May 12 2014

Looking back, looking forward…

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Shelby County


The Election that barely was, and the election to come

It kinda almost felt like this would happen.

It kinda almost felt like this would happen.

Before I begin, I want to congratulate all the candidates who ran in the Democratic and Republican primaries that just concluded. Your desire to serve your community is admirable, whether we agree on the specifics or not.

As a candidate in recovery (potentially backsliding maybe some day), I can say I understand what many of you went through, and the sacrifices you made to run. Running, in and of itself, is a service to your community. You have given your community the opportunity to make a choice. The outcome doesn’t diminish the service.

I understand if that feels like cold comfort now, but it helped get me through the dark days of late summer 2012.

/endniceties

Now that the election is over, just about everyone is looking to analyze what happened. The Election Commission doesn’t have any reports up now, so all we have are these breakdowns from the CA. They’re helpful in that they’re also all we have. But no one should read too much into the top line results beyond who won.

I know that won’t stop folks…and it won’t stop me from saying a few things now, but those precinct by precinct numbers are instructive. I’ll be reserving a lot of judgement until I can go through those numbers.

Until then, here’s some observation, mixed with wild speculation, and a smdige of history.

Turnout didn’t turn out

Where are the voters?

Where are the voters?

There were just over 10k fewer voters in this May primary as opposed to 2010.

The bulk of this is because of depressed GOP turnout (down over 12k votes from 2010). This is probably due to the majority of the primaries already being decided on the GOP side of the ballot. Its interesting that about 2100 more Democrats showed up this time as opposed to last. This is probably due to a perceived tight race at the top of the ticket, and some really tight ones down ticket (I’m talking to you District 10).

Since the last couple of days of Early Voting, everyone has been bemoaning the low turnout. I attribute this to a bunch of things, but the two top ones are

1. No GOP top of ticket contests. – 12,000 GOP voters stayed at home. Had they showed, turnout would be higher (slightly) than 2010. I guarantee they won’s stay home in August.

2. The nature of the Primary – The short answer is its an insiders game (that includes the outside edges of the inside). This one takes a little bit longer to explain…and it may warrant a separate post, but the long and the short of it is, who gets targeted to receive mailers, phone calls and the like matters, and that list of people is diminishing with each passing election due to the way primaries are run and targeted. In short, its a diminishing returns game.

Here’s free observation number 3 (they’re all free, right?)

3. Where people did turnout was interesting. – In early voting, Districts 9 and 10 made up 25% of the total turnout (Dem and GOP participation). That slipped a little on election day I think, but I won’t know until all the reports are out (looks like about 22%, but that’s still high considering they’re only 15% of the County). Healthy and close (one decided by 26 votes apparently) elections drove that turnout…along with some high profile candidates.

Apples and Oranges

There aren’t too many lessons to take from the May Primary and apply to the August election (which is a split Primary/General).

There are some lessons to be learned from the history of the August elections generally.

1. Primary Voters – Which primary ballots voters choose will be important, but not necessarily 100% instructive. County voters don’t see a large partisan divide in most county-wide races. Candidates that have tried to “reach across the aisle” have been generally successful county-wide.

2. Precincts Matter – Where the voters come from will also be important. Its an open primary (for State and Federal offices). There are plenty of ticket splitters (folks that vote for both R’s and D’s) that vote in a party’s primary based on their importance to them/personal relationships…rather than pure partisan preference. Also, there are many areas of the County where the primary decides the election (11 of the 17 State House and Senate races) which can lead to some surprising outcomes.

3. Weak State Slate – Statewide races at the top of the ballot are not compelling…at this point – There is no significant contest in the GOP primary for Governor. No one candidate for Governor in the Democratic Primary has really distinguished themselves in Shelby Co. Lamar! is being challenged by a whackadoo, a perennial candidate, and some folks I’ve never heard of. The Democratic Senate Primary features a Democrat for Haslam, another perennial candidate, and an underfunded newcomer.

That’s the hard reality. The top race in August, outside of the County races themselves, may be Cohen vs. Wilkins. Based on August election history, I expect turnout of about 130k +/-10% countywide.

4. Contact Matters – In 2010, only two Democratic candidates sent a mailer to my home. Two. No one in this house has ever voted in a GOP primary…ever. Yet I received three to four mailers from Mark Luttrell. So did most of my neighbors. My precinct is a 60-40 Democratic split in November, but in August, when the candidates are not as well known, it can shift. The lesson: don’t depend on partisanship winning out over courtship. If you don’t contact your voters, don’t expect them to vote for you. (It should be noted, the two that did send mailers to my precinct, won the precinct 60/40 as expected.)

5. Turnout, turnout, turnout – Lower turnout doesn’t help County Democratic candidates – Over a whole bunch of August elections, a pretty specific number range of GOP voters that is consistent. I’ve talked to local Democratic groups about this number…but won’t reveal it here (its a state secret). That doesn’t account for crossover voting, which will happen. With over 300k in his coffers, GOP nominee Luttrell has the means to push turnout in traditionally GOP areas and appeal to ticket splitters. Democrats be warned. You will need to work hard and together to whip up turnout against the deep pockets of GOP incumbents.

6. Proficiency vs. partisanship – Go back to #1 and read that again. For County-wide candidates, your job is to reach out beyond your comfort zones, and show voters that you are as, or more proficient at the office you seek than your opponent. Those ticket splitters are looking for confidence of competence more than the letter next to your name. The lack of a clearly defined partisan difference in many races (what’s the difference between a Democratic Court Clerk and a Republican one?) is part of the cause here, especially in races where key social/fiscal issues of the day may not be relevant.

Game On

We’re right around 67 days to early voting and 87 days from the election. There are still a lot of open questions for this election. More than I care to get into right now.

But one thing seems clear, based on what I know of the situation…Democratic Candidates are going to have to use a fair amount of sweat equity to get the vote out. There’s not a whole lot of time to whip up the support needed for August…and even less time to draw distinctions.

Get your game face on. What happens in the next few weeks will play a big part in framing the Countywide push to August.

Sep 30 2013

Would Boehner break the “Hastert Rule” to avoid a shutdown?

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics

He's so emotional.

He’s so emotional.

At the time of this writing we’re right around 8 hours away from a government shutdown.

The Senate was back in session to address the bill passed by the House over the weekend. The House bill delays, rather than defunds the Affordable Care Act for a year.

The Senate tabled the motion, meaning that their last offer to the House…a clean spending bill with no exceptions…is their final offer.

So the questions you’ll hear from the punditocracy is what will the House GOP do? Because seriously, they’re between a rock and a hard place.

Reality Check

Shutting down the government is really unpopular. I mean, I pay taxes all year round for the government to be funded all year round. If the people holding the purse strings (Congress) can’t get that done, then what the hell good are they?

And that, basically sums up the response to the 1995/96 shutdowns, and will most likely be the same response now.

But for the House GOP, it’s a little more dire. From a CNN poll released today:

• 46% of people polled would blame the House GOP, as opposed to 36% for President Obama

• 69% of respondents said the House GOP was behaving like a “spoiled child”.

• 60% of poll participants reject the GOP’s approach and think it is more important to avoid a shutdown than to make major changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Whether you believe in polling or not, those last two numbers are pretty compelling.

So the question becomes: will the House GOP go for broke or will they bend a little and save themselves the ire of the public.

Right now it seems like they will go for broke…literally.

Boehner’s Dilema

While common sense Americans think this whole thing is ridiculous (it is), House Speaker Boehner is between a rock and a hard place politically.

The House GOP caucus stands at 230 members, about half of which are hardliners. They will not bend. So the larger political issue (the shutdown) gets lost in smaller political the issues of the caucus (unity and retaining leadership), consequences be damned.

The House GOP has, for the majority of the past two decades, held to a standard called the “Hastert Rule”. This unwritten rule says that any measure that cannot pass without the majority of the majority should not be considered. The rationale behind this is that former Speaker Hastert believed the House Majority should not abdicate political victories, even if it was for the good of the country.

However, Speaker Boehner has run afoul of the “Hastert Rule” on at least three previous occasions. In doing so, he has put his leadership post in jeopardy by the hardliners.

But to pass the Senate’s clean funding bill, all the Speaker would need to do is:

1. Bring the measure to the floor.

2. Get 30-40 Republicans to vote for it (several were already cracking Saturday).

Boehner fears the fallout of those two actions might be losing his speakership…something that would be bad for Democrats…which is not to say his leadership has necessarily been good for our causes…but that the result would be worse, if that’s imaginable.

There’s also the chance that the measure might fail (though unlikely), which would mean the Speaker had spent political capital for no good reason. No one in leadership of any organization wants that to happen.

So Speaker Boehner would need assurances from Democrats that the spending measure, that includes spending cuts Democrats abhor, would have their support, and then he’d still need to find a gaggle (30-40 or more to be safe) Republicans that would support the clean bill.

Boehner already has OPP (other political problems) in the form of a primary challenge at home, though its unlikely that his opponent will succeed. But this too, might be giving the speaker pause. It wasn’t that long ago that Speaker Foley was put out of office. Boehner was a wee pup in Congress when that happened. I have no doubt he remembers that…and worries…a lot about it.

Nose/Face/Spite/Fill-in-the-blanks

The ball is, and has been in the House GOP’s court. They have made this a drama. They have exposed themselves to ire and scrutiny of the public by overreaching. They have held long and hard even in the face of advice from GOP math messiah Karl Rove.

Its their shutdown…we’re just going to have to deal with it. And the most effective time to deal with it, will be in November ’14.

Until then, stock up on canned foods, freeze some meats, and schedule some extra volunteer work. People in real need are going to need help when the House GOP leadership lets internal politics trump the good of the nation.

Dec 22 2012

Schadenfreude: Fiscal Cliff Edition

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, Policy, shenanigans, snark

schadenfreude: pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

You’d cry too if you had to herd feral cats

So I know just about everyone is talking about the NRA’s crazy town response to the Newtown shootings. I think all that needs to be said about the speech delivered Friday is nicely summed up here.

Quite frankly, I’m shocked that anyone was shocked by that announcement. LaPierre has been spouting crazy for the NRA since 1991. Same song and dance, over and over again. It ain’t about gun ownership…its about gun sales. Manufacturers pay the bills at the NRA. Don’t forget it.

So aside from providing a distraction, the NRA event was irrelevant. Unfortunately for everyone, a distraction was needed, in the wake of the massive failure to herd feral cats, some called the display “a clown show”.

How We Got Here

It’s important to remember is how we got here, where it started and who is responsible.

November, 2010 – A wave of of GOP wins in Congressional races, led by 40 candidates claiming “Tea Party” affiliations, leads to the composition of the US House of Representatives flipping from 255 Democrats to 242 Republicans.

August 2, 2011 – In the wake of a contentious battle over the debt ceiling limit, the Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed with bipartisan support. The bill raised the debt ceiling and put in place a series of deep budget cuts and tax increases if the Congress could not reach an agreement.

66 Republicans voted against the deal, which would not have passed without Democratic support.

August 5, 2011 – In the wake of the vote on the Budget Control Act, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the US Credit rating stating concerns with the current state of political affairs in the Congress.

February 2012 – Fed Chairman Ben Bernake coins the term “fiscal cliff”.

July/August 2012 – On July 25th the US Senate passed a proposal that would have avoided the tax increase portion of the fiscal cliff. The proposal was rejected by the House on August 1st.

November 2012 – Elections result in more GOP moderates losing. Democrats gain 8 seats in House. Incoming makeup of the House: 201D – 234R. Incoming makeup of the Senate: 55D – 45R

December 2012 – Negotiations between Speaker Boehner and President Obama net a compromise. Said compromise not brought before the House. Boehner’s bill pulled for lack of support. The House did pass a bill dealing with spending cuts, however that bill has little chance of passage in the Senate and faces a Presidential veto.

This list is hardly exhaustive, but mentions most of the highlights. Had Republicans not tried to make political hay over increasing the debt ceiling, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

The Failure Option

Now I want to be very clear here: while I do get some pleasure from the outright #FAIL that was the Speaker’s effort to pass a watered down version of what he and the President were negotiating, I also understand that a failure to act by the end of the year will have some serious consequences for regular folks. Those consequences will be immediate for all of us, though many of them will have a limited impact.

If they fail to act, the payroll tax cut will disappear, the Bush era tax cuts will disappear, and some pretty stiff spending cuts that no one seems to want will be enacted.

What does this mean to you? Well based on the median household income you will see about $1000/yr less as a result of the payroll tax hike, about $1500 less as a result of the income tax hike, and a whole lot fewer services.

Interestingly, if the Obama proposal were to pass, a household making the median income would see a tax DECREASE of about $225/yr (payroll and income) rather than the increase of $2500 House Republicans seem to favor in the wake of their inaction. You can see how the fiscal cliff and the Obama proposals would impact your income here.

(Note: The tax calculator is provided by the anti-Keynsian, pro-business group The Tax Foundation. They bear responsibility for any inaccuracies.)

The Failure Option – Part II Electric Boogaloo

The financial impact of failure for household incomes is pretty dire. Considering that inflation adjusted incomes have been flat since 1967 for 80% of the population, losing $2500 for a median income represents a nearly 5% hit in real purchasing power. That’s not going to be good for an economy that is just really starting to emerge from weakness. Add to that increased instability from a potential market panic and Joe 6-pack is going to take a huge hit.

Investors know this. They make lots of money knowing this. And while we haven’t seen an increase in incomes to rival the increase in markets (1967 Dow was 825, 2012 Dow was 13190.84 as of the closing bell on Friday, a nearly 1600% increase), the panic that will ensue due to uncertainty if the fiscal cliff is not avoided will hurt average Americans more than investors, who will certainly lose wealth, but not much standing.

Investors have more ways to make money in the face of a market panic that regular folks don’t, including betting on failure. This kind of risky bet is usually only played by the wealthiest individuals and huge investment houses. It may seem counter-intuitive and to fly in the face of what we consider to be patriotic, but remember, in the church of the almighty dollar, anything goes that makes you rich.

Plenty of folks profited from the pain of the Great Depression and the more recent “Great Recession”. There will be winners if a huge market panic ensues come Jan. 2 as well.

Joe 6-pack won’t be one of them, so don’t even think about it.

I feel confident that a solution won’t be found before the end of the year. The House Republicans don’t seem to have the will to give any ground, and in their disarray they have given their Democratic counterparts some resolve to stand their ground. With 201 incoming votes, it will take just 17 Republicans to pass a Democratic measure…should it reach the floor. That seems like a possible scenario now that people are starting to point to conservative recalcitrance as the problem.

The Senate has already passed a bill, which was rejected by the Tea Party led House in August. The House could take the measure back up if they chose to. I can’t imagine that happening before the end of the year. I just don’t think the votes are there before the end of the year.

This means that a market panic is almost a certainty come Jan. 2. The next Congress convenes the next day. We’ll see what they do, but I’m putting my money on passing something like the Senate proposal and dealing with the spending side later…probably right before the next debt ceiling vote which will need to happen before February of 2013.

In the current climate, I just can’t see this leadership actually…you know…leading.

Sep 15 2011

Good Luck Elizabeth Warren

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, National Politics

I know I’ve been writing about the importance of local elections lately, despite appearances, this post is no different. No, Elizabeth Warren isn’t running against Bob Corker, she’s running against Scott Brown, or whomever gets the Republican nomination in Massachusetts, assuming, of course, that she gets the Democratic nomination in the state. I won’t be able to vote for Elizabeth Warren, because she seeks to represent a state that is around 1300 miles away. I support her run, and wish her luck. She’d be a great addition to the Senate in my view.

That said, I won’t be sending any money up to Massachusetts. I probably won’t be phone banking for her (I doubt Massachusettsans would appreciate my southern drawl), and I damn sure won’t be traveling up there to canvass for her. Not only can I not afford to do it financially, I can’t afford to do it electorally. There’s plenty to do here in Tennessee.

The whole reason this is happening is because of a local election, in Massachusetts. Scott Brown won the special election on that cold January day in 2010 by just under 110,000 votes, after the death of Ted Kennedy. Just over 2.2m votes were cast in that election. Counties in the state were evenly split, 7-7.

By contrast, in the 2008 election, Obama won the state overwhelmingly, carrying all 14 of the state’s counties. The 2008 election brought out nearly 900k more voters than the 2010 election, which really shouldn’t be all that surprising considering 2010 was a special election right after the New Year.

So what happened in this characteristically “blue” state that sent what should have been a very safe seat to the Republicans? It’s not about how many people showed up, but who.

There are over 4.19m registered voters in Massachusetts according to their Secretary of State. In 2008, 3.1m of them showed up or 73.52% of all registered voters. That’s a pretty darn high voter turnout. In 2010 only 2.2m, or 53.66% of voters made it to the polls which is about average, though above average for a special election. That 900k voter difference is very close to the difference between Obama and McCain in the 2008 election.

In fact, Scott Brown got more votes in 2010 than McCain did in 2008, but just by about 23k votes. That number is significant, not because it represents crossover votes, though there may be some of those, but because it gives us a little idea about voter mood, and activation.

Massachusetts has party designations. 36.65% of the state’s voters are Democrats, 11.34% are Republicans, leaving 51.44% undesignated. The number of registered Democrats alone would have been enough to beat Scott Brown, but, for whatever reason, they didn’t turn out.

There are likely a lot of reasons that happened, but I don’t claim to have a hill of beans worth of knowledge about Massachusetts elections, except that I know they go Democratic more often than not. Further, I don’t remember much about this election except for Scott Brown’s picture in GQ or whatever that was.

What I can tell you is that there aren’t enough Republicans in Massachusetts to win an election. There are almost enough Democrats alone to win any election. Throw in the folks who don’t take a designation, which by all accounts is probably mostly Democrats who don’t vote in primaries and Democrats should have an easy ride in the state.

So how did he win? Fire in the belly. Not his fire mind you, the Tea Party’s fire. Remember, this was one of the first, if not the first real election after the ascension of the Tea Party to the status of media darling.

via Applesause @ the Rockford Register Star

This is pretty high turnout. I’m sure, based on past elections, and special elections in particular, the Coakley campaign reckoned they’d need a little over a million votes to win. Guess what? They got that million votes. What they didn’t count on was an insurgent group of people who were mad as hell at government taking over their Medicare (which is still my favorite Tea Party sign).

So, Democrats didn’t turn out in the numbers they needed to, Republicans dragged people to the polls and won. I’m sure there’s more to this like Coakley’s popularity statewide and some other stuff that’s more important than I’m making it, but my real point is this. If Coakley had been shooting for 1.2m or 1.3m votes, she’d have won, pure and simple.

Looking back home to Tennessee, we’ve got a lot more challenges than they do in Massachusetts. We’ve got a Republican majority in the State legislature. We’ve got a Republican majority in our House delegation, and don’t get me started about our Senators. We’ve got a lot of work to do to close the gap for Democrats here, so I’m probably not going to spend a lot of time trying to help someone else 1300 miles away, even though it would be cool, and if I lived about 800 miles closer, I just might go out of my way to help.

And sure, Warren has shown herself to be a good progressive at the very least, and for that I support her, but I can’t give her anything more than moral support. If progressives or liberals in this state spend all our time building up progressives and liberals in other states, when will we get around to building up the few progressives and liberals that dare run for office here? Better still, how will we find more of them to run?

Truth be told, it’s not as though these people don’t exist. They’re out there, right here in Tennessee, and not just in the urban areas. They exist, but they don’t think they can win, and that is reinforced by folks who talk about how the state is this or that or the other and how no one is on “our” side, even though that “side” be ill defined.

Nope, I’ll be working to find these people and encourage them to get involved in campaigns, and network, and build the kind of support base that is required to even consider a serious run at anything. Maybe they’ll be candidates for County office. Maybe they’ll run for state office. Honestly, I don’t know, but I’ll be spending my time building what I can here, rather than exporting my time and money to Massachusetts for an election that will likely be nationalized anyway.

Does this mean I expect to see more people like me in the legislature in 2013? Nope. This takes more than one cycle to build. But if we don’t start building instead of complaining, it’ll never happen.

Jun 06 2008

Don’t Poke the Bear

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

That’s the party line Harry Reid is spouting after coming to the rescue of IDINO Joe Lieberman.

Basically, Reid is saying, don’t poke the bear. Lieberman caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, despite his man crush on John McCain. With a 51-49 majority, Lieberman is important even though everyone knows he’s a tool. Leave him alone for the next few months until we have enough seats in the Senate to make him irrelevant then we can really mess with him.

If Joe doesn’t get that this is what’s REALLY happening here, he’s really stupid. If he’s not that stupid and Democrats win big in November, expect him to switch sides so he can do a lot of damage before he’s irrelevant sometime after the election.