3/26/2015

Troll So Hard, Debbie Stabenow/Tom Cotton edition

Man, is this amazing.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) delivered a pitch-perfect trolling lesson to the Senate on Wednesday, filing an amendment calling to defund "the purchase of stationary [sic] or electronic devices for the purpose of members of Congress or congressional staff communicating with foreign governments and undermining the role of the President as Head of State in international nuclear negotiations on behalf of the United States."

In other words, Stabenow wants to defund Tom Cotton letters.

Earlier this month, Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas, organized a letter to Iranian leaders warning that future presidents may not abide by a deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions currently being negotiated by the Obama administration. Cotton garnered 46 additional GOP co-sponsors, and outraged even many critics of the Iran talks for addressing the letter directly to top Iranian government officials and bypassing the executive branch, which is constitutionally charged with negotiating foreign pacts.

...

But these legislative dominance rituals often do have real political consequences, even when they do not result in direct policy changes. Cotton's Iran letter has been politically unpopular, and even simply raising the issue through the amendment process could force senators who signed the letter to take another round of heat.

I have two amazing Senators.

3/17/2015

Kentwood City Commission unanimously backs Proposal 1

The Kentwood City Commission unanimously approved a resolution supporting Proposal 1, which, if passed, would increase road funding.

Commissioners Betsy Artz, Michael Brown, Bob Coughlin, Jerry DeMaagd, and Mayor Steve Kepley supported it. Being an MDOT employee, new Commissioner Steve Redmond (formally appointed and sworn in tonight to succeed Sharon Brinks) abstained due to a possible conflict of interest. Commissioner Erwin Haas was absent.

If Proposal 1 passes, Kentwood will see nearly $3.8 million in funding for road projects in Fiscal Year 2016 - a 22% increase over Fiscal Year 2014. By Fiscal Year 2018, that would increase to more than $5.1 million - nearly 65% more than 2014.

The final version of the resolution reads as follows:

WHEREAS, Michigan’s roads and bridges threaten driver safety and contribute to countless accidents each year, as drivers swerve to avoid potholes and other road hazards; and

WHEREAS, 38 percent of Michigan’s state- and locally-owned urban roads and 32 percent of the state’s state- and locally-owned rural roads are in poor condition; and

WHEREAS, Michigan has relied on Band-Aid, short-term fixes for our roads instead of investing enough money to fix our roads for the long term; and

WHEREAS, Michigan invests less per capita in transportation than any state in the United States of America; and

WHEREAS, the longer we wait to fix Michigan’s roads, the more it will cost us; and

WHEREAS, in addition to threatening public safety, Michigan’s crumbling roads hurt our economy; and

WHEREAS, Proposal 1 on the May 5 ballot is Michigan’s best chance to finally fix our roads with funds that the politicians can’t divert somewhere else – while also supporting Michigan’s long-term future by investing in our public schools and local communities;

WHEREAS: Having adequate resources to fix our crumbling roads and bridges is crucial to helping improve the state’s economy and generate an estimated 15,000 new skilled and high-paying jobs in Michigan; and

WHEREAS: Because safe roads are essential to the movement of goods throughout Michigan, Proposal 1 is supported by some of Michigan’s leading organizations of job providers including the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Michigan First, Business Leaders for Michigan, the West Michigan Policy Forum, Detroit Regional Chamber, Small Business Association of Michigan, Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Lodging and Resort Association and more; and

WHEREAS: Having safe roads is vital to the success of municipalities and is supported by some of the state’s leading associations including the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Association of Counties, Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, and Michigan Townships Association; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the City of Kentwood supports Proposal 1 on the May 5 ballot to provide the funding needed to finally fix our roads for the long term; and

RESOLVED: That the City of Kentwood knows the 1-cent increase in the sales tax will benefit local communities and help ensure drivers’ safety on the roads; and

RESOLVED: That the City of Kentwood formally supports Safe Roads Yes! because if it passes, every penny we pay at the pump in state gas taxes is guaranteed in the constitution to go to transportation.

3/09/2015

A few thoughts on Sigma Alpha Epsilon

By now, you're probably familiar with the outrageous, offensive behavior of (now-suspended) members of the fraternity in Oklahoma.

It sickens me for two reasons. First is the obvious - it’s racist, offensive, and immature. But there's another reason it disgusts me: it goes against every impression I’ve ever had of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

I never joined a fraternity during my undergraduate days. I had a lot on my plate back then. But I did come to respect most of the fraternities and sororities at CMU. And of all of the Greek organizations on campus, I held the highest regard for Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

Almost every interaction I had with SAE members - in student government, residence life, and everything else - was positive. They demonstrated respect, integrity, and commitment in all they said and did.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon members approach the concept of a True Gentleman in a way that I, a non-member, presumably cannot. However, I do know that SAE members take to heart these words by John Walter Wayland:

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.

The SAE members I met at CMU didn't merely talk about honor and virtue. They lived it. And they still do. No racists in Oklahoma can stop me from holding SAE members in high regard, particularly those whom I have had the privilege to know.

3/05/2015

Michigan and Ohio Democratic Parties file joint SCOTUS brief in support of marriage equality

From Ye Olde Presse Shoppe:

“Here in Michigan, far too many families have been denied liberty and justice for too long, because of the out of touch actions of Republicans Bill Schuette and Rick Snyder,” said Lon Johnson, Michigan Democratic Party Chair.

"Thousands of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on frivolous, fringe arguments, which have only served to embarrass our state. This effort to deny equal rights to parents and children, based on nothing more than a desire to score cheap partisan points with the far right wing of the Republican party, is just wrong,” added Johnson.

Mark Totten, one of the attorneys who wrote the brief, said "for two years now the State of Michigan has argued that the children at issue in the Michigan case would be better off as orphans then have two gay parents. That's wrong. The rights of these kids - so many of whom are special needs – to have two loving parents should not be decided at the ballot box."

Here's the brief.

3/02/2015

Get off your "both parties are the same" high horse already

Are the two parties REALLY the same? Are both parties REALLY equally to blame for Issue X or Problem Y? When voting, is it REALLY more virtuous to split your ticket than vote straight ticket?

Come on.

Just last week, Scott Walker compared protestors to ISIS. A Nevada lawmaker likened to a fungus that can simply be washed out. An Idaho lawmaker suggested that women need to swallow cameras before having an abortion. A Kansas lawmaker said she wants to criminalize ‘harmful’ books.

All in one week.

All Republicans.

And odds are, none of them will pay any sort of price within their party. If anything, they might get rewarded. Rewarded!

In today's Republican Party, decent people are being pushed out* while the far-right are being elevated.** Heck, Ronald Reagan would be considered much too liberal for many Republicans today.

Gerald Ford? Dwight Eisenhower? Don't even think about it.

Are Democrats perfect? Hell no! I get that, as do most Democrats. We're human beings, we make mistakes, etc. But I'll take the imperfections of our Party, our candidates, and our elected officials any day of the week - especially if that day is a Tuesday in early November.

*See: Lugar, Dick; see also: Schwarz, Joe.**See: Agema, Dave; see also: Glenn, Gary.

2/21/2015

Describe the May 5 road funding proposal in 100 words. Go!

MLive probes a decision facing the Bureau of Elections and the Board of State Canvassers: Coming up with a 100-word description of the May 5 ballot proposal.

Fun fact: Whenever a statewide proposal is to appear on the ballot, the Bureau of Elections crowdsources language (or at least officially they do). The Bureau of Elections then comes up with proposed language, publishes it online, opens it up for public comment, then submits the proposal to the state Board of Canvassers, which must ratify the language.

Here's the proposed language as of February 21:

A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTION TO INCREASE THE MAXIMUM SALES TAX RATE FROM 6% TO 7%, ELIMINATE SALES AND USE TAXES ON GASOLINE AND DIESEL FUEL, DEDICATE A PORTION OF USE TAX REVENUE TO THE SCHOOL AID FUND, REVISE PERMISSIBLE USES OF THE SCHOOL AID FUND, AND TRIGGER OTHER LAWS THAT INCLUDE DEDICATING REVENUE FOR ROADS AND OTHER TRANSPORTATION PURPOSES. The proposed constitutional amendment would:
  • Set maximum sales tax rate at 7% (now 6%).
  • Exempt gasoline / diesel fuel from sales and use taxes.
  • Dedicate portion of use tax to School Aid Fund (SAF).
  • Allow use of SAF for public community colleges and career / technical education and prohibit use for higher education.
  • Trigger laws that include but not limited to:
    • Increase sales / use tax rates to 7%;
    • Increase motor fuel tax on gasoline / diesel fuel and vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation purposes;
    • Require competitive bidding and warranties for road projects; and
    • Increase earned income tax credit.
Should this proposal be adopted?
YES
NO

2/16/2015

Michigan Democrats set big goals for 2016

The Michigan Democratic Party's 2016 campaign effort kicked off this weekend at Cobo Hall, site of the 2015 Michigan Democratic Convention.

Far from discouraged, Michigan Democrats were fired up and ready to win big in 2015 and 2016.

Some highlights:

*Some pretty strong hints were made as to the likely 2016 presidential nominee. Note the pronoun in what Senator Peters said: "I don't know who she's gonna be, but we need to elect a Democratic President." Senator Stabenow referred to the growth of the 1990s, noted that President Clinton was in office, and said, "Hmm... a President Clinton... Hmm..."

*By my count there were ten speakers at the main session: all of Michigan's congressional delegation (minus Sandy Levin); Greimel; Bieda; Meisner; and Brenda Jones. I'm not sure they all needed to talk, especially since it was well over an hour before we got to the actual business of the convention, but it was good hearing from them.

*African-Americans played a big role in the main session. The invocation was given by a pastor from Detroit, while the convention itself was chaired by a black female. In nominating Lon Johnson for Chair, WSU Governor Dana Thompson noted that while relations between the MDP and the African-American community haven't always been the best, Lon is making strides.

*Key themes of Lon's speech included setting bigger goals (i.e. raising the number of MDP members from 21,000 to 50,000); giving precinct delegates tasks and the tools to achieve them; and offering bold ideas as a Party. He cited passenger rail as an example of the latter.

*There was some talk - both at the main session and at the caucuses - about this year's local elections, especially as they relate to building a bench for the future.

*Rep. Jeremy Moss said at a caucus meeting that people didn't care about his sexual orientation - they cared about things like roads and education. This is quite consistent with what I've seen and heard both qualitatively and quantitatively - that being LGBT does not hinder ones ability to get votes.

*After the convention adjourned, the first state Central meeting of the new term took place. A proposal was made to add endorsement conventions to the MDP Rules; under this proposal, endorsement conventions would automatically take place every two years unless State Central decides otherwise.

*All of the incumbent MDP officers are staying in office, with one addition: Rosendo Rocha is a Vice Chair. A member of AFGE, Rosendo has chaired both the Hispanic Caucus and the Allegan County Democratic Party. I'm glad West Michigan is once again represented among the officers (my friend Lupe served as 2nd VC under Brewer).

Oh, and one more thing: I am pleased to announce my election as 2nd Vice Chair of the 2nd District Democratic Party! I am also rejoining the Justice Caucus Board and am continuing on State Central. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to using these roles as a means to help boost the Democratic Party's brand and secure victories for Democrats up and down the ballot.

2/02/2015

How many 2016 DNC delegates will Michigan get?

(This is part 2 of a series on Michigan's role in the 2016 Democratic presidential nominating process and the 47th Democratic National Convention.)

How does a political party decide who will carry its torch into a presidential election? In the Democratic Party, the process for selecting presidential nominees is quite complex. It needs to be in order to ensure that the process is fair and inclusive to all Democrats.

While the nomination will be settled long before the convention - and maybe even sooner, if Hillary runs - there's still a lot of thought and planning that each state must undertake as part of this process. With fewer than 18 months to go until the Democratic National Convention convenes in July 2016 - and with just three more months before each state Party decides how its delegates are selected - now's a good time to consider how many delegates Michigan will have at the convention.

Number of Delegates

Michigan will have between 150 and 190 delegates. The exact number depends on three factors: the timing of our primary or caucus; whether we hold our primary or caucus on the same date as neighboring states; and the exact number of superdelegates, who are automatically delegates based on offices they hold.

As I said recently, holding a May caucus does come with its advantages - including the right to send more delegates - but in the event of a contested nomination battle, we may opt for a March primary or caucus in order to gain some influence on the nominating process.

Types of Delegates

Delegates are divided into four categories:

  • Superdelegates - They are automatically delegates based on positions they hold in the Party or in elected office. They include:
    • Distinguished Party Leaders (such as current and former Presidents, Vice Presidents, House and Senate Democratic Leaders, and DNC Chairs);
    • Members of the Democratic National Committee;
    • Democratic governors; and
    • Democratic US Senators and Representatives.
  • Party Leader and Elected Official (PLEO) Delegates - The term "elected officials" seems more or less clear-cut, but the DNC doesn't really define what constitutes a "party leader." Regardless, these seats are awarded to candidates based on how well they did in the statewide caucus or primary vote.
  • At-Large Delegates, whose seats are are awarded to candidates based on how well they did in the statewide caucus or primary vote (though in a separate calculation from PLEO delegates).
  • Congressional District Delegates, whose seats are awarded to candidates based on their performance within that congressional district.

How Many Pledged Delegates Does Each State Get?

To apportion delegates to the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the DNC uses a formula that equally weighs two factors:
  1. 1. The number of electoral votes the state (or DC) has, divided by 538;  and

  2. 2. The total number of votes cast in the state for Obama in 2012, Obama in 2008, and Kerry in 2004 compared to the number of votes cast for those candidates nationwide.
The resulting number is a state’s “allocation factor,” which is then multiplied by 3,200 to get a “base” delegate total. 25% of a state's base delegates are at-large, while the other 75% are allocated to congressional districts in a formula that varies from state to state but which generally measures Democratic strength in that district. In addition, 15% of the base delegate number is added on in the form of PLEO delegates.

Michigan’s allocation factor is .03618; multiply that by 3,200 and you get 116 “base” delegate votes. That gives us 29 at-large delegates and 87 district delegates to be divvied up among 14 congressional districts. We then add 17 PLEO delegates to give us 133 pledged delegates which will be allocated to presidential candidates according to the results of the primaries and caucuses.

When you add on the 17 superdelegates, that gives a total delegation of 150 delegates (which must be evenly divided between men and women; more on that in another post).

Bonus Delegates?

Ah, but Michigan might have more delegates than that.

In the past, states used to try to rush to be among the first to have primaries or caucuses. To alleviate this, starting in 2012 the DNC is offering states “bonus” delegates if they hold their primaries and caucuses later in the cycle.

For any state that holds its primary or caucus in April will get a 10% bonus in its "base" delegate total. A state which holds its primary or caucus in May or June gets a 20% bonus. Those bonus delegates and the base delegates are then allocated either at-large or district-level delegates. (PLEO delegates are not added.)

Holding a caucus in April will give us a base delegate total of 116 x 1.1 base delegates, which rounds to 128. A May or June caucus will give us 116 x 1.2 base delegates, or about 139. So the actual number of pledged delegate votes Michigan gets will be:

DateDistrictAt-LargePLEOTotal Pledged+17 Unpledged
March872917133150
April963217145162
May1043517156173

There's another chance for bonus delegates as well. If a "cluster" of 3 contiguous states holds its primaries and/or caucuses on the same day - and if that day is March 24 or later - those states get an additional 15% bonus in base delegates. (That 15% is calculated separately from the other bonus delegates.) So holding a late March primary or caucus as part of a cluster will result in Michigan getting 133 base delegates. For an April contest, that goes up to 145; for May, 156.

How many delegates would we get if we took part in a regional cluster?

DateDistrictAt-LargePLEOTotal Pledged+17 Unpledged
March1003317150167
April1093617162179
May1173917173190

A Word about Superdelegates

As you see, Michigan has 17 unpledged delegates, or "superdelegates."

  • 5 members of Congress who are not DNC members;
  • 10 members of the DNC who are not in Congress; and
  • 2 who serve in both Congress and the DNC (Debbie Stabenow and Debbie Dingell). (While they hold two positions that would give them a superdelegate vote, they each only have one vote.)
The fact that superdelegates still have a vote comes despite a lot of questions about the role of superdelegates in the presidential nominating process during and after the 2008 primary campaign. 19% of the more than 4,400 delegates at the 2008 Convention were unpledged; this included more than 700 "Unpledged PLEO" delegates (the party leaders, members of congress, governors, and DNC members I mentioned above), plus 80 "add-on" delegates. There were talks about removing the "super delegate" status of DNC members, but those didn't come to fruition.

What ended up happening is that the 80 add-on delegate spots were removed, and the "base" number of delegate spots allocated to states increased from 3,000 to 3,700 in 2012. (That base number is going back down to 3,200 for the 2016 convention.) There are 733 superdelegates for the 2016 convention, or about 16% of the 4,502 total delegates. That 4,502 does not include bonus delegates for states that cluster or hold later primaries or caucuses; as base delegates are added to those states, the total number of delegates will go up, while the share of superdelegates to total delegates will go down.

1/30/2015

10 reasons Mitt Romney isn't running

  1. His poll numbers weren’t the right height.
  2. Not sure he can get binders full of votes.
  3. 47% of corporations are dependent on the government for corporate subsidies. He’s not going to get their votes.
  4. Jeb Bush promised him he’d be ambassador to the Cayman Islands.
  5. Speaking of which, Chris Christie threatened traffic problems in the Cayman Islands if he ran.
  6. He lost a $10,000 bet, so the poor guy is down to his last $250 million.
  7. Big Bird advised against it.
  8. Training to beat Paul Ryan’s marathon time.
  9. Rather than Mitt himself running, he’s getting Bain Capital to run instead. They’re people, my friend!
  10. Wants to spend more quality time with his money.

1/29/2015

Five reasons I'm supporting Lon Johnson - and three things he can do to keep my support

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson is running for a second term - and I'm supporting him.

There's no doubt that the MDP continues to deal with a number of challenges, from low turnout in midterms to declining union membership. It's easy to look at the issues that still exist and blame the person at the top.

The reality is, for all the prestige that people associate with chairing one of the state's largest political parties, the Chair must deal with a ton of pressures that most people can’t fully appreciate.

Johnson has made a number of improvements in the MDP, while beginning the process of making other improvements. For instance:

1. Lon has stepped up the MDP’s data game. The more we know about voters, the better we can target out messaging. In fairness to Mark Brewer, some of that work started under his chairmanship, but Lon has really scaled this effort.

2. Our ground game was the best I’ve ever seen. It was about as good as - and maybe even better than - I’ve seen even in presidential years.

3. We’re progressing toward Howard Dean’s vision. The good doctor said we must reach out to every voter and contest every seat. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving in that direction. For instance, I live in Republican congressional and legislative districts, but Democrats ran great campaigns for these races. Around here you had folks like Dean Vanderstelt, Jim Walters, Kemal Hamulic, Franklin Cornielle, Sarah Howard, Jessica Hanselman, Lynn Mason, and Deb Havens. Of course, the candidates themselves - and their supporters - were largely responsible and deserve the most credit. But the MDP did put some effort into helping them with many of the basics, including websites and literature.

4. We did better than the rest of the country. Michigan is home to the only new Democratic US Senator, Gary Peters. Our state also elected seven Democrats to the eight education-related statewide boards last year. Four years after Virg Bernero's 18-point loss, Schauer came within four points of beating Snyder. All of this is due, in large part, to the MDP's ground game.

5. It takes time to right a ship. For many years, the MDP has dealt with a wide range of issues, most of which are still there. Lon has started a years-long process of making needed changes. You don’t fire a coach after one season, especially when improvement has been made during that time.

Progress has been made - and more is needed. If the MDP is to grow as a Party, we must:

1. Keep data in the right perspective. We need quantitative data - but we also need qualitative info to put that data into the proper context.

2. Work more closely with local Party units. A top-down approach can backfire. Some decisions do need to be made without feedback, but most of the big decisions should involve at least some input from local stakeholders - they know the area better than folks who aren’t from the area.

3. Broaden the state party’s revenue streams. The MDP cannot count on labor's money - not only because there are fewer union members, but because it's never good to count on one sector of supporters for such a significant share of your money.

Lon Johnson has what it takes to lead these changes and build upon the work of the past two years. He deserves another term as Chair.