Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Granholm to Johnson County BBQ Oct. 18

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm will be the guest speaker for the Hillary Clinton campaign at the Johnson County Democrats' annual barbecue on October 18, joining Bernie Sanders on the speaker list.

The Clinton campaign informed local Democrats Thursday that the candidate would not be attending, and that they would send "a high level surrogate (not a family member)."

Granholm was governor from 2002 to 2010, when she was term limited. Since leaving office, Granholm has hosted a cable show, served on faculty at the University of California-Berkeley law and public policy schools, and is co-chairing the Priorities USA super PAC.

Granholm was an early Clinton backer and frequent cable TV guest in 2007-08.  Once the nomination was settled, she took on the job of playing Sarah Palin in Joe Biden's debate prep. (No word on whether her impersonation rivalled Tina Fey's.) She also served on the Obama transition team.

As governor, Granholm signed the state law that moved Michigan's 2008 primary to January 15, in violation of the rules of both parties. The Michigan move pushed Iowa's 2008 caucuses to January 3.

Granholm was not the main force behind Michigan's 2008 move - that can be blamed on then Senator Carl Levin and then DNC member (now Rep.) Debbie Dingell. And she avoided the aggressive rhetoric of Dingell and Levin, who explicitly said the move was aimed at replacing Iowa and New Hampshire as first in the nation.

But in signing the bill, Granholm noted Michigan's "richly diverse electorate," echoing the frequent criticism of Iowa and New Hampshire's lack of diversity. She also stuck up for her state in the months-long fight over the Michigan national convention delegation (which was eventually seated with no penalty).

Granholm has often been mentioned as a potential cabinet member - but not a presidential candidate or running mate; as she was born a Canadian citizen, she's ineligible. She took a pass at an open seat US Senate run in 2014 when Levin retired. Democrat Gary Peters held the seat, in one of the few Democratic wins last year.

Sanders is attending his second consecutive Johnson County Democrats' barbecue, and for the second consecutive year he's getting paired with a woman from Michigan; Senator Debbie Stabenow co-keynoted with Sanders in 2014.

Hillary Clinton was one of five candidates (with Dodd, Edwards, Kucinich and Richardson) to attend the 2007 barbecue, which set an attendance record of 2500. She brought George McGovern along with her, and the 1972 nominee made his Clinton endorsement official at the event.

Local Democrats don't have final word yet from the Chafee, Webb, or O'Malley campaigns - and yes, I did ask O'Malley again.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Meal with O'Malley

Thursday afternoon the Martin O'Malley staff called up and made me an offer. They were going to be en route from Mt. Pleasant to Des Moines Saturday night, and wanted to know if I was free for dinner and an interview.

Well, I'm not going to say no to a one on one with a presidential candidate. So Saturday we met at the Midtown Family Diner - a nice locally owned spot that got the nod over the more famous Hamburg because of location, location, location: a brief detour from their route at a time when there was some risk of post-football traffic. (As the game was a 62-14 blowout, traffic traffic tricked out the whole second half.)

After some background - part of this was about him picking my brain, too - and some food I put on the Beret Of Official Journalism for a two cup of coffee interview.

Unlike some of the other candidates, you've got a lot of history with the caucuses, going back to the Gary Hart `84 campaign. What's changed between then and now in Caucus Land?

In 30 years lots of things have changed I suppose. Certainly the Internet has changed a lot of things. the way people get their news has certainly changed. But at the same time one thing that hasn't changed is the fact that individuals really matter and make a big difference. People that are respected in their communities matter. And that's what's exciting about this process is that in an era of big money it's still good to be some place that everybody gives you a fair shake.

And things like those local endorsements, being able to say, Joe Judge (note: the Judges had hosted an event earlier that day in Albia) is with me. That can make a difference here.
Yeah. All of that is huge. And it's also... I suppose what I find most refreshing and why I enjoy always being in in Iowa is that people have seen 1% candidates or 2% candidates that nobody else has heard of suddenly emerge.

I know people who still brag that Jimmy Carter slept on their couch.
Yeah. And the people of Iowa take pride, I think, in winnowing this process. And very often they are the ones that first identify that leader for a new generation and put that leader forward. And so I'm doing this campaign the old fashioned way, John, I am going county to county to county, the small groups of people that actually have respect in their community and know other people, and making my case for a better way forward for our country and what I have to offer at this time.

Maybe the caucuses have changes less for you - I mean, obviously you're not the staffer you're the candidate - but you seem to be running, of the Democrats at least, the most old-school kind of campaign, where you're going to the mid-size events and taking every question and shaking every hand you can, they can't get you out of the room... and you're not having a 15,000 body rally, and you don't have the Secret Service.

I remember in 1983 when I was working here for Gary Hart. John Glenn always had the big rallies. Tons of people would;d come to see John Glenn. Alan Cranston supposedly had sucked up all of the oxygen on the left. But I also saw my candidate continue to hang in there, go from county to county to county and offer ideas of substance, and some depth, and in the course of all of those talks on a chair, arrive at the needed message for those times and emerges as the alternative. And for all of the big crowds of John Glenn, he finished way down and Hart was able to finish on top of Cranston who was far better financed.

The great leveler, I think, and maybe the last sort of line of defense against big money running our process, is the process like this in Iowa, and to a very big degree your neighbors in New Hampshire who get to meet each of the candidates and who make a big difference.

Of course New Hampshire's got the different process with a primary, an open primary. There was a lot of criticism of caucus process in the 08 cycle. Obama did better in the caucus states than Hillary did. I just remember week after week after week Debbie Wasserman Schultz on MSNBC talking about how unfair caucuses were...
That was the Hillary Clinton talking point at the time.

Yeah. What do you think? Are caucuses - not the meeting and greeting process, the actual process of the night itself. The stand in the corner thing. Is that open enough?

I think it's very open. And I think it's very democratic. I think it's a good process. It tends to reward the better organized candidates, too. In 1983, I think after Iowa they sent me to Oklahoma, which was also... was Oklahoma a primary or a caucus?  I think Oklahoma was a caucus.  One of the few caucus states we won that year. So, I kind of like the caucus process. I think it's good for democracy. I mean, so much of what we do, we dial in. We drive through.

Are you excited for the debates finally coming up? I know you've talked about them a lot.

Yeah, I sure am. By this point 8 years ago, we had already had nine debates. And this year in the process we haven't had any. The Republicans have had two, very well, heavily viewed, publicized for weeks in advance with free media on CNN, letting everyone know who their candidates are. And we haven't. So our party needs to tell its story, not only of the progress of these last 8 years but who we are fighting for and the fight that we still need to continue here. So I'm looking forward to the debates, and I think we should have more of them rather than less. And hopefully more rational minds in the party will prevail.

Do you think it's possible now in the social media age for somebody to be flying under the radar and then make that great leap forward form a very distant second place to a big win in eight days, the way Hart did?

Yes. Although I was there at the time and it wasn't quite eight days. My experience was and what I hear back `cause I talk to our young people, our 30 organizers that are here in the state, is it's much the same process. Iowans, knowing how important their vote is, many people want to wait until they see the process unfold before they decide. Now fortunately, there are some people who want to be with you early, and those folks for the nucleus of your organization in any county or any district. But what I think the reason why it looks like somebody suddenly emerges is not because they suddenly emerge but because they were relentless in continuing to ask people , is there anything more I can send you on my candidacy? Is there anything more you and I can talk about. about the issues that matter to you, that my candidate might be able to address for you? And so as we roll out our policy statements and our policy positions, as people come to know my record and what I've actually accomplished in office, all of that comes together and gels in the end.

It's a remarkable process here when decision time is finally upon us, the debates have all happened, and it's time time for people to decide who they're going to be for, just to watch the networks light up and to see the relationships emerge. I felt after working for about two months in Scott County, after I got through that process. I felt like I had lived in Scott County for 10 years. I understood who knew who, who disliked who and why, and all of those things kind of gel in the end. And the candidate who gets rewarded in that process is the candidate who was relentless, who was all about ideas, and all about the national interest and governing.

Electability and experience is clearly part of your message, and yet we know... you're the turtle, the good Maryland Terrapin...

Fear the turtle!

Why do you think electability is not a bigger issue yet on the Democratic side? I got a theory, but I want to hear your theory.

Hmm. Why isn't electability a bigger issue in our party? Couple reasons. I think because it's early, and i Think in the early going people in both parties want to express their anger, frustration, discontent with the established leaders. People they feel that have let us down, gotten to cozy with powerful wealthy interest at the expense of our common good as a people. But I think the dynamic will shift, and as the debates start to happen I do believe that people will be looking at which of us can best win a general election. What do you think?

Well, my pet theory is that the Republican race looks like such a clown car right now that Democrats aren't worried about electability right now, because they feel like "are you kidding? We can beat any of these guys with anybody." My other theory is identity politics are playing a big part in all this. And in Johnson County at least, Move The Democrats Left is as much of an identity politics as Elect A Woman President is. So, with those dynamics going on, where do you fit in?

Identity politics. My son tried to explain this to me. I think the most important identity politics at the end of this process is which of us do people believe will fight the hardest for them and their family. I've always found that's the most important identity politics. In every race, there is a kind of a question that needs to be answered by voters about the two candidates - or the three, four, the five in our case. Which one of these people is on my side. Not only saying the right things, not only agreeing with my issues, but in the totality, which one is on my side? Which one had both the independence and the motivation and the emotional connection to fight for me and for my family? And I think that's the most important identity politics of all.

I know I'm an unknown right now, but that will all start to change once these debates start to happen, and the smaller number of people in our field will I think be a competitive advantage for me.

Just by division, you'll get more time than Scott Walker had to fight for in his last hurrah.

Yes, but what I will have to fight is a rather rigged process, where they try to hide the debates on Christmas weekend in New Hampshire, and in the middle of a big Iowa game here. That sort of manipulation and the limiting of debates, all of that will be a challenge. But I do believe that people throughout IA and NH, your serious voters and caucus goers, will be tuning in to those debates and will make sure that they see them. All of those very interested individuals are very aware there are going to be fewer debates. So I think you're going to see a higher viewership. So strangely enough, what they intended would be something that would suppress competition and circle the wagons around this years inevitable front runner I think will have the opposite effect on viewership. I think more people will want to view something that the party boss tries to hide from us.

I'm getting the feeling right now, between the rise of Trump, behind the very different movement Bernie Sanders is building, and now with John Boehner being squeezed out of office - I've got a sense of the wheels falling off the system (O'Malley laughs) more than I have since the Ross Perot era. Can the system be saved?

Yes. And that's what people are looking for. They're looking for the glue guy. They're looking for somebody that can pull it all together and invite all of us back to our table of democracy, remind us that we're good people and that our kids are depending on us to make our country stronger. And that's what people are looking for. Once we're done emoting, once we're done expressing our anger,. we're looking for an honest individual who can pull our country back together. Because the inequality, the injustice, the lack of confidence in the integrity of our own political process, all of these things are threatening to tear us apart. people are looking for a leader that can pull us back together.

Speaking of the process, you've talked about campaign finance reform, Hillary devoted a big speech to election process reform back in the spring. Other than campaign finance, what do you think the biggest improvements we could make to the actual electoral process, what do you think the biggest barriers are to participation, and what can we do about it?

During my term we tried to find ways to make it easier for people to vote. We extended early voting periods, did same day registration. There are some nations on this planet like Estonia that do on line voting. This is a country that is adjacent to Russia, and was once totally cut down by cyber attacks. So clearly they figured out, even as near as that threat is, how to secure online voting. And over the long arc of history, I think that's where it's moving towards. Despite the frustrations and some occasional detours, the march of our nation is towards fuller participation, with more and more people, and striving to make that easier with every generation.

I'd like to see us overturn Citizens United. I intend to talk in the course of this campaign about publicly financed congressional elections. I think the general public is on to the fact that we've turned our Congress members into telemarketers to special interests, and that;s not good for our representative democracy.

I've worked in elections for 18 years and I didn't see the same kind of gaming the rules, like the ID stuff, before Florida. So it seems like now it's acceptable in our political process to...

...make it harder for your opponents people to vote? Even if they're poor and sick and old?

Yeah. To try to rig the rules.

That's pretty outrageous, and we need to do a better job as a party of pushing back on it. What our party should be doing is running a wishbone offense to organize around two important principles: that corporations are not people, and the other one is to enshrine in the Constitution the right to vote. That's how a party could be helpful, rather than limiting debates or trying to figure out how to hide the Iowa debate on a Hawk eye game.

I hear a lot of good things about you. People like you. The one negative feedback I get is looking back to the 90s, to policing policies. Looking back, seeing how things have played out, what might you do different?

I wish we had been earlier implementers as  a state of body cameras. because as a city we were early implementers of the crime cameras on the corners that had been - Whole swaths of our city, entire neighborhoods, had been under a 24/7 drug dealer occupation for a couple decades. I was elected to restore justice to those poorest of neighborhoods, where it seemed like the police had given up. And that's what we did. I wish we had been earlier implementers in the body cameras.

But having said that, I rolled out a criminal justice reform agenda at the Urban League and some of the things we had in there were things that we did in Baltimore City. Things which sadly subsequent administrations stopped doing, but that actually work, and could be a model for police departments all across the country. Reverse integrity stings, a  civilian review board with its own independent staff. I believe nationally every department should have to report under standards and in a timely fashion its discourtesy, excessive force, lethal use of force.

So no mayor is without critics, and from the first day I ran there were those that said if I were elected, there would be a riot in Baltimore. And then 15 years later, after Freddie Gray's tragic death, some of these same voices found their way to cable news and said "look, this was all his fault."

The truth of the matter is, arrests peaked in Baltimore - and I did promise people there would be a heightened level of enforcement - and I won every council district, including those of my two opponents. Arrests peaked in 2003, and then they declined, along with crime, every year thereafter for the next 12. So the year before before Freddie Gray's tragic custodial death, arrests in Baltimore were actually at a 38 year low. So there are things that one might point to, things that led to a lack of police and community relations, but a heightened level of arrests was not one of them.

Some of the young men that you saw on TV that evening, 12 years ago they would have been six years old at the time that arrests reached their highest. And I was re-elected with 88% of the vote in the city - and I was still white when I was re-elected in a majority African American city. Some of the biggest numbers I received when I ran for governor I received from those poorest parts of Baltimore City where you saw the unrest and on the east side as well.

There's no one in this race who has treated this wound of race and law enforcement and violent crime in America quite as consistently or as persistently as I have. And during my time we actually improved police-community relations, and if I hadn't I wouldn't have been re-elected, or supported overwhelmingly in subsequent elections. And it is a fact that the 4 years with the lowest numbers of police-involved shootings, three of those four were achieved during my term of office.

All of us have a responsibility, and I said this in that talk to the Urban League, to save and redeem more lives. All of us have a responsibility to look at OUR criminal justice polices, laws, and ask ourselves what works? What serves? And what doesn't work and no longer serves, doesn't serve? And that's what I've done through my 15 years, including repealing the death penalty, driving incarceration rates down to 20 year lows, restoring voting rights to 52,000 people, decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, passing medical marijuana - did I mention the death penalty? It's getting late.

Is it possible to make it harder for the seriously mentally ill and the criminal to get their hands on guns without also making it harder for law abiding citizens, and can we have a one size fits all gun law that will work for Baltimore and, say, rural northern Wisconsin?

I think that banning the sale of combat assault weapons would be something that would be good for us to do as a country. It would be good four our homeland security, it would be good for the desire we have of avoiding these mass shootings, the magazines of 10 or more rounds. Background checks - I think all of those are common sense things that people could agree with. And we have to continue to push for it. There's no other developed nation on the planet that has this problem, that buries as many people from gun violence as we do. And it's possible to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill without impeding hunting and hunting traditions, and that's what we did in Maryland. I sent out a letter encouraging everybody to register to hunt. That's what we needed to do to preserve our open space.

Other than building the Trump wall on the border, foreign policy has been little discussed this election, at least what I've seen. What are you hearing about, and why do you think foreign policy has been kind of set aside?

I do have the sense that people's primary concern today is about their children's future, and the fact they're working harder and it feels like we're slipping further behind, for 70% of us. So that's the primary anxiety.

Having said that, I do believe there's a tremendous desire to have new thinking and fresh approaches when it comes to our foreign policy. I don't think either the Democrats or the Republican Party can say they've figured this world out. It's going to require a much more flexible, adaptable, nimble foreign policy. One that's more engaged, not one that's retreating behind walls and putting its head in the sand. So that's what I'm going to do my very best to speak to in these debates and in the remaining days of the campaign.

There's a connection between a more collaborative and engaged foreign policy and a more far-seeing national security strategy and an economy that works for all of us here at home, They're all connected. America's role in the world is to lead by example, because of a rising global middle class. But we can't do that if we're creating an economy that is increasingly, steadily, leaving more and more of our people behind. We've got to re-establish that economy of opportunity that allows people, whatever rung of the ladder they're on to be able to climb that ladder to better opportunity for their families and their kids. And if we do that then that will make our foreign policy more credible, If we do that we'll be a lot more effective at interrupting the propaganda of ISIS with our actions. If we lead on a humanitarian front by accepting the refugees from Syria that we were asked to accept, rather than kind of mumbling or pretending that 8000 is doing our part. It's kind of hard to have credibility if the only time people see us is at the other end of a drone strike. We need to dial up the whole of government approach to rising threats before they rise to a level where the choices are very binary, American boots on the ground or not.

So that's what I think people are looking for - a more far-seeing national security strategy, an engagement that dials up the diplomacy, and sustainable development in the whole of government rather than always reaching first for the military tool.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Notes on the week

Prepping for a big post tomorrow, so here's some notes on the past week for folks who prefer the blog format to the tweet format - yes, it's 2015 and blogs still exist.

Most of my week has been spent in my neutral role of caucus coordinator for the Johnson County Dems, and in trying to convince various buildings that, no, we really don't have caucuses in people's living rooms any more.
There wasn't room in Karen Kubby's living room last night for the crowd of 50 on hand for the four progressive city council candidates, in what's looking like a VERY clear cut Iowa City election. I was torn between "progressive icon" and "Godmother of the Iowa City left" in the tweet; the former was shorter.

Most predictable party change ever: marriage license denier and ex-jailbird Kim Davis, who was amazingly elected as a Democrat, formally made the switch to the GOP this week.  My bet is: Davis, who took over the job from her mom last year, was one of the last vestiges of the days when Appalachian courthouse politics remained nominally Democratic, even as coal country was shifting to the GOP first in presidential elections, then congressional, then state.

Question: What would have happened if the election clerk had refused on religious grounds to accept her change in voter registration?

Coincidentally, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson, who was increasingly out of step with the Republicans, changed his affiliation to Democratic last week. Oleson had been persona non grata with the Linn GOP since last year, when he backed his lifelong friend, Democratic Rep. Dan Lundby, in his unsuccessful re-election bid against Republican Ken Rizer.

Lundby's mom, of course, was legendary Republican Senator Mary Lundby, a giant of the GOP's centrist wing and Oleson's political mentor. Mary Lundby had personally asked Oleson to run for the Marion-based supervisor seat in 2008 when her terminal illness took her out of the race, and Oleson was sworn in at her hospital bedside, just days before her passing.

Oleson was also seen not long ago walking the Penford picket line with Bernie Sanders. So the change is not a total shock, and I'd say trading Kim Davis for Brent Oleson is a net gain for the Dems. Welcome aboard, Brent!

Longtime senator Dick Dearden is retiring next year and there's a primary lining up between his daughter, Pam Conner, and attorney labor Nate Boulton. Nate's a Columbus Junction native, and was one of my best door-knocking partners when he was still in high school in 1996. Will have to dig out the pix for some Throwback Thursday...

Critter of the Week #1:
Dylan, the older of my two cats, likes to remind me he's a Certified Mouse Killer, but all he ever seems to catch is this pink bunny.

Critter of the Week #2:
Speaking of yards: friendly advice to fellow west siders within earshot of the stadium. Yardsign damage is almost NEVER part of a Grand Conspiracy. It's usually just somebody who had a few too many. I bring mine in before the post-game foot traffic. And don't forget the Saturday before the city election is both a home game day and Halloween.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Walker Out, Hogg In

It makes sense that the high point of Scott Walker's presidential campaign was getting heckled by cheesehead-wearing protesters at the Iowa State Fair. Faced with his old familiar adversaries, bused in from Madison, you saw a little of the old Walker rage that made him a hero to teacher haters.

But without the immediate presence of his foes, Walker couldn't play hero-victim as easily, and he showed a deep streak of Not Ready For Prime Time. When the story of the Scott Walker presidential campaign is written, it will be a very slim book, as it formally lasted barely two months. And he's free to use my suggested title, From Ass To Asterisk.

My Wisconsin relatives are torn between the schadenfreude of his collapse and the realization that now he'll have more time to screw up the Badger state. It's hard to imagine him doing even more damage than he's already done, and between this and the Packers beating Seattle last night, it's a pretty good 24 hours for the cheeseheads.

Still, I have some regrets. For one, the price for this t-shirt I was planning to auction off at the Johnson County Dems BBQ next month just dropped.

I also have to eat yet another beret, as I had loudly and frequently predicted that Walker would, in the end, be the nominee. I thought his claim to fame, busting public employee unions, would unite both establishment and tea partiers, Because union busting is something that actually matters to the establishment wing of the Republican Party (see the career of Terry Branstad for more details.)

But to the Republican voter base, union busting is soooo 2011. They want what Trump is selling: mass deportation of Hispanics and "elimination" of Muslims. So Walker turned out to be not establishment enough for the establishment, and not crazy enough for the crazies - if only because the crazy bar his risen substantially this year.

So now I need to make a new bet as to eventual nominee...

That's an easy bet in Iowa's Democratic Senate primary. Rob Hogg is ending the exploring and making his announcement tomorrow. Hogg is just what I've been calling for since long before my own brief candidacy - someone who can rally the base, help the rest of the ticket, and be credible in case of the Last Minute Switcheroo Scenario where Chuck Grassley drops out at filing deadline and Pat Grassley runs instead. (A very slim chance, but possible.)

Bonus: Any candidate who exceeds expectations against Grassley - and expectations for Grassley challengers are very low - sets themselves up well for a future run at something.

Rob's a smart guy and his focus on environmental issues are a winner with the party activists who are likely to be voting in the primary. His Cedar Rapids address helps in the primary, too, as 1st District Democrats are likely to have the hottest congressional primary next year. He also has Iowa City roots, and Johnson County always punches above its weight in statewide Democratic primaries, because our courthouse primaries are de facto general elections for those offices and that boosts turnout.

So Hogg instantly ends Tom Fiegen's dubious claim to being "the leading candidate." Fiegen will no doubt continue his claims to being the "Bernie Sanders Democrat" in the race, but history tells us that such support is rarely transferable, especially when it's self-claimed.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Uncontested Races In Most Cities

The minimum wage increase passed by the Johnson County Supervisors may be a hot issue in the county's smaller cities - but in most cities it won't be fought out at the ballot box.

The filing deadline for most cities passed today, and of those cities only North Liberty and Swisher will see contested races.

Iowa City and University Heights, which have earlier deadlines because of their primary provision, will also have contested races, but not primaries.

Coralville will be much, much quieter than it was in 2013, when an open seat mayor's race and a big campaign effort by conservative group Americans For Prosperity boosted turnout to record levels. This year, Mayor John Lundell and council members Jill Dodds and Mitch Gross are unopposed.

Hills, Lone Tree, Oxford, Shueyville, Solon and Tiffin also have no contested races.

North Liberty will see four candidates trying for three seats. Incumbents Terry Donahue and Chris Hoffman are being challenged by new candidates Jay Johnson and Jim Sayre. The third incumbent, Colleen Chipman (of the Seelman-Mascher family) is stepping down.

In Swisher, where officials are planning a vote to opt out of the minimum wage, incumbents Mary Gudenkauf and Michael Stagg are challenged by Rebecca Neuendorf and Tiffany Dague in a race for three spots. (Sandy Fults is not running again.) Mayor Chris Taylor is unopposed.

In most cities, incumbents are running unopposed, or new candidates recruited by the current city officials are stepping up. Lone Tree will see a new mayor as Rick Ogren steps down; council member Sandra Flake is unopposed.

They said Don Saxton was mayor of Oxford for life, and he almost was, as he passed away just months after retiring in 2013. Saxton had been mayor for decades, but his chosen successor, Gary Wilkinson, lasted just two, and now no one wants the job. The winner will be settled by write-ins.

Two cities have ballot issues. Oxford will vote on a library levy. And as noted last month, University Heights, the last city where the whole council is up for two year terms every cycle, will vote on changing to staggered four year terms.

(Noted: de-construction is moving ahead at the St. Andrew Church property. Re-development of that land fueled three consecutive cycles of high turnout close elections between build it bigger and build it smaller factions. The build it bigger faction swept in 2013, and this year only one self-starter candidate is challenging.)

If the wage fight is going to play out in any city's election, it's in Iowa City's race for four seats (in three separate contests). Four progressive candidates - incumbent Jim Throgmorton and challengers Rockne Cole, Pauline Taylor and John Thomas - have pledged to support the higher wage, have hosted one joint event, and are planning at least two more, including one at the home of left icon Karen Kubby on September 25.
Meanwhile city staff - at the behest of incumbents Rick Dobyns and Michelle Payne, perhaps? - seems to be moving at a turtle's pace on an issue that really should be out in the open before people vote.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Debate Debate: Up to Clinton & Obama

I've long thought debates are over-rated. They sway few truly undecided voters, and the audience is mostly the true believers and the press.

That said, there's a fair amount of grumbling in the Democratic Party, and even in the higher levels of the Democratic Party, about the smaller number of debates in 2016 compared to 2008.

Most notably, the titular vice chairs of the DNC, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, in a rare open dissent, publicly called on chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to schedule more debate.

DWS's response to the debate debate was direct and blunt: "There will be six debates. Period." And she's not even bothering to hide her contempt for Martin O'Malley.
Classic stink eye there.

Let's address the donkey in the room here. Despite her official chair stance neutrality, Wasserman Schultz is pretty obviously in the Hillary Clinton camp, as she was in 2008 until the bitter end, and as she was when she spent months on cable shows defending her home state's rule breaking and attacking caucus states and early states. That, and her Israel First foreign policy views, are why I'm not a fan.

And let's also set aside the titles. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not really in charge here. No national party chair is, not when the party has a president in the White House.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is clearly not going to listen to the Sandernistas or the backers of the single digit three. There are two people she's going to listen to: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I'm not sure in which order. The public complaints only matter in the sense that they get the two people with the real power to act.

The push for more debates needs to come from Hillary herself, and for her to push for that she needs to be convinced it's in her interest. Or it needs to come from Wasserman Schultz's boss, the president, who is legacy focused, trying to deal with a WIll He Or Won't He vice president (won't) and may well want to stay out of it.

Hillary has said the right things...
"I debated a lot in 2008 and I would certainly be there with lots of enthusiasm and energy if (the DNC) decide to add more debates," Clinton said during a press conference in Portsmouth. "And I think that's the message a lot of people are sending their way."
...in public.

But the important conversation about debates isn't the public conversation. It's the private conversation that is - or, more likely, is not - happening.

Hillary Clinton can absolutely hold her own in a debate, and none of the opponents are a Barack Obama or a John Edwards or a Joe Biden this time. She has nothing to fear, and I doubt she's scared.

But the mere fact of a debate makes Sanders and O'Malley and Webb and even Chaffee her equal for that 90 to 120 minutes.

And perhaps more important, because the main audience for that debate is not Truly Undecided Voters, but the media, the media (which as we all know just ADORES Hillary Clinton) gets to write the narrative. Somebody - not Sanders or O'Malley, probably Lincoln "Nothing To Lose" Chaffee - makes The Character Attack or The Iraq War Vote Attack, and bada bing, that's the national headline and sound bite.

If Hillary really wants more debates, she can get more debates. She calls Debbie Wasserman Schultz and says "I really seriously do want more debates." Barack Obama could make that call to Clinton and Wasserman Schultz too. Boom. Debbie schedules them tomorrow.

But not only is she not doing that, she's doubling down. "Six. Debates. Period." She's also willing to make herself the scapegoat and take the heat from the party base.

That tells us all we need to know about how the private conversations are going. And it's getting really late.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sanders to Johnson County Dems BBQ 10/18

You heard it here first: Bernie Sanders is the first confirmed presidential candidate for the Johnson County Democrats fall barbecue in Iowa City on October 18.

Sanders' presence could prompt other candidates to commit to the event, the county party's biggest fundraiser of the year.

In 2007, five candidates and multiple members of the Biden family attended, along with then-reigning Oscar best actor Forest Whittaker as an Obama surrogate. Hillary Clinton brought along George McGovern, who endorsed her at the barbecue. The 2007 event drew at least 2500 attendees.

In 2003, John Kerry brought Ted Kennedy to the Johnson County barbecue, and Howard Dean also attended.

Sanders was also one of the keynote speakers at the Johnson County Barbecue last year (seen above), in one of his first steps toward exploring a campaign.

Word went out to local Sanders backers late Friday afternoon that Sanders was hosting a house party in Iowa City on the same date as the barbecue, and the Sanders campaign has confirmed that Sanders will also attend the barbecue.

All the campaigns have had the October 18 date for months, and reports are that arms are being twisted up the food chain.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Miscellaneous Of The Week

I have a new theory. "Electability" has not yet become an issue in the Democratic presidential race because no one in the Republican clown car, least of front runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson, seem electable. How would the Democratic race be different if John Kasich and Marco Rubio were leading?

People looking at electability can look at the UK. In their parliamentary system, the nomination process works in reverse of ours: the new leader of the out party is chosen AFTER, not before, the general election. Labour just elected Jeremy Corbin as leader, and he sounds like basically the Bernie Sanders of England (no, not Bernie's brother, he's a Green). The test of Corbin's electability, though, doesn't come till May 2020.

Speaking of Sanders, Some Dude US Senate candidate Tom Fiegen is rebranding himself on social media - basically all he has in his zero dollar campaign - as the "Bernie Sanders Democrat" in the race.

Not only does this disregard the fact that Sanders himself is not technically a Democrat, it needlessly alienates the chunk of the Democratic June primary electorate that's supporting other presidential candidates. Rule 1 in primaries is focus on your race and stay out of the other contests, but Fiegen probably figures he has nothing to lose.

Hillary Clinton wins the Paul Deaton primary. Interesting, because the Sage of Solon seemed to be seriously considering Jim Webb for a while.
With Fiorina bumped up to the varsity debate, Rick Perry out, and Jim Gilmore excluded for irrelevance, the Kiddie Table debate is down to just Jindal, Graham. Pataki and Santorum - which not only makes it even less relevant, it actually diminishes the participants.

Tweet of the week:
Better yet: This was across the street from my office.

Even better better yet: Look why stopped by our office Friday.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Brase Race Critical, Say Dvorskys

Presidential politics aside, one contest unites Iowa Democrats: the battle to keep control of the Iowa Senate. And a senior senator is singling out one of his junior colleagues as a critical close to home race for Johnson County Democrats.

Bob Dvorsky held his annual local fundraising picnic in Coralville tonight, at his traditional Morrison Park location, and brought along fellow Senator Chris Brase of Muscatine as the featured speaker.
It's actually District 46 - even District of the Day guy doesn't remember everything while live tweeting. But I got the story right: In 2012 Shawn Hamerlinck beat Jim Hahn in the only two-incumbent Senate primary of the redistricting cycle, but then lost to Brase, a popular firefighter and paramedic.

Muscatine County has long been a Republican stronghold - don't I know it - but has trended bluer in recent presidential cycles. Democrats picked up a state House seat in 2004, but lost it in off year 2010. Fortunately for Brase, his seat is on the higher turnout presidential cycle.

Brase says he's focused on the issues rather than on his 2016 opponent, former state representative Mark Lofgren of Muscatine. Lofgren gave up his house seat in 2014, losing the Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District to Mariannette Miller-Meeks (who went on to a third loss to Dave Loebsack).

Brase said if he had though Governor Branstad was going to have vetoed the education funding compromise,  "I would never have voted for that bill. We'd still be there."

Sue Dvorsky, the former Iowa Democratic Party chair back in the role of legislative spouse tonight, handled the Brase introduction. She's currently hard at work on the Hillary Clinton campaign, but set presidential politics aside, saying that from February 2 - the day after the caucuses - till election day November 8, much of the campaign focus will be on the state senate. Sue Dvorsky cited Brase, Mary Jo Wilhelm and Liz Mathis as top Republican targets.

Monica Vernon, who the Dvorskys have endorsed in the 1st Congressional District, made an out of district visit and offered some brief thanks.
The winner of last year's key Senate race, Kevin Kinney, was on hand, along with Coralville's House member Dave Jacoby. Other local politicos on hand were Coralville council members Mitch Gross and Jill Dodds (both up for re-election this year) and newly elected school board member Lori Roetlin. From the courthouse: County Attorney Janet Lyness, Auditor Travis Weipert, and supervisors Mike Carberry and Rod Sullivan.

And ducks. Lots and lots of ducks.

Ben Carson, the Invisible Celebrity

I've been struggling for months trying to figure out: who the h-e-double-hockeysticks is this Ben Carson dude and why the hell is he polling so well? All I know that the guy ever did was he dissed Obama to his face at a prayer breakfast a couple years back.

Then, standing around yakking with friends, it hit me.  It hit me in kind of a half-formed way, and I don't understand the dynamic well enough to ask the question in search-engine format.

And that's actually kind of part of the problem, and part of the story. Ben Carson is a big celebrity within a subculture that mainstream America, and especially mainstream media, doesn't get.

It's surprisingly hard to figure out how many people are evangelical Christians. Oh, a lot of people use the term, but that includes a lot of churches that are, demographically and culturally, old-line mainline Protestant (example: Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.)

What I'm looking for here is for people who are culturally and politically Evangelical Christians. I'm thinking less about Sunday morning and more about the rest of the week. And I'm going to guesstimate that maybe 20, 25% of the country, more in the South but present everywhere, are in the demographic.

The news mainstream notices Cruz and Santorum and Huckabee because of their conventional credentials of past or present elective office. But Carson? Kind of an enigma in the Beltway world.

You know those stations you skip past on the radio dial, those channels on the high end of the cable lineup, those book stores you've never been in? Think for a minute: SOMEbody is listening and watching and buying.

There's an entire Christian conservative subculture that we don't notice in the big cities or in academic enclaves like my own Iowa City, and which the mainstream media, which leans secular, doesn't catch. We only notice when the rare mega-hit, like "Duck Dynasty" or The Passion Of The Christ, is so big that it crosses over into mainstream consciousness. (I may be completely wrong with my examples - which, if true, just proves the point even more.)

And in that media subculture, Ben Carson is a star. Maybe not as big a star as Donald Trump is in the secular world after being ubiquitous for 30 years. But definitely someone who's known and noticed.

So in a paradox of 21st century, infinite channel America, where everyone can stay in their own comfort zone and commune only with their own increasingly narrow niche, Carson is an invisible celebrity, simultaneously famous and an unknown.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Faculty, Student Votes Play Into Branstad's Hands

The outrage is easy to understand. After input was solicited and a strong Anyone But message was sent, the Iowa Board of Regents did what they were very clearly going to do from the beginning and named Bruce Harreld as the new UIowa president.

But yesterday's academic-politics driven votes of no confidence by both faculty and student government reflect an isolated misread of the realpolitik of the situation.

Faculty reaction:
The motion said the regents had shown a "blatant disregard for the shared nature of university governance" and failed to live up to its own standards for ethics, communication, transparency and other values.
There's some truth to that - but the problem is you're assuming that even matters to Terry Branstad and Bruce Rastetter.

Grad student reaction:
“It is the stance of the members of GPSG that the process of the presidential search was not transparent and that the pretense of transparency throughout the search wasted taxpayer money and UI constituency members’ time and effort,” the statement reads. “Additionally, we would like to extend an apology to the other three well-qualified candidates who we believe were made to interview in an ‘open’ process under false pretenses.”
You can just about hear the Hey Hey, Ho Ho, J. Bruce Herrald's Got To Go.

What the faculty and grad student bodies don't seem to get here is: This was exactly the response the Regents wanted.

Rastetter threw the resolutions in the trash. Not even in the recycling, because he wanted to rub Iowa City's nose in it that much more.
The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance.The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the wizarding community must be passed down the generations lest we lose them for ever. The treasure trove of magical knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching.Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts  has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation because some changes will be for the better, while others will come, in the fullness of time, to be recognised as errors of judgement. Meanwhile, some old habits will be retained, and rightly so, whereas others, outmoded and outworn, must be abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited.
Ooops. That was Dolores Umbridge. But in fairness she was the ghost writer for Rastetter's actual response:
 "The landscape of higher education is changing and the current ways of operating are not sustainable. The Board of Regents brought four highly qualified candidates to campus during the search process and discussed their abilities to help lead the University of Iowa through the changes in higher education.

Throughout this process, Board members heard from stakeholders all across Iowa about the type of qualities and leadership needed at the University of Iowa.

After listening to all stakeholder feedback as well as having frank conversations with each of the candidates, the Board unanimously thought Bruce Harreld’s experience in transitioning other large enterprises through change, and his vision for reinvesting in the core mission of teaching and research, would ultimately provide the leadership needed.

We are disappointed that some of those stakeholders have decided to embrace the status quo of the past over opportunities for the future and focus their efforts on resistance to change instead of working together to make the University of Iowa even greater."
 "You're the University of Iowa, not the University of Iowa CITY," the Regents, and by extension their puppet master Terry Branstad, said with the Harreld appointment.

A progressive academic who's also a successful real world politician gets it:
“I think the Senate should think strategically about how to respond, especially once you get into a political world like this,” said Jim Throgmorton, a UI professor emeritus of urban planning and an Iowa City city councilor.
The Harreld appointment was, make no mistake about it, a political power play. Even his defenders don't deny it.  It was a power play and our side doesn't have the power right now.

As I said last fall, the rest of the state looks in the mirror and sees itself represented by a bread sack wearing, gun toting farm gal, and Johnson County actively recoiled from that. We look in the mirror and see a poli sci Ph.D. with a beard.

I like Iowa City academic values and the college town culture. It's a big part of why, despite my own all-but-thesis academic washout, I've chosen to stay and spend the second half of my life to date in this very special place. I came here from somewhere else to do something else, but I found home.

The University of Iowa, and the greater Johnson County community surrounding it, needs to sell our unique culture full of doctors and writers and researchers and students as an asset to the whole state, which we really are. While the rest of the state is losing people, we're a magnet.

Unfortunately, our immediate need to vent, which may feel justified, and certainly is justified, within an academic context, may look tin-eared and petulant to counties that are hemorrhaging population and where the biggest employers are nursing homes.

Ooh. A bunch of liberal egghead professors didn't get to choose their own boss. Tell it to my Wal*Mart manager who just scheduled me all three days of Labor Day weekend when I asked for it off six months ago. And the drunks at the Number One Party School are mad, too? Even better.

But: Go Hawks.

Like it or not, Iowa City, we are NOT like the rest of the state, politically or culturally. And for a lot of structural political reasons, we are unable to recruit a voting majority of the state as allies right now.

Until we can, and I think we can, the University of Iowa community will have to choose its battles. There will no doubt be several. But the fact of Bruce Herrald's existence is a fait accompli (that's Latin for Too Bad So Sad), and we are going to figure out how to live with it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Split Decision in Iowa City

It was a little something for everybody, but not everything for anybody, in the Iowa City school district's election Tuesday. Two winners from the core of the save Hoover group and a third endorsee. Two winners from labor and a third seen as favorable. One core North Corridor Parent, and two more from the Acceptable list. Two teacher endorsees, but their Anyone But candidate winning the short term.

This mixed crew will join holdovers Chris Lynch and Brian Kirschling on a rebooted board that collectively has just four total years experience (not counting Phil Hemingway's unofficial attendance), as five incumbents step down at once.

I spent most of the day mis-interpreting turnout as "down everywhere but City High," when I should have been saying "second highest ever." Today's 7294 voters only looks weak - by school board standards, and of course 10.5% is poor by any other standard - but this year only looks weak compared to the record 8733 from two years ago.

But there definitely was an east side slant to the turnout, representing a bit of a return to the historic pattern of the east side dominating school elections. Coralville and North Liberty took a great leap forward in 2013, and still voted above historic levels today. But the edge was off.

Two wise local politicos, from opposite ends of the district, independently offered the same analysis. Now that ground has broken at Liberty High, the north end of the district has what it has wanted since at LEAST the 2003 school sales tax vote.

The spike in City High turnout was probably from the fight between the Hoover faction and the City High faction. And the Hoover faction was the winner in the two-year race, which I'll look at first because the list is shorter (here's the data).

The two year race had one of the most even three-way splits I've ever seen, 39-31-29. Save Hoover leader Chris Liebig can wear his $210 beret to a swearing in ceremony. Liebig rolled up much of his 422 vote margin at City High and in Manville Heights (the Art History precinct that used to vote at Lincoln). It wasn't because second place candidate Megan Schwalm did poorly in those places - it was because third place Paul Roesler was nearly wiped out.

Liebig also won a huge percentage in Hills, but that by-far-smallest precinct has little overall impact.

Outside those three places, it was pretty close to a third-a third-a third across the district. Liebig was a narrow winner at North Liberty, Horace Mann, Mercer, and in the absentees (which were barely half the 2013 total).  Schwalm carried Coralville, West High and Twain, while Roesler finished first at Lemme, where Schwalm ran weakest.

In the full term race, LaTasha DeLoach is the night's biggest winner, winning five of the six precincts in Iowa City proper (and second at City High by just two votes). She also ran a solid second in Coralville and a competitive fourth with 47% in North Liberty. Her only weak spot was in Hills, which casts about 1% of the district's vote. LaTasha also set a new record for most votes ever for an ICCSD candidate, breaking a 20 year old record set by Marvin Lynch, who was running unopposed in a year when a bond issue boosted turnout.

The third time is the charm for Phil Hemingway. Just short in 2011 and 2013, he wins a solid second place with 48%. Phil won a whopping 88% in tiny Hills, which has historically liked outsiders. He also won the absentees. But Hemingway racked up his votes with strong seconds and thirds in Iowa City. And he improved on his past poor showings to finish fourth in Coralville, though he still underperformed in North Liberty.

Tom Yates ran just 65 votes behind Hemingway in third place. The retired City High teacher won his old school by the aforementioned two votes. He split most of the second and third places in Iowa City with Hemingway, and was in the 30% range in Coralville and North Liberty.

It was Coralville and North Liberty that won Lori Roetlin the fourth full term seat. She was first with a whopping 71% in Coralville and 57 in North Liberty, and second to DeLoach at West High. She was weak on the north and east side, with percentages in the 20s.  But she ran better in Iowa City than the other North Corridor candidates, and those monster margins in Coralville and North Liberty were enough for a 466 vote win.

Before Coralville came in, it looked like a close three way race for the last seat. Brian Richman edged Jason Lewis for fifth place. Richman finished third in Manville Heights and was a solid fourth at City High. If it were the City of Iowa City School District, Richman would be a winner, though the Hoover ties didn't help at Mercer or Lemme (those precincts are City High voters, while the City High precinct has the core of the Hoover vote). As in 2013, Lewis ran best on his home turf of Twain, but it was only good enough for fourth place in one of the smaller precincts.

There's a definite next-tier gap between sixth and seventh. Todd Fanning ran a very close second to Roetlin in North Liberty, but was a weak third in Coralville and was in the teens and 20s in Iowa City. Brianna Wills in eighth place peaked with 32% at Lemme, but was in the top four nowhere. Shawn Eyestone was third in North Liberty but ran fifth, behind Phil Hemingway, in Coralville and was in single digits and low teens in Iowa City.

Then there's Lucas Van Orden, the one candidate not to raise enough money to open a committee (I did see a few signs up) and the one without backing from a significant group. He managed 11% at Lemme and was in single digits everywhere else.

So the geography played a role, but not nearly as much as 2013, where Greg Geerdes finished eighth out of nine, yet won the Manville Heights precinct.

The closest race of the night was in Solon. Ex-Hawkeye hoopster Adam Haluska won an easy victory, and 2013 loser Amber Marty lost again. The fight was for the second seat, where Jim Hauer edged incumbent Dan Coons by just three votes. Paul Deaton has a good review.

Election Day

Warning to state/national followers: It's school board election day and my day job is in the election office. Today is an all local content day.

This is about the fourth or fifth time in my 18 years at the auditor's office that I've come off a three day weekend and gone straight into Election Day. It happens after Labor Day one out of seven school election days, but our last post-holiday election was the Janelle Rettig-Lori Cardella supervisor special, the day after MLK Day in 2010.

Our best ever day-after-holiday special was the Bob Dvorsky state senate special that followed President's Day 1994: 16 inches of snow on Election Day and the best argument ever for voting early.

My time to write today is limited (I pre-prepped this post during the three days off) but I may get a dinner break to do a turnout update. If you want to know what's up follow @jcauditor on Twitter, because I'm writing most of that anyway in my work capacity as Unofficial Press Secretary And Historian.  Depending on mood and fatigue I may do a numbers post once I get home late tonight - the polls close at 8 and if I'm home by 10:30 I'm happy. Look for the results after 8 here or cable channel 5.

Here's stuff you need to know.

Nobody wants the job. Not only are none of the four incumbents elected in 2011 running, Sally Hoelscher didn't even finish the term (and her replacement, 80s era elected board member Orv Townsend, made it clear at appointment time that he wasn't running). And Tuyet (Dorau) Baruah announced her resignation just before the filing deadline, to set up the race for the two year term.

Yet everybody wants the job.  There's a whopping 13 candidates running, almost as bad as the Republican presidential race.

Early voting is down, barely half of 2013, with just 749 through Friday vs. 1444 final in 2013. But I don't think ANY of that is less interest than 2013. Some of that is losing the day before the election, usually the biggest early voting day, to the holiday. I think most of it is people struggling with their fourth and fifth choices.

If you're comparing turnout, 2013 is the year to look at for two reasons. 1: In 2013 the ICCSD took a Great Leap Forward in turnout. District elections had long been dominated by the east side, but last cycle Coralville and North Liberty caught up in what looks less like a one-time thing and more like a permanent shift. 2: The school precinct lines changes between 2011 and 2013.

School precincts confuse everybody, and they confuse everybody EVERY election because people don't think in terms of school vs. all other elections, they think in terms of Big vs. Small. So most of my day will be spent on the phone telling people where to go vote. If you're on your smart phone, try the Go Vote Johnson County app and save me some work.

The decision to combine the precincts is up to the districts. I can see it both ways - on the one hand the confusion and less convenience, on the other hand the permanently low turnout and cost savings. Poll workers are the single biggest cost of any election, and school districts and cities are billed for the costs.

There's 10 school precincts in the ICCSD but a couple - Hills and the Art History building, which used to be the Lincoln School precinct - are disproportionately small. And the lines have nothing to do with attendance areas.

Though the lines are Officially set by the district, in practice the auditor's office does it. I'm going to be direct here. The lines were drawn under the former auditor and they were an afterthought. We spent about three hours on them, on the deadline day, in crisis mode as so much was done back then. I wasted half that time trying to create a viable school precinct in downtown, because "people downtown" (i.e. one friend of the former auditor) did not like going to Lincoln School to vote.

But all I accomplished was proving what I already knew, and what the school district knew when they decided to do combined precincts  - that all of downtown together casts about 20 school board votes. So with the clock ticking we punted and split campus up haphazardly between Mann, City High and Lincoln (now Art).

So there's some bad lines, and despite the former auditor's defeat the law says we're stuck with them through the 2021 election. In particular, people in the Oakcrest area are shipped over to Twain. And my address in Miller-Orchard goes to City High.

The turnout updates are at 9, 11, 3 and 6. Rule of thumb is that turnout tends to double between 9 and 11, between 11 and 3, and between 3 and close. The 6:00 update is new under the Weipert Administration and we haven't had time to figure out what it means yet, other than it's about as late as we can reasonably expect to check in and effectively respond.

As in 2013, there's a lot of overlap between geography and candidate support.

Strong turnout in Coralville, North Liberty and West High benefits the candidates backed by the North Corridor Parents. To my surprise they backed Save Hoover leader Chris Liebig in the two year race.

In the full term, North Corridor Parents backed six candidates for the four seats. Personally, I dislike multi-endorsements of more than the number of seats open, because it risks vote-splitting. But in any case, the candidates who get their stamp of approval are North Libertarians (is that a word?) Shawn Eyestone and Todd Fanning, Lori Roetlin of Coralville, and Iowa Citians Brian Richman, Phil Hemingway and Tom Yates.

The Save Hoover group is with Liebig, of course, and in the four year race they made just three picks: Hemingway, Yates and Brian Richman. But it'll be harder to figure out how well they're doing from the turnout. The City High school precinct was split last cycle between the Hoover faction, which wants the planned school closure reversed, and the City High faction, which wants room for the landlocked high school to grow and sees Hoover's ground as the only available space.

A couple other big endorsements are non-geographic and thus harder to spot in the turnout trends.

The Iowa City Education association is enthusiastic for retired teacher Yates, and is also backing LaTasha DeLoach, Jason Lewis, and Roetlin. They made an Anyone But Liebig multi-endorsement of Megan Schwalm and Paul Roesler in the two year race.

The Iowa City Federation of Labor backs Schwalm in the two year race and made only three picks in the full term: Hemingway, Yates and Lewis. There was some sentiment for a fourth nod for DeLoach, but her late-starting campaign missed the endorsement deadline.

Outgoing board member Jeff McGinness, usually seen as Superintendent Steve Murley's closest ally on the current board, is backing DeLoach, Fanning, Eyestone and Brianna Wills.

This leaves Lucas Van Orden as the odd man out in big endorsements, though a few of his signs have been spotted at realtor-type locations on North Dodge.

In the rest of the county, Solon looks like the hot spot, with four candidates seeking two seats. 80 voters showed up Friday night when the Votemobile was at the Solon football game. Paul Deaton has thoughts here. Rumors of write ins in Clear Creek Amana, where none of the races are contested, fizzled.

Lone Tree has the quirkiest election. They have two contests, one for a two year seat, just like Iowa City. But all three incumbents accidentally filed for the full term, and no one filed for the short term. Appointee incumbent Mike Waldschmidt drew the short straw, "dropped out," and is running as a write in for the short term.

Monday, September 07, 2015

O'Malley Holds His Own With Local-Oriented Labor Crowd

Martin O'Malley put in his standard solid performance today at the Iowa City Federation of Labor picnic: good speech, lots of handshaking and chatting, local TV interviews.
But his win for the day may have been holding his own with a crowd that, with an election tomorrow, was focused on local issues and was starting to get fatigued. I missed a couple and deliberately skipped one, but looking back I think I count 16 speeches for the day.

O'Malley arrived 2 1/2 hours into the picnic and after at least ten speeches from local candidates, elected officials, and surrogates for two other presidential candidates. (Hillary Clinton went to the much larger Cedar Rapids labor event today, and Bernie Sanders was in Cedar Rapids Friday to walk the Penford picket line.)

Judging by the applause meter, it was a Sanders crowd. Yet at least 3/4 of a crowd that peaked at around 200 stayed to hear O'Malley, who's not letting a low standing in polls despite a textbook old-school caucus campaign flag his spirits.  "I've got the front runners right where I want them," he joked.

But at the beginning of his remarks, O'Malley took a thinly veiled shot at Sanders, Lincoln Chaffee and Jim Webb. "I'm not a former independent, I'm not a former Republican, I'm not a socialist, I'm a lifelong Democrat," he said.

Sanders, of course, self-identifies as an independent socialist. Webb served in the Reagan administration, and Chaffee was elected senator and governor as a Republican and independent respectively.

But even O'Malley was interested in local Johnson County politics, as he reportedly asked county supervisors about progress on the local minimum wage ordinance.
The ordinance has passed two of the required three votes unanimously, with Thursday's final passage a certainty. But passage will likely trigger legal battles with the state and with the county's cities.

"We cant move minimum wage forward in Des Moines, so we need to set an example here in Johnson County," said state senator Bob Dvorsky.

The minimum wage fight will likely play out in the November 3 city election as well. Four candidates - at large contenders Rockne Cole and Jim Throgmorton, District A contender Pauline Taylor, and District C candidate John Thomas - all spoke and all support the wage increase.

Taylor spoke immediately after O'Malley but commands enough respect as one of the giants of the local labor movement (she was one of the key organizers when SEIU won its vote to unionize UIHC nurses in 1998) that she held the crowd's attention despite the handshake scrum. Thomas unfortunately drew the very last speaking slot, just after the crowd reached the end of its attention span.

Labor has not yet made its endorsements for the city election, but the four candidates who spoke are very likely to get the nod. (Incumbent Kingsley Botchway, who's not up for re-election this year, was also present.)

Also speaking were labor's four endorsed candidates for five school board seats in tomorrow's election: Phil Hemingway, Jason Lewis and Tom Yates for the full term and Megan Schwalm for the two year term. Also present but not speaking were four year candidate LaTasha DeLoach, and Chris Liebig, opposing Schwalm for the two year term. (Update: Liebig notes that Brian Richman also attended.)

And if that's not enough speeches, likely US Senate candidate Rob Hogg also stopped by, and won the crowd over by giving the shortest speech of the day. Smart enough to sense the fatigue, "We need Congress to work for our people and our country again" was literally almost all Hogg said. (We'd still be there if Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause had showed up.)

That's not even all the speeches. For more details check the Twitter feed.

There were actually candidates for FOUR separate elections in attendance: besides O'Malley and the school and city candidates, Lisa Green-Douglass, running in next June's supervisor primary, was also on hand (along with incumbents Sullivan, Neuzil and Harney).

Other politicians present but not yet mentioned: legislators Kevin Kinney and Mary Mascher, and Coralville city council member Mitch Gross.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Iowa City Council: Can't Wait For Election Day

The other day I saw a yard with signs for three different elections at once. They had school candidates, a city candidate, and a presidential candidate. So if Bernie Sanders is accidentally elected to the Iowa City School Board on Tuesday, that's why.

Could have been worse. We could have had a city primary.

Four Iowa Iowa City City Iowa Iowa Council Council candidates aren't waiting for Tuesday's school election to kickoff campaigning for the November 3 city election, and held a joint event Sunday afternoon

It's a clear early sign that the lines dividing Iowa City are likely to break into two distinct factions across all three of the separate contests in Iowa City's rather confusing district system. (All you need to remember this year is that everyone is running city-wide.)

The candidates who gathered Sunday at the Burford House Inn, across the street from College Green Park, are generally seen as the "progressive" faction. In the at-large there's Rockne Cole, who ran a respectable fourth in 2013, and Jim Throgmorton, the District C incumbent who's switching races. In the district races, two first time candidates were on hand, Pauline Taylor in District A and John Thomas in District C,

This would, by default, make the other faction newcomer Tim Conroy and incumbent Michelle Payne in the at-large race, incumbent Rick Dobyns in District A, and first time candidate Scott McDonough in District C.

Throgmorton and Kingsley Botchway often end up on the short end of 5-2 votes against Payne, Dobyns, Susan Mims, Terry Dickens, and mayor Matt Hayek (who is stepping down this year; Dickens, Mims and Botchway were elected in 2013 and hold over.)

"My hope is at least a couple of us get elected," said Throgmorton. "Or all four," added Cole.  Three wins, along with Botchway, would add up to the first progressive city council majority in living memory.

Even though Iowa City is Iowa's most progressive oasis in state and national elections, and even though the University brings in people from across the county and world to settle here, city government has been permanently controlled by a business-townie establishment. The closest we've ever come to progressive control was a 4-3 split in the mid-90s.

"We need to build on what is great about Iowa City and make it a just city," said Throgmorton.

"We're not a slate, but it is about these four campaigns," said Thomas. "What's common to all four of us is we are genuinely interested in embracing the diversity of Iowa City. The current council pays a kind of lip service to diversity."

"Their hearts are in the right place," Cole said of the current council majority," but they don't represent the entire community in the way that they should."

Cole hopes to add affordable living and a commitment to environmental sustainability to the council agenda. "We haven't had enough people to support Jim's voice."

"Growth is good," said Taylor, "but some of our recent growth isn't." She hopes to make sustainability and historic preservation a bigger factor in development.

All four candidates said the current council majority is not responsive to or encouraging of public input. "Do you view community participation as an obstacle," asked Cole, "or as an opportunity?"

Cole, Taylor, Thomas and Throgmorton all said if it came to a vote they would support Johnson County's ordinance that would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The county ordinance is certain to pass its third and final vote Thursday, with an effective date for the first phase of the increase of November 1 - two days before the city election.

Friday, September 04, 2015

The Ministry is interfering at Hogwarts

From the moment his candidacy was announced at 7 AM Monday - notably last, notably different than the other three - it was brutally obvious that the fix was in and that Bruce Harreld was the next president of the University of Iowa.

The faculty and student opposition, and the harsh public forum, only served to impress the Board of Regents, headed by Branstad consigliere Bruce Rastetter, that they were making the Right pick.

In the social media sphere, more than a few Iowa Republicans are dancing the happy dance of schadenfreude that the liberal professors would, to paraphrase one, have to learn how the real world works.

Harreld may turn out to be a decent guy, and may adapt to the new role. That's beside the point.  The point is, this is a political appointment, in a lot of the different senses of the word "political," and a strong message to the University of Iowa community in particular and the People's Republic of Johnson County in general - a messages best abbreviated as a raised middle finger.

There's disagreement about the pick itself - but no dispute at all about the analysis.

"I'll tell you what it means. It means the Ministry is interfering at Hogwarts." - Hermione Granger

In most states, college communities and especially public college communities are the most left leaning, the only places where the upper middle class skews left, with high percentages of public employees who these days are more likely to be unionized than private sector workers. Republican rhetoric against tax and spend doesn't work in a town where the $400,000 doctors get their paychecks from the state. Your tax cut is my new lab.

And Iowa City skews far more left than Ames, with its bigger share of ag folks on campus, or the smaller UNI, where Cedar Falls is overshadowed and the economy and community are less academic-dominated.

"It proved, once again, the basic futility of seizing turf you can't control." - Hunter S. Thompson

As Iowa got redder last year, the People's Republic not only stayed blue but actually became MORE Democratic. The map above is results for governor by county, with Johnson the only place won by Jack Hatch.

Branstad made a highly publicized, and successful, effort last year to carry Lee County, one of only two he had failed to win in any of his previous races. No one even though to mention that 99th county. And it's not like Hatch won 51% here and 48% in Lee. In every race on the ballot, Johnson County was 13 to 15 points more Democratic than anyplace else in the state.

Elections have consequences, I was reminded yesterday by friends both Democratic and Republican. And an in your face choice feels a lot like payback.

The politics of the Harreld selection are more than just the raw numbers of electoral politics, of course. They're about the politics of different cultures. Terry Branstad has always been all about about Doing Business, and the academic culture is often about Knowledge for The Sake Of Knowledge.

There's also a culture clash with the rest of the state, along many different fault lines: rural vs. "urban," since Iowa City passes for "urban in Iowa. Secular vs. religious. Multicultural vs. monocultural. Native vs. newcomer. Tractors vs. bikes.

We even see that in our local elections, where "lifelong resident" is code for "I'm the Chamber of Commerce candidate." Our city government, which has been permanently dominated by the townies and the business community despite our "radical" reputation because they're elected in low turnout off-off years, will no doubt get along famously with Harreld.

In the end, politics is about who has power and who uses power.  The Harreld designation may be one of the steps of the last and biggest power play by Branstad and his crew - for the unanimous vote, and the private phone call last month, made it very clear who's really in charge.

Organized labor and academia are, along with racial minorities and a pro-female gender gap, the pillars of liberalism support.

In Scott Walker's Wisconsin, all of these were targets. Women and minorities are always targets, of course, with anti-choice measures and voter suppression laws a standard feature of a complete Republican takeover of a state.

Walker, however, hit harder and faster at labor, public employees in particular, than anyone else anywhere else.  And once that battle was won, he set his sights on academia next.

Scott Walker became a career College Republican before he bothered to get a degree - dropped out or kicked out, depending on which story you believe. Branstad, too, represents a non-academic approach to academia, serving time during his interregnum as an outsider president of a medical school.

The anti-academic mindset is a big part of climate change denial, though I think the denial is based as much on dislike for the solutions as it is on actual science denial. Either way, conservatives don't like those annoying scientists, and many of them think colleges should function as job training programs. And that's what Scott Walker has done in Wisconsin - re-set the path of the UW system (imagine Madison as Iowa City, which is a very apt analogy, and then about 15 UNI's across the state) to where, when all is done, it will be near-indistinguishable from a vo-tech system. And while Walker's presidential hopes seem to be fizzling, the damage to Wisconsin is done.

Branstad would love to do nothing more to cap his career than win his 25 year battle with AFSCME (the union who represents, among others, the UI's merit staff) by crushing the union. He's one state senator away from having that power... and a business-oriented UI president could be useful in that battle.

All this points to the really important race in Iowa next year.

Barack Obama won Wisconsin twice.  But having a Democrat in the White House didn't save Wisconsin's unionized public employees or tenured faculty, when Walker and his willing partners had top to bottom control of state government.

Terry Branstad does not have that, yet. He had just over two years left on a term, assuming he finishes it. And he has a Republican House with a majority that will be a challenge for Democrats to pick up.

But the Democrats have the state senate, by one vote. That one vote, whether you count freshmen Chaz Allen or Kevin Kinney or any one other Democrat, is all that blocks Branstad from gutting UI the way Walker has damaged Wisconsin.

Maybe, hopefully, if it comes to it, Harreld will defend the institution he now leads. But in the meantime message from the Branstad and the Regents is clear.