Monday, June 29, 2015

Mandering: Redistricting Ruling "A Freakin' Disaster"

Redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering emerged from his secret mapping bunker Monday morning to talk about the big case. The normally reclusive Mandering refuses to give media interviews, except to the Deeth Blog.

So Jerry, what do you think of the big case? Marriage everywhere, huh.

I ain't been payin' attention. Let people do what they want.

Oh, you meant the Obamacare case.

Deeth, you got a messed up set of priorities. I'm talking' about the big case that's gonna put me outta business.

I see. You meant Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

That's the one. It's a freakin' disaster for guys like me.

Why don't you explain the issues.

So AridZone is one of those initiative and referendum state.  Back in 2000 the voters passed a thing that made them use an independent commission.

Like we have in Iowa.

Pretty much the same idea but not exactly. In Iowa the politicians still get the final say, even though it's just an up or down vote with no amendments. In AridZone it was totally up to the five members of the Commission.

You mean the heads of the Five Families?

Not that commission. Now them I could work with. I asked them "Who should I give this turf to?" and they tell me, "Not to our paisan. Give it to a Jew congressman in another district." Those were the days.

Anyway, out in AridZone the legislature sued, sayin' that under the Constitution’s Elections Clause, the legislature is the ones required to be be in charge of the redistricting process.

Which party was in charge?

In AridZone it was the Republicans. Democrats do it too sometimes, which you know bein' next to Illinois. But Republicans have been been more aggressive with it lately. Me, I'm a pragmatist. My idea of "nonpartisan" is I work for whichever side pays better.

So today the Court ruled in favor of the redistricting commission. What does that mean for you professionally?

I got a serious problem in referendum states, Ohio and Michigan especially. Ohio's a split even state but map gives them 12 Republican congressmen and just four Democrats.

It's a damn shame. Just look at this beautiful map.

See that long skinny thing along Lake Erie? District 9. Nothing holding it together in the middle but a freakin' bridge. My associates got rid of a guy off of that bridge.

I'm sure there's a lot of other bodies in Lake Erie.

Not that way, wise guy. We're not the muscle end of the family. We used that bridge to hook Toledo to Cleveland so we could get rid of Dennis Kucinich.He was in enough trouble just with Cleveland because he kept running all over running for president. But throw in Toledo and he was a goner. Did the guy a favor, really, now he can spend more time at home with the wife.

I love my wife very much but Dennis is a lucky man.

You ain't kiddin'.

So let's say Ohio voters pass a referendum for Iowa-style clean districts.

My job is a lot easier when those freakin' voters stay out of it.

Does that mean Ohio gets an 8-8 map?

Maybe but probably not. But you probably get 9-7, maybe 6-10. You sure do better than 12-4.

Why doesn't it match up with votes?

Republicans get more seats per vote no matter what youse do because birds of a feather flock together. In Ohio or Pennsylvania or anyplace with a pro sports size city, you got a bunch of urban minority districts that vote 90% Democrat. Even I can't do nothin' with that. So those votes get wasted. Then out in the country you got a lot of 65, 70% Republican places, but not a lot of 90% Republican places. Just a couple, and usually those have more square miles than people. So the most Democratic places are more Democratic than the most Republican places are Republican. Iowa's one of the only places where that ain't true.

So how big a difference does this ruling make?

If every state did what Iowa does it would be YOOGE. More elections get decided on map day or on the filing deadline than on Election Day. You got 435 House districts in the country and what, maybe 30 of those are competitive. And of those 30, three are in rinky-dink Iowa which has just four total to begin with.

Careful what you say about Iowa. We like nice here.

Yeah, yeah. Here's a quarter, go buy some corn.

We don't have corn for a little while yet.

But what youse do have is competitive districts. Look at your legislature. You got maybe a third a third a third. 30-odd state House seats safe for Democrats, 30-odd safe for Republicans. Even with the sharpest knives in the business I can't cut a decent turf outta Sioux County or Iowa City.

You're scary when you talk about knives.

Remember that half a body I was telling you about?

Is a third a third a third like that?

No, your last third is open turf. Either team can win it with the right candidate, the right amount of money and a good year. So if every state does it, all of a sudden you could go from 30 competitive seats in the country to maybe 150. That's even a bigger deal than Citizens United. You can throw all the money in the world at a custom-drawn Jerry Mandering district and it won't do any good. But with an Iowa Clean style district, every race is a fight.

So if that happens, how are your job prospects?

Well, I saw this one on the docket, so I been talkin' to the Iowa City school district. I hear they need a guy who can draw funny lines.

Funny how?

Even I'm sick of that one, Deeth.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Definitely was not enough cake

As if to underscore the fact that there had been too much news to fit into one little week, my normally trusty Samsung Mega fable t locked up right in the middle of Iowa City's celebration of today's Supreme Court ruling that made marriage equality the law in all 50 states.

So my live tweets are lost to history, not that they were a very big part of the 46 year march (OK, 45 years and 464 days) from the Stonewall rebellion to Obergefell v. Hodges.
County supervisor Janelle Rettig reviewed that history, timestamping the events with the number one hits on those dates, and making some of us feel a bit old in the process.
Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" and of COURSE the Village People's "YMCA" got the crowd dancing, but unfortunately those songs only hit number two in 1979. (Pro tip: Never play music trivia with a former DJ.)

Other speakers included Jen and Dawn BarbouRoske, plaintiffs in the Varnum v. Brien case that made Iowa just the third state to recognize marriage equality waay back in 2009, and county recorder Kim Painter, who gets to hand out marriage licenses ans was the first out countywide elected official in the state waaaaaay back in 1998.
And, of course,this being the most Democratic place in the state, with the Ped Mall itself being the epicenter of blueness in Iowa, lots of elected officials on hand.
Lyness Nielsen (blocking) Sullivan Jacoby Bolkcom Dvorsky Lensing Painter Weipert Rettig. Taylor (Swisher) and Botchway spotted at other points in the evening.

Team Hillary was ready for the occasion, with a small army of staffers and interns working the crowd with rainbow H➔ stickers. Either for practical reasons or for effect they were wearing the rolls of stickers diagonally across the chest like pageant sashes.
There were occasional sobering reminders, for example people who can get legally married tomorrow can get legally fired Monday morning. And those struggles remain. But they were gentle reminders, not buzzkills, at least not for tonight.

So that's what I can remember off the top of my bald head about this day in history in this little corner of America.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Patel Out in 1st CD

The last time I talked to Ravi Patel, a couple months ago, he was very confident about his bid for Congress in the 1st CD. Fundraising was strong, meetings and events around the district were going well.

So I'm as surprised as anyone by his announcement this afternoon that he's leaving the race. It takes guts to step up and put yourself forward as a candidate. And it also takes guts to very publicly step back after you've stepped up.

Sure, there had been some bumps in the road: some faux outrage about the quality and content of a film Ravi had produced, some labor questions about wages at his hotels, and a poor interview last week. But none of these things were fatal, especially at so early a stage with so few voters tuned in.

I haven't written much about the 1st District race. OK, I've been actively avoiding it because I like all three, now two, of the candidates. I haven't met Gary Kroeger yet but I like his message.

Monica Vernon did great service for the party last year as Jack Hatch's running mate. She's been bashed as a new convert to the Democrats - I admit, I bashed too when I was supporting Anesa Kajtazovic in last year's primary - but she reaches out to detractors, and so she's a new Democrat? At least she's moving in the right direction.

But Ravi and I have been on the same side of a number of fights the last few years. And I like young candidates. I'm old enough now that the idea of bringing along a new generation of leaders is very appealing.

But not all Democrats agree, especially not in my county, which may have been part of why Ravi felt the need to move into the very inviting 1st CD.  So Ravi and Anesa were young people in a hurry. Since when was ambition a crime?

Republicans have known this for years. 25 years ago my brother went to Boys State in Wisconsin. He met a very ambitious young fellow there, who was in such a hurry that he basically became a professional Young Republican before he left college. He either dropped out or was kicked out, but he already had a legislative seat lined up.

You may have heard of him. Dude's name is Walker. The investments in young Republicans that were made two, three decades ago have now paid off with the likely presidential nominee.
But back to 2016 and back to the 1st Congressional District of Iowa. I'm just speculating here:

As I keep saying, Iowa Democrats are furious that after decades of effort and near misses, and years of comparisons with Mississippi - NOT a good thing during Flag Week - Republicans sent a woman to Washington first. And not just a woman - a woman with Joni Ernst's very special cultural persona.

Survey the 2016 landscape. Chuck Grassley is untouchable, Steve King's district is unwinnable and Dave Loebsack is the only Democratic incumbent. In the 3rd CD, Staci Appel is out and Janet Peterson looks like she's waiting till 2018 when the options are better and when she is in mid-term in her Senate seat. The other Democratic female all-star, Liz Mathis, is also mid-term in 2018, and is a Vernon supporter and ally anyway. And Swati Dandekar, who may yet rise from the dead with Patel out, is still persona non grata to the base. (Unlike Vernon, she switched the WRONG way.)

So if Democratic women have a chance in Iowa in 2016, it's Monica and Hillary.

Even before Ravi Patel announced - scratch that. Even before Pat Murphy lost, which they saw coming, DC Democrats were making it very clear that Monica Vernon was their choice in this district. In fact that was probably part of the plan when she ran for lieutenant governor. And to her credit, Vernon came away from losing two elections in the same year with increased stature, which is a pretty tough career move to pull off.

And I'm speculating that message may have been sent and received.

Patel's dropout sets up a 1st CD primary between Vernon and Kroeger that's got a weird parallel to the Democratic presidential race. In this corner, a second time candidate who may be a little moderate for the base but is adjusting fast, can raise good money, and oh yeah First Woman. In that corner, an outsider with a little bit different background who's betting on a feisty progressive message.

As for Ravi Patel. It's not every day that a young, charismatic, and wealthy businessman walks in the front door of the Democratic party. So his first run for office didn't go as well as he had hoped. So what. We need to not eat our young here, like we more or less did with Kajtazovic. We need to nurture and bring him along as a future leader, the way we are with Jim Mowrer.

Ravi Patel is an asset to the Democratic Party, and to the whole state of Iowa. One campaign that didn't work out does not change the fact that he is a remarkable success at a young age. Ravi has a bright future ahead in the Democratic Party if he chooses that, and is a name I hope to be still hearing long after I hang up the beret.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

It's not about a flag

It's taken me a few days to process Charleston, in part because I was still processing Coral Ridge Mall. And during the three days since Wednesday's mass murder, a goal and rallying point has emerged.

Somehow, the issue that has come out of a white supremacist targeting a historic, politically active black church and murdering nine people has become a Confederate flag debate.

In part this is because of the scene of the murder,South Carolina, where the Confederate flag, and its display on state grounds, has been at the middle of public debate for a few decades. Fewer decades than you would think, because as the symbols of segregation were less important while actual, old school, colored fountain legal segregation was the law of the land in South Carolina.

Symbolism is powerful. Symbolism is important. Symbolism matters. It should be a no brainer to remove the Confederate flag from its remaining places of official display. Tear it down and light it on fire with a bottle of Jack Daniel's. And defining it and stigmatizing it s a racist symbol will be a step forward in defining and stigmatizing racism. Maybe down the road a couple decades, combines with a lot of other steps, it'll keep some other child from growing into this kind of a monster.

But it won't eliminate racism, either the casually accepted type or the violent Stormfront variety displayed by the murderer. Hauling the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina state capitol would be a good thing, a great thing in fact. But it would not have saved those nine lives.

Sensible gun control laws might have.

The post-Charleston discussion has turned to the flag in part because the killer chose flags for their symbolic power. But I can't help but feel like part of the reason the flag fight has become a symbol of victory here is because people feel a desperate need to do something, but have given up on trying to take on the gun issue.

There's an acceptance of the unacceptable. Yes, we know that every couple months in America some angry white boy will shoot up a place and kill a bunch of people, but that's just how it is and we'll never be able to change it. No, easier to take on a symbolic fight rather than a substantive fight.

After last week's shooting in my community, I broke the taboo and said in public for the first time what I've believed for years. It's time to repeal the Second Amendment and eliminate the archaic notion and Constitutional misinterpretation that owning a weapon is an absolute right. No other country on the planet has anything like the Second Amendment and our gun culture, and no other country on the planet has anything like our mass murder rate.

And then we need to enact strict gun control laws like the rest of the world had. Maybe in order to stop these shootings, it really does need to be harder to get a deer rifle. Maybe that's the only way we can do it. One thing's for sure, we've never actually tried.

Maybe we'll never eliminate monstrous hate like what we saw Wednesday. Maybe it will take more generations that I will see, and maybe we need to take some symbolic steps along the way. But in the meantime, we need to do our best to limit the means of destruction.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Weekend In Hillaryland

Three Hillary Clinton tweetathons this weekend. You may have followed them in real time, but here's some overall impressions.

"Four Fights" is a good theme from the launch speech, if Clinton stays with it, which I think she will. There don't appear to be signs of multiple reboots ala 2007. Usually bullet points are limited to three, but four works with the alliteration, the throwback to FDR's Four Freedoms, and because it sounds like Foo Fighters. Which is probably more important than the FDR thing because, despite its evergreen appeal to the base, the youngest FDR voter is 92.

I know I've pledged neutrality, but I will endorse if she picks Dave Grohl as a running mate. Breaks his leg and finishes show is almost as good as Teddy Roosevelt getting shot and finishing the speech.

But grunge would be too explicit a throwback to Clinton 42, so musically Hillary sticks to verbal references to "Yesterday" and rally music from this list. Tom Petty is banished, in part because the line "God it's so painful when something that's so close is still so far out of reach" hits too close to home from 2008, and is replaced by Katy Perry who in a rarity for a rally playlist is an actual enthusiastic supporter.

"Roar" almost could have been written for a Hillary Clinton rally and ties into that "fighter" theme we'll keep hearing (Clinton-Grohl 2016. Think about it.) Other things we'll hear a lot: "I've been coloring my hair for years" (drink) and "youngest woman president" (drink).

The speech was much the same in Des Moines on Sunday to a crowd of - exact body count - 713, at the State Fairgrounds in front of a Patton size flag on Flag Day. Counters in the national press noted Bernie Sanders' slightly larger crowd on Friday night, and surprisingly there was some spare room in back.

Most of the crowd got lunch - Hy-Vee catered, very Iowan - and sat at picnic tables. Once the tables were full, late diners grabbed seats on the floor. In a great egalitarian touch, Senate finance chair Bob Dvorsky was one of the folks eating at a groundling seat while Sue Dvorsky - ex-party chair who is now Hillary Enthusiast Number One - worked the press area.

Things were a bit looser on press row than they were in late caucus season 2007; we were herded but not aggressively herded, and there were lots of friendly over the fence chats between press and Regular Iowans, which was discouraged last time.

There was also plenty of rope line time after the speech, 24 minutes by my clock. The people who were most dedicated and patient mostly managed to get their moment, and from my distance it looked like Hillary was spending Quality Time.

Other than her presence, Clinton made news twice in Iowa. In the biggest distinction between Saturday's speech and Sunday's, she discussed the Trans Pacific Partnership  at length. The tl;dr version: we need to see the details and by the way I'm a tough negotiator. Not quite a Bernie Sanders Hell No, but the more important question is whether it's enough to calm jangled nerves in union halls.

The other news she made was, well, news - doing sit-downs with two of the state's leading journalists, Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson and the Register's Jennifer Jacobs.

Brilliant move.  Not a shocking move, but strategically perfect. No one can complain that she's NOT doing interviews, can they? Yet doing interviews with state journalists means the priorities were different than the Beltway press corps' obsessions. No horse race, email, no Clinton Foundation donors, no Benghazi.  Now all the nationals can do as say "but you didn't talk to US."

Instead, Henderson and Jacobs focused on topics more interesting to an Iowa audience, and coincidentally (or not) more in line with Clinton's message. Jacobs focused on the trade proposal and the "eagerness" (Clinton's word) for a female president. Henderson also started with trade but in a 21 minute chat also touched on Iraq, universal pre-K, and what Clinton 42's role would be in a Clinton 45 administration (TBD).

And, in a move dear to my heart, Henderson asked a version of what I call The Existential Question:
Henderson: In 2008, members of the Clinton team, including Bill Clinton, had some concerns about the Caucus process…Are you comfortable with the process…and how does this feel different than it did eight years ago?

Clinton: I am very committed to competing in the Caucus system and I do think that the Democratic Party in Iowa has made some changes that will provide some greater opportunity for people who wish to express themselves in the Caucuses to be heard.
"Competing in the Caucus system" this time ≠ KEEPING the caucus system NEXT time. Notably, in the voting rights section of the speech, Clinton made references to second shift workers in troops in New York, but dropped them in Iowa.  Those references had been made in connection to criticism of the caucuses, both just before Iowa 2008 and after. So one one level, she's recognizing that concern, but on another level she's not saying I ♡ REALIGNMENT TIME either. Still hoping to follow up on this one.

In the Henderson interview, Clinton quickly moved from caucus process stuff to praising the organizers and their organizing, which was on display Saturday morning and evening in house parties across the state.

Iowa City had two - a speech watch at the library (I overslept and blogged the speech in my PJs in the basement, which is what we bloggers are supposed to do) and an evening event at the home of precinct captain Robin Chambers, which me and about 30 folks attended.

There were legislative endorsement rollouts at a lot of these - Bob Dvorsky is now Official and Vicki Lensing was also on hand - and a brief video hookup to the Sioux City party that Clinton attended. And there was pizza and of course a Sue Dvorsky pep talk. But more importantly there were lots and lots of clipboards and commit cards.

It may seem ironic, but at the field level, Hillary Clinton seems to be running the Barack Obama campaign. And why not - it worked. (Of course, the Barack Obama campaign was really just a fine tuned and improved Howard Dean campaign.)  

What's clear is that Team Hillary won't be making the top-heavy, top-down mistakes of 2007. And with the milestone of open to all now done, and the body count and media scrum proving managable, maybe those mid-size Q and A events will be possible.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Weekend Non-Hillary Edition

All of the weekend Hillary stuff - the announcement speech, the house party I attended, and the Des Moines rally which I'll be attending - will be summed up in a late Sunday post. Before I do that I'm going to clear the deck of some other items.

The first sort of IS a Hillary item. In the announcement speech, the former Secretary of State included about 45 seconds of foreign policy discussion, and in that made sure to include a reference to "our ally Israel" with no mention of the state's human rights abuses or acknowledgement of anything called "Palestine."

Between that, and Bernie Sanders' relatively tepid answer to an Israel question the other week in Iowa City, it seems like we STILL aren't going to get a serious discussion of the Palestine-Israel conflict in this primary. Democratic leaders are lagging behind the Democratic base on this. I'd like to steer the discussion more in the direction of THIS article titled "Accelerating the Decolonization of Palestine." #SorryNotSorry

And while I'm saying stuff I used to be afraid to say: I'm more shook up by Friday's Coral Ridge Mall murder of Andrea Farrington than I thought I'd be. The murderer - I'm not saying "the accused" because he's confessed - clearly had a gun and militaria fetish.

It is simply too easy to get a gun in this country, there are simply too many of them, and their use is too easily rationalized as a "right." It's time for America to get rid of the primitive notion that weapons are an absolute right, as sacred as speech and religion and democracy.

I've long thought if there were one thing I could change in the Constitution, it would be the Second Amendment. Now I'm saying it. It should be repealed, and strict and sensible gun laws like other civilized countries have should be enacted. #SorryNotSorry
The Ames Straw Poll - since Boone 2015 never happened I'm reverting to the traditional usage - died in 2011. It died with Michele Bachmann's ultimately meaningless win. It died when Rick Perry's announcement stepped on the day.

But most of all, it died when Tim Pawlenty bet everything he had on Ames, fell short, and immediately washed out of the race. Nobody wanted to be the Tim Pawlenty of 2015. Friday's announcement was just burying the corpse.

I regret never getting to see the show. In 2007 Ames conflicted with my parents' 50th wedding anniversary, and they called dibs. In 2011 I was turned down for press credentials, though I did ask a little late.

The funeral for the straw poll brought out the Iowa haters on social media.

That attitude might explain why Greenfield was so rude to me when I tried to talk to him at the 2007 Harkin Steak Fry.

I was a pro at that time, the glory months of the late great all-star team at Iowa Independent, and was working on a piece that, ironically, Greenfield would have had a strong opinion about. Eventually it was headlined "Iowa's Neighbors Envious of Caucuses, But Not Hostile," but during its looooong gestation we referred to it on editorial conference calls as "Spoiled Iowa."

I was juggled a half dozen stories at a time and saved a lot of string that day. And I recognized Greenfield from various cable shows, and thought he could add a good quote for Spoiled Iowa.

But he brushed me off very brusquely, too important, or self-important, to talk to a mere blogger from Iowa. In contrast, Obama campaign chief David Axelrod was more than happy to share a few minutes.

As for Greenfield's question Why Iowa? I'll note that it's just not possible to transplant a political culture that has taken decades to develop into just any semi-random small state. Look at the troubles Nevada had in 2008 as a case in point.
Some folks are looking at this week's trade vote as a sign that Barack Obama's lame duck period had begun. I'm not convinced of that, but it does illustrate an interesting dynamic.

Free trade is an elite issue. Non-elites, Democrats AND Republicans, are instinctively protectionist, less worried about exporting goods than they are about exporting jobs. And it seems that House Democrats are closely in tune with that dynamic.

Friday, June 12, 2015

O'Malley Focused on Executive Experience in Iowa City Stop

And the hands that really wanted to be shook got shook twice.

Martin O'Malley held a classic, old-school caucus visit Thursday night in Iowa City, taking questions from a crowd of about 75 in a bar one size too small.

The former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor used those two offices as a key selling point. "I'm the only candidate in this race with 15 years of executive experience," he said, and cited a liberal wish-list of accomplishments.

"I have always been drawn to the toughest of fights," said O'Malley, citing Maryland's progress on living wage laws, collective bargaining, voting rights and marriage equality.
O'Malley transitioned smoothly from climate change to the green economy, saying "We created 2000 solar jobs in 7 year in Maryland. We can create a new economy with new jobs and greater opportunity for our kids"

But one aspect of O'Malleys record, policing tactics, came under fire from a questioner.  O'Malley had brought the issue up himself in the prepared speech, and said "In Baltimore we took action to save neighbors from violence," while at the same time mentioning in passing the April death in Baltimore police custody of Freddie Gray, and the rioting which followed.

The second questioner O'Malley called on read a prepared statement calling O'Malley to task for racial disparity in "mass arrests and mass incarceration" during his tenure as mayor. O'Malley took the opportunity to again defend (without being defensive) his record.

"There was nothing mass about it." said O'Malley. "This was not easy. Every day we had to tend the wound of race in America. We reduced police involved shooting to its lowest level ever" during his term as mayor. O'Malley went on to point out his efforts as governor to increase drug treatment and early intervention, lowered incarceration rates, and restore voting rights to ex-felons. He concluded with Maryland's abolition of the death penalty, which drew applause.

So O'Malley satisfied most, if not all, of the crowd with his well-prepped answer to the meta-issue. But no answer was going to satisfy the questioner, and it's a good example of how Q & A time, especially in the People's Republic of Johnson County, can be a gotcha game.

(Pro tip to Team Hillary: Have a good heckler comeback line ready for Sunday. And be more ready for that heckler to be from the left than from the right.)

And pro tip to all candidates coming to Iowa City: Grad student group COGS seems to be working the bird-dogging circuit this cycle, asking about student debt and academic freedom issues. "We need to shame Congress into action" to lower student interest rates, said O'Malley. "We need to move to a point where education is debt free. We can't do that overnight, but we need to get there."

A campaign finance group is also on the bird dog circuit, which underscores my point that, while campaign finance may not yet be an issue that moves general election votes, it's starting to move outside the realm of pure inside baseball and into the strike zone of base issues, as overturning the Citizens United decision got the loudest applause of the night.

The personal touch seemed to matter more than the fairly solid set of liberal issue positions. Roughly half the crowd, mostly the younger half, stuck around for that second handshake and a picture. There were some longer, detailed issue discussions, but some folks just thanked O'Malley for being there.

Electeds on hand were Jim Throgmorton from the city council, Supervisor Mike Carberry, State Rep. Dave Jacoby, and State Senator Kevin Kinney, who did the introduction. O'Malley came in last summer to do a fundraising event for Kinney, whose open-seat gain from the Republicans was the race that clinched the Democrat's one seat hold on the Senate.

Small to mid-size events like Thursday's are O'Malley's best shot at breaking out of the low single digit third place spot he now has in polls. It's simply not possible for Hillary Clinton, whose first open to the general public event is Sunday at the State Fairgrounds, to shake every hand and answer every question. It's hard for even second place Bernie Sanders to do that.

Pretend this is 2003. A two term governor and two term mayor looks like a pretty solid and serious candidate in that 2004 field. And a crowd of 75 to 100 seven months out - in mid-summer in a college town - seems pretty solid unless you're comparing it to a rock star crowd.

Which is, of course, what it will be compared to.

Martin O'Malley knows he has a long way to go in these next seven months. But he's definitely someone to take seriously.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Four Candidates at July 17 Iowa Dems Event

The 2016 Democratic caucus cycle now has its first official multi-candidate "cattle call" event.
Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley and the not yet officially announced Jim Webb will all attend the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame event Friday night, July 17 in Cedar Rapids.

The Hall of Fame is a traditional multi-candidate event in caucus years. In 2007, five of the six leading candidates (Obama the exception) attended.

Unless something else is announced sooner, the event is likely to be Clinton's first Iowa event that's not by invitation only. UPDATE: Something was. It's not a totally wide-open event; it's a party fundraiser with tickets starting at $50. And speech time tends to be tightly regulated so Q and A sessions are extremely unlikely.

But the event will go a long way toward calming the core party activists who are paying attention seven months before the caucuses, and who've grumbled about not being able to see the frontrunner in person.

Republicans have seen several multi-candidate events over the last few months, most recently Joni Ernst's Roast and Ride last Saturday, and all have drawn major media attention.

Democratic Party officials have been hinting that the Hall of Fame would have "major" guests for several days; IDP chair Andy McGuire almost said as much at our county central committee meeting on Thursday.

An IDP spokesman said the other announced candidate, Lincoln Chafee, has been invited and is welcome to attend. I have no reason to believe he won't; my bet is party officials didn't want to wait on his final answer before announcing they'd landed the other four fish. UPDATE June 15: Yep, I was right. Chafee now on board, adding milliliters of excitement.

The Caucuses' Greatest Hits: 2015 Edition

With the once mighty Ames Boone Straw Poll struggling to gain traction, and the relatively light activity on the Democratic side*, long time caucus lovers are suffering from some existential angst: will the caucuses survive?

Well, for one thing, * ,  Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders are all in the state this weekend, and they, plus Jim Webb, will headline a July 17 party fundraiser in Cedar Rapids, the first cattle call event on the Democratic side and the first confirmed non-invite only Clinton event. (Where's Chafee?) So stuff is happening. (I'll be at one of O'Malley's stops, Thursday night at 7 at the Sanctuary Pub in Iowa City. Insert Irishman/pub joke here.)

And the Register's Jason Noble attacks the existential angst directly with a piece headlined No, Iowa isn’t over. "A spin through the last four decades of Iowa political history underscores how the importance of the caucuses has waxed and waned repeatedly without fundamentally threatening their primacy on the calendar."

I've taken that spin through four decades, in a post I first wrote back in 2006 and have updated periodically. I've looked at and ranked all the caucus cycles back to 1976.  As for history and the caucuses themselves, a mixed bag.  Irrelevant nearly half the time, critical a little less often. With the latest round of existential angst, it feels like a good time for an update.

Not Worth The Airfare To Waterloo

17. 1984 and 2004 Republican. The Republican tradition is to hold no presidential vote at all in incumbent re-elect years.

16. 1996 Democratic. The word went down from Des Moines to the Democratic county chairs: “The President would like a unanimous re-nomination and this WILL happen.” Self-starters in a couple lefty college precincts elected a very small handful of Nader and Uncommitted protest delegates, but those results got swept under the rug. Clinton came out and campaigned the final weekend, largely to step on the GOP story (Actually Being President trumps winning the caucus), but it was in basketball arenas, not chat n’ chews.

15. 2012 Democratic.  As close to an unopposed caucus as possible short of “The President would like a unanimous re-nomination and this WILL happen.” The state party went to bat for actually having an alignment, when Chicago wanted to focus on a video conference with Obama. But without a live candidate, the dissenters were split between Uncommitted Democrat and crossing over for Ron Paul. In the end the Uncommitteds made a lot of noise out of proportion to their 1.5% of the delegates. (The party tried to sell attendance figures as "results.") This was right at the height of Occupy, a flawed movement whose strategy failed to take into account the key environmental issue of seasonal hemispheric climate change - what we locals call "winter."

14. 1992 Republican. Ranked up a little because, in a strategic win for George HW, the inside the Des Moines Beltway crowd stuck with the tradition of not having a vote in an incumbent president year, while the Pat Buchanan Brigade was looking like a serious threat to win New Hampshire.

Ultimately Irrelevant

13. 1992 Democratic. Hometown boy Tom Harkin runs and wins big, though not as big as it looked because of some skilled realignment work at viability time. That 76% Harkin delegate count included a lot of stealth supporters of other candidates.

Paul Tsongas was already on the ground in Iowa when Harkin announced, but he quickly bailed. There were a couple feints from Bob Kerrey and Jerry Brown but nothing serious. In the end, Iowa kept first place after `92 only because Harkin jumped on the winner’s bandwagon while the other rivals couldn’t hide their obvious contempt for Clinton. (Jerry Brown probably wrote himself in that November.)

The long term importance of 1992 may be that Hillary Clinton didn’t have to shake hands and eat hotdish in towns like Courthouse Center and East Pole Bean.  Comic relief: An Iowa City dorm precinct elected a Jimmy Carter delegate.

12. 2000 Both. On the Democratic side Al Gore beat Bill Bradley in what was merely the first moment in the overall national dynamic; Dollar Bill made his stand on friendlier turf in New Hampshire and fell just short there.

On the Republican side it was like one of those boycott-era Olympics: W won but the toughest competitor, McCain, was a no-show. The truly significant GOP event was the straw poll that winnowed out more candidates (E. Dole, Quayle, and Buchanan bolting to Reform) than the actual caucus (Orrin Hatch, as if that wasn’t obvious).  Comic relief: People who took Gary Bauer seriously, Alan Keyes in Michael Moore’s mosh pit.

Secondary event in nomination contest

11. 1980 Democratic. The incumbent won the first test of Kennedy-Carter, but that battle of giants was played out on a national, even global, stage and Iowa was a bit player.

10. 2008 Republican. Important tactically to the dynamic of the contest, but not central to the result.

Mitt Romney was looking like the guy to beat in December 2007. Which Mike Huckabee did in January 2008, after first beating Sam Brownback at the straw poll to win the mantle of THE religious conservative candidate. Had Iowa Republicans gotten behind the Mitt, they may have headed off the chaos that was the GOP field in January. Instead, we proved that there was no there there for Fred Thompson, and that the Ron Paul Яэvoutionaries were noisy in disproportion to their actual numbers (but see 2012 below). But really, we just stirred the pot, and the decisive event was in Florida between two men with Screw Iowa Lite strategies, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

Downmodded a notch below 1996, because that year the Iowa winner actually won the nomination. May move up in a few years if Huckabee goes anywhere in 2012 or maybe 2016.

9. 1996 Republican. What might have been: Pat Buchanan was within 3% of Bob Dole, but the social conservatives in Cedar Rapids backed Alan Keyes instead; Keyes thus won the second biggest county. One minister at one mega-church makes a different choice, and we’d have had a major upset.

Some all too obvious field winnowing (Dick Lugar???) happens. Phil Gramm gets out too, but his real stumble was in Louisiana’s jump-the-starting-gun contest a week earlier. 

Comic relief: Easily the funniest caucus! Dole, genuinely witty in his non-Satan mode, Steve Forbes the android, Alan Keyes… but they all pale next to Morrie Taylor, the tire magnate who literally tried to buy a win one vote at a time. Failed miserably but looked like he had more fun than the rest put together.

8. 1988 Democratic. There's a story, long told by Paul Simon loyalists, that a county chair sat on his Simon-friendly results until the Register had printed its GEPHARDT WINS headline, and they're still mad about it even though the chair in question is long dead. Real-time rules on reporting results have been enacted since then, but this one proved the winner-take-all-news theory.

In `88 Al Gore was the first candidate to use the Screw Iowa strategy.  It's never worked (save for the Tom Harkin year), but nevertheless Gore wound up outlasting the two Iowa leaders. But the nomination contest came down to Dukakis vs. Jackson, neither of whose fortunes were affected by Iowa.  Comic relief: Gary Hart’s last minute return to the race, campaigning with his wife.

7. 2012 Republican.  The real importance of the 2012 Republican caucuses was not its relatively small role in designating the nominee. That was always going to come down to Mitt vs. Not Mitt.  Because of the dead heat, dual winner result, and because Sheldon Adelson kept Newt Gingrich on life support far too long, Rick Santorum never really got the bump from the win.

No, the real importance was what happened after the presidential vote. The Romney and Santorum people both said "yay, we won," went home, and both in turn were right. The Ron Paul people stuck around, elected themselves as delegates and committee people, and took over the state party structure.

The consequences had a huge ripple effect through state, and even national, internal Republican politics for the next two years, until Terry Branstad, Jeff Kaufmann and the rest of the grownups took party control back in 2014 (the most important OFF-year caucus). And we still haven't seen the final reckoning for the 2012 national convention delegation voting en masse for Paul. This one may move up the charts depending on the long-term fate of the caucuses.

Significant event in nomination contest

6. 1988 Republican. Pat Robertson pushes George HW into third place. Robertson was insignificant thereafter, but the blow made Bush go on a fight of his life attack against Bob Dole in New Hampshire. Dole took the bait and was goaded into “stop lying about my record.” This convinces HW that hard negative was the way to go. That road went through the flag factory and Willie Horton, and ended at the White House. Comic relief: Al Haig.

5. 1984 Democratic. Gary Hart barely squeaked past his old boss, George McGovern. But second, no matter how distant, was enough to make him the Not Mondale and propel him up about 40 points in eight days for a New Hampshire win, a brief but genuine shot at the nomination, and (pre-Donna Rice) 1988 front-runner status. The Right Stuff sank like Gus Grissom’s capsule, and you're an old timer if you catch that reference.

Decisive event in nomination contest

4. 2004 Democratic. Iowa was the whole ball game in 2004. Nothing that happened after Iowa mattered nearly as much as what happened in Iowa.  The guy who won got the nomination, the guy in second got VP.  And the guy who came in third...

The Dean Scream goes down as the single most memorable caucus moment, but everyone forgets The Scream was after The Much More Important Disappointing Third Place. 

Made History

3. 1976 Democratic. This one made both Jimmy Carter and the caucuses themselves. Carter didn’t actually win this, you know. He was second to Uncommitted. But I know folks who still brag “Jimmy Carter slept on my couch.”

I’m torn about ranking a caucus that directly produced a president below one that didn't. But read on.

2. 1980 Republican. In the first true Iowa Republican caucus, an obscure former ambassador, spy boss, and failed Senate candidate George Herbert Walker Bush shocked the ten foot tall colossus of the GOP, Ronald Reagan. This one win puts Poppy on the map and ultimately on the ticket (after the botched Ford “co-presidency” deal at the `80 convention).

So why rank this ahead of Jimmy Carter, especially since Bush Sr. lost that 1980 nomination? The ripple effect. No Iowa win = no Bush 41. And with no HW, do you REALLY think Bush 43 or 45 (heh) would have made it on their own? 1976 made a president, but 1980 made a dynasty.

Number 1: 2008 Democratic. There's no question the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucuses created a president. Iowa was the honing ground for Barack Obama's message and appeal and ground game. We eliminated the entire second tier, and proved that voters in one of the whitest places in America would support a black candidate. Remember, a lot of African-American voters were sticking with Hillary Clinton before Iowa, because Obama "couldn't win." Iowa shattered that myth and the perception of Clinton's inevitability.

It's too soon to tell, but the 2008 caucuses may have ushered in not just one president, but a whole era, a new alignment of states that ends the 1968 Nixon-Wallace southern-western coalition for good, at least at the presidential level

2008 was a whole new map. As late as the first John Edwards campaign, people were sill seriously saying it was impossible to break the Republican "electoral college lock" without southern white male voters.  In a realignment, you look for counter-trends, and what better example than West Virginia, which went for Carter in 1980 and Dukakis in `88? The old South has been replaced by the new South - Virginia and Florida twice, North Carolina once, and Georgia beccoming an in-play mega-state.

Barack Obama fueled this alignment, which would not have been possible without that Iowa win.

The 1976 caucuses made one president, but his victory is a mere footnote to a Republican era, brought about by the intensity of Watergate and the Nixon pardon. The 1980 Republican caucuses made two presidents, but they followed the electoral footsteps of others.

How many presidents in an era? Only time will tell if Obama is able to transfer this alignment to a successor. If the 2008 caucuses ushered in an Obama Realignment, like the FDR Relignment or the Nixon-Wallace Realignment, they could lead to four or five presidents. Thus, the number one rank.

For now.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Sue Dvorsky Taking On Clinton Role

Team Hillary has landed a big fish in Iowa as former Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky has taken on a state-level leadership role in the campaign.

"I'm going to do what I do best, which is talking to my Democratic neighbors," said Dvorsky, whose role has not yet been defined by a formal title. "Because of my work at the state party. activists know me and trust me."

Dvorsky and her husband, state Sen. Bob Dvorsky, were key early backers of Barack Obama in the spring of 2007. Sue chaired the state party from the summer of 2010 through the 2012 election.

"Rebuilding the party is the most important thing," said Dvorsky of Iowa Democrats, still reeling after last year's losses. "My first ask is, who's caucusing. My second ask is to caucus for Hillary."

"this is a different kind of campaign," Dvorsky said in comparing Clinton's 2008 caucus run to today. "There is an absolute commitment to a field campaign. We're actually running an old fashioned primary."

Republicans, in contrast, have a nomination contest that's been redefined in a post-Citizens United world by unrestrained campaign money. That has led directly to the unprecedented size of the Republican field, said Dvorsky.

"By eliminating the need to fundraise, the Republican nomination process drags out longer," said Dvorsky. "All they need is one billionaire to artificially boost candidates who don't have ideas," she said, citing Sheldon Adelson's support of Newt Gingrich in 2012 even after he had done poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire as an example.

"Democrats can't unilaterally disarm" in the money race, she said. "That's like bringing a sword to a gun fight."

I promised Sue I'd work this in.

"Sure they (the Republicans) have a candidate announcing every 36 hours because a little niche isn't represented yet," said Dvorsky. "And maybe you CAN run into one in a Hy-Vee. But would you WANT to? Their vision is No, Hell No, and We Hate Hillary Clinton."

"Their whole platform is what they are going to take away, and they're in a dive to the bottom," she said of the GOP field.

Democrats, in contrast, "can engage each other with ideas," said Dvorsky.

Dvorsky's endorsement and role started to trickle out yesterday, overshadowed by Jon Ernst's Roast and Ride, as she made an appearance at a meeting of Democrats in West Branch, just a few miles from her home in Coralville.

Dvorsky said she plans to make much of her effort in eastern Iowa but she plans to travel the whole state in support of Clinton. As Iowans, "we get to, and have to, begin before everyone else."

"I'm excited to be able to make history a second time," she added.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Caucus results? There's an app for that

Actually, I shouldn't use the old iPhone ad slogan for my headline, because the apps are from Microsoft.

Why did it have to be Microsoft, whined the Linux user?

But regardless of operating system, s smart phone app seems to be a smart way to go for reporting Iowa caucus results. State party chairs Jeff Kaufmann (R) and Andy McGuire (D) announced the app - appS, actually, one for each party - at a joint press conference that unfortunately got stepped on by the Iowa Legislature FINALLY adjourning, a month late, at exactly the same moment.

As one of the few who is fluent in both Caucus and Election Returns (election result reporting is one of my Job jobs for the auditor's office), smart phone apps seem like a step up from the phone-based systems both parties used through 2012.  It's the most accessible and portable level of technology that can be in 1700 places at once.

So in the big picture this is a good thing. I see a few potential pitfalls, based on my experience working with both poll workers and caucus chairs, that aren't naysaying, but rather cautionary tales of what to watch for. (I'm already signing chairs up, eight months out.)

We've added one more criteria to chairing a caucus. In elections, you can drop a poll worker into a precinct they don't live in, and they just vote early. But in the caucus, chairing a precinct other than your own means you give up your vote - and I've seen people dedicated enough to do this - but it's very rare.

Now, in addition to finding someone who lives in a precinct and is willing and able to do the job, we also need to make sure there's a smart phone on hand. Not hard in urban counties - but I don't know the patterns of cell phone use and 4G coverage in rural areas.

Plus, volunteer chairs, like paid poll workers, tend to be older. Some are still holdouts on older generation phones. Others may HAVE smart phones but be unfamiliar with use of the more robust features. Some of our poll workers are set up your own home server geniuses (see what I did there), but others struggle with sending a text. Training will be an issue... but McGuire and Kaufmann seem well aware of that.

Another issue mentioned in passing is the importance of stress testing - using the apps under realistic conditions. I'd even suggest the parties coordinate those tests and do at least one simultaneous joint dress rehearsal. From painful experience I know: the media doesn't accept "it worked when we tested it" as an explanation.

The smart phone app may even affect locations. "There will be connectivity from each precinct," stressed the Microsoft rep. That item is duly added to my checklist. Shouldn't be much of a problem in eastern Iowa, but worth double-checking everywhere.

The Microsoft spokesman spoke of flagging errors, which is something I've worked into results reporting. It catches obvious mistakes such as way too few or too many votes reported, which can happen with slipped fingers or transposed digits. It doesn't catch everything but it's saved my butt a couple times.

Assuming all goes well - never a 100% safe assumption but that's why you test and test and test - the apps should get parties and the press more data, faster, than any previous cycle. With any luck the barrier to complete results will be something real, like a long platform debate in Iowa City 18, rather than a data collection problem.

In fact, since data collection will be faster and easier, Democrats could try to collect and release more information - like attendance by county, which they stopped publishing after 2004, or even by precinct. Or the Holy Grail of all political numbers: the raw body count by candidate at first alignment. Asking for a friend.

Clinton Voting Rights Speech: The Significance Is Its Existence

I've spend most of my working career helping people vote. It's my calling. So I was thrilled that the front running presidential candidate chose to devote an entire address to voting rights and election reform.

Obviously, in the current political climate, where government is divided and election reform issues are highly partisan, any specific proposal is DOA in a Republican Congress, and even the rosiest scenarios don't envision President Clinton 45 sweeping in a Democratic US House. (MAYBE the Senate.)

But as election reform has become partisan, it has also become a base issue, on both sides. Voter ID is one of Scott Walker's biggest applause lines. And it's no accident that Hillary Clinton chose a historically black college in Houston for her speech.

But election law reforms often have unintended consequences, so the details of Hillary Clinton's speech are critical.

Much of the speech is anecdotal, and some of the anecdotes imply additional issues. But at the core of the speech there is a four point plan.
First, Congress should move quickly to pass legislation to repair that damage and restore the full protections that American voters need and deserve.

I was in the Senate in 2006 when we voted 98 to zero to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act after an exhaustive review process.

There had been more than 20 hearings in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.  Testimony from expert witnesses.  Investigative reports documenting continuing discrimination in covered jurisdictions.   There were more than 15,000 pages of legislative record.

Now that is how the system is supposed to work. You gather the evidence, you weigh it and you decide. And we did 98 to nothing. We put principle ahead of politics. That is what Congress needs to do again.
This is aimed at the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which overturned required "pre-clearance" of changes in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination. There's been bipartisan lip service to re-writing the overturned sections, but no action, and formerly affected states have rushed to enact new restrictions on voting.
Second, we should implement the recommendations of the bipartisan presidential commission to improve voting... These are common sense reforms, including expanding early, absentee, and mail voting.  Providing online voter registration.  Establishing the principle that no one should ever have to wait more than 30 minutes to cast your vote.
Iowa's already in fairly good shape on most of these. Online registration didn't pass this year, but it gained momentum and seems only to be a matter of working out details. As for wait times, see below.
Third, we should set a standard across our country of at least 20 days of early in-person voting everywhere – including opportunities for weekend and evening voting.

If families coming out of church on Sunday before an election are inspired to go vote, they should be free to do just that.
Most of the rest of the world actually has Election Day on Sunday. Just saying.
And we know that early in-person voting will reduce those long lines and give more citizens the chance to participate, especially those who have work or family obligations that make it difficult to get to the polls on Election Day.
Again, Iowa already has most of this - and more, with a 40 day early voting period. Weekend voting is relatively uncommon. State law requires auditors to be open the two Saturdays before a general election and the Saturday before a primary.

Sunday voting in Iowa is very rare. Our county usually has one or maybe two before large elections. But "Souls To The Polls" drives have become a big part of black political culture in recent years, and expanding and facilitating that is a good thing. And if you have a culturally conservative mega-church, you can do it too.

Finally, and this one seems like the biggest reform:
I am calling for universal, automatic voter registration.  Everyone, every young man or young woman, in every state in the union should be automatically registered to vote when they turn eighteen – unless they actively choose to opt-out... When you move, your registration should move with you.  If you are an eligible voter, and want to be registered, you should be a registered voter – period. 
This implies a national voter registration database - which would end immeasurable amounts of frustration and confusion. I can already hear the privacy advocates panicking - IИ SФVIЗT ЯЦSSIД GФVЭЯЙMЗИT ЯЭGISTЗЯS УФЦ! - but we all crossed that bridge a long time ago, didn't we.

It would also be one of the biggest possible line-shrinkers. In my county, at least, the biggest Election Day bottleneck is at the check-in stations. It goes smoothly for the person who is registered in advance. But for the person who has moved, or is a new registration, there's extra paperwork, which slows them down and slows down everyone in the line behind them.

Which gets me to the point of one of my concerns from Clinton's speech, not part of the core proposal but something implied by an anecdote.
It’s not a surprise for you to hear that studies and everyday experiences confirm that minority voters are more likely than white voters to wait in long lines at the polls.  They are also far more likely to vote in polling places with insufficient numbers of voting machines.

In South Carolina for example, there’s supposed to be one machine for every 250 voters.  But in minority areas, that rule is just often overlooked.  In Richland Country, nearly 90 percent of the precincts failed to meet the standard required by law in 2012.  Instead of 250 voters per machine, in one precinct it was more than 430 voters per machine.  Not surprisingly, people trying to cast a ballot there faced massive delays.

Now there are many fair-minded, well-intentioned election officials and state legislators all over this country.  But this kind of disparity that I just mentioned does not happen by accident.  Now some of you may have heard me or my husband say one of our favorite sayings from Arkansas, of course I learned it from him. “You find a turtle on a fence post, it did not get there on it’s own.” Well all of these problems with voting did not just happen by accident. And it is just wrong, it’s wrong to try to prevent, undermine and inhibit American’s right to vote. Its counter to the values we share.

Which seems like a good excuse to update: our new pet turtle is doing very well.

This seems to strongly imply legislation that would get the feds involved in equipment and worker allocation, and I can't help but view that through my local lens.

First off, "machines" are not the bottleneck in Iowa; as I noted the registration table is..  Machines may be a waiting issue in states with touch screens, but those are banned in our state and the norm is optical scanned paper ballots that feed into the reader in about a second. There may be an occasional wait for a booth in a general election with a long ballot, but that's easily addressed.

The South Carolina law Clinton references allocates workers based on the number of registered voters. That's not always the best measure of voter interest in an election - in fact, it's a relatively weak indicator.

Maybe the concerns of a college town are unusual. But in Iowa City, in a half dozen downtown precincts, the rolls are clogged with hundreds of students who graduated and moved away years ago, and federal election law makes it next to impossible to remove them. As I noted earlier this year, we have a 45 year old woman who last voted in 1992 still registered in her sorority house.

Clinton's automatic registration proposal, and the implied national database, would help address that. So the rolls would be cleaner. But that doesn't make people show up.

Turnout varies wildly by type of election, and that variation is inconsistent. Every precinct peaks in presidential years, declines in off-years, and dips even lower for local elections. But in neighborhoods full of infrequent voters, like students or minorities, the valleys are much deeper.

You can make voting easier, and that's good. But that doesn't make a student interested in a city council election. Turnout in Iowa City's core student precincts regularly drops into single digits. Not percentages - a single digit number of voters. If federal legislation allocates workers and equipment, you could see precincts with more workers than voters.

Is that the price we have to pay to make sure there's enough workers to avoid hours-long lines in Florida and Ohio minority neighborhoods? Maybe. But should our local taxpayers have to pay for it? Hint: The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, which had some flaws but had some good stuff, had money in it.

So the locals need some level of control and input, and any formulas in a hypothetical bill need to be written carefully.

A few other implications from Clinton's speech:
if you want to vote in (Texas), you can use a concealed weapon permit as a valid form of identification – but a valid student ID isn’t good enough?
This is a real issue, but Clinton didn't go beyond the anecdote. What SHOULD be legitimate ID, and should ID be required at all?

Tangent: THIS is the kind of question I'd like to follow up on that the national press would not. If and when there is a media avail, it'll be all email and foundation. I don't support the press strategy - but I don't blame her either.
As a Senator, I championed a bill called the Count Every Vote Act.  If it had become law, it would have made Election Day a federal holiday and mandated early voting opportunities.  Deceiving voters, including by sending flyers into minority neighborhoods with false voting times and places, would have become a federal crime.  And many Americans with criminal convictions who had paid their debt to society would have finally gotten their voting rights back.
I like Election Day as a holiday, and not just because it makes things easier for voters. (Although, as noted, most of the world votes on weekends.) It makes things easier for election administrators, too. One of the biggest things the state, or even schools, could do: Close school on Election Day. It's free up space in schools for voting, and free up teachers, who would be a fantastic pool of poll workers.

And of course Clinton touches on the felony disenfranchisement issue here. The four point plan doesn't include it, but it's something that needs to be made easier and more clear.
We need more Justices on the Supreme Court who will protect every citizen’s right to vote, I mean the principle underlying our Constitution, which we had to fight for a long time to make apply to everybody, one person, one vote and we need a Supreme Court that cares more about protecting the right to vote of a person than the right of a corporation to buy an election.

Campaign finance reform is not an issue that shifts votes yet. But it's starting to become a rallying point for the Democratic base, and more and more independents are mentioning it thought it remains low on the priority list.

In the end, the priority is what's important here. At a time when Hillary Clinton is making relatively few public appearances and is under constant media criticism, she chose to devote an entire major speech and a full news cycle to the issue of voting rights. Maybe she wants to control the message a little too much for the media's taste - but yesterday's speech was a good message to have.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Donald Trump Has A Unique Version Of Free Trade

To answer the most frequent questions up front:

1. He did NOT use the words "You're Fired" Once. so if you had that in the drinking game you're sober.

2. I got close enough that I could have reached out and touched The Famous Hair. I chose not to.

Yes, The Donald was in Coralville this afternoon. The official purpose of the visit was a charitable one - a fundraising kickoff for a Coralville Veterans Memorial, and 240 folks, a mix of Coralville civic leaders and curious Republicans, showed up for the midday event.

It was literally a country club event - with a big qualifier: in Coralville, the city owns the country club. People's Republic of Johnson County.

"Obamacare is gonna eat this country alive. Obamacare kicks in in 16 and Obama's gonna be out on the golf course," Trump said, with views of the back nine behind him.

"I own the greatest clubs in the world," he said, "but how cool is the White House? I want to straighten things out."

So of all the places Trump could have chosen for a veterans charity event, he chose Iowa. He has a Big Announcement planned for June 16 - followed, it was announced later today, by another Iowa visit.

So this may finally be the time that Trump, who has teased about presidential runs since at least 2000, finally takes the plunge.

If Trump does make the run, he plans to focus his leadership skills (of which he seems to think highly) to border controls and international trade. "Make America Great Again. It's simple. Our country is in serious trouble. If I run and if I win, I'll bring America back stronger than ever."

"We can no longer put people with no brain power in charge of negotiating with the smartest people in the world," Trump said.  "Mexico is not our friend. China is not our friend. China hates my guts."

Trump called for stronger border controls and offered to build a wall himself.  "Who can build a better wall than Trump? I build buildings, it's what I do."

"Criminals and rapists get in, and we have to take care of them. It's a disgrace. We have to stop."

Shifting to trade Trump rhetorically asked, "Why don't we give all the illegals cars, trucks, and parts? The United States has become a dumping ground."

To fight imports and keep jobs in the US, Trump called for tariffs on said cars, trucks, and parts. "Make plenty of cars, we'll make a lot of money. Get China and Mexico to pay for our Social Security. We'll have so much money it'll be coming out of our ears."

Despite this page from the Smoot-Hawley book, Trump said, "I'm a free trader. But with free trade you need smart leaders. Our leaders are clowns."

Trump took about four audience questions, and when asked about how best to beat Hillary Clinton, responded by chiding Clinton for not taking questions.  He also dropped a reference to Bernie Sanders at which point, my brain exploded at the idea of Donald Trump discussing Bernie Sanders.

I'd buy tickets to see that race - not only for the ideological contrast but for the contrast between most and least uses of personal pronouns in candidate remarks.

The only mention of social issues came with the very last audience question, about abortion. Trump assured the questioner, who had earlier sing the national anthem, that he was indeed pro life and would do "many things" to support that including judicial appointments.

Post speech, Trump worked the handshake line with the skill of a celebrity of 30 years standing, shaking a couple hands and posing for a half dozen pictures. Anyone who was determined enough could have gotten one. But it wasn't a crushing crowd, and I was also surprised that there wasn't a national media entourage.

In any case, the event was colorful, and if he makes the run and gets included, Trump will add a lot of his outsized personality to the debates. I might pay to see that, too.

Midweek Miscellany

An argument based on mutually rejected premises is an evening wasted. What else I got here:

Lincoln Chafee coming out in favor of the metric system in yesterday's announcement speech is the second best moment grams and meters have had in 40 years. The best?

Funny thing is: Chafee is actually right, but picked a spectacularly wrong moment to bring it up and wrote the punchline to his own campaign.

In related news, Mike Huckabee came out strongly for spans and cubits this morning.

And Hillary Clinton wants to talk today about early voting... but the press wants to talk about the press.

Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, just clinched a Number One Party School win in Johnson County:
I know we're not Number One any more but you never forget a championship season.

Speaking of champs, Chicago only has room for ONE mayor:
But even Rahm would never go so far as to whack his opponents, at least not if he thought he might get caught. Anyway, candidates keep getting killed in Mexico's midterms, so apparently someone is taking a page from the Low Tax Looper Book Of Campaign Strategy.

And the books closed Wednesday night on an easy winner for Jerk Of The Week: Ted Cruz.
It's a "joke" Cruz has used many times as part of his standard speech, and he was clearly on autopilot, but you'd think he'd have at least the self-awareness to be careful to omit it for a while - at least until after the damn funeral today.

I had the honor of meeting Beau Biden when he, his brother and mom attended our epic 2007 fall barbecue. Joe himself was not on hand because - great Biden moment - he has a Delaware charity event that he always attends that particular weekend. Beau represented his father well on that occasion and throughout his public service.

As for the underlying premise of the "joke" itself, it was mean and wrong-headed even before Beau's death.  I've said many times: All Joe Biden is really guilty of is an excess of heart. And having watched him up close in 2007, having seen him take question after question and always offer an eloquent (if long) answer: God forbid anything should happen to the president but if it did Joe Biden could do the job tomorrow.

And Cruz's remarks? Definitely NOT Iowa Nice.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Done Warren Done

When the email from Ready For Warren went out at 4:19 AM Iowa time, it landed in my spam folder.

A metaphor for the whole effort?

Sort of. I had decided two months ago that, despite devoted and sincere efforts, Elizabeth Warren really DIDN'T want to run for president. Right after that I made my decision to be neutral until caucus night and focus on writing and on organizing the caucuses themselves. (I need volunteers. Talk to me.)

But I was also convinced that the Move On led effort would not give up until Warren and Hillary Clinton struck the hand in hand victory pose at a rally in New Hampshire. I had visions of the plane on the tarmac in Albany in late 1991,waiting to take Mario Cuomo to Concord New Hampshire on the filing deadline, in another draft effort that was for naught.

But WAS Ready For Warren a show about nothing?

I don't think so. It showed, without even a candidate, that there was and is a gap on Hillary Clinton's left flank,and paved the ground somewhat for the candidate who was willing to run, Bernie Sanders.

The latent Warren support has already shifted, in part, to Sanders, but some of it had drifted to indecision.

Before Saturday's Sanders rally in Iowa City, I was waiting near the entrance by the button vendors. Two girls who looked to be about eight asked the seller, "do you have any for Joni?"

That illustrates just how powerful the gender dynamic is right now. Especially among Iowa Democrats, who are just seething that, after ages of effort, after years of being lumped in with Mississippi, that it was the Republicans who broke Iowa's gender ceiling first - and not with a Maggie Tinsman moderate but with a staunch conservative.

Part of why Warren was a stronger left alternative than Sanders was because she took the gender dynamic out of the equation. And the age dynamic as well - to many 60-something women, it was important not only to see First Woman President, but to see First Woman President come from their generation. With Warren, the only issue was the issues.

The field is set: Clinton, Sanders, O'Malley, Chaffee (announcing tomorrow) and Jim Webb. That's all there will be. Now, people hoping for a more progressive candidate than Clinton, but wanting it to be a woman, have to make a tradeoff.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Supervisor Districts Fizzle Again

Today's deadline has passed and Johnson County will not be considering a change to a district system for electing county supervisors this year.

Republicans had announced a petition effort to change the electoral system several months ago. But it seemed less spirited that in past years. Petitions were occasionally out at GOP events, but there was never a big push.

It's hard to collect over 5,000 signatures without people hearing about it. In 2008, when Republicans needed more than 7,000 names in just two weeks for a recount of that year's conservation bond, petitioners were grabbing random Pentacrest passers-by. So it was clear at least a month ago, when campus calmed down for finals, that nothing was happening, and today's deadline is just a formality. Privately, Republican sources told me months ago that nothing was coming of this effort.

A successful petition drive would have forced a special election, likely on August 4. If a district plan had won that election, the county would be chopped into five pieces and all five seats would have been up in 2016. The terms of supervisors Janelle Rettig and Mike Carberry, elected to four year terms in 2014, would have been cut short.

Also, depending on the specifics of the plan and the details of the map, someone may have been forced to choose between moving and stepping down. Rettig, Carberry, and Rod Sullivan all live within about a mile of each other on Iowa City's east side.

That proximity - Carberry just got elected but Terrence Neuzil also used to live in the same area - is part of the argument proponents made for districts. But it's also a historic anomaly.

The Board of Supervisors was long dominated by moderate to conservative rural Democrats, nominated in relatively low turnout June primaries (while the students are out of town) and elected with token or no opposition in partisan general elections. While they weren't all the traditional farm boys, as recently as 2000 all five supervisors were rural, even though nearly 60% of the county population was in Iowa City proper. So rural voters frustrated by "under" representation may, in fact, be upset about losing the historic OVER-representation they had.

District advocates may have been looking to Linn County, which passed districts in 2007, for guidance. Linn County has a district that encompasses almost all of the rural county, in a big donut around the Cedar Rapids-Marion urban area (with one bite taken out near the airport).

But Johnson County's census math is different. Redistricting law requires cities to be divided into as few districts as possible. According to an in-depth analysis of census data by redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering,  a Johnson County district system would produce three districts dominated by Iowa City, one district dominated by Coralville, and a final district that's more than half in North Liberty. Districts may be the most certain way to assure no rural supervisors at all.

There was also a partisan case for districts, as Johnson County had not elected a Republican supervisor in over 50 years. That argument was undercut during the 2013 petition drive by John Etheredge's upset special election win in March of that year. It proved a Republican CAN win county-wide, under the right circumstances.

The Republican's bigger problem is the calendar, not the map. With supervisors elected on a general election ballot, when partisanship is at its highest, they have a huge uphill fight in the most Democratic county in the state, and Etheredge lost his seat in 2014. Yet conservative candidates are often able to win non-partisan offices in lower turnout elections, like Iowa City council races.

(THAT's where we need districts, with no student elected to the Iowa City council since 1979. But that ship sailed when the Charter Review Commission closed shop this spring, and won't be reconsidered till 2024 if ever. Tangent over.)

Since the district petition was not filed, the 2016 supervisor election will be run under the current at-large system. Neuzil, Sullivan, and Pat Harney are up for re-election. The next opportunity to file a district petition will be in June 2017.

The lack of a petition also means Johnson County will go ten months without an election, the longest stretch since 1986-87. The last election was the November general election; the next is the September 8 school election.

Sanders Is The Serious Kucinich

Bernie Sanders is mining much the same rhetorical turf as also-ran Dennis Kucinich did in 2004 and, though it was barely noticed, in 2008. Why then is Sanders seemingly taken more seriously now? I've pondered this in the wake of Sanders' visit to Iowa City and I have some theories.

Personality. Bernie Sanders is an anti-personality candidate. In yesterday's address, he made only one mention of family in a relentless issue heavy assault on concentrated wealth. There were none of the Casey's pizza anecdotes or home team shoutouts, no greetings to the local politicians (the local politician handled that), nothing IOWA about it except location. It could have been given anywhere, and will be.

I've met and watched both men a couple times, briefly. But in his anti-personality way, Sanders seems comfortable in his own skin. He's competent at the hand shaking and meeting and greeting - maybe a little impatient because you can tell he wants to move on quickly to issues, issues, issues -  but he's a decent retail politician.

Dennis Kucinich is just... a little off, a little awkward, a little insincere. He seems to have a chip on his shoulder. Sanders is mad, too, but that anger is aimed squarely at "the billionaire class." Kucinich seems resentful at the world for not taking him more seriously. Sanders doesn't care if you don't take him seriously - he's going to give his speech and MAKE you take him seriously.

Hair. Bernie Sanders has a distinctive look with his balding, white, barely combed fringe. A little wild but all natural. Dennis Kucinich has the second worst toupee in the history of Ohio, but only because Jim Traficant's so bad it's good rug set the all time gold standard.

I still can't explain this, though. 

Superficial? Sure. But it's a decent metaphor for unruly but being yourself vs. unconvincing artifice.

Political skill at home. Both men are issue outsiders. But Kucinich was always a political outsider, even at home, even as a sitting mayor. Sanders also started as a gadfly outsider, sure. But he built his own organization and his own base to the point where, even with his unique independent status, he's unassailable in Vermont.

Kucinich, in contrast, ended his electoral career with a humiliating 2012 primary loss to another Democratic incumbent, in a district specifically designed to gerrymander him into oblivion. If he had been more popular, he could have negotiated better lines or could have carried a primary.

Self-interest. With Kucinich, it always seemed to be about Dennis. Witness the job he took after his loss: token house liberal at Fox News.

Sanders is not at all about Bernie. It was the third time I saw him before I ever heard him mention family.

The cycle. In 2004 and 2008, Democrats were on the outs, and wanted the White House back. They were more focused on electability. Witness Iowa's last second panic in 2004, as people abandoned Howard Dean for the "safer" John Kerry. "Bush can't attack him- he's a war hero!" (Remember: The Dean Scream was AFTER the much more important Dean Finishing Third In Iowa.)

The times. America as a whole may have lurched right in 2010 and 2014, but the Democratic Party has moved leftward and "progressive" ideas are starting to get mainstreamed. Look at how far marriage equality has come since the 2007 caucus season. Look at campaign finance as a mainstream issue (though in fairness that's an after-effect of Citizens United). Look at how rhetoric on Israel/Palestine has changed.

I don't want to credit Occupy with much; their vague "demands" had no plan of action, and the whole strategy was fatally flawed because it failed to take into account the key environmental issue of seasonal hemispheric climate change, or as the locals call it, "winter." But they did plant the phrase "the 1%" and the related income inequality issues into mainstream consciousness in late 2011, and Sanders has gotten a lot of mileage out of it.

The field. 2004 and 2008 were wide open contests with lead changes. Voters and the media focused on three or four top tier and relatively equal options. Kucinich was lost in the shuffle.

This cycle, however, Hillary Clinton is SO far ahead of everyone else that people, both press and public, need someone, anyone to focus on as an alternative to her, and Sanders is in the right place at the right time.

Maybe Martin O'Malley will catch on and Sanders will end up in the asterisk zone like Dennis The Menace did. But right now, Sanders seems way more significant.

And maybe this time Hillary really IS inevitable, and this campaign serves only to promote progressive issues. If so, at least this time progressives have in Sanders a much more credible and effective advocate.