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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Agenda for Electoral Reform Merits Support

Steven Hill’s TomPaine.com article “10 Steps to Better Elections: Our electoral system is in tatters. Here’s what we can do to fix it,” offers a 10-point agenda for electoral reform that would not only make America’s elections more fair and just, but also produce more Democratic victories. Most of Hill’s proposals have been suggested before, such as automatic registration, free air time for candidates, weekend voting and abolishing the electoral college. Hill, author of Fixing Elections: The Failure of America’s Winner-Take-All Politics, also calls for nonpartisan administration of elections, a verified paper trail behind every ballot and a constitutional amendment guaranteeing full voting rights to every citizen (including prisoners and residents of the District of Columbia). Hill’s more controversial reforms include having voters rank their choices, instead of picking one and creating multi-member districts, both of which have been successful in some localities.
It looks doubtful that any reforms requiring action by Congress could be passed before ’06, given the reluctance of the Republican majorities to do anything to expand voting rights. However, some of Hill’s proposals could be enacted at the state and local level, in places where where Republicans don’t have the strength to stop needed reforms. For example, reforms to enfranchise felons, or at least those who have served their time and/or those who have only one felony conviction, have recently attracted some bipartisan support and could possibly be passed in some states before ’06. Had such a law been in place in Florida in 2000, for example, America would have almost certainly been spared the current Bush presidency.

Support for Bush Iraq Policy Tumbles Even Further

“How Low Can He Go?”, our post asked about President Bush’s poll numbers on April 21st. Lower and lower, apparently, according to a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll on Bush’s Iraq policy, conducted April 29th-May 1st. The percentage of Americans who disapprove of “the way George Bush is handling the situation in Iraq” increased one point over the previous CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll to 55. Those who think “it was not worth going to war in Iraq”? Now 57 percent, up 4 percent from the previous poll. How about those who think the war in Iraq is going “moderately badly or very badly”? Now 56 percent, up a whopping 11 percent over the 45 percent who chose these two options in the previous poll.

The West is the Best…

…Hope for Democrats, that is, according to an editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times, “A Blue Tinge in the West“. Adding to reports that Democrats are surging in western states (see our recent posts “How the Wast Was Won” and “Go West Young Dem” below), the Times notes that:

The social conservatism that keeps the South red may not be enough for the West. Old-fashioned individual liberty and Democratic populism are getting a hearing. The national Democratic Party seems interested, but unsure how to get to the new rodeo…
The West, once ignored for its paltry populations, has bulked up as the blue states of the Northeast and Midwest lose residents. Latinos with potential Democratic loyalties are moving in. So are retirees from Democratic states, especially California.
The political factors are many. Nevada is at war with the federal government over the proposed nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain. Environmentalism, once sneered at in the spacious, resource-rich West, is gaining a foothold as tourism and adventure sports gain economic importance. Winning candidates have brought fiscal conservatism, pragmatism and workable ideas to the job, generally leaving ideological baggage behind.

The Times editorial offers further clues about the kinds of policies that Dems have ridden to success:

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a native farm boy and former U.S. attorney who took office in 2003, persuaded an initially balky Republican Legislature to spend some of this year’s $1-billion budget surplus from mineral and energy industry tax revenues instead of socking it all away. The state boosted spending on highways, a wildlife habitat trust fund, bonuses for teachers and community college scholarships.
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has won tax cuts, incentives for new jobs and rapport with business interests. Richardson, whose mother is Mexican, appointed two Republicans to his Cabinet along with Indians and Latinos. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano is strong enough that top Republicans are declining to run against her next year.

The editorial suggests that Dems can build on their beachhead in the west by protecting civil liberties and emphasizing privacy issues, such as the GOP’s disastrous handling of Terri Schiavo’s ordeal, that will “resonate with the hands-off individualism of the mountains and deserts.”

Cookie-Jar Republicans Give Dems Edge

Christopher Hayes’s article “Corruption — A Proven Winner” in the May 2nd issue of The Nation (though not yet available through their website) makes a strong case that corruption and ethics are powerful issues for Democratic candidates. Hayes, a contributing editor to In These Times, shows how the corruption issue was skillfully addressed by Democratic candidates to turn Illinois into a solid blue state in a relatively short time. As Hayes explains:

For much of the twentieth century, Illinois was the quintessential swing state, the Ohio of its day. Its state government tilted toward moderate Republicans. It voted for the winner in the presidential election twenty-one of twenty-four times in the twentieth century through 1996, going for Reagan in 1980 and 1984, George Bush I in 1988 and Clinton in 1992 and 1996. The rock-ribbed Republican suburban “collar” counties around Chicago canceled out the heavily Democratic city, leaving the fate of statewide elections to the fiercely independent voters downstate. Now the state looks like a Democratic lock–Gore and Kerry both won it by double-digit margins–and in these dark days you’ve got to wonder, How did this happen? And are there any lessons to be gleaned for Democrats elsewhere?

Hayes acknowledges the important role of demographic change in producing the Dems Illinois miracle:

Local observers use the term “perfect storm” to describe the confluence of disparate factors that has produced such a true-blue state, but it’s clear that demographic changes account for much of the transformation. Over the past decade, both Chicago and its surrounding suburbs have been getting progressively more Democratic as a result of the widespread migration of black and Latino families into the collar counties, an influx of immigrants and the rightward tilt of the national GOP on social issues, which has alienated many suburban moderates. Also, as John Judis and Ruy Teixeira argue in their book The Emerging Democratic Majority, the transition of the regional economy from manufacturing to service and technology has brought with it a substantial number of professionals with graduate degrees, a group that increasingly forms a bedrock Democratic constituency.

Illinois was clearly ready for a strong Democratic candidate to lead the charge. They found him in Rod Blagojevich, a candidate for Governor who took advantage of an exploding “license for bribes” scandal in the GOP statehouse and turned it into Democratic gold:

In 2002, as the scandal was reaching a fever pitch, Blagojevich won the gubernatorial race by successfully exploiting the taint of scandal against his opponent, Attorney General Jim Ryan, who, while neither related to nor implicated in the scandal, had the misfortune of sharing the same political party and last name as George Ryan. Blagojevich ran a barrage of ads showing side-by-side pictures of Jim Ryan and George Ryan, and promised to clean up state government and pass ethics reform.
But the damage done by licenses-for-bribes has reverberated well past that election, tarnishing the entire Republican brand in the state. When in last year’s US Senate race Republican nominee Jack Ryan went down in flames after sealed divorce records revealed he had pressured his wife into attending sex clubs, there was a general “here we go again” feeling to the coverage, despite the fact that Jack Ryan’s sins were venial and George Ryan’s mortal…[Democratic congressional candidate} Melissa Bean attributes at least some of her support to scandal fatigue among Republicans in her district. “I think it helped a lot,” she told me. “It’s one thing to be the right candidate for the district and another to be the right candidate at the right time. There’s no question that this was a district that was ready for change.”

Not every state is as ripe as Illinois, but the Dems do have opportunities elsewhere, including Washington, where the DeLay scandal is percolating nicely. But Hayes argues that they have to work the right levers:

Democrats do have to make the case forcefully. In Illinois the US Attorney’s office played a key role in doggedly pursuing GOP corruption, and if Democrats learned anything from the Clinton years, it’s the power of an officially sanctioned investigation to turn smoke into fire. But with the GOP currently controlling both houses and barring any ethics investigations that don’t have majority support, Democrats will have to rely on the press and public outrage. Of late, it seems Congressional Democrats have been catching on to this, taking steps to move the ball forward on the scandals that the blogosphere has worked feverishly to call attention to, pushing for a floor vote to reinstate revoked ethics rules, and issuing a 147-page report about the “death of deliberative democracy” under the GOP’s reign.

The Dems have a great start in making corruption a pivotal issue that will pervade the ’06 election. But the outcome will ride on the Dems follow-through, says Hayes:

Congressional Democrats should take a page out of Gingrich’s and Blagojevich’s books and propose comprehensive ethics reform. They should talk about the “corrupt Republicans” and “restoring transparency and integrity” at every turn. They should use DeLay’s mounting ignominy to tar fellow Republicans who benefit from his fundraising and clout. In short, they should make Republican scandal and Democratic reform one of the central narratives of their opposition over the next two years. “Newt Gingrich came to power because of an ethics scandal,” says Obama’s state political director, Dan Shomon. “Rod Blagojevich got elected partly because of scandal. You can defeat an incumbent if you can catch his or her hand in the cookie jar.”

Corruption will be a powerful issue for Democrats for as long as there is a GOP, which is driven by greed as much as any other value. Hayes’s article should be included in the playbook for all Democratic candidates in upcoming elections.

‘Buying Union’ Link Provides Screen for ‘Buying Blue’ Campaign

The “Buying Blue Can Be Tricky” post below (April 15) mentioned that the AFL-CIO does not provide a list of currently unionized companies on its web page. Not exactly accurate, it turns out. The AFL-CIO does provide a separate web page “Buy American. Buy Union!,” which helps consumers identify unionized companies, as well as companies that have been targeted by unions for boycotts as a result of their backward labor policies. “Buy American. Buy Union” should be used as a screen for companies endorsed by the “Buy Blue” campaign.

Buying Blue Can Be Tricky

EDM received a couple of comments about the “Buying Blue, Boycotting Red” post below, and both writers make excellent points. One is that union membership should be a consideration. The other is that what a company does, especially its role in partisan politics, should also be a criterion in buying blue. For example, the News Corp company listed as a “blue buy” is part of the Fox Network and red-listed UPS has unionized drivers. To this we might add a company’s environmental and diversity track records should be factors to look at for consumers who want to “buy blue.” No doubt the folks at buyblue.org have wrestled with these and other factors. Indeed, it would be a good idea for them to provide links to such lists. (Oddly enough, however, aflcio.org does not provide a list of currently unionized companies). The more such filters are applied, however, the shorter the buy blue list becomes. But buyblue.org nonetheless provides a great service for Dems as it is — to make good choices as consumers, we need to know which companies’ top executives lavish cash on the GOP.

Buying Blue, Boycotting Red Companies

True blue Dems have a great resource over at buyblue.org, which is loaded with information about which companies are supporting Democrats and Republicans. Check out, for example, “The Top Ten Bluest and Reddest Corporations.” Here’s their ranking list of companies, based on “amounts given by their C-level executives in 2003-2004” in both dollars and percentage terms:
Ten Bluest Corporations
Time Warner, $1,713,621, 77% Blue
Viacom, $892,513, 78% Blue
News Corp, $689,549, 61% *
Walt Disney, $606,504, 70% Blue
IBM, $397,936, 68% Blue
Cablevision, $326,842, 68% Blue
Torchmark Insurance Cos., $314,441, 88% Blue
Sony Corp. of America, $287,535, 69% Blue
Working Assets, $234,255, 100% Blue
Costco, $224,803, 99% Blue
Ten Reddest Corporations
United Parcel Service, $2,361,922, 71%
SBC Communications, $2,028,031, 67% Red
Merrill Lynch, $1,900,326, 72%, Red
Pfizer, $1,465,317, 67% Red
MBNA Corp., $1,453,497, 73% Red
Union Pacific, $1,428,663, 79% Red
Southern Co., $1,041,025, 80% Red
Wachovia Corp, $998,997, 75% Red
Clear Channel Communications, $764,318, 67% Red
General Electric, $747,386, 67% Red
There are other ways of ranking companies according to their financial support for both parties (See April 11th post “Calling All Dems: Stop Funding GOP Causes” below.) The beauty of selective patronage and boycotts is that it is a way that rank and file Dems can get involved in supporting their party on a daily basis and their success does not depend in any way on politicians. Reducing a company’s profits by even 1 percent can start stockholders howling for reform.

Dems Must Rework Gun Control Policy to Win in ’08

Dems who want to get up to speed on the politics of gun control must read Sasha Abramsky’s “Democrat Killer?” in The Nation. Abramsky makes a compelling case that a one-size-fits-all pro-gun control policy is a huge loser for Dems in the west and south:

Nationally, as the Democrats do the Electoral College math and realize the rising importance of the mountain and desert West to their presidential hopes, more and more are making this realpolitik calculation. If the South is now virtually unwinnable for national Democratic candidates, the party can craft a new Electoral College majority only if it can figure out how to make significant inroads into this region, into beautiful Open Road states like Nevada and New Mexico that, in 2004, went mildly Republican in the presidential election, while notching up significant victories or maintaining power for local and state Democratic Party politicians. And crafting a new stance on guns seems to a growing number of Democrats to be just the way to do that.

A more carefully-calibrated approach to gun control, says Abramsky, could reap new victories for Democratic candidates:

Rethinking guns is not only less morally toxic and less politically costly than any effort to recalibrate the party’s position on abortion or gay rights but could yield far greater political gains…It would take only a few thousand such voters to change their votes in New Mexico and Nevada for a Democratic presidential candidate to win both those states; and while Colorado and Montana are harder nuts to crack, they are certainly on the party’s radar. Win three of these four states, or win two of them plus Iowa, and the Democrats have an Electoral College majority again.

Abramsky concedes that there are tough moral and political concerns to balance in reformulating the Dems’ gun control polices. But Dems must not lose sight of the central issue. As Abramsky asks,

After all, what’s the point in staking the moral and intellectual high ground on gun control, as I believe gun-control proponents have done, if in doing so you lose the larger war for political power and the ability to enact all the other aspects of your program?

A good question — and one which Democrats must address to win back control of the White House and congress.

Calling All Dems: Stop Funding GOP Causes

Arguably, the most under-utilized resource rank and file Democrats have at their disposal is consumer spending choice. Worse, most of us inadvertantly give money to the GOP every day by supporting corporations that fund Republican candidates, while contributing very little, if anything at all, to Democrats. Grab a burger at Wendy’s, for example, and you have made a contribution to their PAC, which gives 93 percent of it’s dough to the GOP. (Click here for a longer list of companies that give more than 90 percent of their PAC money to Republicans.}
But who has time to keep up with the political spending patterns of Fortune 500 companies? The Center for American Progress, that’s who. The CAP’s American Progress Action Fund has launched a campaign to “Tell Corporate America to Drop the Hammer,” targeting five corporations that have contributed to Tom (“The Hammer”) DeLay’s defense fund. They are: American Airlines ($5K); Bacardi ($3K); Nissan ($5K); R. J. Reynolds ($17K) and Verizon ($5K).
At the link above, CAP has a nifty “send them a message form” which takes about 30 seconds of your time to express your disapproval to the five companies.

New Poll: GOP Interferes in Americans’ Private Lives

Republicans are always carrying on about how “we have to get government out of our lives.” But a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll just reported indicates that the public views the GOP as more meddlesome in Americans’ private lives than the Democrats — and by a healthy margin. Asked “When it comes to moral values, do you think the Republican Party is trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans, or not?” 55 percent responded affirmatively, compared to 40 percent who felt that way when asked the same question about the Democrats.