Monday, April 29, 2013

In Absence Of Leverage, Be Pragmatic

It's been a long time since I understood what "progressive" meant in the context of local politics. In the 1990s there seemed to be a rock-solid coalition of ideological lefties, environmentalists, labor and students. But about a decade ago the broadly defined left of center started splintering in different directions along different fault lines over any number of local issues.

Public power split lefties from labor. 21 bar split public health do-gooders and an aging left from young people. Newport Road split different wings of environmentalist. The 2012 primary had that split plus personal and loyalty questions, and again saw an age split. And with each election, combined with the instant rant reality of social media, the interpersonal meanness factor seemed to grow. At least a few lifelong friendships ended, and if you know where to look you can see those subtexts.

Now and probably most of all, the justice center election, with its coalitions of broad center vs. left and right wings, has split progressives. It's a classic realist vs. idealist dilemma.

In her council days in the 1990s Karen Kubby was considered the gold standard of progressivism. Thus her No endorsement Saturday still carries some weight. But in it, she concedes major point to the Yes supporters:
I support those incarcerated having greater physical access to their families, attorneys and a variety of services that the jail provides and could provide in the future. I support having more courtrooms so that those in jail while awaiting trial will have quicker access to the justice system. I support a safer environment for prisoners, courthouse staff, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, students and the general public.

At a hearing of an anti-abortion protester who wanted the state to execute me as a murderer, I had to share a table with him because there was not a larger courtroom available. Through this experience, I acquired a visceral understanding of the need for larger courtrooms and enhanced security in our courthouse.
So why the No? Kubby explictly admits in the comments it's a protest vote.
I am suggesting a strategic political move that will force our community to confront a difficult set of issues that are systemic and personal... the Justice Center is the chit to bring about the next layer of this conversation. What push/pressure for change on these issues do we have if not the Justice Center?
I understand this view very well -- because it was my view for many years until I concluded that the need outweigh the leverage. And my personal respect for Karen transcends disagreement on one issue.

I'd like to see the county push back harder, too. But as we've seen with multiple fights on multiple issues (SEATS, TIFs, etc) the City Council doesn't care what county officials have to say.

And the city frankly doesn't care if the justice center passes or not. Some council members have lent their names, but it's people associated with the county and the bar that are doing the heavy lifting for Yes.

The city council care about what the typical Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students city election voter thinks, and those folks are more or less content with the ICPD and its current tactics. Thus the most effective way to change CITY police behavior is to change the people in CITY office by changing the shape of the city council electorate, rather than throwing a protest vote at the COUNTY which is stuck cleaning up the city's -- and, don't forget,  University's -- mess.

As I see it, in the absence of leverage on these other issues, the decision needs to be made on the pragmatics that Kubby spells out well. Meanwhile, the city council elections are only about six months away, and the challengers haven't showed their faces yet.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Clip Dump

Wrote a whole long well-reasoned post late last night that I decided not to use. So since it's a journo-political tradition to dump crap late on a Friday when no one will notice, especially since blogs are dead, here's some stuff I read this week.If you follow me on Twitter save your time.


At the Bush Library opening: six presidents in one picture. Bret Hayworth asked me Michelle or Hillary; all I know is if Barbara has any say it's not her or Laura.

Craig Robinson handicapped the GOP senate field yesterday - after the Joni Ernst boomlet started but before went up. (Not listed: Jim Leach, whose resignation from teh National Endowment for the Humanities started one rumor just for fun.) Steve King is still ranked first in the field, but with just a 15% chance of actually running, his will he or won't he decision drama is starting to rival the final seasons of Brett Favre. King's latest non-statement (“very close (sic)… within weeks”) indicates he may drag this out as Bruce Braley continues his head start.

We've all pretty much decided King's not running and will keep his immigrant bashing career going on the House side. Speaking of: "Marco Rubio's getting his ass kicked" on right-wing radio over immigration:
National syndicated host Lars Larson questioned whether Rubio would be proposing “amnesty” for the 11 million people in the country illegally if his name was Mark Roberts and not Marco Rubio. Nationally syndicated host Mike Siegal of Genesis Communications asked how Rubio’s promises to secure the border this time are different from then-President Ronald Reagan’s promises in 1986 when he signed an immigration bill that failed to stem a wave of illegal immigration. Michael Brown of KHOW-AM in Denver, Colorado told Rubio that amnesty should not come before securing the border.
This isn't about "rule of law," even though that's the sanitized conservative reason. This is about visceral hostility to a multi-cultural, multi-lingual America. Like I keep saying: the talk radio base wants nothing short of mass deportation, and it's just a matter of time till someone, either a shock jock or a guy with a safe red House district, says so. King's as good a bet as any.

Tweet of the Week:
That's um, not something we're going to check, and not something we've had checked since about junior high gym class. Like your ballot, it's secret. And we looked but couldn't find anywhere in the Code of Iowa where it's required. The legal Code of Iowa,not the dress code.

Oops: More than five months after the Nov. 6 election, 65 uncounted ballots were found last week inside a vault, Chief Elections Officer Mark Church announced Thursday.

Although there weren't nearly enough ballots to swing even the closest of contests, Church promised to investigate why they were misplaced and that it won't happen again.

Elections Manager David Tom said the county has not "conclusively" determined who put the ballots into the covered bin, but suspects it was a temporary worker or workers. 
Occam's razor: human error, a simpler explanation than malice.

Speaking of razors: the best political facial hair since the Arthur Administration is back, and which of your household expenses is excessive?

No one happier than SNL's Kenan Thompson. Little know factoid: Rutherford Hayes was in an early lineup of ZZ Top.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Safety and Security Not Hypothetical

I picked the right time to go to lunch yesterday. While I was out, a very scared man ran into the lobby and yelled "there's a man with a gun in the parking lot!" KCJJ:
Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputies have arrested a man they say pulled a gun during an altercation near the Johnson County Administration Building.

According to arrest records, a passerby observed 24-year-old Anthony David Kendricks grabbing a female by the neck just before 1:30pm Wednesday in the Administration Building parking lot. The man tried to stop the assault when Kendricks allegedly pulled out a gun. The victim later told investigators he was “scared to death” that Kendricks would use the weapon, so he walked away and told Kendricks, “You win”.

A short time later Iowa City Police and sheriff’s deputies found Kendricks and the woman he had grabbed walking together near the corner of Clinton and Washington Streets.

Kendricks was arrested and charged with Intimidation with a Dangerous Weapon. If convicted he faces a maximum of five years in prison.
Needless to say, this was the main topic of conversation around the office yesterday afternoon. (As a frequent ICPD critic I should add that the officers I saw yesterday seemed very professional, and thanks to them and the Sheriff's department for taking care of things.)

I know I'm going to get trashed for bringing this back to the justice center election. Feel free to argue about numbers of beds and larger justice system issues, and this was of course at a different building.

But: don't belittle the concept of safety and security. That's a very real concern. I've seen lots of angry citizens over the years, over the relatively small issues of a set of license plates or an unexpected voting glitch or a pile of paperwork, in addition to a couple of people with very obvious mental health issues.

Now: move that to the courthouse and multiply that exponentially to REALLY big issues like losing your kids, or going to prison. That's dangerous -- not just for us public employee union goons but for any member of the public who happens to be looking for a record or reporting for jury duty.

That said, I'm going to work. Come on down and I'll get you a ballot.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Worst Trial Balloon Ever

Where have I seen this picture before?

Well, that Kim Reynolds for Senate bandwagon sure threw an axle fast, leaving me, Craig Robinson and Golden Gnome looking silly. (UPDATE: The Gnome says it's all part of the Masterplan.) So maybe I can do the same magic for this campaign. Dorman:
There’s a website up seeking to draft former state Sen. Swati Dandekar, D-Marion, as a candidate for Congress in the 1st District. She’s currently a member of the Iowa Utilities Board, a good-paying gig that I’m skeptical she’d drop to run.

Dandekar left the state Senate to take that post, opening the door for Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Robins, to win the seat representing much of Marion. Mathis announced a few weeks ago that she’s not running for Congress. Quite a few Democrats are looking for a woman to run for the 1st District seat, opened up by Rep. Bruce Braley’s decision to run for the U.S. Senate. Iowa has never elected a woman to Congress.
The flames in the photo above are just a Zippo lighter compared to the bridges Dandekar burned when she put Democratic Senate control at risk to take a sweet paying gig for herself. Democrats held the seat, thanks to recruiting an unbeatable candidate (who unfortunately passed on the congressional race). 

But it's waaaay too soon for Dandekar to be thinking bygones are bygones. Combine her graceless exit with her too-conservative record, and I might be forced to say nice things about Pat Murphy. I hate the Iowa-Mississippi club, but I hate Blue Dogs worse. Please, REAL Democratic women of CD 1, don't let me sink to that.

Of course, that assumes she'd be running AS a Democrat. Site doesn't say which party...

Speaking of Blue Dogs, the Iowa Democratic Party is giving Leonard Boswell a gold watch:
Make sure to mark your calendars for the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Ceremony on Saturday, June 8th at the Meadows Conference Center in Altoona, with Special Guest Sen. Tom Harkin. Tickets for the event will be available online soon.
This year, we will be honoring eight individuals who exemplify what it means to be a Democrat.  We had a lot of folks to choose from, and we thank everyone who submitted nomination:
The 2012 Hall of Fame Award Winners are:
Outstanding Elected Official Hall of Fame Award: Congressman Leonard Boswell 
Criteria: This award is presented to an elected official whose tremendous support and dedication influenced both the State of Iowa and the Democratic Party. The nominees for this award may be selected from all levels of government including elected officials of the United States or State of Iowa, and county elected officials.
So brag about being a "Blue Dog Conservative Democrat," vote for W's war, chronically underperform the ticket, stay past your sell by date, and ultimately cost us the seat, and get a big award. Busy that night.

Meanwhile, the famIly leader asks, re: Dennis Guth's speech, "Are These Remarks Ignorant?" Yes. Yes they are.

Reynolds Rap: GOP Talking Up Lieutenant Governor

UPDATE: Never mind.

I've been having fun for some time scaring my lefty friends here in the People's Republic of Johnson County with the notion of Steve King running for US Senate.

But if you slip a few drops of Veritaserum in my morning pumpkin juice and I'll admit what desmoinesdem has been saying all along: not happening. King may be crazy but he ain't stupid. The Dems threw everything they had at him last year and still came up short. He can settle into the House for as long as he wants, defeating Some Dude level opposition every couple years. Or he can risk it all in a tough Senate race.

State Republicans seem to be reaching that conclusion, too, and by the standards of a US Senate race it's getting very late in the game. A couple posts in the last couple days have turned the focus to Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Craig Robinson leads today with that factoid I keep bringing up: the Iowa-Mississippi He Man Woman Haters Club. It'd drive Iowa Democrats insane if we finally break out of that club with a Republican, but since the Liz Mathis and Staci Appel dropouts I don't see any serious efforts on our team.

Under, The Golden Gnome also sees a Reynolds candidacy, and anticipates a primary with Secretary of State Matt Schultz: "Schultz and Reynolds will no doubt be in a race to announce sooner than the other to add pressure on whoever is slow to pull the trigger. Neither is likely to poke Steve King in the eye by announcing prior to his inevitable decision to not run himself." The post has lots of juicy gossip and factional factoids as well.

One advantage Reynolds would have over Schultz is a backup plan. Almost all of the statewide office holders are on the same June 2014 primary ballot as the Senate race. If Schultz runs for Senate, he gives up his current job.

The lone exception is lieutenant governor. That job is nominated AFTER the primary at the state party convention. Traditionally, that means the gubernatorial nominee makes the pick. So Reynolds could run and lose, yet Branstad could keep her in the job, assuming he can get her through a Bob Vander Plaats-Rand Paul dominated convention like he did in 2010.

Of course, if Reynolds would win a Senate primary, then it would be up and out. And tangent: has there ever been less surprising news than the Harkin Endorses Braley event on Saturday?

Terry Branstad and Matt Schultz have never really been that close. The governor at best has given lip service to Schultz's signature issue, voter ID. Branstad knocked his socks off for attorney general challenger Brenna Findley in 2010, but barely lifted a finger for Schultz and even hired the man Schultz beat, Mike Mauro.

Meanwhile, he's given Reynolds a very high profile for a lieutenant governor, with constant joint appearances. So it seems likely that given a Schultz-Reynolds primary, he's at least tacitly, maybe even explicitly, support Reynolds. And even in a polarized party, the governor's help counts for something.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Backyard Neighbors Like To Party All Night

One thing about living in Iowa City: your neighbors are always moving and you always get new ones. And my latest neighbors like to stay up and party all night.

The Smallest Farm in Iowa -- my middle of town back yard -- is the scene for some serious Owl Love this spring. The two barred owls are giving each other dead things, which means it must be serious.

I've had owls in the backyard the last couple years but this is the first time I've gotten close enough to get really good pictures.

Here's hoping the owl babies stay close by and eat the rabbit babies who will otherwise eat the way behind schedule Smallest Farm. Whatever seeds I put in the ground two weeks ago are either flooded away or frozen -- were those snow flurries I say yesterday? The stuff I've started inside is doing well, too well, in fact, likely to be rootbound in their pots before they get in the ground, at this rate.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lessons from a crazy week

There had been too much news this week, much of it bad, showing how events are so often far beyond what one person or one community can do.

I'm not just talking about the attack in Boston or the plant explosion in Texas. Some of the week's lesser stories, normally blaring headlines but now at least partially buried, show all too clearly how the rest of the nation, even the rest of the state, are so unlike our little island of liberalism on the prairie.

State Senator Dennis Guth not only didn't apologize for Wednesday's homophobic rant -- he doubled down on his archaic rhetoric:
The question is asked: how does a same-sex relationship hurt you? The implication within this question is that one worries he will be hurt physically or emotionally. Of course that won’t happen literally, so one is left to feel foolish and shameful. This is not honest communication. Rather, it is a way of jamming the mental circuits so that we do not think of the consequences of a lifestyle that is outside the committed bonds of a one-man, one-woman marriage.”
There wasn't even a debate going on over marriage equality or bullying -- Guth just wanted to stand up and get this off his chest. This guy won two competitive elections, against a former Republican state senator and a solid credible Democratic candidate.

This, friends, is what our for the most part progressive local legislative delegation is up against every week of the legislative session. Not all of them are as foolish as Guth. But a lot of them are almost as bad and are just enough smarter to keep their mouth shut.

So you want our officials to "do something" about drug law or mandatory sentencing or mental health funding or poverty or racism, before you're willing to give those officials more resources to work with. It's people like Dennis Guth, and the people who vote for people like Dennis, that they have to persuade, or more likely outvote. And in the meantime they have to do the best job they can in the framework they have.

On the national level we face the same challenge on guns, the classic issue where a motivated minority can out-muscle an overwhelming majority. Politico articulated a theory that I had half-formed:
One administration official told POLITICO the White House was especially disappointed with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D), the only dissenting Democrat not up for re-election next year, who refused to go along with the bill even after White House chief of staff Denis McDonough visited her office to make Obama’s case on Tuesday.

Moderates and conservatives in the upper chamber said they simply couldn’t deal with a flurry of progressive issues at once — from gay marriage to immigration to guns.

The other three Democratic “no” votes — Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska — were never really in play, sources familiar with the situation told POLITICO.

One senator told a White House official that it was “Guns, gays and immigration - it’s too much. I can be with you on one or two of them, but not all three.””
So progress on some fronts but stasis on guns. Heitkamp, who just flipped on marriage, sounds a lot like that "One senator told a White House official."

I think for Democrats that calculus is wrong. For Republicans, especially in the house, the self-preservation instinct may be the right one. It's not the NRA itself that's the problem -- it's the whole dynamic of NRA/Club For Growth/Tea Party that's dominated Republican primaries the past three cycles. No one wants to be the next Dick Lugar or Bob Bennett or Mike Castle.

Thus, we get a public policy debate aimed at a Republican primary electorate, which is why an assault weapons ban was never, pardon the pun, a live round, and why even background checks failed.

Guns are also part of what to me is the most disturbing story of the week:
Former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams was charged Thursday with capital murder in what authorities have described as a revenge plot to kill the Kaufman County district attorney, his wife and a top assistant.

Authorities say Williams, 46, gunned down Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse as he walked to the courthouse on Jan. 31, and killed District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, in their home over the Easter weekend.
A disgruntled former elected official, removed from office, murders the attorneys who prosecuted him for stealing office property.

"Safety" is one of the bullet-points for us justice center supporters. And while these incidents didn't happen IN a courthouse, they underscore the risks. Prosecutors put bad people  in jail. Eventually some of them get out. Some of those people are still mad.

Extrapolate that to custody and child support fights, stalkers or abusive spouses seeking revenge, or contentious civil cases. Expand that circle of risk outward to the jurors and the victims and the witnesses and even to the accused, and throw in a good chunk of the population with the attitude that a gun is your absolute right no matter how crazy you are.

No, "safety" isn't just some buzzword.

So this week has taught us a lot about our limits and our legitimate fears. Stuff to think about when you're voting.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Keep It Classy, Dennis

The competition for the Iowa Legislature's craziest Republican is always tough, but today I think we have a winner winner chicken dinner:

A Republican senator Iowa today asserted homosexuality hurts him and his family in “multiple ways”– prompting an openly gay senator to call the statements “ignorant.”

Senator Dennis Guth of Klemme gave a speech in the Iowa Senate to air his concerns about homosexuality.

“The media, for the most part, has bamboozled us into thinking that having a relationship outside of the boundaries of monogamous, heterosexual marriage is positive, happy and fulfilling,” Guth said. “Movies, television shows, articles and magazines abound with this theme, giving partial information to vulnerable audience: our children.”

Guth said there are “numerous” health and mental problems associated with homosexuality that “ultimately” shorten the lives of gays and lesbians.

Almost makes me miss Kim Pearson and Dave Hartsuch.

It seems Dennis can no longer sit back and allow Homosexual infiltration, Homosexual indoctrination, Homosexual subversion and the international Homosexual conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

Guth's been rhetorically excessive from the get-go.  Announcing his candidacy for a new open seat two years ago he said he was "against mental heath." Now we can see why. No one took him all that seriously, as everyone figured the seat would go to Stu Iverson. But Iverson didn't run and Guth upset former senator Jim "Back In" Black in the primary (in a GOP primary, always bet on crazy), then beat a credible Democrat easily in the general.

Needless to say, Matt McCoy was not amused, and neither was the Iowa Democratic Party:

“As a legislator and Iowan I am disgusted by Senator Guth's comments.  They are offensive and inaccurate and have no place in the legislature or our state. Unfortunately far too many Republican leaders feel this way and perpetuate these sorts of lies that only serve to discriminate against our gay brothers and sisters.  The Iowa Democratic Party remains committed to full equality for LGBT Iowans. I hope Governor Branstad and other Republican leaders join us as we stand up to the ignorance of individuals like Sen. Guth.”
At least this gets Kent Sorenson and Steve King off the hook for the moment... but Mark Sanford has bigger problems.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Stop on Red Light - for now

Iowa City's red light camera vote is stalled for now. For NOW. Gregg Hennigan: 
The City Clerk’s Office said not enough eligible people signed a petition that would force the City Council to either adopt an ordinance outlawing red-light and speed cameras and drones or to send the matter to voters to decide. 

The petition needed to be signed by at least 2,500 registered Iowa City voters. Organizers submitted 3,322 signatures April 1, but City Clerk Marian Karr said Monday that only 2,106 were valid... 

“We think we can make up the difference easily,” said Aleksey Gurtovoy of Iowa City.
Iowa City's petition process is unique. All other petitions - to run for office, get a satellite site, demand a recount - require the signer to be an "eligible" elector. That means 18+, citizen, non-felon, resident of appropriate area. Obvious bad signatures like ones with Schaumburg addresses get crossed off, but otherwise a challenge to the petition needs to come from an opponent or other concerned citizen.

But the city home rule charter requires signers under the initiative/referendum process to be "qualified" electors. With election day voter registration in Iowa, it would seem that 18+ means 18+, citizen, non-felon, resident of appropriate area would be enough. But city staff interprets "qualified" as strictly as possible: already registered at current address. And city staff, at taxpayer cost, checks every. single. signature.

And using this strict interpretation city staff tossed roughly 1/3 of the signatures, gathered by a hard working well organized campaign, just months after everyone updated their registration address for a record turnout presidential election. Seems... kinda... a lot.
Petitioners have two days after receiving a mailed certificate of insufficiency from the city to declare their intent to get more signatures, and then they would have 15 more days to try to get enough people to sign the petition.
So step one: the petitioners have to get the 394 signatures that they're, in the city's opinion, short. Given their failure rate, that means more like 600 people who haven't signed before. And someone who signed may not know if their signature counted or not. So given that, set the bar X amount higher.

What then? It all may be in vain:
The petition organizers, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said they were seeking an initiative by proposing a measure for the City Council to consider. But City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes has characterized it as a referendum that asks the council to reconsider an existing law. A referendum petition must be filed within 60 days of the adoption of the measure in question or not until two years after adoption. The current petition would fall between those periods and not be timely.

Dilkes has said she would re-examine the matter with a successful petition. She said Monday that if a petition is deemed sufficient, she would provide a formal opinion to the council.
In other words: Go get your signatures, and THEN we'll tell you whether you wasted your time or not.

This isn't just one of those hypotheticals that lawyers don't like to answer; it's a live question. So why not just answer?

I'm just a clerk, not a lawyer like Eleanor, but I'm smart enough to spot a bad attitude. In my experience, city staff are more or less openly hostile to petitions. How dare you question Council, they seem to be thinking. And that's even more true when petitions are seen as coming from "students" or other undesirables. Rather than playing a strictly administrative role, Karr seems almost to have more of a decision-making authority, one more appropriately played by elected policy makers rather than hired staff.

Of course, part of that is the manager-driven style of government we get in a city with a part time council and no elected mayor. And, as I often mention, with no student elected since 1979 and no a middle aged energy executive taking a class doesn't count.

Both these issues - the initiative vs. referendum and especially the "qualified"/"eligible" question - smell like lawsuits waiting to happen. The latter in particular is a fight I've wanted someone to fight since the day election day registration took effect. To be honest, I care more about that than I do about the red light cameras themselves, on which I'm still fairly agnostic, and I'm wrestling with a lot of the same people over the justice center.

But I signed -- at least I think I did. Maybe Marian crossed my name off. Maybe tomorrow morning I'll call the city clerk's office at 356-5043, that's 356-5043, to verify that my signature was counted. Maybe everyone who thinks they signed should. If they have time to cross-check 3300 names and cross off 1200 of them, they certainly should have time to check yours.

Yeah, I got an attitude too. Least I admit it.

Meantime, the city charter is up for review next year. I'm planning to apply for a seat on the charter review commission and I think I'm spectacularly qualified. Any bets on my chances?

Murphy bandwagon missing some wheels

Pat Murphy tried to roll out a bandwagon this morning, but it seems to be missing a couple wheels.

The Dubuque legislator and former House speaker remains the lone declared Democratic candidate in the 1st CD, which Bruce Braley is vacating for his US Senate run. Some activists - like me - are grumbling that they'd like to see other candidates, especially a strong female candidate, in the race.

Murphy tried to head that off today by releasing a 167 name endorsement list. It's a strategy Braley's been using with his Senate race, with countless releases about organizational backing and an en masse endorsement by 71 of the 73 Democratic legislators (Murphy and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy were the two holdouts.)

The release landed in my spam folder, which may or may not be a bad omen. The most prominen name on the list is former congressman Dave Nagle, and it's sprinkled with former legislators and candidates. 

But it's a bit short on Murphy's current colleagues, with only three listed: Roger Thomas, Bruce Bearinger and Mark Smith. Only one current Senator, Brian Schoenjahn. No one from the core Black Hawk, Dubuque or Linn delegations. The old friends seem to be on board, but a lot of legislators are keeping their powder dry, waiting to see who else looks at the race. The latest name in the rumor mill is Senator Jeff Danielson, but I'd still like to see a woman in the race.

Which makes this as good a time as any to close the poll I ran a week ago Sunday:

True, Pat's Good Enough is in first, but way below the 35% convention threshold. Three women were in a tier above the others, one from each of the district's three largest counties: Senator Pam Jochum of Dubuque (who's said no) and Representatives Kirsten Running-Marquardt of Cedar Rapids and Anesa Kajtazovic of Waterloo.

But my efforts don't seem to be accomplishing much except perhaps to alienate the guy who at this point, with no other Dems and just third tier Republicans in the race, looks like the next congressman. Or maybe I'm flattering myself to think what I say even matters to Murphy. Don't care. I plan to keep banging this drum till someone steps up or till filing deadline next March.

As for the man who's leaving the seat, Braley appears to have cleared the field -- BOTH the Democratic and Republican field. Sure, Ed Fallon grumbled today about wanting "real primaries," but that train is way out of the station.

Meanwhile, Republican player Doug Gross argued on Iowa Press this past weekend that none of the first-tier contenders - Congressman Steve King, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds or Secretary of AG Bill Northey - will get into the race. And the rumor mill is telling me that current recruiting efforts have sunk all the down to the Area Businessman level. Next stop: Christopher Reed? Even the weakest possible GOP candidate starts out in the low 40s in this race.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Old Punks "Salute" (?) Maggie

A life as an electoral politics party hack is hardly very punk rock of me. But as longtime readers know, the first-wave British punk bands were a big part of my formative political experience.

The Clash/Sex Pistols era faced political choices of bad - the decaying shell of old Labour - and worse - the privatization fetish of Thatcherism. Maggie didn't actually take power until after the Sex Pistols went supernova, but her shadow was already looming large over the landscape, one of the few things the punks and the old guard classic rockers agreed on.

Last night, longtime Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen offered his own punk take on Thatcher's demise.

The joke, of course, is that "Ian Rubbish" - a thinly disguised Johnny Rotten even though the vocals sound more like Joe Strummer - is anti-authoritarian on everything but adores Thatcher. You'll have to watch the clip to the end to get the punchline - which takes the sting out of the satirical lyrics ("when I'm with you I feel alive/when it's over we'll privatize") as does the tribute card.

But to REALLY appreciate the sketch you have to love punk rock as much as I do and as much as Fred Armisen clearly does.

First off, that really is ex-Pistol Steve Jones, which had to be a thrill for Fred. Sid Vicious couldn't play for shit, but Jones re-invented rock guitar on Never Mind The Bollocks. And the Bill Grundy interview segment is a dead-on replication of the actual infamous Grundy interview where Jones - NOT, Rotten, NOT Vicious who wasn't even in the band yet - dropped a pair of F-bombs on live TV. "THE FILTH AND THE FURY," screamed the tabloids, giving title to the band's posthumous documentary.

Armisen, who at 46 is pretty old for an SNL cast member but just the right age to have been exposed to early 80s hardcore and explored back from there like I did, had shown his punk side a few times before. In 2010 he played dead-on Kennedys in a wedding band (which included Dave Grohl!), and his drag impressions of a cockney Queen Elizabeth have ended with brief snatches of punk and Two-Tone ska.

And it wasn't for nothing that for years the opening credits showed him flipping through used records - in the Sex Pistols section.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Visceral opposition, rational support

A Deeth re-endorsement

As the justice center election heats up, I'm struck by the visceral nature of the opposition. We have cutlery jokes, statistical distortions--I've even heard the proposal called "a crime against humanity."

I share the gut-level frustration at bad city policing policy, accepted by an indifferent city council, and state and federal drug laws that lag behind public opinion. I look forward to working with opponents at the right time and in the right elections.

For a long time these concerns had me opposing the justice center. But after years of meetings and efforts I decided to think with my head instead.

It's the county that provides the most direct services in substance abuse and mental health, and the current sheriff and county attorney have taken the best steps possible within the existing laws and space.

But in-house treatment and batterer's classes can't be expanded without space, and can't be offered to the prisoners who are shipped out. Trial dates can't be moved up without more space, and the historic building can't add those rooms. Only a co-located jail with new courtrooms and meeting space can add the efficiences that will make justice move more swiftly.

The justice system discussion needs to continue in this year's city election and in next year's state and federal contests. But this time, the real-world benefits to the accused and yes, even the guilty, make Yes the humane, rational vote.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

So Much Stupid

There's enough stupid in the Mitch McConnell "bugging" story to fill several scandals.
Jacob Conway, who sits on the executive committee of the Jefferson County, Ky. Democratic Party, told the public radio station WFPL that Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison of Progress Kentucky bragged to him about recording the meeting, which was held Feb. 2 at a newly opened McConnell campaign office in Louisville, Ky. In one of the recordings, which were obtained by Mother Jones, an aide to McConnell can be heard discussing Ashley Judd's history with depression and how it might be exploited in next year's campaign.
Let's break that down:

Stupid 1: Never tell anyone outside the Family what you're thinking again.

"Progress Kentucky bragged to him about recording the meeting… "

I get the idea that Progress Kentucky, the same outfit that got in trouble for bashing McConnell's wife's ethnicity (when they could have just left it at bashing her record as W's Labor secretary), has a relationship to the Kentucky Democrats not all that different from the often strained relationship between Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (sic) and the Iowa Democratic Party.

After the backlash from this one they still assumed the Democratic Party folks, the same ones who shoved "too liberal" Ashley Judd out of the way, were automatic off the record buddies? Exactly wrong:
"The only reason that I came forward with what I knew was I was trying to protect the Democratic Party," Conway said. "I believe in our party's values, and I was doing what I thought was best for the party because I did not want their bad behavior, their poor mistakes — I shouldn't say "bad behavior" — their mistakes, their lack of judgment to hurt our party's efforts here in the state Kentucky and in Jefferson County, here in Louisville."
Stupid 2: On Feb. 2, McConnell opened his campaign headquarters in the Watterson Office Park in Louisville and invited trusted GOP activists and select media outlets to an open house. The event lasted roughly two hours. Afterward, McConnell and several campaign advisors held a strategy session in an office meeting room.

Play the victim all you want, Mitch. But you had the Top Secret Strategery Meeting at the public HQ right after the freakin' Open House when all sorts of excess people including the moles were still milling around just outside the door? Never tell anyone outside the Family what you're thinking again.

No. That's the meeting you have in the Inner Inner Inner Sanctum, or at Mitch's hunting lodge out in the woods a mile from the nearest neighbor. I don't know that he has one, but if not he should have bought one just to have this meeting.

Almost, but not quite, as stupid as bragging to the donors about 47% of the voters wanting free goodies while forgetting that the bartender who you didn't even thank for the drink was still in the room.

Stupid 3: And this is the stupidest of all.

40 years after Tom Eagleton, we're STILL ready to bash people for seeking mental health care? The ONLY person who comes out of this whole thing looking good is Ashley Judd.

The focus is all going to be on the cloak and dagger tactics. But even though it was gained through at best dubious means, the content of the meeting should really be the focus.

Branstad the Champ - or IS he?

This is sure to get media play all over Iowa today: the University of Minnesota's Smart Politics declares Terry Branstad the Longest. Serving. Governor. Ever.

But scroll down to the fine print:

Excludes pre-U.S. Constitutional gubernatorial service as well as gubernatorial service in U.S. territories.

Ohh. That's like not counting Cy Young's 19th century pitching wins. Changes things a bit. Turns out the champ is Clinton.

No, not that one. George Clinton.

Unfortunately, not THAT George Clinton. THIS George Clinton:
July 9 1777, New York elects Brigadier General George Clinton as the first governor of the independent state of New York. Clinton would go on to become New York's longest-serving governor, as well as the longest-serving governor in the United States, holding the post until 1795, and again from 1801 to 1804. In 1805, he was elected vice president of the United States, a position he held under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, until his death in 1812.
There's some speculation that Branstad wants to seek re-election in part to top this record, but I suggest that he accept the math of Smart Politics and retire as Modern Era Champ, and go partyin' on the Mothership. Bow wow wow yippy yo yippy yay.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Maps of Messages and Money

The most popular post in the decade of the Deeth Blog remains my 2005 political look at television markets. It's not about my brilliant prescience of predicting that Omaha electoral vote going Democratic in 2008 - people just want the map.

In any case I'm fascinated by maps that cross state lines and illustrate patters that help me make political sense of things. Or find things that don't make sense.

This map illustrates baseball preferences. You can clearly see the Cards/Cubs line that divides Illinois in baseball and to some extent in politics. Missouri, too, splits, east-west. and My native western Wisconsin is interesting with a significant chunk of Twins territory on the western border. In the corresponding pro football map, Wisconsin is Packer Green all the way to the Mississippi, and north into Da U P of michigan, which cheers for the Tigers in the summer but the Pack in the fall.

Iowa's just a mess except in the college football map. Cyclone Territory corresponds roughly with the post-split 515 area code, and the deaded Cornhuskers control the southwest. Oddly, the arch-conservative northwest corner cheers for the team from the People's Republic.

This map tracks the movement of dollar bills from, which you see on money about as much as you see this:

The thicker lines indicate lines less often crossed. Iowa's lines seem to go east-west pairing us with Nebraska. Wisconsin shows that same east-west divide, and the Cubs-Cards line is again in clear relief. Also as in sports, Chicagoland reaches into Indiana and Michigan.

West Virginia-West Pennsylvania emerges ad a common community (which explains a lot cultural-politically). And Idaho may as well be two states or no states; the south looks to Utah while the panhandle pairs with eastern Washington and Oregon. Panhandle Florida = South Alabama, while southeast Georgia looks away from Atlanta. Texas is distinct (with El Paso an anomaly just as it is with its time zone) with no ties to Okahoma.

This map of cell phone call data repeats a few patters but shows that in some places our calls behave differently than our money. The Cards-Cubs line is here again, also the Idaho split, and as with all things non-Packer western Wisconsin looks to Minnesota.

Texas remains a cohesive unit, with the exception of El Paso, and again with the split from Oklahoma-Arkansas. But the horizontal border states are interesting: a solid phone universe, but split on dollar bills. (Also note that NW Mississippi is fully in the metro Memphis orbit.) And California is sharply split.

None of these patterns holds the key to the political universe, unless you can see it hiding here somewhere.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Caucus Date? News To Us

Iowa Republicans have announced a 2014 caucus date -- to the surprise of Iowa Democrats.

The Republican State Central Committee met Saturday and chose Saturday, January 25 as the 2014 date. Party chair A.J. Spiker followed up with a Monday evening announcement.

"I was surprised to have seen they set it," Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Troy Price said. "We had been talking with them about getting together to set a date that would work for both the RPI and the IDP, but apparently they decided to set a date before we had a chance to meet."

In late 2011, Democrat Sue Dvorsky and Republican Matt Strawn, the then-party chairs, worked closely together to keep the two parties both first and on the same date and time. The key difference this time, I'd guess, is less about the transition from the Dvorsky Administration to the Tyler Olson Administration, and more about the switch from Strawn to Spiker.

Staying first isn't as critical in a non-presidential year, though both parties stuck with January dates in 2002, 2006 and 2010 just to be on the safe side.

The parties chose weekday evenings in 2002 and 2006, but went with a Saturday afternoon in 2010. In part that was to address criticism of the traditional weekday night schedule from Hillary Clinton supporters in 2008. The Saturday daytime schedule drew some criticism from the Jewish community, but just anecdotally I heard more complaints on the two occasions the caucuses were scheduled on the Martin Luther King holiday. No way to keep everyone happy, I guess.

Historically the non-presidential caucuses have been low key events attended by just the most faithful of the faithful, the precinct captains and platform geeks. There was a little excitement on the Democratic side in 2006, when Ed Fallon supporters led an effort to break into preference groups.

But this year should be different as Iowa Republicans are looking at a factional fight for control of the party between social conservatives, Ron/Rand Paul type libertarians, and the business/Branstad branch of the party.

Caucus night is the first step in the process of choosing the state party leadership, and the die was cast on Caucus Night 2012 when the Romney and Santorum supporters "voted" in the non-binding presidential straw poll and left, while the Ron Paul supporters, with a keen grasp of the rules, stayed late to elect convention delegates. End result: the Paul Faction, led by Spiker, controls the party machinery, and Paul got the votes at the national convention.

The convention delegates could also play a key role if we see a wide-open primary for the US Senate or a congressional seat. The delegates chosen on off year caucus night 2002 (well, the delegates chosen BY the county delegates to the next-tier conventions) nominated Steve King when no candidate topped the required 35% in a four way congressional primary. That same year Republicans almost had a statewide convention for governor, as Doug Gross won a three way primary with just 35.6%.

All that stuff is the Republican's problem. What about us Democrats? "We are still talking with folks both here in Des Moines and across the state to make sure the Party selects a date that will ensure the highest attendance," said Price, "and hope to have a date selected at our next central committee meeting" May 18 in Ft. Dodge.

But the Republican decision ties the Democrat's hands a bit. No one outside the state cares that much about Iowa's off-year caucus. But it could be dangerous, even in an off year, to set a precedent of splitting the dates, because it increases the chance of splitting dates in a presidential year.

We occasionally hear the case for splitting the nights; the biggest complaint is the logistics. I hate caucus night. It's loud and crowded and long. Parking and physical space at caucus sites are stressed beyond the breaking point, and with both parties having open fields in 2016 the problems will be maximized.

Yeah, I hate caucus night. You know what I like? The year before the caucuses. The year when any Iowan with the will to do so can walk up to the next president and ask a question, shake a hand or get an autograph. And we only get that because we're first.

Mistakes in our process - not blaming one party because to the nation it's IOWA's process not the RPI's process - did us some serious damage in 2012. And the national media does not really get that the caucuses are a party meeting, not an election.

Let's say the Bull Moosers caucus on a Saturday afternoon and the Know Nothings go on a Monday night. (I use dead parties to be nonpartisan here. Besides, Bull Moose and Know Nothing are inherently funny.) There is number one no possible way the Bull Moosers can get the caucus attendance list to the Know Nothings in time and number two why on earth would you give your most valuable collection of data to the other team when you're charging the candidates of your OWN party big bucks for it?

All it would take would be ONE jerk going to both caucuses and then having a loud press conference to brag about it, and we'd be done. No more hanging out with Joe Biden at the Hamburg Inn, just a vote in a June primary between presumptive Know Nothing nominee Millard Fillmore, Jerry Litzel, and Lyndon LaRouche.

The only real choice Iowa Democrats have here is to go along with January 25, 2014, and maybe suggest 1) an evening event to address the Sabbath concerns (Spiker didn't mention a specific time in his release) and more importantly 2) hey, guys, let's talk a LOT more before we do this again, okay? AMENDMENT: If the GOP wants to try again and talk to the Democrats this time, that'd work too. I don't care about weeknight vs. weekend. I care about one thing: FIRST.

Monday Clips

Last couple weeks I've written a few long and thoughful pieces and taken a few snarky shots. Guess which one drives traffic? Here's 20 more Incredibly Angry Songs About Margaret Thatcher. Amazingly, nothing by the Clash.

You know what else drives traffic? Shameless self promotion of an unscientific poll. Here, vote on Which Democratic Woman Should Run In Iowa's 1st District race which I ran Saturday.

Massive Time Sink: This interactive on which senators most often vote together looks like something we used to see at the chromosome lab.

What are the Top Five Issues Dividing Democrats? Well, not Wal-Mart anymore.
More evidence we truly are the People's Republic: even the Republicans have a veggie option.

And I haven't mentioned Linux on a Monday forever. Google also doesn't bother to use The L Word when describing their Chrome OS.

Thatcher Dead

Elvis Costello is a far greater writer than I am and as a Brit he has more standing.

He wrote that months before Thatcher fell from power. It's 20-plus years later, but the world still pays a heavy price for her policies and those of her American colleague.

I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign
A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain
She spills with compassion, as that young child's
Face in her hands she grips
Can you imagine all that greed and avarice
Coming down on that child's lips

Well I hope I don't die too soon
I pray the lord my soul to save
Oh I'll be a good boy, I'm trying so hard to behave
Because there's one thing I know, I'd like to live
Long enough to savor
That's when they finally put you in the ground
I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down 

When England was the whore of the world
Margaret was her madam
And the future looked as bright and as clear as
The black tarmacadam
Well I hope that she sleeps well at night, isn't
Haunted by every tiny detail
'Cos when she held that lovely face in her hands
All she thought of was betrayal 

And now the cynical ones say that it all ends the same in the long run
Try telling that to the desperate father who just squeezed the life from his only son
And how it's only voices in your head and dreams you never dreamt
Try telling him the subtle difference between justice and contempt
Try telling me she isn't angry with this pitiful discontent
When they flaunt it in your face as you line up for punishment
And then expect you to say thank you straighten up, look proud and pleased
Because you've only got the symptoms, you haven't got the whole disease
Just like a schoolboy, whose head's like a tin-can
Filled up with dreams then poured down the drain
Try telling that to the boys on both sides, being blown to bits or beaten and maimed
Who takes all the glory and none of the shame
Well I hope you live long now, I pray the lord your soul to keep
I think I'll be going before we fold our arms and start to weep
I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap
'Cos when they finally put you in the ground
They'll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Mathis Out - Will Best Woman Please Step In

Well this sucks:
Mathis, a proven vote winner in a swing seat and an ex-TV anchor with 100% name ID, was by far the first choice of Democratic insiders for the congressional seat Bruce Braley is vacating for his Senate bid.

I can't overstate how big a deal it is to the Iowa Democratic base that we are in a two-state club with Mississippi in never sending a woman to Congress to a governorship. It's a big enough deal that some folks wanted to see Christie Vilsack challenge Dave Loebsack in a primary, until she was steered into the 4th CD race against Steve King.

Former Senator Staci Appel is looking at running in the 3rd District, and would be a good get, but that's an uphill fight against incumbent Tom Latham.

There was and is a strong sense among party activists (including me) that the open 1st CD is the best chance Iowa has at sending a woman to Congress. But with Mathis out, so far It's Pat, as in Patrick, Murphy.

With Mathis out, there's an opportunity for another woman. Any thoughts who? I looked at the other female legislators in the 1st CD, along with the metro county supervisors (Langston has been mentioned).

Which IA-01 Democratic Woman should run for Congress?
Lu Barron, Linn County supervisor
Rep. Deb Berry, Waterloo
Rep. Nancy Dunkel, Dyersville
Sen. Pam Jochum, Dubuque
Rep. Anesa Kajtazovic, Waterloo
Linda Langston, Linn County supervisor
Linda Laylin, Black Hawk County supervisor
Rep. Patti Ruff, McGregor
Rep. Kirsten Running Marquardt, Cedar Rapids
Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm, Cresco
Other woman (please comment)
Reject the Has To Be A Woman premise
Pat Murphy's OK by me
Rand Paul

Free polls from
Couple disclaimers. Jochum has said she's NOT running for the seat but may consider another office; I put her back in just to see. And Rand Paul? That's just my control group for poll spam.

A Bad Idea That Won't Go Away

The conservative giant William F. Buckley ran a no-shot candidacy for New York Mayor in 1965. In one debate he famously declined a chance for a rebuttal, saying "I am satisfied to sit back and contemplate my own former eloquence."

That's pretty much how I feel about the Republican's revived effort to petition for supervisor districts in Johnson County, I wrote about this at great length in mid-February, noting:

Part 1. This is in large part an effort to change the rules because the Republicans don't like the outcome. Specifically, they're trying to gerrymander out the two most liberal supervisors, Janelle Rettig and Rod Sullivan, who happen to live near each other.

Since then, of course, John Etheredge proved the "can't win" argument wrong by, well, winning. It was a low turnout special election, the Democrats were asleep at the switch, and a single issue dominated it. But, fair and square, he won.

The dynamic will be very different in November 2014, in a general election environment with a national spotlight open seat senate race. Democrats may not have bothered to vote for a supervisor, but the line is already forming for a chance to vote against Steve King. Even though they undercut their own case by winning an at-large race, Republicans still see districts as their best if only way to re-elect Etheredge.

2. There is no historic pattern of rural under-representation on the Board of Supervisors. If anything it's the opposite. The present is the only time we've ever had three out of five city of Iowa City supervisors, which is roughly what the population is. As late as 2000, all five supervisors were rural.

I've thought since I wrote that and I've come to conclude that the history is part of the problem. It's what social scientists call relative deprivation, "a negative discrepancy between legitimate expectations and present actualities." Rural voters, with about 1/6 of the county population, may feel under-represented on the board because historically they've had 80% or 100% of the supervisors. They don't have a city council like us townies do and they feel that, numbers aside, the supervisors should be rural dominated.

If that's what they want, districts are exactly the wrong way to get it… 

3. The census numbers in Johnson County do not make a rural-dominated district possible.  The law says cities can't be split into more than the smallest number of parts. Read the math if you want but we'd get three seats dominated by Iowa City, one that was dominated by Coralville, and one that was half in North Liberty. The rural townships would have to be split up and appended to these. There can't be an all-rural "doughnut" seat like Linn County has.

With the Newport Road battle still going, here's another thing to think about: in a district system, only one supervisor has to worry about what Newport Road thinks. You could consider that a good thing or a bad thing.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Democrats Re-endorse Justice Center

Johnson County Democrats last night gave a second endorsement to the justice center proposal on the May 7 ballot.

The endorsement vote was unanimous though some non-voting members present argued that the issue should remain non-partisan.

Democrats endorsed the similar proposal last fall when it drew 56% of the vote, short of the required 60% supermajority.

The party also donated $250 to the Yes For Justice campaign. Early voting starts Wednesday, April 10.

Other than that, a bunch of stuff I've tweeted but not elaborated on last couple days.

Taking bets on the next/last Democratic Senator to support marriage equality. Only four holdouts left. South Dakota's Tim Johnson is retiring but is still doing electoral math since he hopes to hand off his seat to his son. (Has anyone asked my old crush Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the younger Johnson's main rival for the Democratic nomination for that seat, if she's "evolved" lately?)

Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu are both up for re-election in 2014 in very red states. But Pryor needs to watch his left flank as well as his right; former seatmate Blanche Lincoln almost got knocked off in the 2010 Democratic primary by a more progressive challenger, before getting crushed in the fall.

So that leaves the just re-elected Joe Manchin of West Virginia. My bet is he is actually genuinely opposed to marriage equality and that we'll see another Republican - Lisa Murkowski or maybe Susan Collins - flip before he does.

Next question: when do senators start getting behind the equally popular legalization of weed? Lost the cite but noted from the crosstabs: there's a gender gap with women more supportive of marriage equality and men more supportive of drug legalization.

Just speculating here: machismo-related homophobia, though fading fast, still has some power among young men. Women, meanwhile, are more likely to be harmed by alcohol/other drug related violence.

Primary process expert Josh Putnam: "Clinton wouldn't clear the field, but 2016 looks NOW more like Wellstone/Bradley to Gore in 2000 than 2008." One more chance for me to brag that Johnson County Iowa was the number one Bill Bradley county in the nation.

So the Vaudtitor is out. David Vaudt was once in a while mentioned as a possible candidate for other office. His move to head the Government Accounting Standards Board (an obscure sounding thing but, as someone who works in a government accounting office, they do actual work and Vaudt seems like a good fit) looks like a permanent exit from the electoral arena.

No special election, just an appointment and the term is up in `14 anyway. If this had happened in April 2011 instead, there would have been a special election on the 2012 presidential ballot. That happened in 1980, when incumbent Lloyd Smith died just after getting re-elected in 1978.

Appointee Richard Johnson won that race and stayed till 2002. Vaudt beat Democrat Pat Deluhery, a state senator screwed in redistricting, basically by arguing "I'm a CPA and you're not." He went completely unopposed in 2006, a lost opportunity in that heavily Democratic year, then beat late starting Dem Jon Murphy in 2010.

How much this ripples through state politics depends on who Branstad appoints. As you recall from the 2011 Battle Of Marion Senate race, he's willing to try a trick shot and shake up the table a bit. Any CPA Democrats in elected office? Stay tuned.

From the Committee on Evil Vote Suppression Legislation:
A bill filed in the North Carolina state Senate Tuesday would carry a tax penalty for parents whose children register to vote at their college address.

Senate Bill 667, known as "Equalize Voter Rights," would remove the tax exemption for dependents who register to vote at any address other than their parents' home.

The same provisions on student voting have also been rolled into a larger omnibus bill, Senate Bill 666, which would also shorten early voting days, ban early voting on evenings and weekends and prohibit same-day registration.
No. I did NOT make up that number 666.

How many parents of 19somethings are actually able to control what their young adult offspring do when they're not under the same roof? Let's put it this way: I'm a grandpa.

We're Number 70! We're Number 70! Question for Hawks hoops fans: Would you trade the NIT runner-up, with its five extra games including two at home and two at Madison Square Garden, for a 13 seed and first round loss in the NCAA?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

A Near Perfect List

Better Get Aboard Son: The Braley Train is way out of the station and gathering steam; Team Braley just dropped a press release boasting of a mass legislative endorsement:

71 Democratic members of the Iowa legislature have announced their formal endorsement of Bruce Braley for Senate.  45 Iowa House Democrats are endorsing Braley today, as are all 26 Iowa Senate Democrats, including Iowa Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal and President Pam Jochum.

This is good news but there are 47 House Democrats  and the list geek in me was asking: who are the two? My first guess was someone from a red district but the real answer was the polar opposite.

The missing names are minority leader Kevin McCarthy and congressional candidate Pat Murphy.

To me the absence says less about Braley and more about the missing two. But what exactly is it they're saying by staying off the list? Perhaps they're trying to plead a leaderly neutrality.  But in addition to Senate leaders Gronstal and Jochum, dual role state rep/Democratic party chair Tyler Olson signed on as well, so that doesn't cut it.

Although I see a point: a fringe candidate - which is all the opposition Braley is going to get in a primary at this point - could exaggerate a big stink about not getting a fair shake. I saw this happen way back when I was an Objective Journalist, and it's tricky. The serious candidate can't really dignify the loony tune with a response, and the traditional press isn't allowed to flat out say "this person is nuts."

Protesting The Proper Things

As I've grown older I've learned, usually the hard way, to choose my battles. Sure, I've cast a protest vote here and there along the way, but as a die hard party hack I've decided by and large to work inside the system and do the best I can to make it better.

A lot of folks in Johnson County seem to be struggling with that all or nothing dynamic right now, and a whole bunch of issues seem to be coming together around the second attempt to pass the justice center. (Or third depending on how you count, but the 2000 vote was so long ago and so different that it's not really comparable.)

Even the justice center opponents acknowledge fairly openly that the existing courthouse and jail are woefully inadequate. I was an No for a long time and I got to the point of "we need this" a long time before I was able to say "I support this."

I'd hoped, as the current opponents do, to use this issue as a point of leverage to get some other things I wanted. I want to see changes in local policing policy and in state and federal law.

Our locally elected state legislators get it. Joe Bolkcom was the senate's lead sponsor on medical marijuana. But reality is, the rest of the state is not Johnson County. In the Republican controlled House the bill got dumped onto a subcommittee headed by a representative who goes out of his way to call medical marijuana a joke.

So that route's a dead end at the moment. What about the strictly local route?

The issue that seems to have the most resonance, that made liberals feel the guiltiest, is the disproportionate rate of minority arrests in Iowa City. That's a problem, a big problem.

But whose problem is it?

The justice center is a county project. It would also house the state-run courts. There's not a problem with disproportionate minority incarceration, prosecution, and conviction. Once the accused are in custody of the county and the courts there's an even hand.

It's at the point of arrest by the city that there's a racial disparity. (Indeed, the rumor mill even says it's a small and specific handful of ICPD officers that are the bulk of the problem.)

And unjustified or minor arrests aren't what's overcrowding the jail. Random College Drunk gets sent home as soon as he's safe. It's serious offenders who are overcrowding the inadequate space and getting shipped out to other counties. We could (and should) stop every single simple possession of weed bust today and we'd STILL be shipping people to Muscatine every night. Even the Vote No folks get that.

So if the point of the problem is the city, then shouldn't the city be the point of the protest vote? This is the single biggest point of disconnect.

I crunched the numbers harder than anyone and concluded that liberal qualms about law enforcement were what made the justice center top out at 56% last November. Or, in short, the Iowa City Police Department cost us the election. My suggestion at that time was to fire the chief of police, but I'd settle for him getting his folks in line. People who are more responsible and grown up than me are calling for "study" on the issue and I guess that's a start.

But even pointing at the ICPD is passing the buck. They answer to the city council, and historically the Iowa City council is especially isolated from pressure to change. They answer to the people who vote in city elections, and that's a very different coalition.

The city council electorate lives basically east of Dodge Street or west of Sunset. The mindset is "love the Hawkeyes hate the students." They enjoy the jobs and cultural amenities of the University but would prefer that it were populated solely by athletes and by grad students who never left the library or lab. The messy reality of tens of thousands of 19ish undergrads looking to learn about life? They're not FROM here. and they're certainly not welcome to have to a voice in local government.

So the city council electorate likes the University-led downtown crackdown of the last four or so years, and is satisfied with the council incumbents. And too many liberals, with their heads in the clouds of national and global issues or, conversely, in the nitty gritty of state funding, are too willing to go along with the city status quo.

Or they focus on micro-specific issues.

Iowa City has a unique charter that allows initiatives and/or referendums; I'm not going to nitpick the fine distinctions. One just got filed this week to ban red light cameras. (And "drones?" That just looks paranoid.) It's not directly related to the justice center fight, but there's a lot of overlap between the red light camera group and the justice center opponents.

I signed the petition, and will probably vote to ban the cameras, but I can't get myself really worked up about it. It doesn't feel as evil to me as, say, denying an 18 year old adult the right to walk into a bar and have a beer, but it seems I'm completely alone in that fight.

But back to the point. Historically Iowa City activists have been really, really good at getting issues onto the ballot: the Police Citizen Review Board referendum passed in 2007. There were the two infamous Yes Means No 1st Avenue votes (a "Yes" vote meant "don't build the road"). Both sides petitioned on the 21 bar issue: the 21 side in 2007 and the 19 side in 2010.

But there's been a disconnect between these ballot issues and the crucial next step: recruiting candidates who support the issues and/or match the demographics.

In 1997, on the same day voters delayed 1st Avenue, they elected and re-elected council members who wanted to build the road over opponents who wanted to stop it. As soon as possible, two years later, they put the road back on the plan, and this time it got built.

At least in `97 there were opponents who wanted to stop the road. Not so in 2007. An overwhelming unprecedented student vote blocked 21 bars. The student vote could have elected three or even four city council members. But there weren't student candidates, and two council incumbents were re-elected unopposed. And history repeated itself: as soon as possible, in 2010, the council, including three of the four elected in 2007, passed 21 bars.

Two years later, we got the student candidates but didn't have the ballot issue. In a record low turnout election they were crushed by the old-guard townies, Terry Dickens and Susan Mims. Their priorities? Dickens almost immediately pushed through an anti-panhandling ordinance because - not making this up - he was disgusted that homeless people were begging outside his diamond store.

Sickens - I meant to say Dickens but I liked the typo so I kept it - and Mims are up for re-election this year, along with Connie Champion who can barely say the word "students" without an obvious tone of contempt in her voice. I doubt she runs again - she was telling people she wasn't running in 2009 before changing her mind, and she was the first council member in modern times elected to even a fourth term so a fifth seems unlikely.

I cite these past issues not to flog dead horses but to show the pattern. What good will it do to pass a referendum banning red light cameras, if on the same day you elect or re-elect the people who will re-pass the same thing in two years?

And what good will it do to protest the city's law enforcement behavior by punishing the county? The county is caught in the middle between bad state and federal law and bad city policy, and is making a genuine effort to reduce overcrowding and divert people into alternative programs. These efforts are hampered by lack of space. But to opponents "send them a message" seems more important than fixing the problems.

And opponents are sending the wrong Them a message. The city kinda sorta wants the justice center. Several of the council members are supporters. But they want their crackdown and their red light camera revenue more, so the protest vote on the justice center is falling on deaf ears.

(And don't even get me started on the disconnect between the justice center and zoning. I can't think of a less related aspect of county government.)

No, if you want to change the city police department's behavior you need to change their bosses, or at least credibly challenge them. It's getting late, believe it or not, to put together a serious council campaign. Dickens and Mims will be tough. They didn't have to break a sweat in 2009 and Dickens in particular is sitting on a large campaign fund.

But the anti-red light camera crew is hard working and well organized. If they can broaden their coalition, and maybe rein in a little rhetoric, they could be an anchor in a broader alliance that could actually bring about some big picture change to a city government that desperately needs it.

So save your protest vote for the fall. Build this much-needed facility that will bring real world benefits for the courts, the public, the accused and even the guilty. Then work on fixing police policy this fall.