Ralph Northam’s Perfidy


State Sen. Ralph Northam (D) (VCU CNS)

Voters deserve what they voted for. State Senator Ralph Northam, New York’s “Independent Democratic Caucus”, and Washington’s “Majority Caucus Coalition” don’t seem to care. This morning, Ralph Northam reiterated his openness to “power sharing” with Republicans if a duly elected Democratic majority in the State Senate happens.

While the chattering class of activists, consultants, hacks and flacks that is likely reading this will often be astonished or frustrated by the whims of the electorate, the basic principle that voters deserve what they voted for is fundamental to our existence. Even if it’s not what we wanted, if the voters choose a Republican, the voters should get one. That’s why the very idea that Democrats might nominate State Senator Ralph Northam for Lieutenant Governor is even more galling than nominating an actual turncoat.

In case anyone has forgotten, Northam was minutes away from handing control of key Senate committees away from a duly elected Democratic majority over a judgeship spat. This alone was troubling enough, but it’s absolutely appalling that he would not only lie about what actually happened as if we didn’t have the internet, but he would also think about repeating this maneuver.

What Northam proposes is more sinister. He appears to suffer from the same self-delusions that afflicts “Democrats” in other upper chambers, like the New York State Senate and the Washington State Senate. In both states, voters elected a Democratic majority in the chamber, only to find that certain Democrats thought they knew better.


The New York State Capitol (joseph a)

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a party switcher. While many are opportunistic turncoats, I take a more pragmatic view if their voting record is honest. I don’t regret supporting the few that I have like State Senator Dave Marsden, who since his election has racked up a strong voting record for what was (pre-2011) a decidedly moderate seat. But I’d trust a party switcher who honestly faced the voters more than a “power sharing” weasel. This distinction wasn’t lost on Albert Watson or Phil Gramm, both of whom resigned their seats after leaving the Democratic party and faced their constituents as Republicans in special elections and won. While this move had the self-serving purpose of increasing the legitimacy of their party switch, the principle behind it still stands. Voters deserve what they voted for. A party switcher gives voters enough credit to decide for themselves which party they want.

In New York last December, five Democratic Senators formed an “Independent Democratic Coalition” which gave Republicans most of the power, while Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo impotently allowed it to happen, barely lifting a finger to ensure an actual Democratic majority.

That same month in Washington, two Democrats formed the “Majority Caucus Coalition. In response, Washington Democrats grew a backbone and blasted them for “gross disloyalty” and “perfidious behavior”, permanently barring them from accessing party resources and calling for their expulsion from the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Voters should trust that what they voted for is what they get, whether it is a Democrat or a Republican. They deserve more than being insulted by State Senators who think they know better.

This is not just an issue of tribal loyalty. Brazenly contravening the will of the voters by handing control of key committees to a party voters did not choose is perfidious treason that severely hampers the passage of a progressive budget or legislation. Regardless of Northam’s personal beliefs on women’s rights, the environment, voting reform, and education, a change in committee structures will be far more damaging than his votes would have helped.

The last time Ralph Northam tried to pull his power-sharing shenanigans, Democrats couldn’t afford to expel him and lose his seat. What Democrats can do is prevent him from being the standardbearer of a cheap party that has no self-respect. On June 11th, Virginia Democrats have a choice. Will they be New York, or Washington? Virginia Democrats should emulate Washington’s Democrats, and not Andrew Cuomo, and vote against Ralph Northam.

Crosspost: Blue Virginia


GIF: Mapping EW Jackson’s RPV Convention Victory

RPVConvention

The above map shows the winner of each city or county’s delegation from last month’s Republican Party of Virginia convention. A handful of counties and cities were combined into the same delegations, and that is reflected in the map.

If you haven’t heard of E.W. Jackson, this year’s Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor in Virginia, by now, you certainly will by Election Day. After muscling out six competitors in four ballots at last month’s Republican Party of Virginia convention in Richmond, Democrats immediately reacted with glee. Jackson is a melon-smashing, gay-bashing, segregation-defending right-wing Tea Partier who blurs the lines between the truth and satire. Like it or not though, he led every round of balloting at the RPV convention and held his ground as the chaotic opposition scrambled from candidate to candidate. One wonders how many exhausted delegates leaving an all-day marathon balloting session thought they’d rather have an instant-runoff primary.

The convention format is not kind to moderates. Only diehards would stomach the thought of traveling for hours (the farthest reaches of Southwest Virginia are over 6 hours away from Richmond) to spend all day in a convention hall. Bill Bolling and Tom Davis knew this when faced with a convention for higher statewide office, and Tom Davis’s wife Jeannemarie (no conservative slouch herself, but this is within a Republicans-only electorate here) learned the hard way this time around.

Official RPV results are here.


Section 60

Memorial Day is about war. I’m fortunate to have never seen war, like my parents or my grandparents’ generation. After they made it over here to the United States, peace was at hand. I have no war photos. I only have photos of war’s shadows.

“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.” -Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Section 60 is where the most recent fallen soldiers are laid to rest from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Once a year, Wreaths Across America comes through Arlington Cemetery ahead of Christmas.

I first started watching politics as the Iraq War was getting underway, and like a huge majority of Americans I trusted, though with a little unease, that the consensus was right. As a fifth grader I wasn’t terribly keen on the Bush Administration already, but it was hard to imagine stopping a war when the only world history you’ve witnessed was 9/11 and the smoldering crater in the Pentagon 15 minutes from you.This was my first lesson in politics: much like Warren Buffett’s famous investing advice, “be fearful when others are greedy.” Since then I’ve learned to never trust the patricians when they bang the drums of war. It turned into a catastrophe unknown since Vietnam, draining our nation’s blood and treasure.


This pickup game of badminton between two women in Saigon in 2009 is in no ordinary location. You’ve seen this fence before. But do these women remember? The Vietnam War still hangs over our elections today, but Vietnam’s population pyramid is so much younger that the war is a piece of history to most.


On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell as the North Vietnamese crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace. Vietnamese photographer Khánh Hmoong went to iconic sites all over Vietnam, superimposing the past over the present. How would you know if you had no visual reference, where are no plaques?


Unlike Vietnam, it’s obvious in World War II who shot first. You only win the wars you have to fight. In London’s Churchill War Rooms, where the British leadership was hunkered down, the war is reduced to a series of maps, thumbtacks on the wall. The Map Room told them where they were. Cartography cut through the fog of war.

Today, we honor those that never came back from defending our freedom. Tomorrow, we honor them by never having to go.


Senator Bolo Tie?

I heard today that Senator Max Baucus of Montana is retiring. Rumors are swirling that former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer might run. Why is this exciting? Aside from Virginia’s Tim Kaine, famous for his eyebrow, few Senators have a compelling visual that is instantly identifiable. Brian Schweitzer?


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Photo by Bob Brigham

He loves bolo ties.

So I pulled out by Kaine Eyebrow button for inspiration and using my buttonmaker, minted a certain bolo tie button for a possible candidacy. (I’m not the world’s greatest vector artist.)

buttons

If you’d like one (they’re 2 1/4″ and made in the USA), I’m hawking them for $2.49 each, 5 for $10, 10 for $15. They’re handcrafted with love by yours truly, a procrastinating grad student. Click below. (The one on the right isn’t for sale!)




Bolo Tie 2014 Buttons



Virginia Tech: How do you photograph who isn’t there anymore?

Today is the 6th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. I grew up in Virginia, and one of the victims, Leslie Sherman, graduated from my high school.

I also won’t forget one photo assignment I had as an intern on Greg Werkheiser’s campaign for Delegate in 2009, two years after the Virginia Tech shooting.

This is Joseph Samaha.


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He agreed to speak out for us and for his daughter, Reema Samaha, a Westfield High School graduate who was killed in the shooting. The mail firm needed a photo, ASAP, and the campaign sent the nearest half-decent photographer they could find. I hesitated at first. How on earth could I, some amateur hack with a camera, do it justice?

For my generation, it’s hard to imagine enduring events like this without social media. For all the jokes you could crack about the banality of Facebook, it was the only lifeline for us trying to find out if our Virginia Tech friends were alright. One by one, everyone I knew at Virginia Tech let us know through Facebook statuses that they were fine, as phone lines jammed and news helicopters circled the campus. You’d be hard pressed to find someone our age who didn’t know someone there.

The photos weren’t very good, but the presumably exasperated folks at Mission Control did use one in a piece calling for gun and mental health reform. I was a kid who hadn’t quite learned the art of good composition, like ensuring lamps weren’t sticking out of your subject’s head, but that’s not the point.


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Reema Samaha was gunned down at 18, exactly how old I was when I took these photos. She’s in the photo frame held by her father, in front of family photos both old and new. She was way too young to be on that shelf of family members who had passed on.

How do you photograph who isn’t there anymore?

I’m posting these photos today because the Samahas fight every day to make sure we haven’t forgotten. I try to play one part in helping to tell their story. Reema’s brother Omar is at the Virginia State Capitol today, fighting for the same reforms he has since 2007.


We haven’t forgotten. Let’s hope Congress and the Virginia General Assembly haven’t either.


How Top Two Primaries Will Crush Montana Grassroots (From Both Parties)

Top-two primaries might seem to be more open on the surface, but they are a corruption of the primary process that gives party bosses more control, not less control over who runs for office. They strongly incentivize reducing the number of candidates, which violates the entire purpose of opening up the nomination process.

Chaos in normally staid legislative chambers can often be caused by abrupt bills on election reform, like the video at right of the Montana State Senate pushing through SB 408, a top-two primary referendum earlier this month (or like this Taiwanese Legislative Yuan fistfight). Montana Republicans have been annoyed since Libertarian candidates spoiled Republican candidates for Governor and Senator last year, handing the offices to Democrats. This spoiler effect is an artifact of our first-past-the-post electoral system, where voting for a third party helps the candidate farthest ideologically from you.

Democrats in that chamber have plenty to be angry about, but if I were a Republican activist I’d be cranky too. Rather than fix the spoiler effect of third-party candidates with Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), they’re trying to adopt a top-two primary that concentrates power in state parties and provides even more powerful incentives to quash grassroots primary challenges from both parties. It’s already happened in Washington State, will soon happen in California, and will happen in Montana if top-two passes. Let the charts below explain why.

MTCA

A top-two primary combines candidates from all parties into a primary anyone can vote on and allows the top two (even if they’re of the same party) to proceed to the general election. Top two, in effect, solves the third party spoiler problem by introducing an intraparty spoiler problem. If too many candidates from one party run, they might split the vote so much that the other party wins the seats. A blanket primary which uses IRV would take the same candidate list and have voters rank them, eliminating the need for a second round, and crucially is unaffected by the number of candidates running on each side.

The partisan effect of the top-two system in Montana is caused entirely by the state’s unique political conditions: the Libertarians siphon off votes from the right without a corresponding effect on the left, and it is the partisan effect which receives the most attention. Since Libertarians are the most common spoilers in Montana, Republicans would benefit from a top-two primary, but there’s nothing inherent to the top-two primary that helps them, it’s an underlying condition.

The systemic effects, however, are neutral to the balance of power between the parties but have powerful impacts on the parties themselves. A top-two primary encourages both major parties to increase central control of candidate recruitment and stamp out intraparty challenges to avoid the clown car effect. Especially among the dominant party in a state (Democrats in Washington, Republicans in Montana) where more candidates might be inclined to run to begin with, this incredible incentive to centralize party control undermines the entire purpose of primaries, which was to take the candidate selection process out of the hands of party bosses and place it into the hands of voters.

It’s already been proven in Washington State, where Democratic Party chairman Dwight Pelz lamented that, “I, as party chairman, have to go and talk people into not participating, and I think that’s really unfortunate.” A 2012 paper by Gonzaga University’s John Beck and Kevin Henrickson uses a logit model of candidate counts in state legislative districts before and after the adoption of top-two and find that the number of Democratic candidates fell by 0.15 per seat, and that the probability that more than one Democrat would run fell by 8.6%. They did not find a similar result for Republican primaries, but speculate like I do that the dominant Democratic position in Washington State contributed to this. Fewer Republican incumbents can lead to fewer challengers.

California adopted top-two primaries in the same year they adopted radical non-partisan redistricting changes, scrambling the pro-incumbent impact of top-two. But as 2014 rolls around, you can bet that the state and national parties will be keen to quash as many primary challenges as they can to prevent the California 31st debacle from happening again. It’s cheaper to quash candidates from your ow party than to put up front candidates of the other party to try to achieve the same effect. Party activists at odds with their establishment have the most to lose. They already face the task of convincing a primary electorate that electability concerns don’t apply when nominating an activist, non-incumbent, or more ideological candidate, but with a top-two primary their very existence harms the electability of all candidates of their party.

What American voters need is a rational way to vote for a candidate that represents their interests, regardless of party or positioning within a party, without harming their own cause and handing offices to candidates they would’ve ranked last. Instant Runoff Voting, successfully used by Australia for years, does this and maximizes the voter’s choice. Top-two primaries, in contrast, are a half-assed solution that undermine the very purpose of primary elections with a deceptively open format on the surface that in reality grants even more power to state and national party insiders. Hopefully even the Republican grassroots will see what the problem is.


PHOTOS: Florida College Democrats Convention 2013

Florida College Democrats from all over the state came to the University of Florida in Gainesville to elect new officers, hear trainings, and schmooze.


Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
Gainesville City Councilman Thomas Hawkins.

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
Convention delegates at the Swamp.

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
Florida Democratic Party Deputy Communications Director Eric Conrad delivering a communications training.

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
UF College Democrats treasurer Will Mazotta and an FCD t-shirt.

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
Some of the crowd.

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
Michael Lucas on social media.

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
Questions and answers during Mike Lucas’s social media training.

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
FIU’s Natalee Toledo and James Hall hold an impromptu dance party.

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
USF laughs it up!

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
FCD President Elana McGovern spells “VAN”.

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013

Florida College Democrats Convention 2013
The Rick Kriseman campaign for mayor of Saint Petersburg recruiting interns.