12/04/2014

Free Press slams "one of the least useful groups of lawmakers in Michigan history"

As Chris over at Eclectablog might put it, Michigan Republican lawmakers have had a new rear excretory orifice installed by the Detroit Free Press.

A long-sought expansion of the state's civil rights law to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Michiganders — supported by the business community, LGBT activists and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — seems to be dead in the water. Who needs equality, anyway?

But name any piece of irrelevant, unnecessary legislation, and hoo boy, it's on the move.

Perhaps this is Lansing's new motto: We solve problems you didn't know you had.

More like "making problems you never had," but I digress. Anyway:

Better still, let's hope this class of legislators has more in mind for its swan song than peculiar, small-minded acts that only cement its legacy as one of the least useful groups of lawmakers in Michigan history.

12/01/2014

Hoadley, Moss Victories Prove LGBT Democrats Can Win Everywhere

There's a fear in some Democratic circles that LGBT candidates can't win swing seats.

There are many possible reasons for this. Some of it may be attributed to the fact that, until recently, some swing voters (and even a few Democrats) opposed marriage equality.

It may also have to do with a couple of losses by LGBT candidates in state House races a few years back. In 2008, Garnet Lewis lost to Jim Stamas (son of the area's then-state senator) in the Midland-based 98th District seat. Two years later, Toni Sessoms lost to Kevin Cotter in the Mt. Pleasant-based 99th District seat - a seat held by Republicans for as long as anyone can remember.

Yet this year saw the election of two young gay Democrats to the Michigan Legislature - Jeremy Moss and Jon Hoadley. While they ran (and were elected) in solidly Democratic districts, the performance of both Hoadley and Moss should assuage Democrats' fears about the electability of LGBT candidates in less blue districts.

Young + Gay = Success

If there was any merit to concerns about the electorate's views of LGBT candidates, we would've seen  evidence of that in the seats where Hoadley and Moss were elected. There was no question that Hoadley and Moss were going to win these blue districts. However, it's in the margins of their victories - particularly compared to other Democratic candidates - that we'd detect any evidence of apprehension toward LGBT candidates. (And make no mistake: both Hoadley and Moss are openly gay, so their orientation isn't exactly a state secret.)

Since down-ticket races* don't get much attention, the number of votes cast for various down-ticket races and candidates will usually be lower than for the top of the ticket (in this case, Schauer and Brown).

Despite that, Hoadley and Moss outperformed a number of "up-ticket" candidates in their districts, including Schauer and Attorney General nominee Mark Totten.

Here are the results for the races for Governor, Attorney General, and State Representative in the 60th House District (the City of Kalamazoo plus most of Kalamazoo Township):


Think about this for a second. Totten has run for office in the area a couple times before; he ran for State Senate in 2010 before being elected to the School Board in 2011. Schauer has been elected many times by voters in neighboring Battle Creek. By contrast, Hoadley is young, gay, and a first-time candidate.

Yet he still got 1,199 more votes than Totten and 912 more votes than Schauer.

Moss racked up even more impressive margins in the 35th District, which includes Southfield, Southfield Township, and Lathrup Village:



That's a 2,224-vote difference between Moss and Schauer and a 2,276-vote difference with Totten.

It should be noted that, unlike Hoadley, Moss ran for office before. He was elected to the Southfield City Council in 2011 (in and of itself, that's impressive for a young, gay candidate, especially given that in his Council run he didn't have the advantage of being listed as a Democrat).

But their general-election showings aren't the only thing that show how strong LGBT candidates can be. In these blue districts, the real action happened in the August primaries. Moss was one of four candidates running to succeed Rudy Hobbs, while Hoadley faced two local elected officials for the right to take Sean McCann's House seat.

Hoadley and Moss didn't just win their primaries, however. They got majorities. 59% for Hoadley, 51% for Moss.

Not bad for young LGBT candidates who, between the two of them, had run exactly once before.

A Swing Seat Letdown

If Hoadley and Moss can do well, then surely someone like Garnet Lewis - seasoned campaigner, accomplished professional, community servant, and 2014 State Senate candidate - could do well in a general election in a swing seat, right?

We'll never know.

Most of the 32nd Senate District is in Democratic-leaning Saginaw County, which leans Democratic, so Democrats needed to win the seat in order to make inroads in a Republican-dominated Senate. In the spring of 2013, Lewis began a quest to win the seat vacated by term-limited Sen. Roger Khan (R). Financially, her efforts paid off. In 2013 alone, she raised nearly $56,000 - all of it from individuals.

But that wasn't enough for some insiders. Never mind the work Lewis had put in - work that must be done in order to win an election. Never mind that Lewis eagerly wanted the seat** - a must for any candidate in a close election. Never mind that other districts went without recruited candidates until just days before the filing deadline. She was still a lesbian - or, as it was often whispered, "she can't win" - and they needed to find someone else.

Finally, in 2014 - a year after Lewis started her campaign and just months before the filing deadline - they got a candidate. As soon as Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes got into the race, the establishment got behind her. Boy, did they ever get behind her. Bankers. Lawyers. Lobbyists. Healthcare companies. Matty Moroun. PACs. All funded Erwin Oakes's primary campaign. And it paid off in the primary.

But Erwin Oakes lost the general election, 55-45%. She even lost Saginaw County by a 53-47% margin.

How bad is it that she lost Saginaw County? Not only did Saginaw go for Schauer, but even Godfrey Dillard beat Ruth Johnson there. In fact, in this Republican year, 11 of the 13 Democratic nominees who were on the ballot in all of Saginaw County*** finished ahead of their Republican opponents in the county. Only Totten and Erwin Oakes underperformed Republican opponents in Saginaw County.

Why did Erwin Oakes lose? Besides the obvious (that it was a Republican year), I can't tell. Why did she underperform the rest of the Democratic slate? I don't know. Had Lewis been the nominee, would she have won the seat? We'll never know. One thing's for sure, though: had Lewis been nominated, the worst that would've happened is that we would've lost the general.

We lost anyway.

Lessons to Learn

Every election has its share of lessons to teach us. This year, we learned a lot of lessons the hard way. But our victories have plenty to teach us as well.

By their strong showing relative to other Democrats in their districts, Hoadley and Moss have shown us that Democrats need not worry about a candidate's sexual orientation affecting their chances at victory.

Being gay didn't hurt Hoadley or Moss in either the primary or the general.

And it won't hurt future LGBT candidates.

Be not afraid, fellow Democrats. Be not afraid.

--------------------

*After the straight ticket option, the #1 race on the ballot was Governor/LG. Attorney General was #3 (after Secretary of State), while State Representative was #7.

**The same could not be said of certain other swing seats, in some of which nobody seemed willing to take on the immense task of running a competitive campaign.

***The 13 are Peters, Schauer/Brown (counted as one here), Dillard, Totten, Erwin Oakes, and the statewide education board candidates.

11/25/2014

Taxpayer-funded portion of Schuette's 2018 gubernatorial campaign continues

Not content with meddling in the affairs of people who love each other or want affordable health insurance, Bill Schuette is now meddling in the affairs of other states.

Court records from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals show Michigan filed an amicus brief on Nov. 12 in the case along with 20 other states.


The brief is asking the appeals court to overturn a federal district court ruling that a Maryland law banning 45 types of assault weapons and limiting magazine size to 10 rounds as constitutional.
Oh, and which other states are participating?

Michigan joined West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming in filing friend-of-the-court briefs in favor of repealing the ban on weapons and magazine sizes.

Quite a crowd.

FWIW, Schuette was recently named to head the Republican Attorneys General Association.

I'll just say this about Ferguson (for now)

Many of us, including myself, believe in an omnipotent God who sees what humans cannot see.

God does know what happened in Ferguson the day Michael Brown died.

And God is just.

If Wilson did what he's been accused of, God will handle it in a way that the American criminal justice system won't.

As Thomas Jefferson said:

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.

11/21/2014

McCann (D) seeking recount for State Senate in Kalamazoo County

The 20th State Senate race was one of the heartbreakers of this election - perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit for us, yet we still lost.

Or maybe not.

Friends,

After much thought and consultation with my family, my team and supporters, I have decided to request a recount of the election results in the 20th Senate District.

More than 80,000 ballots were cast in the race, and the results showed a difference of only 59 votes, or 0.07% of the total votes cast, less than one vote per precinct. We think that this extremely close margin warrants a recount.

We also heard from many voters who expressed concerns about their votes being counted. Multiple issues with finalizing the local results give us enough concern that we believe a recount is appropriate.

This is primarily about finding votes that the electronic tabulators missed - faint markings, for example. Few, if any, votes were cast for O'Brien or Wenke that should've been counted for McCann. Generally, if it's clear that a voter intended to vote for McCann, the vote is supposed to count for McCann.

In addition, a recount can ensure that, regardless of the outcome, people at least have confidence in the process.

11/20/2014

Ten and a Half Communications Blunders and the Lessons They Can Teach Us (If We’re Willing to Learn)

“Amateurs built the Ark, professionals built the Titanic.” That statement is often used to remind us that even inexperienced people are capable of great things, while those who should know better… often don’t.

The latter part could certainly apply to the communications “efforts” of Democratic Party units, Democratic candidates, and progressive organizations this year, particularly in Michigan. Many political campaigns and organizations pay communications staff to produce and disseminate messages to the press, social media users, and voters, among other audiences. Yet many entities found the return on their communications investment to be lackluster.

It's not that hard to see why.

I’m embarrassed - embarrassed - at how horribly we in Michigan failed to communicate any sort of motivational or inspiring message to get our voters to vote. Despite major innovations over the last eight years, the Granholm 2006 campaign had a better communications operation than did the Schauer 2014 campaign. And our digital strategy? Well, I’m not even sure there was one.

I share these examples in hopes that we as Democrats will learn from our mistakes and grow as a Party. If we choose to, that is.

..........

EXHIBIT A: A mailer from a statewide organization promoted only two of the three Supreme Court candidates: Richard Bernstein and Judge Bill Murphy. The third, Judge Deborah Thomas, was not included.

Problem: There are two issues here. First, the mailer inaccurately presents Bernstein and Murphy as the complete Supreme Court ticket when, in reality, there was a third candidate. This leaves the false impression that you only vote for two people - that you're done when you vote for Bernstein and Murphy. Second (and more importantly), Judge Thomas is African-American while the other two are Caucasian; in omitting Thomas, they risked alienating a constituency Democrats need.

Solution: Even with limited space on your lit piece, be strategic in who you include or exclude from a mailing. Of course you’ll never be able to fit the names of everyone you want to fit on one single lit piece. But adding Judge Thomas to the mailer would not have cost anything extra (except a little space, which wasn’t used well in the first place, believe me). The bigger cost was found in the votes that Judge Thomas lost because of the omission - and the people who were needlessly alienated.

--

EXHIBIT B: Mistargeted sponsored content on Facebook.

Problem: I saw Facebook ads, boosted posts, and other sponsored content for a host of candidates in whose districts I don’t live.

Solution: Ads can be targeted based on geography. With a few exceptions, ads should only be seen by people who (a) live in your district and (b) are of voting age.

Rule of thumb: If I can’t vote for you, I better not see your ad. (If you’re trying to get people to volunteer or donate, that’s a different story. Even then, targeting is necessary.)

--

EXHIBIT C: A campaign email in which the Sender field was different from the person whose name was at the bottom. The 'sender' was a staffer, while the person signing the bottom of the message was the candidate him/herself.

Problem: Inconsistency. Also, if it's supposed to be from the candidate him/herself, then you're losing out by not identifying the candidate as the sender.

Solution: Have someone - or two or three people - *proofread* your communications before they go out. At a place where I used to work, we had a VERY thorough process for proofreading emails and other outbound communications.

--

EXHIBIT D:

Problem: Well, the tweet is about diversity… so where’s the diversity in that picture?

Solution: Again, a proofreading/checking process may have caught this.

--

EXHIBIT E:
Problem: “Weiser” refers to Ron Weiser, a Republican running for U-M Regent. That’s right - the Twitter account of the Democratic Party’s standard bearer pushed a message favorable to a Republican candidate.

Solution: Be cognizant of your role and place in the overall Democratic Party campaign. It's no small responsibility to be in charge of any aspect of the campaign that heads the Democratic ticket.

--

EXHIBIT F: During the last few weeks of the campaign, the Schauer Twitter account tweeted or retweeted dozens of times each day.

Problem: That kind of hyperactivity on Twitter can clog up people’s Twitter feeds - and give them ample reason to unfollow you.

Solution: Be more selective in what (and when) you tweet.

--

EXHIBIT G: Some organizations run multiple Twitter accounts. Sometimes those Twitter accounts tweet the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Problem: This can (a) clog up other people’s Twitter feeds and (b) make it so that other people who check Twitter throughout the day won’t see your message.

Solution: Tweets should be spaced out so that multiple people can see your message throughout the day. If I’m following three Twitter accounts which tweet the same exact thing, I’m 3x as likely to see it if you tweet it at different times, compared to if you just tweeted it out at the same time.

--

EXHIBIT H: Many communication to voters used such "inside" terminology as "CD," "SD," and "HD."

Problem: Those of us in politics know what is meant by those acronyms: Congressional district, Senate district, and State House district, respectively. But your target audience for this communication - swing and sporadic voters just won’t understand them. More to the point, they don’t know which of those candidates to vote for - they just see a bunch of names and faces.

Solution: Consider your target audience. Do they know what is meant by CD, SD, or HD? If not, don’t confuse them. If political communications professionals can’t consider our audience when producing said communications, how will we ever get them to actually vote?

--

EXHIBIT I: When you knock on doors for a campaign, you’re usually given a script of what to say to voters (not verbatim, of course, but mostly as a guide). In helping out a Michigan legislative candidate this cycle, I was given a script that said that folks should vote for the candidate because they “understand the needs of residents in the Nth district” (paraphrasing).

Problem: Your target audience - be it swing voters, sporadic voters, or anyone else - won’t care what district they’re in. They know their communities (city, for example), but not their district. Most people who do know what district they live in are either (a) definitely going to vote for you or (b) definitely not going to vote for you.

Solution: Let’s say that the candidate “understands the needs of people in [TOWN].”

--

EXHIBIT J: An Election Day email from a Democratic Party unit.

Sender: URGENT LOW DEM TURNOUT
Subject: URDENT GET OUT NOW LOW DEM TURNOUT - polls open until 8 pm
Body: LOW DEM TURNOUT!!!
Next line: WE CAN SIT ON THE SIDELINES
Next line: Get out and VOTE NOW

Problem: Oy. Where to begin? Well, for starters, you have the typos (“Urdent”). The ALL CAPS conveyed a sense of panic - and no, that didn’t help either. The second line (“We can sit on the sidelines”) makes no sense, particularly within the context of this email. (Perhaps they meant "can't" instead of "can" - if so, there's another typo) It all looks like a discombobulated mess. But above all, it’s clear that this email was not created with the audience in mind. The folks on this listserv? If they care enough about politics to be on your listserv, then they care enough to vote. I bet you that nobody was going to be reminded to vote just by seeing this email.

Solution: Sometimes, it's best not to send an email at all. Just saying.

--

BONUS: Okay, I don't really consider this a blunder on the level of the others, and it's best not to go into much detail about what prompts me to write this. But I'll just suggest that political jobs are not normal jobs. The strength of our communities depends on Democratic success - and that success hinges on all staffers, consultants, and candidates being at full strength. There's a ton that goes into planning certain life events. There's also a ton that goes into winning an election. You can't focus on both at the same time.

Not all major life events can be planned for. But some are.

...........

Michigan Democrats' field operation this year was like the Tigers’ starting rotation: Top notch, among the best in the business. But like the Tigers' bullpen, our communications effort was the weak link that cost us the big prize.

I love the Democratic Party and the Detroit Tigers. I hope they both win it all soon. But before that can happen, each will need to fix what's hurting them.

10/27/2014

The Grand Rapids Press, which rarely endorses Democrats, backs Winnie Brinks

The Grand Rapids Press hardly ever endorses Democrats in competitive races. When they do back a Democrat, it's usually because the race is settled (Senator Levin got the Press's backing in 2002 and 2008, as have state lawmakers like Brandon Dillon and Michael Sak, who have represented the city's more Democratic district).

How Republican have the Press's endorsements been over the years? Even Pete Hoekstra and Mike Bouchard got the Press's nod in their landslide losses to Senator Stabenow.

Before now, I can only recall one other Democrat who received the Press's endorsement in a competitive race: Jocelyn Benson in 2010.

Winnie Brinks just became the second.

But Dejonge has failed to convincingly argue why voters should not send Brinks back to Lansing for a second term. Her political experience is limited to a two-year stint as Grand Rapids city comptroller. Dejonge quit that post in late 2012 after voters rejected her ballot proposal to make the position appointed instead of elected.

Brinks has shown growth as a legislator. She has focused on policy issues that are important to Grand Rapids, including road fixes, education and health care. She boasts the unanimous support of the Grand Rapids Public School Board and is endorsed by three city commissioners and Mayor George Heartwell.
Brinks's seat was expected to be a top target of Republicans; now, their odds of winning the 76th are diminishing, even as they're forced to defend seats they thought were safe.

10/18/2014

Al-Jazeera picks up Land's foibles

...along with her party's general inability to improve their standing among women:

But there’s some evidence that the Democrats’ strategy is working and the Republicans’ isn’t. Some experts say the Land ad provides an example of why: When Democrats have attacked Republicans for their position on controversial issues, Republicans have countered mostly through image: putting women at the front of the party but not providing concrete evidence that Democrats’ claims are wrong. “She had that one ad and then didn’t follow up trying to appeal to women voters,” said Susan Demas, a writer and political analyst for the website Inside Michigan Politics. “But her record on equal pay and abortion rights is well known in Michigan, and that doesn’t resonate well with women.”
The article goes on to discuss, among other things, the "Say Yes to the Dress" ads, which an MSU student said had offended her:
“It offended me that she’s trying to sell herself as a candidate for women but she didn’t talk about any kind of policy,” Havern said. “She’s trying to appeal to women, but I don’t know what her stances are.”
I guess I kind of expected the Party of Sarah Palin to do better among women. Not!

9/24/2014

Political communications mistakes I've seen TODAY ALONE (w/some solutions)

1. A statewide organization omitting a certain candidate from a lit piece - a candidate whose support largely comes from a constituency Democrats need.
2. A reminder to sign up to vote early - in Florida. I don't live in Florida, I was only there once, and there's no evidence on my Facebook that I even did go there (until this post).
3. A campaign email in which the Sender field was different from the person whose name was at the bottom.
SOLUTIONS:
1. Even with limited space on your lit, *be strategic* in who you include or exclude.
2. *Target* your Facebook ads to those who are able to do what you ask them. Can't vote in Florida if I don't live there!
3. Have someone - or two or three people - *proofread* your communications before they go out. At previous employers, we had a VERY thorough process for proofreading emails.
Just 41 days left, people. COME ON!!!

9/19/2014

Young, Catholic, and reverent of the forgotten

Folks who attack religion as some sort of problem that we'd be better off without... and folks who make broad swipes at millennials... I see you, and I raise you this:
Young people of faith who want to make sure every deceased person is fittingly remembered.

For the past 12 years, students in the pallbearer ministry at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland have attended funerals for the forgotten, walking with those who have no one else to accompany them to their final resting place. Since the Saint Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Ministry was founded in 2002, more than 400 juniors and seniors have served as casket bearers at local funerals for deceased who were homeless, financially insecure or simply didn’t have anyone to give them a dignified burial.

“The mission of the pallbearer ministry is to try and practice the works of mercy, to bring our faith to the streets of Cleveland,” said Jim Skerl, a theology teacher at Saint Ignatius High and the founder of the ministry.

It’s the largest student organization at the school, and members have been present at about 1,450 funerals. “Each funeral is different, which is an interesting reminder that each person we carry is an individual,” said Skerl.