Sunday, February 21, 2016

Join Me at the 2016 Roosevelt Gala

I'm inviting my friends to the 2016 Roosevelt Gala at the Visalia Convention Center on April 9. At this banquet I'll be receiving an honor for my many years of work for progressive causes and candidates, and I would love to share the evening with you. California State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon will be the keynote speaker. I've posted the flyer below. I would love to see you there! Reserve your tickets, let me know you are coming, and I will ask the organizers to seat us at the same table.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Replacing Scalia

I confess it was with no great sadness that I heard of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia this past weekend. Known as the intellectual linchpin of the tribunal's conservative wing, Justice Scalia took great pains to protect the rights of corporations as if they were people but paid scant attention to protecting the rights of actual people. President Obama has announced he will fulfill his constitutional duty under Article II to nominate a successor. Now we will find out whether the Republican majority in the Senate will go through with its threats to refuse to exercise its constitutional mandate to vote to confirm or deny the president's choice. If so, their political flackery will have reached unprecedented heights, even for them. Such a course would likely hurt them in this November's election.

Scalia voted with the 5-4 majority to stop the 2000 Florida recount, awarding the presidency to George W. Bush without the inconvenience of an accurate vote tabulation. He was the similarly deciding vote in cases that overturned forty years of precedents and gave corporations the same rights as human beings, the Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings. He voted to gut the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act, another 5-4 ruling that has been used, through GOP gerrymandering, to once again disenfranchise black voting strength across the South. In his opinion the Fourteenth Amendment ("No state shall...deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.") does not guarantee equal rights for women and LGBT Americans. He stated "In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both? Yes, yes. Sorry to tell you that." (Source of Scalia quote.) It does not sadden me that such a jurist is no longer on the bench of the nation's highest court.

Within hours of news of Scalia's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that no vote would be taken on any successor until after the November election, that a new president should make the selection. McConnell's gambit would deny President Obama the opportunity to name a progressive jurist, hoping for a Republican victory to allow conservatives to maintain their majority on the tribunal. Obama, however, in his own statement, promised to exercise his constitutional responsibility to fill the vacancy, and called on the Senate to follow theirs, to vet the nominee and have a vote. Here are the political considerations. If the Republicans dig in their heels and refuse action they will succeed in ginning up their own base. Committed conservatives would be more motivated to come out and vote for President to prevent a liberal Supreme Court majority. But the converse is also true. Democrats would make this a major issue, firing up their own base to show up and ensure a new Court more friendly to consumers and minorities than corporations and bigots. The deciding factor would be with independents. I feel the maneuver would push most independents in the Democrats' direction. If Obama were to nominate someone who has been already unanimously confirmed by the whole Senate for a lower Court position, independents would see the Republican tactic for the partisan political power play it is, hurting them with the undecideds and helping Democrats in close congressional elections and in battleground states if the presidential election is close. That's why we are already starting to see some GOP senators back away from the scorched earth approach. Look for the next three weeks to tell the story. By then the President will make his nomination and the ball will be in McConnell's "court," so to speak.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Three Contests Crucial to Democratic Nomination Battle

The Democratic presidential contest is now down to a one-on-one contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. In Iowa's caucuses Clinton's careful attention to organization, learned in a bitter lesson eight years ago against Barack Obama and John Edwards, squared off against Sanders's enthusiasm factor. The collision produced the closest thing to a draw, with Clinton claiming bragging rights with a win of two-tenths of a percentage point and a 23-21 edge in delegates won. The basic takeaway is that this is a real horse race--Bernie will not go gentle into the night. And though Secretary Clinton has a preponderance of national strength, Senator Sanders has a launching pad coming up and a message that resonates with the Democratic base. The odds still favor Clinton. Yet Sanders is getting plenty of money to compete from small contributions. A powerful early win for him could seriously deflate her electability argument and give the ardent transplanted Brooklynite a path to victory.  But strong rebounds by Clinton in South Carolina and Nevada could set up a near-sweep for her on Super Tuesday and put the nomination within her grasp.

The dynamic in play is that Sanders has tapped into the issue that resonates most strongly with the Democratic base: income inequality, and an influence and campaign finance system that most believe acts to rig the economy and opportunity to the benefit of corporations and the wealthy few. Clinton has the overwhelming backing of the Democratic Party and its office holders. She has the competence edge, with an encyclopedic grasp of every issue, foreign and domestic. Both are liberal, or progressive in wanting to protect civil rights and programs that help average Americans. Sanders is clearly the more liberal, though, wanting to extend these programs much farther than she proposes. His hurdle is moving past being a one-issue candidate. Hers is providing a compelling vision for her candidacy beyond experience.

Here's what's in store in the primary calendar: This Tuesday February 9 is the New Hampshire primary. 32 delegates are at stake, and Sanders is odds on to win big. In a New England state that borders Bernie's Vermont, the poll averages read Sanders 54.6 and Clinton 40.1. That's a 14.5% lead for the Bern. The trend has leveled off, though. Sanders' lead went from 6.7% on January 17 up to 19.5%, but now has begun to float back a bit given the last couple of surveys. The gap has narrowed 5.1% in the last 5 days. If Hillary can get this back to single digits by Tuesday it will help blunt his momentum.

The next contest is South Carolina on Saturday, February 20. It's a primary vote with 59 delegates at stake. This state is supposed to be a Clinton firewall to break Sanders' momentum if he wins New Hampshire. The last surveys give Clinton an overwhelming lead by an average margin of almost 30 points, 62% to 32.5%. The majority of Democratic voters in South Carolina are black, a demographic that polls strongly loyal to Secretary Clinton nation-wide. There are two considerations that might change this calculus. First, there hasn't been any recent polling there. The most up-to-date ones were completed January 21 and 23. Second, if Sanders pulls off a big win in the New Hampshire primary it's not clear how damaging that might be to Hillary's overall national position with voters. She still holds a commanding fourteen-point lead across America, 50% to 36%, but no one is sure if or by how much that might erode if a sharp blow to her inevitability case is inflicted in the Granite State.

Presuming a strong Clinton win in South Carolina, the next battle will be in Nevada, which holds caucuses Saturday February 27 to allot the Silver State's 43 delegates. Nevada is 27.5% Latino and 9% African-American, numbers that should help the Clinton cause. The numbers we have gave Hillary a big 19.5% lead there (50% to 30.5%), but they are old. There haven't been any polls there since December 27. I think Nevada will be of great significance. If Clinton thumps the Bern it will begin to deflate the excitement and hope of his candidacy. If he wins, it will fuel the passion of his supporters and the impression that Hillary's star is on the decline.  

Only three days later comes "Super Tuesday," March 1, when 12 Democratic contests are scheduled. These include 7 in the South, where Hillary ought to be favored. These are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. There are 4 in the North, where Bernie's chances are likely to be better: Vermont, Colorado, Massachusetts and Minnesota. There will also be a caucus in American Samoa. By the end of the evening of Tuesday, March 1, the shape of the Democratic race and the probable winner will almost certainly be known.