Thursday, April 19, 2018

New Polling Increase Democrats' Optimism of Winning the U.S. Senate

Make no mistake about it, for the Democrats to win control of the Senate, which now stands at 51-49 in favor of the Republicans, is as likely as drawing to an inside straight.  Possible, but highly unlikely.  There are 35 Senate seats up for grabs, 33 regular Senate elections and two special elections.  Democrats are defending 24 of those 35 seats.  If those numbers were not problematic enough, it is where those seats are that is the biggest concern for Democrats.  Montana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana, all states Donald Trump handily won, have Democratic Senators running for re-election.  Recent polling though suggests Democrats' odds of winning the Senate are increasing, albeit still long.

Senator Joe Donnelly (R-IN)
Yesterday, Gravis released a poll showing Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly trouncing the potential Republican nominees by double figures, i.e. Congressman Todd Rokita by 18 points, and Congressman Luke Messer by 10.  It does not appear that Gravis bothered to poll a general matchup with the third candidate in the GOP race, State Representative and businessman Mike Braun, which was a mistake as Braun polled as being in the lead for the GOP nomination with 26%.  Rokita was second at 16% and Messer trailed the filed at 13% in the primary matchup.

I believe, in the end, the nominee will be Braun or Rokita, but I believe Donnelly will win the general election by a small, but comfortable margin.  Braun and Rokita, and to a lesser degree Messer, are competing to appear the Trumpiest, but I think that designation will be an albatross around the winner's neckl in the general election.  Trump is not popular in the Indianapolis suburbs, particularly in Hamilton County, and those suburbs, which allow the Democratic strongholds of Marion and Lake County to be more than offset, are critical to the fortune of GOP statewide candidates.

Then you have West Virginia.  While the Democrats have a strong candidate in Joe Manchin running for re-election, Trump did win the state by over 42 points and remains popular there.  It was bad enough that Manchin was shown leading a potential GOP rival, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey last November by over 20 points, it appears the Republicans may instead nominate Don Blankenship, a mining executive who was convicted of a felony for skirting regulations that could have prevented a mine explosion that killed 29 of Blankenship's workers.

Meanwhile, as to seats the Republicans are defending, it looks like my prediction that the Democrats have a real shot at winning Texas are being reflected in the polls.  A Quinnipiac poll issued yesterday showed incumbent Senator Ted Cruz clinging to only a 3 point, 47-44, lead over Democratic nominee Congressman Beto O'Rourke.   O'Rourke is also badly swamping Cruz in fundraising.

Then you have Tennessee, a state Trump won by 26 points.  In the Volunteer State, Republicans are defending a seat currently held by Bob Corker, a Trump critic, who has decided to not seek re-election. Trump enthusiast Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn has stepped into the void, but the Republican trails by 10 points former Democratic Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen.

Democrats also have a better than 50-50 chance of winning Republican seats in Nevada and Arizona, but will struggle to defend against Republican challengers in Missouri and Florida.

Yes, it is still a longshot for Democrats to gain control of the U.S. Senate, but it is now more plausible.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Seeing Blue Wave Coming, Speaker Ryan Announces He Will Not Seek Re-Election

Yesterday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan resigned.  No doubt Trumpers, who have long hated the Wisconsin Republican, are celebrating.  They should not.

While I take him at his word that Ryan is resigning for family reasons, no doubt that is only part of the reason for his decision.  The major factor, which should give Trumpers pause, is that Ryan knows perfectly well he would not be in the Speaker's chair next year.  All signs point to the Democrats retaking the House next year in the mid-term elections.  The only question appears to be how many seats the Democrats win.  Forty seats or more appear attainable by the Democrats.  (24 are needed to flip control).  Given the trend of congressional special elections, it would appear that GOP seats never before seen as competitive are within reach of well-funded Democratic opponents.

Ryan was very popular in his district, winning his race 2016 by 35 points, President Trump only won Ryan's district by 10.3.  The Ryan retirement overshadowed another significant congressional retirement.  Republican Dennis Ross announced he was retiring after eight years.  He won his Tampa-area congressional district by 15 points in 2016, but Trump only won the district by 10.  As a side note, Ryan and Ross' 2016 election results were not an anomaly.   The rarely-mentioned fact is that Republican congressional candidates in most districts ran ahead of the President.

Ryan did not want to be part of the powerless minority in the House.  Even more so, he did not want to lead the fight as minority leader against the inevitable and, quite possibly successful, move by Democrats to impeach Trump in 2019.  Ryan's legacy would have been further tarnished by being put in a position in which he had to vigorously defend the President's conduct outlined in the upcoming Mueller report to Congress.  Ryan is only 48 and has plenty of time to re-enter the political scene.

I am deeply disappointed that Ryan turned out not to be the fiscal hawk he professed to be.  Ryan, after all, played a role in adding over 1.5 trillion dollars to our a time of full employment and 3% growth.  It was not all Ryan's fault though.  He needed a Republican President to succeed in his fiscal goals, but the GOP instead chose to nominate a candidate who brags about his nickname, "The King of Debt," the one Republican presidential candidate who refused to consider taking on the problem of entitlements.  Ryan has long known that entitlement reform is the key to fixing the problem with debts.  Trump not only failed to provide Ryan the executive leadership he needed to succeed as Speaker, in one of the few areas in which Trump held a consistent position - entitlements, the President actively undercut Ryan's mission to get control of this country's debt.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Tea Party Abandons Principles, Values to Follow "The King of Debt"

Tonight, there will be another meeting of the Indianapolis Northside Tea Party.  I began going to these monthly meetings a few years ago.  I have always thought the Tea Party had gotten a bad rap in the media.  While there is no comprehensive set of beliefs that people who join local tea parties hold, there is some commonality.  Tea Party people shared (note the use of the past tense) a revulsion to big government, deficits, wasteful spending and corruption in government.  Members of the Indianapolis Northside Tea Party I attended also had a decided (albeit secondary) bent toward criminal justice reform, i.e. an opposition to things like civil forfeiture and the War on Drugs.

I liked that.  My fervent support of those issues (barely) allowed me to sit through cringe-inducing, xenophobic comments from Tea Party members about immigration (both legal and illegal), a lack of tolerance for America’s tradition of religious freedom (how dare Muslims think they have the same right of religious freedom as Christians?), and members’ opposition to free trade agreements and support for protectionist measures like tariffs, protectionist positions that undeniably have proven to greatly hurt the American economy and consumers in particular.  Those secondary political positions were certainly NEVER a part of the conservative agenda I had supported and fought for since I came of political age as a sophomore at Ball State University in 1980.

Returning to the core mission of the Tea Party – an opposition to deficits and wasteful spending – I always greatly appreciated the Tea Party members’ dedication to the cause, even while I believed they often had unrealistic views of how to accomplish those objectives given the limits of our democratic institutions.  But, unfortunately my view that Tea Party members were committed, overly principled fighters for core conservative fiscal positions and good government has proven to be dead wrong.

In 2015, New Yorker Donald J. Trump, a lifelong, liberal Democrat entered the political scene as a newly-minted Republican.  Trump had led his businesses into six bankruptcies and had credit so bad American banks would not lend him money.   But, it was not just banks.  Trump was well well-known as a deadbeat who would not pay his bills, trying at every turn to stiff employees and the small Mom and Pop businesses with whom he contracted.   (So much for the Trumpian claim he is for the little guy.)  Trump embraced the reputation he earned, calling himself "The King of Debt.”

One would think someone sporting the moniker “The King of Debt” would be the last candidate a fiscally-conservative group like the Tea Party would be embrace.  But embrace him they did.  Perhaps Tea Party members simply did not know Trump’s checkered history as a businessman or simply hoped  he would exhibit better fiscal habits as a politician.

But in 15 months, Donald J. Trump as President has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will govern the same way he conducted himself as a businessman, spending taxpayer money recklessly and running up huge, unprecedented deficits.  (This includes a tax cut funded by deficit spending and the President signing a $1.3 trillion budget that increased spending on virtually every budgetary item.   Deficit spending to stimulate the economy while in a recession is arguable strategy, doing so when the economy is at full employment and growing at a 3% rate is insane.

On a personal level, the Trump cabinet and top officials are no more restrained fiscally.  Several have been exposed grossly wasting taxpayer money on lavish and unnecessary expenditures.  Of course, no one is more guilty of that than President Trump, who virtually every weekend has the American taxpayer fly him to Florida and then he sticks those same taxpayers with the bill for the Secret Service to rent carts to follow him around the golf course.  Then, you have the issue of the President, who has refused to put his assets in a blind trust, continually (ab)using his position to enrich himself, including via the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which caters to foreign dignitaries who are more than willing to combine their need for accommodations with a desire to curry favor with the President by stuffing money in his pocket.

Corruption within the Trump administration is easily the worst of any President in my lifetime.  And we have 32 months to go.  So much for the nonsense about Trump “draining the swamp.”

Given the principles on which it was founded, one would think Tea Party members would rebel against a President who has proven to be the biggest deficit spender of any President in history.  One would think they would object strongly to the personal waste of tax dollars by the President and top officials in his administration, new revelations of which are exposed every day.  Nope.  Tea Partiers continue to drink the Trump Kool-Aid, enthusiastically supporting the President despite his running an administration that is completely counter to Tea Party fiscal conservativism.

If those issues were not bad enough, we have a President who has made a mockery of other conservative values.  A key element of the success of the conservative movement has been social issues, primarily “family values.”    It is hard to hold true to those views, critical to evangelicals, when your chief proponent of the concept is a man who is a serial adulterer who brags about sexually assaulting women.   Of course, on this point, the evangelicals have proven to be the Tea Party equivalent when it comes to abandoning principles for political power.

Tea Party members like to call themselves “patriots.”  Yet they, in the next breath, express support for Trump’s attacks on American values like the rule of law, freedom of speech and his support for thuggish dictators over democratically-elected leaders.  The President and the Tea Party members who worship him as some sort of deity have given aid and comfort to the United States No. 1 enemy, Russia, by attacking the legitimacy of an investigation into that country’s meddling into the 2016 election, seeking to blame the American intelligence community and law enforcement instead, despite overwhelming evidence that that that meddling happened.  When I hear the “patriots” reference, I think back to my childhood when Jane Fonda was photographed on a North Vietnamese tank.  Although Vietnam was a huge mistake, Fonda was hardly a “patriot.”  Given their attacks on American values and traditions. neither President Trump or Tea Party members deserve to be call “patriots.”

Imagine for a second if a President named “Obama” or “Hillary Clinton” had done any of the aforementioned things Trump has done since he has taken office. The Tea Party members would be screaming for his/her impeachment.   Perhaps at tonight’s meeting it would be worthwhile to discuss the meaning of “hypocrisy” and how it relates to the Tea Party’s blind and unquestioning support for Present Trump.

Of course, I overgeneralize in this piece.  No doubt that there are several Tea Party members who have refused to abandon their principles to drink the Trump Kool-Aid.  To them I applaud and apologize…profusely. 

Needless to say, I will not be at the Tea Party meeting tonight.   

Thursday, April 5, 2018

State of Indiana Settles Lawsuit Over Treasurer Official's Termination

Earlier this year, the State of Indiana completed the settlement of lawsuit which claimed that former Chief Deputy and General Counsel for the Indiana State Treasurer’s Office Jim Holden had been wrongfully terminated from employment.  On June 2, 2014, Holden had been given a three-year contract by then Treasurer Richard Mourdock to provide legal services for the Indiana Board for Depositories, a body that is overseen by the State Treasurer.  

Jim Holden
Holden had served as manager of Mourdock’s Senate campaign in 2012, which campaign shocked the political world by knocking off incumbent Richard Lugar in the GOP primary only to lose to Democrat Joe Donnelly later that Fall.  Almost two years later, Mourdock resigned before the end of his four-year term.  Kelly Mitchell was subsequently elected Treasurer that Fall and took office early, replacing the 
interim Treasurer, on November 18, 2014.

One of Kelly’s first moves as Treasurer was to terminate Holden from his job at the Treasurer’s Office and cancel his three year contract, even though Holden had been called up to active duty and had not yet transferred from his position in the Treasurer’s Office to working for the Board.  Mitchell claimed that the termination was necessary because there was a conflict of interest in the Holden appointment because the Treasurer of the State directed the day-to-day activities of the Indiana Board for Depositories.  

Although Holden was accused of not having received a clearance from the State Ethics Commission or making any of the required ethics disclosure, Holden had, in fact, consulted the Executive Director of the Indiana Ethics Commission and filed a Uniform Conflict of Interest Ethics Disclosure about the employment.  An unemployment insurance state administrative law judge found Holden had “exercised all due diligence to ensure the employment was not a conflict of interest.” 
In her termination decision, Mitchell also accused Holden of committing a felony by violating IC 35-44-1-3, a statute which criminalizes certain conflicts of interest by public officials.  That statute, however, had been repealed.  As part of the settlement, Mitchell issued a statement in which she admitted that the statute her office relied on had been earlier repealed and that Holden had done what was legally required to address any potential conflict of interest.  

Holden filed his lawsuit in Marion County Superior Court in March of 2015.  After spending 2 ½ years mired in pre-trial motions and discovery disputes, the case was preliminarily resolved in the Fall of 2017 via mandatory mediation.  The additional delay, which pushed the matter inti 2018, was a result of the settlement having to be approved by the Governor. 

As part of the resolution of the case, the State agreed to pay Holden $92,500 and to remove him from the “do not rehire” list maintained by the State of Indiana.  Interestingly, in a press release issued in conjunction with the settlement, Holden noted that the “do not rehire” list maintained by the State of Indiana is in violation of state blacklisting laws.

Holden spoke of his experience fighting, successfully, the State on a wrongful termination matter: “Even though I was a 15-year state employee who had served under three State Treasurers, because I worked for Richard Mourdock and supported his Senate candidacy, the Republican establishment and donor-lobbyist class wanted to retaliate against me.  Mitchell was just doing their bidding.”
Holden continued: “Ironically, I had arranged to transfer to the Indiana Board for Depositories so that Kelly Mitchell would be able to appoint her own Chief Deputy Treasurer and not be required to keep the position open for me while I was on active duty as mandated by federal law.  I asked for a contract, because after so many years of working for politicians, I don’t trust politicians to do the right thing.  Kelly Mitchell proved my instincts right.”

Holden’s first quote above relates to his work helping his boss Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeat long-time Indiana Senator Richard Lugar in the Republican primary.   While many Establishment Republicans still sing Lugar’s praises, the fact is Richard Lugar years earlier had left Indiana far behind, both physically and mentally.  Republicans in the Hoosier political trenches had complained that Lugar would not support GOP candidates with endorsements or fundraising and would not even bother to return to Indiana for Republican Lincoln Day Dinners in the Hoosier.  Lugar even went so far as sending threating letters to Indiana GOP candidates warning that they are not allowed to use pictures of the candidate with Lugar in their campaign ads.

On the rare occasions when Lugar did venture back to Indiana, he would have to stay in hotel rooms because he had no residence in the state.  When I investigated the matter, I found Lugar for decades had been using the address of a home he had sold some 30 years earlier as his declared “residence” to cast votes in Indiana.  The legality of that practice is questionable at best.  This is especially so when, near the same time frame, prosecutors were aggressively pursuing former Secretary of State Charlie White for a violation of the voting fraud statute based on what he declared his residence to be for one election.

I have known Jim Holden from my earliest involvement in Marion County politics in the late 1980s.  Jim is a true believer, someone who not only supports the traditional conservative ideology communicated so eloquently by Ronald Reagan, but someone willing to fight for those beliefs even if it means stepping on some GOP establishment toes.  It is good to see Jim succeed in his lawsuit and to set the record straight regarding his termination.