Sunday, May 31, 2015

Can I raise a practical question at this point?

Are we gonna do Stonehenge tomorrow?

Hillary Clinton, the Republican presidential field, and Spinal Tap share the same problem.

The problem of scale.

Certain things only work at certain sizes. For example, a Stonehenge monument must have a certain colossal hugeness, so that it is not in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.

And debates only work at certain sizes. Greater than one, but less than X. Beyond value X, the amount of time per candidate drops below anything meaningful, and moderators have a lot of power to play favorites. Even in a six-way debate, that was notable enough that Chris Dodd tried, and failed, to make his debate time clock a meme in 2007.

X is as yet undefined, but it is less that the number of candidates in the Republican field. The number of debate invitees peaked in October 2011 at nine. This week, the announced field will grow to ten, with Jeb Bush and Scott Walker certain to make that at least a dozen soon, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal still not giving up, and Donald Trump doing whatever it is that Donald Trump does.

Let's call that fifteen. With one recent poll showing a five way tie for first, and another showing no candidate above nine percent, there's not a clear distinction between low first tier and high second tier. Which matters a lot if one of the solutions to a crowded stage is holding back to back varsity and JV debates.

And if you limit it to just present and past office holders, you eliminate the one black candidate, Ben Carson, and the one woman, Carly Fiorina, in a party already struggling with an Old White Guy problem in public perception and in electoral demographics.

Another thing that only works at certain sizes is an Iowa caucus retail politics event.

We all know the drill. Anyone who wants to show up shows up.  The local introduces the candidate, they give the speech, they take the questions, they work the room, they maybe squeeze in a local media interview.

This only works in rooms up to size Y. Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley were bumping up against the limits of size Y with their events this weekend, Sanders had a room of 250 and an overflow crowd even bigger, and took about eight questions.

Sanders is probably in the upper single digits in the polls now, and O'Malley is in low single digits, and they're already at the top end of retail event size in Iowa.

How does Hillary Clinton, at 60%, do a legit retail event?

She can try, with her coffee table chats. But that leaves a lot of people out, disappointed that they didn't get to see her. And as we saw, the media scrum at those events outnumbered the participants.

If the maximum retail event size is about 500, and the media scrum, staff, and - a problem other candidates don't have - Secret Service detail is close to that big, it pretty much rules out a retail event.

If you were to have an event in Iowa City where anyone who wanted to see Hillary Clinton could just show up, it would need to be at the Field House or Carver-Hawkeye. Then it's not a retail event anymore. It's an arena rally, and at a rally there's invariably a distance, physical and emotional. And that is exactly what Team Hillary is trying NOT to do.

It's also harder to quietly do that thoughtful interview with, say, Douglas Burns from Carroll, when the national folks are running countdown clocks on how long it's been since you had a press conference. (I would NEVER EVER EVER do a countdown clock like that. Again.)

If I were a highly paid Democratic Strategist, I might have the solutions here. But even a lowly Democratic Activist knows the different between feet and inches.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sanders Holds YOOGE Iowa City event

If the former mayor of the People's Republic of Burlington, Vermont can win anywhere in his outsider presidential race, it's in the People's Republic of Johnson County, Iowa.

There's a lot of interest, at least, as Senator Bernie Sanders packed 250 people INTO the room at the Iowa City Rec Center, with a much larger overflow crowd listening in the lobby, down the stairs, and out onto the sidewalk.
Later, Sanders' call for free college tuition may have topped the applause meter level.

Today's drinking game word was "huge," pronounced in Sanders' native Brooklynese as "YOOGE." I'm in detox as I write.
But "The top 1 percent" and "billionaires" would have been far riskier drinking words.

Sanders also told yooge corporations, "If you want to be part of America you have to accept the responsibilities, you cant just take the benefits."

"Don't just accept the world view presented to you on TV every night," Sanders told the crowd near the end of the set speech. As he said it I thought back to the moment I first found Sanders this morning, when he was talking with a TV reporter. The reporter was focused almost entirely on recently unearthed 40-year old essays by Sanders about the sexual politics of the era. Sanders dismissed them as "terrible writing," and kept trying to steer the discussion back to his signature economic issues.

Those issues were a smash with the crowd. His only stumble was on the only foreign policy question from the crowd, about the Israel-Palestine conflict (which was one of the three questions I had prepped for Sanders, except that the TV guy ate all my time). Sanders offered a liberal-mainstream answer: two state solution, the two sides need to seriously negotiate, etc.

"Dodge," the guy behind me reacted. "Totally lame," The crowd seemingly expected a stronger, more pro-Palestinian answer from the senator who had just wrapped his set speech calling for a "political revolution." To repeat: The only time the crowd didn't go wild was when Bernie Sanders wasn't lefty enough. Clearly, at least with in the Democratic Party, there's a paradigm shift underway on this issue. (STILL no hostile responses to the 10,000th tweet.)

Bernie Sanders does not roll with a big posse. He entered the event from the back of the room, through the crowd, and appeared to be traveling with just three partners: longtime Vermont staffer, Phil Fiermonte. newly hired Iowa Director Pete D'Alessandro, and his wife Jane, who spent most of the rally taking photos.

Jane was so low key that, until Bernie introduced her about 2/3 of the way into the speech - his ONLY reference to family or personal background in an all-meat issues speech - I had thought she was a volunteer or media. And it was only when she reached in front of me and politely retrieved her purse and coffee that I realized I had stolen her chair.
Busted, by my own state senator.

Bolkcom was the only legislator on hand. The crowd also included three county supervisors: Mike Carberry, Janelle Rettig (in the overflow crowd) and Rod Sullivan, who handled the introduction and made his endorsement official. Sullivan was one of the earliest Obama backers in 2007.

Past Democratic Party chairs Tom Carsner and Gerene Denning were also on hand, but most of the crowd was fresh faces, young and old, who aren't normally seen at Democratic Party events. The age skew was slightly old, but that seemed more because the University of Iowa is out of session. Grad student group COGS was out in force, in matching shirts, and grabbed two of the questions.

The Sanders event had a classic Iowa caucus feel, wide open and unscripted, full of both substance and local quirks.
Before the rally he worked the crowd at the Iowa City Farmer's Market, where he was greeted and recognized, but not mobbed.
Sanders has set the expectation bar high for other Democratic candidate events in Johnson County, speaking for just over 35 minutes and taking open questions, about eight, for another half hour. It was the kind of event that Hillary Clinton, a prisoner of her own massive lead and with a large staff and a yooge national media scrum in tow, will find difficult if not impossible to hold.

Perhaps she does not need to. (Interesting note on the power of the politics of gender: before the rally two eight-something girls asked the Sanders button vendor "do you have any with Joni?")

But an event like this, and the ability to have an event like this, is a big opening for someone like Sanders. By coincidence, Martin O'Malley held his announcement rally in Baltimore while Sanders was speaking in Iowa City. O'Malley, too, may be able to do events like this and build a following. But for now, at least in this lefty county, Sanders seems well positioned as the Clinton alternative.

(More thoughts are on the Twitter feed.)

Friday, May 29, 2015

10,000 Tweets

I dropped my 10,000th tweet last night. To honor that milestone I'm going to elaborate a some of my recent thoughts beyond 140 characters.

Alternate universe 1. Rather than dropping out after one term in 2012, Jim Webb runs for re-election and wins. Maybe then he's a viable candidate. (Assuming Hillary Clinton does not exists in this alternate universe.)

Alternate universe 2. Pataki vs. Bush in a presidential primary... in 2000, not in 2016. Or: Pataki as a challenger to President Gore in 2004.
The Burg has seen at least three presidents. Two former - Reagan and Clinton 42- and at least one future - Obama and possibly Clinton 45. But Dave Panther and the crew have yet to play host to the sitting President Of The United States. Think about it, Chief.

THIS is how you do Iowa:
I once saw Joe Biden take questions on the Ped Mall in Iowa City for two solid hours. Now, granted, that was only three answers, but... naah, while the answers were indeed Biden-long, the questions were many.

A couple weak spots in Bernie Sanders' otherwise solid progressive credentials: guns and race.
Don't look at me, I supported Gary Hart, Bill Bradley and Howard Dean. OK, look at me I guess.

Anybody else think that Fiorina got recruited into the race to carry the Attack Hillary ball for the male candidates, and is running for Secretary of Commerce?

From the Department of Hey Hey Ho Ho When Do We Want It Now:
Good luck my friend but please don't EVER stop writing:
As for Tweet 10,000 itself: I've had this tab sitting open in my browser for a week because it comes closer than anything I've seen in ages to what I really think of the whole Israel-Palestine thing. I've been scared to say it but I've been testing the waters for a while and gotten no pushback. So I swallowed hard and used Tweet 10,000 to link to an article titled "Why Israel Should Not Exist":
(The) Jewish colonization of Palestine represented a continuation of European colonialism as the wielding of power over the Palestinian people shifted from the British government to European Jews in the form of the new Israeli state...
At the very moment the rest of Asia and Africa was being DE-colonized.
The only just solution to this entrenched conflict is to finally allow Palestinians to establish the independent state they should have attained following World War Two and to allow for the return of all refugees. In other words, a single, secular Palestinian state in which Jews, Christians and Muslims all share equal rights. Such a one-state solution is not anti-Semitic, it is sensible.
And it's a sign of progress that I finally feel able to say that.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Locals Only: The State Of The City Election

Warning, state/national readers: Local stuff here.
Jim Throgmortion made his re-election bid official today, pulling a crowd of 30, not bad for a workday noon hour. The announcement laid out a framework for a race whose lines are already taking a pretty clear shape: a great extent we Iowa Citians have also lost our way. We stand at a crossroads, conflicted over which direction we want to go in the coming years.

Two contending visions might guide the way.

One vision might be called “Boomtown.” Those who rely on this vision claim that cities like ours must compete with other cities, both near and far, to attract businesses and a “creative class” of Internet-savvy workers. Guided by a desire to expand the economy and increase the tax base, this Boomtown vision has been invigorating parts of our city in ways that many people like. And those who benefit most directly from this vision claim that all we need to do is stay the course. If it ain’t broke, they say, don’t fix it.

But for far too many Iowa Citians, our city is broken! For them, the Boomtown vision accommodates the interests of a few while ignoring those of the many. It’s rapidly changing the city they love into a place that will soon be unrecognizable.

The second vision might be called the “Just City.”

Those who share this Just City vision believe that Iowa City should be good on the ground for all, both now and in the future, and that the long-term health of the community depends upon it.

The Just City vision would lead to a city that is substantively democratic, economically healthy, affordable, and resilient. It would lead to a city in which all residents know in their bones and in their daily experience that City government works for them too.

Rather than keep replaying this conflict, as if we have learned nothing, we should turn the best of the Boomtown wealth, energy and creativity toward building a more Just City.
Also making the lines clear: two other candidates showed up not as rivals but as allies: Rockne Cole, running in the same vote for two At Large race that Throgmorton is in, and John Thomas, running for the District C seat that Throgmorton now holds.

(Explaining Iowa City's convoluted district system is a whole `nother post, which I've written before and will likely have to write again. Short version: The districts matter more at candidate recruitment time than at election time.)

Throgmorton stopped short of endorsing Cole and Thomas, but made it clear he though highly of both of them.

Slates have historically been frowned on in Iowa City elections, but they're also historically been a de facto reality. People generally know which candidates are the "progressive machine" folks and which are the "Chamber of Commerce/townie" folks, and they DEFINITELY know which if any are students.

This year the lines are taking shape quickly, though the District C race is a bit different. Thomas, a retired landscape architect and member of the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission, so far faces construction company owner Scott McDonough. Normally, "construction company owner" is a surefire sign of a Chamber candidate, but McDonough has some interesting sidebars like Habitat for Humanity, the Englert Theatre board of directors, and Johnson County Affordable Homes Coalition. Both are first time candidates. Still time for someone else from the northside, downtown, or Miller-Orchard (NO. I am NOT.) to get in. This is where most of the students are but there may not be a niche here.

Throgmorton, a retired urban and regional planning professor, was such a prohibitive favorite in District C in 2011 that he cleared the field and won unopposed. He also won a half-term in 1993 and stepped down after two years. Cole, an attorney, finished fourth of four in the 2013 race, but it was a strong respectable fourth and not a distant last.

So far, Throgmorton and Cole face Michelle Payne, a classic Chamber candidate who works for Mid-American Energy. She won a narrow, low turnout race in 2011 mostly be keeping quiet, setting up pink yard signs (she was the only woman running) and most of all by by not being 20 years old like main rival Raj Patel. And she's been pretty quiet on the Council too. letting Terry Dickens and Susan Mims (whose terms aren't up this year) do the talking and then voting with them.

Mayor Matt Hayek is not running again this year. I supported him when he first ran in 2007. 21 Bar was up for the first time that year and he took a Let The Voters Decide position. But when the voters decided to keep 19, he not only asked for a do-over, he led the fight, which was a townie vs. student culture war disguised as a "public health" issue. So I didn't support him in 2011. He's rumored to have higher ambitions; I won't back him for those either. Yeah. Still mad.

The godfather of 21 Bar was Rick Dobyns. The self-righteous MD lost a 2005 at large race, led the 2007 21 effort to defeat, then won the District A seat handily in 2011 over radio's Captain Steve Bridges. On the council he tends to talk moderate and then vote with the conservative majority. Dobyns is running again. He is as yet unopposed and needs an opponent badly. Needs to be someone from the west or south side, and preferably someone who adds a little diversity to the race.

Direct election of the mayor never really got off the ground in the charter review discussion. But with three like-minded colleagues - Kingsley Botchway also holds over - Throgmorton could find himself Der Burgermeister in January. Better him than Terry Dickens...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Straw Poll Crumbling

The Ames Boone Straw Poll takes a big hit this morning, with 2008 caucus winner Mike Huckabee announcing he will not participate.

The Huckster cites much the same reason Jeb Bush did last week in opting out: "I have decided to forgo taking part in the Iowa straw poll — or any other straw poll — and will instead focus our campaign's attention and resources on the Iowa caucuses."

Huckabee's dropout - an odd term to use since he hasn't actually announced his candidacy - is a big blow to the GOP fundraiser.

The 2007 straw poll was Huckabee's breakout moment. Before "Ames" - I still see "Straw Poll" and "Ames" used interchangably in national media despite the event's move this year - before Ames Huckabee was languishing in the single digits and splitting evangelical support with Sam Brownback. Huckabee's second behind Mitt Romney made him THE social conservative choice, and within days the crowds at Brownback's events vanished. He lingered on two more months, but the straw poll was the real end.

Without that straw poll "win," or with Brownback edging Huckabee instead of the other way around, 2008 plays out a lot differently.

Craig Robinson notes that candidates have a de facto deadline a week from today, when Iowa Republicans host a straw poll organizational meeting. The memo says: "Your organization’s participation in the May 28 meeting will serve as an indication of your organization’s participation in the Straw Poll.”

Expect several more dropouts in the next few days.

So who plays?

The asterisk candidates. With the event downscaled and the infamous "land auction" and food tend-palooza curtailed, the entry cost for candidates is lowered. It's also a shot to distinguish yourself from the other also-rans and maybe make it into CNN's top tier "real" debate instead of the NIT Debate For Some Dudes.

The big question mark is Rand Paul. The event is tailor made for his kind of intense support: you have to devote the full day and travel across the state. But there's nothing to win against the asterisks. And as Craig Robinson rightly points out, Paul "and his advisors are probably not all that keen in helping RPI out." Ron Paul supporters won control of the state party organization in the 2012 caucuses, but were purged by the party regulars in 2014. Above all else, the straw poll is a party fundraising event, and Paul's supporters aren't necessarily Republican Party supporters.

The other question mark is whether the party lists the names of non-participants on the ballot. This was done in 2007 and 2011, seemingly to teach John McCain and Jon Huntsman a lesson. Both finished below 1 percent.

But with a field this big, a non-participant could easily top several asterisk candidates, or behind a write-in if that's allowed, as it was for Rick Parry in 2011. Does that push them out of the race? Maybe that's the role the straw poll plays this year.

One thing's clear: No one is going to make the Tim Pawlenty mistake this year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Umpteenth Voter List Maintenance Post

I've written this post so many times that my long time readers can just skip this - though I'm sure they're the only ones who will actually read and understand it.

But when it comes to voter registration statistics, people keep making the same incorrect assumptions over and over. So with another news article, it's time for me to once again dust off my 18 years of election office experience.

Funny thin is, this latest article, which ran last Friday in the Register and is not recirculating is actually one of the better ones, once you get past the doom and gloom headline Iowa Democratic voter numbers down sharply.

This conjures up a vision of a disillusioned voter who's mad as hell and won't take it anymore.

This happens. I helped Mike Thayer change his affiliation last January when he made a special trip. But it happens so rarely that it's noteworthy when it does. I've seen it happen maybe... a dozen? times in my career, and between work and politics I have probably registered tens of thousands of voters in my life.

Before I get deeper into party changes, I want to go over how registration numbers rise and fall.

Registration numbers rise most sharply, of course, just before general elections. Depending on the local election or primary, they may rise significantly or not at all. There's also a constant steady trickle of registrations, many from drivers licenses, but a few from diligent types who just moved to town.

There's also un-registrations. Deaths are steady, and moves away are cyclical, lagging a little behind the wave of new registrations at big elections. When people register in a new place, the new place sends notice to the old place - IF the voter remembered to list it. (Within the state, counties just grab voters from each other on the statewide voter registration database, iVoters.)

But the way most people get un-registered is long and slow and happened in two stages. I'm going to crib from the page I wrote at work on the subject:
Until 1994, Iowa voter registrations were cancelled after four years with no activity.  But since the National Voter Registration Act, better known as "Motor Voter," took effect in 1995, no one's registration is cancelled simply for not voting. Instead, the cancellation process depends on whether or not you can get mail at your address.
There are two main mailings used for list maintenance, and in Iowa both usually come out late winter or early spring. The National Change Of Address (NCOA) mailing goes to everyone who has reported an address change to the post office but has not updated their registration yet. (Read the work page for all the details.)

The other mailing is the Four Year No Activity mailing. Instead of cancelling your registration after four years without voting, we just send you more or less a reminder.

The important thing that happens with these mailings is: many of them come back as undeliverable. Sing it, Elvis:

If I have to write this post again, then you have to watch Elvis again.

Voters whose cards get Elvised are placed on "inactive" status. No campaign staffer anywhere seems to get this concept. "Inactive" does not mean what staffers call "a weak voting D"who will vote if we just knock their door one... more... time. "Inactive" means the auditor has documentation that the person has probably moved away.

Now, back to how this effects party totals.
In May 2011, Iowa Democrats held an edge in voter registration with 645,899 voters, while Republicans had 609,365 voters and there were 696,696 no-party voters.

In May 2015, Iowa Democrats' voter registration rolls have dropped to 585,178, a loss of more than 60,000 voters that represents a decline of 9.4 percent. Meanwhile, the number of registered Republicans is holding firm at 609,042, while the number of no-party voters has increased to 703,208.
Give the Register credit - they used the active numbers. Way too often, stats stories cite those wildly misleading "total" numbers which includes inactive voters. And they also address some of the reasons Democrats dropped more, though they do it in the usual Objective Journalist he said, she said format.

Even the shallowest analyst of politics and demographics knows that younger voters skew Democratic (and no party) and older voters skew Republican. Younger voters are also much more mobile and much more likely to get Elvised into inactive status. That more than outweighs the fact that older voters are more likely to die.

But that headline and the content seems to emphasize changes. So let's look at changes.

Set aside that rare Mad As Hell March To The Courthouse scene. Most voters change party for a more mundane reason: to participate in a caucus or primary, Many don't even know that voting in a primary can change your affiliation.

You know what I've seen many more times than a special trip to the office to change party? A person mad that their party "got" changed, who then sees the slip with their signature on it from the primary. "Oh, I though I was just voting for Millard Fillmore." Yep, and to do that you changed registration to the Know Nothing Party. (The dead parties are safer examples, and Know Nothing is inherently funny. Unless you're an immigrant.)

The percentage pattern of party affiliation is highly predictable. A slow, steady trend to no party, mostly from drivers licenses, as people aren't in "partisan" mode at the DOT and since there isn't a contest at stake. Then a big shift at the primary or caucus, sometimes up or, if the other party is more interesting, sometimes down. Followed by a very small counter trend as a handful of people reverse their changes. Finally, a big no party trend right before the general election as the less partisan voters tune in.

So let's look at the last few cycles.

The last major, statewide, hotly contested race within the Democratic party was the 2008 caucus. For 7 1/2 years, most people have not had a compelling - as in, you HAVE to register as a Dem to vote for this person -  have not had a compelling reason to register as a Democrat.

It turns out party unity, counter intuitively, is bad for your registration numbers.

Since the May 2011 benchmark in the article, we've had a wide open and very close - too close - 2012 Republican caucus, while Democrats had just a poorly organized Uncommitted effort against Obama. Indeed, quite a few anti-war Democrats crossed over to the GOP caucuses, because they felt like a vote for Ron Paul was better than a vote for literally nobody.

Then we had a presidential election, where lots of people checked the No Party box when they registered, and the Obama box when they voted.

We also had the 2014 primary. Republicans had an epic US Senate race and serious primaries in three of the four congressional districts. Democrats had only one congressional primary and, unfortunately, no primary sparring partner to get Bruce Braley (D-Colorado) in shape.

Lots of "compelling" reasons to be a Republican For A Day... and a lot of people whose intentions are "for a day" forget, or don't fully realize that it's an affiliation change.

The clincher, for me, that the Democratic statistical decline is not a real decline in Democratic identity is the local evidence.

In those 2012 and 2014 cycles, Democrats saw counter-trend Democratic registration INCREASES. That's because we had compelling local contests for courthouse offices.

The year Johnson County had a Republican trend, 2010, Democrats had no local contests, only a lame US Senate primary. Does Roxanne Conlin beat Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause by 40 points or 50?

Republicans, though, had the REAL ball game. Vander Plaats vs. Branstad felt almost like a general election for governor, because we all know Chet was in big trouble. So people became Republicans either because they were so scared of Vander Plaats, or because they couldn't wait to vote against Branstad. Same thing happened in 1994, when Republican registration in Johnson County climbed from 20% to 24% in ONE DAY thanks to Fred Grandy.

They're like the Viet Cong.

Look, folks. If you're looking to argue that Iowa Democrats are weaker than we were in 2011, there's enough REAL arguments to make, starting with last year's loss of a Senate seat and two congressional seats. There's no need to use the weak indicator of registration statistics to "prove" things which they don't prove at all.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Johnson County Dems Induct 5 Hall of Famers

It wasn't the hottest political ticket of the day - kinda hard to compete with an 11 candidate circus at the GOP Lincoln Dinner.  But the Johnson County Democrats' Hall of Fame event was no doubt the best celebration of the night in terms of honoring the grassroots folks who make our political process work.

The JCDems honored former State Rep. Ro Foege, longtime platform co-chairs Dennis and Robin Roseman, and activists Pat Ikan and Gary Sanders.

"When you see Sanders For President signs they are not for me," Gary said, "they are for a different Jewish Socialist from a big city." Gary is well known from cable access TV, newspaper columns, and an affinity for lost causes that all of a sudden aren't lost anymore.

Sanders hails from Iowa City Precinct 18, the just east of downtown area that competes with northside Precinct 21 for the honor of most Democratic in town (and maybe in Iowa). He bragged of passing a platform resolution to repeal the 2nd Amendment at the 1996 caucus, a classic People's Republic of Johnson County moment.

The Rosemans showed off old campaign t-shirts and bragged about their earliest campaigns. Dennis was a county convention delegate for Shirley Chisholm in 1972 (and clashed with the more "moderate" McGovern delegates in another ur-People's Republic moment), while Robin as a child helped on the ill-fated Helen Gahagan Thomas Senate campaign in 1950. She lost but not without labeling her opponent with the immortal nickname "Tricky Dick."

Pat Ikan is the godmother of what's informally called the Solon Mafia, a core of activists that helps Democrats win in northeast Johnson County. She dropped a reference to 25 cent beer at the original Donnelly's Pub, run by Democratic supervisor Harold Donnelly. (The current version is just a revival of the name).

Ikan, an educator, brought her background into the current education funding debate that's kept the legislative session going into overtime. "Every educational decision is a political decision," she said.

"Being born in in Lyon County" in heavily GOP northwest Iowa "and being in the Johnson CO Dems Hall of Fame is a political miracle," said Foege. He's only the second non-Johnson County resident in our hall of fame. Foege and the other non-resident, David Osterberg, both hail from Mt. Vernon and represented a now-dismantled House district that straddled the Johnson-Linn line. He said he considers Mt. Vernon "the Johnson County part of Linn County."

Foege spent most of his time thanking others, and reminisced about the greatest parade unit in Iowa campaign history, the Ro Boats. The parade crew wore toy boats around their waists, carried blue and yellow oars which said RO, paddled more or less in synch, and sang "Ro, Ro, Ro's my vote, on Election Daaay..."

Dave Loebsack also dropped a Ro Boats reference. Loebsack was once considered Foege's likely successor, until he goofed that up by getting elected to Congress. He said the only thing more surprising than that win was that "I'm the only Democrat left" in the Iowa delegation.

Loebsack cited the 1st District as the best pickup chance for 2016, but didn't name any of the three names running. He also said Chuck Grassley "has done nothing but cater to the tea party" since his 2010 re-election.

Grassley's two announced opponents, Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause, were on hand, as were most of the legislative and courthouse delegation. Also visiting: Cedar Rapids state senator Rob Hogg and Hillary Clinton's Iowa chief, Matt Paul.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A brief Bush writeup

Faced with multiple media questions, Jeb Bush defended his decision to skip this summer's Iowa straw poll.

"Why would I be here if I wasn't going to compete in Iowa?" Bush told about 20 reporters in University Heights this afternoon.

Why Bush was here, officially, was to raise money for Chuck Grassley. Bush and Grassley had two events at the University Athletic Club - a general admission event priced at $50 to $100, and a small "clutch" event for $2700, the maximum federal donation to Grassley's campaign. (Grassley's two announced Democratic opponents, Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause, have not raised enough money between them for one clutch event ticket.)

"I just don't do straw polls," Bush said, saying he was planning on skipping one in his home state of Florida. ""You want to focus on winning. This candidate - if I run - will be an aggressive campaigner in Iowa."

The "ifs" that Bush mentioned discussing his "possible" candidacy seemed very perfunctory.

"The straw poll has nothing to do with the caucuses," Bush added. "All the resources ought to go to the thing that matters."

Pressed on whether he thought he could win in Iowa, Bush said "I intend to win period" without any IF qualifiers. He then turned the question around, asking the Gazette's James Lynch, "Would you compete and aspire to be fourth place or sixth place in anything?"

When national reporters asked about Bush's fumbled answer on an Iraq question last week, Bush said "I answered a different question" (than the reporter asked). "We all make mistakes If you're looking for a perfect candidate, He was around about 2000 years ago."

The Christ reference may or may not have prompted a question about discussing faith, specifically his switch from Protestant to Catholic, on the trail. "I talk about it as part of my life story. Part of this journey is to share your heart."

Grassley kept chatting with in-state reporters for a few minutes as Bush headed off to tonight's Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, where 11 declared or "if" candidates will speak. Grassley followed close behind, presumably watching carefully for deer.

"Each campaign will make its own decision and I respect those decisions," Grassley said of Bush and the straw poll. "I'll be encouraging everyone to be in Iowa."

As for the large field, Grassley said, "This is America, and freedom prevails. You can't discourage anybody from running without sticking your neck out." He did say that the large field made it less likely that he would make an endorsement before the caucuses.

For now, Grassley said he is focused on his own re-election race and how that can help other Republicans. He noted that 2004, the last time his seat came up on the presidential cycle, was also the one time the GOP presidential candidate has carried Iowa in recent years.

In all, I didn't get much sense of Bush the candidate. Answering media questions in a press conference setting is a good thing to do, but to really get the sense of the candidate, you need to hear the applause lines in the speeches and watch them working the room.  "If" that happens, I'll check him out again.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Can Hillary Dodge Press? Maybe.

The national media has copied ans pasted a page from the Deeth Blog, and is starting its own Hillary calendar.
Sorry, Post,but I own that meme and I owned that meme for 2446 days.

Of course, eventually Hillary made me take my Days Since Iowa counter down, and eventually she will do at least some interviews somewhere.

But with all the changes we're already seeing, all the emphasis on Being Real, all the reaching out, the 50 State Staffer Strategy, and all the other ways Hillary 2015 is emphatically not Hillary 2007, one thing hasn't changed. The relationship with professional journalists is still, to understate it, distant.

And the emphasis on the new beginning has been so strong that it seems to me that this is not an accident. It's a strategy. There will be some token interviews, sure, and she won't make the mistake of no-commenting a nine year old. But I expect the media strategy to be Screw The Media.

I'm not sure what the original roots of the three plus decade feud between the Clintons and the media are, but it's real. I think it's in part a matter of conflicting values. Journalists feel they have the right to know everything, and Hillary Clinton likes to play her cards close.

Journalists may be the only people less popular with the public than politicians. And much like key activists in Iowa, they're a group that values their privileged place in the process, to the point where it can seem self-important. (Guilty.) 

Journalists also care about different issues than Real People. I can write her rebuttal now: "Nobody in Iowa asked me about email. They asked me about jobs and education and a path to citizenship."

And the media can't win that fight by bringing it up again and again and again, any more than they could get Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. Real People get bored with it, and the press looks whiny.

Let's face it, did Joni Ernst really pay any price for skipping out on editorial boards last year? Does anyone under 75 who's not a politics junkie even care who a paper endorses?

Dealing with the traditional media just takes Clinton off message. There's very little upside for her. She sits down with any media outlet anywhere tomorrow or next week or next month, she gets Homebrew Server and Foreign Donations and nothing but. She does a town hall, she gets the stuff she actually wants to talk about.

Clinton also has a broad path around the traditional media. More than most politicians, she has a walk on hot coals for Hillary level of support, and those folks think the media is out to get her. And her challengers, on issues or for votes, can easily be addresses in unfiltered public statements rather than through interviews. She can say a lot in 140 characters.

In the social media era, the role of the traditional journalist in politics is shrinking. People, especially young people, get their news from their friend's feeds. And they TRUST their friends more than they trust some old reporter.

Anyone with a well-followed Twitter account can get a "scoop" as easily as the top political reporter in the state, if it's fed to them. Why hand it to a paper when you can hand it to a key activist - or, if you're a key activist, why not do it yourself?

Running against the media has long been a successful strategy for Republicans.  Obviously, it's not a strategy I, as a former professional journalist, can endorse.

But it might be a strategy that will work.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Six Term Bill?

I don't like term limits. Maybe it's because I believe every office has term limits, called "elections." Or maybe it's because my first ever vote was for William Proxmire's sixth term.
As I predicted yesterday, the nativists are restless following Hillary's immigration speech. But maybe, in an alternate universe with no 22nd Amendment, Obama COULD win a third term.

Except...  in an alternate universe with no 22nd Amendment, Bill Clinton is in his sixth term.

Well, can't be proven or disproven. But considering that Bill actually GAINED popularity after impeachment, he would have been a hell of a lot stronger candidate for the Democrats in 2000 that Al Gore. Who at the very least got a half million more votes that W, and at the very worst... well, let's just say Bill could have found 537 more votes in Florida, Jeb or no Jeb.

So that's three terms and sets up Bill vs. John McCain in 2004. Which depends on whether 9/11 happens or not in this alternate universe. Could Bill have headed off 9/11 given eight more months? And if not, would he have gone out of his way to get into Iraq like Presdent Cheney did? One thing for sure: McCain would have had a different running mate. (Hopefully by this point Bill would have dumped Gore as well.)

Assuming Bill wins term 4, who does the GOP put up in 2008? Mike Huckabee couldn't have out-bubba'd Bubba himself. and if a time machine is ever invented, I want to visit the timeline where we get a Bill Clinton vs. Mitt Romney class war election.

But by now we're in a scenario with no Iraq war, no Bush backlash in 2006, no Obama changing the electorate surge in 2008, and no obvious Republican candidate for 2012 (with Jeb Bush a long forgotten footnote who couldn't even deliver Florida for his brother). Too many variables. And maybe by this point Hillary tells Bill to quit bogarting all the terms. But that still gets us to five terms, so six is not beyond imagining.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Clinton on Immigration: The Left Gets Something

When Hillary Clinton announced for president last month, I wrote "the left wants... something."

"And maybe Clinton can do that," I speculated. "Probably not on foreign policy, and maybe not on economics. Maybe, on social-cultural issues, she can find the right words, the right facet of the record, to persuade enough of the Democratic left to undercut the opposition."

Part of what the left wants, though they don't quite articulate it as such, is for Democrats to attack and challenge the Republican base.

And today, Hillary Clinton brought it.
“Now this is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side,” she said. “Make no mistakes. Today not a single Republican candidate - announced or potential - is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one.” 

“When they talk about ‘legal status’ that is code for second-class status,” she added. 

“I will fight for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship,” she said. “I will fight to stop partisan attacks on the executive action that would put dreamers with us today at risk of deportation. If congress refuses to act, as president I would do everything under the law to go even further.”
Parents of DREAMers is even more than Obama offered. And I don't see any of Obama's patronizing "learn English" qualifiers either.

This is a poke in the eye... no, that's too weak. This is a giant middle finger to the Stave King, Don't Make Me Press 1 For English, Mass Deportation rural Republican base. This is culture war. This will enrage the right, and launch infinite rants about The Dummycrats Packing The Voter Rolls With Illegals.

It's relatively safe, because it's supported by almost all Democrats, most independents, and the business wing of the Republicans. Only the Know-Nothings, with their disproportionate clout in Republican primaries, is opposed.

But the Democratic base will love it precisely because it will make Steve King and his ilk foam at the mouth, far more than the socialist musings of Bernie Sanders will. That's just economics. To the nativists, this is identity. The denunciations coming in 3... 2... 1...

Monday, May 04, 2015

A Caucus Decision

I've made my caucus decision for 2016. Actually, I made it a month or so ago, and was waiting for the right moment. But a national reporter scooped me on my own endorsement, so I'll make it official.

Before I do, I'm going to walk you through some of my personal history with the Iowa caucuses, because it explains why.

I am an Iowan because of the caucuses. I came to Iowa City in 1990 as a grad student hoping to write The Definitive Academic Study Of The Iowa Caucuses. Thanks to Tom Harkin, 1992 was the wrong cycle to do that, and I got sidetracked by journalism and local politics and life.

No regrets; the most valuable thing I learned in grad school was that I did not belong in grad school. In the end, the universe needed me to write this blog instead, and Dave Redlawsk took care of Definitive Academic Study Of The Iowa Caucuses. Though I have considered turning District Of The Day in for academic credit, since it's long enough to be a dissertation.

When I got here, the caucus wounds of 1988 were still raw. Johnson County was Paul Simon and Jesse Jackson territory. Dick Gephardt was a very weak fifth, in part because we were about the only Bruce Babbitt hot spot anywhere.

Back then, precinct chairs reported their results to the county chair, and the county chair called Des Moines when the county was complete. The way the story goes: the county chair, a Gephardt guy, supposedly waited until the Register had printed its GEPHARDT WINS headline before he called in with our numbers. There are people who are STILL angry about this, and who STILL believe "Simon really won Iowa," even though that long ago chair and Paul Simon are both dead.

Some people - there's a non-random amount of overlap - are also still mad about 1996 of all years. The marching orders from Des Moines were "President Clinton WILL have a unanimous re-nomination," but a handful of midtown Iowa City precincts elected some Uncommitted and Ralph Nader delegates. The results did not get reported. Eventually I found the local paperwork and corrected the historic record.

(Now, in large part because of incidents like these, results go directly from the precincts to Des Moines.)

In 2000, the moment it became clear that Bill Bradley was the only challenger to Al Gore, I started walking on hot coals for Bradley. There was a lot of pushback. Party leadership in Des Moines and DC made it very clear that the Vice President did not want a nomination contest and that they were very disappointed in us. The quote I'll never forget: "All the GOOD Democrats are for Gore."

Johnson County was the number one Bill Bradley county in the country. In November I voted for Nader. No regrets.

I had started this site by 2003, so in the archives you can see I committed to Howard Dean very early. But well before caucus night, I'd been pulled away from doing much Dean stuff. By December 2003 there was no Johnson County Democratic Party remaining. There were just campaign crews. We had gone through two chairs in two months because they'd gotten involved in campaigns.  No one was left to make sure the actual caucuses HAPPENED.

About four of us tried to get it done, and we damn near dropped the ball. The state party got our delegate math wrong, we ran out of every form, and turnout was so overwhelming we actually signed people in on paper towels. (Rumor also says pizza boxes - I believe it, but never actually saw the box.) We overpacked every room everywhere and the fire marshal almost threw us out of the Iowa Memorial Union.

I was there for Barack Obama's first two tests of the Iowa waters in 2006, the Harkin Steak Fry and the Ped Mall rally two days before the election. I was at the announcement day event in Cedar Rapids. By then I knew. But I was never too active in the Obama caucus campaign.  I got the professional writing gig with Iowa Independent (RIP) right about the time the campaigning got serious. So I never "endorsed," but most people who knew me knew where I was.

By 2012 I was back on amateur status and publicly backed Obama, but spent most of my time on caucus logistics. I met with the Uncommitteds, who were viable in Johnson County, to explain rules. As I described the video message from the president, they called it an "Obama Nuremburg Rally." (Yep, the Paul Simon Got Screwed people again.)  While they listened to me on rules and math, I felt some distrust because I'd been up front with them that I was supporting the president.

Three points here with these old war stories.

1: There are people in and/or around the Democratic Party, some reasonable and some not, some old and some new, who walk in on caucus night expecting to get screwed by the system. I've been on both sides of that. People who feel like the fix was in may not come around in the fall, and the consequences can be long-term.

2: There are very, very few people who both know how to organize a county-wide set of caucuses AND are willing to take time away from the candidate campaigns to do so. We saw that all too clearly on the Republican side in 2012, but in fairness the Democrats have made plenty of mistakes over the years too. We just didn't make them in a tied race.

3. In 2004 and 2008 I got to caucus for candidates who were compelling personal favorites. And in 2000 I had only one anti-Gore option. This cycle is different, so now let's get to my choice.

No one considering or already in the race is unacceptable to me, the way Gore was. I WILL be voting for the Democratic nominee in November 2016. (Actually, probably as soon as I can in late September at a satellite voting site.)

My first choice was Elizabeth Warren.

I said "was." Because about a month ago I came to the reluctant conclusion that nothing is going to get her into the race. This means I'm not burning with a need to endorse someone.

I have a few concerns about Hillary Clinton, some of which are being addressed and some of which I know won't be. But having played the gender card so hard in other recent races, it's harder for me to come out for one of the old straight white males either. (One of the many reasons Warren was my first choice.)

Despite the gender card thing, I like Martin O'Malley a lot, and was grateful for his frequent Iowa visits for state and local candidates. I have yet to see Lincoln Chaffee or Jim Webb.

I'm a long time Bernie Sanders fan, back to those abortive grad school days. But having seen him live now, I give him a 10 on issues but about a 3 on style. And frankly his local supporters have been negligent or even hostile in reaching out to the party regulars.

Funny thing is, the "party regulars" and even elected officials in Johnson County would be considered the Radical Left in most counties. Case in point: The New York Times citing me of all people in an article headlined "Hillary Clinton Courts the Democratic Left," when the left of the left here thinks I'm "establishment."

Yet other than a few purely local issues, I think I have a reputation as being opinionated but fair, especially at number crunching and election rules and laws, but also in my writing. People who've been on barely speaking terms come around and ask me when they need those kinds of answers, and even the Republicans think I'm "98% fair."

My day job in the auditor's office just enhances that credibility, and also keeps me in constant shape on the logistics of elections and election-like events.  As I've noted: the difference between a caucus and an election is that an election is my job and I get paid government union goon wages to do the work. In a caucus I do many of the same tasks except I not only don't get paid I have to use vacation time to do it.

I've co-chaired our county convention credentials committee since 1996, been in the loop of site set up and chair recruitment since 2000, and coordinated the caucuses for my county from beginning to end in the 2014 off-year cycle.  Someone has to, and I'm going to do it again. (I'm going to need a LOT of help.)

And because someone has to organize the actual caucuses and I'm good at it, and because I don't have a compelling favorite, and because there are always people suspicious of the process and the party, I've made the decision to be neutral in the presidential race.

At least for now, probably till the very end. Neutral is not Uncommitted and it is not None Of The Above. I will, at alignment time, pick my corner.  Before then, some candidate may say or do something disqualifying. And there's still a non-zero, but near-zero, chance that Warren changes her mind.

Neutral is a strange place for an opinionated guy like me. And maybe I'm making too big a deal of myself with this announcement. High-level electeds and county chairs do the Neutral thing, not rank and file activists. But right now Neutral feels like the best place to be.

It'll make me better able to meet with and work with the representatives of all campaigns. It'll make it clear that my only agenda is running a good caucus and building the Democratic Party. And it may help with my writing. As much as I hate the American media paradigm of Objectivity, it's still an expectation people have. From a Neutral stance I'll better be able to cover, and have more access to, all the campaigns, Democratic and Republican.

All campaigns, feel free to twist my arm. And I still owe my mentors who fed me in Cedar Rapids in 1992 a bunch of lunches for staffers. I'll give you my best judgement, and maybe I'll walk to your corner in the end.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Dems Caucus Changes Official

In a low key meeting last week, Iowa Democrats approved, with virtually no change from the first draft, changes to the Democratic caucus process proposed in late March.

The state central committee approved the 2016 national delegate selection plan after a month-long public comment period.

The main change is the implementation of "satellite caucuses" and a tele-caucus for military personnel.  The moves are seen as must-do to protect Iowa's first in the nation status.

I examined the proposed changes in a dissertation-length four part post, so I'll just link and summarize.

Part 1 looked at why the changes are happening. We were much criticized in 2008, over both our first in the nation role and for our Must Be Present To Play rules. There was some self-interest in those attacks, which mainly came from the Clinton campaign and from states that tried to cut in line. But they had a point.  This cycle, it was made clear to Iowa very early that if we wanted to keep First we would need to address some of the participation issues affecting shift workers and military personnel.

Part 2 explained just what is being done. There will be one military tele-caucus for the state, and X number of satellite caucuses at "sites that have a sizable number of Democrats who are willing to participate in a satellite caucus but could not otherwise participate in their precinct caucuses."  For purposes of explanation I offered two Johnson County examples: University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the Oaknoll retirement community.

In Part 3, I look at how the military and satellite caucuses affect delegate math: not much. They'll function sort of like a 100th and 101st county. The math is still incomplete until the state central committee sets the state convention size at a May 16 meeting in Waterloo. But based on past years, the satellite caucuses would rank 99th in an imaginary 101 county Iowa, and the military caucus would be the smallest "county" in the state.

I'd write Part 4, where I express some fears, differently today now that Hillary Clinton and  Bernie Sanders have announced their candidacies.

The Scooby Road Trip made me feel better. True, Hillary's contact was all with either relatively random people at the two publicly announced events, or with walk on hot coals for Hillary die-hards at the unannounced events. No skeptical Dems, no wide open random Q & A, no press. But coming to Iowa first was a big deal gesture, and the coverage and reaction were overwhelmingly positive.

This may not be a conventional Iowa caucus campaign - the media circus around the visit indicates that may be very difficult. But that was the FIRST trip. On the third, fifth, eighth trip, that may settle down and maybe there will be some genuine, "spirit of the caucuses" events.

(I keep getting bashed for that phrase... but I'm still damn proud of that post. Maybe I've grumbled too much since, but it was written as an in the moment analysis, and in the context of January 2, 2008, it was dead on.)

One of my concerns was that Team Hillary would overkill the satellite caucus, petitioning for dozens of sites as a "show of support." Since then, the Hillary staffers have hit the ground and I've had lunch with a couple. That's one of the first assignments of any field staffer: meet with the Key Local Activists. And that's one of the jobs of the Key Local Activists. Sanders, O'Malley, Webb, Chaffee staffers: call me when you get here.

(My rule, which should be the rule for everyone everywhere: when New Staffer and Key Local Activist have lunch, Key Local Activist buys. I'm repaying everyone who bought me lunch in Cedar Rapids on the 1992 campaign, and the staffers will pay me back by buying someone lunch when they're Key Activists in the 2040 campaign.)

The answer I got, to paraphrase, is that Team Hillary is busy enough trying to line up people for the regular precinct caucuses that they don't seem interested in giving themselves even more work with satellite caucuses.

Also, it seems my Part 3 satellite caucus math post has made the rounds and people realize that the delegate stakes of the satellite caucuses are very small.

The stakes are large, of course, if you can't participate any other way. And the stakes are HUGE if you're a state getting told "do this or you lose First."

While I originally preferred a different way of handling the Must Be Present question, the decision had been made, and as Johnson County's point person for caucus night logicstics, I'm committed to making it work.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Two Thoughts On The Bullying Bill

1. Why won't someone just say it: The House Republicans are blocking the bullying bill because they think calling The Different Kid "faggot" is Religious Liberty? And because they don't want anyone anywhere to tell that different kid who may or may not be gay that it's OK?

I guess I just did.

2. As a bullying survivor, who got called "faggot" plenty of times despite my incredibly unsubtle and hilariously inept adolescent attempts to Get With The Ladies, my bullying bill is short: Bullies should be expelled. Period.