Monday, November 7, 2011

Running scared

Candidates in the Iowa Senate District 18 race really have a monkey on their backs: Their respective political parties. As you've maybe heard by now, the outcome of Tuesday's special election in Linn County could be really important. Republican Cindy Golding and Democrat Liz Mathis both say they're focused on issues of particular importance to the district and its residents. It seems like they probably can't help but feel the pressure from their political parties, though. In recent elections, Democrats have lost the governor's mansion, control of the House and their grasp on the Senate has gotten to the slimmest of margins. Well, if Mathis loses this election, their margin will be its slimmest. They'll have the same number of senators as the Republicans, meaning they will have to share control in some fashion. It'll also change the chamber's dynamic since even getting all Democrats to vote the same way won't guarentee passage of a bill. With the possibility of tie votes, senators will have to work harder on compromise. Sounds like Democrats are teetering on the edge of "political irrelevance." While Republicans will be in the same boat, a victory Tuesday may feel like one more step toward "complete power." They've already taken control of the House and Republican Terry Branstad is governor. A victory may give Republicans the power they need to force debate on gay marriage, which could eventually result in putting a referendum before voters on an amendment outlawing the Supreme Court-approved practice in Iowa. It seems like Gov. Branstad may have had  ulterior motives for appointing former seatholder, Democrat Swati Dandekar, to the Iowa Utilities Board., which required her to give up the Senate posititon. In the meantime, the two people actually at the center of this race are toeing the party line on the topic of gay marriage, while insisting that's not their focus. In fact, they're even coming out with similar-sounding blase positions on other issues of statewide significance, like a gas tax increase. Both say it shouldn't be raised in spite of reports on the extremely poor condition of the state's bridges, which would benefit from the increased revenues. Any wrong move could put them at a disadvantage when voters step into their polling places. Hmmm, maybe the candidates are as scared as their respective political parties about how this election could turn out.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A kiddie pool in every front yard!

It all started with Judd Saul's opposition to a lock box ordinance. Within months, he had morphed from a disgruntled citizen to a candidate (a not unheard of progression). Now running for Cedar Falls City Council, Saul tried to latch onto another "issue" in a memorable way. Seeing the not-so-svelt Saul in swimming trunks and flippers was perhaps a little too memorable for those in attendance at the Aug. 22 meeting. While an eye-catching gimmick, there was almost literally no substance to Saul's concern. He was there to oppose a proposed ordinance regulating temporary swimming pools. The ordinance --- not on the council's agenda that night --- was pushed by one councilman. The rest of the council gave the idea a "cool reception" at a committee meeting two weeks earlier, according to The Courier. He seems to have tapped into the tea party concern with government overreaching. The only problem is that his "Exhibit A" is a lousy piece of evidence. It appears unlikely the swimming pool ordinance will get much beyond the hearing stage --- which itself seems like a hazy, distant possibility. His prior opposition to an expanded lock box ordinance, expounded upon earlier in this blog, was also a very weak argument that an out-of-control government needed to be reined in. Some people even advanced a ridiculous argument that firefighter access to their homes or businesses through the lock boxes would leave them open to theft, murder or rape. Opponents did amass quite a collection of alarmist nuts on that issue, though, apparently from across the country. We'll see on Nov. 8 if Saul can coax those voters out of their homes or businesses, where they doubtless are vigilantly guarding their stuff from a possible incursion by the city's public safety workers. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A straw (wo)man for the GOP

The first thing that should give you pause about Michele Bachmann is her penchant for making false statements. Now, she says much of this stuff in the service of partisanship, but it's not the spin raising concerns. It's that you can collect any number of her statements --- as this cartoon does --- and Bachmann is just not telling the truth. If Barack Obama is a terrible president leading this country down the wrong path, is it really necessary to make up something saying he is the reasonn grocery costs have increased? "Oh, it's bad how much  federal spending has grown under Obama, but let's say he's responsible for your higher grocery bills. That'll really get people mad." I suppose like her Elvis birthday quip, it could all be sloppiness and inattention to detail. When I consider her words, though, it looks more like a mix of poltically expedient statements and calculated lies meant to scare and enrage people. The expediency comes when Bachmann is confronted with something that could really anger that tea party base. Like, the fact that she and her husband received government subsidies through the farm inherited from her father-in-law. The calculated lies are more like saying the top 1 percent richest people in this country pay 40 percent of all federal taxes. Or that we could wipe out unemployment by abolishing the minimum wage. So, when she pulled off a win of the Iowa Straw Poll last month in Ames, her lack of credibility said something about Republicans --- at least those who are recklessly supporting her in this state. After the recent ordeal with the U.S. credit rating (for which I'd place most of the blame squarely on Republican shoulders), the GOP choice of Bachmann should lead to a "credibility rating" downgrade for the party. Since the straw poll, though, potential caucus voters have begun leaning more toward the newest entry into the race, Rick Perry. Nationally, too, Bachmann is falling behind other candidates in the polls. Of course, with the wild things he's said from Texas seceeding to the reception Ben Bernake would get in that state, Republicans supporting him still have a credibility problem.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Consensus-building Branstad's way

After laying out an ambitious agenda following his inauguration, Gov. Terry Branstad and the Legislature battled over a number of issues. The resulting extra-long session culminated with Branstad and House Republicans getting their way in some cases and Senate Democrats getting their way in others. The two sides met repeatedly to try and work things out, but could never come to agreement. Everyone held out as long as possible before finally making some concessions. For Branstad, seeking consensus seemed to be out of the question. The governor came into every situation knowing what he wanted and pushing hard to make it happen. But with the legislative session weeks behind him, Branstad hosted the Iowa Education Summit at the end of July. He emerged from the two-day event praising the merits of seeking consensus to help form an education agenda in advance of next year's legislative session. (Notably, one of the Branstad priorities that eventually ended in compromise had to do with changing the approach to state support for preschool.) But some of Branstad's recent actions may be instructive when it comes to understanding his approach to consensus-building. There was his lengthy effort to push David Miles and Jack Evans, president and president pro-tem on the Board of Regents, out of their positions. After initially refusing to resign, the pair stepped down from their leadership positions while staying on the board, which governs the state's universities. That cleared the way for the board to elect Craig Lang president and Bruce Rastetter president pro-tem, GOP loyalists who will presumably follow Branstad's playbook. Branstad found a way to emphasize his message when one bureaucrat didn't give in to his resignation request. He gave a fat pay cut to Chris Godfrey for insisting on finishing out the six-year term as Iowa workers' compensation commissioner he was appointed to in 2009. A special incentive, of sorts. The terms for both the regents and the workers' compensation commissioner are set at six years precisely so they don't always coincide with the terms of governors and are, hopefully, insulated from politicization. If Branstad is hoping to build consensus in any number of areas, he might have considered not vetoing several provisions that are getting his political opponents fired up, some passed with broad bi-partisan support. One was a bill to increase the earned income tax credit for families making less than $45,000. Another was a prohibition on bonuses for state government executives. The third called for maintaining the current number of unemployment offices across the state. He may be building a consensus with those vetoes, but it's between Democratic lawmakers and constituencies like low-income working families and union members affected by the vetoes. They may already lean toward Democrats, but a good leader finds room in his priorities and agenda for such people, as well.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Whose stature will grow in the Straw Poll?

Republican candidates are gearing up for the Ames Straw Poll Aug. 13 and a debate two days earlier. How candidates do in the straw poll is an indication of their grassroots support in Iowa as they prepare for the first-in-the-nation caucus early next year. The results will  likely determine the political future of certain candidates. But media and other organizations have repeatedly taken the pulse of voters in recent months with their own polling. What they've found is Michele Bachmann shooting from obscurity to being a contender with Mitt Romney, who generally leads in the polls. Bachmann plays up her Iowa roots when she's in the state and formally launched her presidential bid here. Although Romney leads the pack, he hasn't necessarily gained more traction in the time Bachmann gained favor with voters after a debate in New Hampshire. That could indicate Republican voters' concerns that Romney isn't really against ObamaCare --- since he pushed through something similar as governor of Massachusetts and hasn't denounced it. As a result, Romney and other candidates --- mostly polling in the single digits --- look like dwarfs next to Bachmann with their diminutive favorability ratings. Many of them still have squishy personas to all but the closest political watchers and their ardent supporters. So, they can easily get characterized by any negative waves they make or anything distinctive about them --- good or bad. "Michele Bachmann and the Seven Dwarfs" engages in some of those characterizations. There's Newt Gingrich's troubled, floundering campaign. You've got Romney and Jon Huntsman who --- along with Gingrich --- won't be showing up at the straw poll as they try to lower any expectation about how well they have to do in it. Despite a lot of effort, Tim Pawlenty's poll numbers haven't increased in contrast to fellow Minnesotan Bachmann. Pawlenty, who sometimes get characterized as yawn-inducingly boring, says he doesn't need to win the straw poll to remain viable, but he does need to have a good showing. Rick Santorum, who's at least competing for Mr. Conservative, has been dogged in recent years by an Internet prank to associate his name with something that would make his supporters blush. Googling his name may cause the uninformed to think there's a sleaze factor with him. Ron Paul may sound too much like a hippie for some Republicans curmudgeons with his anti-war views and some of his other libertarian tendencies.  It's been months since Herman Cain made a bizarre and unnecessary pronouncement about Muslims in his administration, but he's still dealing with the fallout. We'll see if the straw poll shows that any of the candidates have moved beyond these perceptions.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Government takes control, one lock box at a time

Since they were already in an anti-Government mood, a bunch of Cedar Falls residents seized on the City's plans to expand the requirement for lock boxes at businnesses and apartments. After all, wasn't this something being done by the Government? Well, then it had to be bad. And everybody hates unfunded mandates, so let's call it that. Of course, if the Government funded the purchase of lock boxes, that would be an expansion of said Government and, therefore, bad. Those poor city councilmen just can't win! And then the firefighters, there might be a bad apple in the bunch. It's getting to be that you can't trust anyone who draws a paycheck from or even volunteers for the Big Bad Government. Pretty soon you're going to need your own militia and bucket brigade! Luckily, those Cedar Falls folks had the technology to let others know how the Government was tramplinig their private property rights and plotting to seize their stuff! They recorded council meetings and created videos for You Tube. Soon the entire internet was buzzing with the Government conspiracy. And that meant it was time for Fox News and The Washington Times to let the Patriots out there know what the Government was trying to do in Cedar Falls. Since the Government prevailed in this fight, now the Cedar Falls folks say they'll file a lawsuit. The fight against the Government and its trampling of private property rights and imposing unfunded mandates never ends!  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Newt's sinking ship

Newt Gingrich seems to be running a presidential campaign anchored in something other than reality. One of the staff members from Newt's  Iowa campaign, who quit en masse after he returned from a cruise of the Greek Isles, said it was the candidate's tactics that led to the departures. The cruise was apparently the dramatic last straw, criticized even by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. Had Newt and his wife planned their Greek cruise long before he was thinking seriously of getting into the race? If so, I'm betting presidential vacations in a Newt administration would make George W. Bush's visits to his Crawford, Texas, ranch and Camp David look like a real grind. If this vacation was something he hatched after planning to make a run, what was he thinking? But of course, it wasn't just him --- because they make their decisions as a couple. Perhaps Newt has finally figured out how to be part of a marriage. While that's generally good, manifesting it in this way isn't going to help his presidential aspirations. Even if wife Callista has equal input in planning Newt's schedule, that doesn't make those good decisions when you're running for president. Republican activists in Iowa and early primary states will likely have "fundamental strategic differences" with the campaigning couple. Newt's made enough lousy decisions that he can't even pay people in Iowa and the early primary states to work for him. Does Callista also get equal blame for sinking his presidential run?