Saturday, September 29, 2012

Oklahoma State Questions: Now With Fewer Constitutional Issues!

Personhood Amendments! Open-carry laws! Arizona-style immigrant crackdowns! Taxing violent video games!

None of this stuff made it to the ballot in Oklahoma this year, and I have to say I'm a little bit disappointed.  I mean, I've moved away now, so whatever racist, socially conservative backwards-thinking constitutional amendments pass in Oklahoma can only serve for fostering community with my fellow out-of-state liberals as we all gather to shake our heads at the backwardness of "some states".  And I was really looking forward to getting an outsider's perspective on whatever outrageous constitutional amendments could possibly follow up 2010's batch of State Questions, when my fellow Oklahoma residents put in place new voter ID laws and English-only laws, and when we got rid of those twin scourges, Obamacare and Sharia Law.

2012's questions are for the most part very tame and actually constitutional.  There is one glaring exception though: State Question 759.  SQ 759 bans affirmative action for state and local governments.  Oklahoma law currently prohibits quotas for public employment or for government contracts, and the public universities don't use race as a factor in admissions, but there is an Office of Equal Opportunity Workforce Diversity which tracks diversity and sets policy targets to improve diversity in government agencies.  I don't really want to get into the merits of this policy; I would much rather make fun of this quote from fetus-food-banning senator and all-around dim bulb Ralph Shortey, who believes that by banning affirmative action, Oklahomans will be banning racism itself.

State sen. Ralph Shortey (R), one of the measure’s sponsors, said that the measure shows that Oklahoma is “becoming more color-blind.”

“One of the big reasons we need it is Oklahoma is perceived nationwide, and it is not warranted, as a racially biased state,” he said. “We don’t need that.”

Kumbaya, and all that.

There are other bad policy state questions, but these are less sensational that SQ 759.  State Question 758 lowers the cap on annual property tax valuation increase from 5% down to 3%.  This is great news if you don't have kids that go to public school and you own a house in a good neighborhood where house prices are likely to rise.  It's not so great if you own a home in, say, south Oklahoma City or the older parts of most Oklahoma cities, or if you rent.  This policy shifts some of the burden of taxation from the well-off to the poor, and while it seems like such a minor change, you have to remember that there are winners and losers to even the smallest of tax changes.

Speaking of seemingly small tax changes, State Question 766 deals with something called intangible property tax, and it is on the ballot, as Joy Hampton of the Norman Transcript reported, because of a lawsuit that Southwestern Bell lost in 2009.   Southwestern Bell claimed that all of its intangible property was exempt from ad valorem taxation, but a court said that only the property specifically exempted under a particular section of the Oklahoma constitution was exempted from taxation.  Southwestern Bell got mad, rallied support from the business community, got the state Chamber of Commerce involved, lobbied the legislature, and now three years later they have a State Question on the ballot that asks voters who know nothing about ad valorem taxation to deem whether or not it is appropriate to tax "intangible" property with these examples in the ballot language:
  • patents, inventions, formulas, designs, and trade secrets;
  • licenses, franchise, and contracts;
  • land leases, mineral interests, and insurance policies;
  • custom computer software; and
  • trademarks, trade names and brand names.
Nowhere in the ballot language written by Obamacare-suing Attorney General Scott Pruitt does it tell people that this measure only affects corporations, not human beings.

But unlike in 2010, there are some measures that almost everyone agrees are good policies.  State Question 762 would finally end Oklahoma's distinction as the only state where every single parole decision must be approved by the governor.  This policy restricts the number of parolees freed from prison each year and has led in part to Oklahoma having one of the largest percentages of the population behind bars, including the highest incarceration rate of women in the nation.  State Question 762 is backed by both Democrats and Republicans, including the governor and the speaker of the house.  It is opposed only by district attorneys and, well, Oklahoma voters probably.

As a civil engineer, I have to support State Question 764, which gives the Oklahoma Water Resources Board the power to issue bonds for water and sewerline improvement projects in conjunction with the state's comprehensive water plan to upgrade facilities in rural Oklahoma.

Finally, State Question 765 reforms the Department of Human Services.  In 2005, a little girl in foster care died due in part to negligence by Oklahoma DHS.  Oklahoma DHS was sued, and as a result of the settlement of that lawsuit, Oklahoma DHS was restructured to provide more oversight; the speaker of the house acknowledged that “the system has been struggling under an outdated, ineffective governance model that has tended to isolate the agency from any real accountability.” Lawmakers passed the required legislation to improve the system, part of which was making the head of DHS accountable to the governor and not some unelected board.  But they couldn't fully get rid of a residual part of the old system, the DHS commission, since it was created by the Oklahoma constitution and constitutional changes are something that voters have to decide on.  

Just a bit of bipartisan housecleaning, should be no problem, right? Well, when the aforementioned Attorney General Scott Pruitt wrote up the ballot language for this state question, he characterized it as follows:

The measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It abolishes the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Commission of Human Services and the position of Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

He writes more stuff, but doesn't really explain the full story of what's going on here. So some voters might think that they're getting rid of DHS and everything they do.  But then again, being Oklahoma, some may mistakenly interpret this as a step towards smaller gubmint. 

Regarding State Questions, Oklahoma, there are very few opportunities this year for me to laugh and point at you.  To make up for this, please feel free to unmuzzle Ralph Shortey some more.

Friday, September 28, 2012

"Only a Large Majority Now Supports Plan, Down From Ginormous Majority!"

Jerry Brown Yes on Prop 30I'm writing this post primarily because I think the gist of this article is nuts.  From Chris Megerian and Evan Halper in the L.A. Times, here's the headline:

Support Slips for Brown's Tax Hike

Uh oh! California has a terrible budget problem caused in large part to the basic fact that the legislature keeps spending money without casting the politically perilous votes to raise taxes.  So this year the powers that be have decided to put the onus of a tax hike on the voters themselves.  Proposition 30, backed by Governor Jerry Brown, is one solution that was engineered to affect only the rich and be just modest enough to win a statewide vote, and there are many funding initiatives (like higher education funding) that are tied to it.  So if it goes down, California suffers fiscal-cliff-like spending cuts.  Here's the subheadline:

Backing for Prop. 30 drops to 55% amid concerns about the way lawmakers spend money, poll finds

Wait, 55% is still definitely a solid majority.  Barack Obama is polling about 55% in the latest polls, so 55% is a great number.  But I guess we could be in some sort of transition phase, like what happened in Oklahoma in 2010 with State Question 744, which at one time had polled at 65% in favor to 21% opposed but which ended up cratering 19% for to 81% against on election day.  Is that what's going on here?

... a drop from May, when 59% supported it.

That's ... not that much of a difference.  Four points is not nothing, but the tone of the article makes it sound much more dire.  Maybe the no-votes are rising?  There were 36% opposed in May.

The new poll shows 36% of voters opposed, with the remainder undecided.

So, unchanged. This means the proposition supporters are still leading opponents by a whopping 19 points, 55% to 36%.  

The findings suggest that voters are leery of sending more cash to Sacramento in the wake of a financial scandal at the parks department, spiraling costs for a multibillion-dollar high-speed rail project to connect Northern and Southern California and ill-timed legislative pay raises.

Translation: 4% of voters may be leery of Republican talking points. 

Sixty-three percent of independent voters approve.

Yeah, going down in flames then.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

U.S. Senate 2012 Predictions: The Bidening

The Famous Quibbling Potato Tour
It's September, the conventions are over, every partisan is fired up and ready to go, and polling firms are earning all kinds of scratch predicting the presidential race.  Seems like there's a new opinion poll regarding Obama/Romney every day.  But while the presidential race is important, every poll says pretty much the same thing: Obama will probably win by fewer electoral votes than he did in 2008.  The really exciting race is for control of the Senate, and a lot of movement in the polls will happen in these last two months.

This is my biennial post breaking down the Senate race.

Right now the Democrats control the Senate 53-47, but only because they pal around with Socialists (Bernie Sanders, I-VT) and a McCain-supporting war hawk (Joe Liebermann, I-CT). But of the 33 seats up for reelection in 2012, only 10 of them are held by Republicans. So our starting baseline is D:30 - R:37

I Just Blued Myself

Tom Carper (D) vs. Kevin Wade (R)

Ben Cardin (D) vs. Dan Bongino (R)

Amy Klobuchar (D) vs. Kurt Bills (R)

Rhode Island
Sheldon Whitehouse (D) vs. Barry Hinckley (R)

Maria Cantwell (D) vs. Michael Baumgartner (R)

Bob Casey (D) vs. Tom Smith (R)

New Jersey
Bob Menendez (D) vs. Joseph Kyrillos (R)

All these races have Democratic incumbents, all of these will be won by the Democratic incumbents easily, yet all of them aren't exactly what you'd call a household name. (The Bobs on either side of the Delaware River are maybe slightly more famous than the rest of this group.) I only learned just now that Senator Cardin and Senator Carper were two different people. Amy Klobuchar might have had a close race, but the Republicans chose Ron Paul-backed Representative Kurt Bills in the primary.  Sheldon Whitehouse is going to face off against a guy whose last name is 19 Google hits below the guy who shot Reagan.  And Cantwell will beat the guy whose only notoriety in the national media so far is that he told a reporter to "go fuck yourself".   Add seven to the D's.

D:37 - R:37

The Jim Rogers Memorial Is-This-Really-The-Best-Democrats-Can-Do? Races

John Barrasso (R) vs. Tim Chestnut (D)
Roger Wicker (R) vs. Albert N. Gore Jr. (D)

Bob Corker (R) vs. Mark Clayton (D)

Chestnut managed to win the majority of the votes cast in Wyoming's Democratic primary despite  not having a campaign webpage and spending just $300 (which works out to about $100 per registered Wyoming Democrat).

Mississippi's Albert N. Gore Jr. is almost a perfect imitation of Oklahoma's own lovable lunatic Democrat Jim Rogers. 1. He's old. 2. He has a similar name to someone well-respected in the region (Will Rogers, Al Gore). 3. He's not at all related to that person. 4. He doesn't have a website. 5. He actually won a statewide primary. The only real difference is that while Jim Rogers observes a strict media silence, Albert N. Gore Jr. (who won't give out his age) has given several interviews. Also, he's seems to possess both coherent policy ideas and more than one shirt. 

Tennessee's Mark Clayton: Tim Murphy of Mother Jones describes him thusly:
Mark Clayton believes the federal government is building a massive, four-football-field wide superhighway from Mexico City to Toronto as part of a secret plot to establish a new North American Union that will bring an end to America as we know it. On Thursday, he became the Tennessee Democrats' nominee for US Senate.
He's more of a Randall Terry Democrat than a Jim Rogers Democrat, I suppose. He's such a social conservative that Tennessee state senator Stacey Campfield, the Sally Kern of Tennessee, proudly called himself a fan and did a joint press conference with him.  The Nashville Tennesseean's article about this is entitled "If liking a Democrat is wrong, Stacey Campfield doesn't want to be right"

So, three easy wins for Republicans.

D:37 - R:40

Big Blue Ladies

Dianne Feinstein (D) vs. Elizabeth Emken (R)

Debbie Stabenow (D) vs. Pete Hoekstra (R)

New York
Kirsten Gillibrand (D) vs. Wendy Long (R)

These three Democratic women represent (and will continue to represent) 66 million people. The three previous Republican men represent (and will continue to represent) 10 million people.

D:40 - R:40

Berg and Re-Berg

North Dakota
Heidi Heitkamp (D) vs. Rick Berg (R)

Jon Tester (D) vs. Denny Rehberg (R)

Rehberg and R. Berg are destined to be the next two U.S. Senators Whose Names I Mix Up (sorry Cardin/Carper).  They are both Republican and they both are currently the U.S. Representatives for the at-large districts in their states.  Representative Berg should have no problem ousting former state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp, but current U.S. Senator Jon Tester, who barely squeaked by in a Democratic wave election in 2006 (the Thumpin') should give Representative Rehberg a harder time, though I'm still predicting a Rehberg win.  Can't stop the 'stache.

D:40 - R:42

Tea Party Victories = Republican Victories

Paul Sadler (D) vs. Ted Cruz (R)

Bob Kerrey (D) vs. Deb Fischer (R)

Joe Donnelly (D) vs. Richard Mourdock (R)

Tea Party groups primaried the establishment Republicans in these three races this year and are now in good position to win the general election.  Cruz, fresh off his speech at the RNC, has now been anointed as a new conservative star.  Fischer has been the brightest endorsement success so far this election season for fading star Sarah Palin.  Mourdock faces the toughest challenge of this group, but his Club for Growth-fueled money advantage should carry him to victory in a red state against an opponent who voted for Obamacare.

D:40 - R:45

Tea Party Failures = Republican Victories

Tammy Baldwin (D) vs Tommy Thompson (R)

Scott Howell (D) vs. Orrin Hatch (R)

Hatch got through Utah's weird convention process only slightly scathed by a Tea Party-backed upstart and will win a huge reelection victory over token opposition Scott Howell.  Wisconsin is a bit of a different story.  The establishment candidate, former governor Tommy Thompson, did manage to win in the primary over a conservative Tea Party-backed opponent, but will face a challenge against a strong opponent who is looking to be the first lesbian U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin.  Despite having  terrible campaign signs, I think Tommy Thompson will still be able to win this race based on name recognition and centrism. 

D:40 - R:47

Wait, We Have to Vote Against These Losers Again?

Chris Murphy (D) vs. Linda McMahon (R)

West Virginia
Joe Manchin (D, technically) vs. John Raese (R)

The term "perennial candidate" is not just for low-budget crazies like Jim Rogers and Vermin Supreme.  Linda McMahon and John Raese both are well-funded perennial candidates who don't let a little thing like losing to a Democrat in a U.S. Senate race in 2010 stop them from losing to a Democrat in a U.S. Senate race in 2012.  Hell, Raese is even looking forward to losing to the same Democrat he lost to two years ago!

D:42 - R:47

Blue State Democrats Doing Whatever the Hell They Want

Mazie Hirono (D) vs. Linda Lingle (R)

Bernie Sanders (I) vs. The World (D & R)

Vermont's Bernie Sanders is an actual Socialist, as every news article about Bernie Sanders will tell you.  I'm pretty sure he spends every day in elected office just blogging for the Huffington Post.  He'll get 6 more years.  Democratic representative Mazie Hirono won her primary and will now spend the rest of election season chillaxing with Republican representative Don Young of Alaska. 

D:44 - R:47

Florida and Ohio, Florida and Ohio, Every Single Election Year It's Always Fucking Florida and Ohio

Bill Nelson (D) vs. Connie Mack IV (R)

Sherrod Brown (D) vs. Josh Mandel (R)

These senate races are two of the more heavily polled in the nation, partly due to the fact that they are going to be close and partly due to the fact that the polling firms are polling in these states for the presidential race (which will also be close).  These polls have the Democrats up by a couple points.  Both races feature incumbent Democrats fighting off cocky, strident, odd-looking conservatives (Josh Mandel looks like a 16-year-old high school speech club president ...

... and is it just me or does Connie Mack resemble, like, Pacman or something?

It's just me?  I thought so.)

I predict Democrats will just barely squeak by in both races.

D:46 - R:47

Commonwealth Superstars

Tim Kaine (D) vs. George Allen (R)

Elizabeth Warren (D) vs. Scott Brown (R)

All four of these candidates are political heavyweights who bring lots of national attention and fundraising ability to their races.  Tim Kaine went from the governorship to being head of the DNC, Elizabeth Warren went from setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to being every liberal's dream come true, Scott Brown went from Cosmo's centerfold to owning a truck to being the deciding vote against Obamacare the first time around, and George Allen went from the governorship to being the first person ever to lose an election because of a "macaca moment".

Polling has occurred in both races since 2011, and these two races have been essentially tied for the entire time (Scott Brown has generally been on top by small margins, Kaine and Allen have been switching back and forth).  I'm putting my blue goggles on and predicting Democratic Party wins in both of these races.  It's hard to see Massachusetts electing a Republican over a hard-campaigning Democrat beloved by New England Democrats, and since I think Barack Obama will win Virginia, it would be more surprising to see Allen win at the same time than it would to see Kaine win at the same time.  Flimsy reasons, I know.

D:48 - R:47

Show-Me Shenanigans

Claire McCaskill (D) vs. Todd Akin (R)

Okay, so here's what's happened so far: Claire McCaskill, a mainline non-Blue Dog Democrat, had a low probability of reelection since her state has shifted red in the six years since she was first elected.  So the winner of the Republican primary should have been the candidate to beat in this election.  McCaskill knew this and dog-whistled to the wingnuts in her state that this guy Todd Akin was "the most conservative" Republican in the race, because she believed she had the best chance against him.  The strategy worked and Akin won the nomination.  Then Akin opened his mouth, said some stupid thing about women and rape these days, and McCaskill said "dance, puppet, dance!"

Akin's radical right-wing beliefs forced the Republicans to walk back their support for him; they urged him to drop out of the race because any other registered Republican would have a better shot at victory than Todd Akin.  As a woman and a Democrat and the opponent of a misogynist, McCaskill could be expected to weigh in with vitriol and umbrage over Akin's words along with the rest of America, but instead McCaskill has refrained from attacking him, keeping her campaign positive and letting Akin's support be eroded away by his own words.  She's brilliant!  Here's an article about the gamesmanship in this race so far.

Akin's petard-hoisting not withstanding, Missouri is looking less like Nellytown and a lot more like Branson these days.  I think Akin's name on the ballot results in only a 2-point Republican win rather than a 12-point Republican win.  But this is assuming Akin doesn't open his mouth again, which is a sketchy proposition.

D:48 - R:48

Sonoran Poll Desert

New Mexico
Martin Heinrich (D) vs. Heather Wilson (R)

Richard Carmona (D) vs. Jeff Flake (R)

Shelley Berkley (D) vs. Dean Heller (R)

Polling has shown Heinrich and Heller with consistent single-digit leads and support in the high 40's.  Polling in Arizona's Senate race has shown ... hardly anything because the race has only been polled two times in the last three months.  Both of those polls show an unexpected tie, but support for both candidates in the low 40's with a large number of undecideds.  Arizona is a red state, and polls conducted before Arizona's primary showed Flake with a huge lead over all Democrats.  But since Arizona isn't predicted to be close in the presidential race, few have bothered to poll for the Senate race.  I can't imagine that this poll desert will last, but since I don't have much information to go on, I'm going with the consensus and saying Flake will win.

D:49 - R:50

The Swing Senator

Cynthia Dill (D) vs. Charlie Summers (R) vs. Angus King (I)

When Olympia Snowe announced she would retire earlier this year, there was a brief period of time when the nation cared about Maine politics.  That window of time closed by the end of June when three polls showed former governor Angus King with a 25 point lead over all comers.  The comers do not include popular Democratic representative Chellie Pingree, who would most likely be able to beat any single Republican for the seat.  This got Republicans talking about how King must have made a deal with Democrats to keep their good candidates off the ballot in exchange for King caucusing with the Democrats if he were to get elected.  King basically said "Hogwash!" and that he was running to bring bipartisanship back; he wouldn't decide which party, if any, to caucus with until after the election.  But the consensus among political reporters is that the Obama-voting same-sex-marriage-supporting Obamacare-backing environmentalist will probably caucus with Democrats.  Just a hunch.

D:50 - R:50

Obama wins, Biden breaks ties (seems like I say this every time; one of these days it may come true), and the Dems control the Senate.  That's my official guess.  But a lot of chips have to fall the Dems way in order for this to happen.  I'm predicting all Democratic wins in the blockbuster races in Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Massachusetts.  Going 4 for 4 in those races seems sort of unlikely.  Really, what was I thinking? It's like I started working on this post a month ago and only just now got around to finishing it.