I published my latest essay on another blog because of my position as Communications Chair for the Coconino County Democratic Party. You can read it here:
I attended a conference sponsored by the Arizona Clean Elections Commission and the Morrison Institute of Arizona State University on November 19, 2018, entitled Arizona’s Voter Crisis. Cronkite news reported on the event here, which was picked up by Flagstaff’s newspaper and published November 21 here. Perhaps it’s hard to understand the concern about a “voter crisis,” much less an entire conference devoted to the topic, especially after a midterm election with record turnout. Frankly, it’s harder for me to tolerate “experts” bewailing a crisis without a serious plan to address it — or even a plan to get to a plan. It’s like sending “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting. Nice, but get your expressions of sympathy ready because more mass shootings are surely coming down the pike if that’s all we can muster.
Activists and voters should pat themselves on the back about this past election. Several Arizona counties set new records, including our own, Coconino County, with 67.2% of registered voters voting. The State voter turnout clocked over the finish line at 64.85%. Sounds pretty good until one realizes that half of the adults over age 18 are not registered. That brings us down to a one-third voter-engagement rate. Furthermore, we’ve seen turnout at these levels in the past — notably 1982 — only to have voters back away from civic engagement in subsequent elections.
This state of affairs is only a crisis, of course, if one considers voting participation important. I do. We call ourselves a democracy after all. Furthermore, while some see political competition as a dirty business that breeds discord, I see it as a means to resolve our differences in a (relatively) peaceful manner. If too many people lose confidence in our political system as a means to resolve differences in how to govern ourselves, the alternative becomes warfare. So, let’s proceed with the notion that increased eligible voter participation is desirable. (I’ll come back to this later.)
I want to share some notes I took at the conference of comments by the academics and other luminaries on panels and podiums. These don’t have much to do with the topic of the conference, but they are interesting observations on the 2018 Election.
- Campaigns matter. When margins are this close, outcomes are determined by thoughtful voters.
- The rural/urban split in Arizona was more evident in this election than ever before.
- Women were the wave.
- The top-level ticket-splitting was surprising (in its magnitude)
- People were very engaged over Prop 305 because people love their school districts. People move for good school districts and this has implications for the legislative district maps which Republicans in the legislature should pay attention to as they go forward with school funding issues. Some “safe” Republican districts with good schools aren’t going to be so safe for Republicans anymore if they keep up what they have been doing.
- Republicans turn in ballots early; Democrats turn them in later.
- Millennials increased their turnout substantially
- Turnout was not surprising given the amount of money spent on turnout — text messaging and social media ads played a big role
- The mayoral race in Phoenix may have bumped turnout in Maricopa County
- Latinxs like to hold onto their ballots — thanks to Maricopa County for the extra days for “emergency” voting
- Hobbs and Hoffman won in the face of overwhelming expenditures for their opponents due to unprecedented groundwork and social media campaigning
- Typically, the big money in Arizona midterms is for ballot propositions. This time candidate campaigns may have overshadowed the ballot propositions. [Author note: Because statewide Democratic candidates actually had a chance this time!]
- Prop 305 was a true grassroots movement. [This came up several times — the pros seemed a bit stunned by this.]
- The biggest complaint coming into the Secretary of State’s office about disenfranchisement is from voters who moved and didn’t check the box to change their voter registration address when they changed their address with the Department of Motor Vehicles. They show up at the polls and find they are not registered — or realize it after the voter registration deadline. [This is a simple administrative fix, which Katie Hobbs is committed to doing.]
- Nationally, there was a big surge in Independents turning out — larger than the surge of either Rs or Ds. In 2008-2015, Independents voted for disruption. In 2018, they said this is enough disruption.
- “We live in Newt Gingrich’s world. Policy is impossible, politicians’ decisions are all about retaining power.”
- “Emotion drives turnout.”
- “Polarization makes me sad.”
Was there a blue wave?
Panelists in the afternoon were asked “Was there a Blue Wave?” Responses:
- A journalist from the Weekly Standard: “I can’t see anything other than a negative vote on Trump.” Democrats didn’t gain as much power as “some” would require to call it a wave election [ever hear of gerrymandering?]; “but it’s clear there was an opinion wave.”
- Washington Post reporter: “Definitely, it was not a red wave.”
- Independent Voter expert: “It was a wave of women making a difference.”
- ASU Dean: “‘Wave’ implies a seismic shift. This may be a particular reaction — a desire to impose a check — rather than a ‘wave.'”
Can We Please Address the Crisis?
Like so many academic conferences, the bulk of the time was spent defining the crisis with very little time spent on practical solutions. Worse, the conference leaders seemed determined to obscure an important point from their own data in order to avoid controversial solutions. By controversial, I mean here solutions Republicans in the Arizona Legislature won’t like.
In July, the Morrison Institute, with funding from the Clean Elections Commission, issued a report on the crisis and traveled about the state presenting its findings. You can read the full report, as slightly revised post-November 6, here. The July report inspired another publication, which was designed to address the sub-crisis of low turnout in primary elections. This report, entitled Arizona Primary Elections: Primarily Forgotten, is worth the read and can be found here.
What’s the Morrison Institute’s final conclusion for addressing Arizona’s Voter Crisis? “Education is the key.” (July Report, p. 24) My reaction: Really?
The ASU/Morrison Institute folks ignored one striking bit of original research based on their poll of Arizona voters, likely because it didn’t fit comfortably with the thesis they began with, which is that if only Arizona non-voters had access to more civics education, more of them would vote. But the key bit of information that belies that thesis is that 28% of those who say they didn’t vote in the 2016 General Election gave as their primary reason “No time/too busy.” (Table 7, p. 22 of the July Report.) If people say they are too busy to vote, surely they are too busy to receive further information via civics classes?
When asked about improving access to voting by such means as opening the polls on the weekend before Election Day, same-day voter registration, and declaring Election Day a holiday, one panelist remarked that “it’s already so easy to vote in Arizona that those actions are unlikely to increase participation.” Another panelist, Garret Archer, did concede that allowing automatic voter registration updates through the Motor Vehicles Department when registered voters move would help. Another panelist Neil Giuliano, president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Leadership, said: “Being politically realistic, voter registration reform issues don’t happen very often in red states.” (Cronkite News)
But Arizona is no longer a red state. With Democrats sweeping four statewide races and holding a majority of the nine Congressional seats, Arizona is at least purple. The more voter participation we have, the bluer we’ll get. Which is why Republicans resist voting reforms while giving lip service to improving voter engagement. That was the elephant in the room at this conference and it’s an issue that needs to be brought out of the closet in future elections. We don’t control the legislature yet, but one way to remain in that condition is to be shy about solving real problems.
Imagine campaigns confronting people who say they don’t have time to vote by laying the blame where it belongs? Would you vote if you could on the Sunday before Election Day? Would you like to vote now if you could walk into the polls on Tuesday even though you forgot to register a month ago? How would you like Election Day to be a holiday? “I’m in favor of all those reforms,” the candidate would say. “My opponent is not. If that makes you mad, go out of your way on Tuesday and vote to fix it by electing me.”
In Coconino County, our local Democratic Party tried a variety of things to make voting easier. Before the primary, we talked to voters about what the primary means and let them know that Independents could vote in Arizona primary elections and were welcome to vote in the Democratic Primary. We offered a colorful brochure highlighting candidates running as Democrats and our values. After the primary, we continued the effort begun in 2017 to find and register new voters. We did an unprecedented outreach effort to Navajo voters. We told voters about early voting — by mail and in person. We publicized Vote Centers and their advantages. We publicized childcare and ride-to-the-poll options. We created a sample ballot which voters were excited to receive. We incorporated all of these things into our canvassing efforts so that we were not simply surveying for candidates but making voting easier. We sponsored events on issues that mattered to voters and endorsed propositions, explaining why we were for things that mattered to voters. The result — record turnout in the county, not only in the percentage of registered voters who voted but also in the number of people who voted.
The ASU Dean noted that emotion drives turnout. Indeed, if voters see a connection between voting and their daily lives, they care and they vote. Thus, healthcare was a driving force in the 2018 Election. Education funding drove teachers and parents to the polls. Gun violence drove Millennials to the polls — in record numbers. The panelists at this event discounted these issues, seeing turnout as higher merely in reaction to a vague sense of “discord and turmoil” in our nation or — to the extent they dared mention him — reaction to Trump. One panelist asked if anyone in the room thought that voter turnout had anything to do with a message put out by the Democrats as opposed to the disruption created by Trump and challenged anyone to say what that message was — obviously expecting silence. Several shouted out “healthcare,” but that didn’t fit with the theme of the day — which was that voters are uneducated. On the contrary, I think adults are plenty educated about the issues that matter in their daily lives. It’s just hard to get to the polls for many of them. We can fix that.
Outraged by Helsinki? Please be equally outraged by what has happened this weekend with the Carter Page FISA warrants. And spread the word.
Here’s the threat: “If you repeat a falsehood enough times, many people will believe it. Especially if you have 53.2 million Twitter followers, the bully pulpit of the presidency and some media outlets that uncritically repeat your false claims.” WAPO 202 And, if you control the timing of the release of important information, people will miss its significance.
The government chose this last Saturday afternoon as the moment to release 412 pages of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants related to FBI surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign operative who was under suspicion by the FBI of being engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities” on behalf of Russia. After the Saturday release, Trump then spent Sunday and much of this morning tweeting falsehoods about the information. Congressional Republicans are also tweeting and releasing statements condemning the redactions in the released warrants.
(The FISA documents were released pursuant to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by media outlets as early as April 2017.)
Background: The controversy about these FISA applications first arose in February when House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R) released a memo claiming that the FBI misled the FISA Court about Christopher Steele, the former British secret agent who compiled the “dossier” on Trump-Russia ties and who was a source of information in the FISA applications on Page. The main complaint in the Nunes memo was that FBI whitewashed Steele—that the FISA applications did not “disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior and FBI officials.” Nunes later admitted that he had never read the FISA applications himself.
What’s Happening Now: The government’s Saturday release included redacted copies of the initial warrant application from October 2016 and three 90-day extensions of the warrant that were approved by judges under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They clearly disprove the February Nunes’ memo and support the Democrats counter memo released shortly after Nunes’ release. The Saturday disclosures show that the FBI was developing evidence from its surveillance of Carter Page. The redactions are likely to protect valuable sources and methods — calling for their release is irresponsible and unpatriotic.
Fact: FISA warrants require judicial review every 90 days. This warrant was renewed three times by a panel of four judges appointed by Republican presidents (Reagan, Bush I and Bush II). The length of the warrant applications increased each time as the Justice Department revealed to these judges the information the FBI was getting as a result of the warrant.
Fact: The Nunes memo accused the FBI of dishonesty in failing to disclose information about Christopher Steele — one of the sources named in the warrant, but the Nunes memo itself was dishonest in failing to disclose what the Justice Department disclosed to the FISA court. With the Saturday disclosures, the Nunes memo looks even worse in its mischaracterization of the FBI/Justice Department applications. (Read more in the sources cited below.)
Fact: Trump and other Republicans outcry about the redactions in Saturday’s release is part of their continuing attempt at a coverup.
The Bigger Picture: There is an intense effort to turn standard law enforcement practices into scandalous controversies for the purpose of undermining the Russia espionage investigations.
The “new normal” of American politics is not normal. A week after the 2016 Election, Amy Siskind started The Weekly List – a blog that documents news stories representing eroding norms under the current regime. Now, she’s published the first year of the lists in a book dedicated to “The Resistance.”
The book comes with a forward by Sarah Kendzior, which is worth reading as a stand-alone reminder of the importance of what we do. She writes: “Throughout 2017, the Trump Administration unleashed a firehose of falsehoods designed to prompt Americans to frantically search for the truth, in the hope that they would ultimately stop valuing it…. What is the point of speaking truth to power, citizens would ultimately wonder, if power is the only truth.”
As Kendzior says. “The List is an antidote to the firehose effect of nonstop scandal as well as the gaslighting carried out by the purveyors of alternate facts — and as such it stands as a unique challenge to aspiring autocrats.”
Kudos to Kate Harding for her Op-Ed in the Washington Post today. Having been the senior woman at a large law firm for 15 years (thankfully, there were one or two more senior during my first 5 there), I got stuck on the firm’s original Sexual Harassment Committee. That service was not pretty. And, of course, #MeToo. But, I’m also outraged and afraid about other things in these troubled times.
Harding’s article pretty much captures my take on how we should move forward. I recommend you read the entire article, but I’m excerpting the parts that felt most salient to me. The parentheticals to the author’s text are what I would have said were I writing it:
“If you understand what it means to be a Democrat today — that is, why it makes sense to vote blue over red in this highly polarized political environment — you can understand why it might not make the most sense to demand Franken’s resignation, effective immediately.
“I am a Democrat [in part] because I am a feminist who lives under a two-party system, where one party consistently votes against the interests of women while the other sometimes does not…. I am a realist who recognizes that we get two viable choices, and Democrats are members of the only party positioned to pump the brakes on Republicans’ gleeful race toward Atwoodian dystopia. [And, of course, oligarchy, white supremacy, and the Christian version of an Islamic State.] Meanwhile, I recognize that men’s harassment of and violence against women is a systemic issue, not a Democrat or Republican problem….Its roots lie in a patriarchal culture that trains men to believe they are entitled to control women’s bodies —for sex, for sport, for childbearing, for comedy.
“When you combine these things — an awareness that the Democratic Party is no more or less than best of two, and an understanding that men in power frequently exploit women — it becomes difficult to believe that Franken is the only sitting Democrat with a history of harassment, abuse or assault.
“Sexual harassment and assault are simply too widespread for Democrats to respond to Franken’s offense with only Franken [or some other predator Democrats from the past] in mind: We need to respond in a way that helps us develop a protocol for meaningful change.
“It would feel good, momentarily, to see Franken resign and the Democratic governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, appoint a senator who has not (as far as we know) harmed women. If I believed for one second that Franken is the only Democrat in the Senate who has done something like this, I would see that as the best and most appropriate option. But in the world we actually live in, I’m betting that there will be more. And more after that. And they won’t all come from states with Democratic governors and a deep bench of progressive replacements. Some will, if ousted, have their successors chosen by Republicans.
“In other words, if we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.
“‘Isn’t that hypocritical?’ I hear you asking, ‘Because Republicans won’t do the right thing, we shouldn’t, either?’ But if the short-term ‘right thing’ leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the ‘right thing.’ I am in no way suggesting that we decline to hold Franken accountable for his offenses — only that we think in terms of consequences that might actually improve women’s lives going forward.
“But in a sharply divided political climate where toxic masculinity knows no party, yet is only ever acknowledged by one, we must think about how to minimize harm to women. One more empty apology and resignation, one more head on a pike, will not make American women safer or better off. Powerful men lifting up women’s concerns and supporting progressive women candidates, however, could be a real step toward changing the culture that makes victims of so many of us.”
Harding goes on to lay out a plan — a sort of plea to Senator Franken. I hope he takes her up on it.
It’s worth noting another thoughtful piece, this from Michele Goldberg in The New York Times on November 20. Goldberg takes a much more “on the one hand, then the other” approach. I excerpt only the one hand that I agree with:
“Feminists, enraged and traumatized by Donald Trump’s election, know they can’t expect accountability from Republicans, but they’ve forced it from people who claim to share their ideals. As a result, it sometimes feels as if liberal institutions are devouring themselves over sex while conservatives, unburdened by the pretense of caring about gender equality, blithely continue their misrule.
“It’s possible that feminists, in trying to hold Democrats to standards that they
wish were universal, risk unilateral disarmament.
“It’s a strange political fiction that anyone can really separate partisanship from principle. In general, the character of the party that controls the government has a much greater impact on people’s lives than the character of individual representatives. Those who care about women’s rights shouldn’t be expected to prove it by being willing to hand power to people devoted to taking those rights away.”
It’s pretty clear that Republicans are not separating partisanship from principle: A new Quinnipiac University poll suggests that sexual harassment is less of a dealbreaker for the party’s grassroots in the Trump era than it was before.
- By a 63 percent to 29 percent margin, GOP voters say they would oppose trying to remove Trump from office even if the multiple sexual harassment allegations against him were proven true.
- Half of Republican voters nationally believe GOP senators should let Roy Moore serve in the Senate if he is elected next month.
- 43 percent of Republicans say they would “still consider voting” for a candidate who faced multiple sexual harassment allegations, so long as they agreed with them on the issues.
- In contrast, 81 percent of Democrats said they would definitely not vote for such a candidate, as did 61 percent of independent voters. Perhaps we should cautiously assess the wisdom of that 81% in light of the earlier bullet points.
Earlier this month, Mueller filed a charge against George Papadopoulos, foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos pled guilty. Read it here:
Today, the indictment against Manafort and his associate Gates was unveiled. Read it here:
“There can be no real democracy unless there are three basic things: 1. Economic security sufficient to give at least some minimum to make living worthwhile. 2. Sufficient education to understand the problems before the country and to help solve them. 3. The sources of information must be free — press, radio, movies.”
To remain free, “we have to watch other factors…such as bankers, subscribers (by which she meant donors), and advertisers. They have to be watched by the people as carefully as government is watched.”
As reported in the 3d volume of Blanche Wiesen Cook’s Eleanor Roosevelt biography.