Tag: post-mortem

Democratic Party of Wisconsin officials release the party’s own autopsy

A 22-member Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) committee, led by DPW Second Vice-Chairman Jeff Christensen, released its own internal report on the 2014 midterm elections in Wisconsin yesterday. You can read the full report here; it’s a 14-page PDF file.

According to the DPW Administrative Committee, here’s what I’ve interpreted as being the main points in the report:

  • Since 1990, Wisconsin has become an extremely polarized state, with a very strong two-party system and the top-of-the-ticket race in November general elections in Wisconsin having a huge impact on downballot races.
  • The DPW should provide more support to candidates in officially non-partisan local elections in order to build a bench of Democratic candidates for state legislative and statewide elections.
  • The DPW shouldn’t meddle in contested primaries unless it has a very good reason to do so (such as scenarios involving known Republicans/conservatives running in a Democratic primary or a candidate who is clearly unfit for public office running in a Democratic primary).
  • The DPW leadership should explain its proper role in the political process and management of the party more effectively.
  • The Republicans’ message in Wisconsin is to effectively paint the Democrats as the “party of government”, even if Democrats aren’t in power.
  • Democrats should rebut the Republicans’ talking points more effectively.
  • Democrats in Wisconsin have focused too much on attacking Scott Walker and not enough on promoting a positive message of any kind.
  • To use terminology that was used in the report, Democrats in Wisconsin have “played nice in the sandbox”, leading to Democratic candidates who are too defensive.
  • While Democrats should focus heavily on tailoring a positive message to rural voters, both rural and urban voters in Wisconsin regard education, infrastructure, and jobs as three important issues.
  • Election fatigue is becoming a major problem among Democratic activists/volunteers in Wisconsin.
  • In regards to the DPW’s field operations, the DPW should find various ways to optimize voter turnout.
  • Three programs created as part of the “72-county strategy”, regional field organizers, Spring Forward (support for known Democrats running in officially non-partisan local elections in Wisconsin), and Red-to-Blue (support for Democratic state legislative candidates in Republican-leaning or heavily-Republican areas of Wisconsin) should be expanded.
  • The most important point of the report is that “the path to a new progressive era (in Wisconsin) is entirely possible”.

While some of these points are specific to Wisconsin, some of the points also apply to state-level Democratic parties in other states as well.

The report strongly suggested that the DPW should run statewide candidates who can run on a positive, progressive message, as well as relate to both urban and rural voters. However, the report didn’t suggest any potential statewide candidates for future elections in Wisconsin, and there aren’t that many Democrats in Wisconsin who could pull off such a campaign. Lori Compas, who was the recall organizer and Democratic candidate in the 2012 recall attempt against Republican State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, is the first person that comes to mind for me. However, I don’t think that Compas is interested in running for public office again at all. The second person who comes to my mind is Kathleen Vinehout, a state senator from the west-central part of Wisconsin who was the third-place candidate in the 2012 Democratic primary in the gubernatorial recall election. Vinehout nearly ran for governor last year, but injuries sustained in an automobile crash prevented her from running for governor. There’s probably a few others out there as well.

Additionally, while the DPW’s report didn’t touch on any of these points at all, I do have several suggestions of my own:

  • Democrats in Wisconsin should run against income inequality, preferably by using “1% vs. 99%” messaging and supporting ideals such as raising taxes on the wealthy and ending tax breaks and other forms of corporate welfare for businesses.
  • Democrats in Wisconsin should run on progressive ideas and values, and, even more importantly, they should explain how progressive policies would benefit all or the vast majority of people.
  • Democrats in Wisconsin should stop speaking favorably of Republicans, as well as stop ignoring and criticizing progressives.
  • Democrats in Wisconsin should emphasize restoring local control to counties and municipalities over issues that are best dealt with at the local level.
  • Progressive-minded Democrats in Wisconsin should, as much as possible, distance themselves from fellow Democrats who are opposed to progressive ideals and values on many issues, most notably Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.
  • Democrats in Wisconsin, should, if possible, use the own words of Republican elected officials and candidates against them.

One thing is clear from the DPW’s autopsy: The DPW, in its current state, is one of the weakest state-level Democratic Party organizations in the entire country. A Second Progressive Era in Wisconsin is certainly obtainable, although it’s going to require progressives to hold the DPW leadership accountable to many of the points they made in their own report on the 2014 elections, as well as require Democrats to run progressive candidates who can appeal to a wide coalition of voters.

My two pence about the British elections

In the 2015 United Kingdom elections for seats in the 650-member British House of Commons, which holds nearly all of the governing power at the national level in the UK, were held yesterday. Here’s my two pence (in the UK, the British pound, the national currency, is divided into 100 pence) about what transpired last night across the pond from my home country of the United States.

First-past-the-post elections are ridiculously unfair

If there was ever a¬†textbook example of how first-past-the-post elections can result in wildly disproportional results, the 2015 British elections would be it. The Conservatives, led by right-wing Prime Minister David Cameron, won an outright majority of seats in Parliament with only about 37% of the national popular vote. Another party that benefited greatly from first-past-the-post is the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), a left-wing Scottish separatist party. Despite winning less than 5% of the national popular vote, the SNP won all but three of Scotland’s 59 seats in Parliament, or 56 seats, 8.6% of all seats, entirely because they only contested the Scottish seats for obvious reasons. Even though the left-leaning Labour, led by Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband going into last night’s election, collapsed in this election for reasons I’ll explain below, Labour won 232 seats, or not quite 36% of the seats in Parliament, with only slightly over 30% of the national popular vote, thus not collapsing quite as much as their popular vote total would suggest. Three parties that were screwed over by the first-past-the-post system were the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP), the left-wing Green Party of England and Wales (Greens), and the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems), who partnered with the Tories in the previous governing coalition. The UKIP received 12.6% of the national popular vote, the Greens received 3.8% of the total vote, and the Lib Dems received 7.9% of the total vote. Despite that, the UKIP and Greens won a single seat each, and the Lib Dems won eight seats, or 1.2% of all seats. To give you a general idea of how disproportional this is, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a right-wing unionist party in Northern Ireland that contested 16 of the 18 Northern Irish seats, will have the same number of MPs as the Lib Dems despite the Lib Dems getting over 2.2 million votes more than the DUP, and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), a party which contested 15 Northern Irish seats and is similar to, and in an electoral pact with, the DUP, will have the same number of seats as the UKIP and the Greens combined, despite the fact that the UKIP and the Greens combined received over 16% of the total vote and the UUP received less than 0.5% of the total vote.

This is mostly due to three factors: First, in many constituencies, no candidate received a majority of the vote. When that happens in a British parliamentary constituency, the candidate with a plurality of votes is elected to the Commons. Second, the UKIP and the Greens received a significant minority of the popular vote nationwide, but, because their votes were largely spread out over the constituencies they contested, they only won a single seat each because they only got the most votes in a single constituency. Third, the SNP, the Northern Irish parties, and the left-wing Welsh separatist party Plaid Cymru only contested seats in one of the four British constituent countries and received a significant share of the vote in the constituent country they contested seats in.

There are several ways that Britain can make its electoral system more representative of the British populace. One idea would be to maintain first-past-the-post as a core system of election, but, if the first-past-the-post result is not proportional, a variable amount of leveling seats would be added to Parliament, so that parties end up having a number of seats that are proportional to their national popular vote share. How this system would work is, if the first-past the post result for 650 seats is not proportional, a calculation for a 651-seat House of Commons, with all seats not won by an independent candidate being allocated to each political party in proportion to their national vote share, is conducted. Should the 651-seat Commons calculation yield a result in which one or more parties end up with fewer seats than the number of seats they won under first-past-the-post, similar calculations are done for a 652-seat Commons, a 653-seat Commons, a 654-seat Commons, and so on, until each political party has at least as many seats as they won by first-past-the-post, and each political party has a number of seats that is proportional to their national vote share. Another idea would be to implement instant-runoff voting, in which voters are allowed to give multiple preferences for who they want to represent them in the Commons, but maintain constituencies electing a single member to Parliament. Yet another idea would be to implement single non-transferable vote, where voters would have only a single vote as they currently do, but Members of Parliament (MPs) would be elected from multi-member constituencies, with the top n candidates, in which n is the number of seats to be filled in each constituency, winning seats in the Commons. Other ideas involving multi-member constituencies include multi-member instant-runoff voting (basically a combination of instant-runoff voting and multi-member constituencies), single-transferable vote (a preferential system that is used in some multi-member constituency systems around the world), and the party-list system (where voters are given a single vote in a multi-member constituency, and seats are allocated to political parties in proportion to the number of votes each party receives in a constituency).

One thing I do like about Britain’s parliamentary elections is that each constituency reports all of its votes at once, and the candidates in each constituency are standing on the same stage as the results are announced. This is vastly different than how American and Canadian election results are announced, in which each polling place usually reports results individually, with media outlets making projections in election night coverage based on the polling place results and final results being officially reported weeks, if not months, after the date of the election, with candidates not being present for the announcement of official results.

Labour’s anti-Scotland rhetoric cost them any chance of forming a government

During the campaign, Labour, which will, once again, be the main opposition party in the Commons, spent most of their campaign railing against Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP, and Scotland as a whole. This cost Labour a large number of constituencies in Scotland that, prior to yesterday’s elections, were longtime Labour strongholds, and probably helped to give the Greens gain a sizable share of the popular vote that may have helped the Tories win some seats in England. Had Labour ran on increased devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, they might have held on to a lot of their seats in Scotland and may have prevented the Tories from getting a majority by themselves. Instead, the Tories have an outright majority in the Commons, and Nicola Sturegon is effectively the voice of the Scottish people in Parliament.

For Labour to go back to Tony Blair-type centrist leadership would likely put Labour in an even worse position politically than they currently are for three reasons: One, they’d gain virtually nothing in Scotland, unless the SNP alienates some voters who supported them last night. Two, they’d give the Greens a even larger base of support among current left-wing Labour supporters who would be alienated by another Blair-type leader at the helm of Labour. Three, they wouldn’t gain enough from the Tories, who benefit heavily due to right-wing media bias from both the public media and the corporate media in the UK, the SNP, and possibly other parties to make up for any losses to the Greens and possibly other parties.

For Labour to at least have a chance at getting back in power, they would need to win back their former Scottish strongholds that went SNP last night by supporting increased devolution to Scotland, and they would need to win over voters they lost to the Greens by adopting and supporting a progressive, isolationist platform.

An Autopsy of the Democratic Party

Since being re-elected in 2012, President Barack Obama has declared war on Social Security by threatening to cut benefits, has presided over a Bush-Obama surveillance state that has violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the American people, refused to issue an executive order on immigration, and has spent more time trying to compromise with far-right Republicans that are completely unwilling to compromise with anybody.

Then throw in Democratic U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and gubernatorial candidates who have run awful campaigns, antagonized progressives, and have flatly refused to fight for anything, and we now have a Democratic Party that is, for all intents and purposes, effectively dead. Republicans are going to gain upwards of two dozen seats in the U.S. House, take control of the U.S. Senate, and score a net gain of state governorships. Even in states like Illinois, Michigan, and Maryland, which are usually thought of as Democratic strongholds, Republican candidates won gubernatorial races in each of those states.

Although reasons for Democratic losses vary widely by race to race, the #1 reason why the Democratic Party has been handed massive defeats tonight is the party leadership effectively treating progressives as if they don’t exist, even though they are the core of support for the party. Democratic governors, U.S. Representatives, U.S. Senators, and candidates for those offices have, among other things supported fracking, pension theft, free trade agreements, privatizing public education, the Keystone XL pipeline, tax breaks for businesses, and Republican witchhunts against Democrats, as well as opposed environmental regulations, common-sense gun control measures like background checks, and even health insurance for millions of Americans. In many states/areas of the country, progressive ideals like raising the minimum wage, protecting reproductive rights, legalizing marijuana, and expanding Medicaid got significantly more votes in many parts of the country than most or all Democratic candidates did in those states/areas, indicating that there are people who are politically left-wing but, for whatever reason, vote for Republican candidates.

Pat Quinn, who lost re-election in the Illinois gubernatorial race, is probably the single-best example of someone who has alienated nearly every political ally and lost re-election because of it. In the past four years, Quinn gave out special tax breaks to two of the largest corporations in Illinois (Sears and CME Group), gerrymandered Illinois’s congressional and state legislative districts, opened up Illinois to fracking, and enacted a pension theft scheme that was partially struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court. Additionally, Quinn picking Paul Vallas, a supporter of Michelle Rhee’s anti-public education ideology, further alienated progressives, making his problems with Illinois progressives even worse. Because of all of that, Illinois will have a far-right Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, who wants to run Illinois like his venture capital company that did more to destroy jobs than create jobs, screw the poor in every way possible, and destroy the public education system in Illinois.

However, Democrats alienating progressives wasn’t the only reason why Democrats lost big time in this year’s midterm elections. The gutlessness of many Democratic candidates was one reason why Democrats lost big time. One of the best examples of this is Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic opponent to presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. During her Senate campaign, Grimes largely distanced herself from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), whose Kentucky state health insurance exchange is known as Kynect. Grimes could have centered her campaign around McConnell wanting to repeal the ACA (which would result in the repeal of Kynect) if she wanted to. Instead, she tried to make the race a referendum on McConnell, and it didn’t work. Another reason why some Democrats lost their races was the candidates themselves running flat-footed or even completely out-of-touch campaigns. Bruce Braley and Mark Udall are two examples of this. Braley, who lost the Iowa U.S. Senate race to Republican whacko Joni Ernst, came across to Iowa voters as an elitist and focused largely on issues that aren’t top priorities among Iowa voters (although they are very important issues), such as reproductive rights and student debt. Had Braley focused his campaign on issues like the minimum wage and wind energy, he might have won the election. Udall, who lost the Colorado U.S. Senate race to Republican extremist Cory Gardner, seemed to have all sorts of trouble trying to getting Democratic voters to mail their ballots in under Colorado’s new vote-by-mail system for whatever reason and didn’t really take his Republican challenger seriously for much of the campaign, and that’s the two primary reasons why Udall lost.

You add all of those reasons up and more and you get the atrocious campaign of Mary Burke, the Democrat who lost the Wisconsin gubernatorial election to far-right Republican incumbent Scott Walker, who will likely be the Republican presidential nominee two years from now. Not only did Burke alienate progressives in numerous ways (such as supporting parts of Scott Walker’s union-busting law that dealt with public employees being forced to overpay into pension and health care plans, supporting Common Core State Standards, refusing to support marijuana legalization, emphasizing “bipartisanship” with far-right Republicans at every opportunity, etc.), act like a gutless wimp for the entire campaign (such as largely refusing to call out Walker for the corruption in his administration until late in the campaign) and run a flat-footed and out-of-touch campaign (such as having an inner circle mentality throughout the campaign and running TV ads praising Ronald Reagan and trying to pass off someone working 60+ hours per week as a success story), she also had Democratic party bosses and political operatives bully any other Democrat who tried to run against her, fueling a negative perception that Burke was only interested in serving the powers to be of the Democratic Party and nobody else.

Another factor as to why 2014 has been a terrible year for Democrats is the lack of an unified party message, largely due to the Democratic Party being too big of a tent for its own good. The fact that Democrats range anywhere from left-wing to center-right on the ideological spectrum makes a unified party message of any kind practically impossible, and, when there is a unified party message, it’s in the form of calling for bipartisanship and compromise at virtually every opportunity. What most Democrats who run for public office don’t understand is that, while “bipartisanship” and “compromise” are approved of by most Americans, “bipartisanship” and “compromise” doesn’t motivate a single person to vote, and it’s virtually impossible to compromise with the far-right Republicans in this country.

In short, as a result of, among other things, Democrats alienating the progressive base of the party, Scott Walker will likely be the Republican presidential nominee two years from now, far-right Republicans will be running state governments in Democratic-leaning states, Republicans will have an even larger majority in the U.S. House than previously, and Republicans will control the U.S. Senate. The Democratic Party will only be consistently successful if and only if the party truly becomes a progressive, pro-middle class, pro-woman, pro-worker, pro-public education, pro-democracy, pro-environment, pro-peace, and pro-human rights party, the party and its candidates deliver a unified progressive message that can be used to drive progressives to the p0lls in large numbers and effectively attack Republican opponents, and Democratic elected officials and candidates actually fight to make America a better, more progressive place to live.