Monday, March 29, 2010

Haggadah!

Better late than never.  Here's my 2010 quickie haggadah (PDF), now with more kiddie activities and lots of copyrighted material used without permission.  Enjoy!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Federal mandates

Is the new health care act really the first time in history the federal government has mandated that Americans purchase a commercial product?

George Washington would disagree.  He did sign the Militia Act of 1792, after all:
I. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia.... [E]very citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder.
(h/t Phil Gussin)

Primaries and Partisanship

John Sides has a few posts recently (here and here) in which he cites research by Eric McGhee at the Public Policy Institute of California on the effect of primary systems on the partisanship of elected officials. (Disclosure: Eric and I are working on a conference paper together on this topic.)  His findings suggest that the effect of moving from a closed to an open primary is surprisingly modest.  He further notes that during California's brief experiment with the blanket primary, politicians were no less polarized and the budget was still passed late.

Here's another way to look at this issue.  In the graph below, I've plotted Jerry Wright's data on legislative partisanship in each of the state legislatures during the 1999-2000 session along the vertical axis.  The horizontal axis is the type of primary the state was using at the time, going from most to least restrictive.
Now, notably, the states at the far right (Louisiana with its jungle or top-two primary and Nebraska with its nonpartisan elections) are among the least polarized legislatures.  However, the regression line is nonetheless flat.  We'd expect polarization to decrease as primaries become more open to independents -- they don't.  Indeed, many of the states employing the blanket primary at the time prove relatively partisan.  And Wisconsin and Ohio, which then employed open primaries, have among the most polarized legislatures in the country.  Of course, this is a pretty simple bivariate look at this problem, but one would expect to see more of an effect than this.

So what will happen if California adopts Proposition 14, the top-two primary, this spring?  Well, I suppose that depends on just how representative we think Louisiana is.  Does the Cajun State have a relatively moderate legislature because of its primary system, because of its unusual political culture, or because of other odd institutional rules in place there?  Given that it's hard to separate those out, and given that other evidence about primaries and partisanship suggests little relationship between the two, I doubt the initiative would have anything close to the impact its backers suggest.

I'm wondering if anyone has recent data on Washington's state legislature, the members of whom have been elected through a top-two primary since 2006.  Since Washington has been among the more polarized legislatures in recent years, it will be interesting to see if the chamber has been de-polarizing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Interpreting the Bush hand-wipe

This video of George W. Bush shaking hands with a Haitian and then wiping his hands on Bill Clinton's shirt is making the rounds today:



How do we interpret this act?  It actually reminded me of this moment in 2000, when Bush cleaned his eyeglasses on the sweater of one of David Letterman's employees.  One might interpret it as a sign that Bush is a kick-down type of guy who believes everyone is his servant and is abusive to subordinates.  But that's inconsistent with everything else we know about him.  Regardless of what you think about his presidency, by pretty much all accounts, he seems to be a pretty good boss.  He listens -- even defers -- to his advisors, comes up with chummy nicknames for people, etc.  Very few of his employees have left to talk trash about him personally.

So what kind of a person wipes his hands on Bill Clinton's shirt?  This just goes to my running theory that presidents are necessarily weird people.  The levels of ambition and ego necessary to tolerate the things that need to be tolerated to obtain and hold that job are way off the scale and tend to manifest themselves in some weird way on personality.  With Kennedy and Clinton, it involved infidelity.  With Nixon, it involved near-psychotic paranoia.  With Bush, it's using other people's clothing for towels.  Weird, but there are worse sins.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pelosi's feat

Seth Hill put together this nice chart showing just how difficult a task Speaker Pelosi faced in keeping the coalition in support of health reform together.  The solid line shows the ideological distance between the House party medians.  The dotted lines mark the distance between the 5th and 95th percentile members of each party in terms of ideology.
What we see, unsurprisingly, is that the distance between the two parties was relatively low from the 80th congress through the 95th (1947-1979), but the two parties have moved further apart from each other since then to historic highs.  At the same time the parties were closer together, they were more divided internally, but they have become more ideologically cohesive since then.

Interestingly, while polarization between the parties is high today, the parties still don't seem nearly as internally coherent as they were at the turn of the 20th century.  So given the state of polarization, there was no reason for Pelosi to expect any Republican support on health care or any other major piece of legislation.  But she also had to hold together a pretty diverse coalition, ranging from Rep. Barbara Lee of California (the most liberal House member) to Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana (the most conservative aye vote).  Not an easy task.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obama's failed bipartisanship?

Peter Beinart in the NYT:
Let’s face it, he’s failed in the effort to be the nonpolarizing president, the one who can use rationality and calm debate to bridge our traditional divides.... It turns out he’s our third highly polarizing president in a row.
That's so weird.  It's almost like presidents have no power whatsoever to affect partisanship.

It's not that we've had three polarizing presidents in a row.  It's that we live in polarized times.  Sheesh.

On the value of street protest

Markos Moulitsas, on Twitter:
#HCR passage will prove, once again, that street protests are pretty ineffective. It was time for Cons to learn that lesson
I'm not sure they were totally ineffective here.  No, the protests didn't stop health reform from passing, but they did slow it down for a while, and they reinforced total GOP opposition (although that might have happened anyway).

The inevitable comparison is to the civil rights movement.  We often credit protests for helping that movement succeed.  Why can't other groups do that today?

Well, for one thing, most protests we see just don't look like the civil rights movement.  Think of the 1963 march on Washington, which took place on a work day and involved hundreds of thousands of well dressed people all carrying professionally made signs showing just a handful of pre-approved messages.  Think of the Selma march or the lunch counter sit-ins, which involved substantial physical risk for participants.

Today's protests, whether it's tea partiers gathered in opposition to taxation or something or anti-war types opposing the invasion of Iraq, don't have nearly that level of discipline or physical risk.  There's no reason for an observer to admire anything that these protesters are doing.  They're simply getting together and speaking because something is going on that they don't like and they don't want to keep silent about it.  That's certainly fine and understandable, but it's hard to see how that changes minds.

The post-news-cycle presidency

Bernstein:
Obama's great strength is patience. He has, as no one I can think of has had in recent times, an ability to just completely ignore the 24 hour news cycle. Whether it was his pre-Iowa nomination lull, or his summer 2008 doldrums, or his methodical planning for Afghanistan, or, over and over again, his refusal to panic on health care, the pattern is about as clear as any could be.
Precisely.  Here's what I wrote last August:
Back during the spring of 2008, Obama was getting some heat for not standing up stronger to the Clinton campaign, which was mocking him mercilessly and raking up wins in key states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Obama didn't change his strategy and he didn't get flustered. He stayed relatively positive, knowing that he had enough delegates to prevail in the nomination race.
In September of 2008, Obama was again getting heat for not being tougher on McCain, who was suddenly tied with Obama in the polls. Again, Obama didn't change his strategy and he didn't get flustered. He knew that McCain's poll strength was based on a post-convention bump and would likely subside, which it did.
I think the same sort of thing is going on today. There's a certain mentality among political types that you have to win the media cycle every day. That certainly seemed to be the mindset among the Clinton folks in the 90s, and they got pretty good at it. Obama seems to think that's not necessarily the way things have to go. As Obama said at his June press conference, "I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not. OK?" In other words, you don't have to win every battle to prevail in the war.
I think this is one great advantage that Obama has over the Clinton administration and over current Republicans, who jump from one set of talking points to the next.  He plays the long game.  He recognizes that he and his party will be judged on their ability to deliver on a few major things, and those things are produced through months, even years, of patient pressure and negotiations, rather than daily spin wars.

Obama is very good at dealing with the media.  But perhaps a greater strength is knowing when to ignore them.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"This is what change looks like"

Substantial health reform has passed.  Add this to the events I didn't think I'd live to see, along with the Berlin Wall coming down.

So what does this mean?  My impression is that the politics of health reform have been overhyped somewhat and the policy underhyped.  In terms of the politics, I just don't think it will have an enormous impact on the November elections.  Midterm elections are affected in large part by the state of the economy and the president's popularity (which is, in turn, strongly affected by the economy).  Now, the passage of a signature piece of legislation surely could affect the president's popularity, but probably not by a ton.  Everyone already knew where Obama stood on this issue.  Republicans would be no more impressed by him if he failed to pass something he campaigned on.  Passage might affect individual House races, of course -- Nate Silver estimates that Colorado's own Betsy Markey has taken the biggest risk tonight.  But again, it's hard to be sure.  Markey's reelection was always going to be a difficult one, and while she certainly angered some constituents tonight, she also won a lot of love from the left, which could translate into donations and election labor.

What about the future?  As I mentioned previously, expansions of the social safety net tend to start off controversial but quickly become broadly accepted.  I expect this health care reform will follow the same path.  But that doesn't mean Democrats are guaranteed years of victories.  As Bernstein points out,
Medicare is wildly popular, and the truth is that the Civil Rights and Voting Rights bills from 1964 and 1965 are wildly popular today. Yet the Democrats didn't benefit from these things electorally, not just because of race in the South, and not just because of Vietnam, but because they rapidly became just part of the normal things that government does.
So while I don't think tonight will have an extraordinary effect on elections in the near or distant future, I do think this will have a profound impact on public policy.  Even if this bill seems watered-down to you, realize that from this point forward, the federal government is responsible for making sure people have health insurance.  The question is no longer whether government should do it; it's whether it's doing it well enough.  I heard somewhere that the two major votes tonight were symbolic ordered that way -- first they passed health reform, then they passed reconciliation to improve it.  This is the biggest fundamental change in the relationship between Washington and the American people since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House.

How did it happen?  Speaker Pelosi deserves a lot of credit for pushing this thing through at a time when many Democratic leaders seemed to be getting weak-kneed after Scott Brown's victory.  Whatever you think of her politically or personally, she really showed her legislative tactical skills here.  Of course, President Obama deserves credit for making this a priority, for learning the lessons of the Clinton administration, and for putting together a complex and clever strategy for making this happen.  Of course, we shouldn't ignore the fact that Democrats had very large and ideologically coherent majorities in both houses.  (Democrats may wish to say a quiet thanks to President Bush, whose profound and longstanding unpopularity helped bring about this condition.)

So Democratic leaders should enjoy a night of celebration and go get totally stupaked.  And then, on to the next thing.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Whipping health reform

I've been kind of fixated on Colorado politics this week and prepping for courses, so I haven't devoted a lot of blog space to health reform lately.  But thanks to Bernstein for pointing out this particularly fascinating NYT piece on how the House Majority is trying to whip votes.  I can't recall too many roll call votes receiving this level of scrutiny (Clinton's first budget comes to mind), and the coverage is useful.  Indeed, I plan to assign this article next quarter.

Something that this article makes clear, but what is rarely acknowledged by political observers, is that the majority doesn't care to run up the score.  It's a controversial vote, and they want to free up as many members in competitive districts as possible to vote against the thing.  So a lot of the calculation being made by Pelosi and others is whom to leave alone:
But inside the speaker’s suite of offices on the West Front of the Capitol where Democrats are filing in for face-to-face discussions with party leaders, there is a pecking order for vulnerable lawmakers that helps determine the degree of arm-twisting and pressure imposed on them.
Who won by the smallest margin? Which districts have smaller black populations, a traditionally reliable vote? Who voted for the somewhat different version of the legislation in November and is going to be attacked by Republicans for that vote regardless of what they do this weekend? And who stands the best chance to persevere through a roiling political year and by November have at least a decent shot of winning?
Also see Nate Silver's piece on the collective action dilemma behind this vote.

It seems pretty clear to me that the thing is going to pass.  It's also clear to me that the Democrats are going to lose seats this fall.  And what will annoy me is the pundits who claim that Democrats lost seats because they passed health reform.  Let's just stipulate that the Democrats will lose seats whether health reform passes or fails.  I have no idea whether passing health reform will mitigate losses or exacerbate them -- probably not too much either way.  But I'm sure the pundits will overhype it anyway.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Caucus analysis, with maps!

Well, the results of last night's caucuses haven't been completely tabulated, but that shouldn't stop me from making inferences, should it?  Don't answer that.

Okay, on the Democratic side, here's what the county map looks like.  I have calculated Romanoff's share of the Romanoff + Bennet vote, ignoring the uncommitted for now.  Darker blue counties are those in which Romanoff did better.  The data come from here.



Now, the completely white counties are ones in which we don't yet have numbers (including, notably, Pueblo), so ignore those for now.  I'll update later.  But what we do see is that Romanoff did well in the Denver metro area and even better in some of the central and southern counties.  Bennet's areas of strength appear to be the northern plains areas and the western slope counties near Grand Junction.  Regression analysis shows that Bennet did better in counties with a higher percentage of college-educated residents, while Romanoff did better in wealthier counties.

Over on the Republican side, I calculated Jane Norton's share of the Norton + Buck vote, ignoring the uncommitted and supporters of other candidates.  Darker red counties are those in which Norton did better.  The data come from here.


This map shows a strong regional pattern, with Norton doing much better than Buck in the western counties and Buck dominating the eastern plains.  This may partially represent the candidates' upbringings: Norton is from Grand Junction originally, and Buck is the Weld County D.A. and has a long family history in Greeley.  So she's the western slope candidate and he's the eastern plains one (whereas we see less of a geographic pattern on the Democratic side with both candidates coming from Denver).  Regression analysis shows that Buck did significantly better in counties with a higher percentage of Evangelical Christians, although no other major demographic distinction between the candidates' supporters turns up.

Update: Dem map updated with Pueblo County data.
Later update: Maps changed with newer results as of 3/19.  Color breaks now 0-40, 40-50, 50-60, and 60-100.

(Cross-posted at ColoradoPols and Huffington Post.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The caucuses

I'm just back from my precinct caucus.  My initial impression is that the Bennet campaign seemed a lot like the Clinton campaign back during the 2008 county and state conventions -- much better organized and funded than their opponents, but still outnumbered.  The Bennet folks had t-shirts, water bottles, cookies, and volunteer greeters.  They seemed in every way a more professional organization than Team Romanoff.  Nonetheless, Romanoff just had far more people in the room.

Organization can help make sure that your supporters show up, which is obviously very important.  Organization can also make sure that your team wins close calls, like disputes in rules or providing alternates for missing delegates.  And organization can help win over undecided voters.  But this was the precinct caucus -- undecideds mostly don't come.  (Well, so far it looks like about 7% of the Democratic caucus goers are uncommited, compared to the 26% of Democratic primary voters who are undecided.)  So the end result looks unsurprising, with Romanoff on top but both candidates easily qualifying for the ballot.

Meanwhile, the GOP caucus is looking really interesting, and it's not clear yet whether Norton will prevail. So I'm guessing the headlines tomorrow will say something to the effect of "insider candidates take a beating" or something.

This is fargin war!

Dick Armey wants a piece of us:
A member of the audience passed a question to the moderator, who read it to Armey: How can the Federalist Papers be an inspiration for the tea party, when their principal author, Alexander Hamilton, "was widely regarded then and now as an advocate of a strong central government"?
Historian Armey was flummoxed by this new information. "Widely regarded by whom?" he challenged, suspiciously. "Today's modern ill-informed political science professors? . . . I just doubt that was the case in fact about Hamilton."
This from Jon Bernstein, who nicely illustrates the not-so-states-rightsy predilections of the authors of the Federalist Papers.  Of course, what's the point?  Either Armey has no idea what the Federalist Papers say, or he just likes grabbing the arms of political scientists and smacking them in their faces and asking "Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?"  Both may be true.

Hot Caucus Action!

Catch all the Democratic Colorado Precinct Caucus action here, thanks to John and Dillon at the Colorado Political Institute.  Also, I'll be live-tweeting the events at the precinct 854 Democratic caucus starting at around 6:30 PM MDT.

Just how representative are caucus attendees?

Via roguestaffer, here's a new PPP poll (PDF) of likely Democratic primary voters.  Among that group, 40% say they prefer Bennet for the Senate nomination, 34% prefer Romanoff, and 26% remain undecided.  We'll know more tomorrow, but my guess is that the outcome of tonight's precinct caucuses will look almost nothing like that poll.  For one thing, the number of undecided people who will actually participate in the caucuses could probably fit in a Honda Civic.  For another, I'm guessing Romanoff will at least tie.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Caucus primer

I was recently asked by a reporter to explain how important Colorado's caucuses are and why party "frontrunners" aren't necessarily favored to win them this year.  I'm not sure how much of my response will make it into print, so I figured I'd just jot it down here in case it's of some value to my obscenely large readership.

How important are the caucuses?  That's a tricky question.  There have been a number of high profile candidates in recent years who lost the caucuses and went on to win their party's nomination anyway (e.g.: Ken Salazar and Pete Coors in '04).  Winning the caucus is neither necessary nor sufficient for getting nominated.  However, it can be influential.  The candidate that wins the caucus will get top ballot position in the primary.  And if a candidate gets too small a caucus vote, he or she may be eliminated from the primary altogether.  Beyond that, the caucuses are mainly an opportunity for longstanding party activists to make their voices heard.

One of the real reasons that "frontrunners" aren't favored in the caucuses is because caucus participation is so limited.  Even in the 2008 presidential election, only about 6 percent of Colorado's eligible voters turned out to participate in the precinct caucuses -- and that was historically high.  Participation this week will be substantially below that.

The people who actually participate in caucuses tend to be the most active partisans.  They're highly informed and passionate on behalf of their party and particular candidates.  Unlike most other voters, they tend to follow politics all year round, rather than just prior to a major election.  As a result, their preferences tend to be somewhat different from those of the larger population.

This year in the U.S. Senate race, we have an interesting dynamic.  In both parties, party elites appear to have anointed a particular candidate, and party activists are rebelling against that choice somewhat.  On the Democratic side, Gov. Ritter appointed Michael Bennet to the U.S. Senate last year, a move that caught many Democratic activists by surprise, and Democratic leaders in DC, including President Obama, have rallied to support Bennet.  Many state Democratic activists were bothered by this decision being forced upon them, even if they have no particular problem with Bennet's behavior in the Senate.  These activists have largely rallied behind Andrew Romanoff, who has spent years working for Democratic causes in Denver and across the state.  Since these are the folks who will dominate the caucuses this week, Romanoff is likely to do very well in that contest, even though Bennet has raised far more money thus far.

On the Republican side, many party activists have chafed at the apparent anointment of Jane Norton.  Although they haven't quite settled on an alternative candidate for the nomination, those who are resisting her nomination will likely turn out in high numbers.

Academic immortality

The tenure and promotion committee, along with my dean, have recommended that I receive tenure.  Although there are a few procedural hurdles left this year, this was the big one.  So obviously I am thrilled, and I have already enjoyed some of the Johnnie Walker Blue that my father bought me to celebrate.  The trick now is not to become sedentary as a scholar.

I honestly don't think this is much of a concern.  The process of finishing graduate school, writing a dissertation, finding a job, and then publishing books and a set of peer-reviewed articles is so intense, and the financial rewards for doing so are so modest, that only the most insanely self-motivated people ultimately get tenured.  That is, people who would respond rationally to a lifetime of job security are selected out of the pool.  No guarantees there, of course, but that's my impression.  We'll see.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some Star Wars Wii to play.

Friday, March 12, 2010

How I roll

Another poll finds Romanoff more electable than Bennet

A new PPP poll in Colorado's U.S. Senate race finds that Andrew Romanoff would beat Jane Norton 44-39, while Norton and Michael Bennet are tied at 43.  This is similar to the advantage suggested by several recent Rasmussen polls, suggesting that whatever effect they're finding, it isn't just a result of Rasmussen's peculiar polling methodology.

As Nate Silver notes, PPP has a "house effect" of 1.4 percentage points in the GOP direction, while Rasmussen's is 5.5 points toward the GOP.  This doesn't mean that one is more correct -- we don't really know what the 2010 electorate will look like yet -- just that Rasmussen has reported consistently more favorable numbers for the GOP.  So the top line numbers on these polls are somewhat inconsistent with each other.  Nonetheless, both find a consistent advantage for Romanoff.

RedGreen wisely cautions us that Romanoff's advantage could quickly vanish should he become the nominee.  After all, the GOP is currently criticizing Bennet and ignoring Romanoff, which would change quickly.  Nonetheless, Romanoff has some healthy numbers on his side going into next week's caucuses.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Colorado caucus coverage

I'll be attending my precinct Democratic caucus on Tuesday night and live-tweeting as much of it as I can.  I'll also be streaming the coverage provided by John McMahon and Dillon Doyle at the Colorado Political Institute.  Definitely tune in for up-to-the-minute coverage.

The real source of partisan disagreement


Really, how can we hope to bridge partisanship if this is the issue?

Even you cannot avoid... pressure

The Tarrance Group has put together a weird little poll (PDF) on health care reform conducted in a bunch of swing congressional districts across the country.  The big question is this one:
Do you favor or oppose the health care reform legislation being proposed by President Obama and the Democrats in Congress?
In all but one of the districts, a majority oppose the legislation.  58 percent claim to oppose it in Betsy Markey's district (Colorado's 4th CD).  And roughly 3 out of 4 voters say their member's vote on this bill will be important to them in November.  So you can get a sense of the pressure being put on folks like Markey right now, who want the bill to pass but don't want to be the one to pass it.

That said, I have no idea how realistic this sort of question is.  Will voters really punish swing Democrats for voting for health reform?  Would they really reward those members for voting against it?  How much will this matter compared to, say, the status of the economy or any other big issue that might arise between now and November?

Even less realistic are some other questions in the poll, such as:
Would you favor or oppose the Democrats in Congress going outside of normal procedures and using a little used parliamentary tactic known as “reconciliation,” to pass a health care bill, over Republican objections? 
Question wording bias, anyone?  Strong majorities say they oppose reconciliation in this poll.  Okay, forget, for a moment, the lies built into this question (reconciliation is a normal procedure, it's not a "little used tactic," it wouldn't be used to pass health reform anyway, etc.).  Who the hell will care about congressional procedures six months from now?  It's not remotely credible.

Oh, by the way, roughly 3 in 4 respondents believe that their taxes will go up as a result of health reform.  Another lie, but that's what the swing Democrats have to deal with right now.

(Thanks to Kyle S. for the link.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Big Os for Bennet

Just got this in an e-mail:
I'm still curious exactly what role the Obama organization will be playing at the caucuses next week.  I'm hearing crazy rumors about them bringing in paid volunteers from other states wearing Bennet t-shirts, but I can't imagine that that would help or is even true.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Mad Men Cake


I made this for my wife's birthday.  I attempted to feminize Don Draper's silhouette by giving it a flip hairdo.  This cake represents my first foray into the world of fondant.  With the encouragement of my arch-nemesis/mentor Sherry Zaks, I actually made my own.  It's actually not that hard and will save you money, but it's incredibly messy.  I imagine the second time will go better.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Political fantasies, cont'd

Need another political fantasy scenario?  Petraeus/Bloomberg for president in 2012!

The new party model

Denver 9News reporter Adam Schrager and former CO statehouse Rep. Rob Witwer have a new book coming out called The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy, and I recommend the book highly.

The book focuses on a new style of campaigning that's been going on in Colorado over the past few election cycles, but what the authors are really describing is a new form of political party.  Schrager and Witwer argue that a small group of wealthy liberal donors hasn't taken over the Colorado Democratic Party so much as they've built a new one. Starting in 2003, the "Gang of Four" (Tim Gill, Pat Stryker, Rutt Bridges, and Jared Polis) put together a series of 527s designed to channel tons of money into state legislative races with the express purpose of flipping control of the statehouse. Republicans basically didn't see it coming -- no one had ever devoted this level of funding or strategic targeting into statehouse races before. And because the funding wasn't flowing directly from donors or from the party to the candidates, it was difficult to perceive until it was too late. The Gang is motivated largely by policy concerns -- Gill and Polis, for example, are gay and were really irked by some legislation the state Republicans were pushing. The Gang's funding is largely credited for the Democratic takeover of both statehouses in 2004 even while Bush won the state by five points.

There's an argument advanced in there that this represents a new and better form of party organization:
Everyone knew the party had been notoriously inefficient when it came to spending its money. In Polis' view, this was a function of how people get into decision-making roles in state political parties. Party leaders "were selected because they travel the state," he observed. "They know people. They show up at every dinner. People like them. They manage the palace intruiges effectively."
But that was also a weakness. Applying a businessman's eye for organizational effectiveness, Polis identified what he believed was the main problem with political parties. "There's no reason to think [party leaders] would be good at running campaigns and making tough decisions.... In fact, to the contrary. They would have a tendency to put valuable resources into races they're probably not going to win because they want to win friends. So, if they like so and so and they're running in a very Republican district, they're going to give them help, which takes it away from a very competitive district. So it wasn't a very good way to allocate resources."
This is a topic I've been thinking about for some time but haven't been sure what to do with. Dick Daley was a strong party leader, sure, but just how efficient was his organization? If he wanted to control city council or even state legislative votes, he surely could have done a lot less and not really compromised much of his effectiveness. I'm wondering if the stuff Maxine Waters or the Orange County Lincoln Club does today is no less effective than the work done by Tammany Hall but perhaps performed with a lot less overall effort.

By the way, whether you like this style of campaigning or not, it's probably coming soon to a state legislative race near you.  Schrager and Witwer note how this model is being exported to other states, arguing that Tim Gill may currently have more influence over more state legislative races than any other person in history.

This book is a great and easy read and isn't just for Colorado political junkies. If you're interested in parties, campaigns, or state politics, or you're teaching courses on these topics, you might want to check this out.

Smart cars will save us all

The Denver Post's Chuck Plunkett has a habit of getting bamboozled by the Cato Institute's Randall O'Toole on transportation issues.  Last year, Plunkett bought into O'Toole's argument that private cars were more fuel efficient than light rail.  Today, he repeats O'Toole's claims that mass transit is dying and that hyper-intelligent driverless cars are the answer to our problems.  Let me just address a few points.

Plunkett:
Despite claims that ridership at new transit lines is rising, per capita use of transit has been getting smaller for years.
That's a silly use of statistics.  If ridership is rising, it's rising.  If per capita use is declining, that simply means that the area's population is growing faster than light rail ridership.  That's hardly an indictment of light rail.  It just means that the areas near light rail stations are probably harder for new residents to move into because they're expensive because, you know, people want to live near light rail stations.

Then Plunkett goes on to extol the virtues of driverless cars:
Using the lightning-fast reflexes of robots, driverless cars would shoot along at high speeds, instantaneously avoid slowdowns and thereby revolutionize existing roadways to quadruple their capacity — even during rush hour.
Okay, let's just stipulate that the technology that can steer a car and make judgments to avoid accidents and is affordable and trustworthy enough for people to buy it will be available within the next thirty years.  (I doubt it, but okay.)  Would such a technology actually be better than a human driver?  Do we really have traffic jams today because people aren't skilled or self-interested enough to avoid slow-downs?

More:
DP: But the first time there is a glitch and there is a big pileup, no one will trust them.
RO: There wouldn't be a pileup. The first car might have an accident, but all the others would detect it and go around it.
How is that different from what human drivers already do?  And we still have traffic, by the way.

And then O'Toole explains the problem of mass transit -- upkeep costs:
Look at New York City and Chicago. They're looking at spending tens of billions of dollars to rebuild their systems. In most cases, that's money they don't have. Almost all the transit accidents you've heard about in Washington, D.C., have been due to maintenance problems. In 2002, they projected they would need $12 billion over the next decade to refurbish, and they only got like $1.5 billion.
Yes, mass transit is costly, unlike cars, which are free.  No, wait, roads cost money, too, don't they?  And cars cost money and require lots of maintenance, only those costs are borne directly by consumers.  And transit accidents?  How many more accidents are caused by private cars?  Who pays those emergency room costs, especially when the drivers don't have health insurance?

So why not intelligently plan some communities where people don't really need cars to get around?
Polls show that about 20 percent of Americans want to live in a LoDo [lower downtown Denver], and so you make that available, you're going to attract those kinds of people. They will drive less. But once you saturate the demand, what cities have had to do is start subsidizing [the extra capacity]. Once you start subsidizing it, then the people who start moving in to these transit-oriented developments are not the kind of people who want to live car-free lives. So it's really important that you have lots of parking in these developments, or the vacancy rates are really high.
WTF?  Why do cities have to subsidize anything if demand is saturated?  Why can't it just be a popular area with high rents?  I have no idea if what O'Toole is describing is true, but if it is, it's pretty bizarre, and it sounds like an argument for better city planning rather than just building more parking spots for intelligent cars.

One other quick point: It's kind of weird for someone who keeps writing books and giving interviews about how inefficient, costly, and dangerous mass transit is to then complain than not enough people are using it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The edible King Keohane and Verba

My arch-nemesis is at it again.  Sherry Zaks, who has previously created a heteroskedasticity cake, has now baked a pastry version of King, Keohane, and Verba's Designing Social Inquiry:


This will not stand.

Friday, March 5, 2010

More evidence of Romanoff's relative electabililty

As I mentioned previously, only one poll has confirmed my suspicion that Romanoff would stand a better chance than Bennet of keeping the U.S. Senate seat Democratic.  Well, now make that two.  This new Rasmussen survey finds presumed GOP nominee Jane Norton leading Bennet by nine but leading Romanoff by only two points (within the MoE).  This makes the February poll look like less of a glitch.

Now, it would increase our confidence if we could see a poll by a different polling firm -- there might be some sort of house effect with Rasmussen that favors Romanoff, although that seems unlikely.  Still, going into the precinct caucuses, this seems like Romanoff's strongest argument.

Following the money

I'm doing some research right now that involves heavily mining state campaign finance records in Colorado.  For the most part, I'm just using the Colorado Secretary of State's search engine.  It's not great -- the server is slow, the interface is awkward, candidates sometimes appear as people and other times as committees, etc.  But it's functional.

Some friends have pointed me to followthemoney.org, the website of the National Institute on Money in State Politics.  This is a searchable database across all states over many years.  Every state has its own way of and schedule for collecting and reporting this information, so what the folks at NIMSP have done is truly amazing.

That said, there are inconsistencies.  I've looked up several Colorado statehouse candidates in both the Colorado and the NIMSP database and come up with different numbers.  For example, Linda Stahnke ran in the GOP primary in the 17th Colorado House district in 2004, losing to Mark Cloer.  The Colorado Secretary of State reports that she raised $30,186 for that contest; NIMSP claims she raised $35,218.  There are lots of small discrepancies like that.

I'm guessing the Colorado numbers are more likely to be correct, but I don't understand why these discrepancies exist.  Different ways of summing the numbers?  Errors?  Definitely something to think about before jumping into the data.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Majority rule breaking out all over

New California Assembly Speaker John PĂ©rez is seeking to change the state's constitution to allow budgets to pass with a simple majority vote.  Supermajority budget passage rules are far from the state's only problem, but they're a big one.  Good luck, Mr. Speaker.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The main problem with the Nazis was *not* universal health care

That point is probably wasted on the person who made this graphic:

I found the photo on the Facebook site "Can the Constitution get more fans than Obama?"  The mindset behind it escapes me completely, I'm afraid.

As I've mentioned previously, I really don't spend much time worrying about declining civility in political discourse.  But the image above is not discourse.  It's probably as close as you can come using visuals to advocating insurrection.

Health care passage very, very likely

Bernstein sums up the tea leaves.  Short version: Politicans are risk-averse.  Obama and the House Democrats would not be as overt as they have been lately about trying to get this bill passed unless they thought it would actually happen.

Fantasy political scenarios

Over at Sullivan's blog, Jonathan Bernstein is starting a list of fantasy scenarios conjured up by political journalists and junkies.  You know, things that sound cool but in fact make no sense.  This includes a politician who says what he really means, a live filibuster, and a brokered convention.  Personally, I'd add to this the idea of a truly nonpartisan leader who can lead a state to greatness because he's not wedded to a party.  Also, the idea of a Unity presidential ticket that finds the least exciting ideas of both political parties and pairs up people like Lowell Weicker and Dick Lamm to advance them.

Romanoff v. Bennet

I've seen no small amount of hand-wringing from Colorado Democrats lately about the terrible divisiveness of the Romanoff/Bennet contest and how it threatens to rip the party apart.  Please.  The party survived the Obama/Clinton division; it can certainly survive this.  The number of Colorado Democrats who passionately care about the outcome of this nomination right now could easily fit inside Magness Arena with room for a hockey game.  Besides, it really hasn't been that nasty.  Despite what the most committed of the candidates' partisans are saying, the candidates themselves have been remarkably civil to each other. The major debate they had was interesting and informative, and both came out looking bright and decent.

As we know, there are very few policy differences between the candidates.  Really, the major distinction between them at this point is a tactical one, based on Romanoff's refusal to accept PAC money.  (See his web ad.)  Personally, I don't care much about this issue.  There's little evidence that campaign donations actually change legislators' votes, no less actually corrupt politicians.  Nor is there much evidence that accepting or refusing PAC money will change the results of an election.  If Romanoff feels he gets some modest advantage from the clean government folks on this, fine, but it doesn't really make a difference to me.

Personally, I find both of these men intelligent and capable and would happily be represented by either of them.  I feel Bennet has done a fine job in the Senate over the past year.  I remain a Romanoff supporter for one simple reason: I think he stands a better chance of keeping the seat Democratic than Bennet does.  So far, only one poll has backed me up on this, but there are other reasons to believe this.  As the governor's race has shown, incumbents are having a tough time right now, and an "untainted" Democrat might have a better shot than one currently in office.  Romanoff has also won election four times (granted, in a Democratic-leaning district) and has been heavily involved in some statewide campaigns.  Bennet might do this stuff well but is much less of a known quantity here.

My guess is that Romanoff will do pretty well in the precinct caucuses two weeks from now and might even win the night.  That's a long way from winning the nomination, where I still think the odds favor Bennet, but it would still improve public perceptions of Romanoff's electability and will likely prolong the campaign until August.  Buckle up, y'all.

CoCo Tweets

Conan O'Brien has only posted six tweets since he launched his Twitter feed last week, but what he lacks in volume he makes up for in quality.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hamantash v. Latke


I participated in my first Latke-Hamantash Debate last night at the Buntport Theater in Denver.  I was one of four representatives for Team Hamantash, and I'm sorry to report that we lost on a very close audience vote, 43-41.  The competition was a ton of fun and very instructive.

Like most of my teammates, I played off the symbology of the triangular pastry.  My take was to liken it to the Holy Trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  While Kirk was the captain, he couldn't function properly without consulting with the passionate McCoy or the logical Spock.  The show consistently reminded us of the importance of balance.  I also mentioned the Realpolitik view of the "Star Trek" universe in which their are no permanent friends or enemies, just constantly shifting alliances.  I contrasted the Trek universe with the Manichean "Star Wars" one in which evil is ugly and good is pretty and there is no nuance.  I noted that the latke bears a resemblance to the Death Star.

From there, I pointed out the American trinity of the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches, noting the Madisonian ideals of checks and balances.  I contrasted this with the unitary theory of the executive propounded by the Bush administration, suggesting that the latke essentially represented George W. Bush.  If you believe in the need for nuance and balance, I offered, there really is only one choice.

Well, despite these efforts and some truly heroic histrionics by my teammates, we still lost.  I'm not sure how much actual persuasion occurred among the crowd, but one thing that stood out to me was that the latke team used our advantages against us.  We were the more technically advanced team -- most of us used Power Point with a laser pointer.  Team Latke, however, played up their Average Joe appeal by noting that their food consists of potatoes and oil, common working class fare.  They portrayed the hamantash as an elite pastry and our team as out of touch with the masses.  They turned us into John Kerry.  It was most impressive.

I think for next year, our strategy should be to immediately go negative on the potato.  We have to remove the positive connotations.  We should also maybe rebrand the hamantash as "poppy pockets" or something.