission): "In my mind, the land use plan has been very effective," and discusses process for proposing changes.

Tom Carsner offers more history and argues that enough land is already residential zoned. Eventually some vauge resolution gets offered, with a lot of not so sutle digs at Dahms. Carsner publicly states he voted for "a Democrat" but refuses to say it was Dahms. It fails narrowly. This is the only contentious part of the night.

We get a resolution about Iowa City's petition process - they take a very strict interpretation of "elector" - pass Bruce Braley and Brad Anderson endorsements and "encourage" Branstad to expand Medicaid. (I'd like to encourage him by voting him out...)

And that's a wrap.


Meta-post alert: There's a conversation going on in the Iowa political Twittersphere that needs just a little more than 140 characters from me.

Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post recently published the third edition of Best State Political Blogs. When the list was first published in 2009, I was hot off my strongest stretch of writing, the year and a half I was employed at Iowa Independent, so I earned a spot. When Cilizza announced an update for 2011, I'll admit I campaigned a little. I had been writing a bit less but I was especially proud of District Of The Day. I made the list again but I was a little less proud.

So when Cilizza announced an update for 2013, I let it slide. I figured if I deserved a spot, I would earn it without asking.

Last week the list came out and initially listed only TheIowaRepublican. They deserved the slot, but I'm really not in the same league as an operation which clearly has some money involved. Craig's at CPAC and that's great. But I can't afford to pay my own way or take the time off work to go to Netroots Nation. The amended Washington Post list also includes newcomers Iowa .GIF-t Shop; they do one thing and do it well, and a guy with a red beret can't bash anyone else for having a gimmick.

Congrats to both, and also to other sites like Bleeding Heartland and Caffeinated Thoughts and Blog For Iowa and others who coulda shoulda been listed but weren't.

I'm less proud of my work now. Other than the work at my own pace, scheduled in advance District Of The Day (which in my favorite trick from grad school I rewrote and republished twice), my output has never really recovered from the mass layoff at Iowa Independent right after the 2008 presidential election. My ability to respond, especially to breaking events, is less. I'm writing this over lunch. It's just plain harder to take time off the paying job to drive at your own expense to Davenport or Des Moines, to go to events, especially events of the other party, for what is essentially a hobby.

(Also, live Twittering has come to replace my old parlor trick, live blogging. Live blogging is soooo 2007. Why read one live blog when a hashtag gives you a whole bunch of live bloggers all at once?)

I missed a lot of the late 2011 caucus season while working a second, non-writing job; my finances never recovered from the Iowa Independent layoff either. I was able to quit the second job after a few months, but soon after that I took a three month near-hiatus from writing and attending political events while my day job boss went through, and lost, a primary challenge. Even after that was done, the strain of surviving a difficult seven month lame-duck period when the lame duck knew I'd supported the challenger, and, oh, just working in an auditor's office through presidential election season, meant I was writing less. And it shows: my traffic has slipped to about 2/3 of the daily page views I was at a couple years ago.

I'm not planning on giving up this decade-long habit any time soon, but I may scale back from time to time. Not as much as I did last spring, when I dropped to a mere eight posts in all of May. But more and more I see myself missing a day, sometimes even two.

One of the few things I remember from the class side of grad school before I dropped out is the idea of "an original contribution to knowledge." I love writing a lot more than I love reporting. If I have nothing to add, I may just retweet someone else. When I do have something to say, I want it to be unique and I want to say it well. Keep that in mind and thanks for reading. I hope I make you think once in a while.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No Smoke Needed in the Falklands

In what may be the most lopsided result outside Pyongyang comes out of the South Atlantic. Despite all the ways the British have screwed up the world, Falkland Islanders voted not just yes but Bloody Hell Yes to stay British by the decisive margin of 1,513 to three.

No doubt about the color of THAT smoke. But as for the BIG show, wet straw no longer has anything to do with it: "The Vatican now uses a mixture of potassium perchlorate, anthracene and sulphur to produce black smoke and potassium chlorate, lactose and rosin for white."

Also no truth to the rumor that Matt Schultz is at the Vatican photo IDing the cardinals... but in a story that's even more Well Duh than the Falklands vote: "Study finds voter ID laws hurt young, minorities."

The Johnson County Supervisors actually got done with their Newport Road fight before the conclave ended, even though it took four hours. A 4-1 vote with the guy who campaigned on "property rights" voting no.

(Update: That Falklands reference proved more apt than anyone would have thought...)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Reboot Week for JC Dems

The timing after last week's loss is coincidental, but may be apt:
Johnson County Democratic Central Committee
Thursday, March 14 - 7:00 p.m.
IC Comm. School Dist. - Board Room
Three meetings back-to-back: Tentative Agendas
1. Regular Central Committee - tentative agenda
a. Consider endorsement of Justice Center referendum vote - May 7
b. Consider donation to Iowa NEW Leadership lunch
c. May elect 2nd District Central Committee representatives
d. May elect JC Central Committee representatives

2. Reorganization meeting (beginning at 7:30 or when regular CC meeting adjourns, but not before 7:30)
Election of the following offices for the Central Committee:
a. Chair
b. 1st Vice Chair *
c. 2nd Vice Chair
d. Secretary
e. Treasurer
f. Finance (fund raising)
g. Data Management
h. Candidate Development
j. Public Relations

3. Off Year Caucus (beginning at 8:00 or when Reorganization adjourns but not before 8:00)
Agenda will be available at the meeting.
* Note to my GOP friends, this is what wecall a number two person rather than "co" chair.

Hope to see some new faces there. Unfortunately, are meetings can get deadly amendment to the amendment dull so please be patient and stick around for the issues discussion in the latter part of the evening.

What else we got here:

Another straight white male announces for Iowa congressional seat. My thoughts on that are on record. Come on, Iowa, don't let Kentucky show us up; Ashley Judd needs to be taken seriously.

Of course, the REALLY big election is the one in the Vatican, and to get you in the mood, let's finda da popes inna da pizza.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Our Conscience, Our Friend

The Johnson County Democrats lost something more important than an election Tuesday.

We lost Lori Bears.

For many campaign cycles Lori was our public face. She spent every free minute at headquarters as our front desk person, greeting newcomers and directing people to the right staffer or volunteer. Odds are she was the first Johnson County Democrat I met, when I walked into the 1990 headquarters before I'd even signed my apartment lease.

That was just days after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed. Lori was developmentally disabled. But no one in our party gave more relative to their abilities than Lori. She was our conscience on all things accessible, making sure every new office and every event was open to all regardless of physical capacity or income.

Lori loved our parades. Walking them was too difficult but she rode shotgun and always had a broad smile and wave. And she would wait patiently until the end of every central committee meeting to make an announcement or offer a resolution. Patience is an underrated virtue and Lori taught many people its value. Sometimes people were worn out and ready to leave. But whatever Lori had to say, it was always important and almost always right.

I also served with Lori on the Housing and Community Development Commission, where she sat as an equal with the likes of Amy Correia and Matt Hayek. She struggled with the numbers, but to be fair we all did. And Lori always understood the guts, the essential nature, of the issues, the nature of the proposals, and spoke her piece and made her decisions. One of the things she most strongly supported on the commission was Shelter House, and that's the cause to which memorials should go. Even in death, that's just like Lori: thinking of those whose challenges were even greater than her own.

Lori had been less active in the party lately. I'm kicking myself today for all the times I thought: "Lori hasn't been to a meeting in a while. I hope she's OK." Today I'd give anything to be able to give her one more ride home, to have one more chance to celebrate an event or even just re-cap a meeting.

Lori Bears was a Democrat because she knew Democrats were the ones looking out for people like her. And that's the best way to honor her memory.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Asleep At The Switch

How the Democrats Lost Johnson County

The first thing to say, of course, is congratulations to John Etheredge. A win is a win. We've only chatted a couple times but we'll get to know each other better soon. I think John has a lot to learn. Anyone new to that job does, though Terry Dahms was as close to ready as anyone I've ever seen. But the people chose otherwise, and as a fellow public servant I'll do my small part to help John do the job.

My dad was a coach and he had a pat answer when asked the standard dumb sports reporter question: "are you going to win?" He'd say: "Well, if we play our best and they play their best, we'll win. But: if they play their best and we don't, they could win."

The Johnson County Republicans didn't quite play their best; Etheredge polled less votes than Lori Cardella did in her January 2010 special election loss. (Of course, he wasn't married to a spouse with deep pockets who owned his own call center either.)

But they played a far better game than the Johnson County Democrats who, frankly, were asleep at the switch. Terry Dahms barely won half the votes that Janelle Rettig did in the `10 race. Blame the weather? Maybe. But that doesn't explain the much lower early vote total. We saw that coming two weeks out. It doesn't explain Dahms' narrower early vote margin, which should have been 3 to 1 rather than 60-40.

The bigger turnout problem than weather was the sheer lack of interest in the election. Burned out from the school election fight last month, overshadowed by Linn County's gambling vote, looking ahead to the justice center vote in May -- which looks a lot iffier after yesterday  --  this election was orphaned, like a bad Iowa City primary with five candidates, the top four advancing, and one person who isn't campaigning at all.

We're coming off an election cycle where the Obama campaign showed up a year and a half out, recruited all the bodies, made all the calls, then left with their volunteer lists. Us locals stayed behind, complacent and out of shape and not able to get up to speed fast enough for a sprint-paced special.

We have a lot of Democratic voters focused on national and state issues who don't even know what a supervisor is, who don't get county government's critical role in human services and mental health and conservation, and aren't racing out to vote if the name Obama isn't on the ballot.

I think or at least hope that this means Tuesday's result won't be repeated next year. I can't think of anything that'll boost People's Republic turnout more than Steve King at the top of the Republican ticket, and bonus! a chance to vote against Terry Branstad. A Republican down-ballot candidate, even as an incumbent, will have a tough time fighting that tide.

But for now, Johnson County has a lot of lefties who will call their legislators about an amendment to a bill that won't even get out of the funnel, rather than calling their neighbors to get out and vote in a local election. We have a lot of ivory tower types who are above gauche townie things like a zoning fight, which is why Iowa City's council had been business conservative dominated all my 20+ years here.

There's also an ugly split in our community (other than the Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students split in the city). The Democratic Party, and specifically county government, has a serious rural problem. We saw it in the Rettig-Cardella special, and it was the centerpiece of the Etheredge campaign. (This at-large win makes a strong argument against the Republican's supervisor district plan, doesn't it?) I don't have the answer, it has to be more complex than just "tax bad," and as an urban lefty I'm the wrong person to try.

Sure, we had "party unity" after our contested convention, compared to the 90s when candidates who lost at convention bolted and ran as independents, one winning and one losing. But we spent more energy on that convention than we did on the campaign for the election itself.

And it delayed the launch; remember that Rettig was already up and running as a candidate for the 2010 primary when Larry Meyers died in September 2009. The signs were printed, the funds were raised. There was no excuse for a delay here, as this election and even this time frame had been expected for a year and a half.

I've lost an election, but I could look in the mirror and say "gee, I must suck" afterwards and brush it off. It hurts me more to see a friend lose. Terry Dahms took over our local party at our nadir, after a contentious two years and after a terrible 2010 defeat. Despite his personal loss, the strictly local structure, while still recovering from 2009-10, is in better shape. (Yes, even with our current disarray, it was worse.) Terry still has much to give to the county and the party.

This doesn't really have a conclusion, at least not yet. There's some key elections and some key votes between now and November 2014 before we know how this story turns out.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Hey We Have An Election Too

It seems the Johnson County Board of Supervisors are not as big a deal as a casino. Or at least supervisor candidates don't come to the table with million dollar campaigns.

It also seems this election isn't as big a deal as the one three years ago (keep that reference handy for making comparisons today). Early voting is down by about 800 voters, though the pace started to pick up roughly Friday. On the one hand, that 2010 election saw more publicity: a death, a long appointment process, the special election petition, and the grudge-match mood of the campaign itself.

But today has been coming for a year and a half. Sure, the GOP made a better than usual effort last year against Sally Stutsman, but she was an overwhelming favorite for the legislative seat from the day she announced. It was also clear that the mood of the committee of deciders was to go straight to an election.

Sure, there's a fatigue factor. The contentious school vote (and concurrent diversity policy fight) sucked a lot of oxygen out of the air, and I'm already hearing "when can we vote on the justice center" questions. (And no, there was no way to combine things.)

And no, I don't hate to say I told ya so. Elections don't get snow days. As I write the Iowa City schools are on a two hour delay. That could still turn to a close... but the polls stay open no matter what.

Anyway, you know the drill. Election day info is here, the number crunching will be late.

January 2, 2016 caucuses?

The most important Iowa political story you haven't heard yet:
A bill (has) been introduced in the Nevada legislature to create a new presidential primary in the Silver state and to hold it concurrently with the statewide primaries for state and local offices in January.
As we all know from that 70s smash iit "I'm Just A Bill Yes I'm Only A Bill", has been introduced does not equal is a law. But read on:
The bill would position the new presidential primary (and concurrent primaries for other state offices) on the Tuesday before the last Tuesday in January.

The Tuesday before the last Tuesday in January 2016 is January 19 (the date as it turns out of the 2008 Nevada caucuses). That provides Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with a very small window of time in which to hold their respective contests.

South Carolina could hold its primary on Saturday, January 16. New Hampshire could, in turn, conduct a Tuesday, January 5 primary, leaving Iowa with very little room in which to have its caucuses. Realistically, a Saturday, January 2 caucus would be the only workable, post-New Years date left...
I can't even begin to go into the all kinds of bad that this is. Holiday weekend, schools locked up, the always contentious Jewish Sabbath issue, and of course insanely freaking early. Not to mention Iowa's playing with a very weak hand. The Iowa Republicans invented completely new ways to do things wrong in 2012, and the Democratic frontrunner has made no secret of her loathing of the caucus process.

There's a loooong way, and a huge off year, to go before we get to the inevitable date leapfrogging in the fall of 2015. But Iowans of both parties need to keep an eye on this, even this far out.

Friday, March 01, 2013

From Beyond The Grave!

Zombie Item 1: It appears that Ronald Reagan has endorsed the Linn County casino. No, not the Onion. "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you I've signed legislation that will outlaw flooding forever. We begin betting in five minutes."

Zombie Item 2: Iowa City's Gaslight Village apartments have long been known as a haven for writers; the Deeth Blog hit its stride when I lived there from 2003 to `07. The locals still brag that Kurt Vonnegut lived there in the 60s while at the Iowa Writer's Workshop.

But recently published Vonnegut letters indicate the love was not mutual:
But you should see the apartment I have. I don’t recommend that you see it. I opened the door for the first time, and I though, ‘My God, Otis Burger has been here before me!;’ It has a vileness, a George Price uninhabitability that no amateur could achieve. I must sleep in the very first hide-a-bed ever created, which was created from the rusty wreckage of the first Stutz Bearcat. Jesus, it is ever a cruel and ugly old bed! I have a bath with a stall shower, a full kitchen, less ice-cube trays, no curtains or windowshades, and this livingroom-bedroom with the hide-a-bed. You wonder what creates beatniks? Landlords! ‘Live like a pig for $80.00 a month,’ say my surroundings. Very well. Very well.
Captures the charm of the place quite well.