Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Locals Are Speaking?

The Locals Are Speaking?

One of the truly wonderful things about a democracy is that we actually get to choose our leaders.  That doesn’t mean we make good choices (Churchill once said “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”) but at least we make them our choices.

Well, that’s the theory, at least.  In the New York City primary last week, roughly 650,000 Democrats voted for Mayor.  That is better than the 57,000 Republicans that ached to pull the lever (and a higher percentage of registered voters) but those numbers are absolutely abysmal. In a couple of months, Bill de Blasio, winner of a bit more than 260,000 votes, will face off against, and has a very good chance of losing to, Joe Lhota.  Mr. Lhota received all of 29,807 votes. 

29,807 votes to choose the Mayor of more than 8 million people?  Perhaps Lhota will pick up more in absentee and provisional ballots, but if he maintains the same ratio (less than one in twenty primary voters selected him) and assuming there are approximately 10,000 votes outstanding, Joe might gain 500 more, which would take him to 30,207.  Approximately.

Breathtaking, isn’t it? 

In the meantime, the moderately Blue state of Colorado held a recall election, at the behest of the NRA and gun manufacturers, and picked off two Colorado State Senators, Senate President John Morse (Colorado Springs) and state Sen. Angela Giron (Pueblo).  Morse and Giron’s sin was supporting a bill with background checks.  Morse lost by about 300 votes out of about 18,000 cast.  There are nearly 70,000 active voters in his district; about a quarter of them cared enough to show up.  Message to anyone, anywhere, who dares mess with the gun lobby—don’t.   They come out shooting, and they have plenty of ammunition.  Checking public sentiment won’t help you.  82% of Coloradans support background checks, but when you look at the passion quotient, the people who see ownership of an arsenal as the highest Constitutional right have you beat.  82% is a meaningless number if they aren’t willing to speak and go to the polls.  For Morse and Giron, they weren’t.

There are two other interesting elections for the locals that are teed up for 2013; the New Jersey and Virginia Gubernatorial races.

In New Jersey, Chris Christie holds both a big lead and a bigger microphone. His reelection seems a forgone conclusion (a recent poll shows a 20 point margin), and yet this race could have large national implications, because Chris Christie wants to be seen as Presidential timber.  That makes his campaign channel a BCS football team, and feel an overwhelming compulsion to run up the score.  Christie needs to make a statement; he can win big in a Blue State, and so therefor should be taken seriously as a Conservative with crossover appeal.  Everything should be going perfectly for him; he is his own reality show, and his opponent, State Senator Mary Buono, is neither terribly well known nor particularly popular.  And yet, his campaign is running a particularly harsh negative ad.  Why?  That’s hard to say.  Kirsten Gillibrand showed last year that popularity means you could win big without messing your halo. Yet the Christie pugnacity is in full display, which this tells you one of three things; either he is seeing something in internal polling that worries him, he can’t control himself, or (more probably) he needs to show his Conservative Cred by kneecapping his competition. 

As to kneecaps (and elbows, ears, eyes and any other part of the anatomy that can be smacked, gouged or bitten) Virginia is already turning into a mixed martial arts contest. Start with the fact that neither the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, nor the Republican, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, is at all personally popular.  McAuliffe is known primarily as a party operative, sharp (not necessarily in the right way) businessman, and Clinton crony.  And Cuccinelli, is, well, Cuccinelli, a hard-nosed hard-right conservative who has used his office and Commonwealth resources to pursue a purely personal and ideological agenda (among other things, he investigated the University of Virginia for the appalling act of having Michael Mann, an Assistant Professor and climate change researcher on its payroll.)

There is an interesting story by James Hohman in Politico that cites several reasons why McAuliffe is leading right now. One is a growing disconnect between the GOP party operation and many moderate to moderately conservative Virginia Republicans.  Popular Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling was essentially forced out of the GOP primary after the state apparatus changed its nominating procedure to ensure a Cuccinelli nomination.  When Bolling (and others like him) complained, they were dismissed as RINOS.  A second is more curious; Cuccinelli has avoided campaigning in Northern Virginia, which is more moderate and trending Blue.  He’s just not comfortable there, and clearly sees his mission, if elected, to represent only those who agree with him.

It is too early to tell how Virginia will go, particularly because no one loves McAuliffe, but Cuccinelli, with his allergy to any venue or medium that doesn’t immediately “ditto” him, is demonstrating anew that some Republicans are unable to communicate unless they are amongst friends.   For them, everything is a primary.

And therein lies the horrible paradox of contemporary politics. The middle (and “middle” is a relative term, “middle” Kansas is not “middle” Manhattan) wants good government, low crime, economic opportunity, decent schools, and a level playing field.  It doesn’t care so much whether you tie a Republican or Democratic label on it, and it is willing to tolerate a diversity of views on a number of hot-button issues. But the middle isn’t being given a chance to choose, or, perhaps more accurately, is not exerting itself to choose.  Good people, thoughtful people, are turning away from government and public service.  They just don’t want to be slimed.  The primaries have become killing fields for competence and a willingness to work together for the common good.

Where does that leave us?  Sometime with ideologues and kooks (if you want to see a truly cringe-worthy fifteen minutes, check out the joint presser Michelle Bachmann, Louis Gohmert and Steve King held in Egypt—Jon Stewart had fun with it, but watch it all.)  But more often with retreads, people unable to be innovative, people who lack the vision to build and improve on what others have done. 

After the New York City primary results were in, and the winners obvious, a friend emailed me the following: “de Blasio vs. Lhota?  Is that really the best New York City can do?  How disappointing.”

Well, approximately 15% of the New York City electorate just said yes. 

Ouch.  I wonder if Churchill is still around?