Friday, October 13, 2017

The New Democracy Tweet Storm

In convenient blog post format

So Democrats are meeting at "New Democracy" forum today today to discuss How To Win Back Rural America

The answer to How To Win Back Rural America depends on why you think Democrats lost so badly in 2016

One of the Iowa Democrats fundamental problems is: we can't agree on why we lost

I believe Dems lost Old White Male Rural Working Class America on broad spectrum of culture issues not economics

We did not lose on Her Emails or Her Wall Street Speeches or Her policies

(And since Her is out of the ball game She's irrelevant to the future anyway, this is about future not 2016)

We also did not lose on Corporate Greed and the minimum wage and the twin boogeyman of NAFTA/TPP

We lost on immigration and race and religion and guns and the whole cluster of gender/sexual issues

That can be summed up more briefly but only by putting taboo words in the mouth of the hypothetical voter

However I will repeat my 4 word explanation of the whole election: I Hate That Bitch

So here's the problem: If we lost on cultural issues, then focusing *even more* on economics does not help

This also means we cannot appeal to Old White Male Working Class Rural America without abandoning principle

and we cannot appeal to Old White Male Rural America without abandoning the true base of the Democratic Party

The true base of the Democratic Party is urban and diverse and not very white

We cannot turn our backs on the most loyal Democrats in order to appeal to voters who we have lost already

The long term path back to majority runs through Texas and Georgia and Arizona and North Carolina and Florida

The long term path back to majority does not run through the Rust Belt and sadly does not run through Iowa

I'm not saying this because I'm giving up, on winning in Iowa, though it will be hard... 

but because in the short to mid term, winning is more likely on the national level than in Iowa

The other problem is a problem of style - and this is directly about Sanders

Unlike Her, Sanders is still relevant as long as he acts like a candidate (which he will not be in the end) 

Sanders speaks a 60s Left language, not a New Deal language, and that's an active turnoff to many older voters

Socialist Revolution sounds like Draft Dodgers and Bra Burners and They're Coming To Take My Guns

Socialist & Revolution are words that appeal to the Grad Student Proletariat not Old White Male Rural America

We can't artificially force a Class Struggle language onto a nation that doesn't think or speak that way.

Just because it makes YOU feel smart and because you ideologically believe it SHOULD work doesn't mean it WILL.

People mistakenly think Sanders Votes especially in places like WV  = Votes For Socialist Revolution 

But a Yuge chunk of Sanders Votes were simply I Hate That Bitch Votes 

In a 2 way race @MartinOMalley would likely have scored 30% simply for being Not Hillary


Living in a blue academic island I may be in the worst possible place to understand Trumpism.

I don't know the right answer and if I did I'd run for something and win.  But I do know that...

...focusing even more on economics when we lost over cultural issues... 

...and deliberately using rhetorically hostile language to explain those economics, is the wrong answer.

Not saying this to be "divisive" or because I don't believe in some or even most of the "progressive" specifics

(though Free College is a hard sell to working people who already think the College Kids are the rich kids...)

(...and who can barely dream of admission for themselves or their own kids)

I'm saying this because I want to win and we need to win

And I see a lot of people in the party, or more accurately on the fringes outside the party...

...who want to lead us down a path that I believe will end in more damage and even worse defeats.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Kander: ID Laws "Not just a policy difference, a political strategy"

Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander pulled no punches Tuesday in describing ID laws and other vote suppression tools as "the centerpiece of Donald Trump's re-election strategy."

Kander spoke at the University of Iowa College of Law, and was also scheduled to speak at Drake Law Tuesday.

Kander led the Democratic ticket in Missouri last year, almost pulling off a U.S. Senate upset against incumbent Roy Blunt. After leaving office at year's end, Kander founded advocacy group Let America Vote.

While a losing Senate bid may seem like an unlikely launch pad for national ambitions,  Kander is still seen as a Democratic rising star. He'll be back in Iowa City on Oct. 21 at a fundraiser for state Senate Democrats, and Let America Vote recently opened a Des Moines office.

 "If politicians make it hard to vote, we'll make it hard for them to get re-elected," goes the Let America Vote tag line. "There urgently needs to be a political argument against vote suppression," said Kander. "This is not just a policy difference, it is a political strategy. Rather than change their policies, Republicans want to exclude people from democracy."

"Donald Trump's claim of 3 to 5 million illegal voters is the biggest lie a sitting president has ever told," said Kander, to which a student in the crowd replied, "Wait an hour."

Kander also took a shot at Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. While legislatures and governors usually take the lead on voter restrictions in states where they have full control of government, he said, "Iowa is the only state in the nation where the Secretary of State personally proposed the voter ID law."

In contrast, he said, "I'm the only statewide candidate for Secretary of State who has run an ad against photo ID and won." ID laws remain popular on the surface, because of the common I Have To Show ID For Everything Else simplification, but Kander says support for ID laws may be shallow.

"It's hard to win an argument you don't make," said Kander, noting that arguments against ID laws have been lacking till recently. He said the most effective arguments against ID laws are cost to taxpayers and partisanship. "The average American has a real problem with partisanship."

"When Texas chose which IDs for voters to use, they picked drivers licenses and gun permits -  the two databases that are the most white," said Gerry Hebert, a Georgetown law professor who recently argued before the Supreme Court in a Wisconsin gerrymandering case. "We deliberately used elderly black veterans with long voter histories when we challenged that law and won."

Hebert doesn't always win - "If you're interested in losing a Supreme Court case 5 to 4, I'm your man," he  joked - but he's more optimistic in Gill v. Whitford.  "We think we have a workable standard of gerrymandering and we are hopeful we may have five votes."


In many states "redistricting really is a one party system, the Incumbent Party," said Kander, and historically that's how evenly divided Wisconsin drew its maps, until Scott Walker's Republicans took full control of state government in 2011 - just in time for redistricting.

The Wisconsin map under challenge was described in internal Republican documents as "Aggressively Maxed Out," the most partisan of several drafts. The question at hand is how to measure gerrymandering for partisan purposes, which Hebert says is "Theoretically possible - but the bar is extremely high."

What's new in the Wisconsin case is a measure called an "efficiency gap test," which compares the overall vote to the outcome in individual legislative races.

"In 2012, (Wisconsin Republicans) won 60 of the 99 seats in the Wisconsin Assembly despite winning only 48.6% of the two-party state-wide vote," writes the Brennan Center. "In 2014, they won 63 seats with only 52% of the state-wide vote."

Hebert noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote in the case, directed particularly tough and pointed questions at the Wisconsin officials defending the map, while his own arguments were described in the Milwaukee newspapers as "Atticus Finch-like." The envy in the room from the aspiring lawyers was nearly audible. 

"Right now the Court is as good as it will be in at least the next four years, said Hebert. "This may be Justice Kennedy's last term. The window is closing."

Hebert said if the efficiency gap test is upheld and allowed to be used to challenge gerrymanders, "maybe 15 to 20 states might be in play."

Friday, October 06, 2017

City Council Election: The Grand Unifying Theory

After the epic battle and record setting turnout of last month's school bond vote, the November 7 Iowa City council election is feeling decidedly anti-climactic.

Iowa City council used to be the office that attracted Some Dude self-starter candidates, forcing low-turnout primaries to eliminate them and narrow the field to the Serious Contenders, usually two progressives of varying strength and two anointed old guard Chamber of Commerce Candidates, who would almost always win.

But in recent years the lines have become more clear, the self-starters have vanished (or run for county supervisor instead), and the progressives have gained strength, capped with the 2015 sweep by the "Core Four" that overthrew the Chamber faction and installed the first progressive-led council in modern city history. Not only is there, for the third cycle in a row, no primary - there are only three candidates for the two at-large seats for the first time since 1989.

This anti-climactic mood has been building, rather NOT building, for months, and throughout those months I've developed and privately shared a Grand Unifying Theory about the local Johnson County politics of 2017. Now that we're at end game, I'm ready to share it in public.
Salih, Hall and Botchway at a joint campaign event

Because the Core Four - Mayor Jim Throgmorton and council members Rockne Cole, Pauline Taylor and John Thomas - hold over until 2019, it is not possible for the Old Guard to win back control of Iowa City government this year. So instead, they appear to have decided that their priority for 2017 was the school bond. You spend some money, you build and improve some schools, you build some houses near those schools, you make some money.

But to pass a 60% bond vote, you need a broad based coalition, what I call the (former mayor) "John Balmer to John Deeth" alliance of all the pragmatists - progressives who want to build schools and developers who see new and improved schools as good for business.

Both sides have done this before on similar issues and both sides were willing partners against a divided opposition of absolutist anti-taxers, an increasingly isolated far left that opposes anything that could possibly benefit business simply because it could possibly benefit business, and individuals with individual grudges.

It's hard to work with a divided coalition, as the No side found out with its mixed messaging, so unity is important. And unity is difficult if your erstwhile ally in the school bond Yes coalition is getting ready to fight you tooth and nail two months later in the city council election. So it served the interest of both the Chamber conservatives and the pragmatic progressives to put the city council election on the back burner.

Progressives made a half-hearted search to find a challenger for Susan Mims (who is switching from the vote for two at large race she won in 2009 and 2013 to the vote for one district B race), but that fizzled. Meanwhile, the old guard has essentially conceded the seat of the retiring Terry Dickens. He currently holds the B seat, but with Mims switching seats, the vacancy is in the at large contest.  The Chamber faction is making only a token effort behind a so-far invisible Angela Winnike (whose seemingly hip "Night-time Mayor" role is really just a Downtown Association PR angle).

Dickens was first elected, along with Mims, in the record low turnout 2009 election that was decided on filing deadline day when they drew opposition only from three obscure students. Dickens will go down in Iowa City history as the last of his kind, an unreconstructed Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students townie who literally ran for the council because he wanted to force the homeless to stop begging in front of his jewelry store.

There will be no more Terry Dickens or Ernie Lehmans or Dean Thornberrys or Dee Vanderhoefs, because even the old timers know that there's no longer a majority in Iowa City who will vote for someone like that. They know that to win, they need to win over some of the soft-liberal vote with someone with some University ties, like a Tim Conroy (who came close in 2015 but very noticeably sat this cycle out) or a Mims. And the chamber crowd knows that if there's going to be ANY hope of re-taking business control of the city in 2019, they need to mollify the soft liberals and be seen as socially progressive.

Which boxes them in for this year because of who the progressives are running.

Incumbent Kingsley Botchway, a Core Four ally seeking re-election, has had a solid first term, first with two years on the short end of a 2014-15 council with a 5-2 old guard majority, then as mayor pro tem on the current 5-2 progressive council. He's taken a lead on issues like affordable housing, food insecurity, and racial equity, which mesh well with his day job as the school district's Director of Equity & Engagement. (Tangent: That's a job once held by former mayor Ross Wilburn, who's now in the governor's race.)

Rookie candidate Mazahir Salih is seeking to become the first member of Iowa City's growing Sudanese community to win an election. She arrived in America 20 years ago, settled in Iowa City a few years later to earn a medical technician degree, and helped found the Center for Worker Justice, which has been a powerful engine for helping and organizing the labor, immigrant, and low wage community.

America may be in backlash mode, but Iowa City is ground zero for the backlash to the backlash. Electing an immigrant who wears a headscarf is exactly the kind of middle finger to Trump message the People's Republic would love to send. In the long term big picture, the local business conservatives know they need to not be seen as Trump conservatives.

And since the old guard can't retake control till 2019, a 6-1 council split is no worse than a 5-2 split. They figure it'll be easier to win three of the four seats in 2019 than to win two of the three seats this year. So it's smarter for them to cede the Dickens seat rather than beat up on Salih, the immigrant woman, or on Botchway, the only African American council incumbent.


Tangent: Well worth a read is Iowa University Towns and the Twenty-sixth Amendment: The First Test of the Newly Enfranchised Student Vote in 1971, an academic look at that year's city elections.

Executive summary: Cedar Falls elected a student mayor, the old guard triumphed in Ames, and multiple Iowa City student candidates splintered the votes and lost in the primary.
But it's still OK to beat up on a student.

Ryan Hall was a late entering self-starter in the District B race but he's annexed the progressive opposition to Mims. Hall is hoping to become the first student to win a council race since David Perret won a second term in 1979. (No, Mid-American minion Michelle Payne's part time classes don't count.) Hall has an environmental and Americorps background, is a fast learner, and already seems much more up to speed than most past student candidates have been.

The bugaboo of students taking over the city has been the scare tactic of the townies since the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971, a prejudice that peaked during the three 21 bar elections (2007, 2010, 2013) and the 2011 run by Raj Patel, a successful businessman who lost solely because he was 20 years old.  Botchway, 28 when he won his first race four years ago, was the youngest winner since Perret, and despite the law degree even he faced some age-based resistance.

Kingsley and Mazahir - they both tend to be first-namers - are both are in Work Like You're 30 Points Behind campaign mode, despite the seemingly weak Winnike bid. The Botchway, Salih and Hall yard signs appear in clusters of two and three, but  the Mims signs stand alone.

It's clear that the priority of the Establishment (I laugh so hard at getting called "establishment" just because of one vote at one caucus) is keeping Mims as a voice on the council, to carry the ball through 2018 and into what will inevitably be a brutal 2019 contest. 

The Mims tagline is "trusted experience," and the squash a fly with a sledgehammer attack is beginning:
Susan’s opponent, Ryan Hall, is a 24-year-old University of Iowa undergrad who moved to Iowa City a year ago. Based on his presentations so far, there is little difference between their political leanings (sic). It does not make sense to replace her proven skills and deep awareness of our community with an unproven candidate. 
And the age old scare tactic: 
Efforts to rally undergraduate non-voters to support Hall based on his age alone is building momentum.
As I always note: Individual students come and go, but the student community is a permanent part of the Iowa City community, and a part of the community that has gone unrepresented for almost 40 years. When our community looks at its diversity, the diversity of the student population is too often overlooked, and a student would be a welcome addition to the council. So what if the old timers are shut out. Lots of parts of the community were shut out during their decades in power.

So we play out this election for field position, and the stakes are whether the establishment faction needs three out of four or a clean sweep to regain control in 2019.

Monday, October 02, 2017

What Happened In Vegas

I've often said I just wish the NRA would admit what we all know: they believe mass shootings are simply the price we pay for "freedom."





Today someone finally did. Bill O'Reilly. 

"Once again, the big downside of American freedom is on gruesome display.  A psychotic gunman in Las Vegas has committed the worst mass murder in U. S. history. ...

This is the price of freedom.  Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.

The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection.  Even the loons."

And this is why nothing will happen. A sizable minority of Americans actually define of "freedom" in terms of holding a weapon and that that these shootings, while sad and tragic, literally are the cost of freedom. And unlike gun control advocates, who are scattered across the political spectrum, the gun cult is willing to vote solely on this issue.

(This is the White Working Class that we're trying to Win Back with a rhetoric of Socialist Revolution.)

It's depressing and discouraging, but I appreciate Billo's directness and honesty Now I have a quite I can point to next time it happens. And there will be a next time.