Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday Talking Shop

The Tiffin recount is finished and absolutely nothing changed. Royce Phillips held his 16 vote margin over Jenny Carhoff for the second city council seat. Not a vote for a candidate, not a write in, nuthin'.

Even though it was withing the margin where Carhoff did not have to put up a bond, 16 votes is a lot in a city the size of Tiffin. Frankly, people are too quick to cry "recount." I've seen half a dozen in 15 years and probably two of them should have happened: Iowa City in 1999 (two vote margin) and University Heights in 2011 (one vote). The modern optical scan readers used here and across the state are remarkably accurate. Raise the question of post-election audits if you wish; that's a separate question from recounts.

Carhoff's motivations were probably sincere. But I've seen recounts used for the wrong reasons, too. The North Liberty recount of 2005 was pretty obviously a way to delay an outcome rather than reverse an outcome. And the conservation bond recount of 2008, a county-wide recount that shifted just six votes out of 73,000 when the Yes winning margin was over 500, was just a political statement by the losing side.

I think the legislature should look at the recount cost issue, specifically the bonds and the margins. They should also look at ways to combine more elections. There's no common sense reason why the February 5 Iowa City school funding vote, which covers more than 80% of the county's voters, shouldn't be combined with, say, a possible supervisor special election. But with divided government any sort of tweaks to election law are stalled because of photo ID.

Another pet peeve: people who resign immediately after getting re-elected. State rep Brian Quirk's out of nowhere resignation means 1) another special election and 2) the last of the 2009-10 class of conservaDems called "the six pack" is gone. Four lost in 2010 and one retired rather than face a likely defeat. But quirk won in `10 and was strong enough that he only drew an independent opponent this month. The weird part: the vagueness of the "future plans".

While the recount went on, other post-election work kept going. The election day registrations, though not all the cleanup work, are processed and Johnson County registration is at a record high 95,195. about 1000 higher than after the 2008 election.

All parties gained raw numbers, but Democrats dropped a full percentage point while Republicans dropped just 0.2%. The bulk of that went to No Party, though the third parties gained slightly (together they're less than half a percent). 

Sure, that Dem drop doesn't look good. Not to whistle by a graveyard or even the Lensing funeral home, but look back over the year. Republicans are back where they were right after the caucuses while Dems are down two-tenths of a point from then. Democrats regained a lot with the June primary, which was the first competitive intra-party  contest here since the January 2008 caucuses. They gained more with the big field program; their percentage didn't start dropping again until in person early voting started in late September.

The vast increase in independent registrations, typical in a presidential cycle, explains most of the shift. The majority of election day registrations are young people, who 1) are the most likely to register as independents and 2) lean Democratic in voting behavior. So while they're not checking the D box on the voter reg form, they're marking the ovals by Obama and Loebsack.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Number Crunching The Justice Center, Part 2

In part one of this dissertation, I examined and rejected the theory that high presidential year student turnout was responsible for the defeat of the justice center. That said, I need another explanation. Let's break out the numbers by partisanship and precinct. If you want them at hand, here you are.

I've worked on a lot of ballot issues over the years (though no one's called me about the next one), and they don't easily split along the standard partisan lines. You get uneasy bedfellows. The Yes side was a broad coalition of the center, or the Power Elite if you will, while opposition came from the wings and from outside the traditional left-right spectrum.

Yes reached the Establishment; the top score was 66 percent in Iowa City 2 on the near west side, dominated by the large Oaknoll senior complex. The precinct was county-average for president: Obama 68, Romney 30.

The Yes committee formally approached both major parties for an endorsement, and they got the Democrats. Most of the elected officials and people currently active in party leadership supported the measure. Part of that was conviction (no pun intended), part was loyalty to the elected officials. Aside: Janet Lyness and Lonny Pulkrabek were far better advocates than their predecessors were twelve years ago, both within the Democratic Party and in the larger community.

There were exceptions within the Democrats, of course, but mostly among people who'd drifted away from active party roles in recent years.

The Republicans did not take a formal position either way. Correction: The GOP declined to take either position in August, but formally endorsed No in September. (Thanks to Bill Keettel and Sheriff Pulkrabek for updating me.) Some members of what I'd call the Chamber of Commerce wing of the party, the kind of folks who get active in city and school campaigns, were on the Yes side. But from my observation the people who are active on the party side were mostly No.

People opposed the measure for different reasons, which are difficult to separate. I'll grossly generalize here; jump in on comments if you want to add nuance.

The left tended to talk about things like minority arrest rates, the general level of incarceration in the US, and the drug war. Conservatives tended to worry more about the price tag and their general distrust of county government. The left and right concerns both led to questions about the specific size of the proposal, the fear of If You Build It You'll Fill It. And libertarians small and big L tended to agree with all of the above.

Personally, I think it was right-sized for a building meant to last decades. But there was a sense on the left that, population growth be damned, nothing larger than present-day maximum population of about 160 beds was under any circumstances acceptable. I think that means revisiting the issue in 15 years, but we'll be revisiting it sooner than that anyway since it lost.

There were other scattered objections; the word "ugly" came up sometimes regarding the century-wide gap in architectural styles between the addition and the old courthouse. Republicans on the Yes side also reported that a lot of their partisan friends had what they called a Sheriff Joe mentality: put `em in tents and feed `em bread and water. Iowa law doesn't allow that -- indeed, Arizona law doesn't either. But then, the county can't unilaterally change federal and state drug and alcohol law, either, and that moved a lot of votes, too.

So by and large the objections can be summed up as: Larger Justice System Issues and Taxes.

Which was it? Both, of course. The result was close enough that winning over either the left or right could have been decisive. But if you're trying to figure out what to do next, what's MORE important? Ah, at last my thesis question: Was opposition from the left or right more numerically significant?
The justice center vote happened in as partisan a context as possible, a presidential election. We have direct measures of partisan voting side by side with the issue. We have precincted results for both election day votes and absentees. But that's complicated by two factors.

1) The No campaign started very late, just three or four weeks before the elction.
2) The early voting electorate skewed heavily Democratic since Democrats had a much larger absentee effort.

Both President Obama and the justice center performed better in the early voting than on Election Day. Obama scored a whopping 75 percent of the early vote, but dropped to just 56 on November 6, a 19 point difference on the way to a combined total of 67%.

The justice center actually won its supermajority on the early vote, just a hair over the required 60 percent, but lost outright on Election Day at 49, for a combined 56%. 55 point six four if you want to get technical; a No person or two has equated rounding with exaggerating so precision is safest.

How much of that skew was because more Democrats voted early and more Republicans voted late, and how much was because more election day voters heard the No message?

Look at the gaps. The justice center ran 15 points behind Obama in the early voting, but just seven points behind in the more Republican pool of election day voters. That makes me think liberal objections to big picture justice issues were more mathematically significant than conservative cost concerns. (About two percent of the total electorate voted third party or write in; I strongly suspect nearly all of those votes were No, and 2.1% is a lot in a 4.4% loss.)

Congrats again to No on the win, but their actual effort doesn't seem to have shifted much. The arguments No made late in the game were apparently out there to begin with, in people's heads if not in the headlines, during early voting. 

More evidence of that comes from the undervote. Early voters were a bit more likely to skip the question, with a 17% undervote rate early vs. 14% election day (combined: 15.8%). But three points isn't a lot on this stat. Compare that to another campaign where a No effort got a lot of late publicity: the 2010 judicial retention vote. Justice Baker was listed first and saw the highest total vote here. In the early voting, 25.4% skipped the contest, but on Election Day less than half that, 12.5%, undervoted. That was skewed some by Iowa City's 21 bar vote, where students voted heavily early, but that does tell me that information bias between early and late voters in 2012 wasn't a huge factor compared to 2010.

Finally let's look at the geography. The People's Republic does have isolated Republican precincts, and the courthouse Democrats have had a rural problem in recent years.

In the combined early and Election Day vote (using those combined numbers from here on down), Mitt Romney carried three of the 57 precincts: Jefferson East (greater metro Shueyville), Sharon Township, and Washington Township. All of them were below par for the justice center. But of the three, only Washington was an outright No at 55%; Yes was narrowly ahead in Shueyville and Sharon (yes, I'm fully aware that 50% plus one isn't a "win" in a supermajority context). Jefferson West (Swisher) broke almost dead even on both the presidency and the justice center. And in Big Grove (rural Solon), which Obama won by just 4 votes out of over 1100, the justice center was at an about average 55%.

It's also worth noting that Sharon and Washington, farm rural precincts as opposed to North Corridor subdivisions, are among the smallest. Washington's 55% No was, in raw numbers, 212 to 175. The two Jeffersons (Airplane and Starship, I call them) each saw roughly the 1500 total voters, about the same as a small to average urban precinct, and each contributed about 650 No votes to the cause.

The heaviest No voting rural precinct was Cedar Township (greater metro Sutliff) at 59% no. It was also the smallest precinct in the county with just 353 voters, and a 182-129 No margin. Cedar, historically very Democratic, is trending rightward. (Ironic, since the Sutliff Bridge reconstruction is one of the things conservatives point to when they bash county government spending.) The president won, but so did Republican state house candidate Bobby Kaufmann.

The most Republican urban precinct was Coralville 6, the Wickham School area, full of Escalades and big houses, where Romney scored 44%. Establishment Republican, not rural Republican, and they voted 63% Yes. And that was with over 1700 total voters and a 954-569 justice center vote, more than cancelling out those small rurals.

This is telling me that the problem was less a Republican problem and more of a Rural problem, maybe less of a tax problem and more of a trust problem.

Now let's take it downtown.

The highest No percentage in the whole county was 65% in Iowa City 19, the Iowa City Rec center precinct dominated by large off-campus apartment blocks. Precinct 20, the Senior Center precinct just east of downtown proper, was close behind at 61% No.

I know I said yesterday that the student vote didn't flip this. Overall, that's true. But that's because the student vote, as it stands in November 2012, isn't quite a monolith.

Note the difference between the on-campus and off-campus precincts.  Iowa City 3 and 5 are dorm-dominated. Full of freshmen and sophomores, who got here after the 21 Bar War of 2010. Those two precincts split about 50-50. It was the off-campus areas that approached or topped 60% No. Those students are a couple years older. They were here for the transition, and have had more time to have a negative experiece with law enforcement direct or indirect.

The off-campus precincts also have more non-student influence. Precincts 20 and 11 have some senior housing. Precinct 11 (59% No) also includes my own Miller-Orchard neighborhood.

Did those No votes above and beyond the 50-50 dorm split come from progressives?

The ur-progressive People's Republic precinct is the north side, Iowa City 21. They famously (under slightly different lines) pushed George W. Bush into THIRD place, behind Ralph Nader, in 2000. And they performed well for Obama, though not the best, at 77%. Precinct 21 also voted 60% No, below any rural precinct.

Note also the large raw numbers here. Precincts 11, 20 and 21 were remarkably close in total turnout, between 1741 and 1752. 19 was a bit smaller at 1458. But that's still bigger than rural Republican Jefferson West - and remember, they only voted 50% no while Iowa City 19 was 65% No. And Iowa City 21 contributed 850 No votes. Cedar was equally negative, but ony gave No 182 votes.

Our clincher? The same precinct had the highest number of No votes and the highest number (and percentage) of Obama votes. Iowa City's Fighting 18th, at Longfellow, voted 83% Obama and 53% No, a whopping 30 point difference that contributed 898 No votes.

One counter-intuitive thing: Iowa City 14, the heart of the Twain/Broadway area, made an impressive jump into the very top tier of Democratic precincts at 81% Obama, second only to Longfellow. You'd think Broadway would be a strong No vote - but it was about average at 55-45 Yes. Same percentage in Iowa City 15, which now includes the Lakeside apartments. And Iowa City 12, the Grant Wood School neighborhood that includes the Bon Aire trailer court, was supermajority supportive at 60%.

These are mixed neighborhoods, with empty nest homeowners or starter-house families living near large low-income apartments. These areas tend to be conservative in local elections, but as we see very liberal in general election years.

It's worth noting that midtown liberal precincts were more opposed than the southeast siders. It's easy for a professor to be an idealist. If you live at Broadway, you're more likely to know someone who spent a night on a mat on the floor or got shipped out to Muscatine or had to have a "private" meeting with their lawyer in the courthouse lobby. You're also more likely to have been a crime victim. Maybe the southeast side was more pragmatic about the genuine need and less willing to make an ideology-driven Statement (again: even many opponents acknowledged the need).

Maybe I'm seeing what I want to see. I'm trying really hard to adjust the beret for objectivity here. But everything, everything, everything is telling me that opposition in liberal/progressive city precincts played a larger role in the defeat of the justice center than opposition in conservative rural areas.

That's an emotionally satisfying conclusion, but also a more difficult one. If the justice center had been clearly beaten by a 21 Bar style monolithic student vote, you just shove it through in May or August when they're gone. Unfair, but practical. If it had clearly lost due to conservative objections to the price tag, lop off a floor and try again, and some variation of that might be in the mix.

But if it lost, as I conclude, because of the Iowa City Police Department and Campus Security and the drug war and the bar war and Driving While Black and the highest national incarceration rate in the world, that's a lot harder to fix in six months or a year.

Unfortunately, much of what needs to change is outside the control of the county. All Janet Lyness and Lonny Pulkrabek and the supervisors really have is a little discretion, within legal constraints, and a bully pulpit. Kind of like what I have here with a blog, only with more credibility.

As I said in my mea culpa endorsement, "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." The success, if you can call it that, of the justice center campaign is that it went a very long way toward convincing the community that there is a real need. The issues of safety, of accessibiity, of court delays, those things are now on the radar.

But the flip side is, too many concerns have been dismissed with just stats. As I said at the Board meeting the day after the election, even though the community is aware of the problems and the stats, a lot of people simply don't care. They want the law enforcement behavior to change, and this is the only place they feel like they can say no. (For some reason the more appropriate local answer, voting out the city council that lets the policing policies happen, seems to be a non-starter.)

Maybe it's impossible. Maybe if supporters make adjustments on the left, they lose people on the right who recognize the need for the facility but also support the city-University led crackdown. Maybe we can't get a 60 percent consensus on this. But we need to try, and if you're trying to get to 60, my math tells me there's more votes to gain on the left than on the right.

And both the yes and no forces have work to do.

More of the burden is on the supporters, of course. People aren't convinced we're doing everything we can to cut the arrest and incarceration rates, in general and in particular.

Is the county willing to put drug prohibition and the drinking age on its annual meeting with the legislators, coming up next month? Are they willing to take these issues with them on a trip to DC, to take up, as one local official once said to me, part of their five minutes of the congressman's time?

Are they willing to drop simple possession and low-level dealer cases, even if it costs them a federal grant or two? Will they tell the Iowa City police to take drunk students home immediately instead of to jail for a night?

Are they ready to do those things loudly? In short, are they ready to take private criticisms and make them public? With names when needed?

Most critically, are the city and University willing to respond to the needs of the larger community, rather than their flawed sense of self-interest, and back down on the crackdown?

Opponents, hold your applause. It's your turn now.

Let's assume the supporters in high places are able to do those things I suggest. Are you willing to accept their good faith efforts in lieu of immediate state and national level change? Because this is a long haul deal. Marriage equality has moved lightning fast compared to most issues, and that's taken a decade from tentative civil unions (the medical marijuana of marriage) to likely Supreme Court action this fall. The drug war is about where marriage was a decade ago, and the drinking age isn't even on the horizon. I'm starting to think I'm the only person over 21 who actually cares.

Our own local senator, Joe Bolkcom, is sponsoring a medical marijuana bill next session. Bruce Hunter from Des Moines has a full legalization bill. Good for them. But the bills won't pass, this session or next. Is the effort, is the progress, the step forward from jokes to serious discussion, enough? Is some co-sponsorship and endorsement from other locals enough? Is a show of concern, a sense that we GET it here in Johnson County, a good start, or not good enough?

And while the progress is slowly, slowly being made, are you willing to support the real world benefits this center, or a variation of it, could provide?

That's what I did, hard as it was. I've been of two minds on this whole thing for years, and now I'm in the weird spot of saying Told Ya So to my own side. And I don't know whether my high-profile flip flop gives me credibility with both sides or with neither.

If you want to make a case that Read My Lips is what beat this, be my guest, but good luck backing that up. Or if you believe that decades of state and federal policy will stop and reverse in weeks and months, I hope you're right.

But my numbers as well as my convictions tell me the course to take.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Number Crunching The Justice Center, Part 1

I've already lobbed a few rhetorical grenades into the navel gazing of How Did The Justice Center Lose And What Next. They've been counter-intuitive enough that more than once I've had to remind folks that yes, I did support it. Worked pretty hard on it and stuck my neck out pretty far too.

Still am, in fact, as I try to Define The Defeat and Fix The Flaws. I've been meaning to back up my hunches and biases with numbers, and I have too many numbers for anyone's attention span for one straight through read, even me. So I'm chunking it into two parts.

Tomorrow, I hope, I'll look at where the votes came from (reference). But before that, we need to ask: Is context everything?

After years of battles over Where and What, there came the question of When: the timing of the election. The previous defeat, in 2000, came on presidential election day. On one side was a sense of fairness - shouldn't we vote on this in the highest turnout election? - and concern about the cost of a special election. Or, perhaps, concern about the cost of an election becoming an issue in the election, which sometimes happens.

On the other hand there was a perception, and I believe I'm paraphrasing Connie Champion accurately, "the students will all vote No."

Is that really what happened? Did high student presidential turnout cause the loss? If you want to stop reading now: probably not. But you know you want more.

The justice issue was not the center of attention, but just one of many things - the very last thing, in fact, on a long ballot. This meant the campaign - or rather campaign singular, since No wasn't really an organized campaign in the traditional sense - made its efforts in a context of Big. Rather than targeting, this number isn't random, the 15,000 most likely voters, Yes had to try to reach EVERYONE. Not quite everyone: it's about impossible to reach election day registrations.

Invariably, that's going to mean some dilution, if you're trying to mix your one packet of Kool-Aid into five times the turnout water. Aah, Kool-Aid. Some would say I drank it.

From experience I can tell you: if you're low on the ballot in a presidential year, it's next to impossible to get your message through. Even someone like Tom Harkin has trouble cutting through the presidential noise, let alone a local ballot issue. Even one backed by, as our detractors called us, "the entire power elite."

(Still having trouble seeing myself as part of any Power Elite.)

You never do get through to some people. Of the record setting 76,199 voters, 12,070 (15.8%) skipped the justice center question.  There's no way of course to cross-tab the individual secret ballots. (Of course, yet I have to say it.) But as a rough guide, 3,779 voters skipped the number two contest on the ballot, the congressional race. 222 skipped the presidency. Takes all kinds.

So let's assume for argument that roughly 3500 people voted president only. That leaves 8500 or so who started their way down the ballot but didn't mark the justice center. The 15.8% undervote on the justice center is up from the about 10% that skipped the issue in 2000. My theory: as GOTV efforts reach more marginalized voters, under-votes go up.

In a single-issue special election, of course, under-votes are almost nil. You get a couple. I wonder why that is: do they want to write in Maybe or Yeah But?

Actually, I think Yeah But might have gotten to 60%. I was kind of a Yeah But myself, after being a No But for a long time. Even a lot of opponents were acknowledging that something needs to be done... But. I've already discussed what I think But is here and here. There was the additional But of taxes but save that for part 2.

Twelve years ago, of course, the vote was not just No but Hell! No, two to one. This time Yes came tantalizingly close, in the awkward majority but not supermajority zone. I like you but Not That Way. Assuming the same turnout and the same undervote percentage, a shift of 2,797 votes from No to Yes would have passed it. Compare that to those under-vote numbers.

This near-miss means the inevitable do-over will be held sooner - a special election - rather than later - 12 more years or even the 2014 general election. That's a massive change of context.

In a local special election, you won't see the massive, party-driven early voting drives. 58% of the 2012 vote was cast before election day. That takes dozens of staffers and volunteers working for months, resources that are beyond even Local Power Elites. In a local special election, the absentee percentage is usually between 20 and 25%. People start paying attention later - which helps a late-starting, low-funded effort.

No one will be late starting next time, but I still don't see a conventional campaign with fund-raisers and mailings and ads coming from the No side. Of course, they won this time with just letters to the editor and a handful of signs.

Most obviously you won't see nearly as many voters. The turnout range for recent county-wide special elections runs from 9700 (the dead of winter 2010 supervisor special) to just under 15,000 (the spring 1999 sales tax). The only place round here that's ever done presidential turnout in a special is University Heights, and that was with an entire generation worth of Zoning War (always the nastiest local fights) focused on one lot.

The drop in non-general election, non-21 bar turnout is not consistent across the board. Voters virtually vanish from the student precincts. Could the student turnout get cranked up for a justice center special? Highly unlikely. Other than presidential elections or caucuses, only the bar issue itself has ever been able to do that. Even one step of removal, such as efforts weak and strong to elect students to the city council, has just been too abstract.

And the next possible special election dates are student-unfriendly: May 7, just before finals, or August 6, when people are just starting to move back.

So the voting universe is likely to look like a typical local special election universe (most recent example). How much could that variable turnout matter? We've circled back to the original question: Did high student presidential turnout cause the loss?

As an intellectual exercise I re-ran the results of the justice center vote through the filter of a lower turnout election. The model assumes that every precinct voted Yes or No in exactly the same percentages as November 6. A big if, but it's all we got. Then I multiplied those percentages by the smaller number of voters in a smaller election, precinct by precinct.

Skip the next bit if you bore easily (if so how did you get this far?) or trust my judgement on the model.
One problem with this model: we're early in the decade. The only prior election in the current precinct map was the June 2012 primary, which made the choice easy. To get the turnout up into the 12-15,000 range, I doubled it.

Using a primary brings with it its own set of variables. There was higher Democratic turnout, as the auditor primary was of more interest to more people than the Republican congressional race. There was also higher turnout in the six precincts in House 73 which had a hot legislative primary, so hot it's still being fought on line. I controlled for that by using numbers from the 2009 sales tax election for those places instead; the precincts in question kept the same lines, and based on the numbers in other unchanged rural precincts that seemed fair enough for this exercise.

Also, in a primary only voters affiliated with a party can vote. Changing party is easy - too easy in my opinion - but using primary numbers would tend to under-estimate independent voters. Fortunately for this model, the high-independent places tend to also be the places with low turnout in other special elections (read: the student areas) so it doesn't mess us up much.

I used the combined election day/absentee results from November 6. Election Day and Absentee were very different as I'll discuss in part 2. In the primary, there are not separate absentee results by precinct, so I used absentee requests from the primary to estimate turnout. The difference in absentee requests and ballots returned is insignificant, except in a very large or a very close election.
Past the blah blah blah part? So Iowa City 5, the ur-student precinct with nothing but dorms, sororities and Sally Mason, split almost exactly 50-50. Both sides got 50% of 1672 votes on November 6; both sides get 50% of 22 votes in the imaginary special. In a townie precinct, at Helen Lemme in Iowa City 1, Yes got 64% of 1924 voters for real. In the imaginary special they get 64% of 626 voters. The Lemme turnout drops by 2/3 but the dorm turnout drops 99%.

Do that for the whole county.

Here's numbers.

2012 Actual results

Yes 35,681 (55.64%)
No 28,448 (44.36%)
Undervote 12070
Total 76,199

Estimated Special Election "Result"

Yes 7,428 (56.77%)
No 5,657 (43.23%)
Kevin Phillips-BONG 0
Total 13,085

All that explanation, all that math, and just a 1.1% shift. What does that tell us?

Nothing definite, given all the other variables. But if Yes had gone up FIVE points in a lower turnout context, that would have been a big deal. If the student vote had been 80% No, like it was in 2000, you might have seen that much of a shift.

So: I don't believe the decision to place the issue on the presidential ballot was what caused the loss. This means we have to look for other reasons. Which means more math and more writing; stay tuned.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Net Notes

Five days off work means a lot more time to surf... and a holiday weekend means less news. So it's a meta-post today.

A really good piece on the nature of creativity, especially in the web context, from of all places The Oatmeal

Cleared out my spam folder and it's interesting which women spammers think will entice me, or the male species in general, into clicking through on their malware-rotten links for, um, enhancement.

Pam Anderson, Katy Perry, Jessica Alba, Britney Spears and the Kardashians? Least common denominator, to be expected. Madonna? Maybe in the Truth or Dare era...

Then we have a batch that are a bit classier, but still mainstream: the musicians Christina Aguilera and Beyonce, who unlike Spears can actually sing. And a whole slew of actresses: Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon, Natalie Portman, Angelina Jolie, along with  Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Aniston, Salma Hayek and Kate Hudson?

And finally it's daytime TV: Rachael Ray... Oprah?? Ellen DeGeneres?!?!

The spam folder is a minor annoyance. I grew up on Casey Kasem so I'm a sucker for anything in countdown or list format. But I hate, hate, HATE it when that list is in slideshow format, with one item per click. Also hate articles artificially chunked up into parts 1, 2, and 3 - some publications will brek an article into as many as ten parts. Give me that View As Single Page link every time, and preferably up top.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Legalization Catching Up

I'm starting to think marijuana legalization is about at the place marriage equality was ten or so years ago.And I won't be shocked if we are in the early stages of a similar very swift shift in public opinion.

The analogy isn't perfect and I'm not arguing an equivalence, but the political dynamic is similar.

We're seeing the same tentative state level steps, with medical legalization as the halfway measure, like the civil union was, and now Colorado and Washington voting for full legalization. Those were by initiative, so we're seeing the same people ahead of politicians dynamic. There's the same age-related divide, with pre-baby boomers opposed and the boomers and younger in support.

The drug war also fractures the conservative coalition along the same divide, with the self-appointed moralists on one side and the less-government libertarians on the other.

The biggest difference I see right now is the dignity factor. The LGBT movement has grown its message and support to the point where they can't simply be dismissed with the same old tired mocking stereotypes. In the public eye, the Village People have been pushed off stage by the lifelong committed couples. The opponents have lost a lot of their name-calling power and have to retreat into rhetoric about their religious "right" to prejudice.

But talk about the drug war, and politicians and press are still making jokes about the munchies and Cheech and Chong. I haven't got the vision yet to see what replaces that, but it's time to stop cracking the jokes -_ I've been guilty, too - and start calling it out when we see it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stuff about Stuff

I like Stuff.

Of course I like Stuff. I'm an American born in the late 20th century, raised on Saturday mornings of ads with a few cartoons in between, a lifetime of being taught to desire and acquire.

So I'm the wrong person to write the Definitive Anti-Black Friday Diatribe Against All Things Materialistic And Commercial. I have too much Stuff to do that and just enough self-awareness to recognize the contradiction.

But I am old enough to remember when Black Friday wasn't a thing, except in Philly. It was just a Steely Dan song.

It was a big shopping day, sure. We used to get free movie tickets at school. The downtown theater would function as baby sitter for the Chamber of Commerce by showing how some kid-friendly movie that was maybe 20 years old and make their money on popcorn. That gave our moms - always the moms - about 90 minutes to buy the presents at the downtown department store - long since malled out of existence - stash them in the trunk and pick up the oblivious kids, who a month later would give Santa the credit.

So kinda a big deal, but stores opened at or near the usual time and it wasn't treated as a national holiday where it was your patriotic duty to go shopping.

But that was when grocery stores closed at night and when you had to check your gas tank on Saturday (25.9 cents a gallon!) because no place sold gas on Sunday.

Now, of course, these things are open all the time, which means retail service people work all the time. My lifecycle is different than Normal people as it revolves around election day rather than around the November-January holidays or the academic calendar or, from our agrarian roots, the planting/harvest cycle.

I had a second job last year and worked my one and only retail Black Friday. It was pretty easy compared to my other benchmark of Busy Day At Work: presidential election day. Black Friday I clocked in at 5 AM and was done for the day by 2 PM. This presidential election I clocked in at 6:45 and left work at 12:30 Wednesday morning.

A really long day. But a really well compensated day, with a union wage and a lot of overtime. Black Friday I was at $8.25 an hour, and everyone was very carefully kept away from overtime. And a lot of people try to make a living like that.

So I sympathize a lot with the idea of Balck Friday as a Buy Nothing day, and with teh workers who are finally, finally standing up to the biggest retail bully of all, Wal-AMrt, the driving force behind the ever-earlier hours and ever-intensifying pressure on workers and yes, even shoppers. Not content with having driven that old downtown department store out of business, it seems they're trying to corner the big box market too. Not that their competitors are significantly better. They're just not AS big.

Sometimes I Imagine myself as some sort of ultra-minimalist who owns only 15 things, like a trappist monk in his little cell. Or like this guy.

Come to think about it, I kind of did do that for a few years.

Then reality hit me, in the form of a family. The cycle repeats: more ads thinly strung together by cartoons, more wants, more needs, only now I'm the grownup who gets to figure it out. And one of the ways I figure it out is: spend the money on good Stuff for the kids. Because home is more than A Place For Your Stuff.

I have too much Stuff of my own to cop an smug attitude of Moral Superiority. I have that all-American urge to acquire, the need for occasional retail therapy. I understand the joy of the shopping hunt. All I can do is manage the condition.

My personal Black Friday is moving week. The prices are way better than Wal-Mart and it keeps it out of the landfill. Laugh at us if you want for picking up your shit; we're laughing at you for throwing it away.

The other good one is Surplus Saturday at U of I Surplus. It really does feel like Black Friday. You have a line outside before it opens, though 9 AM is a lot more sane hour than 8 PM the night before. You get a rush to the carts and then to The Good Stuff, whatever that is. My best recent find was an Asus EeePC netbook for $45, that I'm having a great time tweaking. You remember netbooks, the hot gift item of 2007.

That's one of the tricks of living a materialistic lifestyle on a livin' in a van down by the river budget: stay one technology behind the curve. A netbook instead of a tablet. Or $2 used DVDs instead of Blu-Rays. Fairly soon Goodwill will start paying people to take away VHS tapes.

It also helps if you can revel in your own eccentricities, as what Paul Fussell, in Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, called a "Category X" person, oblivious to fashion and taste.I guess I'm sort of an alt-materialist.

As I look around my home office slash geek cave, filled way too full with too much Stuff, the only things I can see that were purchased new are the phone, the printer (some things just break) and my main laptop. One of five computers in the room, each with an actual unique purpose. Much as a serious guitarist chooses his instrument with care to fit the song. Too many computers? Maybe, but none of them broke the budget.

Desk and TV: UI Surplus. Bookshelves: Salvation Army and curb shopping. Futon: resale. Drinking glass: a repurposed beaker from UI Surplus. (I washed it very, very well.) Metal shelf functioning as cat climber and plant stand: curb shopping. Hell, even the cats I got used. Technically, I'm only keeping them till we can find them a good home. That was eight years ago.

And yes, the raspberry beret was, true to the song, found in a second hand store.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

The best piece yet on, as it's titled, "The Real Reasons You Waited Hours in Line to Vote" comes from Richard H. Pildes, a law professor who worked on the Obama campaign's "vote protection" operation in Virginia.

The second section, on what poll workers face on election day, GETS it. Bears repeating in whole, with my comments and emphasis added.
Voting has become increasingly complex, both technologically and legally. Yet the poll workers who run the process are temporary volunteers paid $100 a day. (Deeth: Typical Johnson County official working a full Election Day would make roughly twice that, about $205.)

They serve episodically and cannot develop much expertise; they tend to be older and less technologically knowledgeable; they are mostly not lawyers, but must adapt, with minimal training, to constantly changing election laws.

On the legal side, poll workers now have to apply state election law for regular voters, the federal Help America Vote Act for those who are going to cast provisional ballots, and absentee-ballot laws for in-person absentee voting. (Deeth: And for Iowa, add another category of rules for election day registrations.) Each category of voting has its own distinct set of rules to be mastered. Every additional layer of complexity creates more capacity to confuse poll workers and slow down the voting process, even if the law, such as the Help America Vote Act, is well intentioned. We have to assess the costs and benefits of these laws more fully. Virginia had also (like many other states) changed its own election laws in 2011; these changes both expanded and contracted the valid forms of voter identification.

When a voter comes to check in, if his or her situation is anything other than the most routine, the process simply grinds to a halt. Poll workers are terrified of making a mistake, not sure of what the law requires, confused, and unclear about how to resolve the situation.

On the technology side, we are in the midst of moving from old-style printed poll books, where the names of registered voters are listed, to electronic poll books. (Same here in Iowa.) In the long run, this change should speed the process up, but for now, there is resistance to this change and panic when it doesn't function properly, all of which further slows voting down. Sometimes the technology doesn't work properly; the electronic poll books won't open up, for example. Poll workers have little ability to deal with these technological problems on the spot. (Deeth: You can throw all the computers and workers you want at the problem, but you need workers who can work the computers.)

Once a year volunteers have trouble making this system run smoothly, especially in the face of constantly changing laws and technology. (Deeth: With all due respect to our seniors, some of whom are very good, but...) Younger poll workers are more likely to be comfortable with new technologies, and we could improve things a bit by creating incentives to encourage college students, for example, to volunteer as poll workers. (Deeth: I've also suggested teachers and other government workers.)
Pildes makes two other main points. One of them is largely addressed in Iowa: "pressure can be taken off the system by generous early voting, mail-in voting, and no-excuse absentee voting." Been there, done that, and Johnson County saw 58% of its voting BEFORE election day. (Election Day turnout was actually DOWN by 570 voters from 2008 to 2012.)

Other counties could still expand their satellite efforts, but every auditor's office in the state is required by law to start early voting 40 days before a primary or general election, and the last two Saturdays are also required. That's a minimum of 30 calendar days of early voting.

The other point Pildes raises concerns resource allocation, and concerns me a bit more. He argues implicitly for more state and national control:
State law does impose minimal levels of machines per capita, but these requirements are so low as to be close to meaningless. In addition, registrars typically allocate the machines they do have based on the number of "active voters" in various polling locations. "Active" means voting regularly every election, not just in presidential election years. Areas that have high turnout in presidential elections, but much lower turnout in non-presidential years, therefore have far too few machines in presidential-election years.
First off, a factual error: EVERYONE seems to get the concept of "active" vs. "inactive" voter wrong. The categories were created under the federal Motor Voter law of 1993. Under that law, no one gets completely canceled simply for not voting. Instead, everything depends on the mail. An "inactive" voter is someone who has had mail from the election office returned to sender. They stay on this status through the next two general elections, unless something changes, and only then do they get canceled.

But that's a tangent. If election administrators are basing their presidential election planning on off-year or off-off-year  turnout, that's a problem. I realize that mis-allocation of resources, perhaps deliberately, has been a problem in some states. But it's important to remember Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

One of my pre-election jobs is trying to predict the future and figure out how many voters to expect. It's part science, part art. But the baseline is always, always always elections of a similar type. You don't use presidential numbers (83% turnout this month) to plan for a school board election (more like 5% in a GOOD year) and vice versa.

Estimating turnout requires some sense of history. It was made more complicated this year by reprecincting. I did my best to account for it, and we saw some trends during early voting that helped us adapt, especially in North Liberty.

Turnout estimates require some local knowledge of population shifts and housing construction. It also requires, frankly, some political common sense, more for local contests than for the big ones. Is this year's city election going to be a big deal or a flop? How about a June primary, when you have in effect two elections competing against each other? Republicans have a hot governor race and Democrats have a US Senate primary with a prohibitive favorite? Democrats have a decisive courthouse contest?

Johnson County is looking at the possibility of three elections in the first half of next year: two county-wide and one in the Iowa City school district which covers more that 80% of the county's voters. All three put together are going to be way, way less workload than one presidential election.

Increases in turnout increase the workload not in a linear way, but exponentially. That's because the voters added to the process in a large election are very different than the every election voters. They're less familiar with the process and more likely to need help.

Here's a quiz about Johnson County:

A) Which local city has the biggest zoning fight relative to size?
B) Which neighborhood has a new subdivision every time you drive by?
C) Which precincts got bought out for floodplain since the last presidential election?
D) Which precinct has nothing in it but dorms and frat houses?
E)  Which precinct had a large percentage of married foreign students?

This is a very, very easy quiz for locals. A) University Heights B) North Liberty 6 C) Iowa City 4 and Coralville 1 D) Iowa City 5 E) Iowa City 7.

My point is, that's a very easy quiz for locals. Multiply that quiz by 3000 counties nation-wide.

Now, try to draft legislation.

With shifting local dynamics, and thousands of local jurisdictions, you can't set a one size fits all, same way every year standard based on census population or voter registration stats, to tell you how many ballots to order, booths to set up, or workers to hire. If changes in the law don't take local knowledge into account, you'll be way off, short some places and feather-bedded in others.

Pildes doesn't have the answer yet, but in his critique he's starting to get the question right.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stay Classy, Ron Paul

Ron Paul isn't leaving Congress without a few more outrageous statements: “If the possibility of secession is completely off the table there is nothing to stop the federal government from continuing to encroach on our liberties and no recourse for those who are sick and tired of it.”

Ron needs to go to the movies and the scientific community is united in that fact.

Great Leader Ron Il Sung may be leaving us but Deal Leader Rand Jong Il isn't even waiting for Romney's body to get cold: "'I'm not going to deny that I'm interested,' Sen. Paul tells ABC's Jonathan Karl about his presidential aspirations. While Paul is quick to add that he isn't ready to make a decision about a presidential bid yet, he is not hesitant to say that the Republican Party needs a new message."

Some of that message involves weed. But in Iowa it's Democrats carrying that ball: my own Senator Joe Bolkcom with a medical bill and on the House side Bruce Hunter with a full legalization bill. They're going nowhere, and even if they did Branstad vows a veto, but at least the discussion is starting on finally getting rid of some unenforceable bad laws.

But not in Iowa City where police are still placing way too much emphasis on the drinking crackdown. They must want the justice center to fail on its do-over.

More election follow-up: A handy "Casualty List" of who's leaving Congress. Does not include Florida Republican Allan West, who late last night finally conceded after a recount showed him losing ground.

And THIS is going to be a difficult recount:
The closest election in Minnesota this year was the House District 8B contest between incumbent Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, and Democratic challenger Bob Cunniff. Franson won by a single vote. But election officials in Douglas County discovered that poll workers may have mistakenly handed dozens of 8B ballots to residents of neighboring House district 12B. The errors occured in as many as five polling places that had split precincts.
Reality: A lot of problems in election are not malice or "fraud" but simple human error. Also explains a lot in Florida. "Other wild cards in the equation: the deployment and competence of poll workers hired for Election Day."

And a couple long reads for you: An excellent look at Obama's data geeks and a rebuttal of sorts decrying the growth of Big Data in politics.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Election Boosts Iowa's Senate Seniority

Come January, Iowa will be the only state with two US senators in the top ten of seniority.

Senority - the ranked list of tenure of Senate service - is less important than it used to be, but still matters for committee assignments and chairs, and also for office space.

Chuck Grassley, first elected in 1980, climbs a notch to number 7 in the senate. Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, first elected in 1976, lost his primary, and then saw the seat go to Democrat Joe Donnelly last week.

Tom Harkin moves up two spots to number nine, number nine, number nine. That's due to Lugar's loss and the voluntary retirement of New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman, elected in 1978 1982.

Harkin could move up one more notch yet. John Kerry, who's considered a very likely cabinet appointment, outranks Harkin by one day. (In a practice since abandoned, outgoing senators used to resign early to game-play seniority for their successors.)

When the swearing in is on the same day, seniority resorts to tiebreakers like prior government service and size of state. The number 100 slot will go to North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp. None of her prior service is considered relevant and she's from the third smallest state.

But how will this affect me, Al Franken? The Minnesota Democrat lost four rungs on the seniority ladder thanks to the months-long recount delaying his swearing in. Franken will jump 11 notches to number  71. There will be 12 new senators, but the lone Senator to lose re-election, Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown, ranked below Franken in seniority.

The Map of Shame

50 states, but only two shades of gray: Iowa and Mississippi. Maybe the Christie Vilsack thing was never gonna happen; Des Moines City View, in an excellent election roundup, shares my opinion: 
Democrats are mad and sad about Leonard Boswell. Some say he should have stepped aside and let Christie Vilsack take on Tom Latham, but the aging Democrat wouldn’t budge. So Latham, a Republican incumbent who moved into the district when Iowa lost a seat, did him in. Boswell barely carried Polk County and lost every other county in the district, including those in his old neighborhoods in southern Iowa.

Vilsack put up a strong fight despite overwhelming registration numbers against her, but she went down to Steve King by eight points. If she couldn’t beat him, no one will be able to, so keep expecting bizarre statements out of the Fourth District. If Vilsack decides to stay in politics — going after Harkin’s seat if he steps down or seeking the governorship in two years — she’ll be formidable. She took one for the party by taking on King; now the party owes her.
But Harkin's not acting like someone who's going away soon:
West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller and Tom Harkin of Iowa are circulating a letter among their Democratic colleagues that calls on the president to stand firm on revenue, entitlement programs and spending cuts. They’re hoping to get as many as 30 Senate Democrats to sign on, Rockefeller said.

The letter, which was obtained by POLITICO, is dramatic in its policy prescriptions to avert the fiscal cliff. For one, it says the president should insist on $1 in revenue for each $1 in spending cuts.
Aside: Harkin and Rockefeller are 1984 Senate classmates, and I remember Rockefeller coming to Iowa to fundraise for and with Harkin waaaaay back in 1991. It's Rockefeller, not Harkin, who's being tagged as a possible 2014 retirement in red-trending WVa.

A few more notes from counting the votes:

I didn't write anyone in for anything this year; if it's frivolous, it's just a wast of time for the poll workers to count. But it does have its merits. Congrats to Paul Deaton, who despite the loss as Dick Schwab's campaign manager came away with a write-in win for township trustee, a small but important job that often goes begging. You get to deal with fire budgets and fence disputes, which can be politically important. Just ask FORMER Senator Merlin Bartz.

Other notable write-ins include an effort for Charles Darwinagainst an unopposed anti-evolution Georgia congressman, and a cat who finished third in the Virginia Senate race. I would have gone for Darwin, but Kaine vs. Allen was close enough that the Feline-American vote could have been decisive.

Speaking of splitters! and I know I'm going to get bashed for this: a list of nine races won by Democrats where the Libertarian vote exceeded the winning margin over the Republican.

And one more look at the all-important Kevin Phillips BONG vote: A national list of precincts where Mitt Romney received zero votes, plus a few where Obama scored an oh-fer. Conspiracy theorists please note that some of these jurisdictions are very, very small, with tallies like Obama 3 Romney 0, and thus are probably geopolitical anomalies. We have one like that, called "Clear Creek North," (.pdf) which is one house. Iowa law doesn't make us report a separate result.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Stay classy, Mitt

In case there was any doubt, the defeated Mitt Romney reinforced yesterday that his 47 percent speech represented his real world view:
“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge,” he said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”...
 Jamil Smith breaks down the easy to crack code:
Frankly, I think African Americans, Latinos, and young people would love to take credit for defeating Mitt Romney. What really is remarkable here is that Romney appears to think that the sectors of society that supported Obama are somehow illegitimate; that responding to their needs (unlike the needs of, say, millionaire bankers) is a perversion of the political process.
And as if on cue, the ghost of Bush 41 strategist Lee Atwater emerges from hell and explicitly spells it out:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
I really, really, REALLY hate having to say this. But good for you, Bobby Jindal:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal forcefully rejected Mitt Romney’s claim that he lost because of President Barack Obama’s “gifts” to minorities and young voters.

Asked about the failed GOP nominee’s reported comments on a conference call with donors earlier Wednesday, the incoming chairman of the Republican Governors Association became visibly agitated.

“No, I think that’s absolutely wrong,” he said at a press conference that opened the RGA’s post-election meeting here. “Two points on that: One, we have got to stop dividing the American voters. We need to go after 100 percent of the votes, not 53 percent. We need to go after every single vote.

“And, secondly, we need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American Dream, which is to be in the middle class, which is to be able to give their children an opportunity to be able to get a great education. … So, I absolutely reject that notion, that description. I think that’s absolutely wrong.” 
Now, I don't think Jindal's policies will actually do that. But at least the man is trying.

I've repeatedly argued that 2008, much like 1932 and 1968, represented a realignment in American politics, the dawn of a new era favoring one party. The opposing party suffers for a while, then adapts. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Republican Party's adaptation was to go down that low road that Atwater crudely describes.

But the George Wallace-Richard Nixon era is over, and Atwater's road is a dead end. Republicans need to turn around and seek a higher road like Jindal describes.

Senate GOP Leader Quiz

I'm finding some of my readers are not getting my repeated references to spontaneous combustion or bizarre gardening accidents. If that's you, you need to stop reading as soon as you read this post and watch "This Is Spinal Tap."

But to make it easier, I'll translate my humorous references to the high job turnover rate among Iowa Senate Republican leaders into something a younger generation can understand. Match the former Senate Republican leader with the cause of departure.

A. Stu Iverson 1. Secretly a werewolf
B. Mary Lundby 2. Polyjuice-chugging imposter
C. Ron Weick 3. Voldemort on back of head
D. Paul McKinley 4. Trampled by centaurs
E. Jerry Behn 5. Memory obliviated

Kidding aside, Craig Robinson at TheIowaRepublican has an honest look at the past failures, amidst his hopes for the new regime. Gronstal IS the master, but Bill Dix looks to be a formidable foe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In The Books *

The 2012 general election in Johnson County is, with this afternoon's canvass, Officially done *. The * is for the likelihood of a very unnecessary recount in Tiffin. More on that later. First, a look at the Big numbers.

Bigger than ever, in fact. For the fourth consecutive presidential election, Johnson County set a turnout record, with 76,199 voters. That's 83.38% of the registration the night before the election - but that percentage is artificially high since thousands registered on Election Day.

We also set a new early voting peak with 44,143 absentees, 57.93% of the total vote. The absentees were, through self-selection, Democrat-dominated. President Obama scored 75% of the early vote but just 56% on Election Day, on the way to an overall 66.69%.

That's down a notch from Obama's 69.91% in 2008, and his raw vote count is down, too: 51,026 in 2008, 50,666 (!) in 2012. Those last three digits fueling the Obama=Antichrist tin foil hatters. Romney improved on McCain's score, but some of the shift was to third parties and write ins. The alternatives were up from 1.67% to 2.12%, with Libertarian Gary Johnson the main beneficiary. Johnson scored the LP's first third-place finish here since 1988, when their nominee was some guy named Ron Paul.

Down the ballot, Dave Loebsack improved from 62% in difficult 2010 to 68% this year. But the bragging rights go to Lonny Pulkrabek: he can console himself from the justice center loss with the fact that he won more votes than anyone or anything in Johnson County history, beating previous champs Tom Harkin and the 2008 Idiot Amendment. Travis Weipert was close behind Pulkrabek in total votes, but Weipert also had fewer write-ins against him than Pulkrabek.

As for the justice center, it scored much better early than on Election Day. I have yet to determine whether that was the late start of the No campaign or the more Republican skew of the Election Day voters. Look for a long number heavy post soon; I will note that the most pro-Yes voters were early voters in Iowa City Precinct 2 (near west side including Oaknoll). The highest No percentage was on Election Day in Iowa City 21, the Goosetown part of the north side. That's the precinct (under slightly different lines) where W came in third place, behind Ralph Nader, in 2000. Of course, I'm seeing what I want to see there.

* Now back to that Tiffin recount. To get you up to speed: Tiffin had two city council seats on the ballot for one-year terms, to replace Chris Ball (who left town) and Travis Weipert (who also found a new job). Former mayor Royce Phillips finished second, and new candidate Jenny Carhoff is 16 votes behind.

16 votes is a LOT in a city election. In 2008, the conservation bond recount (also unnecessary) only shifted six votes out of 73,000. I suspect this is less about reversing a result than it is about delaying a result. We saw the same in North Liberty in 2005. Get your popcorn, this should be good to watch.

In other news, there's been another bizarre gardening accident in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus. Leader Jerry Behn, after one session and one election in which he failed to win a majority, is out, and the ambitious Bill Dix is in. We have an exclusive interview:

Dix becomes the sixth Senate GOP leader since 2006. The last three have been replaced after election losses: Ron Weick after losing seats in 2008, Paul McKinley after losing the Liz Mathis special in 2011, and now Behn after failing to regain control. Meanwhile, Mike Gronstal holds on to control with 26 seats...

Maybe 27? Desmund Adams is a solid candidate for that December 11 special, the unofficial "loss" to the late Pat Ward not withstanding. No one runs a better ground game than Iowa Democrats with all their focus on one race; just ask Mathis or Curt Hansen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Stuck On Stupid

"Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday called on Republicans to “stop being the stupid party” and make a concerted effort to reach a broader swath of voters with an inclusive economic message that pre-empts efforts to caricature the GOP as the party of the rich."

No, Governor, the correct nomenclature is Sensible Party and Silly Party:

And in some places, Republicans did as badly as Kevin Phillips-BONG of the Slightly Silly Party (1;49 if you don't get it): 
But almost a week after the election, it is now becoming clear just how lopsided President Obama's victory was in some cities: in dozens of urban precincts, Mitt Romney earned literally zero votes.

The Phildadelphia Inquirer reported today that, in 59 precincts in inner-city Philadelphia, the GOP nominee received not a single vote. And according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, nine precincts in Cleveland returned zero Romney votes.

At first blush, it seems almost impossible: how, even in some of the most heavily Democratic strongholds in the country, could a major party's presidential candidate fail to earn even one vote? 

But, as is often the case, the reality is less salacious than the conspiracy theory - a consequence of demography, not electoral shenanigans.

Most big cities are heavily Democratic to begin with, and geographic patterns of racial segregation may yield an even more one-sided electoral result in certain areas than in the city as a whole.
"Yeah, well, I can get ya a one sided electoral result," said redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering:
Prior to 2012, there have been only three other congressional elections in the last hundred years in which one major party won more popular votes for U.S. House, yet the other major party won more seats. They were 1914, 1942, and 1952.
All of those years were in a fundamentally different voting environment, before the civil rights bills and one person one vote court rulings of the 1960s. So it's safe to say this cycle produced the worst gerrymanders ever - despite clean districting laws taking effect in two large states, California and Florida. Redistricting reform is just as critical an issue as campaign finance reform.
And a retweet I can fully endorse, though not as intended:
You say that like it's a bad thing.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Advice For The Other Team

I have a vivid memory, from back in the first Tom Vilsack term, of a group of Johnson County Democrats chanting "Tax! The! Rich! Tax! The! Rich!" at the governor, and most of the rest of the crowd applauding.

Just over a decade later, that appears to be a winning national strategy:

Like every president, Obama won for myriad reasons, important and petty. But his reelection was hardly small and hardly devoid of ideas. Indeed, it was entirely about a single idea. The campaign, from beginning to end, was an extended argument about economic class.

Obama had decided that his reelection effort would be an attempt to go over Speaker of the House John Boehner’s head and bring to the voters the proposition he couldn’t get the opposing party to accept: that both moral decency and plausible budgeting required an end to George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich.

Class war? You say that like it's a bad thing. We had it and won.

But I'm a fair minded fellow and willing to give some advice to the other team. I make a point of getting outside my comfort zone, communicating with Republicans and reading their sites. Get on the internet, off your own special TV channels, and outside your megachurches once in a while. It'll be good for ya and good for the country.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday clips

Ah, a three day weekend off at last. Great day to watch a football game and go for a bike ride.

But it's cold, rainy, and the Packers' bye week. So instead I'm number crunching and reading political articles. Politico has a good one-stop of results.

We Democrats had a good year but we can always do better, and we lost a tough one locally with Dick Schwab's loss to Bobby Kaufmann. Schwab's campaign manager, Paul Deaton, has written an excellent self-critique and analysis of the race, rare in both its insight and its immediacy. A must-read for anyone on either team, here it is in parts one, two and three.

One of the criticisms of conservatives this cycle is they believed their own hype and didn't gather information outside their comfort zone of Fox News and the rightosphere. I'm always careful NOT to do that, and TheIowaRepublican is one of my daily reads. Kevin Hall has an excellent Winners and Losers post up today. Righty spin but good analysis. Will we see another coup d'etat for Iowa Senate Republican leader, the Spinal Tap Drummer job of Iowa politics? Five leaders in last seven sessions...

2012 also goes in the books as Ted Kennedy's final victory. Elizabeth Warren claims back his Senate seat, Joe Kennedy III replaces Barney Frank to return the family to Capitol Hill after a two year hiatus, and Ted himself came up with the strategic advice to defeat Romney.

The GOP navel gazing is beginning, and one of the common themes is a need for immigration reform. Can it be only eight years since W was making a serious effort to win Hispanic votes? Smart Republicans see the demographic disaster, and I hope they succeed because it's the humane thing to do.

But my fear is that the tea partyish base, which is essentially Know-Nothing nativist, will balk. They don't want a multicultural, multi-lingual America; they want mass deportation. And one of the few prominent Republicans speaking AGAINST immigration reform was none other than Our Own Steve King.

I think the only possible way to beat King is what I'll call the Todd Akin-Richard Murdoch strategy, after the two dudes that Haley Barbour, a very conservative but very smart fellow said were "shitty candidates" who "pissed away two seats." (Those are verbatim quotes.)

The Republican primary base is skewed far to the right, so it's impossible to knock King off with a moderate Republican. But maybe someone could beat King in a primary by running to his right? We fund that with some top secret money. There's a term for that but I've already used two of George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words in this post.

Then we have a candidate ready to pick up the pieces... Sure, the plan has flaws. 1) It requires finding someone crazier than Steve King. 2) The someone crazier than Steve King might win.

How Do We Fix That

"We need to fix that," the just re-elected President Obama said of long election lines in his victory speech. We all saw the long lines in Ohio and, again, Florida, as vote suppression efforts seem to have backfired and instead increased people's determination to vote.

Election laws and practices have political consequences. Look at these maps to see how this year's election would have played out if voting rights were reduced. Things I've heard: "If you can't make the effort to get to the polls On. Election. Day. you shouldn't vote." "If you can't fill the forms out right your vote shouldn't count." "Only taxpayers should vote." "College students should only be able to vote by absentee ballot from their parent's address."

But let's assume, as Obama does, that voting should be easy, though even that seemingly basic principle of democracy is opposed by many. If so, the national discussion is beginning on just how do we fix that.

Unlike most people, I think about this all the time. As I've often noted this fall, mostly to excuse myself from covering campaign events or writing as much as usual my day job is in the auditor's office. I'm a local government lifer (well, 15 years down and 13 years till my IPERS Rule of 88).

In America, elections are administered locally. But most of the proposed solutions are national. Iowa already has many of these solutions, including extensive early voting. I'm a little leery, because I worry that standardized national deadlines might be stricter than Iowa's 40 days of early voting, 10 day pre-registration deadline, and election day registration with ID and proof of address.

I do, however, like the idea of a nationalized voter database. Six years ago Iowa moved from locally-maintained files to a statewide system, and it's helped a lot. We know we have a lot of students on the rolls who are graduated and gone, but existing law makes it hard to clean up. If a voter moves from Iowa City to Des Moines, Polk County takes them away from us and they're good to vote. Cook County or Hennepin County should be able to do that, too.

In addition to the data processing, registration itself could change. Other countries register you to vote automatically, rather than you registering to vote on your own. For some weird reason, there are Americans who pride themselves on not voting and will demand the right to not register. Go figure. This fall I had an interesting talk with an Australian journalist who noted that in her country, voting is mandatory, with a small tax fine for refusal. She said this changes the nature of campaigns; parties don't have to work to get out the vote.

As anyone who's ever heard NPR trying to stretch a slow weekend newscast knows. most countries in the world vote on Sundays. That would work well in my very secular home town, Iowa City, but would never fly in the fundamentalist parts of America, but the idea of a national election day holiday has come up.

Short of that, even giving a few people a day off could help a lot.

 A presidential election is a massive operation. It requires a permanent infrastructure of equipment, yet most of the work is temporary. Our county had more than 500 people working on Tuesday, and most jobs had to be balanced by both party and by gender. It's a bit of a challenge to recruit 50% Republicans in a two to one Democratic county like Johnson; I have no idea how 6 to 1 Republican counties do it.

In my experience, from this election, the biggest need, the biggest thing that could speed up those lines, is more computer literate people working at the polls. Most of Iowa has moved toward the use of computers, rather than printed lists, to check voters in on election day. It doesn't matter how many extra workers and computers you add, if you don't have workers who can effectively work the computers.

Not to take anything away from our poll workers, many of whom are excellent. But most are retired, because those are the people who can offer themselves for the whole, long day, and some find the computers difficult. It can be as simple as inability to see and follow a mouse cursor, or older men who never learned a keyboard. In the pre-computer era, typing was considered "Woman's Work," so many older men are unfamiliar with keyboards. As late as the late 70s, I was discouraged from taking typing, and I was looking at journalism as a career. So here's a couple ways to increase the pool of workers:  

Close the schools for the day. (Or at least the upper grades, since closed elementary schools would mean child care complications for many voting parents of younger kids). Close down the extracurricular events, too. This would free up people. Give the teachers in-service credit for working the polls, and right there is a highly skilled group of workers. Many of our best workers now are retired teachers.  Closing the schools also frees up parking, a major issue at some of our polling places.

Close other government offices for the day. This frees up even more workers, experienced career bureaucrats used to dealing with the public. One of our very best people is an administrator in another department. She takes vacation time just so she can work the polls. This would have to be worked out through collective bargaining in some cases, but I'm union chair for our unit and personally, I'd be happy to pass out license plates or birth certificates a few days during the off-season in exchange for the extra help at crunch time.

And here's a small incentive for the general public: Give people jury duty credit for working the polls. I'd say the two rank equally in terms of civic duty.

One of the concerns from other states is the length of the ballot. That's a bit of an issue in Iowa, too, with our multiple layers of judges and our soil and ag commissioners. But there's a trade-off: A shorter ballot means more elections in between the big ones. Johnson County is looking at the prospect of three special elections in the first half of next year, and the various code sections defy common sense and make it difficult or impossible to combine them. School elections can't be combined with anything else, and that needs to go on the We Need To Change That list.

(We need to change a LOT about our school districts, like straightening out the lines so they aren't based on where our grandparents wanted to send our parents to school in 1960. But that's another post...)

And one last suggestion. When we went on vacation, we rented a Redbox movie at a truck stop in Tennessee. My sons watched it on a laptop and we returned it to our HyVee in Iowa City.

We may be a long way from that with voting. But. I used to pass four polling places on my way to work. But I was on the edge of my precinct so if I had wanted to vote on Election Day, I would have had to travel a mile and a half in the opposite direction. Fortunately, I'd already voted at a polling place located conveniently three feet in front of my desk. Not everyone is so fortunate. Within reason, say, within county or even state, in the 21st century anyone should be able to vote at any polling place.

Notice I've left out discussion of photo ID. That's because that politically toxic debate is getting in the way of other reforms. We have divided government agiain at both the state and federal levels. Our officials need to get to work on other, less controversial reforms, and not let the ID issue block action.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Out with the old, in with the new

Job opening for experienced spy who can keep affairs hush-hush. Top applicant:

Srsly: "Extra-marital affairs in CIA, however common they may be, are always a big, big deal since they invite potential blackmail. So whatever else is going on here it’s significantly different than an ordinary politician having an affair."

Clip-n-save: Handy-dandy list of both the new members of Congress and the folks who are leaving. Joe Walsh lost his job, which he'll no doubt use as another excuse to not pay child support. And the saddest name on the list: in an alternate universe we'd have Senator-elect Gabby Giffords.

We also get a list of hot Senate races - for 2014. Despite the hexennial rumours of a Steve King challenge to Tom Harkin, Iowa's not in the top ten. But how will this list affect me, Al Franken?

And absolutely fascinating maps: How would 2012 have turned out without universal suffrage? Roll the clock back to 1850 and see if a black president can win...

Local legislative delegation off to a good start on some of the bad laws that helped sink the much-needed Justice Center: MY Senator, Joe Bolkcom, again introducing medical marijuana bill in Iowa legislature.

So It Begins

The campaign cycle stopped for one night's sleep, then began anew before the votes were finished getting counted:

"Speculation about the 2016 presidential race has begun in Iowa. Marco Rubio, a Florida Senator who is a rising star in the Republican Party, will speak at a campaign fundraiser for Governor Branstad on November 17th. He’s the first potential 2016 candidate to schedule a post-Election Day visit to Iowa...."

"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would start out as a dominant favorite in the 2016 Iowa caucuses if she chooses to run for president, a new survey from Public Policy Polling finds."

"Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to the 200-year-old Return Day in Georgetown (Delaware) today, chatting with politicians and staffers who attended a reception at Delaware Tech before a parade through town.

The event known best for its parades, where winning and losing candidates will parade together in covered carriages and participate in a ceremonial burial of a hatchet.
Many political candidates also use the day to announce their next moves. Biden would not say whether he was seriously considering his own presidential run in 2016..." 

(Aside: Return Day sounds like fun.)

Before that, we have to finish with this cycle, and Republicans convened last night to nominate a replacement candidate for the late Senator Pat Ward. West Des Moines City Councilman Charles Schneider beat five other contenders, including Ward's husband, to face Democrat Desmund Adams on December 11. TheIowaRepublican liveblogged.

Locally, our absentee/provisional ballot board meets today to consider some late arrivals and the more than 500 provisional ballots cast on Tuesday. Nothing is recount-close here, but they get counted. It's a common misperception: "I heard they only count absentees if it's close." That's probably because you only HEAR about the absentees if it's close. I'm sure Utah is counting late votes, just like Florida, it's just that no one is very interested.

Not to mention, a record 58% of our county's vote is absentee this year.

As for the "late" vote on Election Day, Team Mitt had some serious technology problems on the ground. This article is a must-read for anyone of any party who does the grunt work of GOTV. This Republican consultant thinks weak GOTV cost Romney "four states — and the presidency." And a tip of the beret to Team Dvorsky; the Iowa Democratic field staffer did outstanding work.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Easing Back In

Last night was spent in vegetation, recuperation, and gathering information. Like an amnesia victim, there are permanent gaps, as I will never ever ever recover the thousands of tweets, posts, and Facebook messgaes I missed between Monday morning and Wednesday night. But the brain is now ready to return to matters at hand.

 The community is already turning to the next three things: the February 5 Iowa City school funding vote, justice center do-over and the replacement of the irreplaceable Rep.-Elect Sally Stutsman (I like saying that) on the Board of Supervisors. So my new boss Travis Weipert will get good experience right away. Advice: Mike Mauro knew how to run elections.

Big picture take is that the geographic and demographic change that we first saw in 2008 are now permanent features, and that 2008 will join 1968, 1932, 1896 and 1860 as what the political scientists call "realigning elections." Countertrend factoid that I forgot to source: In West Virginia, once so Democratic that it Dukakis `88, Mitt Romney carried every county. Either they really like Massachusetts governors or they have another issue:

Related: Students Clash After Election but this isn't what Joe Strummer meant: Tuesday night "hundreds of Ole Miss students exchanged racial epithets and violent,politicized chants in response to the announcement of the re-election of President Barack Obama. What began as an argument around midnight quickly spread across campus."

But at least Joe had a song for it:

America, even Texas, is getting blacker and browner and pinker and more rainbow-colored - witness four marriage-equality wins, the survival of David Wiggins, the election of Senator Tammy Baldwin - and the GOP can choose: Adapt or go the way of the Know-Nothings.

In any event, here's a smart take from the Atlantic's Andrew Cohen:
No serious political party in America -- no legitimate party in any viable democracy -- can win an election by suppressing votes. So long as the Republican Party endorses (and enacts) voting laws designed to make it harder for registered voters to vote, so long as Republican officials like Ohio's Jon Husted contort themselves to interpret those laws in a restrictive fashion, the Republicans will continue to play a loser's game. That's my theory, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. Having covered for the past two years the voting rights front in this epic election cycle, I have come to believe that the Republicans will begin to win presidential elections again only when they start competing for votes with the substance of their ideas.