Tag Archives: ami bera

What parts of congress to watch

One of the most fascinating moments in Sunday’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was this exchange, concerning the checks and balances that glue together our federal government:

CLINTON: Well, here we go again. I’ve been in favor of getting rid of carried interest for years, starting when I was a senator from New York. But that’s not the point here.

TRUMP: Why didn’t you do it? Why didn’t you do it?

[…]

CLINTON: Because I was a senator with a Republican president.

TRUMP: Oh, really?

CLINTON: I will be the president and we will get it done. That’s exactly right.

TRUMP: You could have done it, if you were an effective — if you were an effective senator, you could have done it. If you were an effective senator, you could have done it. But you were not an effective senator.

[…]

CLINTON: You know, under our Constitution, presidents have something called veto power. Look, he has now said repeatedly, “30 years this and 30 years that.” So let me talk about my 30 years in public service. I’m very glad to do so.

It gives us a stark contrast between the two of them, and their comparatively normative political approach and Jacksonian strongman theory of politics respectively. But it also serves as a reminder that try as they might neither candidate would really be capable of governing alone. They’re not running for a dictatorial position, just a key linchpin in a bigger political system. So, who else should we watch in the coming weeks?

REPUBLICAN BACKLASH: AGAINST TRUMP OR AGAINST STATE GOVERNMENTS?

The Democrats face a steeper climb than the Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, given that they have to make up for lost seats from the 2014 midterm election and consolidate large enough supermajorities to overcome procedural blocks – namely the Senate’s filibuster.

Luckily for them, however, in several Republican-held seats they now can run something of a double-hitter against those GOP incumbents. Several Republican-run state governments have been embroiled in serious scandals or become nationally embarrassing over the course of the same election year as the national nomination of Donald Trump for president. Republican-leaning voters are in many corners of the country divided as to which candidates to support. What’s more, the competition between national figures within the Party has left many of them with contradictory queues in terms of how to vote.

These dynamics play out in similar ways in various parts of the country. In Kansas, there’s Governor Brownback’s Republican state administration which has bankrupted basic state services. In Michigan, it’s that Governor Rick Snyder (R) is implicated in mass water contamination. Likewise, in Maine Republican governor Paul LePage seemingly says a new outrageous thing each day.

In four, key, Republican-held congressional districts in those states, the GOP has a slight advantage given that most voters are White and suburban-dwelling, but the compounded scandals have chipped away at their lead. The effect has made KS-02, MI-06, MI-07, and ME-02 all unexpectedly more competitive than originally perceived because of how toxic the Republican Party has become in those places.

THE CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATS: THE CONTINUING MARCH FROM THE SEA

I wrote quite a bit about this dynamic often overlooked in the national press in the last presidential cycle, in 2012. As national politics are coalesced around a pluralistic and urban Democratic Party and a nationalistic and rural Republican Party, the electoral map in California has fallen into a predictable pattern of by and large a blue coast and a red interior. With more congressional districts than any other state, it’s both a block of vital votes in the House that can’t be ignored and something of a microcosm of national political trajectories. When a party does well nationally that blue-red divide tends to shift within California locally.

In 2012, that meant a consolidation of the coast as almost entirely Democrat-held and an expansion into more contested seats right along the dividing line. Two of the districts I covered specifically in that year seem relevant again, with Democrat Ami Bera in CA-07 yet again desperately trying to maintain a blue outpost deep within redder territory and Republican Jeff Denham in CA-10 likewise trying to stave off the steady march of Democrats from the sea to the Sierras.

Further south, however, three other races seem to present interesting tests of this red-blue competition as well. In CA-24, along the southern central coast, Democrat Lois Capps is stepping down, leaving an open seat in one of the more White, rural, and centrist portions of the coast. That poses a question of just how durable Democratic holds on the coast necessarily are.

Meanwhile, in CA-25, Republican Stephen Knight is the last congressional GOP office-holder in any part of Los Angeles county. In a district that is now majority minority, his reelection bid cuts to the core problems faced by elected Republicans – both in California and nationally. Finally, in CA-49, Republican Darryl Issa is running to keep one of the few remaining coastal outposts of the California Republican Party. Can he keep it? Or has an endorsement of Donald Trump been too much even for him?

RURAL, WHITE, GERRYMANDERED… AND RADICAL?

Even with those and other districts in which scandals and demographic transitions give Democrats at least a fighting chance, more seats must flip to change party dominance in Congress. If this proves to be a wave year, and it may very well be, there’s scattered rural districts around the country which seem poised to jump – but it’s not clear in what direction. Angry at an increasingly wide cultural gap and less enthused given the particularly anemic economic recovery, voters in these places seem ready to sabotage the Republican Party by going for Trump, but also ripe for a Sanders-style democratic socialism.

In PA-16 and VA-05, Republican lawmakers may have set themselves up for failure under these types of electoral conditions. Both are suburban-rural and White majority districts, designed to help boost the number of Republican-held districts in their states overall. That type of electoral math has great dividends when the electorate remains predictable, but populist sentiment has prompted voters to behave in ways that many party elites found baffling. While both districts are Republican-leaning, their current GOP representatives are not seeking reelection, adding yet another dose of unpredictability.

Many of those same underlying conditions rear their head in NH-01, but there’s an additional surreal flavor. Arguably one of the most unstable districts in the country, it’s alternated between Democrat Carol Shea-Porter and Republican Frank Guinta as representatives since 2006. In the past few election cycles, neither has held it for more than one of the congressional terms (which only last two years). They’re the two major party candidates this year once again. While the district leans right, and with a more rural and White composition it feels quite Republican, Shea-Porter has historically won it each recent year there’s been a presidential race. This election will test that pattern.

Among these types of districts, NY-19 stands out as defined less by dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and attraction to a type of political agitation more at home among the Democrats. It noticeably has more consistently leaned to the left of these other districts in both national and local races. This year, Zephyr Teachout who previously ran to the left of Andrew Cuomo for New York Governor, will try to capture the Hudson Valley area seat by running a Sanders-type Democratic campaign emphasizing economic equality and opportunity. Combined with yet another Republican incumbent not up for election, this is yet another test about how the Democratic Party might be able to reclaim support ceded for many decades to cross-over vote to the Republicans.

…AND THE SENATE?

You’ll note, that all of these places to look at are congressional districts, not Senate seats, like what Clinton held. That’s because the Senate seems to be approaching heat death. For months now, the most likely outcome of the Senate races has appeared to be a deadlocked 50-50 division, with the Vice President casting the tie-breaking vote. So much for looking back to the house for an answer to where policy comes from. Maybe it’s buried in a classically overlooked spot on the Presidential ticket.

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Update: still the same, but here’s how to change it

TW: US national security apparatus, mass surveillance

Alright, do you remember this? There’s a cross-party consensus of sorts in the US in terms of the need for and legitimacy of most of the hallmarks of the growing national security state (drone warfare, mass surveillance, indefinite detention, and so on). The unsuccessful vote last Wednesday on whether or not to begin restricting the surveillance program is simply another demonstration of that, as significant numbers of both parties voted against the amended bill, allowing the program to stand as is.

2013-07-29_2128

(The voting results – 205 for the limiting amendment, 217 against, and 12 not present. In terms of party composition, 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats were in favor, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats were against. Those who didn’t vote split evenly between the two parties, six votes on each side. From here.)

But likewise, it’s also rich in the same indications, in terms of how best to solve this problem. The vote breaks down not only with more favorable proportions of the Democrats compared to the Republicans voting for initial restrictions, but also with some indications of which Democrats are more likely to be supportive of these measures. From congressional representatives Pelosi (the minority leader), Wasserman Schultz (chair of the Democratic National Committee), and Hoyer (the minority whip), nearly every leadership figure voted against this. The major rift this reveals isn’t between libertarian and authoritarian wings of the Republicans but between the majority of Democrats and their leadership.

Frankly, the same could be said of the Republicans, whose speaker (Boehner), majority leader (Cantor), most recent Vice Presidential candidate (Ryan), majority whip (McCarthy [CA]), and a nationally contender for their nomination for the presidency (Bachmann) all voted in favor of it as well, in spite of it being introduced by a Republican.

The most important fact here however is that not only did Democrats break about 6-to-4 for the bill, but they did so against the indication of their leaders. The Republicans broke about 6-to-4 against the bill ostensible because of the signalling from their leadership. Not only do the raw data indicate that a lazy “both sides do it” argument is flawed, but the context indicates how ripe the Democratic Party is for the emergence of any leader who would break from the Republicans on this issue.

Besides the leadership, the unfortunate many other Democrats who voted in favor of the bill was full of many currently serving their first term (to name all 23 of them, representatives Bera, Castro [TX], Delaney, Duckworth, Enyart, Etsy, Frankel, Gallego, Garcia, Heck [WA], Kelly, Kennedy, Kilmer, Kuster, Sean Maloney, Meng, Murphy [FL], Peters [CA], Ruiz, Schneider, Sinema, Vargas, and Veasey). The indications of the Democratic leadership likely hold the highest sway over these representatives, so the appearance of any alternative position within the leadership appears likely to change many if not all of these representatives’ minds. Even without a key Democrat that could come forward and push this through, direct lobbying would still be best concentrated on these representatives.

Considering that the amendment was shot down by a simple majority with only 12 more votes than the opposition, targeting that group of senators is not only likely to produce different votes but also different votes that could sway the outcome of votes like these. In short, this is the most pragmatic approach to the current predicament, but it involves acknowledging differences between the parties’ representatives’ behavior and working within one of their established structures.

The question before this country’s civil libertarians is whether those are acceptable costs for changing US policy. Or rather, do they prefer decrying both parties in favor of a fairly good chance at changing the status quo?

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What else to watch for on Tuesday

TW: sexism, heterosexism, class warfare, sexual assault

It might not seem to be the case, given my past coverage of the election next week, but with five days to go it has to be said: this election is much bigger than a presidential race. And I don’t just mean that the ramifications of the presidential race will extend to every corner of society and well into the future (which is always true), but that there are a variety of local races that will conclude on Tuesday that have national importance. Here’s a quick run-down of the key issues as far as I can see, most of which are getting little air time compared to the presidential races.

1. The Future is Joaquín Castro

In Texas’ 20th congressional district, Joaquín Castro, currently a state representative of an overlapping area, reminds many people of a pre-presidential Barack Obama. In his first run for a federal office, we’ll have a bit of a test to see if he can pull off a similarly impressive landslide even for a relatively Democratic urban district. The bar has been set very high, so it’ll be interesting to see how well this rising star of the Democratic Party does. To beat Obama’s record, he’ll have to garner more than 73 percent of his districts votes. He actually beat that percentage while running for his current office in 2010, so it’s not out of the question though.

2. The California Three

If you’re at all familiar with California, you realize that the idea of it as uniformly liberal and Democratic is actually unfounded. As Five Thirty Eight pointed out last month, the state is starkly divided between progressive coastal cities and very conservative inland populations. In the wake of overhauling the districts’ boundaries, both parties are now scrambling for a small number of contested seat falling between the generally Democratic coast and largely Republican interior. Three races – in the seventh, tenth, and forty-first congressional districts – show a concerted effort by Democrats to offer progressive policies to historically marginalized inland populations and push inward. The respective Democratic candidates are Ami Bera, José Hérnandez, and Mark Takano – all the sons of immigrants with a specific favorite issue to push.

Five Thirty Eight counties of California
(Five Thirty Eight’s electoral graph of California’s counties)

Bera is second only to Barack Obama in demanding for his daughters and wife to have equal ability to participate in US politics, and he has unleashed a fierce ad campaign over the Republican incumbent’s support for stricter regulations on access to abortion even in cases of sexual assault. Hérnandez, the son of farm workers who became an astronaut, has emphasized the need for equal access to education as the route he used and others need to escape systemic poverty. Mark Takano has stressed the need for substantive LGBT* rights and environmental regulations. Each of these candidates touch on other major issues as well, including the ones favored by other members of the “California Three”. Individually and as a unit they present a strong case for social reform to traditionally more centrist or conservative parts of California. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of in roads they hopefully make.

3. A Nation-Wide Rebuke of the Tea Party?

Throughout the country, there’s a bit of a backlash brewing against the more conservative members of the Republican Party, promising to make several local races rather interesting. In Senate races, Elizabeth Warren’s challenge to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who has managed to annoy seemingly every large but marginalized social group, seems to embody this on the national stage. Likewise, in Pennsylvania and Tennessee House races, Kathy Boockvar and Eric Stewart are challenging Representatives Mike Fitzpatrick and Scott DesJarlais, respectively, in part over their misogynistic conduct. Fitzpatrick has managed to incite a backlash against him because of his terrible policies, while DesJarlais is under fire for arranging for his mistress to have an abortion after she became pregnant (in spite of being vehemently opposed to elective abortions as policy).

Other races, however, are less of a reaction to existing policy or hypocrisy, and seemingly more about anticipation of future political decisions by further “right” politicians. In Nebraska, the competition between Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey has tightened considerably, seemingly as Fischer has drawn criticism even without having held the office yet. Similarly, Texan Representative Lamar Smith faced primary challenges and now a potential third party spoiler over his sponsorship of SOPA and support for PIPA which could allow Democrat Candace Duval to pull ahead. Neither bill became law of course, but the backlash he’s received for his key involvement with drafting both threatens his chance of reelection. Likewise, we can hope that Republican candidate Richard Mourdock’s insensitive comments on sexual assault will cost him the position of Indiana Senator, although with it so close to the election, it might not have time to move public perception and support towards Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly.

All of these races have the potential for frankly dangerous incumbents who support restricting many or all Americans’ freedoms to be replaced by much more progressive Senators and Representatives.

4. Democratic Incumbents in “Middle America”

Of course, this election isn’t just about struggling to overcome sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, racist, and classist political ideologies, but also retain positions held by reformers against reactionary challengers. In Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown is fighting to hold onto his seat against challenger Josh Mandel, whose stance on economic issues is at this point well known to the working Ohioan families he would represent. In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill is facing off against challenger Todd Akin, who is now nationally known as the “legitimate rape” guy. The controversy even has its own Wikipedia page. Whether these two candidates can retain their positions will directly impact the Senate’s capacity to create policies that challenge class inequality and sexism.

5. The Future of Marriage

In addition to competition between candidates in various states, four different state propositions that will be tested on Tuesday will check current political attitudes towards same-sex marriage. In Maryland, Maine, and Washington, voters will have the option to legally sanction same-sex marriages at the local level, while Minnesota voters will have to decide whether to amend their state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. This is an interesting test to see what difference is made by the four years separating next Tuesday from California’s proposition 8, the now public support of same-sex marriage by the sitting president, and numerous public heel-face-turns on the issue. In light of those changes, it’s also an interesting test of Nate Silver’s past predictions of public sentiment on the issue.

6. Two Visions of California

I’ve written before about one Californian proposition on the ballot next week that would be historic, but there’s another one as well. Proposition 37 would be the first major effort to install mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods and food additives, which would place a new check on the biotechnology industry’s power. In contrast, Proposition 32 would  harshly restrict labor unions’ main political strategies, while leaving corporate political powers largely unrestricted. California has a choice between leading the rest of the United States towards a better model of corporate regulation or following the failed model of Wisconsin that’s been promoted by Arizonan donors.

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