Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Self-Fulfilling Prophets

I should just re-tweet this, but Ezra Klein's analysis deserves the emphasis. Consider, in light of the Register endorsement:
In endorsement after endorsement, the basic argument is that President Obama hasn’t been able to persuade House or Senate Republicans to work with him. If Obama is reelected, it’s a safe bet that they’ll continue to refuse to work with him. So vote Romney!

There’s nothing wrong with the logic of these endorsements. Congressional Republicans really have been implacably opposed to working with Obama and that’s meant Obama hasn’t been able to get much done since Boehner was sworn in as speaker. At times, it’s been even worse than gridlock. The Sentinel notes that “with Obama in charge, the federal government came perilously close to a default last year.”

These endorsements are proving Republicans right. As they show, the Republican strategy to deny the president any cooperation and make his Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place has done Obama enormous political damage. In that way, the endorsements get the situation backwards.

Also consider a view from overseas: UK's The Guardian considers the phenomenon they would call "working class Tories" : an economic underclass voting conservative. "In a country where social mobility is assumed – even if it has in fact stalled – and class consciousness is week the poor may vote in the interests of an imagined, but not necessarily imaginary future, rather than solidarity based on shared economic hardships. "

But again: if you only have time to read one thing, read the Ezra Klein piece.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy and the Popular Vote

Here's a hurricane election angle I haven't seen:

Other than swingy Virginia and New Hampshire, the areas hardest hit by Sandy are deep blue. From Maryland to Massachusetts, all states are safe at the presidential level, most congressional districts are expertly gerrymandered, and the only Senate race of note is in Massachusetts.

Suppose a couple hundred thousand, maybe half a million, voters in metro New York stay home. Won't flip any electoral votes or downballot races... but what about the national popular vote?

There's already buzz that the more likely split scenario is an Obama electoral college victory, fueled by narrow wins in big swing states, but a Romney popular vote win, driven by wide margins in deep red states. Today's odds from Super Genius Nate Silver:
  • Obama wins popular vote but loses electoral college 1.9%
  • Romney wins popular vote but loses electoral college 5.7%

Lower the vote total in some large blue disaster area states, and that scenario gets just a bit more likely.

In 2000, Democrats focused their complaints on the Florida process rather than on Gore's popular vote win. Would the 2012 version of the GOP be as accepting of an electoral college split result?

That's why your vote matters, even in a safe state. National popular vote could be very important to bragging rights and the legitimacy of the next president.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Headline of the year

Still tow months to go but the Muscatine Journal gets my vote for headline of the year for this report on Bob Dvorsky's campaign stop on behalf of Democratic Senate Cahdidate Chris Brase:

Dvorsky goal: Stop 'goofy legislation'

I say that should be our slogan for the final nine days. I'd make buttons with the obvious logo, the character crossed out Ghostbusters style, but Disney is notoriously harsh about its copyrights.

Speaking of Ghostbusters, and since I don't want to limit my cultural references to the 80s, you can totally dance Gangnam style to it:

Ballot Access News notes that 40% of the nation's state legislative races have only one major party candidate. Iowa is slightly more competitive than average. Leaving out the postponed Senate 22 race, 4 of 25 Senate seats have only a Republican. 31 of 100 House seats have only one major party candidate. There are also three Democrats who dropped out of House races too late to get off the ballot.

My conservative cohort Craig has a list of top House races at TheIowaRepublican. He could have elaborated more on the Democratic candidates, but it's his site, and the list itself is a good one. Besides, that's what a revisit to District of the Day is for, right? (Local note: Robinson has the House 77 Sally Stutsman-Steve Sherman race on the Safe D list, but is too ready to dismiss Sara Sedlacek against Tom Sands.)

And Iowa may have gotten rid of its rogue (candidate for) elector, but the issue is still popping up in other states, where the Paulistinians are being smarter and keeping their mouths shut.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

An Old School Endorsement

The Des Moines Register's endorsement of Mitt Romney tonight is leaving many in the state and even national worlds of journalism and politics puzzled or over-celebrating. But to me it made sense quickly.

It's definitely not a Gannett corporate thing: earlier today the Register's fellow Gannett paper the Iowa City Press-Citizen backed Obama. No, even though it's the paper's first GOP endorsement in 40 years, it's very much an old-school endorsement -- and I'm not saying that because the Register, like Iowa, was congenitally Republican until the 1960s.

It's old-school because it's very much rooted in Register tradition.

I should note, and this is not a tangent but a launching point, that I have had a small, direct relationship to Gannett and the Register for the past three years, and a small amount of money is involved. But my indirect relationship to the state's leading paper dates back more than 20 years, to my first days in the state and my first job in journalism.

From my first visit to the Register offices, with the giant Daily Planet globe in the lobby, and the framed front pages of yesteryear in the corridors, you couldn't help but think of the glory days of Extra Extra Read All About It. 

The Register, as an organization, guards the old-school traditions and rituals of politics and journalism, and as the state's dominant paper it sets standards for others. See, for example, the deadly dry late 2007 Register caucus debates, which eschewed sound bites and personality conflicts for a series of deep-wonk questions that long time Register political writer David Yepsen would have described as "pour another cup of coffee" questions.

Two decades ago, the culture of the neutral objective reporter ran deep at the Register. Yepsen religiously voted in every election until he left the state, with one exception: he never once participated in a primary. See, that would require declaring a party affiliation, even if just for a day.

Yepsen, a journalist's journalist,  also chided me once for having a bumper sticker on my car, a key incident in a process that led me to abandon journalism for campaign staffing and political activism. Then technology and the media culture changed, I started this thing you're reading just for kicks and giggles, I bought a goofy hat, and here I am again, now working in a small way for Yepsen's former paper. BUT that role is explicitly, even in the title, as a guest opinion writer "From The Left."

The Register has let me write pretty much what I want, up to and including this, and has been very flexible with my day job obligations. ("So... you're a political writer. And you're telling us that the closer it gets to Election Day, the less you'll have time to write. Well, OK!")  But it's worth noting that the only times they've specifically asked for my participation, it's been for politico-journalistic rituals: debates and State Of The Union speeches.

So understanding that culture, the Romney endorsement reminded me immediately of an endorsement one might think of as the polar opposite: the Register's backing of liberal Ed Fallon in his 2008 Democratic primary challenge to blue dog Leonard Boswell.

The entire Democratic party infrastructure of the state was backing Boswell, to the point of crossing the line into unfairness. And Boswell was so condescending to his opponent that he refused to offer Fallon the dignity of a debate. Ed showed up, and the hosts had an empty chair for Boswell. He did significantly better against the chair than Clint Eastwood did.

The paper had nothing to gain by backing Fallon's futile effort. But Boswell had refused to participate in one of the rituals of old-school democracy, and my theory, then and now, is that he had offended the Register's sensibilities.

Tonight, with with my new-school sensibilities, I HAD to say SOMETHING right away. I resorted to abbreviation worthy of @ChuckGrassley to make it fit:
This piece is just a longer version of that tweet, 140 characters stretched into 837 words.

The Register headquarters are shrinking now. The paper's on-line influence is reduced by its recent move to a paywall (that part WAS a Gannett corporate thing). I enjoyed sparring and matching wits on the debate chats... but I kinda missed my Twitter feed. And the ever-increasing trend toward early voting has reduced the influence of late endorsements.

And this week, even Clark Kent gave up on print, and left the Daily Planet. (Earlier this year The Onion had gotten it right: "Economically Healthy 'Daily Planet' Now Most Unrealistic Part Of Superman Universe")

I'm sure we'll read tomorrow that President Obama's botched effort to declare the editorial board phone interview "off the record," the subsequent backlash, and the release of the full interview transcript by the Obama campaign, had nothing to do with the Romney endorsement.

Maybe not. But I'll bet the beret they weren't happy about it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Early Voting: Having It Both Ways

Having it both ways seems to be the story of Mitt Romney's life. And so it is with esrly voting, where Romney appears to have been against it before he was for it:
Facing a massive early voting deficit less than two weeks out from election day, the Romney campaign is projecting a mixed message as the candidate works to keep alive his claim to momentum.

At issue is the question of whether Republicans are losing the early voting battle on purpose, as they say, or whether simply can't get their base to break their habit of voting on election day.

In memos and press gaggles, Republicans insist they're so far behind by strategic choice — focusing their efforts on helping unlikely voters get to the polls now, and leaving their enthusiastic base to fend for themselves on November 6.

But as Mitt Romney and Senator Rob Portman zig-zagged across Ohio Thursday, they repeatedly made a point of pleading for early votes from the cheering partisans who gathered at their rallies — the very group the campaign says they're not trying to get to the polls.
Iowa Republicans have stepped up their efforts somewhat this cycle. But they're still suffering from the lost decade of the 2000s, when they abandoned their successful vote by mail efforts of the 1990s, implied that early voting was "fraud," and focused their energy on last minute "72 hour programs" to get voters to the election day polls instead.

Democrats, in contrast, have made a greater effort than even their record-setting 2008 early voting drives. It's so important that they decided to forego the traditional election day shot of the president casting his ballot, as yesterday Barack Obama became the first-ever sitting president  to vote early. (By happy coincidence, I voted yesterday as well.) And Monday the first lady is hosting an Iowa City event designed in part to direct people to an early voting site at the public library.

It's easier now than it will be soon. Tomorrow is what we used to call the voter registration deadline in Iowa, but now call the "pre-registration" deadline. Through 5 p.m. Saturday, all you need to do is fill out your form, include a driver's license or Social Security number that gets verified, and you can either vote right then or wait till later.
After Saturday, in order to register under Iowa's relatively new election day registration law, you need to show ID and proof of address, AND you can only register if you are voting right then. (You can still change address, within a county, without ID.)

Tomorrow is also one of our great Johnson County traditions, Hy-Vee Saturday, with voting at all four of the chain's local stores. It's a great community service by Hy-Vee; other stores including Fareway and Wal-Mart have said no to early voting sites. And it's a tradition that should continue under new management.

I've worked at a lot of sites over the years, and I hear about fifty "this is wonderful" to each one "this shouldn't be allowed." It's a philosophical difference, really, seen more in the photo ID wars but centered around the same underlying issue: Should voting be easy?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Voting Today

Believe it or not, I have NOT voted yet. That's because I didn't want to use my vote to vote for President Obama, Dave Loebsack, the whole Democratic ticket, Yes for the judges, and Yes for the justice center. I wanted to vote for the place that I'm voting, and today I'm finally doing that.

There are a number of options, though not as many as in the past. Most places are very happy to have a voting day. I've voted at dorms and stores and libraries and even, once, at the polls.

But of all the sites I've visited, none is as enthusiastic as the Broadway Neighborhood Center. There's been a lot of criticism that we as a community don't reach out enough to the southeast side of town. It was a small sacrifice skipping out on the excitement of Day One, but I decided early on to wait four whole weeks specifically so I can vote there. If you haven't already, join me there from 1 to 7 p.m.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday catch-up

Obama in Davenport, Romney in Cedar Rapids - so close but so far for a semi-pro citizen journalist with a very busy day job. The dozens of emails and hundreds of tweets a day are impossible to keep up with. The swing states are paring down, from nine to seven to by some measures as few as four - and still, Iowa stays on the ever shorter short list.

With each passing day I'm further and further into the bubble of process, less and less aware of the larger picture. About all I can tell you is where the early voting sites are today (the Iowa City library and the law building).

And my vantage point is awful. Liberal academic communities like Iowa City are probably the most pro-Obama places that exist outside major metro areas, and my entire social circle consists of fellow political activists, so I have absolutely no idea what Real People are thinking. I'm so tapped out that I resorted to cat pictures last night, just to have something to post.

My gut tells me the President's going to be all right; my experience tells me there's a lot of hard work left to go. I've played so many different roles in election cycles: election office staffer, journalist, volunteer, candidate -- but I NEVER worked harder than the one cycle I was a campaign staffer.

The other weekend I got a call asking me to volunteer - for the other team. I understand why it happened: I've covered a few Republican events and subscribe to their email list. Easy mistake. I cut her off as soon as I realized what was happening, but I told her: "I respect anyone who volunteers for what they believe."

Or takes a break from school and life to work 18 hour days for not much money as a field staffer, for that matter. That's what I did - and I never looked back. And now the cycle of my life revolves around a different calendar, based not around the semesters and graduations that are the milestones for the rest of my community, or the number of shopping days till Christmas. I worked my one and only retail Black Friday last year, and it ain't nuthin' compared to election season.

Let's look at some stuff I thought was interesting.

The always interesting for trivia geeks Smart Politics looks at Christie Vilsack's race to become Iowa's first woman in Congress, with a long chart of past female candidates (Lynn Cutler came closest). Over the weekend - I AM way behind - the Register endorsed my predicted list of the next Iowa congressional delegation: Braley, Loebsack, VIlsack, and Latham.

We have a congressional candidate who has never set foot in Iowa: George Krail in the 1st CD. This Gazette piece also solves the mystery of his ally Alan Aversa in the 2nd CD. They're connected to Operation Rescue. But even these guys are better than the Democratic (!) Senate nominee in Tennessee, who the Washington Post calls "2012's worst candidate":
Democrats have told their voters just to write in a name instead of voting for Clayton. But at this low ebb, they don’t have another name to suggest.

Just pick somebody, voters are told. Word is, a lot of early voters used "Big Bird." 
Another mystery solved: An actual article about Ames egotist Jerry Litzel, running for president just to see his name on the ballot.

Down the ballot: The Register looks at Senate leader Mike Gronstal's race, with a useful sidebar of the top-tier Iowa Senate contests.

Gronstal-bashing is an issue in Senate District 6, Douglas Burns reports, as Gronstal cousin Mary Bruner (who has a big money lead on the last report) is getting bashed for her family ties by Republican Mark Segebart. And in Senate 30, GOP challenger Matt Reisetter gets Biblical and R-Rated simultaneously.

From the rightosphere: The Conservative Reader had been overviewing Iowa Senate races. Some of the assessments are too generous for their team - Senate 44 just "leaning" to Democratic incumbent Tom Courtney?!? - but still a good read.

Troll the poll: Local conservative site Coralville Courier is running a poll on the Board of Supervisors. The Democratic incumbents got the P-C endorsement, but stealth Republican "independents" Fesler and Etheredge are winning this online poll. You know what to do.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kitteh Bunks

Enough politics. As you can tell from the erratic posting schedule I'm hitting the wall. Time for some cat pics.

These two cats have an odd relationship: father and son, which isn't even a relationship fpr a cat. Dylan (blonde, the dad) and Xavier (gray, the son) have a new favorite hangout. This vertical rack was part of a desk I picked up curb shopping on Moving Day a couple semesters ago. but the cats quickly determined these were Teh Kitteh Bunks. They prefer to crash facing out to look at the yard (they're indoor cats) but over the weekend they faced in a few times while I had the camera handy.

And just to get some politics in: they're Democats, not Republicats.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern

"I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in." George McGovern, 1922-2012


I'm not worthy to eulogize George McGovern. Only his great chronicler Hunter Thompson could have done that: 

 "Of all the men that have run for president in the twentieth century, only George McGovern truly understood what a monument America could be to the human race."

I had the honor of meeting and briefly interviewing McGovern a few times. The first time was in early 1991, when he was reportedly considering a 1992 presidential bid. The last time I saw him was at our 2007 Johnson County Democratic barbecue,where his endorsement of his former campaign staffer Hillary Clinton (retracted at end game of the endless nomination battle) was the top national story of that exciting day. Even in his late 80s, McGovern remained a powerful speaker, and he remained active almost to the end.

McGovern visited Iowa as recently as April 2011. I joked at the time that he was either the left's 2012 primary challenger, or that he was laying the groundwork for 2016. More than any other person, George McGovern was the founder of the Iowa caucuses. The McGovern-Fraser Commission he led in 1969 and 1970 rewrote Democratic Party nomination rules to require more time and openness, in response to the bitter Democratic convention of 1968.

Having literally written the rulebook, McGovern was the first national politician to figure out that the 1972 Iowa caucuses fell before the New Hampshire primary. The reform commission and McGoverns "stronger than expected" Iowa showing were two of the big steps that paved the way for Carter `76 and the caucuses as we know them today. Since my original purpose in moving to Iowa was to study the caucuses in graduate school, you could say McGovern is a big part of why I'm an Iowan today.

In a way that's forgotten today, McGovern worked across the aisle. My favorite story of how bipartisanship used to work: who wrote the original food stamp bill? George McGovern and Bob Dole. Both were war heroes, and Kansas and South Dakota both grow a lot of wheat.Despite their differences, they were friends and had much in common long before their names were added to the list of losers.

Republicans came to embrace their landslide loser, Barry Goldwater. But in one of the great tragedies of my lifetime, McGovern became a pariah and his progressive politics were discredited for three decades, and are just barely beginning to be embraced today.

The last thing I ever said to George McGovern five years ago, as we grasped shoulders and I felt the years in his bones, was "you would have been a great president, sir." And he would have.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Talking with the Assassin of Hope

Since my endorsement recently of the justice center, I seem to have become the poster child for lefty support for the proposal. I got a lengthy shout-out from the Gazette's Jennifer Hemmingsen on Sunday, and Monday I taped an appearance on Yale Cohn's PATV18 show "Talking With," which is now airing and can be seen below.

My sparring partner from the No side is Jeff Cox, and there's definitely an... edge to our interpersonal vibe. By my count this is the third major contest just this year where we've been on opposite sides (my side won the first two) and the pre-broadcast off-air discussion was tense.

During the broadcast, Cox calls me "the assassin of hope," which Yale quipped would be a good gangsta rap name for me. I'm more an aging punk myself, but Rage Against The Machine is free to use it as an album title if they reunite.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Yet Another Debate Live Chat

Monday, October 15, 2012

Win or lose, Ward's death mean special election

First of all, condolences and prayers for Pat Ward's family and supporters. This loss would be painful at any time; to have it happen three weeks before the election, amid the already intense emotions of campaign season, adds another layer to the hurt. The pink ribbons on Ward's signs, a tribute to her struggle with breast cancer, are especially poignant now.

I feel a little like a ghoul for talking about it, but the death of any political figure has political consequences. Ward was a suburban moderate Republican, one of the few left in the Legislature, who had fended off a strong primary challenge from fundamentalist minister Jeff Mullen 58-42. Despite strong GOP numbers in the district, she faced a serious challenge from Democrat Desmund Adams, who announced he was temporarily suspending campaign activities after the news of Ward's death.

Iowa law is prepared for this sad contingency, and Craig Robinson did the work of posting the code section. There will be no race to reprint ballots in Polk and Dallas counties. The other races will be counted and canvassed but Senate 22 will not - "SHALL not," the law says - be counted.

Instead, there will be a special election on a date certain: December 11. Any candidates on the ballot, except the deceased, automatically appear on the December ballot. This means Adams will be the Democratic candidate, and there will be no third party or independent contenders since there were none for November.

Republicans will hold a nominating convention, as they did for several open ballot slots earlier this year. The convention voters will be county central committee members from the district... meaning whoever stayed late enough on caucus night, and we all know how that turned out at several other conventions this year.

Announcements will no doubt wait at least until services are completed. I know little of internal GOP suburban politics but I do know that Mullen is in an awkward spot. He's clearly ambitious, but he trashed Ward hard in the primary AND was rejected by the voters. Will that matter to the central committee diehards?

This creates a possible overtime period for the general election, if Senate control is in the balance. The district's numbers and demographics favored Ward, but Adams is a strong candidate, and the possibility/likelihood of a less moderate GOP nominee could improve his chances.

It also means all the state's political resources could be focused on one-fiftieth of the state for five weeks of absentee ballot drive and field work. Democrats do well in those contests, but will they, or Republicans for that matter, have it in them so soon after the presidential? That answer can wait.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Johnson County Democrats Barbecue

We're live baby live at the 2012 JCDems BBQ.

2:15 and Terry Dahms is starting in with intros. Our keynoters times two today are Mpls mayor RT Ryban, the DNC vice chair, and House Dem leader Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is here, haven't spotted Rybak yet. Dave Loebsack will also be on hand.

Big round of applause for Neuzil pork, the staple food of these events.

We've got about 100 here on hand, including a big chunk of electeds who we'll just list as so: MascherJacobyLensingDvorskyBolkcomDvorskyPulkrabekLynessKrizSullivanRettigNeuzilHughesSchwabThrogmortonGrossWeipertSchwab (some people got two mentions some families have two to be mentioned).  This probably took much less time at the Johnson COunty GOP BBQ.

By tradition, electeds and candidates serve. L to R: Bolkcom (typecast on the veggie entree), Jacoby, Sullivan, Weipert, Pulkrabek, Lensing; Schwab and Retting eat early and come back for the second shift.

The speeches start in earnest with Dick Schwab. He keeps it short with thank yous.

Pulkrabek himself is unopposed but he makes the pitch for the justice center. "The No side and the Yes side both agree we need a new jail. THe no side says we should just plan for today, we're planning for tomorrow."

Mary Mascher makes the pitch for Sally Stutsman (absent with a schedule conflict)

Travis Weipert is also unopposed for auditor and thanks folks for the support in the primary. "I will do everything I can to oppose the voter ID law," he closes to big applause.

Rod Sullivan and Terrence Neuzil do have opponents, but Sullivan takes his time to thank chair Terry Dahms. Neuzil notes the long D win streak for the board (since 1958) "and we would like to keep it that way." Makes the straight picket pitch and the calls of "flip the ballot" start before he can even get the words out.

That wraps it for the locals; Mary Mascher takes the intro for McCarthy."We helped with the recruiting effort, but Kevin was the motivator."

"We have well over 20 races in play now" McCarthy says of the 'inside baseball' stuff. "Because of candidates like Sally Stutsman and Sara Sedlacek and Dick Schwab, our polling shows that if the election were today we'd be at 53 seats."

 McCarthy's father is Polk County sheriff, and the son used his dad's opponent as a microcosm of Teh Republican Crazy. "We're trying to propose real solutions, and they just yell CONSTITUTION. When you look at the policy prescriptions the Republicans propose, it's to move things back to a time that never was. If we let them do all these things, Democrats would control everything in two years."

Rybak and Loebsack spotted in the house 2:42.

Bob Dvorsky takes the Loebsack intro, and offers praise for the UDems and the field staffers, who are mostly working and thus not here. TV folks arrive. I throw on the beret for Dave's benefit.

"It's competitive in Iowa and it's competitive in this district" says the congressman. " I know you get tired of hearing how we need the margin in Johnson County, but we really do." A shoutout for the Hamburg Inn Coffee Bean Caucus: "If it's any indication, which it has been in the bast, we're gonna win this county big." (Remember, this is a poli sci PhD...)

"When my opponent was asked if social security privatization was a good idea he has a one word response: 'absolutely.' Now he's trying to walk it back, but I'm not going to let him pull a Mitt Romney. As long as I'm in Congress, and even when I'm not, I'm going to fight to make sure nobody ever turns Social security over to Wall Street."

And Loebsack says Archer had a Romneyesque 47% moment, quoting: "One of the weakness of America is that 50% of the people believe they're entitled to a government handout." "I think that makes him singularly unqualified to be a congressman."

Loebsack wraps at 3:07. Dahms passes the hat (NOT the beret) for the House Democrats as Sue Dvorsky takes the into for Rybak. "Our opponents have completely collapsed in their ability to get their voters out," she says "and we started our effort two years ago."

Rybak offere the 30,000 feet view: Several different states are convinced that they'll be "that one state that everbody will look at and say the election's over and the president has won." The crowds consensus is it will be Iowa, though there may have been a problem with sample bias.

The Minnesotan "thanks" Iowa for the "gift" of Michele Bachmann and predicts her loss, with a few shots at Steve King to follow.

"Our message is simple. Are we better off than we were four years ago? YES. 31 straight months of private sector job growth, 30 million Americans on health care, and we are out of Iraq and on the way out of Afghanistan. We need to put a human face on Obamacare. We've got to remind people just what it is."

"The only thing that has been consstent in Mitt Romney's career is resistributing wealth from the bottom to the top."

"I was raised a Republican but I don't recognize the party; they've driven off the edge of the flat earth."

Quote of the speech as it wraps: "George Bush was the captain of the Titanic and Paul Ryan was his little skipper." Done at 3:31 and Dahms makes the pitch to take some yard signs and leftovers home.

The Boss And The Boss

Big weeks for Iowa Democrats as the boss - as in El Presidente - visits Mt. Vernon Wednesdat and THE Boss - as in Brooooooooooooooooooooooce Springsteen - is in Ames Thursday. (Take THAT, Chris Christie.) I'll miss both - too much work to do - but Iowa City gots love from both the president and from a New Jersey musician earlier this cycle. (Still, Bon Jovi ≠ Springsteen)

Instead we get... the mayor of Minneapolis today at the Johnson County Dems BBQ. By coincidence Republicans are having a barbecue at an overlapping time. I see that John Etheredge, a supposedly "independent" candidate for supervisor, is speaking and handing out signs. We know the guy was a registered Republican, not looks like he's campaigning as one too.

The supervisor candidates are meeting at a forum Monday, the warm-up debate for Tuesday's presidential face-off. And of course there have been legislative forumses... fora? debates all over the place. In our own neighborhood, a House 79 forum with Dem Dick Schwab and the GOP's Bobby Kaufmann.

Elsewhere: A three corner race in open Senate 42 between Democrat Rich Taylor, Republican Larry Kruse, and Michael Garmoe of the Slightly Silly Party; a match in Johnston between Democrat Kelsey Clark and Republican Jake "Scarface" Highfill over who gets to serve one term in House 39; and the two-year Senate 49 contest between Republican Andrew Naeve and Democrat Rita Hart.

Get those write in pencils ready: In news that surprises absolutely no one, Ron Paul refuses to endorse Mitt. And I question I wish I'd thought of: In Real Life how much would James Bond cost taxpayers?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

VP Debate Live Chat


As we prep for tonight's VP debate and brood over Obama's "Disaster" (sic), time for some perspective: Top Ten Debate Gaffes! No JFK comparisons, but we do have nuclear policy advisor Amy Carter, the Lockbox, and "Who am I? Why am I here?" Now let's see someone liberate Poland tonight.

Yet Another Forum Linkfest

Do we miss the multi-cornered Republican primary debates? No? Well, 10 candidates on stage in Waterloo Tuesday, in a forum covering all the Black Hawk County races. The UNI Dems take a shot at Senate candidate Matt Riesetter's remarks; also coverage from the Courier and Patch.

And six on stage in Marshalltown: House District 71 candidates Mark Smith and Allen Burt, District 72 candidates Dean Fisher and Nathan Wrage and Senate District 36 candidates Steve Sodders and Jane Jech.

The QCTimes looks at a couple more Scott County races: House 93, where two term Democrat Phyllis Thede has a challenge from Libertarian turned Republican Mark Nelson, and House 97, where late-starting Dem Ted Whisler is challenging five term GOP Rep. Steve Olson.

Rybak to JCDems BBQ

Save room Sunday for one more piece of pie and one more speech, because the Johnson County Democrats have one more barbeque guest.

Rybak at Iowa City Obama HQ in November

Democratic National Committeee (DNC) Vice Chair and Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak will attend the Fall BBQ this Sunday, October 14.

We can all look forward to his perspective on the election.

Please inform and invite your friends.

The BBQ starts at 1:00 p.m. at the Johnson County Fairgrounds - bldg. C.

In addition to Mayor R. T. Rybak, you will hear from Congressman Dave Loebsack and our keynote speaker Iowa House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Legislative Links

Another linkfest of legislative forums and such from across the state:

Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, has his first active challenge in six years from Democrat Mairk Seidl, who ran against Renee Schulte under the old lines in 2010. Two stories here and here.

This story and this story from House 39, where Republican Jake Highfill has the partisan edge and young Dem Kelsey Clark has the maturity edge.

GOP incumbent Pat Ward called in sick to a Senate 22 forum which included her opponent, Democrat Desmund Adams. The two House 44 candidates, Republican Rob Taylor and Democrat Eric Brenneman, were also on hand.

In Oskaloosa, two pairs of open seat candidates faced off: Republican Ken Rozenboom and Democrat Tim Tripp for Senate 40, and Dem Joe Judge and Republican Larry Sheets for House 80. House 79 GOP incumbent Guy Vander Linden showed up; the Dem on the ballot moved out of state.

Some non-forum stories: An Omaha World-Herald piece on three western Iowa House races, # 12, 15 and 16. (That's Council Bluff and Carroll for you who don't have the map memorized.)

The Conservative Reader is doing a District Of The Day kinda thing on the hot Senate races. Here's two, both with Republican uncumbents - hey! That was a typo but it's a great new word to describe a defeated incumbent. Let's hope it works on these two races. : Senate 24, Jerry Behn (R)  vs.  Shelly Stotts (D) and Senate 38 Tim Kapucian (R)  vs.  Shelley Parbs (D).

And in a rare mention, we have the Tiffin City Council special election!

Good Intentions, Bad Addresses

One of the great ironies in my life is that I dropped out of grad school, to sign on with a political campaign, in part because I didn't want to spend years on a dissertation to become the world's expert on the head of a pin. Yet my political and journalistic role has evolved, over two decades of work, into something very much like... the world's expert on the head of a pin.(And "District of the Day" approached dissertation length.)

It's the point in the election cycle where I get tunnel vision. I can barely tell you anything about national polls, I'm only tuned into the debates because I was specifically asked to. But boy, do I know a lot of details about early voting.

The irregularities that some of our more zealous self-appointed upright citizens want to label "fraud" almost entirely come down to simple human error. Even the handful of cases unearthed and prosecuted in recent weeks, interesting timing that, are explained by the "perps" as "I thought it was OK."

Anyone who is reading a state-level political blogger is by definition a political obsessive. Put yourself in the shoes of a good-intentioned and eligible voter who deals with this election stuff not as a career or a lifestyle, but once every two or four years. Or a 19 year old working through this for the first time.

Over the weekend, the New York Times looked at the vote by mail fail rate:
Yet votes cast by mail are less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth, statistics show. Election officials reject almost 2 percent of ballots cast by mail, double the rate for in-person voting. 
In 2008, Minnesota officials rejected 12,000 absentee ballots, about 4 percent of all such votes, for the myriad reasons that make voting by mail far less reliable than voting in person. The absentee ballot itself could be blamed for some of the problems. It had to be enclosed in envelopes containing various information and signatures

Absentee ballots have been rejected in Minnesota and elsewhere for countless reasons. Signatures from older people, sloppy writers or stroke victims may not match those on file. The envelopes and forms may not have been configured in the right sequence. People may have moved, and addresses may not match.  The mail may be late.  

It's one of the reasons I recommend in-person early voting, at auditor's offices or satellite sites. Maybe I should have said that before 14,000 ballots (and counting) were mailed out in Johnson County. But of course some people are actually gone, or shut in, or just prefer voting at home.

If you choose to vote early in person, there's someone there to walk you through the process who has done it hundreds or thousands of times, not once or twice. The process isn't hard, but it's not always intuitive. "I forgot to put my ballot in the secrecy folder so I opened my envelope up and re-sealed it." Not putting the ballot in the secrecy folder is no big. But opening and re-sealing your envelope? That's a "your vote won't count unless you fix it" mistake.

Iowa law changed in 2007, and now when the mail arrives, auditors are allowed/required to open the outer ("return carrier") envelope and look at the envelope that you are supposed to fill out and sign (the "affidavit envelope" which the ballots stay sealed in until the election day counting board meets). This double-check helps reduce the invalid rate. But it's still an extra trip or a second round trip in the mail.

Some of the problems are more complex but just as innocent. Mobility is a huge issue, especially in my college town. People move for unexpected reasons at unexpected times. You could be bunked up five deep in a dorm lounge and suddenly get an open room across campus. We just had a frat shut down and all the guys in the house, innocent or guilty, got evicted. That romantic living arrangement could end in a broken lease and a broken heart. Or, worse, a broken nose and a restraining order.

The commonality in any of these traumatic moves? The LAST thing on your mind is going to be that absentee ballot request form you signed a few weeks or months ago with your old address on it. And even if you're a Solid Upstanding Married Reproduced Property Tax Payer who just closed on the dream house, you could get electorally messed up in the move.

I've heard the attitude expressed that, and I'm close to verbatim here, "If someone can't do the paperwork right, their vote shouldn't count." Let me say that again: "If someone can't do the paperwork right, their vote shouldn't count."

I saw my friend John Stimmel today, coming in to vote. I hope he doesn't mind if I talk about him. Many people know John and his story was front page news last year. John has developmental disabilities and he suffered for many years in an institution before winning his freedom. If you know him well you can tell he still feels some of that pain of all those years of having his rights deprived. But he's an inspiration and a joy to know. He has a job, his own place, works hard, pays taxes. He knows what his rights are and knows what he believes. Things like paperwork are hard for John and he always has someone with him to help him vote, to make sure he does it all right and those strong beliefs of his count.

"If someone can't do the paperwork right, their vote shouldn't count." Really. And I'm not talking about someone with what we'd call "special needs" anymore. I'm talking about average people with good intentions trying to navigate an unfamiliar and slightly legalese process on their own, in order to access a basic human right.

Good intentions. What are your intentions: to help people get it right? Or to hang them up on the technicalities?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Legislative Leaders In Iowa City This Week

How worried is Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal about his own Council Bluffs race against under-achieving Republican Al Ringgenberg? Well, Gronstal is able to take time Tuesday to head over to this side of the state and raise money for the rest of his Senate team.

Johnson County senators Bob Dvorsky and Joe Bolkcom are hosting Gronstal on Tuesday, October 9 from 5 to 7 at the Iowa City home of Jim Hayes at 1142 E. Court. Local historians will note that an Iowa artist used to live there. You may have heard of him, guy named Grant Wood. Anyway it's a lovely setting for an event and Hayes has had many over the years. 50 bucks would be nice, more would be nicer.

The House Democratic leader, Kevin McCarthy, also has few re-election worries, as his opponent literally volunteered from the audience at the nominating convention. McCarthy will be the keynoter at the Johnson County Democrats' fall barbecue on Sunday the 14th from 1 to 4 at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. Dave Loebsack will also be on hand. $30 for famileies or $15 individual.

Area Republicans are also having a BBQ on Tuesday for House 73 candidate Bobby Kaufmann at the family farm, 1527 330th Street, Wilton. Event runs 5 to 7 and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds will be there early. Team Kaufmann also promises, quote, "a Political All-Star Line-Up of Iowa House Leaders throughout the State." $25 per person, $50 per family, or they'll take more too.

As for me, looks like another Register debate live chat Thursday. And I offered a few quotes between bites on a Jimmy John's sub for this story on early voting

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Every Day Is Yard Sign Day

It's 30 days to election day, and that used to be a major milestone on the local political calendar. 30 days out was Yard Sign Day, because an Iowa City ordinance banned posting them any earlier.

Other cities had even stricter ordinances; when I worked the 1992 campaign cycle in Linn County, the Cedar Rapids ordinance was 21 days. As a practical matter, that meant 17 days, because it was hard to get the yard sign crew together in the middle of the week.

All those ordinances have been tossed out, as unconstitutional restrictions on free speech. The only remaining restrictions are on placement in the right of way or, in most cases, on corporate property. Ballot issue signs are OK on corporate sites but candidate signs are not.

Other cities restricted the number of signs you could have, which would have made this West Liberty resident unhappy. (I was out today doing some rare honest political work, doorknocking with House 88 candidate Sara Sedlacek.) And yes, Muscatine County supervisor candidate Stu Willits really does look like that.

Willits and his distinctive facial hair are a rare exception to the rule that your sign should emphasize name above all. Party would be next, depending on your turf. I'll admit, I left "Democrat" off mine when I ran in a red district -- but it's gotten a lot bluer, and Sedlacek's got a real chance to win it.

The color coordination above appears to be coincidental. My signs were blue, too, and my opponent's were red -- but that was 1996. The modern color scheme of blue for Democrats, red for Republicans was locked in on Election Night 2000, and in the rest of the world red is universally associated with left parties and blue with conservatives.

Other things yard signs didn't have in 1996: URLs. I did have a campaign web site, though in the days of dial-up I doubt anyone in my district saw it, and I think the address had a ~ in it.

More unsolicited yard sign advice: Election date is only recommended for an off-cycle special; people KNOW when a presidential is. As for district number, some of my local legislators are now on their third district map and district number with the same yard signs, with old district numbers covered up in layered stickers like a license plate.

As you see, the new Obama signs are in, but my yard still has an old one. You need to be right on top of the 2012 edition to read the way too small OBAMA and BIDEN. The Obama signs showed up a bit late, and one person on a corner lot on Iowa City's Highland Avenue had made their own. I anonymously dropped off an official one yesterday. When I drove by today, the person left up the home made sign, but put up the official one facing the other way.

Steve King's campaign twitter is constantly bragging about seemingly every barn sign in western Iowa. But for what it's worth, the best yard sign blitz plan I ever saw was written by Christie Vilsack, for Tom's first state senate race.

It's a good thing that the date restrictions on signs is no more. But on Sign Day, part of me misses the sudden explosion of fall colors. Now it's more gradual, and less noticeable.

Sign Day also makes me miss a couple local Democrats who were commanders of the yard sign crew who aren't with us anymore: labor leader Jean Martin, and Bob Dvorsky's proud father Ernie. I'm still working off of some of Ernie's lists, and I remember seeing him, in his 80s, pounding stakes into the frozen ground for Bob's February 1994 hurry-up mid-session special election, when he moved from the House to the Senate.

Yard signs don't vote, goes the saying, but people with yard signs vote. My take on signs is: it helps if the public knows who lives behind the sign. A random site helps less than the home of a well known community member. And I'm really surprised how many people know where I live -- though I'm not sure if I'm helping my candidates or not.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Legislative Roundup

A collection of clips from across the state on legislative campaigns this week:

Look 1 and Look 2 at the House 66 race, a rematch of 2008 where GOP Rep. Renee Schulte faces one term Dem Art Staed on turf that has moved to the Democrat's advantage.

This Patch profile mainly focuses on Democratic House 68 challenger Daniel Lundby but also  quotes GOP incumbent Nick Wagner.

A northeast corner forum with Senate 28 candidates John Beard (D) and Michael Breitbach (R) and House 55 Rep. Roger Thomas (D) and challenger Michael Klimesh (R), as well has local courthouse contenders.

Fort Madison saw a partial forum. The two House 83 candidates, Democratic incumbent Jerry Kearns and Republican James Steffen, were both on hand. In the open Senate 42 race, Republican Larry Kruse attended but Democrat Rich Taylor had a schedule conflict.

The QCTimes looks at House 94 where GOP Rep. Linda Miller faces her first ever Democratic challenger, Maria Bribriesco.

Bret Hayworth examines the only two incumbent House race in District 13, where Democrat Chris Hall and Republican Jeremy Taylor face off.

Friday, October 05, 2012

A surprise endorsement

The critique of the justice center ballot issue has mostly been a critique of the larger justice system itself. It's a critique I largely agree with. Too many people in our society are punished for the wrong reasons, and too many of the incarcerated are black or brown or poor.

It's also a local problem, with the Iowa City Police Department and Campus Security over-zealously pursuing minor drug and alcohol crimes, over-enforcing bad laws that many of us don't even believe should BE laws. We also have a statistically significant driving while black problem that needs to stop.

I have attended justice center meetings off and on for several years. I have long been convinced of the actual need, but I had intended to vote no because of this other set of issues. I really, really wanted the existing jail to be full of drunk college students and harmless pot smokers.

The problem is, that's not true. And I can't in intellectual honesty oppose the justice center anymore. Today I'm making the biggest liberal flip-flop since Birkenstocks were invented.

Local prosecutors, the sheriff, and the courts are caught in the middle between bad laws and bad enforcement, with most of the responsibility and little of the discretion. The current sheriff and county attorney have done far more to explore jail altenatives for mental health and substance abuse than their predecessors. Not enough for me; I still think the "alternative" the average pot smoker needs is to be left alone. But within the framework of existing law, our alternatives program is a good one. Unfortunately, it's maxed out due to lack of space. And many people who would otherwise be eligible are shipped out to all points of the compass and unable to participate.

Opponents charge that more cell space will encourage more arrests - and we need to watch our police department and their bosses, the city council, carefully on that. But more cell space will also keep those awaiting their day in court closer to family and friends who can offer emotional support, and allow the accused better access to their attorneys. More meeting areas will mean more privacy for the accused to consult with their lawyers; right now this happens in the lobby. More courtrooms will mean more judges and speedier trials, which for the innocent will mean speedier returns home.

This is about safety for the public: for jurors, for abuse victims, for witnesses, and for the accused. The new secure entrance will keep the public safer, and secure passage from the jail to the courtroom will protect the public from the genuinely dangerous. Expanded and more modern cell areas will also protect the accused from other inmates who could do them harm.

Our old courthouse is a beautiful historic site, but it offers literally a back door to justice for the disabled. New courtrooms in the new part of the complex will give our justice center true ADA accessibility to most court functions.

A protest no vote sends a muddled message: No because of the dollar amount? No because of the justice system? We can argue about the big picture another day. And we should.

This vote, this ballot issue, is about tangible things that will bring real world justice to the accused, the victims, the general public, and yes, even the guilty. And the clear message is yes. Please join me in flipping your ballot and voting Yes on the justice center.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

October 3 debate - Register live chat

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

So Does This Make Obamacare Bad Medicine?

40something Democrats across eastern Iowa are thrilling to the news that THE Jon Bon Jovi is playing a (likely brief) acoustic set Friday afternoon on campus as part of a Obama vote early rally. The, ahem, veteran rocker has been playing for, and donating to, Dems for at least a decade. To make my generation feel really old, a typical UI student and "Blaze of Glory" are roughly the same age.

On a slightly more contemporary note, Lady Gaga appears to have emerged as the Peter Tosh of her generation: a sudden hero to the legalize weed community.

If Clint Eastwood can debate an empty chair, so can Lonny Pulkrabek and Janet Lyness: As anticipated, the LWV forum on the justice center proceeded with no one stepping forward to take the No side.

Both chairs will be filled at tomorrow night's debates, and I'll be filling a chair at a debate watch party, as part of a Register live chat. Not convinced they'll make much difference - the tiny sliver of undecideds will likely tune them out - but gaffe watch is always fun. I love when Poland gets liberated, and if you remember that one you're even older than a Bon Jovi fan.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Do you really Gotta Vote?

The Gotta Vote tour bus tour is in Iowa City today:

Iowa City

WHO:            Former Lt. Governor Patty Judge
                      Sandra Fluke
                      Actor Tate Donovan              

WHEN:         Monday, October 1, 2012 at 5:15 PM CDT

WHERE:       The corner of Clinton Street & Iowa Avenue
                     Iowa City, Iowa

Technically speaking, in America you don't gotta vote. On Friday I had an interesting talk with an Australian journalist who visited my day job and saw part of the maelstrom that was Day 2 of voting. She noted that Australia doesn't have the elaborate get out the vote drives that we do here in the states -- because instead they have mandatory voting.

Leaving aside the screaming and ranting from the fools who are actually proud of not voting, what would that do here? Would it mean Democrats would win every election?

Maybe not, without some other reforms like clean redistricting. I hate to be a pessimist, but Slate thinks that a Democratic US House win is impossible, thanks to redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering

A little more local: a QCTimes look at the House 89 race between Democratic incumbent Jim Lykam and Republican Bill Edmon of the Davenport city council.