Thursday, November 19, 2015

One County's Youth Caucus

I just went to my first ever Republican caucus.

In a joint project with both parties and the Secretary of State's office, high school students across Iowa participated in a Youth Caucus Thursday at the Johnson County HHS building. Johnson County drew about 30 students, with Clear Creek Amana beating West High for attendance.

Five Republican campaigns were on hand - Bush, Cruz, Fiorina, Paul, and Santorum - for what that says for the state of the ground game. (The Donald also has people on the ground, but with the candidate in Newton they were all busy.)

And these guys were representin' for teams Bernie, Martin and Hillary.

The GOP took the floor first, with Cyndi Michel walking the group through their process. The campaign reps got up and gave their two minute drills, with pre-recorded messages from the candidates who didn't have someone in person. (We had the DVD on repeat before the program started and had to keep skipping Bobby Jindal.)

They we passed out the ballots - factoid: no names on the ballots, all votes in the Republican caucus straw poll are write-ins - and everybody voted. Well, almost everybody. They way we did this, all the students participated in both the Republican and Democratic processes, and we reported results. But one guy opted out of the GOP vote.

The campaign and party reps left to an adjacent room (which we Johnson County employees call "the Fishbowl") to count up while I did the MOST important thing of the night and talked about voter registration. A lot of people don't know that you can register when you're 17 1/2, and you can caucus if you'll be 18 by general election day (anyone born on or before 11/8/1998). We got five new registered voters.

The Republicans announced the results with Rand Paul the winner. With all students participating in both caucuses, the bragging rights are slightly problematic - insert my standard Bernie/Rand Paul argument here -  but the Secretary of State will be posting results.

The Democratic mock caucus was highly realistic because it was in my precinct, in my caucus room, and I was chairing it. It was also realistic because a couple people left early, and because the Republicans were done a long time before we were.

The organizer dudes represented well, and then I got to show everyone the magic moment of realignment. The Uncommitted group was the biggest - again, with all the students participating in both party processes, it's possible that the Republican leaning students went to Uncommitted.

Team Hillary was just short of viable, so I gave everyone a couple chances to make their best pitches. But nobody moved, so I had to call time. The Hillary group all instantly switched to O'Malley - same thing I saw the Gephardt group do with John Kerry at the real 2004 caucus - which gained him a delegate and not coincidentally one of the Hillary people got one of the two delegate seats.

After the briefest of overviews of our other activity - "Committee on Committees" is a good laugh line - I handed off to Dennis and Robin Roseman, who explained the platform process. We took Q and A off and on through all this, then called it a night. A few of the students stuck around to chat with the staffers.

Thanks to all of the above mentioned plus Karen Fesler from the Republicans, Jim Tate and Melva Hughes from the Democrats, the rest of the JCDems exec board for the last minute packet stuffing party, to HyVee for the snacks, and all the staffers and teachers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

2nd Annual Charity Beret Auction

I never really wanted to be Beret Guy, you know.

It was supposed to be a one time joke, a play on use of "wear a lot of hats" as in play a lot of roles. I got a professional writing job and decided I needed a literal blogging hat. The readers voted, raspberry beret won. (I was lucky given what happened and given the other options.) I bought one. I wore it as a ONE TIME JOKE. The next day it was on Page One.

I was stuck. I tried to kill it; I was still stuck.

So I embraced it, and it became an accidental trademark. Yes, I know it looks goofy. But when the Vice President remembers Beret Guy, you're on to something.

Last year I decided to do some good with it. I've picked up a few spares over the years - always, as the song says, at a second hand store. I wear them in turn at events, to make them official game worn jerseys. And I popped one up on top of the county's mitten tree last year and auctioned it off.

Egomaniacal and attention-seeking? Maybe. But these days a writer has to self promote. And more importantly, it worked. The auction ended in a statistical tie, so I sold off TWO berets, that I paid about $2 a piece for, at $210 each for the Crisis Center of Johnson County.

With that good a track record, I better do it again. This year I'm upping my game.

This year I'm donating a beret and a press kit to the Johnson County Employee Charity Drive. Let's look at what you, yes YOU can have with your charitable donation. Top row, left to right:

Item 1 is a POLITICO note book. For the past several months I've been part of Politico's "Insider Caucus," a group of early state activists who make off the record comments and predictions. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we (I mean me) predict Scott Walker will win it all.

The centerpiece of the package is the beret itself, with attached $2 price tag. I've worn it at many events and retired it on Saturday, when I wore it to cover the Democratic debate in Des Moines. Behind it you see the as yet incomplete Certificate of Authenticity, which will include photos of this beret in action at the November 14 debate.

At right to hold it all is a Face The Nation goodie bag that was picked up off either my chair or the floor at the debate filing room.

On the bottom row we have a VOTE button from debate co-sponsor Twitter, glow sticks (unused) from a Bernie Sanders rally, and a Hillary Clinton press pass from an Iowa City event.
Attesting to authenticity.

Republican bidders may, at their discretion, substitute a McCain-Palin press pass from 2008.

Bids are being taken through the Johnson County Employee Intranet, but I'll handle all outside bids for this one. Send me your bids by email ( OR - subject line Silent Auction; Deeth Press Kit), Twitter direct message, Facebook message, phone or text. I'll update the leading bidder on the Deeth Blog home page (just below the exit sign). Bidding ends at noon November 30 December 3. Be generous!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Scenes From A Debate Day

If you get offered a ticket to a live show, you go. Doesn't matter that you'd hear the band or see the game better at home, you go. It's about the experience itself.

With that attitude, I set off on the road to Des Moines way too early Saturday and got home way too late in the wee hours of Sunday morning, to experience the on the ground vibe of a presidential debate. It's only two hours on stage, but it was two days of action on the Drake campus, And those experiences, rather than the actual dialogue of the debate itself, are what are sticking with me.

(As I review the day I'm cringing at the massive typos. In the Olden Days of liveblogging, I could go back and clean up.)

My first event of the day was a 10 AM session explaining caucus night process that was officially "off the record." Which was amusing because it was the exact same Power Point presentation I had seen the previous Sunday at our local caucus chair training - right down to and including the use of the four Beatles as "candidates" to explain preference group math. Poor Ringo always had the smallest group.

The out of state media questions were more skeptical than the questions my chairs had asked the previous weekend. More along the lines of "this is insanely hard, why do you do this?" The staffers gave the approved answers, not the real answer of "because if we report the vote totals the New Hampshire Secretary of State thinks it's a primary and we lose first in the nation." I gamely tweeted an offer to have on the record talk about this with other press, but none of them seemed to be among my followers.

I bailed on the caucus training - in fairness, I could have taught it - and signed onto the main media event of the morning, a tour of the debate hall itself.
Most shots were taken inward, not out, as the hall tour was basically a big excuse for selfies. One would think that journalists would picture themselves as moderating a presidential debate, but no one sat down at the moderator table. I was one of the few who even looked at it very long (glass topped with monitors underneath). Instead, they posed at the candidate platforms. Despite the alleged media hate, Hillary's was by far the most popular.

I'm not a selfie taker...
...but if someone else catches me in action I'll use it. I did also get photographed at the Bernie podium, but I was merely trying to find a place in a crowded room to tweet, which lasted about three seconds till a tech tossed me.

A debate hall is a TV set, and the sound, video, and lighting techs were visibly bristling at the unnecessary presence of the lower tier of the media. You get the idea that they saw even the audience as an inconvenience and would rather have just had the whole thing in an actual TV studio with just the three candidates and the four moderators, so they didn't have to haul the lights and the generators. One poor soul had the bad luck of spilling her coffee on the stage, and soon after that were were politely but firmly shooed out.

Also, it appears Mitt Romney provided the office supplies, as each candidate's notepad had a Staples logo. Later in the debate there was an exchange about a $12 vs. $15 minimum wage; when I moonlighted at Staples I made $8.25.
I was wrong; Timer did make a brief on camera cameo at the start of the debate.

The famous Spin Room fired up soon after the tour, but my pass didn't get me access. I had Super Bowl tickets but upper deck seats. Thus began a roughly four hour stretch of mostly down time at the filing center, punctuated by a massive burger and mountain of onion rings at the Drake Diner.
At my right is my unofficial partner for the day, Katrina Markel of Happenstance landed us in the same place a couple times so we just sort of informally stuck together. We positioned ourselves almost in the exact middle of the filing center.

The filing center was two blocks away from the actual debate. The long rows of tables could seat about 400 and got maybe 3/4 full by show time. Electricity was adequate - I carry my own power strip so that gave me a couple more slots and a little more elbow room. The organizers tried to send a message with the wifi; at least week's GOP debate the press password was StopHillary. So the Dems named their network 13MillionNewJobs and had no password. Some people grumbled on line about security risks, but I heard of no incidents.

No one appeared to be In Charge at the filing center, but everything just seemed to happen. Coffee and water appeared, then cookies and granola bars closer to debate time. 

Around 3:30 my batteries were re-charged and I'd visited with all the in-state journalists I knew. So I headed off to my next planned stop, the Bernie Sanders campaign's pre-rally.

Though a series of misadventures including a box of caucus supplies, confusion about the terms "ream of paper" and "CASE of paper," and running into miscellaneous friends, it took me an hour and a quarter and two and a half trips across the Drake campus to get there.

I also, briefly and almost literally, ran into Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her posse leaving Spin Room. My prepped and pointed questions were forgotten and she was moving away fast so I mumbled a Hi.

By this point, the security line was starting outside the debate hall.
Despite the delay, I was far from late and stragglers were still arriving as the sun set. I'm guessing about 300 total by the time speakers started. Ran into my old Iowa Independent colleague Douglas Burns (the western Iowa reporting god, newspaper magnate, and famous cat lover) and we both commiserated about how tightly the Indy could have had this multi-venue event nailed down.

There's a definite feel to a Sanders crowd, a mix of Iowa City Ped Mall and Island of Misfit Toys. This is an outsider campaign that is proud of being outsider. Also, though the more savvy ones try to keep it in check, there's no hiding the visceral distaste for Hillary Clinton. (The Clinton campaign may feel likewise, but they are much better at keeping to the official line of Taking Nothing For Granted and Staying Positive. Either way, the challenge of unity is going to be interesting, and challenging in direct proportion to the margin of victory.)

I was still full from the Drake burger but the Jethro's BBQ was tempting me to abandon my objectivity. I grabbed a water and settled for orbiting the crowd two or three times.
Bernie world, like Ron Paul world before it, has an interesting contradiction: a cult of personality around a candidate who insists on issues over personality. There's also the same very loud support: A Paul Supporter and a Sanders supporter walk into a bar. How do you know? Because they tell everyone. There's the same dismissiveness of all rivals, and the same "revolution" rhetoric, the same love of winning online polls. I still don't get why no one national is picking up on Bernie Sanders as the reason Rand Paul has collapsed. Maybe it's just an Iowa City thing.
Cornel West was the keynoter at the Sanders rally. He is even more intense and fiery than Sanders himself and scathing in his attacks on, mostly, Clinton. "She didn't 'evolve'," West said of Clinton's switch on marriage equality. "She checked the polls."

I wondered if West could be the in that Sanders has needed in his thus far unsuccessful effort to draw competitive support in the African-American community. The question is whether West and his style would play in the black precincts of South Carolina, and I don't know enough about the internal politics to answer my own question.

Still, Cornel West from 15 feet away on the back of a pickup truck is an Only In Iowa wonder to behold.

The Sanders group marched away to a movie theater for their debate watch party. Also playing: Spartacus. I veered away, hoping to catch a bit of Martin O'Malley's visibility.

Despite their smaller numbers, Team O'Malley plays a good sign war. Bonus points for "Gimme an O! Gimme And Apostrophe!" And they won Sign War by forfeit as Team Hillary had called their visibility off in the wake of the Paris attacks.

But I missed the show, arriving just in time to see them breaking up and walking across campus. O'Malley himself had stopped by to thank his troops and shake hands.

At this point I was back at the security line and visited with the carious dignitaries waiting their turn. The attendees were mostly mid to upper level activists. I don't know all my donors but I know a lot of elected officials. These are people who WILL be at caucuses and who lead opinions, so the applause in the hall was probably a pretty good indicator.
Also crossing campus I ran into Griff, the Drake mascot. Drake was plugging Griff as a potential 2016 candidate through the day. He was definitely a Good Boy, but I left my Jimmy Carter button pinned to the beret.

By 7, or what we in Iowa City called Kickoff Time,  I was back in the filing center. There were three YOOGE TV screens to the front and right, and three more living room size screens to the left. I hoped that one of them would get tuned to the game. Instead, the front two where showing debate logos while CBS Radio audio plated. 

The one on the right was showing Twitter metrics. Twitter was a debate co-sponsor and had piled the ends of the press tables with buttons:
They were largely ignored by the press, but I scooped up a few at a time till I had a couple dozen. I know a lot of people who will like them more than the press did.

The twitter metrics were measuring tweets about the debate and mentions of candidates. The mentions jumped from 1200 a minute pre-debate to 8000 a minute during the debate, making the hashtag #DemDebate essentially useless. The mentions of candidates started with a strong Hillary lead and ended with a narrow Hillary lead; O'Malley jumped from 3% pre-debate to 12% during and after.

From following my regular tweeps I saw that the in-hall preliminaries started just after 7 with patriotic ritual and introductory remarks from Wasserman Schultz and from IDP chair Andy McGuire. None of this was on screen at the filing center, though we did get a visit from Griff.

The CBS radio feed continued till about 7:50. Mostly it was caucus discussion, with pollster Ann Selzer trying to explain realignment and viability in a sound bite. At one point the announcer mentioned that the Hawkeyes were ahead 7-0; I was the only one who cheered.

At 7:50 CBS News appeared on the screens moments after Pat Rynard tweeted about the lack of video. The screens showed Paris coverage until the top of the hour.

From there, we got the same feed as the viewers at home. Kathie Obradovich got a loud cheer from her Des Moines Register colleagues, seated in the front row of the filing center, when she was introduced as a moderator.

The debate itself, you know about. During one commercial break, the video and audio went out. After a few seconds of hushed murmurs, the screens came back just before panic ensued. The whole thing felt a lot shorter sitting in the filing center than it does sitting in the basement home office.

I had some comment commitments to Politico and the Des Moines Register post-debate that I started drafting near the end. I also started pre-emptively packing. I also got grabbed by another reporter for a quick react.

These comments seems to have gotten me into a little trouble in Bernie World, especially since the more negative drew more focus. But at least I was accurately quoted. There seems to be a mindset that anyone who doesn't explicitly Feel The Bern is an establishment enemy, and that ignores all the other nuances that people may feel. 

But I'm Neutral Leaning Carter and I'm fair. And one of the reasons I'm neutral is so I can write honestly. It's yet to be seen how much the Wall Street 9/11 thing hurts Hillary, or whether O'Malley has finally had his breakthrough, but two minutes after the debate, I felt that they had a better night than Sanders.
Obligations met, I powered myself down with one last look at the score - Hawkeyes ahead with two minutes left!

I'd been invited to the Hillary post rally and told she would be arriving a half hour after the debate ended. (For whatever reason I didn't see any of my usual Bernie contacts all day, but did run into my Hillary and O'Malley people.) My seatmate Katrina decided to join me and we launched on an epic fast walk/slow sprint on our dead feet the three blocks to the after-rally hall, with neither of us 100% certain of the location.

We arrived to what was, amazingly, my first security line of the day. The line was maybe 70 people long, mostly young and leaning female. Some staffers recognized me and zipped me, Katrina, and maybe four other press to the front of the check in line.

By this point my bag was loaded down with all my usually excess of gear AND the two dozen Twitter VOTE buttons, so I thought I'd screw the whole line up. But I passed muster and was ushered upstairs.

I detoured for just a moment to say hi to Dave and Terry Loebsack - Tom Miller was also on hand - then walked into the back of the hall.

The post-rally hall had been the scene of Team Hillary's debate watch party. They'd gone with pizza so lots of empty boxes. The press tables were already full. In the Iowa Independent days, one of us would have gotten the Hillary post-rally beat and been in place, but as a one man show I just have to run across campus with Katrina.

I'm guessing maybe 700 in the crowd, but I never really got a good look as the stage was barely visible.

Later I was told that Hillary had taken extra time to handshake in the debate hall. That was my salvation as barely 90 seconds after I walked in and with almost no warning we heard the bare minimum introduction


That's the best look I got.

Hillary spoke for about the length of one Ramones song, praising the organizers, repeating a couple talking points, and emphasizing the caucus date, voter registration, and voting rights.

That's a big difference. Bernie talks about a political revolution, Hillary talks about voter registration. It's a difference I see in action on the ground, too.

No idea how long she shook hands at the post-rally, but the crowd quickly thinned. I carefully checked for the OK, as I did not want to get tackled at the end of a very long day, and sought out various contacts on Team H for beret-off conversation.

I also checked the football score. 10 and O, baby! Then I stopped back at the filing center to see if I'd left anything behind. My half finished Diet Coke was still there; I'd heard word that fluids were verboten at the Hillary rally. So I grabbed that and another half dozen Twitter VOTE buttons, and hit the road.

Inevitably, a story that ends with "I drove home and went to sleep" is anticlimactic.

On the drive west to Des Moines, I had seen every SUV in the state headed east to Iowa City. With the game just getting out, I saw the pattern repeat in reverse.

When I drive at night I keep thinking I see deer. The shadow patterns look like deer to my fifty-plus eyes. So I tend to drive a little too slow and too cautiously. In this case, I was driving in my socks, as my feet REALLY needed a break.

About a mile from my exit to home, I saw police lights ahead. No one was pulled over. As I passed I looked left and saw, sure enough, A deer that someone had hit. The cop was apparently there as a warning till removal. Senator Grassley's whereabouts at 2 AM Sunday are unknown.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Politics Of The Plausible

The most critical moment of last night's debate was not Bernie Sanders'  very good "I'm not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower" line. And it was not Hillary Clinton's Wall Street/9-11 fumble.

It was a low-key exchange about two-thirds of the way in between Sanders and moderator John Dickerson.
DICKERSON: Back now in Des Moines with the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Senator Sanders, I want to start with you. Let's say you're elected president. Congratulations.

SANDERS: Thank you.


Looking forward to it.

DICKERSON: You've said you'll have a revolution.


DICKERSON: But there's a conservative revolution going on in America right now. As John Boehner knows and as Democrats know, who have lost in state houses across the country.


DICKERSON: Those conservatives are watching tonight and probably shaking their heads. So how do you deal with that part of the country? The revolution's already happening, but on the other side?

SANDERS: And we are going to do a political revolution, which brings working people, young people, senior citizens, minorities together.

Because every issue that I am talking about-- paid family and medical leave, breaking up the banks on Wall Street, asking the wealth to pay their fair share of taxes, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour -- every one of those issues is supported by a significant majority of the American people.

The problem is, that as a result of a corrupt campaign finance system, Congress is not listening to the American people. Its listening to the big money interest.

What the political revolution is about is bringing people together to finally say, enough is enough. This government belongs to us. Not just the billionaires.
tl;dr = Sanders simply rejected the premise and argued that his "political revolution" (drink) will sweep away all in its path.

This exchange underscores the magnitude of the challenge facing Sanders.

To his credit, Bernie Sanders has come farther faster than anyone ever expected, but the mountain is really, REALLY high. And the few journeys America has taken that are comparable have taken decades, not months or one election cycle.

The Sanders strategy depends on expanding the electorate. Obama's expansion was primary a demographic change. And despite his strong first term accomplishment, his policies - the stimulus, the private insurance based Obamacare - were evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

The civil rights era was a revolution, and the  Nixon-Reagan era also effected a political counter-revolution, in the opposite direction, but that took decades, with roots reaching back to 1948 and fallout continuing into the Obama era.

FDR realigned the electorate as well, and he arrived just after the last time income inequality was as brutal as it is today. But he also followed the complete collapse of the economy. As bad as things are now, they are not Great Depression bad.  (Which would have happened without the relatively timid but best he could get Obama stimulus.)

To win, Sanders will need a New Deal level re-aligning election - in an era where there's already a strong counter-trend to the way he wants to lead the country.

Are there 218 House seats that can be won not just be Democrats, but by non- Blue Dog Democrats? Can the Democrats pull off a 14 seat gain to get a filibuster-proof majority - because even with the biggest landslide in history (to the level of Chuck Grassley losing), 30 Republican Senators are mid-term hold over?

Because, by his own acknowledgement, that's the kind of thing that needs to happen for a Sanders win and for a President Sanders to get anything done that even remotely resembles his ambitious goals.

Sanders vs. Clinton is the classic test case of idealism vs. pragmatism, but it's also a test of plausibility. Iowans take the caucuses seriously, and we very much feel like we are choosing a president. The aftermath of Paris will underscore that even more.

Hillary Clinton may be a polarizing figure, but pretty much all Iowa Democrats if pressed would acknowledge she is capable of doing The Big Job. (Martin O'Malley still has a grade of incomplete) But Sanders, campaigning just to his base in the hopes that his base will grow, still has to get past that test. Which he made harder by exiting from the Paris discussion as fast as possible in his opening statement so he could pivot to his Billionaires and Political Revolution comfort zone.

There was a semantics game of "Not America's Fight" vs. "Not ONLY America's fight" between Clinton and O'Malley. Sanders, however, has a clear discomfort discussing anything he can't filter through an economic lens. Asked about security threats, he discusses climate change and veteran's care. Both very important issues - but not the issues one images being discussed in the Bin Laden War Room, an image Clinton again invoked last night.

To break out of his niche and into the broader electorate, into a true MASS movement, Sanders has to figure out how to get people to plausibly picture him in a national security setting.

Also to the issue of plausibility: Clinton devastated Sanders' free college tuition plan (she and O'Malley argue for "debt-free" instead) with one line" I disagree with free college for everybody. I don't think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump's kids to college."

Getting called a clown by Trump is a YOOGE win for O'Malley. He positioned himself well as the Uncola to the front runners' Coke vs. Pepsi, and benefited immeasurably from getting pretty much all the time that had been wasted on Chafee and Webb in Debate 1. For the first time, he looks like a plausible (that word again) option.

Clinton's  9/11 answer was bad. But it wasn't Rudy Giuliani bad, because Giuliani's whole raison d'etre was that he was mayor on 9/11.  It was bad in the sense that Clinton has a painful blind spot as to how her career-long relationship with the financial sector is perceived, and was too quick to double down in defense. (Her followers only heard the 60% of donations from women line that immediately preceded it.)

More of my thoughts on the twitter feed. A few underscores:

Why is the specific phrase "radical Islam" important to Republicans?  How is it different from "radical jihadist ideology" (Clinton) or  "radical jihadis" (O'Malley)? Answer: it's important to the Christianist wing of the Republican base to specifically include the non-Christian religion in the term. The only OK non-Christian religion is Judaism, and only because Israel is a sign of the Rapture.

Bernie Sanders talks about a political revolution. At her post-debate rally, Clinton talked about voter registration and the caucus date.

Hillary loses some points with labor arguing for a $12 minimum wage vs. Sanders and O'Malley's $15. But reminder: a Republican Congress under a GOP president could ELIMINATE it.

The reaction to Hillary saying "I come from the 60s" is classic faux outrage and will be long forgotten by next year. (However, legalizing weed was taken as a serious issue in a presidnetial debate).

Future post: Color and flavor.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Neuzil Hired For Michigan Job

Michagan news outlet mlive reports that Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil was been hired tonight as County Administrator in Kalamazoo:
Commissioners voted 7 to 4 to select Terrence Neuzil, a county administrator (sic) in Johnson County, Iowa, with all Democrats and Republican Roger Tunier voting for Neuzil. The remaining Republicans voted "no," throwing their support behind Kalamazoo County Treasurer Mary Balkema.

"He interviewed very positively," Democrat Commissioner Julie Rogers said when moving to choose Neuzil. "He came in and stated he's very energetic and enthusiastic. ... This is the right candidate for our county. It can bring us forward."

Neuzil has been the county administrator (sic) in Johnson County, Iowa, since 2001 and was Iowa's youngest county administrator when he was first elected to office, according to his resume.
Neuzil's likely resignation shuffles the deck in next year's supervisor race. He was facing a run for a fifth term next year, with the June primary a bigger deal than the November general election. (No Republican has won a general election for supervisor since 1958, though John Etheredge won a two year term in a March 2013 special election.)

Three supervisors are up in that primary are up in that primary: Rod Sullivan, seeking re-election, Pat Harney, whose plans are the subject of speculation, and until now we thought Neuzil (though the rumor mill has had him job hunting for some time). Lisa Green-Douglass, who narrowly lost in the 2014 primary, is running, and Kurt Friese is also exploring a bid.

More details as they develop...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Carter For President

It's Veterans Day so happy holiday to that nuclear sub sailin', Annapolis graduatin' Navy man Jimmy Carter, who is 91 years young and kicking cancer's ASS.

Caucus rules and caucus trivia: You can caucus for anyone you want. Republicans have an all write in ballot and Democrats have no ballot at all. Just go stand in your corner. And at an Iowa City dorm precinct, some students did just that and elected a Carter delegate.

In 1992.

This gives me an idea, and perhaps a strategery, to navigate my neutrality.

What if I caucus for Jimmy Carter in 2016?

It would be a tribute to Carter's role in caucus history. Carter, of course, is the man who made the Iowa Caucuses into THE IOWA CAUCUSES so we have him to thank for all the attention that has come since.  A caucus corner would be a nice tribute. And I know people who still brag that he slept on their couch in 1975, so maybe I'd have some allies.

Walter Mondale is still available as a running mate. And the 1980 defeat means that despite the mistake of the 22nd Amendment (without which Bill Clinton would STILL be President) Carter still has one term left.

But there's another, more solid reason to caucus for Carter: To make a serious statement about foreign policy.

Compare these 2015 statements from four leading Democrats about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Democrat A:
“In terms of Israel and Palestine you are looking at one of the more depressing tragedies that has gone on in the world for the last 60 years. And I would not be telling you the truth if I said I have a magical solution. But this is what I do believe. I believe in two simple principles. Number one, Israel has a right to exist in peace and security. The Palestinians are entitled to a state of their own with full political and economic power. That's the broad view that I hold and I will do everything that I can to make that happen.”
Democrat B:
I have stood with Israel my entire career. (In one office), I fought to get Magen David Adom accepted to the International Red Cross when other nations tried to exclude the organization. I wrote and co-sponsored bills that isolated terror groups, and pushed to crack down on incitement in Palestinian textbooks and schools. (In another office), I requested more assistance for Israel every year, and supported the lifesaving Iron Dome rocket defense system. I defended Israel from isolation and attacks at the United Nations and other international settings, including opposing the biased Goldstone report...
Democrat C:
“This senseless violence produces nothing but tragedy and more distrust, and it does not move the people and the parties closer to a peaceful and long-lasting resolution,” said Democrat C. “Both sides have to take steps to end this violence and address the underlying cause of it. Both sides have to make the resumption of discussion, talk and dialogue to include a fair, safe and adequate access to sites in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Provocative actions on either side must be avoided.”
Democrat D:
“The Netanyahu government decided early on to adopt a one-state solution … but without giving them [the Palestinians] equal rights.” In this sentence, Democrat D accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of having pursued, upon his election in 2009, a deliberate policy of relentlessly annexing and colonizing the Palestinian West Bank, ensuring that it will end up as part of Israel. At the same time, Democrat D said, Netanyahu conspired to ensure that the 4.2 million Palestinians under Israeli occupation remain stateless and without rights.
Democrat* A is Bernie Sanders, who for all his revolutionary zeal is relatively conventional on Israel/Palestine.

Democrat B, as you likely guessed, is Hillary Clinton, who took an Israel/Palestine question in Coralville last week, gave a pro-Israeli answer, and followed up the next day with a piece headlined "How I Would Reaffirm Unbreakable Bond With Israel — and Benjamin Netanyahu."

Democrat C is Martin O'Malley, who was at least willing to TALK to an Arab-American group, but was backpedaling the next day and issuing disclaimers sticking blame to the Palestinians.

Democrat D, of course, is Jimmy Carter:
But who comes to me, huh? Fucking nobody. Why ask old Jimmy anything? What the fuck could he know about peace in the Middle East? It's not like he fucking won the Nobel Peace Prize for that shit. You myopic pricks. Back in '79, I sat Sadat and Begin right down and made those two dicklicks shake hands. It was beautiful—I had all the pieces lined up and I smiled and waved in my best fucking suit and tie right there on TV. And what do you do, you pieces of shit? You screw the whole goddamn pooch. 
Oops. Wrong article. But even though those aren't Carter's words (he's a Sunday School teacher, for Christ's sake), it's a reasonably accurate assessment.

Carter actually DID say:
In international affairs, I would say that peace for Israel and its neighbors has been a top priority of my foreign policy projects for the past thirty years. Right now I think the prospects are more dismal than any time I can remember in the last 50 years. There’s practically– the whole process is practically dormant. The government of Israel has no desire for a two-state solution, which is the policy of all the other nations in the world. And the United States has practically no influence compared to past years in either Israel or Palestine. So I feel very discouraged about it, but that would be my number one foreign policy hope.
We aren't talking enough about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is central to the entire regional conflict, this election. And if we were, none of the three Democrats actually running is addressing it in anything like an appropriate way.

Only Jimmy Carter, who won a freakin' Nobel Peace Prize for that crap, who has been out of electoral politics for 35 years, has the courage to speak the truth. And to write a book that in its title explicitly called Israeli policy "apartheid."

I've neutraled myself out of the caucuses, though I will eventually pick a corner.  And he won't be viable anyway so it won't be registered anywhere and I'll need to realign. But maybe, just maybe, walking to my own Jimmy Carter corner would be my own little statement, more than walking to my own Uncommitted corner would be. And only the Onion part feels like a joke.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Core Four Win Feels Like Loebsack's Breakthrough

After a couple days of resting and catching up on caucus details (more of the second than the first) I realized what election Tuesday's Iowa City shocking Core Four sweep reminds me of the most:
Dave Loebsack in 2006.

It's got the unexpected underdog upset. The same decades long struggle, the multiple cycles every two years, alternating between serious contenders and Some Dudes, the few times when victory slipped out of our fingers.

It's got the underfunded outsider defeating money and power (though Jim Leach personally showed a very commendable restraint). The two new candidates of the Core Four, John Thomas and Pauline Taylor, raised far less money than the corresponding first timers on the unnamed other side, Tim Conroy and Scott McDonough.

Both cycles have winners with deep roots and much love within the local Democratic Party. Loebsack was both a key organizer of Linn County's Phoenix Club, the county party's fundraising arm, and a worker bee who was one of MY volunteers in 1992, my one cycle as a staffer, knocking doors in Mt. Vernon. Pauline Taylor has long been a workhorse activist in the Johnson County Democrats, and was one of the key organizers of SEIU's successful drive tor organize the UIHC nurses in 1998.

The winners benefited from branding. "Core Four" was a label that worked, despite the other side denouncing "slates" even as they endorsed the opposite four candidates. And in 2006, the label "Republican" was toxic enough to drag down even a genuinely decent guy like Jim Leach, and "Democrat" after your name was magic. In this cycle, Conroy and McDonough played the role of good guys dragged down by unfortunate allies, with Rick Dobyns and Michelle Payne cast as Cheney and Rumsfeld, and lame duck Matt Hayek repudiated as clearly as lame duck George W. Bush was.

Hey, we even had a delay in Johnson County absentee results, the only two times it's ever happened, though on Tuesday it was just 15 minutes, not the interminable four hours of 2006, and it was only because two ballots showed up at the last minute and not because the results had been erased.

And despite the shock of the win, it doesn't feel like a fluke. It feels like the future.

I've said many, many times that the fluke was not Loebsack's win, it was Leach's survival, and Loebsack has confirmed that in becoming one of the few survivors of that Class of 2006.  In 2015, the real fluke is not that the Core Four won; the fluke is that conservatives have governed the most progressive city in the state for decades.

And it feels like, now that the breakthrough has finally happened, things are never going to be quite the same again.

On election night I wrote that the Iowa City establishment had lost its eternal scare tactic, their fear-mongering and red-baiting that the crazies would ruin the city if given a chance.

Along with that, the cycles of near-left liberals accepting moderates as The Best We Can Do, the way a quarter of Johnson County Democrats used to vote for Leach, are over, now that we know we can get the real thing. (Apply this to the presidential contest if you want?) Some endorsements, or lack of endorsements, will look regrettable in retrospect.

This doesn't quite fit in with my 2015 as 2006 analogy, but it's worth noting: In 2014, we saw Johnson County counter-trending, holding its ground or even inching leftward even as the rest of the state was lurching right. Outperforming every other county in the state by 13 to 15 points, race by race. Saving the State Senate for the Democrats by gaining (gaining! In 2014!) an open Republican seat. Voting for Governor Hatch just as we had voted for Senator Conlin, all by ourselves.

After the 2014 election, I wrote:
Joni Ernst's folksy style that was successful almost everywhere else was met with visceral distaste and disbelief here."The Pig Lady can't possibly WIN, can she?" The rest of the state looks in the mirror and sees Ernst; we look in the mirror and see Dave Loebsack.
I sometimes phrased that in conversation as: "Iowa City looks in the mirror and sees a former college professor with a beard."

Which, when you look at our new mayor, seems about right.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Core 4, Old Guard 0


Just - WOW.

Even in my best case scenarios, even as I was watching turnout in the lefty Longfellow neighborhood running ahead of townie bastion Lemme - never did I let myself hope for a SWEEP.

For decades, we scrapped to pick up just ONE seat a cycle, or even settled for replacing a Neanderthal with a moderate.

But today we ran the table, gaining three seats and holding one, and we swung the council from a 5-2 majority for the developer-landlord class that has run the town for forever, to a 5-2 progressive majority.

For the first time ever, the People's Republic of Johnson County has voted, in a city election, in a way that resembles the way we vote in general elections.

And it's not just a win for the next four years. In a very big way, this is a permanent win for Iowa City progressives. Because the old guard lost something more important than Dobyns and Payne and Hayek's open seat today. They lost their scare tactic.
These accomplishments are the result of careful planning, prudent budgeting and operational efficiencies. They reflect a balance between investment in our future and adherence to our values.

A group of city council candidates threatens this balance. They call themselves the “Core Four” and seek a majority on the council. One of them is presently suing the city. Another says our community is not “just” and wants to issue public debt to fund his pet causes. All of them are unabashedly running as a slate.

If this slate wins, the next mayor will likely be Jim Throgmorton. We will return to the anti-growth, micromanaging city hall of eras past. We will lose the critical progress made by recent councils with the help of talented professional staff. We will jeopardize the city’s long-term ability to fund important social services for our most vulnerable populations.

Matt Hayek, Press-Citizen, October 14, 2015
This is the latest, and final, distillation of the argument that the powers that be have been making for all of my 25 years here and long before. That they and only they had the ability to govern the city, and that without them the barbarians - the "Kubby crazies" or "Kanner and Pfab" - would scare business away and destroy our tax base and generally despoil our fair city. They coded their flyers with "Lifelong Resident" and their voters, older or born here, responded in fear or in spite.

They never had to PROVE it - because the progressives were never given the chance to govern. We came close, briefly, in the mid 90s, but even coming close escalated the scare tactics and swept away two seats in 1995.

Well now, the progressives have the chance to govern. We have a four year chance to prove what "responsible growth" really means and prove that it works, that it's not "micromanaging" and "pet projects." And when we do it, it takes away the old guard's scare tactic forever.

Hayek's ham-handed editorial was a turning point in the campaign. Its hostility showed the outgoing majority's true colors - remember, Hayek got elected as a consensus moderate but grew more conservative with each passing year in office. Rather than producing the usual scare, as it was intended, it produced a backlash , and motivated progressives to an organizational and energy level never seen before.

There was also a synergy with other events.  The controversial hiring of UI president Bruce Harreld and the resulting protests may have finally made Iowa City academics make the connection between election results and outcomes. The county minimum wage ordinance, and the outgoing majority's awkward effort to avoid taking a stand before election day, energized labor. And the accelerating Democratic presidential contest meant liberals were in a motivated and political mood at an unusual point in the calendar.

Candidate recruitment also mattered. It's rare to find a candidate as qualified out of the box as John Thomas, or as beloved by two key groups, labor and the Democratic Party, as Pauline Taylor.

On this front, the other side also made a decent effort. Tim Conroy and Scott McDonough had enough good-guy credentials that they had a reasonable hope of peeling off some progressive votes, but this time the left wasn't buying it. We'd been burned before, with Hayek and Rick Dobyns being prime examples.

I almost feel bad for Conroy and McDonough for getting lumped with Dobyns and Michelle Payne, two of the weakest winners the city has ever seen. Dobyns is now a lifetime 1-3 in elections (lost 2005, ran the losing 21 Bar campaign 2007, and won in a near-walkover in 2011 when his opponent didn't campaign). Payne won with fewer votes than any winner, or even many losers, in 2011, mainly because she was the only woman running that cycle and because her very able opponent happened to be 20 years old. And if the townies hate progressives, they REALLY hate students. (The students were a complete non-factor today.)

The numbers are showing a geographic/demographic shift in Iowa City's voting patterns. Progressives led in places they've never led before. The Core Four, all four, won east side precincts like 6 and 16 (the two Mercer precincts). They won on the southeast side precincts 12, 14, and 15, which vote liberal in presidential elections but historically are dominated by older, empty nest townies in local races. They won at Regina, which includes bits of the liberal north side but is mostly east siders.

The conservative bastions of Iowa City have shifted out of the old east side neighborhoods into the newest developed parts of town: the new far south side developments (precinct 10), west of Mormon Trek (7 and 8), and especially Windsor Ridge (precinct 24).

Almost everywhere the patterns were the same: Throgmorton ahead of Cole and Conroy ahead of Payne, and one pair ahead of the other pair. (Chris Liebig used my bullet voting formula, and perhaps my used beret, and determined that 95% of the available votes were used, remarkable in a vote for two race. My bet is bullet votes for Conroy were the exceptions; Payne was more or less left to rot.) And if Throg and Cole were winning, so were Taylor and Thomas, with Taylor doing just a little better.

Absentee voting almost exactly mirrored the election day percentages.

The few exceptions:
  • Conroy ran very strong in Manville Heights, trailing Throgmorton for first by one vote while Cole ran third. The same rank order also happened at Precinct 2 (Horn).
  • The votes split fairly evenly at Lemme where Throgmorton won followed by Payne, Conroy and Cole.
  • Cole was technically in first place at the Rec Center...  with 12 votes to Throgmorton's 10.
  • Payne actually WON, with low turnout and by one vote over Throgmorton, the new development Precinct 10 at Trueblood. She also nudged Conroy into last place by one vote at Tate, but in the big picture she suffered the worst incumbent loss since Dee Vanderhoef in 2007, or arguably since Irvin Pfab lost his primary in 2003.
The only notable deviation in the district races was at Horn, where Dobyns won bigger than McDonough.

The other real action today was at University Heights. What had looked like their first quiet cycle since 2007 suddenly amped up last Monday with the emergence of write in candidates. So they jumped to their now usual governor level turnout and presidential level of contentiousness, and the result is both split and incomplete with an administrative recount in the works.