Elections

The Evangelist

Gregg Segal T wo years ago on a summer morning, Jim Gilliam stood offstage at New York University’s Skirball Center. It was the second day of the Personal Democracy Forum, an annual gathering of civic-minded coders, hackers, and online organizers. Many in the crowd knew Gilliam as much for his appearance—he’s six-foot-nine, bald, ivory-pale, and impossibly thin—as for his brilliance as a programmer and his passion for progressive causes. Gilliam, who was 33 years old, had never spoken before such a large audience, and as he strode across the stage and looked out on all the people, he was terrified. “Growing up,” he began, “I had two loves: Jesus and the Internet.” He had titled his speech “The Internet Is My Religion,” and he was surprised the conference’s organizers had agreed to let him give a talk steeped in God and faith. Even though he’d rehearsed for weeks, he expected to bomb. Still, he had to do this. His entire life, he believed, had led him to this point. “I was born again...

The Big Donors Behind the Shutdown

The big donors behind the crisis in Washington are finally being called out by the mainstream media. Yesterday, the New York Times had a major investigative piece about how the Koch brothers and other major conservative donors pushed the Republican Party toward its current extreme strategy of trying to stop Obamacare. I have been saying the same thing for some time, citing the key role played by the Club for Growth in threatening House Republicans with electoral retaliation at primary time if they don't go all out on Obamacare. But the Times story breaks new ground by spelling out exactly how deep pocketed donors are using their clout with Republicans in Congress. These donors have made defunding Obamacare a litmus test and have directed intense fire, in the form of TV and Internet ads against Republicans seen as not falling in line behind this push. This stands in contrast to the usual narrative about the government shutdown, along with debt ceiling brinksmanship—which is that it's...

Dancing with the Shutdown Spin that Brought You

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite S pin is overrated. Alas, it’s never going away. If there’s one thing that political scientists try, repeatedly, to convince the reporters and correspondents who cover politics of, it’s that fundamentals tend to matter a lot more than they think, and opinion manipulation matters less. Not none—but in many cases, not very much. That’s why, for example, it was easy to predict that Republicans would lose the polling battle over the shutdown. If spin mattered, then that wouldn’t be the case; we would have to wait to see how well each side developed and delivered their “messaging” and their “narratives.” Oh, they do that; it just doesn’t matter nearly as much as structural elements, such as the advantage that a president has over congressional leaders in these sorts of situations or the fact that going into this particular battle, Democrats were united while Republicans were split. When this is over and you read a behind-the-scenes story about how the White...

McCutcheon Money: How Citizens United 2 Could Increase the Power of Elite Donors

Next Tuesday, October 8, the Supreme Court is scheduled (pending shutdown nonsense) to hear oral arguments on McCutcheon v. FEC , a challenge to the total cap on the amount of money one wealthy individual is permitted to contribute to all federal candidates, parties, and PACs. The current “aggregate contribution limit” is $123,200—twice the median household income in the U.S. As you might imagine, this cap affects very few people; just 1,219 people were at, over, or within 10 percent of the limit for the 2012 election cycle. I’m guessing you are not sitting on $150,000 you’d like put into politics next year—so, why should you care? Here’s why: This tiny group of people already has substantial sway in our election system, and a bad ruling in McCutcheon would give them even more. Demos and U.S. PIRG have worked together to project that striking aggregate contribution limits would bring more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from elite donors through the 2020 elections...

Racing to Run a City without a Motor

AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File
This piece is the second in a two-part series about the Detroit mayoral race. Read part one on Mayor Dave Bing's legacy here. P erhaps the most amazing story of the Detroit mayoral race is that the candidates are running like it matters. The city is in the throes of bankruptcy, with nearly $20 billion in debts and long-term liabilities. It’s too soon to tell what settlement or terms Detroit will have to abide by in the years to come. Meanwhile, emergency manager Kevyn Orr, a lawyer appointed by Governor Rick Snyder in March, has the authority of both mayor and council for at least another year. He’s using that authority, too, leaving Mayor Dave Bing ( who is not running for re-election ) with little decision-making power in his final months in office. Facing this new governance, several city councilmembers opted to resign, or to not run for re-election this year. The president pro tem left for a $225,000 a year job in Orr’s office. One couldn’t be blamed for thinking that this year’s...

Eric Holder's Big Voting-Rights Gamble

AP Images/Manuel Balce Ceneta
J ust about everyone who goes through a musical-theater phase at some point falls in love with Sky Masterson of Guys and Dolls . In the movie version, Marlon Brando plays the gambler who will wager “sky high” stakes and finds himself singing “Luck Be a Lady” while rolling the dice to see if he gets the girl. Going all in may be what you’d expect in a fictional singing crapshooter, but it’s a bit more surprising in a U.S. attorney general. Eric Holder’s announcement Monday that the Justice Department was going to bring a lawsuit against North Carolina’s new and wide-sweeping election law , which includes a laundry list of voter restrictions and changes making it harder to vote, showcases just how high he’s willing to make the stakes when it comes to voting rights. His department is now going to be litigating two high-profile cases—one against a voter-ID law in Texas, and the other against the omnibus bill in North Carolina. The DOJ is also involved in a case to show that Texas’s...

Dave Bing’s Detroit

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Cal Sport Media via AP Images This piece is the first in a two-part series about the Detroit mayoral race. Check in tomorrow for part two, about the Democratic candidates currently campaigning. Y ou could say that Dave Bing is a celebrity politician. But Detroit’s mayor is so mild-mannered, it’s easy to forget that he’s a Hall of Fame basketball star who was drafted second overall in 1966, earned Rookie of the Year honors, and played in the NBA for 12 seasons—most of them, naturally, with the Detroit Pistons. The league chose him as one of its 50 greatest players in 1996, and the Pistons retired his number. But that’s all history. When Detroiters elected Dave Bing to the city’s top office four years ago, it wasn’t because of his fame. It was because he was boring. When the 65-year-old Bing declared his intention to run back in 2008, Detroit had become something of a spectacle. Kwame Kilpatrick, the city’s young and talented two-term mayor, had resigned as part of a plea bargain for...

Angela Merkel, Black Widow, Seeks Partner

AP Images/Michael Sohn
The American press has widely reported on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s nickname: “Mutti,” which translates to “Mommy.” Less noted is her second nickname, which is also familial but decidedly less affectionate: “The Black Widow.” She has earned this second sobriquet because she kills her partners with whom she governmentally cohabits. In Germany’s 2005 election, Merkel’s Christian Democrats edged out the then-governing Social Democrats by a single percentage point, 35 percent to 34 percent. The Social Democrats then entered into a coalition government headed by the Christian Democrats, with Merkel as chancellor. In the next election, in 2009, Merkel claimed credit for the government’s successes, while the Social Democrats had trouble defining themselves as a clear opposition party. As a consequence, not only did Merkel’s party win re-election, but the Social Democrats’ vote fell to an all-time low of 23 percent. Since 2009, the Christian Democrats have governed in partnership with...

Virginia Is for Lovers of Politics as Usual

AP Photo/The Washington Post, Linda Davidson, Pool
AP Photo/The Washington Post, Linda Davidson, Pool K en Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, was immediately sucking for air as last night's debate in Northern Virginia began. It took his opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe—former Democratic National Committee chair and Clinton World stalwart—just a few minutes and a few lines about how he'll bring business to the state before he was able to smoothly segue into this attack: My opponent has spent most of his career on a social ideological agenda. He has pushed personhood legislation which would outlaw most forms of contraception, would make the pill illegal in Virginia. He bullied the Board of Health that would shut down the woman's health centers. Women are 50 percent of the workforce of the United States of America. Cuccinelli, Virginia's current attorney general, is not the slickest debater and had trouble aggressively beating away such a tone for much of the night. "Well, in this race—of course, we've got...

Angela Merkel's Boring Brilliance

AP Images/Markus Schreiber
AP Images/Markus Schreiber F ew European politicians have survived the financial crisis of 2008 unscathed, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proved to be an extraordinary politician. While most of her counterparts across Europe have been swept away amidst the turmoil that has resulted from the euro crisis, Merkel keeps getting stronger. She just won her third general election, and this time, she brought her party within a hair of an absolute majority, something that hasn’t happened to the conservative Christian Democrats since 1957. She’s the first female chancellor in German history, and at the height of her power, which means her tried and true policy of slow, almost glacial change will continue. How boring. And how utterly genius. Not since Bismarck has a German politician managed to parry a dizzying array of domestic and international forces into a manageable agenda as well as she has. Known to friend and foe alike as “Mutti” (“mommy” in German), Merkel is not only the...

Bloomberg's Rocky Mountain Rout

AP Images/John Minchillo
Tuesday’s recall elections in Colorado—the first ones in state history—resulted in two Democratic state senators losing their seats. It also resulted in an excruciating amount of spin about what the losses meant for gun-control efforts in other states and at the federal level. Colorado was among the first states to pass gun-control legislation in the wake of two mass shootings, one of which occurred at a movie theatre in a Denver suburb. But though the recall was undoubtedly prompted by anger over the vote, as I wrote last week, the actual elections results were never going to tell us much about gun-control opinions one way or another. While the National Rifle Association and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns both got involved in the race, the elections quickly became about a broader swath of issues. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded Tea Party group, lambasted the two senators for their positions on taxes and Obamacare, getting pretty far...

A New Progressive Era for NYC? Not So Fast.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer "O ur mission is to change our city in the name of progress,” Bill de Blasio said to the crowd assembled in a Gowanus, Brooklyn bar after midnight on Tuesday, claiming victory in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary with just over 40 percent of the vote. New York's Public Advocate and progressive populist appeared to have pulled it off, stunning not just his opponents but also many of the city’s political professionals and financial elites. He had forged an Obama-esque coalition in the Big Apple. Indeed, the atmosphere at the event felt eerily familiar if you followed the 44 th president’s 2008 campaign. “We understand that making big change is never easy,” de Blasio said. “It never has been. And there are those who have said our ambition for this city is too bold, and that we’re asking of the wealthiest New Yorkers too much. That we’re setting our sights for the children of this city too high. That we’re guilty, guilty my friends, of thinking too big. Let...

A True Liberal Mayor At Last?

AP Images/Bebeto Matthews
New York City is on the verge of electing its first progressive mayor in a generation. In most polls, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is well over the 40 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff in the Democratic Primary. And in the Big Apple, the Democratic nomination is tantamount to a win. Even if he is pushed into a runoff, DeBlasio is strongly favored to come out on top. The early front runner, Christine Quinn, stumbled badly, partly because of her close association with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. As city council chair, Quinn was the key enabler of Bloomberg’s overriding of the city’s term limits law. All of Bloomberg’s latent unpopularity among the non-affluent began culminating during his final months in office, and it cascaded onto the unfortunate Quinn . Even among women, she has only 19 percent support in the polls. Quinn had been poised to become not only New York’s first female mayor but its first lesbian mayor. But that historic breakthrough is on the verge of being...

What Happened to Christine Quinn’s Lead?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
With Christine Quinn limping toward primary day, the question for many poll watchers is why more women haven’t supported her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the New York City mayoral race. Though she’s the only woman running, and stands to be both New York City’s first female mayor and its first openly gay one, Quinn is coming in third among women. Only 19 percent of women likely to vote in the Democratic primary Tuesday support Quinn, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll —the last before tomorrow's election. Forty percent of women are behind public advocate Bill De Blasio, and 22 percent back former comptroller Bill Thompson. The latest poll from Public Policy Polling has Quinn's chances looking even longer; she snags only 12 percent of women voters, and only 13 percent of voters overall. AP Photo/ Donald Traill Women seem to split into two main camps when it comes to Quinn. In the first, made up of her stalwart proponents, the fact of her being female is essential...

Can a Progressive Make It to Gracie Mansion?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer B ill de Blasio is under attack in New York City’s mayoral race, and not just because his broad, towering frame makes for an easy target, that gray, conservatively-manicured block of hair rising above voters and the press at every campaign stop. A self-styled movement progressive with a biracial family from Park Slope, Brooklyn, de Blasio has seized the mantle of change in a city where many residents appear to crave it after a decade under billionaire incumbent Michael Bloomberg’s cold vision of financial capitalist technocracy. With just a few days left before the September 10 Democratic primary, de Blasio is way out in front of his rivals; in the latest Quinnipiac poll , he crossed the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a run-off and advance directly to the November general election. Now de Blasio finds himself on the cusp of tremendous power over a city at a crossroads, facing existential questions over everything from expired municipal employees' union...

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