Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Have Faith

These are dark days. Yesterday people were literally Sieg Heiling Mein Trumpf.

But flipping the channels a saw a little hope - in my new favorite ad. Most times the shorter version is run; this is the full cut.

Searching for the clip I learned that the official name for the Amazon spot is "Old Friends," a priest and an imam, in a ecumenical friendship that's not uncommon for the clergy. They visit, the visit ends, and they both strain a little to stand up. As they part they both get the same idea and get each other kneepads, bright green neon kneepads, as a gift.  Amazon delivers - this is, after all, an ad - they chuckle at their mutual insight, and they each go to their house of worship and pray, wearing their new kneepads.

Coming just days after a candidate who pledged to end Muslim immigration was elected president, this is a powerful statement delivered in a gentle tone.

But that's only secondary. Because the purpose of any advertising is primarily to sell your product. Amazon clearly believes, and has probably focus grouped and tested, that a positive portrayal of an Islamic faith leader will lead to you ordering more Stuff. Diversity is good for business.

And so is faith. This ad is a rare appeal across the current polarized cultural lines. The diversity angle for the left is easy, sure. But just as interesting is the positive portrayal of religious faith, which the right often complains is too rare in popular culture.

The central motivation driving the ad is prayer - the faith component and the physical component. And the distinct prayer image is important.  I don't know my faith garb well so I wasn't 100% sure the imam was an imam. I wondered if he was some sort of Eastern rite Christian, still ecumenical but not AS ecumenical, until he prayed in the distinctive Islamic forehead to ground prayer style.

The purchases (this is an ad) are made because each clergyman recognizes that the other's aging knees make the physical part of prayer harder. The kneepads mean that the priest and the imam can pay less attention to their aging bodies and focus more on the Father Son and Holy Spirit or Allah, whatever you call God.

An ad may be a small thing to base hope on right now, but I'll take what I can get.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Long Delayed Post-Canvass Number Cruncher

It feels like an exercise in Don't Blame Us denial of the reality of Trump's America and Branstad's Trifecta to even take a close look at the elections results from Johnson County. That and the need to physically recuperate are why I've been taking this at my own pace.

There's value, though, in looking at our local trends, and since no one else will and since my remaining readers demand it, let's dig in. If you're gonna read this, you may want this monster spreadsheet and the presidential numbers back to Warren G. Harding.

Iowa was a national poster child for the dramatic swing away from the Democrats. But the Johnson County election returns looked like... normal Johnson County election returns.

Hillary Clinton slipped just 1.44% and 466 votes from Barack Obama's 2012 numbers. Donald Trump, meanwhile, fell 3.8% and 2654 votes off Mitt Romney's pace. This left Hillary with a bigger raw vote margin over The Donald than Barack had over The Mitt.

I said all along that Trump would have trouble topping 25% here, and his 27.35 was just barely above George HW's worst-ever for a major party nominee 27.12% in 1992.

That, of course, was a true three-way race with Ross Perot taking one in six votes here. This year the third parties got 7.4% but it scattered among the eight other options on the ballot... and some who were not.

Gary Johnson soaked up 3.6% of the total vote. Close to a third of that is the regular Libertarian vote (1.1% in 2012). My gut check is that more of the remainder came out of Trump than Clinton, if only because the Republican numbers dropped more and because of my unsubstantiated rule of thumb that Libertarians pull two GOP votes to one Democratic vote.

Jill Stein bumped up from 0.4 to 1.1, but that's way below the Green's best with Ralph Nader's 6% from 2000.  Also compare Clinton's 65% to Al Gore's 61.

The Legal Marijuana Now Dude got about one vote a precinct. And if Gloria LaRiva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation stays on track, she should be POTUS by the 5016 election. Four votes in 2008, 10 in 2012, 35 this year. (Hey, I interviewed her, I get to make fun of the numbers.)

But the standout stats in the Also Ran numbers are the write ins. As recently as 2004, only 60 voters used the presidential write in line. That jumped to the 300 range in 2008 and 2012, largely thanks to Ron Paul and to a lesser extent the 2008 Hillary PUMAs. This year, the write ins tripled to 964, topping the 1 percent mark. Also notable: 536 people simply left president blank.

I don't want to take the time and I don't want to encourage it so I'm not diving into how many of those were Bernie or Bust and How many of those were Never Trump (Evan McMullin was just under 1%).

Remember that 14 percent stat from 2014? Make that a rule. Once again we are the most Democratic county in the statewide races by a very consistent margin: 14.7% better than Story for Hillary, and  13.7 better than Story for Patty Judge.

And, as for Roxanne Conlin in 2010 and Jack Hatch in 2014, the only win.

Dave Loebsack ran "only" 9.5 percent better here than in his next best county, thanks to a strong Jefferson County result. And Loebsack led the local ticket, with some 400 votes more than Clinton. Roughly 8000 voters cast a Clinton-Grassley-Loebsack ballot. The "Fluke" congressman has now been in DC longer than Iowa Democratic legends Dave Nagle, Berkeley Bedell, Dick Clark, or Harold Hughes.

At the precinct level, we see the same rural-urban split in Johnson County that we see in the nation. Iowa City proper was a 72-20 Hillary blowout. It should not surprise you but Clinton's lowest percentages were in the pure student precincts, with just a 59-33% at Iowa City 3 (west side dorms) and mid-60s in other student precincts. (Iowa City: where mid-60s is a weak D precinct.)

That's not write ins and not third party votes (Gary Johnson was at a consistent 2 to 5 % across the county). The simple fact that people always forget about college towns is that it is NOT the undergrad student vote that makes them liberal. A lot of those undergrads are from small Iowa towns or outer Chicago suburbs and still to some extent follow parental leads. No, what makes college towns liberal is grad students and faculty and staff.

Which is why Clinton's best numbers were in that next layer out from downtown, the near east side, topping out at 82-11 in precinct 18 (Longfellow) and 80-13 at precinct 17 (the former City High precinct). In Johnson County, even the `burbs are better than anywhere else in the state for Dems: 68-25% in Coralville and 59-32% in North Liberty.Please don't tell Bob and Sue Dvorsky or Amy Nielsen I called Coralville and North Liberty `burbs.

Speaking of Nielsen, even holding a good legislative seat in a year this awful is an achievement. Any's 58-42 win over Royce Phillips closely mirror's Sally Stutsman's 60-40 win when this seat was open and new in the much better climate of 2012. Phillips generally did better the more rural the precinct, but also carried the Jeffersons (Airplane and Starship, better known as West and East or Shueyville and Swisher).

Donald Trump also won the Jeffersons and seven other precincts outside the urban part of the county, mainly from among the pure farm precincts but also including Oxford.

There really wasn't much more to see locally. We were bystanders in the battle for State Senate control. Bragging rights in the uncontested races go to Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek over Auditor Travis Weipert and to Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass (in her third win of the year) over Rod Sullivan and Kurt Friese. Sullivan, though, gets to keep bragging rights as the first voter in the election.

The county still casts 31.5% of its vote on straight tickets and Democrats had more than a 10,000 vote advantage on that alone - one of the reasons Republicans have such a hard time in general elections for local office, and one of the reasons the New GOP Trifecta may eliminate the option.

The Iowa City Referendum Referendum won the early vote handily and the election day vote barely, for a 58-42 win largely along traditional Iowa City progressive vs. townie lines.

That early vs. Election Day split was as usual consistent across races. When the absentee numbers went up at 9:00 on Election Night, way back in another lifetime when there was hope, Hillary had a 76-19% lead, which slipped through the evening because of the smaller 53-37% Election Day total.

Johnson County set its fifth consecutive presidential turnout record this cycle. The last time it dropped was from 1992 to 1996, which I blame on me being on the `96 ballot. The final (canvass was today) count stands at 77,476, up from 76,199 in 2012.

That wasn't as big a jump as my projection of 83,000 voters. And yet we were still rushing ballots out to polling places on Election Day. For the first time since early voting got serious in Iowa in 1992, the percentage of votes cast before Election Day edged down, from 58% in 2012 to 53%. The raw number of early votes slipped a little, too, while Election Day voting was up by about 4,000.

Some of that may be late decisions. Others, I heard second hand, were saying "I want to see the ballot go in the machine," as the shadow of a heavy ballot challenging effort in 2004 still looms long.

Within the early vote, there was a shift toward voting at the auditor's office, and away from satellite sites and mailed ballots. Some of this was strategy, as Democrats made their vote by mail efforts later after learning the hard way in past cycles that requests gathered at the door in June are garbage. (Wonder how those requests forms from Caucus Night performed. I don't know, I took the requests out of the Johnson County caucus packets.)

The Johnson County satellite schedule was less extensive this cycle. Though we got the IMU back for the first presidential election post-2008 flood, we lost two of the best performing dorms, Burge and Hillcrest Halls, to increased handicapped accessibility standards. And I'm still mad at Hy-Vee for turning us down. Lucky's was more hospitable, and had an AC/DC pinball machine in the voting area, but only drew 240 voters compared to the 400+ we used to get at 1st Avenue Hy-Vee.

Some of the shift was the voter's choice to come to the office rather than try parking downtown at the public library. We had a smooth operation and were regularly processing over 500 voters a day, peaking at 1800 the day before the election. More people voted at the office in 2016 than in 2008 and 2012 combined.

It may be a good thing that people got used to coming to the office. I expect satellite voting to be banned soon after the legislature convenes, and for the early voting window to get shorter. (Office voting and mail will survive, because Republicans like and use those methods.)  With no satellites and, say, two weeks of voting instead of six, 1800 voters in a day will feel like a picnic.

Still, better than no options at all. We're still working on the election day registrations, but through 6 PM at least 2653 voters had used that option. I'm at the point where I just want the session to get here and the hammer to fall so I'll know what the rules will be and can start adapting to the New Order.

Turf We Can't Control: The Impact of the Election on the People's Republic

"The central problem that we grappled with last fall is the gap that separates the Head Culture from activist politics. Somewhere in the nightmare of failure that gripped America between 1965 and 1970, the old Berkeley-born notion of beating The System by fighting it gave way to a sort of numb conviction that it made more sense in the long run to Flee, or even to simply hide, than to fight the bastards on anything even vaguely resembling their own terms....

Most of us are living here because we like the idea of being able to walk out our front doors and smile at what we see. The world is full of places where a man can run wild on drugs and loud music and firepower -- but not for long. I lived a block above Haight Street for two years but by the end of '66 the whole neighborhood had become a cop-magnet and a bad sideshow. Between the narcs and the psychedelic hustlers, there was not much room to live...

What happened in the Haight echoed earlier scenes in North Beach and the Village. . . and it proved, once again, the basic futility of seizing turf you can't control."

Hunter Thompson, The Battle Of Aspen: Freak Power In The Rockies, 1970

Strip away the 60s-specific references and that's where the People's Republic of Johnson County finds itself now.

While we remain a Democratic bulwark, we have failed to persuade our neighbors - literally, as we made great efforts to assist Muscatine-based Senator Chris Brase, one of the many swept out Tuesday. I could post that map again, like I did for Roxanne Conlin and Jack Hatch, showing us as the only county for Patty Judge, but that would feel like Don't Blame Me Told Ya So bragging. (And we have enough of that from some folks, and you know who you are, at the moment. Too soon.)

The last couple years have seen great progressive gains in Johnson County. But our purely local gains, most notably our minimum wage but also our Community IDs and our jail alternatives and our ease of voting and our no gun zones and maybe most critically our already strained mental health system, are now at the mercy (ironic word, that) of the Lock Them Up, Send Them Back, Papers Please state and national government.
Perhaps it's a littler better on a personal level - not safe, but maybe in less danger - to be brown or out or different in a community with our values. But let's not kid ourselves. We're not an inherently Better or More Progressive place than anywhere else.

We're a self-interested place.

What makes academic communities like Iowa City and Madison and Berkeley and Ann Arbor liberal enclaves is NOT the mass of undergrad students. Most of them come from those small towns or outer suburbs that voted for Trump, and they often follow the lead of their parents. They're also more likely to be going through their Atlas Shrugged phase and go on a third party tangent.  Which is why Hillary Clinton's numbers are slightly lower (in the 60%s rather than 70s and 80s)  in the core Iowa City student precincts than they were in the rest of urban Johnson County, by 8 or 10 points

No, what makes academic communities, especially public university towns, is the faculty and staff. We've seen the correlation of higher education levels and lower trump percentages. But Another facet to that is that Republican tax and spending cut rhetoric doesn't work when the highest paid people in your community are paid with tax dollars. Your spending cut comes out of my lab.

And in a revolt that had anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism as some of its roots, the public university that fuels our local economy is at the mercy of a Board of Regents full of political minions (a lesson we should have all learned with the appointment of Bruce Harreld) and a governor and legislature that do not share our values, that do not see us as a resource to the whole state but rather as a tax drain on the 96 counties in Iowa which don't have a Regents university.

Just because YOU don't know anyone who voter for Trump (or, more likely, who admitted to it) doesn't mean they weren't a majority in Iowa. We are living in turf we can't control, and it's payback time.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

What The Iowa GOP Trifecta Means For Voting

I'm still transitioning from the professional to the political on this night after the election, so I'm not yet capable to dig into the deep meaning of the election. So I'll stay in the professional zone and go over what the Republican takeover of the Iowa Senate, and thus the whole state government, will do to election law and process in Iowa.

Photo ID is of course a given.  It's dogma to the party base, it's explained with simplistic arguments ("I have to show an ID to do X, Y and Z...") and opposed only with complex meta-arguments about disproportionally. And mostly because that very disproportionally makes it so effective in its true intent: keeping Undesirables from voting. In most states this would mean ethnic minorities, but in Iowa it also means young mobile people in particular students.  The only question is how strict the law will be.

Next on the chopping block is satellite voting. Folks in campus counties and bigger cities, like the only six counties that Hillary carried last night, like the convenience of voting at their campus or a library or a hospital. People are more likely to vote where they spend their lives, so campus sites are crucial to the student vote.  The small counties with scattered small towns don't have the critical mass of population or the high-traffic locations to justify the sites, and they simply don't work. (Wal-Mart refuses at the corporate level to host early voting sites. I've tried.)
Of all the voting options available to Iowans, satellite voting produces the strongest Democratic percentages. Margins of 8 to 10 Democrats to one Republican are pretty common at the Iowa City Public Library. And since urban Democrats like satellite voting and rural Republicans don't use it, satellite voting is dead.

Satellite voting is "oh, I can vote here today?" while voting at the auditor's office is more like,  "I'm going to be out of town Tuesday so I need to vote." Which is why voting at your auditor's office will likely survive.

Older people and Lifelong Residents (Iowa City voters know that code term) are much more likely to know where the courthouse is, what the hours are, and are more likely to plan ahead. Even in Johnson County, in elections other than general elections, the office vote leans older and more conservative that the average of the electorate. I've called many local elections wrong because I spend all day waiting on old Republicans crossing over for a primary and asking "how soon can I change back."

Office voting is likely to change, though, probably with far fewer days than the long-standing 40 day voting window for primary and general elections.

Voting by mail will also survive, because it's the method Republicans are most likely to use. Mass mailings of absentee requests  (which Democrats do too) net a lot of GOP seniors.

The restrictions here are instead likely to focus on how requests can be made and how ballots are returned, under the cynical rationale of "ballot security."  “I believe no one should be touching your absentee ballot except you, an authorized election official or a postal worker,” Secretary of State Paul Pate has said. So door knocking for absentee requests could be curtailed, and ballot chasing could be restricted or eliminated - and it's Democrats who do those things.

On-line voter registration may also survive, in part because that welcome innovation was Pate's baby and in part because it requires that Iowa driver's license which newcomers and out of state students don't have.

Election day registration was one of the first things the Democratic trifecta did in 2007. The question is whether it's popular enough with the public to survive. My gut feeling is not, or that it will be changed Wisconsin-style to something so narrow as to be almost unusable (like the cannabis oil law). More likely the pre-registration deadline will be pushed back to 20 or 30 days.

Clean redistricting is probably too deeply embedded in the Iowa political culture to come under attack. It's also not a "necessary" change because the GOP is doing just fine with the law as is. And meddling with it would probably prove unpopular with independents.

I wouldn't be surprised to see an earlier poll closing time discussed. Iowa closes at a relatively late 9 PM for primary and general elections. Republicans and sadly some Democrats have supported rolling that back to 8, which is the closing time for local elections. But Democratic legislators have always stopped it. My own look at the numbers shows that the 8 to 9 hour gets about as many voters as any other part of the day.

Finally, one change is happening without legislative action. Gary Johnson topped the 2 percent bar in Iowa, which gives the Libertarian Party their long sought goal of full party status. The main difference from the "political organization" status they currently share with the Greens is that there will now be a Libertarian primary in 2018. The signature levels for a just barely big enough to qualify party to get its candidates on the ballot in Iowa are minuscule, and primary turnout is likely to be just as minuscule. My county had 44 voters in the last third party primary, for the Greens in 2002. The practical effect is a lot more printing costs and testing time for auditors, for ballots few people will use.

We Did Our Part

Record turnout.

A bigger margin for Hillary over Trump than Obama won over Romney.

Patty Judge carries the county.

Dave Loebsack wins again.

Three of the surviving 18 Democratic state senators.

Amy Nielsen holding an open House seat.

An all-Democratic courthouse.

A percieved "progressive" win on the petition issue

In the brutal post mortem that will follow, don't you DARE let anyone say Johnson County didn't do its part.

That's all I got right now.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Last Thoughts Pre-Election

Election eve - and with the absentee ballot board coming in early tomorrow, it's my election eve - is a strange time for me. I live in the world of politics and elections all the time. It's normally a small and insular world.

But once every four years - NOT in mid-terms, which we need to work on! - once every four years it's everyone's world. And I get to see the beautiful diversity of my many layered community coming through my office. Wave after wave, layer after layer, communities within my community that I barely oven notice existing at other times.

It's enlightening and uplifting and it's helped make up for the fearful climate of this year.

This is my fifth presidential cycle at my job. (The cycle before that I was a candidate and the one before that I was a staffer.) I've averaged 70 hour weeks the last two, and I'm two weeks past my last day off.

I made a brief stop at the headquarters after work. The office was filled, with people I don't know and who don't know who I am. It's ironic - as deeply embedded in the political community as I am, yet at the very moment the process peaks, I'm an outsider. Or, rather, I'm so deep inside that I can't see anything except this handful of bad absentee ballots that I'm desperately trying to get voters to fix.

Sometime in the week since I last drove the car, my sons figured out how to work the satellite radio, and in my brief drive I found the 80s college radio station. It was playing "Rise" by Public Image Limited, and Johnny Rotten Lyden was howling over and over:

Anger is an energy... anger is an energy... anger is an energy... anger is an energy...

When I was 22 and playing that then-new song on college radio, my anger was aimed straight at Ronald Reagan who I was convinced would draft and kill me, and that anger WAS an energy.

But at age 52, and in the context of this election, it scared the crap out of me.

I parked in the driveway and tried to figure out what it meant. If you're looking for hope, don't turn to Johnny Rotten. Was close to tears until my wife startled me, and teased me for playing it so loud loud enough to hear in the house. Loud enough that even the teenage kids were complaining and how's that for role reversal.

Our state has been the definitive counter-trend state of this election, and that poll last night was troubling.

But I'll tell you something else. There's something I've seen more this election from voters - by that I mean not generic voters but actual people coming into my office to vote right now - something I've seen more this year than any other election.


Passports that are obviously very new.

As if to prove beyond any doubt and any accusation that they whatever the color of their skin, they are real Americans.

At one point I helped someone who is well known in the community register for the first time. A name you would know. I was unaware they had not been a citizen until just days before. And I get the feeling that many others hustled along on the naturalization process to make sure not to miss this election.

And it has always been new Americans who made America great. Again.