Sunday, November 09, 2014

Numbers Part 4: Very, VERY Different

Let's look at that Iowa map of gubernatorial results again.

I'm not showing this map again out of smug self-satisfaction: "See? Look how good WE did. It's everyone else's fault."

The Democrats are still in good shape here in the People's Republic. The official Democratic Central Committee structure is a dysfunctional mess (you should see the stuff I wrote and DIDN'T post), but the elected officials, donors, worker bees and field staff can still make things happen.

In Johnson County the leading Democratic candidates in competitive races met or came close to the targets statewide candidates need to get out of our county. Here's pre-election projections from Daily Kos on what an Iowa Democrat needs by county to win statewide, with the actual results added.

County % of 2012
statewide vote
What we need to
break 50% statewide
2012 Pres. 2014 Senate Performance: Needed vs. Got
Statewide 100 50/48 52/46 44/52 -6
Polk 14.5 54/44 56/42 50/46 -4
Linn 7.5 56/42 58/40 51/45 -5
Scott 5.7 54/44 56/42 47/50 -7
Johnson 4.8 65/33 67/31 65/32 0
Black Hawk 4.2 57/41 59/39 52/45 -5
Dubuque 3.2 55/44 57/42 51/45 -4
Story 3 54/44 56/42 50/47 -4
Woodbury 2.8 48/51 50/49 38/56 -10
Pottawatomie 2.7 44/54 46/52 37/58 -7
Dallas 2.4 41/57 43/55 37/60 -4

Note that Braley's underperformance was worst in chronically low-turnout Woodbury. Also note that he did five points worse than he needed in his home county, Black Hawk - and that was his second BEST percentage in the state.

Bruce Braley underperformed everywhere else, but got what he needed (or should have needed) here. If anything, Johnson County is trending, in an almost defiant way, MORE Democratic. I've been saying it all fall, I'll say it again: Joni Ernst's folksy style that was successful almost everywhere else was met with visceral distaste and disbelief here."The Pig Lady can't possibly WIN, can she?" The rest of the state looks in the mirror and sees Ernst; we look in the mirror and see Dave Loebsack.

This ripples into solutions to our local problems as well.

It's a progressive mantra to think globally and act locally. And that's a big part of why we saw the two local ballot measures, for courthouse improvements and a local option sales tax, fail.

Set aside the automatic don't raise my taxes for any reason NO vote. the preferred solution to our local courthouse space system is Massive Fundamental Justice System Reform, with an element of drug law reform and an element of racial disparity issues. And the preferred progressive solution to the revenue drop we will see from state tax "reform" is a more progressive tax structure, such as a local option income tax.

The state and national election results have pushed these goals further away. We can think globally and act locally, but we can't act unilaterally. We are hamstrung by a state community and a national community that we have not persuaded.

Locals, we are not just different than the rest of the state. We are very, VERY different. Across the board, in the top tier races, Democrats performed 12 to 14 percent better in Johnson County than they did anywhere else in the state. And not only did our Democratic levels not drop in a very bad year, we actually increased our Democratic representation in Des Moines, we added to it with Kevin Kinney.

But that legislative delegation is not going to be able to make the changes we want to see.

Property tax law changes have uniquely hurt Johnson County. By changing much of our highest in the state level of rental property from commercial status to the lower taxed residential status, we took a harder revenue hit than anyone else. Those new laws won't change with this governor and this legislature. And in an environment of What Tax Can We Cut Next, any local option income tax is about as valuable as a platform plank: an empty statement on paper that goes nowhere.

Joe Bolkcom will continue his efforts to reform medical marijuana laws, which are to full legalization as civil unions are to full marriage equality: a starter step.  But while opinion is changing fast, this Iowa governor and legislature are not there yet. This is an issue that's still at the educational stage, not the action stage. And despite the arguments from the county attorney primary, we really can't engage in local level nullification.

No, our legislative delegation is on defense. Bolkcom and Kinney and Bob Dvorsky's job is to keep really really bad, Scott Walker kind of stuff from happening. On the House side, all Mary Mascher and Vicki Lensing and Dave Jacoby and Sally Stutsman can do is offer a few ideas to make bad bills just a little less bad.

The next best opportunity to act locally about our global problems come a year from now, in our city council elections.

It's a cruel irony is that the most "progressive" city in Iowa has had a good old boy, Chamber of Commerce dominated, low turnout elected city council for the entire 24 years I've lived here.

The same turnout problem that afflicts Democrats/liberals/progressives in off year general elections is exaggerated further in our off-off year local elections.  The student community has never truly participated, save for the cycles when the 21 Bar issue was on the ballot, and even then most voted only on the bar issue and skipped the council races. And a lot of faculty/staff liberals focus on state, national or international issues, and let the townies worry about ordinances and zoning and property taxes.

The townie-domainated city council electorate dislikes the demographic change of the last 20 years that had created our first significant racial minority population (other than graduate students from Asia).  They LIKE the crackdowns on the southeast side and downtown. The landlord community likes the state level property tax reform, and wants to tap into the students for sales taxes.

Elections are often won and lost at the candidate recruitment stage. It's not too soon to think about next year. Three seats are up in Iowa City. Jim Throgmorton was unopposed in the District C race in 2011; here's hoping he runs again. In the two seat at large race, Matt Hayek has already announced he's not running, and Mid-American middle manager Michelle Payne has been a cipher on the council.

Progressives moved the needle a notch in 2013, electing Kingsley Botchway to replace Connie Champion. We can move things another notch or two next year. That's not a panacea. Our local options are still limited by a hostile state and national climate. But it will help us use what local power we have.

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