Category Archives: Elections

The REAL grass roots of American politics: A report from the first ever Idaho Republican Caucus

Since 1920, the 43rd state has had either a convention, or a presidential primary to select the the Republican party presidential candidate (the Democratic party allowed each county to decide whether to have a caucus or a primary, up ’til 2008, and the counties varied between caucuses and primaries. In 2008 they changed the rules and have caucused statewide since).

Idaho has historically had a late season non-binding primary, held in Mid may (and still does for everything other than president), by which time the presidential nominee is almost always decided.

For 2012, the Idaho Republican party was tired of being irrelevant to the election, and sought some way of moving their participation to earlier in the process. Unfortunately, moving a primary has some negative consequences. Because the early primary states like to protect their position as favored by the presidential candidates, each of the parties has rules that penalize states (by reducing the number of delegates they control) if they make their primaries earlier than they were in the previous election.

For 2012 however, the GOP changed their rules, so that if a state held a binding caucus, on or before April 6th, but not before March 6th (super Tuesday), and changed from a past the post winner take all system to some type of apportionment; they would not be penalized.

There was a very big, and very nasty fight within the party about this plan; with most of rural Idaho, particularly north and north central Idaho opposing it, and the major metropolitan areas Boise, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, and Pocatello, supporting it.

A Sidebar: For those of you reading this not familiar with the politics or demographics of Idaho, and who primarily think of Idaho as a farm state… potatoes and all… a little background would probably be useful.

Idaho is a pretty BIG state geographically (14th largest at 83.6 thousand square miles), but with one of the smallest populations (11th smallest at 1.6 million), and thus the 7th least dense in population (19.1 per square mile, about 1/5th the national average).

Another important point: although Idaho is only the 14th largest state, because of its very odd shape (big and rectangular-ish at the bottom, long and narrow up top, kinda triangular in the middle) at 480 miles top to bottom, and 560 miles on the long diagonal; only Alaska, California, and Texas are longer north to south, and only those plus Montana and Nevada are longer (only by 60 miles for the latter two) on the long diagonal.

Combine that big state geography, and small state population, with our… unique… landscape, and things are a little weird here.

Let me describe to you what I mean by unique geography.

Idaho isn’t the big flat farm state that most people imagine in their mind, thinking of Idaho potatoes. Idaho is smack in the middle of the Rocky mountains, and is in fact the most mountainous of the lower 48 states by land area classified as “mountains” (Colorado is slightly larger and has a higher mean elevation, but is half mountains, half plains); as well as having the third most land area in National forest service land (20.5 million acres, only 300k acres behind California, and 1.5 million behind Alaska; and thus the highest percentage of land area); and at over 60% the third highest (behind Nevada and Utah) in percentage of land controlled by the federal government (which includes NFS and BLM lands).

There are six population centers in Idaho, and about 75% of the population lives within their catchment areas: Boise (620,000 metro population. 40% of the states population lives within 50 miles of Boise), Twin Falls (99,000), Pocatello (90,000), Idaho falls (130,000), Moscow/Lewiston (87,000), and Coeur D’Alene/Sandpoint (179,000, but only because that counts the entire population of the two counties. The actual “micropolitan” population is more like 100,000 between the cities and large towns within an hours drive); and they are mostly separated by pretty substantial stretches of mountains. Just to top things off, the northern half of the state (north of the Salmon river) is in the pacific time zone, while the southern part of the state is in the Mountain time zone.

The geographic separation is such, that the quickest way to get to Boise from Sandpoint, where we live, is to drive over 100 miles out of our way through Washington and Oregon. It’s only 320 miles in a straight line, but the shortest route by road is an 8 to 9 hour, 420 mile drive on mountain roads (many of which are impassible much of the time in winter), or a 500 mile 8 to 9 hour tri-state drive by interstate.

Those of us in north Idaho have basically no relation to Boise or Pocatello at all; except in that they dominate statewide politics because of their population. We’re far closer connected to eastern Washington (Spokane, Pullman), or to western Montana… or even to Seattle.

From my house, it’s a hell of a lot easier (and faster. It’s 350 miles and about 5-6 hours) to get to Seattle than it is to get to Boise. Hell, we’re only 220 miles from Calgary. Though it’s a 7 hour 350 mile trip by road; it’s still closer to us than Boise.

Check out the topo map below to see what I’m talking about:

You can see, there isn’t very much at all in between the Boise area, and the Lewiston area, except BIG mountains; and a few towns along U.S. 95, and around the lakes and big rivers.

U.S. 95 is one of the old original U.S. highways by the way; and one of the very few left that hasn’t been replaced by interstates. It runs through almost the entire state of Idaho north to South, from the Canadian border, down to southern Oregon at Ontario near Boise; into northern Nevada near Winnemucca and over to Fernley near Reno; from Reno down to Vegas, from Vegas down to Blythe California, then over into Arizona near quartzite; turning south again down into Yuma, and then into Mexico at San Luis Rio Colorado, on the Colorado river. I have driven the entire length of it (unfortunately not all at once, but in pieces), and from top to bottom, it is some of the prettiest, and most geographically varied, road you’ll ever drive.

Because of this geography, and the population differences, Idaho is effectively two VERY VERY different states; north and north central Idaho in the pacific time zone, and southern and eastern Idaho in the mountain time zone (with the dividing line at a little town in the middle of the bitterroot mountains called Riggins).

Both are very conservative overall, but the southern part of the state are very heavily Mormon, and very religious and socially conservative; while the northern part of the state is more catholic and protestant (but not really hardcore baptist, pentecostal, hardcore evangelical etc…), and much more libertarian.

The big problem, as far as north/north central Idaho goes, is that although it represents about 40% of the land area, out of a population of almost 1.6 million, the north only has about 320,000 or about 20%; and that 320,000 is very thinly spread across 10 pretty large counties, vs. the 1.25 million (or about 80%) across 34 generally smaller counties in the southeast and southwest.

Thus, the northern half of the state is generally marginalized as a political constituency, with Boise or Pocatello generally both setting the statewide agenda, and having things decided their way.

Of course, this situation probably sounds pretty familiar to Arizonans, Nevadans, Michiganders, Minnesotans, Floridians, and New Hampsherites (all have a very big north south split); Washingtonians, Oregonians, Coloradans, and Montanans (all have a very big east west split); and of course Texans and Californians (which both have a three or four way split depending on how you count it).

Predictably, Boise won; and Idaho became a caucus state, at least for presidential purposes. Idaho also, for the first time, became… at least somewhat… relevant to the selection of a presidential candidate. So much so that in the weeks before Super Tuesday, Idaho had visits from all the major candidates.

And believe me, there was plenty of interest and participation in this process; both by the people, and from the campaigns.

Our candidate visits included Ron Paul up here in Sandpoint, just this past Monday. On Sunday, the organizers of the event emailed me saying that I shouldn’t worry about parking or seating, there should be plenty. Unfortunately, the event was so packed, by the time I got there I wasn’t able to get in. They expected 400 or 500 people, and the hall at the county fairgrounds filled to capacity (at 1300).

Also the telephone banks were operating in force (I got two calls in the last two weeks from the Ron Paul folks, both actual human beings; and over a dozen from Romney and Santorums campaign, all robocalls).

And finally, last night, the Idaho GOP held their first ever presidential caucus.

It was a resounding success… so much so that it almost ended up a total disaster.

Based on Democratic caucus participation (in 2008, their most attended caucus ever, only 20,000 Idaho Democrats caucused), and participation in caucuses in other states, the state central committee planned for between and 3% and 6% of total registered voters to attend the caucuses; expecting as little as 1% in some counties, and as much as 10% at most in others.

This year there were about 750,000 total registered voters in Idaho (a bit less than 50% of the population); and while something between 55% and 60% of registered voters vote Republican in general elections, Idaho has been an open primary state up till now, and in any given year only around 10% of voters are actually registered Republicans (this year, based on previous participation, Idaho has “official” party affiliation recorded for “Democratic”, “Republican”, “Libertarian”, “Constitution” and “Unaffiliated”. The large majority of Idaho voters are registered “unaffiliated”).

I spoke to several Idaho state Republican party staff members, and given the low Democratic caucus turnout, and that in most caucus states the turnouts are 3% or less (even Iowa on a good year gets 6%) they expected something like 10,000 people state wide, and 20,000 at the very outside, would attend this years Republican caucuses (remember, the most Democrats to ever caucus in Idaho was 20,000 in 2008).

Not only that, but just about all the “smart folks” were predicting a low turnout due to “lack of energy” and “lack of enthusiasm” etc… etc…

They were wrong.

VERY wrong.

Nearly 10,000 people showed up to caucus in just one county alone (in Ada county, population 300,000, which contains Boise, more than 10,000 people went through the doors at caucus locations, and 9,050 cast first round ballots).

All told, about 45,000 people statewide cast a final round ballot, in whatever round their county went to. If the numbers in other counties are at all similar to those in Bonner county (the only county I have direct numbers for), at least 60,000 and maybe as many as 80,000 people actually showed up at caucus sites.

And of course, that doesn’t include the people who showed up, saw how busy it was, and left; or the people who, never having attended a caucus before, were confused about the process and gave up earlier.

In Sandpoint, there were so many people wanting to caucus, that many people simply left; either angry or frustrated at the long lines and waiting in the cold (it was 36 degrees and full dark before we got through the doors).

I spoke with several staff members at Sandpoint High school (our local caucus site), and Priest River Jr. High school (the caucus site in Priest River), and with several county Republican committee members and volunteers; who told me that hundreds of people didn’t understand the process, and had showed up at the caucus sites during the day, wondering about how to vote. After finding out they had to come back at 6pm and stay for several hours, most of these people left (often angrily) saying they wouldn’t come back.

I arrived at our caucus site, our local high school, at about 5:30pm; 30 minutes before the designated “door opening” time and 90 minutes before the caucus was supposed to begin at 7pm. When I arrived, the 438 space main parking lot was already full, with the remaining 200 spaces in the side lots filling up rapidly.

By 6pm, the parking lot was completely full, and the line to get into the caucus site was wrapped halfway around the school. I, having arrived at 5:30, didn’t get in to the registration table until 6:45pm (in the end, they continued processing people through until around 8pm).

Bonner county, where my family and I live, has a population of just about 40,000, with 22,794 registered voters as of 9am yesterday morning; however, over 80% of all the registered voters in our county are unaffiliated (though the county generally votes over 60% republican). Prior to yesterdays caucuses (Idaho allows same day registration and affiliation), the total number of registered Republicans in Bonner county was just 1,662.

The county party committee, following the central committees guidance, were told to prepare for something like 600 to 1200 people to show up for the whole county; and had intended to use the 300 seat high school auditorium for the caucus site in Sandpoint (half the registered voters in the county live within 10 miles of Sandpoint).

That auditorium was filled in the first ten or fifteen minutes.

By the time my wife and I got through sign-in and ID check at 6:45, we had already filled up the cafeteria; and were well over 500 strong. In fact, by the time we hit 700, we hit the fire code maximum for the auditorium, AND the cafeteria and the overflow room.

Finally, at around 7pm (when the first round of voting was supposed to start), they pulled the bleachers out in the school gym. By the time they finished letting people in, there were over 1100 of us in the building (including a lot of kids, there with their parents; which my wife and I found heartening).

Because of the huge turnout, there obviously weren’t enough staff volunteers. The staff ended up asking for some additional help from the attendees, and the high school kids who wanted additional community service (which was gladly given); and everything was delayed by over an hour.

There were four caucus sites for the county. By the time we started the first round of balloting it was after 8pm; and 856 of us cast a first round ballot in that building alone. All said and done, there were 1411 first round ballots cast for Bonner county; when less than 12 hours before, there were only 1662 total registered Republicans.

Before I continue I should note the rules and process for the Idaho Republican caucuses, as conducted last night.

There were five candidates that qualified to be listed for the caucuses: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Buddy Roemer.

Voting would proceed county wide, in rounds, eliminating lower performing candidates in each round, until a “50% plus one vote” winner could be declared for each county (NOT for each caucus site). In the first round, any candidate that failed to achieve 15% support would be eliminated. In any subsequent round the lowest performing candidate would be eliminated.

Also, I should be clear that the county Republican party commissioners and volunteers conducted themselves in as professional and courteous a manner as they could given the difficulties; and they conducted the primary in an entirely open and transparent way. I would like to particularly thank our county commissioner (and party chair) Cornel Rasor and county party treasurer Alan Banks, for working so hard to make things work given the difficult circumstances; and for being so open and encouraging to people who wanted to witness, film, photograph, record, and report on the process (at one point Cornel said “Please, everyone, tweet this, post it on facebook, blog about it… we want everyone to see that we’re conducting the most open caucus in the country).

23 of Idahos 44 counties had a 50%+1 vote winner in the first round (including most of the top ten population counties). Every county that finished in the first round went for Romney except one; Latah county, which voted for Ron Paul. Most of those counties went for Romney by 60% or more, with two (Madison county and Bear Lake county), hitting 90% for Romney (notably both counties are almost entirely Mormon, as were most of the counties that went for Mitt more than 60%).

One should note, Latah county, with a population of just 35,000, and less than 2000 registered Republicans prior to their caucus, had 982 votes cast yesterday. 52% voted for Ron Paul, and only 20% voted for Romney.

… and that rather nicely illustrates the political divide between north and north central Idaho, and southern Idaho.

In the first round, Bonner county cast 1411 votes, including 558 for Ron Paul (39.55%), 291 for Romney (20.77%), 290 for Rick Santorum (20.43%) 173 for Newt Gingrich (12.26%) and 4 for Buddy Roemer. This meant Newt and Roemer would be eliminated after the first round.

Six of the remaining 21 counties went through two rounds of voting, including Boundary county just to our north (they are the county bordering Canada) who went for Ron Paul at 54% (Romney at 18%, Santorum at 28%… they really don’t like the government very much in Boundary county). The other five counties that finished in two rounds also went for Mitt Romney.

In the second round, even though we didn’t cast our ballots ’til around 9:30pm, our polling place only lost 28 voters, and Bonner county as a whole only lost 138 voters, dropping from 1411 to 1293; 564 for Ron Paul, 277 for Mitt Romney, and surprisingly, 452 for Rick Santorum, causing Romney to be eliminated.

Unfortunately, a lot of folks were pretty sure the caucus would only go two rounds; and left immediately after casting their ballots, not waiting around for the vote count.

The one real black mark on last night caucus, at least in Bonner county; wasn’t from the party, it was from the left… Unfortunately, many of us recognized a number people we know to be hardcore Democrats, far left liberals, or otherwise very anti-republican (and definitely NOT libertarians or Ron Paul supporters), in the caucus crowd last night. I have spoken to people who were at the other three caucus sites in the county, as well as some people in other counties; who have told me the same thing.

There are not a lot of Santorum supporters up here; and there ARE a large number of Romney supporters (it’s still at least 20% mormon up here, plus the pragmatists who think that Romney is the only one who can actually beat Obama).

A number of the folks who were there, are pretty sure that those people we recognized as leftists made up a lot of the Gingrich and Santorum voters in the Bonner county caucus last night.

When Gingrich was eliminated in the first round, as everyone knew he would be; we all expected the Gingrich vote to MOSTLY split between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. When basically ALL the Gingrich vote went for Santorum, eliminating Romney and forcing us into a third round… Let’s just say that everyone was more than a little surprised…

… Actually extreme shock and more than a little disgust might be a better description.

Like 15 other counties, the caucuses in Bonner county last night went to three rounds, but the difference between the second and third round was much greater than between the first and second. Bonner county only lost 138 voters between the first and second round. Between the second and third round we lost 341. Notably, that included a lot of the folks who we recognized as leftists; and almost none of the Ron Paul supporters.

When we finally cast our third round ballots, well around 10pm (the count came back around 10:30), 555 Bonner county republicans cast their ballot for Ron Paul, and 487 cast their ballot for Rick Santorum; Paul winning the county at 53.28%.

I don’t think there is any question, given the numbers I’ve seen and talking with people in the other polling places and other counties; that some democrat/leftists manipulation was going on in Idaho last night, trying to undermine Romney and Paul by artificially boosting support for Santorum.

Overall, Ron Paul won six counties and 18% of the vote, Rick Santorum won seven counties and 18% of the vote, and Mitt Romney won thirty-one counties and 62 percent of the vote.

Officially, Santorum received 29 more votes state wide than Ron Paul, so he came in second; though as I said, I believe that result was the result of deliberate manipulation. Romney should have received even more votes than he did, as should Ron Paul, and Paul should have been in a very clear second place.

Although Idaho’s Republican caucus for 2012 was technically an apportioned caucus, not a winner take all; the rules that the Idaho Republican committee decided on, were that the counties would be winner take all, and if more than one candidate won more than 50% of the counties delegates, than that candidate would have all the states delegates committed to them.

Since Mitt won 31 counties, he got all 32 of Idahos delegates. Given the results overall for Super Tuesday; although Romney is not a mathematical certainty for the nomination, he is almost certainly the nominee.

Of course… he’s BEEN “almost certainly the nominee” since shortly after November 4th 2008; when the RNC decided that was who they were going to line up behind for fundraising and groundwork for the next four years to beat Obama….

but that’s another rant for another day.

From a personal standpoint, other than the manipulation issue, and the party VASTLY underestimating the level of interest, passion, and participation of the people of Idaho… I found my first caucus experience to be very interesting and personally far more rewarding and engaging than a primary. There were certainly a lot of folks who were irritated by the process, or who feel that a caucus is simply improper or an inferior way to vote for a candidate; but I can certainly see the advantages of it.

As to which I think is better?

Neither.

I believe that the primary/convention system used in this country is essentially a sideshow for the benefit of the media, the fundraising arms of the party, and the fundraising efforts of the candidates themselves. It is a detriment to political discourse and serves to perpetuate an inherently corrupt process of candidate selection by party insiders and political money brokers.

…but, as I said above, that’s a rant for another day.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Observations from the Colorado Republican Caucus

Just one day before the deadline late last year, I changed my party registration from Libertarian to Republican so I could participate in the caucus that took place yesterday evening (Colorado’s caucuses are closed to independent and third party voters). Being new to the caucus process, I didn’t know what to expect. Now that I’m no longer a caucus virgin (wow, that sounds dirty), I thought I would share some of my deflowering observations here.

The caucus itself was held at the elementary school all three of my children have attended. Once inside, I presented my voter I.D. and I was told to sit at the table with my precinct number on it. I was the first to be seated at the table but was joined by a nice elderly lady moments later followed by a young married couple. Not too long after that, the rest of those representing the precinct joined us at the table. By the time everyone was seated, there were just ten of us (there were probably three times as many people at the table representing the precinct next to us).

As we were getting acquainted, the leader of the caucus said a few words informing us what we were doing and not doing (no speeches on behalf of the presidential candidates – something I was looking forward to) and introduced the candidates running for the State House and State Senate and each made their pitch.

After these relatively short speeches it was time for the “presidential preference” vote. The caucus leader informed us that these votes were nonbinding (in other words, meaningless) with regard to how the delegates would be rewarded. Not only that, but she also explained that each precinct may or may not be eligible for delegates depending on how much support the precinct gave to the top of the ticket in the last election. As it turned out, our precinct received zero because too many voters had the audacity to not support the very sorry gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes in 2010.

Other than that, we were able to vote on who would be delegates to the less important conventions (in my judgment at least). None of these votes were contested as those who decided they wanted to be delegates did so reluctantly.

For the remainder of the evening, we discussed the primary race and who we were supporting and why. As it turned out, at least five at our table were for Mitt Romney – not because they particularly liked Romney but because he was the most “electable” vs. Obama. One was for Rick Santorum, two of us were for Ron Paul (myself and one other), one said he didn’t want to say who he was for and I don’t know who the last person supported.

While I did enjoy engaging others in conversation about the candidates and the issues, I don’t think this is the best way to choose a nominee for president. Having said that, I don’t know that the end result would have been any different had this been a primary as opposed to a caucus.

Gov. Johnson to Drop Out of G.O.P. Contest and Make LP Run; G.O.P. Establishment Fears Prospect of Paul Victory in Iowa

Libertarian leaning candidates Gary Johnson and Ron Paul are stirring up some trouble for the G.O.P. Gov. Johnson has apparently had enough of the Gary Johnson Rule and his treatment from the establishment. According to Politico Johnson will switch his party registration to the Libertarian Party and make an announcement that he will run for that party’s nomination.

Gary Johnson will quit the Republican primaries and seek the Libertarian Party nomination instead, POLITICO has learned.

The former two-term New Mexico governor, whose campaign for the GOP nomination never caught fire, will make the announcement at a press conference in Santa Fe on Dec. 28. Johnson state directors will be informed of his plans on a campaign conference call Tuesday night, a Johnson campaign source told POLITICO.

[…]

According to a Public Policy Polling survey of New Mexico conducted Dec. 10-12, Johnson as a Libertarian candidate could impact the vote in his home state.

PPP found Johnson would draw between 26 and 30 percent of GOP votes, between 12 and 16 percent of Democratic votes and win independents, in a race with either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich as the GOP nominee.

As for Ron Paul, the establishment G.O.P. is getting very frightened at the prospect of his possible victory in Iowa:

Conservatives and Republican elites in the state are divided over who to support for the GOP nomination, but they almost uniformly express concern over the prospect that Ron Paul and his army of activist supporters may capture the state’s 2012 nominating contest — an outcome many fear would do irreparable harm to the future role of the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

[…]

Paul poses an existential threat to the state’s cherished kick-off status, say these Republicans, because he has little chance to win the GOP nomination and would offer the best evidence yet that the caucuses reward candidates who are unrepresentative of the broader party.

“It would make the caucuses mostly irrelevant if not entirely irrelevant,” said Becky Beach, a longtime Iowa Republican who helped Presidents Bush 41 and Bush 43 here. “It would have a very damaging effect because I don’t think he could be elected president and both Iowa and national Republicans wouldn’t think he represents the will of voters.”

If Ron Paul puts an end to this ridiculous caucus system where certain states like Iowa and New Hampshire gets special consideration over the rest of the states, then I say that in itself is a good thing. Referring back to the famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” it now appears that Paul is now in the second and third stage because the establishment can no longer ignore him, his support, or his message.

This doesn’t mean the establishment won’t try. The article continues:

Leading Republicans, looking to put the best possible frame on a Paul victory, are already testing out a message for what they’ll say if the 76-year-old Texas congressman is triumphant.

The short version: Ignore him.

“People are going to look at who comes in second and who comes in third,” said Gov. Terry Branstad.

“If [Mitt] Romney comes in a strong second, it definitely helps him going into New Hampshire and the other states.”

Go ahead and ignore Ron Paul Gov. Branstad. Ignore him all the way to the White House.

Right wing talk radio, when not ignoring Paul, fight him by framing his supporters as a bunch of wackos. The long knives are coming out. When they aren’t mischaracterizing his sensible foreign policy they now go to the newsletter issue to try to scare away possible supporters. Funny, this wasn’t a topic of conversation until very recently. That’s the price of being a front runner I suppose.

I would only hope that those who are considering supporting Paul on the basis of the newsletter controversy to ask themselves the following question: “Is Ron Paul a racist and does he support the contents of the newsletters?”

If the answer is yes, then by all means don’t vote for Ron Paul.

Paul has disavowed the contents of the newsletters on numerous occasions. While I’m not completely satisfied with how he has handled the newsletter issue, I take him at his word. I don’t think he is a racist. I would even go as far to say that life for people of color would be much improved under a Paul administration than under the Obama administration. For starters, Paul would end the war on (some) drugs and would most likely pardon all non-violent drug offenders – regardless of race.

This is just the beginning. As Paul’s poll numbers raise, buckle up…it’s going to be a rough ride.

The Johnson Campaign Perpetuates the “Public Airways” Myth in Response to Latest Debate Exclusion

There’s very little doubt in my mind that the MSM and the G.O.P establishment have been doing all they can to keep certain candidates from challenging the establishment and ultimately win the nomination. Early in the campaign I wrote a response to Hugh Hewitt’s post where he suggested that the RNC should exile Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, and Ron Paul from the remaining debates. His argument was that these were all “marginal” “1%er’s”* who “don’t have a prayer” of winning the nomination.

Isn’t it interesting that “1%er” Ron Paul has won several straw polls and has even cracked the top 3 or 4 at various points during the campaign and is almost always polling in the double digits? Ron Paul is hardly a 1%er despite efforts on the part of the sponsors to limit his exposure (in the most recent debate, Paul had a whopping 89 seconds to make his case on national television).

Then there’s Herman Cain the other “marginal” candidate who until the most recent couple of weeks following accusations (whether legitimate or not) of sexual harassment along with some other missteps on foreign policy was neck and neck with the establishment favorite Mitt Romney. Cain may have fallen from grace but he isn’t a 1%er without a prayer of winning neither.

The only one of the three who is truly a 1%er unfortunately is Gov. Gary Johnson. Of the three Johnson is the only one who has been successfully excluded from all but two of the nationally televised debates. Up to this point, the Johnson campaign has encouraged supporters to write and call the debate sponsors to encourage them to reconsider but to no avail. In true libertarian freedom of association fashion, Johnson, though disappointed with his exclusion, respected the right of the debate sponsors to exclude him.

Now it seems the Johnson campaign has had enough with The Gary Johnson Rule and it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. The Johnson campaign has now filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in response to Johnson’s most recent exclusion from the South Carolina CBS debate.

Here are some excerpts from the complaint filed with the FEC:

On Saturday, November 12, 2011 Respondent CBS televised on its national network another debate, but instead of including all leading candidates has elected to arbitrarily and capriciously exclude some candidates and include others. In so doing, CBS is, without any other explanation, choosing to support certain candidates. By excluding viable candidates like Complainant, who has been included by cable networks in their debates CBS is directly and significantly supporting those candidates it favors, and advocating the nomination of one of their favorites and opposing the nomination of Complainant, whom CBS evidently disfavors. In so doing, CBS is making an illegal corporate in-kind contribution to those favored candidates. The value of this contribution vastly exceeds the contribution limit that applies to any category of lawful donor.

2 U.S.C. §431 (8) (A) (i) defines a “contribution” as “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” No rational person could possibly argue that exposure during an hour-long debate televised in prime time on the CBS network is NOT something of value. Indeed, CBS sells advertising spots during prime time for huge sums, and makes and reaps significant revenues in doing so. By any standard, this airtime is a thing of value within the ambit of that phrase in this statute. If all viable candidates were being included in the debate that might lead to a different conclusion, but by excluding candidates CBS disfavors –opposes—and including those it favors –supports—Respondent is violating the Act.

I believe the Johnson campaign has a very valid point in this complaint to the FEC. Whether we like the campaign finance laws or not, Johnson is bound by them and must abide by them; it only seems fair that CBS must be legally obligated to follow them as well.

Gov. Johnson’s complaint to the FCC, however; is much more bothersome IMHO.

Here are some excerpts (from the same link as above) from the FCC complaint [Much of the language in the FCC complaint is identical to that of the FEC so I’ve omitted those parts]:

The Federal Communications Commission has the authority to regulate fair access to the airwaves of broadcast by network television networks.

[…]

The public owns the airways over which CBS broadcasts, and the public deserves to be free from bias- favoring some candidates over others- as well as illegal support of certain presidential candidates on national network television. Unfair access to the airwaves of broadcast by network television is clearly an issue within the FCC’s mandate. The illegal corporate contribution CBS is making in including some candidates and not others is addressed in a separate formal complaint to the Federal Elections Commission. The FCC should take appropriate action against CBS.

The public owns the airwaves? Yes, I understand that this is the accepted conventional wisdom but this is not something I would have expected from perhaps** the most libertarian leaning candidate to ever seek the nomination for the Republican Party!

I fully and completely understand the frustration because as a Gary Johnson supporter, I too am frustrated with how the Johnson campaign has been treated by the establishment. I take it damn personally that the candidate who best advocates and represents my views has been excluded from these debates while big government, freedom hating, torture supporting, war mongering fools like Rick Perry and Rick Santorum make idiotic assertion after idiotic assertion on national television often unchallenged . I often wonder if Johnson might have had similar success as Ron Paul or Herman Cain had his (and by extension, my) voice been heard in these debates.

We will probably never know.

But to write the FCC and make the argument that Gov. Johnson has some sort of right to participate in the debate because the public “owns” the airwaves just makes me cringe. This comes far too close to the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” for my comfort. The public doesn’t own the airwaves, the broadcasters do. CBS buys the licenses and is supported by advertisers – not the public.

If the debate was sponsored and aired on PBS and/or NPR the Johnson campaign would have a legitimate point because those stations are supported by the public (i.e. taxpayers and viewers like you) but this is not what we are talking about here.

Maybe the Johnson campaign believes the ends justify the means but I would rather Gary Johnson lose following his small government principles than win by compromising them.

» Read more

Preference Voting — Darling Of The LP, But Does It Work?

Anyone who’s read my work here over the years will have realized that I’m not very interested in political horse races. It’s not to say that I don’t think there is some importance to them (as several contributors here do pay close attention), but that others can cover that stuff far better than I can, and at the end of the day it interests me not at all.

What does interest me is structures and incentives. I don’t think we’ll be able to make a meaningful change in the direction of this country unless we find a way to get the Republican/Democrat “Beast with Two Asses” to relinquish control and have actual diversity in Congress.

The structure of our government is such that it naturally trends towards a two-party system. The centrism of the American populace aligns those two parties into a nominal one-party system, standing a few steps for and a few steps aft of the mast of the Big Government yacht, but all riding in the exact same direction. Anyone who would dare rock the boat is purged.

So how do we fix this? Well, one option is replacing “first past the post” voting with ranked balloting. The sad truth of standard plurality elections in a dominant two-party system is that voting for a third party is a vote against your preferred of the two candidates. If you want the LP to win but could live with the Republican, voting Libertarian makes it more, not less, likely a Democrat will be elected instead. In ranked voting, you rank your acceptable candidates by preference, so ranking your LP candidate first and the Republican candidate second allows your second vote to stand should the Libertarian lose.

The question is — would it make a difference? The answer, unfortunately, is likely no:

But instead, the version being offered in Britain will allow voters to write in a first preference, and leave all others blank: the professor calls this practice “plumping.”

This is very significant, Mr Bogdanor argues, and he has the data to back this up. He notes that the stated purpose of AV is to avoid the anomaly by which a candidate can win a constituency on a minority of the vote.

However, he explains, it is not correct to say that AV ensures every MP is elected by a majority. In the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales, “plumping” is allowed in elections to state legislatures. And where it is allowed, it is very common. He records:

The greater the degree of plumping, the more an alternative vote election turns into a first past the post election…In Queensland, in 2009, where the Labor Party advised its supporters to “Just Vote 1″, to give Labor their first preference and not to give a preference to any other candidate, around 63% of voters plumped. Even where a party does offer advice, that advice may be ignored. In Queensland, the Greens advised that second preferences be given to Labor, but 46% of Green voters decided to plump

There are many arguments for and against AV. Many will be rehearsed here over the next few weeks (you lucky people). But for now, consider this possibility: by avoiding a dreadful form of AV (one which would make the use of all preferences obligatory), British backers of AV may have chosen a system that amounts to a gussied-up form of FPTP with added complexity and aggravation.

In a system built to be dominated by two parties at the Congressional level (not at the district level), we don’t have a system requiring multiple minority parties to work together to “create a government”. That’s more of a parliamentary system with proportional representation. Nor do we, as Americans enamored with representative democracy, seem to want that — we want to elect AN individual to represent OUR OWN interests in Washington [not that this actually happens, of course].

So it’s quite likely that Republicans and Democrats will each put their own party and zero other candidates on a ranked ballot. Those of us outside the two main parties will put our third-party preference and our second choice on a ranked ballot. And at the end of the day, you’ll end up with a Congress filled with the same Republicans and Democrats we started with. In the few cases where a minority party candidate is elected (say, for example, where a popular main-party candidate is skewered in the primary and goes third-party), it may make it easier to end up in office, but still isn’t a major change to the system.

I’m a fan of changing structure, and I see the allure of preference voting. In fact, I think preference voting is a worthy change. But I think that preference voting, in and of itself, would have effectively zero impact on the American political landscape. For it to be important, it would have to be paired with other structural changes that would improve the likelihood that minority parties would end up with a seat at the table. Like most things with the $3.5T Leviathan, it’ll take more than preference voting to make a real difference.

It’s time for libertarians to start taking a look at Gary Johnson for POTUS 2012

“That’s the first sign you know you’re a libertarian. You see the red light. You stop. You realize that there’s not a car in sight. And you put your foot on the gas.” - Gary Johnson

Former two-term Republican Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico has been hitting the news a lot lately. This makes sense, as he’s not ruled out a possible presidential bid. Wikipedia provides this brief overview of Johnson’s history:

Gary Earl Johnson (born January 1, 1953 in Minot, North Dakota) is an American businessman and Republican politician who served as the 29th Governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003. He is well-known for his low-tax libertarian views and his regular participation in triathlons.

Founder of one of New Mexico’s largest construction companies,[1] Johnson entered politics for the first term by running for Governor of New Mexico in 1994. He beat incumbent Democratic governor Bruce King by 50% to 40%. He cut the 10% annual growth in the budget by using his gubernatorial veto on a record 48% of bills.[1]

He sought re-election in 1998, winning by a ten-point margin. In his second term, he concentrated on the issue of school voucher reforms, as well as campaigning for marijuana decriminalization. During his tenure as governor, he adhered strictly to an anti-tax, anti-bureaucracy program, and set state and national records for his use of veto powers:[1] more than the other 49 contemporary governors put together.[2][3] Term-limited, Johnson retired from politics at the end of his second term.

In 2009, he founded the Our America Initiative, a 501(c)(4) political advocacy organization. Johnson has also been the subject of media speculation as a possible candidate for President of the United States in the 2012 election.[4]

Recent media reviews are a bit interesting. A current Daily Caller interview begins with this paragraph:

“For eight years,” former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson said with a wide grin on his face, “I was a libertarian governor disguised as a Republican!” Often dubbed the “next Ron Paul,” Johnson wears the libertarian (small “L”) label proudly, though in an interview with The Daily Caller he swore he was still a Republican.

Over at The American Conservative, Daniel Larison describes a potential problem with a Johnson candidacy, which is electability in a Republican primary:

The possibility of a Gary Johnson presidential bid is an exciting one, and I say that as a New Mexican who didn’t like some of the major projects he undertook as governor. I can say that I would happily support his candidacy were he to pursue the Republican nomination. That’s part of the problem Gary Johnson faces in a GOP nominating contest: he appeals to people like me and Matt Welch, who are not remotely representative of the Republican primary electorate. For one thing, I’m not a Republican. Not even Ron Paul’s 2008 bid could make me change my registration to vote in the state primary, and I doubt I would change it for the next election.

While a lot of Republicans liked Ron Paul’s fiscal policy issues during the 2008 elections, his foreign policy views certainly hampered his ability to win a GOP presidential nomination. Johnson has been very outspoken regarding marijuana policy, which has the possibility of making it tough for him to win a GOP nomination, as well.

“Marijuana legalization, arguably Johnson’s hallmark political platform, was advertised as being a main point of the lecture, and Johnson subsequently devoted a substantial portion of his address to it,” writes Patrick Derocher after a recent Johnson lecture at Fordham University.

Over at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government, long-time Republican political consultant Roger Stone is a bit more optimistic than I am:

A 2012 Presidential candidacy by Johnson would lead to a needed public dialog on the failed war on drugs. Prop 19 failed only because of the gross lies told about marijuana use by police groups, Senator Diane Feinstein and, get this, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Anyone who has seen “Pumping Iron” remembers Arnold puffing on a joint between heavy sets. Do as I say, not as I do, Ahhnold ?

This is not to say Johnson is a one dimensional candidate and their will be plenty of opposition to ending the prohibition of Marijuana in the Republican Party, but a Johnson candidacy would find a constituency in the early primary states, particularly “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire and would spark a national discussion that must be had.

Sarah Palin won’t run ( you heard it here first!). The race is wide open. Run, Gary Run.

Following the same vein, CNN entitled a recent article “Forget Palin, here’s Gary Johnson.” Here’s the pertinent excerpt:

Skeptics of the Tea Party note that the right never organized in opposition to the profligate spending of the Bush administration. They wonder why a movement so vocal about liberty focuses exclusively on the economic variety, and suspect that if the GOP is returned to power, government won’t grow smaller or less intrusive so much as serve different masters.

Come 2012, however, there is one Republican who’ll be uniquely positioned to win over these skeptics: former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a long-shot candidate whose success in the presidential primary would signal, as nothing else could, that the principles espoused by the Tea Party really changed the GOP.

Certainly Johnson would provide a bridge between fiscal conservatives and the left, as E. D. Kain notes at The Washington Examiner:

That being said, Johnson’s positions on civil liberties, foreign policy, and the war on drugs dovetail nicely with my own, and are quite a lot better and more coherent than anything we’ve seen out of either traditional Democratic or Republican candidates. I’m not nearly the sort of fiscal hawk that Johnson is, preferring to keep reasonable spending levels on public education, transportation, and health, but at least he’s consistent in his approach to both civil liberties and fiscal affairs. Indeed, if the Tea Party was as coherent as Johnson, I might even join up – though my participation would be more a protest of our egregious drug policies and our failed security policies than anything. Limiting government must mean more than simply limiting taxes and spending if it is ever to become a truly coherent political force.
Johnson isn’t afraid to take on his likely competition.  This clip from a recent profile piece from The New Republic is telling:

What does Johnson make of Palin? On a drive through the foothills of New Hampshire, I ask him. Riding shotgun, he turns the question around on me. “Um, I guess some people think she’s folksy,” I say from the backseat. “Well, at first she strikes you as folksy,” he shoots back. “And then you realize: She might be running for president of the United States! And then, don’t we have the obligation to tell her what a terrible idea that is?” Cupping his hands to his mouth, he brays, “Sarah! We love you! Don’t run!” He also performs a rendition of the “deer-in-the-headlights” interview she did on “The O’Reilly Factor,” about the BP oil spill.

He’s also happy to take on the Republican establishment, as The New Mexico Independent notes:

The free-speaking Johnson also penned a critical statement on the Republican takeover of the House, on Facebook:

“After yesterday’s election I think it would be wrong for the Republicans to take the results as some sort of mandate for Republican leadership. I believe that the Republicans have an opportunity to redeem themselves for when we owned the White House and when we ran up record deficits and when we gave America a prescription health care benefit that added trillions to the entitlement liability and ran up record deficits.”

If Johnson runs, and all signs seem to indicate that he will, the Republican primary process will certainly be interesting.

“As an unabashed Johnson supporter (which is an extremely unusual place to find myself vis-a-vis a politician), my main hope has been that at least one libertarian-minded candidate make it to the GOP’s final round in 2012,” writes Matt Welch at Reason. “Though as one wag suggested to me on Election Night, why not two?”

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel noted that the process could be a lot of fun, too. Here’s the excerpt he pulled from the TNR profile, which was immediately followed by the quote at the top of this post:

“Look,” he says, “there are times and places where it would be perfectly safe to go one-forty, and there are others where it would be reckless to go fifty-five.” Within moments, he’s taking aim at stop signs and red lights. “I’m not opposed to the concept,” he allows. “But sometimes, you know, it’s 5:30 in the morning! There’s nobody on the road!”

I’ll have the advantage being able to have some face time with Governor Johnson next week, as the Samford College Republicans and the Alabama Republican Liberty Caucus (disclosure: I’m the current chairman) will be co-hosting a campus event in Birmingham where he will be speaking. We are following this up with a Liberty on the Rocks mixer right down the street, where Johnson will also be present.

While it’s far to early to begin predicting the outcome of the 2012 GOP presidential nomination process, it seems pretty safe to predict that the debate could indeed be interesting.

Not Too Bad for an Amateur Prognosticator

Two years ago today, in a post I wrote entitled One Libertarian’s Advice for Republicans and Republican Leaders, I made the following observation and prediction:

This is not to say that you [the Republican Party] will continue to lose every election until you return Goldwater/Reagan conservatism. There is a good chance that you will regain one or both houses of Congress in 2010 and perhaps the presidency in 2012. But if you wish to win elections and stay elected, you will need to return to these philosophical roots.

[…]

[5th Footnote]
Due to the unrealistically high expectations Obama set for himself, many of his supporters will be sorely disappointed when they learn he is a mere mortal. I also believe the Democrats will overreach and try to take the country further to the Left than a majority of Americans are prepared for.

Okay so maybe I’m not exactly Kreskin. I did hedge quite a bit by saying “one or both houses” and we have another 2 years before we know the outcome of the 2012 race. Anyone who has followed politics or has spent any amount of time objectively studying U.S. political history would have likely made that same prediction.

None of us should be surprised that voters wanted to purge the House after Obama failed to meet the high expectations of his supporters (however unrealistic). The Democrats were the ones who benefited with electoral gains in 2008 as a result of President Bush’s 8 years of big government growth, spending, two wars with no end in sight, debt, bailouts, complete rejection of free market principles, and a McCain/Palin presidential ticket (just to name a few). All this coupled with support of these policies by Republicans in congress plus the real and perceived corruption of its members created a perfect opportunity for Democrats to take control.

This did not mean, however; that Americans decided they preferred the big government policies of the Left to big government policies of the Right. Election ’08 was a rejection of the Republicans’ irresponsible actions just as ’10 election is a rejection of Democrats’ overreaches and failure to improve the economy.

As any quarterback can attest, when a team isn’t performing well, it’s the backup quarterback who gets all the love from the fans. But once that quarterback becomes the starter, that support fades very quickly whenever he fails to lead his team to more victories than his predecessor. The same is true in politics.

Republicans in the House should bear this in mind: the very same forces* that swept you back into power in 2010 can sweep you right back out in 2012.

*Assuming that the Tea Party is serious about principle and will hold their candidates accountable if the Tea Party candidates fail to do as they promised. I’m still skeptical.

Colorado Republican Party Could Lose More in the Governor’s Race than the Election

In an election year that seems to favor Republicans nationally, there’s a whole different story unfolding here in the Centennial State in the gubernatorial campaign. The Republican candidate Dan Maes has lost support even among the party faithful due largely to being caught in a lie about his law enforcement background in Kansas back in the ‘80s. Most of the grass roots support among conservatives has gone to former Republican congressman turned American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo.

I’m by no means a fan or supporter of Tom Tancredo but I do find this turn of events to be quite amusing. Conservatives have been pleading with Meas (the Republican) to withdraw from the race as he stands to spoil Tancredo’s (the third party candidate) chances of beating the Democrat, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (and recent polling suggests that if Tancredo takes more votes from Maes, Tancredo stands a decent chance of actually winning).

But it gets even better. The Denver Daily News reports:

A poor showing for Maes Nov. 2 could have serious implications for the Republican Party in Colorado. If the candidate fails to garner at least 10 percent of the vote, Republicans could be relegated to minor party status for the next two election cycles, meaning they would appear lower on the ballot and could only receive half as much in donations as Democrats.

The Republican Party to become a “minor party” for the next two election cycles? How great would that be: one of the two major parties having to see what life is like for third parties and their candidates? With the polling as it stands now, it appears that no candidate will win more than 50% of the vote. If Hickenlooper wins, maybe it will be conservatives who will champion the ideas that third party candidates have been championing for some time like range voting or instant runoff voting.

The article continues:

“In a telephone interview, Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams said he does not believe the Colorado Legislature would allow Republicans to become a minor party.

Whether Maes makes the 10 percent mark, Wadhams said he expects Colorado leaders to change to rule.

“That’s something I’m not too worried about right now,” he said.

Isn’t that just like our two party system? When they don’t get their way they work to change the rules?

Hopefully whatever happens, third parties will be better able to compete in future elections in Colorado as a result of this wildly entertaining campaign.

Ken Buck’s “Radical” Proposal to “Rewrite” the Constitution

I do not support Ken Buck in the Colorado senate race and I will not vote for him. Actually, between his extreme position on abortion, on banning common forms of birth control, and his sexist comments he made about his primary opponent, I think he is quite a jackass.

But even as much as I have some major concerns about Ken Buck and dislike him personally, the Democrats are running some ads that I believe are lacking in historical context and misrepresent the founding principles of our constitution and our republic.

Here’s the first ad entitled “Different”:

This “radical” idea that the state governments would choose their senators instead of the voters is hardly a new idea conjured up by Ken Buck. If we accept the notion that Buck would “rewrite” the Constitution, he would merely be changing the way senators are selected back to the way the founders intended 223 years ago. It wasn’t until the 17th Amendment was passed in 1913 that senators were chosen by popular vote in each state. In fairness, the ad does mention that for “nearly 100 years” Colorado voters picked their senators. It seems to me that the Democrats are counting on the average historical ignorance of civics 101 of the average person to be outraged at such an “un-democratic” idea.

Now to the second ad entitled “Represent”:

The second ad repeats the “rewrite the Constitution” claim but goes even further “change the whole Constitution?” Repealing the 17th Amendment is hardly changing the whole Constitution.

And what about this scandalous idea that Ken Buck wouldn’t necessarily “represent” what Coloradans wanted and would “vote the way he wanted”? Is this really what we want – senators and representatives with no will of their own?

To the lady in the ad who says “If Ken Buck doesn’t want to listen to what we have to voice our opinion then why is he even running?” my response would be that if its up to each senator to poll his or her constituents on each and every issue, why do we even need senators at all? This is why we have elections. If your congress person or senator consistently acts contrary to your principles, vote for someone else on Election Day. If you have a problem with Ken Buck’s policy positions as I do, don’t vote for him.

Despite popular belief, our system of government is not a democracy but a republic based on the rule of law. The senate was designed to be a counter balance to the fickle whims of the majority of citizens. Prior to the 17th Amendment, senators were selected by state legislatures so that the states themselves would be represented at the federal level while the people were represented directly in the House of Representatives.

There are certainly some good arguments for repealing the 17th Amendment that I don’t believe are “radical” at all. For one, if the state legislatures picked the senators, perhaps there would be more reason to pay attention to government at the state level. How many people in 100 can name their senator and representative in their state legislature let alone have any idea about their voting records?

Also, because senators are chosen by popular vote, some argue that their loyalties are not so much with the states they are supposed to represent but the senate itself. As a result, its much easier for the federal government to blackmail the states via unfunded mandates and holding funds hostage if states pass laws the federal government disagrees with (ex: forcing all states to keep the drinking age at 21 in order to receive highway funding).

Certainly, the repealing the 17th Amendment wouldn’t be a panacea and there are probably some very persuasive arguments in supporting the 17th Amendment. No system of government is perfect even in its most ideal form.

The founders were keenly aware that majorities could be as tyrannical as any monarch or dictator. A more democratic government does not necessarily mean people have more liberty; the opposite is more likely the case.

Constitution Day Open Thread: Top 3 Amendments You Would Make

Today marks the 223rd anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, allegedly the supreme law of the land. The framers of the Constitution recognized that over time changes would need to be made through an amendment process. In the intervening 223 years, this document has been amended only 27 times.

This brings me to the question I want to pose to readers: what top 3 amendments would you make if you could and why?

Here are my top 3 in no particular order:

1. Rebalancing the Scales of Justice Amendment: The 4th 6th Amendment’s guarantee for the accused to have a court appointed [see comments below] lawyer is a wonderful idea but incomplete. Sure, the accused can be represented by a public defender but does not have nearly the resources available as the prosecution. My proposed amendment would go further than the 4th 6th Amendment and state that the accused would be guaranteed the same resources in his or her defense as the prosecution. For every tax dollar spent to prosecute a dollar would be made available for the defense (whether or not the accused uses a court appointed attorney). This amendment would also guarantee compensation for the wrongfully accused, hold prosecutors criminally and civilly responsible for withholding exculpatory evidence from the jury, and clearly state that a compelling claim of “actual innocence” (due to newly discovered evidence or technological breakthroughs) would be reason enough for a new trial for the previously convicted.

2. Term Limits Amendment: A single 6 year term for president, 2 terms for senators (keep the current 6 year term), 6 terms for representatives (keep the current 2 year term). These terms would be limited for consecutive terms only; if a president wants to make another run, s/he could do so after sitting out a term while senators and representatives would have to sit out a full 12 years (and make them deal with the consequences of their laws as private citizens for awhile) or run for a different office.

3. Accident of Birth Amendment: This would revise Article II, Section 1 removing the requirement that the president must be a natural born citizen and changing the requirement to match that of a U.S. senator. While this requirement might have made sense 223 years ago when the nation was getting started, we are now to a point to where we can do away with it. I don’t like the idea of disqualifying an individual for something s/he had absolutely no control over. Also, this would force the birthers to think about something else other than Obama’s birth certificate : )

Now it’s your turn.

Fidel Castro’s Incredible Revelations

Fidel holding a book

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, some incredible quotes came from the aging Cuban dictator:

(Reuters) – Fidel Castro said Cuba’s economic model no longer works, a U.S.-based journalist reported on Wednesday following interviews with the former president last week.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, wrote in a blog that he asked Castro, 84, if Cuba’s model — Soviet-style communism — was still worth exporting to other countries and he replied, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

The comment appeared to reflect Castro’s agreement, which he also expressed in a column for Cuban media in April, with his younger brother President Raul Castro, who has initiated modest reforms to stimulate Cuba’s troubled economy.

Goldberg said Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington who accompanied him to Havana, believed Castro’s words reflected an acknowledgment that “the state has too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

I sent my esteemed colleague Larry Bernard, who contributes to Global Crisis Garden, a link to the story and he promptly said “Holy shit.” Indeed. If even Fidel Castro is putting a gravestone on the Marxist-Leninist style of government, that really is progress.

The interview also produced a line from Fidel Castro critical of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his endless anti-Semitism:

Does this release him from the “Axis of Evil”? Cuban Leader Fidel Castro attacks Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his anti-Semitism in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Quotes include, “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews,” and “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”

Fidel Castro is going to have to act along with his words. He came into the international political world as a Vladimir Lenin. If he really wants to, he can leave a Mikhail Gorbachev. This would require stepping from power and leading a transition not toward continued Castro hereditary rule but towards a Jeffersonian Chile-style system of political freedom, market economies and a welfare state all checking and balancing one another. Chilean leaders only serve one term, despite their personal popularity.

It would also require either a break with or a push toward Hugo Chavez, Castro’s buddy, to change his destructive policies and populist rhetoric. Chavez has allied himself with nightmare regimes in the Middle East and exercised his own anti-Semitism. Nationalization of industries has led to rationing and shortages (while Chavez continues to appear delightfully plump in public appearances, counter to his trim days in the military). Meanwhile, Chavez has forced initiatives to give him unlimited power and has refused to groom a successor. To make matters worse, violence in Venezuela is worse than in Iraq, and without Iraq’s room for economic and political optimism.

If Castro really has had an awakening moment in which he has realized dictatorships simply don’t work, it’s going to be meaningless if the same failed formula continues to be tried elsewhere.

UPDATE: Despite Possible Political Implications, Gov. Strickland Stops Kevin Keith’s Execution; Commutes Sentence to Life

Bob Driehaus writing for The New York Times reports:

CINCINNATI — A death row inmate convicted of murdering a child and two adults was spared the death penalty Thursday by Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, who said there were possible problems with the evidence.

A diverse group of Republicans and Democrats, attorneys general and federal and state judges and prosecutors had rallied around the case of the inmate, Kevin Keith, 46, after his lawyers uncovered evidence they say casts doubt on his guilt.

In commuting the death sentence, Mr. Strickland, a Democrat, said that he believed it was still likely that Mr. Keith committed the murders, but that he was troubled by the likelihood that evidence uncovered since his conviction would not be presented to a court before the scheduled Sept. 15 execution.

“That would be unfortunate,” Mr. Strickland said in a statement. “This case is clearly one in which a full, fair analysis of all of the unanswered questions should be considered by a court. Under these circumstances, I cannot allow Mr. Keith to be executed.”

Gov. Ted Strickland should be applauded for doing the right thing and preventing Kevin Keith’s execution. Strickland, who is as of this posting trailing in his race for re-election against his Republican challenger John Kasich by roughly 10 points, had to know that stopping an execution of someone convicted of a particularly heinous act is a very risky proposition politically. George W. Bush is the only governor in history to commute a death row sentence in an election year and go on to win re-election. Kasich, on the other hand, has the luxury of not having to comment one way or the other (and so far his campaign hasn’t).

Neither the parole board nor SCOTUS were willing to consider the “unanswered questions” about Kevin Keith’s guilt. Keith’s life was quite literally in Gov. Strickland’s hands. And even though Gov. Strickland still believes that Keith is likely guilty of these murders, he decided to err on the side of life – life in prison but life none the less.

Keith’s legal team, though thrilled that their client’s life was spared, are not going to be completely satisfied until these questions are presented in a new trial in hopes of proving Keith’s innocence.

The article continues:

“The same compelling reasons that support Governor Strickland’s actions today,” said one of his lawyers, Rachel Troutman, “warrant a new, fair trial for Mr. Keith, including the existence of newly discovered evidence, the revelation of evidence withheld by the state, and the development of new science behind eyewitness identification, all of which point to Mr. Keith’s innocence.”

There is no excuse for the state to withhold evidence that doesn’t support the state’s case. It seems that all too often prosecutors focus too much on “winning” their cases at the expense of justice. Justice not only denied for the accused but also for the victims and their families.

There’s also no excuse for the John Kasich campaign’s silence in this case. Kasich is running to replace the sitting governor of a death penalty state. Kasich owes it to Ohio voters to explain why his opponent, the sitting governor made the right or wrong decision in this case. It’s not really enough for a candidate for governor to answer a generic question about whether s/he supports the death penalty or not when real death penalty cases with real and difficult questions exist in a state that executes the second highest number of people in the nation.

All legal issues and politics aside, the commuting of Kevin Keith’s death sentence to life is very good and welcome news.

Related Post:

Even Death Penalty Supporters Urge Ohio Gov. Strickland to Spare Kevin Keith

Failbook: Facebook Bans Anti-Prohibition Group

It’s beginning to be really easy to hate Facebook. While Google has stuck to its libertarian principles of free exchange of information by not cooperating with Chinese censorship, Facebook has become more and more creepy:

The people behind the “Just Say Now” marijuana legalization campaign (oft-Boinged Salon contributor Glenn Greenwald is one of many political thinkers on their board) want Facebook to back off its decision to pull their ads from the social networking service.

This is what Facebook’s PR says:

It would be fine to note that you were informed by Facebook that the image in question was no long acceptable for use in Facebook ads. The image of a pot leaf is classified with all smoking products and therefore is not acceptable under our policies. Let me know if you need anything further.

One key indicator that you are dealing with unapologetic authoritarians is when you’re being harshly reprimanded for violating regulations and rules that are unpredictable, undefinable and more than likely not even known by the person touting them. That appears to be the case with Facebook’s policies:

But the group points out that Facebook’s ad policy doesn’t ban “smoking products,” just “tobacco products.” Also, Facebook does permit alcohol ads, even ads featuring images of alcohol products and packaging, though alcohol ads that make alcohol consumption “fashionable,” “promote intoxication” or that “encourage excessive consumption” are banned. Just Say Now calls Facebook’s action censorship.

Perhaps Facebook goes by the old Jack Webb Dragnet school that pot consists of “marijuana cigarettes.”

There’s alot of faux outrage out there, as the Cordoba Crowds in NYC have shown us. Given the extensive cost to normal livelihoods by the continued prison construction and law enforcement funding required by prohibition, Facebook does deserve to be boycotted for trying to silence a group like Just Say Now.

Just Say Now’s Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake.com, is also on the side of liberty in her fight against punitive immigration laws. Check out an appearance she did that I posted at my website Voice of the Migrant. She’s also a cancer survivor and all around political superhero. Give her support and take it away from Facebook.

A little inisight as to why the Democrats are losing so badly this election

It’s because they don’t realize that the elements of their “turnaround plan”, are what is causing them to lose in the first place:

From Mark Halperin, writing in Time:

“What has kept the easily panicked denizens of Capitol Hill from open revolt until now was a shared confidence that there was still plenty of time to turn things around, and that the White House had a strategy to do just that. (Comment on this story.)

The two-part scheme was pretty straightforward. First, Democrats planned a number of steps to head off, or at least soften, the anti-Washington, anti-incumbent, anti-Obama sentiment that cost them the Massachusetts seat. Pass health care, and other measures to demonstrate that Democrats could get things done for the middle class; continue to foster those fabled green shoots on the economy, harvesting the positive impact of the massive economic stimulus bill passed early in the Administration; heighten the contrast between the two parties by delivering on Wall Street reform and a campaign-funding law to counteract January’s controversial Supreme Court decision.

Use all of those elements to contrast the Democrats’ policies under Obama with the Republicans’ policies under Bush, rather than allow the midterms to be a referendum on the incumbent party. “

…. Soooo their plan is basically “Wow, it didn’t work, let’s do it again only HARDER”.

What a work of utter fantasy and self delusion…

We call this “believing your own bullshit”.

See, the Democrats really honestly think that “the middle class” is all for their program, and they just aren’t executing well enough etc… That the mass of voters frustration is about their inability to get things done.

In reality, the mass of voters are CHEERING because they caren’t getting things done. They don’t WANT this healthcare boondoggle. They don’t want more restrictions on free speech. They don’t want more government control and interference in their lives and their businesses.

The far left, and the idiot youth (and yes, they are useful idiots as far as the Democractic political machine is concerned) are disappointed (At best) and riled up (at worst) by the Democrats failures, but they make up a small minority of the voting electorate (no more than 20 percent, and most years a lot less). Most of them are reporting to pollsters that they won’t be voting this time around.

The Democrats don’t realize, it’s not their lack of execution, it’s their program itself that’s killing them; because “the middle class” recognizes that said program is really going to hurt them, to benefit the non-taxpaying class, and the Democratic political establishment.

“The Middle Class” recognize when someone is trying to steal from them, they don’t like it, and when it comes down to protecting their wallets, THEY VOTE.

It’s why whenever the left wants to pass some big social legislation, they have to lie to the people and tell them that it won’t increase THEIR taxes, just those rich fat cats up the hill, and those evil corporations…

Only they’ve beaten that horse to death now, and the truth is obvious for anyone who wants to look. The lefts agenda will directly hurt the wallet of everyone who actually pays taxes.

The people may be apathetic about most things, and they may be uninformed and unobservant about politics… but they aren’t stupid. Hit’em in the wallet, and they will hit back.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Majority Math

Ok, so I’m hearing a lot of noise from people on the right and libertarian side of the aisles that “the dems are going to lose everything this election and we can undo everything Obama has destroyed yaaaay!!!!”

Yeah… No. Not Gonna Happen.

Oh, I agree the dems will lose huge, but I doubt they’ll lose enough to lose control completely.

In fact, realistically it’s a mathematical impossibility in the senate for them to lose too badly; as there aren’t enough seats up for reelection that have a serious challenge mounted against them.

note: I’mna highlight the magic numbers for this post so you don’t need to wade through the text if you just feel like skimming. 

Right now the senate is 59-41 dem counting the two “independents”.

There are 36 seats up this year. Twelve are widely considered dead locks for the incumbents, leaving 24 “competitive” seats.

Six republicans and five democrats are retiring and one each were defeated in primary challenges, putting eleven seats in play without an incumbent.

The Republicans are going to lose at least one of those six seats because popular republicans are retiring from otherwise democratic states and their potential replacements are not doing particularly well, maybe two or three because of split voting in Florida, problems in Missouri and Kentucky with the Republican candidates, primary problems in Ohio and Kansas etc…

At this point, Ohio looks like it’s going Democrat, and Missouri is an absolute tossup, and they really shouldn’t be.

Florida has the Republican support split two ways, with the popular republican governor (who would almost certainly win the election in a walkaway if he were the Republican candidate but wasn’t sure he could win the Republican primary against a hard right opponent) running as an independent. These are real problems for the Republicans electorally.

Basically in every one of the states where the Republican senator is retiring, the Republican candidates are killing each other in the primaries, or in the media (or are killing themselves in the media).

It seems likely, at least one and maybe as many of three of those are going to end up a loss.

On the retiring dem seats, they’ll likely hold Connecticut because the Republicans (including Linda McMahon of WWE wrestling fame) are killing each other in the primaries. The dems are likely to hold Illinois with Giannoulas, though just barely and probably only by playing Chicago ball. At this point Delaware looks like a win for the Republicans. Indiana is almost certainly going Republican, as is North Dakota.

So let’s call that a net pickup of 2 for the Republicans.

There was one primary defeat on the dem side, Arlen Specter. Pat Toomey is almost certainly going to win that one for the Republicans, but not by much.

There was one primary defeat on the Republican side, but it’s in Utah. That seat is going to a Republican. Even though there are some major issues with the candidates at this point, the dem candidate barely registers on the polls.


Net pickup of 3.

That leaves eleven incumbent races as “competitive”, five dem and six republican:

Boozman is going to CRUSH Lincoln in Arkansas for a Republican switch.

Right now, Colorado is hard to call, but it’s looking like a switch to republican.

Reid is in deep trouble in Nevada, but he has a TON more money, and he’s only behind by 2-3 points… I think he keeps his seat.

Washington state is a total tossup between Rossi and Murray… It could stay or it could switch, but for now favor the incumbent.

Wisconsin also a dead heat, but Feingold is likely to keep his seat as he’s one of the DNCs most important defensive moves.

On the Republican side, I don’t see any of the so called “competitive seats” losing right now.


Call that a net pickup of 2.

 So that’s a likely net pickup of 5 total for a 54-46 Senate. I think that’s the most likely scenario, and that it’s highly unlikely it will be any worse for the Republicans.

In order to get a majority, they need a net pickup of 10.

Even if the Republicans don’t lose a single seat that’s a net of  6.

If they don’t lose a single seat and pick up all the tossups, that would be a net pickup of 11 (for a 52 to 48 senate), but that’s NOT going to happen. I think a best case scenario is a net pickup of 9.

Of course, a net of 9 gives us a deadlocked senate.

On the house side, it’s a different story. Right now, it’s 256 to 179 dem, needing a swing of 39 seats to swap hands.

That’s definitely going to happen. There is no sane person, currently paying attention, who reasonably believes the dems are going to lose less than 39 net seats. Nancy Pelosi is almost literally screaming from the rooftops that no, they are going to keep control, but it’s just noise.

The dems are going down hard in the house. They’re going to pick up maybe 2 or 3 races from Republicans, and lose as many as 106.

They’re definitely losing at least 50; even the DNC thinks that’s the minimum (and are already allocating money based on that conception). They are internally estimating a more realistic number at around 70-80 net lost seats. The white house press secretary just said they thought it could be as many as 100 net lost.

There are currently about 150 “safe” dem seats, and 165 “safe” republican seats; and it looks like the dems will lose most if not all their 106 seats in serious contention.

If the dems are LUCKY, under the most optimistic projections right now, they’ll hold on to 200 seats, giving the Republicans a 35 seat majority.

Oh and of course, as usual, there isn’t a single realistic chance that anyone other than a Democrat, Republican or “Independent” who is really one or the other but for some reason couldn’t win under their proper label (unless you count Rand Paul… I don’t. Bernie Sanders isn’t up for election this year. He’s really a socialist, but runs as independent).

What that means however, is that  under no realistic scenario, will the Republicans get a 2/3 majority in either house, which is what it would take to undo at least some of the Obama damage.

You’ve got to get veto proof, and filibuster proof, in both houses; to start repealing and fixing the damage, and that’s just not going to happen.

Believe me, while there are dissenter Democrats tolerated right now, the Democratic party leadership will expel people from the party before it lets them side with the Republicans against Obama when they end up in the minority.

Oh and of course, the whole premise rests on the idea that if they get in with a big enough majority, the Republicans will actually FIX anything; rather than just finding new and different ways to break everything EVEN MORE.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Democracy Doesn’t Work

Yet another in a long line of evidence showing that while democracy might be a way to gauge the public’s general mood or satisfaction, it’s certainly too clumsy of a tool to really have anything to do with setting policy:

Led by Loyola Marymount University’s Andrew Healy, a team of researchers compared 44 years of US presidential, gubernatorial, and Senate election data to the results of Division I college football games. After controlling for demographic effects, they found that at the county level, a local athletic victory one week before an election gave incumbents an average 1.70% gain. (In contrast, post-election victories or games more than two weeks before polling day had no effect on voting.)

The effect didn’t arise from athletic triumph alone—the emotional intensity of a win seemed to determine its electoral impact. For example, Dr Healy and his colleagues calculated the unexpectedness of each victory based on point spreads from the betting market. They found that a surprise win garnered a bigger electoral bump (2.59%) than an expected one. And in “powerhouse” districts with an especially fervent fan base, a victory could yield up to 3.35% for the incumbent.

So what’s the over/under on the first attempt by a politician to pay refs to influence the outcome of a game when they’re in a tight race?

Wayne Allyn Root Backtracks On Participating In Birther “Trial” Of President Obama

As I noted on Sunday, Wayne Allyn Root had announced his participation in a “trial” of President Obama led by Rev. James Manning, a noted birther and virulent Obama critic. Late yesterday, Root issued a statement saying that he had decided not to participate in the event:

I had a chance today for the first time to read about the highlights of the first day of the “Obama trial.” I found myself uncomfortable being involved or associated in any way with the wild charges, claims and conspiracy theories that have been publicly aired by this mock trial. I believe these wild charges and claims actually damage any future legitimate opportunity to question President Obama’s background. This forum has an agenda and I have come to the conclusion it is not my agenda. I called Pastor Manning personally this morning to explain why I’ve decided not to participate. He understood completely. We wished each other well.

I believe any association with this trial would discredit the opportunity to have a fair, open and balanced discussion or debate in the future. I want to be part of any such future opportunity. I have much to say about President Obama, and many questions about his past and present actions, but I’m more comfortable airing them in a mainstream media forum. More importantly, I’d rather spend my time discussing, debating and questioning Mr. Obama’s current policies that I believe are toxic to America, the U.S. economy and capitalism, than spending my time debating his past. I’d rather spend my valuable time in the media on educating voters about the dramatic expansion of government under Obama; the nonstop violations of the Constitution; the deadly expansion of deficit and national debt; the political payoffs disguised as stimulus and bailouts; the lack of transparency of this administration; Obama’s pro union agenda at all costs- no matter what damage is done to the economy. All of these are far more important to America’s future than Obama’s past. We cannot change the past, but we can change the future direction of this country away from Obama’s dangerous agenda- if we are not distracted by wild claims and conspiracy theories.

I’ve got to agree with Jason Pye, that this sounds mostly like Root got caught doing something stupid and is now trying to backtrack like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Jason also makes another point:

The Libertarian Party at the national level is broken. It has been for some time. Whenever we gain a sliver of success we tend to do something in another area that messes it up.

Jason has a lot more experience with internal LP politics than I do, but he’s absolutely right, and it’s something I’ve seen for years now, and it really started with the internal squabbling that erupted after the 1980 Presidential campaign, which still stands as the high watermark for Libertarian candidates nationally.

It seems pretty clear to me that Root, who seems more interested in self-promotion than much of anything else based on my observations of the man, would represent another one of those mistakes.

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

The Cost Of Repeal

So, the CBO says this bill lowers the deficit. And thus, says Ezra Klein, it’ll be tougher for the Republicans to repeal, should they win control of Congress:

And as a reader reminds me, people should also remember that “now that the reform bill is the law of the land, [repeal] would increase the budget deficit relative to current law, at least in the eyes of the CBO.” So if they weren’t going to find offsets, they’d also need to overrule pay-go.

Cue AHA! moment:

If spending needs to be accounted for within pay-go, then the doc-fix will require $200B of offsetting cuts!

…until I found out that the doc-fix was exempted from PAYGO rules.

Presumably if the Republicans regained control of Congress, they could similarly exempt certain things from PAYGO accounting.

But let’s just assume for a moment that they didn’t want to cut such — I’ve found an answer!

Based on the results of this study (h/t Megan McArdle), maybe they can just find offsetting cuts in our stupid policy of subsidizing corn and taxing sugar.

Nah, never mind, the Republicans know that won’t play in Iowa.

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