Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Big Money from Small Donors is Driving Republican Extremism

One of my first things I do in the morning is read Prof. Sheila Suess Kennedy's blog.   In addition to being a fellow attorney, Sheila, according to the bio on her blog, is "Emerita Professor of Law and Public Policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Until her retirement in December of 2020, she was a Faculty Fellow with both the Center for Religion and American Culture and the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, an adjunct professor of political science and founder of the Center for Civic Literacy at IUPUI."

Having taught political science as an adjunct instructor at IUPUI and the University of Indianapolis for some 25 years, I concur with Sheila's frequent articles emphasizing the importance of civil education.  So many problems today are exacerbated by people who don't have a grasp of how politics, government, and the world in general, works.

I would not want to go back into a college classroom today to teach politics.  It's a brand new game, and I'm still struggling figure it out.  One thing that has changed dramatically is fundraising. 

That brings me to today's column.  Sheila pens an article talking about the Republican Party and corporate fundraising.  Sheila's readers often chime in with their own take on the article.  The readers today seem to sound the same theme - that GOP criticism of corporations is not sincere, that the Republican Party will continue to pursue the big corporate contributions that dictate what Republicans do in office.

For the record, I think it is fair to say that, while Sheila's readers are quite thoughtful and erudite, they tend to be older and more liberal than average.  Being older myself, I find it difficult to adjust to the changing political landscape, to understanding the new rules of politics.  One thing I've gained an understanding of, however, is the new way in which politicians raise money.

Sheila and her readers have it wrong.  The big money for Republican officials today is in small donor donations, not corporate contributions.  Republican elected officials like Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz and Senators Ted Cruz and and Josh Hawley are examples of GOP elected officials who raise huge sums of money off of small, individual contributions.

If you would have told me that there would come a day in politics in which elected members of Congress could eschew hosting big fundraising events attended mostly by corporate donors in favor of raising small donations from individuals, mostly online, I would have applauded the change.  The lack of corporate contributions means these elected officials can now act in a way that is in the people's best interests rather than the interests of their big corporate donors.

Or so I thought.  That supposed "good government" change to fundraising practices has turned ugly. For elected officials to get a plethora of small donations, they have to draw attention to themselves.  The best way to do that is to act as crazy as possible, say outrageous stuff, and get as much time on Fox News, NewsMax and other conservative media outfits as possible.  

Sheila's readers bemoan Republicans getting corporate contributions and think they should be cut off.  But it turns out that the reliance on corporate contributions actually forced those GOP candidates receiving the money to moderate their policies and behavior.  Now, untethered by corporate contributions, Republicans aspiring for office have no incentive to appear rational and reasonable.  Indeed, pursuing the most extreme policies while saying outrageous things is what brings in the small dollar donations.

The fundraising game has changed.

Oh, and that Citizen's United decision that allows corporations and outside groups to spend an unlimited amount on election activities (albeit not direct contributions to candidates)?  The day is rapidly coming when Democrats benefit from the decision more than Republicans.  Let's see if they still want the decision overturned then.  My guess is it will be like gerrymandering.  Democrats oppose gerrymandering until the minute they are in power and get to draw the maps.  



Friday, April 9, 2021

"Christian" Crowdfunding Website Raises Money for Violent Insurrectionists and White Supremacists

GiveSendGo purports to be a "site [where] crowds of Christians [can] come together and support other Christians in their endeavors."  Apparently those "endeavors" include supporting those who attempt the violent overthrow of the United States government, engage in physically assaults on police officers, and embrace white supremacy. 

The GiveSendGo site has become the place to go if you are one of the January 6th insurrectionists charged with a crime and need some cash to pay your attorney or other bills.  Let's sample some of those campaigns currently appearing on the GiveSendGo's website.

Freddie Klein Legal Defense Fund

Freddie Klein

This campaign, created by Freddie's mother, Cecelia, remarks that Freddie, a "devout Catholic and Iraq war veteran is facing serious legal charges stemming from his alleged involvement in the January 6, 2021 'Capitol riot'."  Although the brief campaign is short in specifics, it has raised $43,164.

Klein is one of the more interesting insurrectionists.  A Trump political appointee to the State Department, Federico "Freddie" Klein had a top-secret security clearance that was renewed in 2019.  Yet, Klein had a fairly lengthy rap sheet which included underage drinking, driving while intoxicated and marijuana possession.  While those charges were about two decades old, Klein was charged in 2013 with public drunkenness, and more significantly, second-degree assault, robbery and theft relating to an altercation he had with a woman he had met at a pro-life rally.

During the January 6th insurrection, Klein was, allegedly, caught on film using a police shield to repeatedly hit police officers while instructing other rioters to continue assaulting the police.  Klein only ended his attacks on law enforcement officers when he was physically subdued by pepper spray.  Klein has been charged with several felonies, including assault on police officers, interfering with police during civil disorder, and obstruction of an official proceeding.'

Fight for Freedom (Chris Kuehne)

The campaign, written by Chris Kuehne's wife, Annette, points out that Chris was a Marine who was awarded the Purple Heart and other medals and awards during a 20-year military career.  As a Marine, Chris was injured by an exploding IED while serving in Olathe.  The campaign details his arrest by an FBI SWAT team and suggests the stress of that event caused Annette to miscarry.  The lengthy campaign says Chris was just in Washington, DC on the 6th to "support President Trump and protect civilians from Antifa."  

Annette has raised $52,645 off of this appeal.

Chris Kuehne, who lives in Olathe, Kansas, is identified as a member of the Kansas City-area Proud Boys.  Chris is charged with conspiracy, civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted buildings or grounds without lawful authority and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds.  The affidavit charging Chris Kuehne suggests he had an organizing role on the day of the insurrection.

Help Rachel Powell

Not all of the insurrectionists on January 6th were men.  There were a significant number of women involved in the assault.  One of them was Rachel Powell, a divorced mother of eight living in Western Pennsylvania.  The campaign for her legal fees, which thus far has raised only $5,100 of the $50,000 goal, notes that "Rachel attended the Capitol protest and got caught caught up in the moment.  Anyone who knows her knows that she is a good person and mother.  We want her to have a chance to be able to see her children grow up."

Rachel Powell

The story of how Powell became radicalized by the pandemic, Trump's rhetoric and various conspiracy theories she read on the internet is both sad and fascinating.  The New Yorker devoted a lengthy piece to her story.  The Pittsburg CBS affiliate reported on what Powell was alleged to have done on January 6th:

According to the indictment, Powell is accused of storming into a restricted section of the U.S. Capitol carrying an axe and a large wooden pole. She allegedly showed up to disrupt Congress and destroyed a window in her path, costing more than $1,000 in damage. She’s become known as the lady with the bullhorn, and seemed to have knowledge of the Capitol building’s floor plan, instructing insurrectionists where to go. Moments before, she can be seen in position with a battering ram breaking the glass window, forcefully leading the pack onward.

The FBI says Powell was with a group inside the Capitol and provided detailed instructions on the building’s layout, telling rioters that “they should ‘coordinate together if you are going to take this building.’”

...

Powell had all her guns taken by the feds. When they raided her home, they also found bags loaded with duct tape, rope, cell phones, throwing stars and other weapons.

A D.C. grand jury indicted Powell on charges including act of physical violence in the Capitol grounds or buildings; obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting; destruction of government property; and engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon.    

Powell and her supporters have pushed back against the suggestion she had a role coordinating the rioters' actions on January 6th.  No doubt, a conspiracy charge would significantly increase any prison sentence Powell might receive.

Retired Army Sgt Harrelson Kenneth and family

This campaign, created by Angel Harrison, discusses Kenneth Harrelson's service in the military, which is said to have ended with a medical discharge.  The campaign discusses his continued medical issues, the family's teenage children and the desperate need for money to pay for an attorney, pay bills and buy groceries.  As far as what Kenneth is alleged to have done on January 6th, the campaign only says that "[h]e didn't do any of those things they say."

The Campaign has raised $181,230.

Kenneth Harrelson, who is from Titusville, Florida, is a member of the Oath Keepers, a far right paramilitary group.  Harrelson is charged with having committed felony conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents or proceedings.  He also faces a misdemeanor charge of entering a restricted building.  The affidavit supporting the criminal complaint suggests Harrelson was coordinating efforts that day with other members of the Oath Keepers.

Lt. Col Larry Brock Jr. Legal Defense

The campaign describes what happened that day:

January 6th of this year, Larry attended a rally in Washington DC to protest what he believed to be a fraudulent election and to show support for President Donald Trump.  Larry attended the President's speech, but left a little early to find a restroom with plans to continue on to the Capitol building, knowing that is where the peaceful protest would take place.  He arrived at the Capitol building towards the beginning of the group and noticed that the barricades were opened and uniformed police were waving everyone through - closer to the Capitol building.  Larry continued to follow the crowd and found himself at a main entrance to the building.  He stopped at the door and decided to enter as a policman (sic) held the door open.  No violent entry and no intent to commit violence of any kind.  Larry can be seen on many videos on the Senate floor, not being violent, but in fact being a peackeeper (sic).  He can be heard asking people to behave and respect "the people's house." Larry decided it was time to leave as things got more crowded and sought out a uniformed policeman to escort him out.

According to the Air Force Times, Brock was photographed on the Senate floor wearing a helmet and a heavy vest, and carrying plastic zip-tie handcuffs. The initial charges against the retired Air Force officer and Grapevine, Texas resident is that he knowingly entered or remained in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.  In court, the Assistant U.S. Attorney said Brock "means to take hostages. he means to kidnap, restrain, perhaps try, perhaps execute members of the U.S. government."  Brock posted on social media during the riot:  "Patriots on the Capitol.  Patriots storming.  Men with guns need to shoot their way in."

Thus far, the Brock campaign has raised $1,430, well short of the $20,000 goal.  The GiveSendGo website doesn't seem to identify the date campaigns are started, but from the comments included with the donation, the campaign has been up for more than two months.

This is only a small sampling of the numerous campaigns for January 6th insurrectionists appearing on the GiveSendGo fundraising website (the more popular GoFundMe website kicked them off). Some have done poorly in fundraising, while others spectacularly well.  Many lean heavily on claims the insurrectionists are "patriots" (clearly their actions say otherwise), God-fearing, family men and women. 

It should be noted that GiveSendGo's crowdfunding website says that it takes nothing from these fundraising campaigns, that it survives entirely on donations.  GiveSendGo also claims to kick back 10% of the donations it receives to the campaigns on its website.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Daring to Criticize the Amber Alert Program

It is not often that blogger/podcast host/attorney Mark Small hits a home run on a public policy issue, but he nails it today with his criticism of Indiana's Amber Alert program.

The other night, I was awakened from a deep sleep when my phone suddenly began emitting a loud wailing alarm.  I knew right away it wasn't the regular alarm I had set.  Far too early.   Was my or my neighbor's house on fire?  Was a tornado about to hit my neighborhood?  Had a murderer escaped and was roaming the northwest side of Indy?

None of the above.  It was an Amber Alert...a child supposedly had been abducted in, as I recall, South Bend, Indiana, which is 2 1/2 hours north of Indianapolis.  The alert gave a description of the child and the name of the supposed abductor, and the car the alleged abductor was thought to be driving.  Not sure why they decided to wake up Indianapolis residents in the middle of the night to alert them to this information.  At least, South Bend though is in Indiana.  I have gotten Amber Alerts from Lexington, Kentucky.

Fortunately, I don't have any problem sleeping.  But I know many people who struggle to get and stay asleep and, for them, an early morning alert means the end of their slumber.

According to the Indiana State Police, this is the Amber Alert criteria:

1. The child must be under 18 years of age.
2. The child must be believed to be abducted, AND in danger of serious bodily harm or death.
3. There must be enough descriptive information to believe the broadcast will help.
4. Request must be recommended by the law enforcement agency of jurisdiction.

Here is Mark's article:

Few things are scarier than a self-righteous mob bent on saving lives and keeping people safe, facts be damned. In the middle of the night my cell phone went off. I looked at the screen. An AMBER alert had been issued. Another went off a few minutes later.

Little kids should not be in jeopardy. However, despite news items of individual successes or articles published by those who advocate for the system itself, a peer-review study suggests the alerts are not so effective.

Timothy Griffin is an associate professor of criminology at the University of Nevada-Reno, He led a 2015 study, published in 39 Journal of Crime and Justice No. 4 (2016). In a “sample of 448 child abduction cases in which [an AMBER] Alert was issued ...

We reached conclusions consistent with the scant available prior research on AMBER Alert: although over 25% of the Alerts facilitated the recovery of abducted child(ren) and are thus arguably ‘successful’ by that standard alone, ...

there was little evidence AMBER Alerts ‘save lives.’ In fact, AMBER Alert success cases are in almost every measurable way identical to AMBER Alert cases in which the child(ren) were returned unharmed but the Alert had no direct role in that outcome:...

they typically involve abduction by family members & other (apparently) non-life-threatening abductors, and the vast majority of recovery times are over 3 h....”

To put everyone on a fictional “high alert” makes some self-righteous people feel good and a few kids might be saved. But more kids might be saved, and some not even placed in danger, if we devote resources in other ways.

AMBER alerts going off on cell phones in the middle of the night are unlikely to reach people who can do anything at all. The self-righteous can react to this and sneer about inconvenience of disturbed sleep. I more concerned about kids’ safety and our limited resources.

I might be more concerned about people losing sleep than Mark.  But I'm more worried about the "Chicken Little" effect of constant Amber Alerts that desensitize the public to child abduction.


It is very politically incorrect, however, to criticize the Amber Alert program, so kudos (is there such a thing as a "kudo," singular?) to Mark for taking on the issue.  As I noted in my comments to his article, his taking on the Amber Alert issue is like pointing out that the law mandates too many handicapped parking spaces for businesses (it does), or my pet peeve, the gross exaggeration of the problem of human trafficking.  Regarding the latter, local law enforcement officials are quick to suggest human trafficking to the media because that gets the headlines and lots of federal grant money.  But at the end of the day, the facts rarely support the human trafficking charges.   Almost always it is not human trafficking, but rather good old-fashioned prostitution, adults freely deciding to trade sex for money.


Yes, let's rethink the Amber Alert program.  If you disagree and want to lambast someone for daring to criticize the program, I will be happy to give you Mark's number.


OOP's short takes:

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz just released a statement ostensibly written by the women in his congressional office in which they said:  "Congressman Gaetz has always been a principled and morally grounded leader. At no time has any one of us experienced or witnessed anything less than the utmost professionalism and respect. No hint of impropriety. No ounce of untruthfulness."   Trouble is the statement is not actually signed by any women in his office.  It is more than a little hypocritical that Gaetz complains that the accusations of his wrongdoing are coming from anonymous sources, then he uses anonymous sources to defend himself against those accusations.  Gaetz though is a Trumper.  I have found Trumpers do not grasp the concept of hypocrisy.  
  • I have lambasted the gross misrepresentation by Democrats and the media of the Georgia election law.  It is refreshing though to see Kentucky take a bipartisan approach toward voting reform, proving theere is considerable middle ground when it comes to how elections are run.  But as long as Republicans are lying about voter fraud and Democrats are lying about voter suppression, meaningful and needed election reforms will be impossible.
  • President Trump is trying to persuade Ron Johnson to run for re-election in Wisconsin.  Finally, Democrats have something for which they will enthusiastically support Trump.  There is nothing more the Democrats want than a shot to oust the unpopular Trumpian Senator who has embraced the most extreme conspiracy theories during his tenure.  If the Wisconsin GOP nominates someone else, that person likely will be favored to win in what should be a favorable Republican year.  If Johnson is the nominee, the Democrats are likely to pick up the seat. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

MLB Hypocrisy on its Decision to Pull All-Star Game Out of Georgia; My Lifelong Boycott of the "Midsummer Classic"

Although former President Trump has requested it, I am not going to boycott major league baseball this year.  This is especially true since the Reds are currently in first place...okay they are only four games into the 162 game season and tied with the Cubs.  But it still counts.

I am, however, going to boycott the All-Star game that MLB has announced it is moving out of Atlanta due to non-existent new restrictions on voting passed by the Republican-controlled Georgia legislature.

Okay, let me be perfectly honest. Although a lifelong baseball fan, I have never been a fan of the All-Star Game.  It was a lame contest when I was young and with the expansion of the all-star roster over the years it has become even more lame.  Players are constantly shuffled in and out of lineups.   Keeping track of who is playing and out of the game is next to impossible.   It is not a true baseball game in any sense.   An inning is about as much of the game that I can take.  I surveyed my friends who are big baseball fans.  None of them care about watching the All-Star game, which MLB wishfully calls the "Midsummer Classic."

I used to play in an amateur baseball league in my early 30s.  One year, after the conclusion of the season, I was asked to play in the league's all-star game.  I am pretty sure it was a lack of players wanting to participate in that post-season, early fall exhibition that spawned the invitation and not my playing skills. But it still counts.

The one thing MLB has going for it is that, while its all-star game is a pointless, insipid contest, the other professional leagues such as the NBA and NFL have even worse all-star games.  Never seen the NHL all-star game, but I'm sure it is also awful.

When MLB announced its decision to move the all-star game out of Atlanta (which game will now be played in Denver), the league avoided the specifics of the Georgia law it found to be objectionable.  It looks like the decision was driven more by politically active players who got caught up in the zeal to condemn the law.  MLB officials know that players have never been keen on playing in the meaningless exhibition game anyway (they prefer the four days off in the middle of the long season to spend with their family) and would jump at a reason to boycott the game.

During a recent press conference, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp denounced the move of the MLB All-Star game from the Peach State and did a point-by-point comparison of voting in Georgia versus voting in New York.  As Kemp pointed out, New York has less early voting than Georgia, unlike Georgia does not have no excuse absentee voting, and, like Georgia, it is a crime in New York to give food and water to people in line.  Yet apparently MLB has no problem having its headquarters in New York.

CNN viewers though would never hear Governor Kemp make the case.  Early into the Kemp press conference, CNN cut away for an interview with Democrat Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in which the Mayor continued the false narrative, without evidence, that the new Georgia law imposes sweeping new restrictions on voting.  While former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams initially was reluctant to criticize the new Georgia law (compared to her early criticism of the restrictive proposals that were not included in the final bill), she soon came around to embracing the false narrative and now refers to the new Georgia election law as Jim Crow 2.0.

The Jim Crow comparison is more than over-the-top, misleading rhetoric.  It insults the legacy of civil rights leaders some who risked their lives to oppose Jim Crow laws in southern states, laws that restricted where African-Americans could live, eat, go to school, and which laws placed substantial and real obstacles on the right of blacks to vote.

There are a couple major problems with the Georgia bill - the legislature stripping power from the Secretary of State and giving itself the authority to take over county election boards the legislature believes is underperforming.  Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was one of the few Republican elected officials who were willing to publicly refute Trump's big lie about election fraud and refused to help the former President steal the election in Georgia.  Still these "inside baseball" changes to the Georgia election law do not directly impact voting and do not seem to be enough for the faux outrage against the bill.

One of the ironies is that the MLB controversy has given Kemp an opportunity to shore up support with Republicans, including most importantly the Trump wing that was ready to take him out in the primary.  

Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and presumed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams do run the risk of overplaying their hand on the Georgia election law.  To win in Georgia in 2022, a midterm election which should be favorable to Republicans, they need to appear moderate and reasonable.  Suburban voters might get turned off by Warnock and Abrams' false characterization of a bill, which in many respects makes it easier to vote.

In short, the odds of Brian Kemp being re-elected governor in Georgia in 2022 has gone way up.

Friday, April 2, 2021

OOP's Short Takes: Amazon Union Effort, Labor Law Changes, Politicology Podcast and Rep. Matt Gaetz

OOP's short takes on this Good Friday 2021: 

  • Amazon Union Vote - On Monday, the voting on unionizing an Amazon "fulfillment center" in Bessemer, Alabama ended.  We should know the results in a few days.  I'm not a big union supporter, but if there was ever a company's employees who need union representation it's Amazon's.  As I have preached to leftists, it is not pay or benefits at Amazon that is the problem (Amazon actually pays above market for warehouse workers). It's the horrific working conditions.  It is maddening though seeing Amazon promote their increasing lower end pay at their facilities to $15 an hour when the company at the same time eliminated much more lucrative employee attendance and performance bonuses.  Amazon's $15 an hour minimum announcement was nothing more than a PR stunt.  Unfortunately a lot of liberals like Bernie Sanders were duped.  By the way, can we stop pretending Bezos is some sort of liberal?  Liberal business owners don't impose sweatshop working conditions and engage in underhanded efforts to stop unionization.  Even conservative employers who care about their employees don't do that.
  • Overtime Exempt Rules - If Democrats want some low hanging fruit to help workers, they might consider increasing the overtime eligible threshold for salaried employees.  Right now salaried employees are not eligible for time and a half overtime if they make more than $36,000 a year.  So companies pay workers, (generally low level manager types) above that level, then demand they work ten, fifteen or more hours a week in uncompensated overtime.  One of those companies is Amazon.  I had a friend who worked at Amazon as an associate for seven years before being promoted to manager, receiving a substantial raise with the promotion.  Or so he thought.  In exchange for the salaried position, Amazon demanded he work so much uncompensated overtime that he was back making per hour what he made as an associate. He quit after a few months.
  • Student Loans - Another low hanging fruit idea.  Instead of trying to forgive student loan debt, Democrats (and thoughtful Republicans) would be wise to change bankruptcy law so student loan debt is treated the same as any other unsecured debt.   Right now, while student loans are technically dischargeable in bankruptcy, different rules apply.  As a result, student loans are rarely discharged even if those debts are included (and they often are not) in the bankruptcy petition.  Because there is little risk, lenders are eager to lend to students wanting to pursue post-secondary education. While that sounds good, the ability of adults to go deeply in debt for education has spawned a number of shady, for profit education institutions who are more than willing to take that money, leaving the borrower poorly educated and deeply in debt.
  • Politicology - I may have to cut the Politicology podcast out of my rotation.  On a recent episode host Ron Steslow asked guests about Stacey Abrams' complaints about voter suppression compared to Trump's complaints about voter fraud.  All three guests criticized Abrams stolen election claim and said it hurt democracy.  So on the next show, Steslow brings another election law expert on and coaxes him into explaining why what Abrams did was okay and Trump did was wrong.  While the expert mostly dodged the question, Steslow got his "clarification."  If Steslow is not going to be even-handed and honest in his political discussions, I will find other political podcasts to listen to.
  • Stacey Abrams - Let's be clear what Stacey Abrams did.  In 2018, Abrams complained that  Secretary of State Brian Kemp and gubernatorial candidate engaged in "voter suppression" by removing from the rolls 600,000 people who had not voted in numerous elections.  Kemp was obligated by federal law to perform this cleanup of the voter registration list, a statutory duty which had been delayed for years (which is why the numbers of voters purged was so large) by an NAACP lawsuit.  Despite Abrams' voter suppression claims, the 2018 Georgia midterm featured near record turnout and record turnout for African-American voters.  Abrams lost the election by 55,000 votes, FIVE TIMES more than what Trump lost the state by.  Abrams could only produce a handful of voters supposedly disenfranchised by the purge, yet to this day continues to claim the election was "stolen" by "voter suppression" and refuses to concede.  What Abrams did  has undermined Georgians' faith in election results maybe as much as what Trump did.
  • Georgia Election Law - I saw where President Biden said Georgia's election day hours had been shortened to 5 pm by the new law.  That is not correct. Georgia election day voting hours will be the same as they were before the new law passed - 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Early voting though was previously limited to "business hours." The new law simply clarifies that "business hours" for early voting means 9 am to 5 pm, which is exactly how the phrase had been interpreted.  The new law actually provides that Georgia counties can extend early voting to 7 pm.   Thus far, Biden's honesty has been a refreshing change from Trump's pathological and daily lies, but the President needs to stop spouting falsehoods about the Georgia election law.
  • Matt Gaetz - One thing that is incredible about the Rep. Gaetz story is the amount of the extortion demand - $25 million.  Does anyone believe that Gaetz's reputation, and protecting potential harm to his career, is worth $25 million?  The last thing an extortionist wants to do is to set the demand for money so high that the target has no choice but to go the authorities.  Gaetz's claim would have more validity if the extortionist had asked for $250,000.  I would add that, even if Gaetz is correct about the extortion effort, that doesn't mean he did not do anything wrong.  Reportedly he did a lot wrong.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Georgia Republicans Take Huge Political Hit for Bill That Makes Small Tweaks to State's Election Law

Instead of reading media reports about what the new Georgia election law does, I decided to sit down and actually read the bill.  After my initial review, I decided I needed to read it again.  Given all the fuss being made (the changes have been called "draconian," "Jim Crow" and "shameful" are used to describe it), I figured there must have been something I missed during the first trip through the 98 page bill.  After all, Democrats were screaming that the bill was voter suppression (particularly of minorities), and that as a result of the legislation, thousands of Georgians would be denied the right to vote.

Surely Georgia Democrats would not falsely claim voter suppression to score political points, would they? Oh, wait, Georgia is home to failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who in 2018 lost Georgia by five times what Trump did, yet to this day still refuses to concede.  The 2018 Georgia election featured near record mid-term turnout, and record African-American voting.  Yet Abrams continues to peddle her nonsense, without proof, that Republican voter suppression efforts kept her out of the Governor's mansion.  Democrats are right to challenge Republicans when they repeat Trump's BIG LIE that he won the 2020 election. But Democrats should be called out when they refuse to challenge Abrams' BIG LIE.  Both lies, and they are lies, undermine democracy and voters' faith in our elections.

While several media reports have accurately reported the contents of the Georgia election law, provisions in earlier drafts, which arguably were voter suppression, got most of the publicity.  Those included elimination of Sunday early voting and no excuse absentee voting, neither of which was included in the final version of the bill.

Here is a summary of what the new Georgia election law does, with my commentary:

  • Expands weekend early voting.  Previously only one day of weekend early voting was required.  Now counties are required to provide at least two, and counties can also provide two Sundays of early voting if they want.  So the "Souls to the Polls" effort of Atlanta-area African-American churches won't be affected.
  • Creation of drop boxes for ballots.  Georgia law did not previously allow voters to put their completed ballots in a drop box.  In 2020, this was a temporary voter option that was offered via administrative rule due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  It is now codified.  Each county will have at least one drop box, with counties able to add one more for every 100,000 registered voters living in the county.
    ---Democrats complain about the law limiting where these drop boxes will be located and that they will no longer be 24/7.  But the drop boxes need to be in locations and open at times when they can be monitored.   Election officials have learned if they don't monitor the drop boxes, people will deliberately pour liquids or garbage into the drop slot, or even try to light the ballots on fire.  
  • Monitoring voter lines and reducing size of precincts.  The new law requires that the line of voters be monitored and that if the wait to vote is too long, that extra equipment and personnel be provided to the precinct.  The law also provides that heavy turnout precincts be reduced in size so voters don't have to wait so long.
  • Absentee ballot identification.  The new law requires that a voter requesting an absentee ballot provide a driver's license number, the number of his or her state ID (available to Georgia residents for free) or copies of some other permissible ID.  Previously the identification of the voter on the application for the ballot and the ballot focused primarily on matching signatures.
    ---I've long complained the voter signature match is a joke. First, people's signatures change greatly over time.  The election board or some comparable government entity would have to continually update voter signatures. Second, the election workers who are called upon to compare signatures have no training on handwriting analysis, which is a skill that takes substantial training and years of experience to master.  Third, whether a voter signature matches involves an extremely arbitrary judgment which is open to mischief by partisan election workers wanting to disenfranchise voters of the opposite party.  Democrats are going to scream about all the disenfranchised voters who can't come up with an ID, and thus can't vote, but they can never produce more than a handful of such voters at best. 
  • Mailing out absentee ballot applications.  Government officials will no longer be able to mail out absentee voter applications.  Private political organizations can still mail them out, but there is a prohibition on filling out the forms in advance for the voters. And they have to contain a disclaimer that the form is not coming from the government.
  • Voters must be allowed to request an absentee ballot on-line.
  • Prisoners must have access to the internet to apply for an absentee ballot. 
  • Privacy protections for voters voting absentee.  It hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but the new law protects voters casting absentee ballots from being pressured to vote a certain way or otherwise have their vote monitored. 
  • Shortened deadlines for requesting an absentee ballot.  The new law shortens the time for requesting an absentee voter application and makes the deadline earlier.  The idea behind the change is so clerk's office has more time to process the applications so there is not the huge backlog like there has been in the past.
  • Ban on handing out food and water to voters.  What was going on in Georgia was that some candidates and political interest groups politicking with people in line while handing out food and water to those voters.  The Georgia legislature added the food and water restriction to a section of the law which banned candidates and political organizations from engaging with voters while in line to vote.  An argument has ensued as to whether the food and ban applies to just candidates and political organizations or applies to everyone.
    ---I looked closely at the construction of the paragraph in which this ban was inserted.  While I think the legislature may have intended it to be limited to candidates and political organization providing food and water, because of the lack of limiting language and the construction of the provision, the ban almost certainly applies to everyone but poll workers who are explicitly excepted from the law.
  • Run-off elections reduced from 9 to 4 weeks.  The time frame for holding a run-off election in Georgia has been substantially reduced.  The early voting period for run-offs has correspondingly been shortened.  And while it was already Georgia law, the new law makes it clear that only those voters who were eligible to vote in the original general election could vote in the run-off that followed that election.  Military and overseas voters will receive ranked choice ballots in the original general election so as to eliminate their need to do a second ballot in the runoff.
    ---I think reducing the time between the general election and the associated runoff is a good idea.  Better yet would be the expansion of ranked choice voting so that the need for runoff elections are eliminated.  This election I have finally been sold on the merits or rank choice voting.
  • Disclosure and reporting requirements.  The law contains a number of new disclosure and reporting requirements for local officials as it relates to the ballots that are received and counted.
  • Removal of Secretary of State as chair of State Election Board.  A major part of the new Georgia law is aimed at reducing the authority of the Secretary of State over elections.  The major change is that the SOS will no longer be the Chair of the State Election Board, and will only remain on the board as an advisory, non-voting member.  The new chairman of the Election Board will be an appointee of both houses of the Georgia state legislature.
  • Takeover of county election operations.  In case Georgia county election boards are viewed as underperforming, they are subject to take over by state officials.
Contrary to some media accounts and universal Democratic claims, the new law in Georgia isn't going to disenfranchise scores of voters.  In fact, it is doubtful it will reduce turnout at all.  There are also a number of very positive changes in the bill.  

While Democrats complain about how difficult it is to vote in Republican-run Georgia, they ignore the fact that voting in Georgia is much easier than in many Democratic-run states such as New York.  For example, unlike Georgia, New York requires an excuse to vote absentee and limits early voting to just 10 days. For the record, I dislike long early voting periods.

But while the final bill proved to be innocuous and indeed made some needed changes to election law,  Georgia Republicans have already lost.  Democrats, with little evidence, have successfully labeled the law as a Republican-inspired effort to stop people from voting.  While Democrats are wrong on the substance of the bill, they are right that the bill was spawned by those who bought into Trump's lie about a stolen election.

In short, Georgia Republicans aren't going to block or discourage Democratic-leaning voters from voting with the new law, and their decision to push the bill through will be a potent weapon for Democrats to motivate their voters in 2022.   While the law has many good features, pushing it through as a partisan effort in 2021 will prove to be a huge mistake for Georgia Republicans.

OOP's short takes:
  • Read about the FBI investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz and his alleged 17 year old traveling companion.  I don't know if it's true and Gaetz deserves the presumption of innocence.  But one thing Gaetz has proved beyond doubt is that he is one of the most reprehensible and ignorant members of Congress.  He may not be the worst member, but he definitely ranks in the top 10.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Washington DC Residents Deserve Congressional Representation, But Retrocession, Not Statehood, is the Answer

If you live in the District of Columbia, you have no voting representation in the U.S. House or the Senate.  This is despite the fact that Congress has ultimate governing authority over the district.

I never understood the need for District of Columbia.  I understand that it would be better that our main federal office buildings, the White House, Congress, etc. be located in a separate federal district, not subject to the jurisdiction of any state.  My problem was the inclusion of residential neighborhoods into the district.  That act permanently disenfranchised thousands of Americans.  Talk about taxation without representation. 

Democrats note the unfairness of the residents of Washington, D.C. not having federal representation in Congress.  They propose a solution - making it a state.   

As of 2019, Washington, D.C. had a population of 692,683, ranking it the 20th largest city in the United States.  Washington, D.C. has less population than Austin, Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Columbus, Ohio.  Washington, D.C. at 68.34 square miles in size, is not a large city geographically either.  By comparison, Indianapolis is 368 square miles.  The smallest state is Rhode Island at 1,214 square miles.

It is not fair that Washington, D.C. residents do not have voting representation in Congress. But making it a state is beyond absurd.  This is especially true when there is an obvious solution  to giving D.C. residents representation - retrocession.  To carve out Washington, D.C., land was taken from two states, Maryland and Virginia.  The land can be given back.  In fact, there is precedent for doing so.  In 1847, the former Virginia part of the district was receded back to that state commonwealth,  That area is now the Virginia counties of Arlington and Alexandria.  

If the Democrats were truly concerned about D.C. residents having a say in federal affairs, they would support retrocession.  But instead they call the proposal a "distraction," pushing ahead for full statehood for Washington, D.C.  The real reason why is the Democrats want two more votes in the United States Senate.  As of 2016, 76% of registered voters in the district were Democrats while 6% are registered Republicans.  

There have been periods of time when the GOP controlled both houses of Congress.  Republicans were fools for not using that opportunity to fix the unfairness of Washington, D.C. residents not having a voice in Congress.  Now it looks like D.C. statehood might be more a question of when, not if.

***

OOP's short takes:

  • For the record, I'm not against Puerto Rico statehood, that is of course, assuming the residents of the territory want statehood.  Unlike Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico has all the characteristics of a state, as opposed to a city.
  • In terms of the partisan scorecard, that probably would give the Democrats two more U.S. Senators, though Republicans are competitive in Puerto Rico and have elected GOP Governors of the island.  Ironically, Republicans are more competitive in Puerto Rico than they currently are in Hawaii, the only island that is a state.
  • In seeking to dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed against her by Dominion Voting Systems, "Attorney" Sydney Powell argues that "no reasonable person" would have believed her claims of election fraud were "factual."  Instead Powell claims she was engaging in exaggeration and hyperbole.  Yet, to this day millions of Trump supporters fervently believe The Big Lie that Donald Trump only lost because of widespread fraud.  Powell is saying in no uncertain terms that Trump supporters who believe The Big Lie are not "reasonable."  Finally, Powell is speaking the truth.
  • Woke up this morning to a report on the inequities of women and men when it comes to pay.  The MSNBC host pointed out that women only make 82 cents of what men make.  A guest emphasized that is why Congress needs to pass the latest "equal pay" act.
  • In fact, the Equal Pay Act passed Congress and was signed into law in 1963.  Since then it has been illegal to pay similarly situated men and women differently when working the same job. 
  • PayScale issued a 2021 report that included the 82 cents figure now cited by news hosts and guests.  But the PayScale report also said that "when men and women with the same employment characteristics do similar jobs, women earn 98 cents for every dollar earned by an equivalent man."  While PayScale rightfully criticizes the 2 cent differential, it had to know the misleading 82 cents figure in its report would be the one that gets all the attention. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

If Governor Holcomb Wants to "Rescue" a GOP County Organization, He Might Consider Hamilton County

Last week, I wrote about Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb's intervention to "rescue" the Marion County (Indianapolis) Republican Party by installing one of his operatives, Joe Elsener, as Chairman.  Marion County, which has now become the most Democratic county in the state, is in dire need of help.  I have doubts though that Holcomb and Elsener are willing to take the steps necessary to repair what used to be one of the best grassroots party organizations in the country.

When it comes to Marion County, the good news is the Republican numbers have probably bottomed out.  The bad news is the Republican Party's fortunes in Marion County are unlikely to improve significantly any time soon.  Rebuilding the Marion County Republican Party, which has been in steady decline for the last 3 1/2 decades, is a long term project.  That house burned down awhile back.  It will have to be rebuilt from the ground up.  

Holcomb would be better advised to focus more on the Republican county organizations that are currently on fire, and not in a good way.  Looking at the more urban Indianapolis donut counties, the Republican numbers are significantly down during the Trump era.  But one county ranks above them all in terms GOP decline - Hamilton County.  

Directly north of Marion County-Indianapolis, Hamilton County is home to three of the state's 20 largest cities - Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville.  Westfield and other municipalities also lie in its boundaries.  Hamilton County has the fourth largest population in Indiana and is the wealthiest county.  Long a bastion of Republican votes, Hamilton County is rapidly losing its GOP edge.   

In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney bested President Barack Obama in Hamilton County 66.3% to 32%.  Statewide, Romney had just 54.1% of the vote.  

In 2016, Republican Donald Trump took Hamilton County with 56.8% of the vote, beating Hillary Clinton by 19.6.% of the vote.  Statewide Trump had just 57.1% of the vote.  So Hamilton County went from 12.2% above the presidential GOP baseline vote to .3% below it.

In 2020, President Trump won Hamilton County with 52.4% of the vote.  Trump's margin of victory over Biden in Hamilton County was just 6.8%.  Trump won Indiana with 57% of the vote. So the Hamilton County presidential result ran well behind Trump's performance statewide.

To recap Hamilton County's decline using the 2012/2016/2020 format:

GOP presidential vote:  66.3/56.8/52.4
GOP winning margin:  34.3/19.6/6.8
Ham. Co. GOP v. State:  12.2/-.3/-4.6

It is easy to chalk off such performances due to Trump's significant unpopularity in Hamilton County as opposed to the unpopularity of the GOP brand.  But off year elections show Republican candidates significantly underperforming in Hamilton County.  In the 2019 municipal elections, Democrats won a combined three seats on the Fishers and Carmel city councils.  The Democrats could have won a majority on the Fishers council had they been able to recruit candidates to run.  The Hamilton County Democratic Party also couldn't find candidates to challenge the GOP incumbent mayors in Carmel, Fishers and Westfield.  Precinct election results in 2019 show Democratic mayoral candidates in those cities would have started with a 45% baseline.

It should be emphasized that, until 2019, no Democrat had ever won elected office in Fishers or Carmel.  Indeed, for decades there had been virtually no elected Democrats anywhere in Hamilton County.

The Hamilton County GOP's house is on fire.  The only thing that has saved that organization thus far is a lackluster Hamilton County Democratic organization which has struggled to recruit candidates. That is about to change.  

OOP's short takes:

  • As I write this, the United States has announced sanctions against Chinese officials for human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims.  The sanctions are being coordinated with several other countries.  This came following President Biden declaring that Russia will pay a price for interfering in the 2020 election.  It is so refreshing to finally have a President who will stand up for the United States and its values against dictators.
  • I'm not fond of the phrase "voter suppression" to describe the spate of state legislative proposals dealing with voting.  A better phrase is "voter discouragement."  Republican legislators, egged on by Trump's bogus claim of a "stolen election," have been zealously pursuing these proposals believing the changes will result in lower turnout and a GOP advantage. Democrats meanwhile scream that the measures will result in the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters. 
  • Here is what neither party tells you: voter discouragement methods might change how people vote, but they do not significantly change turnout.  Republicans, by pursuing such measures, are handing Democrats a significant political issue while gaining nothing.  Even appearing to make voting more difficult is not a popular position.  Democrats know that.
  • It's unfortunate that Republicans have decided to go down this road.  There are significant steps that should be taken for ballot security, such as a photo ID requirement.  (Poll workers comparing voter signatures has always been a joke.)  Likewise, I'm not fond of month long early voting, ballet harvesting, or unrestricted vote by mail.  Regarding the latter, we adopted the secret ballot for a reason in this country.  Vote by mail opens the door to people being pressured to vote a certain way by an employer, union hall, spouse, etc.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Article Shows Star Columnist is Clueless About Problems Of the Marion County Republican Party

An alert reader sent me a column written by Indianapolis Star columnist James Briggs titled "Governor" Eric Holcomb won't let Indianapolis Republicans die."  

In the article Briggs demonstrates that he doesn't have a clue about local politics and in particular the problems that plague the Marion County Republican Party.  With all due respect to Mr. Briggs though he's only the latest clueless Star columnist on the subject.  Certainly the political types referenced in the article know better, or at least they should. 

Earlier this March, the Marion County Republican Party held a caucus to elect a new county chair.  As was typical of such elections in recent years, a slew of precinct committeemen were appointed before the
Joe Elsener, Chair, Marion County Republican Party
 caucus to ensure the favored candidate, Joe Elsener, won over two aggressive opponents. Things were so rigged that Elsener, who works for the Indiana Republican Party and Holcomb's campaign, did not even bother to attend. 

Yet does Briggs mention this at all?  Of course not.  Nor does Briggs mention the history of how county chairs are elected, a critical part of the story in the decline of the Marion County Republican Party.

Until the middle 1980s, precinct committeemen (PCs) were by statute elected every 2 years, and a month or later those ELECTED committeemen would elect a new county chair.  Appointed committeemen, who received their appointment from the county chairman, were not allowed to vote in that election.

In 1986 and 1987, the "John Sweezy Forever" (Sweezy was then the long serving Marion County Republican Chairman, a very lucrative position back then) bills were passed by the Republican-dominated Indiana General Assembly.  The legislation made the PC and Chair positions four year terms, and timed things so that the election of the county chairman took place years after the election of the PCs.  That gave the incumbent county chairman a lot of time to appoint PCs who would vote the way the county chairman wanted.  (In other words, the county chairman could pick his own voters.)  Eventually the law was scrapped entirely in favor of party rules which essentially kept the same dynamic.

Until the middle 1980s, whenever the controlling faction of the Marion County Republican Party would grow weak and ineffective, it would commonly be ousted at the next election by a different faction which ran a competing slate of PCs.  The result was a local Republican Party that was constantly refreshing itself and was responsive to the GOP electorate and the party workers.

Briggs also doesn't bother to address Marion County "slating," a process by which the grass roots party workers (not really) endorse candidates they intend to work for in at the primary.  As many as 90% of the people voting at the slating conventions are PCs (and ward chairs) who have been appointed by the county chairman just to go and vote in that election.  (Marion County Democrats also have slating.)  As a result, rigging slating contests for candidates favored by the county chair is remarkably easy.

All these changes have had the effect of stripping power from the grass roots of the Marion County GOP and handing that power to the county chairman and other leaders.  With the rules and practices as they currently exist, there really is no reason to work in the Marion County GOP doing the grunt work that every party needs to have done.  Does Briggs address this?  No.

To affirm the narrative of Briggs' piece, he reaches out to exactly the wrong people.  Her turns to former Indianapolis councilor Jefferson Shreve who Briggs proudly identifies as "a moderate" who is a "tough critic of the party." (It is unclear why Briggs thinks either of those things are true).  Shreve praises the Elsener selection because of his "youth, energy and experience."  Briggs completely misses the fact that Shreve, a longtime Bloomington resident, most certainly did not have an Indianapolis residence when he was first elected to the council in a vacancy election that was rigged by party bosses so he could win.  

Briggs also talks with Robert Vane, former communications director for Mayor Greg Ballard.  Few are better at spinning a narrative than Vane, but his description of the former Mayor is laughable:  "I think Ballard personified [the type of Republican who could get elected in urban areas]: tough on crime, good on job creating, blocking and tackling of government."  In reality, Ballard was none of those things. The homicide rate soared under Ballard, the streets were filled with pot holes and rarely cleared of snow during the winter.  The only jobs Ballard "created" were for politically connected developers, government contractors and the law firms which gave him campaign contributions. 

In 2007, Ballard won a surprising upset against incumbent Bart Peterson promising to bring to an end "country club Republican" politics.  Then he proceeded to take country club Republicanism to a new level.  Mayor Ballard LOVED corporate welfare and he had no problem raising taxes and fees on working men and women to hand out money to any developer or contractor contributing to his campaign.  I counted at least 40 taxes and fees he proposed raising during his tenure. Frankly, it's a lot higher.  I got tired of counting.

In 2011, Ballard won re-election narrowly despite a weak opponent who didn't engage him on the corporate welfare issues on which he was most vulnerable.  Although his re-election positioned him to help rebuild the Marion County Republican Party, Ballard did for the party what he did in his first term:  NOTHING.  Mayor Ballard bears no small amount of the blame for the current condition of the Marion County GOP.

That Briggs doesn't get what happened to the Marion County Republican Party is highlighted by his focus on State Senator Jim Merritt's "disastrous mayoral campaign."  Indeed, Merritt was a horrible, tone-deaf candidate, but his election loss was perfectly in line with the steady decline of the Marion County Republican Party which has been going on for at least 35 years.  It was not an aberration.

If Elsener wants to rebuild the Marion County GOP, he can start by giving up some of his power in favor of strengthening the grass roots of the organization.  (That includes eliminating slating, which is hopelessly broken.)  If you want people to be involved in the party at its lowest levels, you have to give those party workers power, rewards, and recognition.  None of that is happening now.  The steady transfer of power from PCs to the county chairman has been a disaster for the Marion County Republican Party.  

In terms of issues, the Marion County GOP needs to become (non-Trumpian) populist if it wants to be more successful.  Currently local politicians in both parties warmly embrace every corporate welfare scheme that is proposed even if it means (and it usually does) higher taxes and fees for Indianapolis voters. That Briggs doesn't get this is evidenced by his comment regarding the Statehouse fight against the Blue Line, an expansion of rapid Indianapolis bus service to the westside.  Briggs says that the Republicans can't be viewed as "anti-transit."   Briggs needs to leave his office and actually talk to some voters about the Blue Line.  It is seen by many as a financial boondoggle that will devastate businesses along Washington Street by leaving only two travel lanes on a popular east-west thoroughfare.  It is not popular.  Even the more popular Red Line is increasingly viewed negatively by Indianapolis residents who now see it as a waste of tax dollars.  The "build it and they will come" approach to mass transit does not work.  It's not like they weren't warned.

Currently there is no party standing up for Indianapolis taxpayers against these expenditures which are always about putting money in the pocket of politically connected developers and contractors  That creates a huge political opportunity for the Marion County Republican Party.  Briggs clearly does not get this.  It is not clear that Elsener does either.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Analysis Shows Trump Was Drag on Republican Ticket in 2020

Of the myths that embellish Donald Trump's mediocre political resume, the one that is most perplexing is that the former President is some sort of political genius who assembled a unique populist coalition of voters which propelled him to political success.  Back in the real world, Trump barely won the electoral college in 2016 while losing the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, then was smashed in the 2018 mid-terms, losing forty House seats.  In 2020, Trump lost the popular vote by over 7 million votes.  He followed that electoral loss by, in January 2021, losing the Senate, thanks in no small part to his "stolen election" attacks on elected Georgia Republicans.  With his latest loss, Trump became the first incumbent President since Herbert Hoover to lose the White House, the House and the Senate.

Last time I checked other political offices require candidates to actually win the popular vote to be elected.  Thus, Trump's narrow electoral college finishes, while badly losing the popular vote, doesn't seem to provide a roadmap for other GOP candidates.  In fact, a review of the 2016 and 2020 election results, show Trump consistently ran behind Republican candidates.  Trump was a drag on the GOP ticket.  

But what about that infamous Trump turnout?  Indeed, Trump was an expert at driving infrequent GOP-leaning voters to the polls. But he also succeeded in motivating infrequent Democratic voters to cast ballots.  I have documented that what ultimately killed Trump's chances was the small, but extremely significant, percentage of frequent Republican-leaning voters who crossed over to support Biden. Exit polls showed that Biden had a higher percentage of Republicans voting for him than Democrats who cast votes for Trump.  That GOP crossover vote handed the election to Democrat Biden while allowing Republicans to make gains in the House and state legislative chambers.

But while I had an idea what was going on electorally, I longed for better data to analyze.  Thus, I was quite pleased to find a January 21, 2021, article by Nathan L. Gonzalez, an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.  Gonzalez crunches the numbers using a statistic that should be familiar with modern baseball fans:
Vote Above Replacement, or VAR, measures the strength of political candidates relative to a typical candidate from their party within the same state. That initial benchmark is derived using Inside Elections’ Baseline, which captures a state’s political performance by combining all federal and state election results over the past four cycles into a single average. 

For example, in Arizona after the 2020 elections, the Republican Baseline was 51.1 percent compared to 47.6 percent for Democrats. That means we would expect a typical — or “replacement level” — Republican to receive 51.1 percent of the vote and a typical Democrat to win 47.6 percent. We can then compare individual candidate results to those benchmarks. 

In the 12 presidential battlegrounds, Trump posted a positive VAR in just four states. That means he did better than an average GOP candidate in Iowa (+1.7), Michigan (+0.3), Minnesota (+1.6) and Pennsylvania (+2), but worse than an average GOP statewide candidate in Arizona (-2), Florida (-0.7), Georgia (-3.8), Nevada (-0.8), North Carolina (-0.7), Ohio (-1.4), Texas (-3.2) and Wisconsin (-0.1). Of course, Trump still won four of those states, but his superhero electoral status has some flaws.

Biden was a more valuable asset for his party. He had a positive VAR in 10 of 12 battleground states including Arizona (+1.8), Florida (+1.5), Georgia (+3.5), Michigan (+1.3), Minnesota (+1.3), Nevada (+4.1), North Carolina (+0.3), Ohio (+2.1), Texas (+4.9) and Wisconsin (+0.9). Of course, Biden didn’t win all of those states, but it’s clear why Democratic candidates for the House and Senate weren’t afraid to be endorsed by or seen with their presidential nominee before the election. Biden underperformed an average statewide Democratic candidate in Iowa (-0.8) and Pennsylvania (-0.5). 
Although the most high profile Republican in the country, Trump was never a popular general election candidate.  Tying one's political fortunes to Trump might get a Republican through a primary, but Trump then becomes an albatross around one's neck in the general election.  Ask former Senators Martha McSally, David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and Cory Gardner if that isn't the case.

Monday, March 15, 2021

What Charlie Sykes Does Not Understand About Cats and Dogs and The People Who Own Them

I listen to a lot of podcasts, but my favorite is the daily Bulwark podcast hosted by former Wisconsin radio host and current Never Trumper, Charlie Sykes.  

I have a lot of admiration for Sykes.  Unlike other right-wing media types who enriched themselves by embracing Trumpism, Sykes refused to cave on his conservative principles.  In the end, it cost him his audience, his radio gig and, no doubt, a lot of money.   But to Sykes, integrity and intellectual honesty matter.  This world needs more people like Charlie Sykes.  

There is something else you should know about Charlie Sykes. He likes, no LOVES, dogs.  He has two or three dogs, I believe, German Shepherds.  He is constantly talking about his dogs on his podcast and posting pictures of his dogs on social media. 

Charlie Sykes w/Eli (posted on Twitter)

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I too like dogs.  I grew up in the country, in southeastern Indiana.  We had dogs and cats as did nearly every farmer who lived in the area.  When I moved to Indianapolis in my 20s, it was the first time I found out that cats and dogs, and their respective owners, are supposed to hate each other.

Moving into an apartment after graduating from college, I had to choose to be either a cat or a dog owner.  Because one can leave cats alone for days at a time and you do not have to walk them during the brutal Indiana winters, the choice of becoming a cat parent was easy.  It was one of the best choices I have ever made.   

The problem with Sykes is not that he likes dogs.  The problem is, as a dog owner, he seems obliged to roundly dismiss those of us who are cat owners.  The only cat owner he appears to tolerate is frequent Bulwark guest, Tom Nichols.

Now, with adult hindsight, I realize there are differences between dogs and cats, and the people who choose to own them.  Dogs offer undying loyalty and constant affection.  You are the center of their lives.  They want to be around you 24/7.  Cat owners do not need or want that from their pets.  But dog owners sure do.  If dog owners are insecure about whether they are loved and appreciated by the world (and many are), a dog tells them in no uncertain terms that they care about them even if no one else does. 

Cat owners, on the other hand, know they are loved by family and friends. We do not need to be constantly reminded of that by our chosen pet.  It is not that cats do not offer affection.  Indeed, I have never owned a cat who was not friendly or did not enjoy spending time with me.  (As I write this, my cat Thelma has entered my home office and is asking to be petted.)  But those moments of affection are MOMENTS because, unlike dogs, cats have lives apart from their owners.  Because a cat’s show of affection is periodic, it has much more meaning than a dog’s constant slobbering admiration of its owner. 

On one of last week’s podcasts, Sykes complained that other Bulwark writers, Sarah Longwell and Jonathan Last, dissed dog owners who post pictures of their pets on social media.  Longwell said dog owners do that because they are trying to “humanize” themselves.  Longwell has it wrong.  Dog owners know they are human.  They are just not sure they are human beings who are loved.   They post pictures of themselves with their pets to prove that another living, breathing mammal cares about them. 

Social media is filled with photos of dog owners with their pets.  Yet when cat owners post pictures of their pets, which is quite often, they rarely include themselves in the picture. Why? Because we cat owners know the world loves us.  We do not have to prove that fact. 

But that fact contains an exception.  We cat owners are not universally loved.  Dog owners do not like us.  Dog owners’ dislike toward us though is not because of who we are, but because of jealousy. Dog owners hate that we do not share their insecurities, that we cat owners do not need validation from our pets to convince ourselves that we are loved. 

Are cats better than dogs?  Absolutely not.  But are cat owners better than dog owners?  Probably.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Trump Cease and Desist Threat Could Dry Up GOP Fundraising

Given its potential impact on 2022 politics, it probably should have gotten more coverage.  Late last week, lawyers for former President Donald Trump sent letters to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee saying they were to "immediately cease and desist the unauthorized use of President Donald J. Trump's name, image and/or likeness in all fundraising, persuasion, and/or issue speech."  To avoid funding "RINOs" that have opposed him, Trump indicated that those wishing to support Republican candidates should instead give to his "America First" fundraising political action committee, with the implication being that he would then distribute the money to favored "non-RINO" candidates.

It didn't take long for the RNC to push back against the legal threat, claiming through its attorney on Monday that the RNC "has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech, and it will continue to do so in pursuit of these common goals."

But before making that formal legal response, the RNC agreed to move part of its spring retreat in April to Mar-a-Lago and pay Trump big bucks for the hosting.  Reportedly, it was an attempt for RNC to show its loyalty to Trump in the hopes that former President would reward that loyalty by supporting its fundraising endeavors.  Because, of course, that strategy has worked so well in the past....

My guess is that the RNC attorney's retort to that threat is probably correct, though I'd like to see some legal analysis on the subject.  No doubt though the matter will never be litigated.  Trump has a long history of making empty legal threats.  That's understandable as Trump's batting average in legal proceedings is abysmal.

While the RNC wasn't intimidated by the Trump threat, there are literally thousands of GOP state and local organizations, as well as individual candidate committees, which may well be.  Going into the 2022 elections, state and local candidates might want to promote their Trump bona fides in fundraising entreaties.  If hit with C&D letters, they may choose to forego those efforts.

Then you have the additional problem of publicity.  If Trump insists his cult followers should not contribute directly to GOP candidates, but should instead send their money to him so he can divvy up the cash, Republican candidates will have their fundraising efforts crippled.  And, anyone who thinks Trump would actually forward that money to GOP candidates, has not been paying attention these last five years.  Trump does not care squat about the Republican Party.   He will be spending that money on the one thing he cares about - Donald Trump.  Given Trump is deeply in debt and facing likely criminal prosecution and certain civil litigation, he needs the money.

OOP's short takes:

  • True to form, members of my Republican Party have now decided, since Trump is out of office, they care about deficit spending again.  All GOP members of Congress voted against the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 economic relief package.  Yet, they had no problem supporting the Cares Act last year (also aimed at pandemic economic relief) which added even more to the nation's deficit.  The Senate vote on the Cares Act, signed by Trump, was 96-0 by the way.  
  • Republican members of Congress are going to regret not showing more support for the Covid-19 relief bill.  About 40% of Republicans support the bill in polls, yet 0% of Republicans in Congress did.  Biden was already popular, but he's about to get even more popular.
  • I found something I care less about than the British Royal Family - Piers Morgan.  Why anyone would employ that blowhard is beyond me.

Monday, March 8, 2021

$15 an Hour or Bust; Why Can't Democrats Be Reasonable About the Minimum Wage?

President Joe Biden campaigned on raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.  Republicans and some Democrats in Congress think the increase is too steep.  Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton have proposed raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour and indexing it to inflation. This is unacceptable to liberal politicians who insist that it needs to be immediately raised to $15 an hour to keep up with inflation.  But a look at the numbers shows this is not true.  

In October 24, 1938, when the minimum wage was first adopted it was 25 cents an hour.  Adjusted for inflation, that would be $4.67 today.  In February 1, 1967, the minimum wage was raised to $1.40 an hour.  That would be $11.13 in today's dollars.  The federal minimum wage in 2009 was raised from $6.55 an hour to $7.25. If the that rate was indexed to inflation it would be $8.81 today.   

The fact is, because of the demand for unskilled labor, very few workers today receive the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  In 1980, when the federal minimum wage was $3.10 an hour, 13% of hourly workers earned the federal minimum wage or less.  Today, only 1.9% of hourly workers do.  Whether it is working at McDonalds, stocking grocery shelves, or ringing up customers at the Dollar General, all those jobs in the Indianapolis area start at $10 or more (with regular pay increases).  This is despite the fact that Indiana's minimum wage reflects the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

While some of that is due to states enacting their own, higher, minimum wage laws, the biggest factor is the huge demand for unskilled labor.  Workers can move from one job to another securing better pay.  A worker who is making $10 an hour, can quite easily move to another job paying $12 an hour.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cost 1.4 million jobs.  That statistic doesn't include the number of people who would remain employed but have their hours cut because their employer can't afford $15 an hour.  

We have an ideal situation now where demand, and job mobility, is driving up wages of unskilled workers far above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.   While I don't think a federal minimum wage is necessary, at the very least we should not set it at such a level that it costs people their jobs or causes their hours to be cut.

OOP's short takes:

  • I'm sorry, but I can't bring myself to be concerned about the goings on in the British royal family.  Because someone is born or marries into the right family, they get to live high on the taxpayer dime despite no actual tangible accomplishments?   It is such a dumb institution.  We Americans fought the Revolutionary War to get away from the British monarchy.  So, why should I care about it now?  I just don't care.
  • Got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine yesterday at the Speedway.  I was doing okay, until about 11:30 last night when I suddenly got the chills.  That lasted for 1 1/2 hours.  After that, I had a slight headache and low grade fever.  Both of those are gone now.  
  • Over the years, Republicans have pursued legitimate ballot security measures, things like requiring a photo ID to vote.  Unfortunately, the GOP is now pursuing changes that seem less aimed at the security of the ballot and more at stopping people from voting.  Not every Republican ballot security proposal is "voter suppression" but any such effort will certainly be labeled that way from this point forward.  What is ironic is that voter suppression rarely works and is often counterproductive.  A prime example is the 2018 Georgia election.  Although Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey "Sore Loser" Abrams complained that her loss of the state by 55,000 votes (Trump lost by 11,779 votes) was due to "voter suppression" that election had huge turnout, including record African-American participation.
  • So Republicans in Congress are now worried about debt from the Covid-19 relief plan, but they had no problem with all the debt Trump ran up while the economy was booming?  Give me a break.
  • I could be wrong, but I really don't think the Covid-19 variants are going to derail the end of the pandemic which seems clearly in sight.