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On Fighting To Win, Or, A Tale Of Two Kinds Of Democrats April 17, 2011

If your view of politics is filtered by a lens marked “Progressive” or “Liberal”, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve been gnashing your teeth and pulling your hair in frustration over the “give away the store, then negotiate” approach professional Democrats have used when facing the challenges from the Tea Party last year, and all that’s come after.

Over and over and over people like me have written stories wondering why Democrats, starting with this President, don’t get out in a very public way and slam Republican policies, over and over and over—especially when most Americans hate the things Republicans seem to love to support.

Turning over Government to the highest bidder?
Not so popular.

Going back to a heathcare system run by, for, and of the insurance industry?
Again, not so much.

Jacking up taxes and healthcare costs for you and me in order to provide another trillion in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires?
So unpopular pollsters hardly believe it.

But there is another way, and today’s story is in two parts: we’re going to talk about how hard it is to get Democrats, as a group, to get loud and get aggressive—and then we’re going to talk about Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who is out there showing any reluctant Democrat just exactly how you can “grow the brand”.

We are, all, North and South, engaged in the White Slave Trade, and he who succeeds best, is esteemed most respectable. It is far more cruel than the Black Slave Trade, because it exacts more of its slaves, and neither protects nor governs them. We boast, that it exacts more, when we say, “that the profits made from employing free labor are greater than those from slave labor.” The profits, made from free labor, are the amount of the products of such labor, which the employer, by means of the command which capital or skill gives him, takes away, exacts or “exploitates” from the free laborer. The profits of slave labor are that portion of the products of such labor which the power of the master enables him to appropriate. These profits are less, because the master allows the slave to retain a larger share of the results of his own labor, than do the employers of free labor.

–From the book Cannibals All!, by George Fitzhugh, 1857

So let’s start with the “how hard is it?” part:

I get to participate in conference calls these days, and I was recently on a call with a Member of Congress who shall remain nameless (to protect the moderately guilty). The Member was unable to remain on the call until my question, but I was able to get an email off to the press rep over there, who was kind enough to get back to me.

After an exchange of emails, we got down to the real question:

How should I explain to readers why they don’t hear every Democrat saying something like this, every single day: “We get that there’s a financing problem in the future, and the good news that it can be fixed without raising the retirement age, and without cutting benefits, and we can even lower the payroll tax rate at the same time–and that’s why we will never let the Republicans destroy Social Security, even under cover of a budget fight”?

Now I post on almost 30 blog sites, from Kos to Docudharma to Left In Alabama to The Bilerico Project, and all sorts of others in between, and if there is one theme that is consistent across all these sites, it’s that readers do not understand why so many Democrats, over and over, don’t avail themselves of the obvious political advantages that are there to be had when they get in front of the public and, well, frankly, act like Democrats?

So that was the question I sent…and it’s a good thing I didn’t hold my breath waiting for an answer, because that answer never came.

I sent the same question to the office of a very liberal Member with whom I’ve had good relations in the past—and again, nothing.

Here’s another “what does it take to get Democrats to act like Democrats?” story:

I was in Olympia, Washington, on April 8th for a big ol’ labor rally, and the featured speaker was Senator Spencer Coggs (he’s one of the 14 Democratic State Senators who left Wisconsin to make Scott Walker’s life a whole lot less comfortable), and he tore up the crowd pretty good…but there was at least a couple of hours of speakers, and the event was held right in front of the State Capitol, and the (Democratically controlled) Legislature was in session, right at that very moment…and the (Democratically occupied) Governor’s Mansion is literally right next door…and yet, somehow, not one single elected official of the Democratic persuasion from anywhere in the entire State of Washington could manage to find their way past the kids ringing bells under the Dome and out the front door to greet the thousands of voters standing just outside.

OK, so that’s the problem—but as you know, I like to offer solutions as well, and with that in mind, it’s time to meet the Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer.

Now, as you might imagine, Montana is not exactly a haven for lefty liberals, but Schweitzer, a Democrat, is not only not caving under pressure…he’s showing Democrats everywhere how to send a message—and how to send it with style.

The Republican-led Legislature passed a slew of bills he didn’t like (he reported that none of ‘em created new jobs—and doesn’t that sound familiar?), and he could have given in and signed them—or he could follow the advice of Denny Lester, ace political cartoonist for the Helena (MT) “Independent Record”, and veto the hell out of those bills, preferably with a branding iron.

There is a Montana Department of Livestock, and if you intend to register a new cattle brand, they are the folks you need to see—and sure enough, on February 23rd, an “Official Brand Certificate” was issued to the Governor for the brand “VETO”.

Then the Governor went out and created a job in Montana: he had a series of branding irons made, each carrying the new brand in various sizes (“calf”, “yearling”, and “bull”, depending on how much he wanted to veto any particular bill).

“…so my Mom called to find out if there was a branding going on, and I said well, not really, it’s a sort of a branding, and she said, uh, do you need somebody to bring the beer?…”

–Governor Brian Schweitzer, April 13, 2011

The Governor got a few friends together last Wednesday, and he vetoed not one, not two, but 17 bills he felt were “either frivolous, unconstitutional or in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the people of Montana”…and he did it, with the cameras rolling, by using the branding irons to brand a red-hot “VETO” on those bills, all to the cheers of the assembled crowd.

You can see it for yourself, right here, in a video produced by the Montana Democratic Party—and trust me when I tell you, it’s a hoot:

Now if you watched that video, you might be thinking: “Hey, maybe that guy should be President…”—and that’s how we get to the real point of this story.

We have in front of us a President and a Democratic Party apparatus who can either negotiate with Republicans who want to kill both Social Security and Medicare (the likely end result being two programs and a Democratic Party that will basically be “circling the drain” from then on)…or they can take the branding iron to Paul Ryan’s “Catfood Plan v 2.0” and a lot of other Republican ideas besides, and they can help their own Party and make every Republican in the country feel the burn, all at the same time.

Since negotiating away Medicare and Social Security is hugely unpopular…that’s pretty much what I expect far too many Democrats to do, unless we can grab ‘em by the lapels and show ‘em that voters want Democratic Democrats—you know, the kind of Democrat who understands how to grow a brand, and how to keep it strong, and how to set fire to bad ideas, loudly and publicly, when that’s the right thing to do.

Tell your Member of Congress about this video, and your President, too; and let’s see if we can show our elected “followers” how to get on the road to becoming elected ”leaders”.

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On Taking It Back, Or, Wisconsin Recalls, Explained March 14, 2011

News is suddenly moving so fast that it’s becoming hard for me to keep up; that’s why we’re not finishing the story today that we just began Tuesday. You know, the one about Titan Cement suing two North Carolina residents who appear to be doing nothing more than speaking the truth.

Unfortunately, other important news has forced itself to the front of the line, and it’s going to demand that we break schedule, whether we like it or not.

That’s why today we’re going to be talking about Wisconsin, and how workers there are fighting back against the State’s Republican legislators and Governor, who seem to have gone out of their way this past three weeks to govern without the consent of the governed.

It’s kind of chilly today in Wisconsin…but I can assure you, things are heating up fast—and it ain’t because of spring.

“I will tell you this: Any business where two partners don’t trust each other, any business where one party says, ‘You need to do X, Y and Z because I told you,’ is a business that is not only not run well, it is a business that can never be as successful as it can be,”

–Former National Football League Players’ Association executive director DeMaurice Smith

As so often happens, we need a bit of background:

In Wisconsin, a recall involves first, the collection of signatures, then, if you get enough, a recall election.

Once the proper papers have been filed, those who want to recall an elected official have 60 days to gather signatures for a recall petition that equal 25% of the number of votes cast in the prior gubernatorial election in that “political subdivision”.

What that means in English is that if you’re looking to recall a State Senator and the last time a Governor ran, 50,000 votes were cast in that Senator’s District, you need to gather 12,500 signatures in 60 days to force a recall election in that District.

The election is not to ask the question: “Should this officeholder be recalled?”

Instead, the incumbent will run against other candidates, and whoever has the most votes either keeps or takes over the office.

It is possible that multiple candidates will emerge from within the same Party; if that happens a “recall primary” election is held.

A primary would take place four weeks after the signatures are turned in, the recall election itself would be six weeks after, and both elections would be held on a Tuesday; all of this according to Article XIII, Section 12 of the Wisconsin Constitution.

You can’t recall someone until after they’ve been in office for a year, so the Governor can’t be recalled…today…but because the Senate elects half of its Members every two years there are a group of State Senators who can be recalled; they were elected in 2008.

If three Republicans were to be recalled and replaced by Democrats, the State Senate would change from majority Republican to majority Democratic.

If you’ve ever been to Embarrass, Wisconsin (home of The Chair That Grew), you’ve visited Robert Cowles’ 2nd District. (For the record, it’s more or less 100 miles due north of Milwaukee, and there’s some football team that plays in Green Bay that’s also in his District.) He’s been a Senator since 1987, and in ’08 he ran unopposed. His District voted 52-46 for Obama over McCain in ‘08, and chose Bush over Kerry by almost exactly the same margin in ‘04.

I do not have a feel for who might run against him, but I have some calls out to try to get an answer; if I learn more, we’ll add it to the story.

One Senator who might be in trouble is Alberta Darling (so far as I know, she’s unrelated to cricket great Joe Darling), who represents District 8, which is basically Milwaukee’s northern suburbs.

In ‘08 she only won by 1007 votes (of about 100,000 cast).

It’s worth noting, however, that her District cast the most votes for Governor in 2010; as a result her opponents will be required to gather more valid signatures than in any other District (20,343, by one reckoning).

Her opponent last time was Sheldon Wasserman; he’s a former State Representative, an OB/GYN from Milwaukee, and a member of the State’s Medical Examining Board.

(On a side note, it looks as though the Governor might be messing with the Board as well; he refused to allow two recent physician nominees selected by the Board to be seated, and he’s apparently looking to nominate his own people.)

Just as in District 2, this District voted for Obama in ’08, and Bush in ’04.

Sheila Harsdorf, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on State and Federal Relations and Information Technology, was sent to Madison to look after the interests of the State’s westernmost District, “The Fightin’ 10th”, as Sir Rev. Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, would say.

Even though she thinks State workers are taking too much from the public Treasury…her relationships with the Federal Government are so good that she had no problem taking in $195,000 in Federal farm subsidies over a ten-year period for Beldenville’s Trim-Bel Valley Farms, of which she just happened to be a 50% owner as recently as 2008 (for all I know, she may still be an owner, more current information was unavailable).

This is another one of those Districts that went for Obama in ’08 by about just the same margin as it went for Bush in ’04.

Luther Olsen of the 14th (located about 40 miles or so due north of Madison) is another farm owner; he owns 20% of Waushara’s Riverview Farm; they also happily accepted at least $58,502 of your money and mine, because Olsen, like Sheila Harsdorf, apparently believes that’s a better use of our money than, you know, paying a public school teacher or something.

(Fun Fact: did you know Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, used to be a Milwaukee public school teacher?)

Olsen did not face an opponent in ’08…and once again, this District went Obama in ’08, Bush in ’04—although it went about 4 points farther for Bush than for Obama.

And that brings us to Randy Hopper.

This District (the 18th, which most notably includes Oshkosh and Fond Du Lac) is another one of those Republican seats that are considered among the most “gettable”; that’s because just 163 votes separated Hopper and his ’08 opponent, Jessica King.

There’s also this:

“I have a lot of correctional facilities, a couple universities, and a couple of tech schools [in my district]. I have the second largest population of state employees in the state.”

Hopper also chairs the Senate Education Committee…and there’s also a story going around that his wife is telling people that he’s been providing some “private lessons” to his 25-year-old mistress down in Madison; this according to the MAL Contends… blog—and that’s not going to help a family-values candidate.

He owns two radio stations, one an AM-talk Ag Report and Hannity broadcaster, the other an FM station that caters to the “music at work” market; this may allow him to mitigate some of the potentially-about-to-occur bad publicity, and certainly can’t hurt at election time.

Perhaps the most unrepentant Republican during this process has been Glen Grothman of the 20th (which actually, literally, includes Fredonia, and that has to have some deeper meaning…), and he can afford to take a strong stand.

This guy might well be a mortal lock in this District: the Sheboygan area is one of the most reliably Republican-voting regions of the State over the past 30 years, and of all the Senate candidates who faced opposition in ’08, he won with a larger margin of victory than any of ‘em. (He didn’t get 61% of the vote in ‘08…he won by 61% of the vote.)

(Fun Fact #2: Our friends at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel created these two most excellent voting trend maps for your dining and dancing pleasure; they illustrates how Wisconsin can swing wildly back and forth between Republican and Democratic “electoral domination”.)

Moving on: Mary Lazich, of the 28th, occupies another seat that is going to be tough to get—her District encompasses Milwaukee’s western suburbs (a reliably Republican voting region; in both ’04 and ’08 Republican Presidential candidates won with over 60% of the vote), she did not face an opponent in ’08, and this is another District that will require more than 20,000 signatures to force an election.

“…Fate has been hounding me like a Mormon missionary with an Amway franchise…”

–A. Whitney Brown, appearing on the television show Almost Live!

We’re going to complete today’s “Recall Roundup” with one of the most vulnerable of all the Senators: Dan Kapanke, the Senate Majority Caucus Chair (and a pretty good ”get” if you’re running a recall campaign). He’s from the 32nd, which is all the way across the State from Milwaukee, on the Minnesota border, pretty much in Wisconsin’s southwest corner.

He won by less than 3 points in ’08, his District voted 61%-38% for Obama over McCain…and 53%-46% for Kerry over Bush in ’04, which is the largest margin of any of the 8 Republican Senators currently under recall threat. (Go back and have another look at those voting trend maps, and look at what’s happened to this corner of the State.)

He’s hard right on social issues, but the Farm Bureau loves him.

He is quoted as saying that he expects the signature gathering effort in his District to be successful (only about 15,400 signatures are needed) …and he’s also quoted as having the belief that there is such a thing as a Wisconsin State Senate arrest, despite the presence of an “immunity from arrest” clause in the Wisconsin Constitution.

As of March 8th, 57% of voters in the 32nd would rather have “generic” than Kapanke in a recall election, and they had to close the road outside his house on Friday to keep the hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered there safe.

Now before we close today…we need to offer “big ups” to DavidNYC, who posted a fantastic interactive results spreadsheet at the Swing State Project site; we’ve been referring to it a bunch in this story and you should have a look at it yourself.

And with all that said, that’s today’s “scorecard”, folks, and you can keep track of all the races—or volunteer to help—from one handy location: WisconsinRecall.net…so bookmark the spot, help out any way you can, and let’s start with Wisconsin…and then move on to Ohio and Indiana and Michigan next.