Friday, February 23, 2007

What Is A 'Strong-Party" Democrat?

If you read my posts here or on other forums you know that I often refer to myself as a "strong-party" Democrat. What does that mean? And why is it important?

Simply put, strong-party refers to a political philosophy or model based on the belief that you generally get more votes by clearly differentiating yourself from your opponents through taking strong stands on values and issues. This motivates and brings out your base, attracts independents who prefer strong leaders, and advances your political agenda, although at the risk of driving away voters who don't agree with you.

The opposite of the strong-party model is the cautious-party model, which is the dominant model in the Democratic Party today (although that's starting to change). This model holds that the path to political success is to blur the distinction between you and your opponents by taking vague general positions and avoiding controversial issues. The goal is to get as many votes as possible by not offending anyone. The main drawback is that you tend to be seen as weak, so it's hard to motivate your base and you lose independent voters who value leadership above ideology. It also makes it harder to advance your political agenda, and increases the risk of a third-party challenge.

Notice that all this has nothing to do with ideology. It isn't about left verses right, but rather two very different strategies for political success. John Kerry is a cautious-party liberal, and Joe Lieberman is a cautious-party moderate. Dennis Kucinich is a strong-party liberal, and Howard Dean is a strong-party moderate.

Despite the fact that I'm a liberal who is often at odds with moderates, I believe that the real fight within the Democratic Party is philosophical, not ideological. What is generally perceived as a left/right division is actually a fight over fundamentally differing views of what the Democratic Party is, and what we must do in order to succeed.

There are valid historical reasons why the Democratic Party is dominated by cautious-party politicians and leaders, but politics in the US has fundamentally changed over the last thirty years, and we as a party haven't kept up. It's time to have this debate and start moving our party forward.

American Idol

It's a shame that Denise Jackson didn't make it further on American Idol, but this cartoon sums up my feelings about that show rather well.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

UW Madison College Dems: No Blacks Allowed?

Are blacks and Hispanics welcome in the UW Madison College Democrats? You might not get that impression judging from the bizarre antics at their endorsement meeting a few weeks ago.

In one of the most boneheaded maneuvers ever, the College Dems' leadership, in their zeal to support a favored candidate for Madison City Council, took unprecedented measures that prevented almost every single minority student at that meeting from participating in the endorsement vote. The College Dems weren't deliberately being racist, but perception is reality in politics, and it looks really bad when a bunch of white Democratic students change the rules at the last minute to block a bunch of black and brown students from voting at a party meeting. Not exactly the best way to encourage minority involvement in the Democratic party.

This is a complicated story that hasn't been covered well in the MSM, and I know I'm going to stir up a hornet's nest by wading into it. But I firmly believe that Democratic leaders, even students, must be held accountable when they do things that hurt the party.

There's an additional reason that I'm bringing up this issue now. This Thursday the Dane Dems will hold an endorsement vote on the same city council race. Usually we simply follow the lead of the College Dems, but this year I believe that we need to carefully consider the fact that doing so implies tacit approval of the tactics used at the College Dems meeting, and therefore will only compound the damage. Given that both candidates in the race are well qualified progressives with almost identical stands on the issues, I think the Dane Dems should just stay out of this mess and let the cards fall where they may.

Here's the story:

Eli Judge (L) and Lauren Woods (R) are competing for the Madison 8th District City Council seat currently held by retiring alder Austin King. This district covers many of the UW Madison dorms, so it's quite liberal even by Madison standards, and tends to elect very young candidates.

Both Woods and Judge are UW students with solid political experience; Woods was president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union and has worked for Senator Lena Taylor, and Judge was Chair of UW-Madison Students for a Fair Wisconsin. Both are progressive activists who's views reflect those of the district, and both are well qualified to serve on the City Council.

The retiring King recruited Woods as his heir apparent, and delayed his retirement announcement as long as possible to discourage other challengers. King is very popular, and has a formidable political machine in the district, and Woods has the strong support of many minority groups on campus. But Judge, with the backing other groups and, critically, the College Dems leadership, also threw his hat into the ring. With two ideologically similar candidates vying for the seat it promised to be a tough race, boosting the importance of endorsements.

But the College Dems leadership faced a problem. They couldn't guarantee that Judge, their favored candidate, would receive their endorsement under the rules they traditionally used for endorsement votes. The College Dems have always allowed everyone who showed up a meeting to vote. Endorsements were decided largely by how many supporters each candidate could bring to the endorsement meeting, and it was probable that Woods, with support from King's machine, would be able to turn out far more people than Judge.

Faced with this the College Dems leadership took two unprecedented actions: They scheduled a snap endorsement meeting with only two days public notice, and they simultaneously announced a change in the voting rules to require attendance at a previous College Dems event as a prerequisite to vote.

The effect was to prevent almost all of Woods supporters from voting. Given the groups that support each candidate, it came down to a bunch of white students telling a bunch of black and brown students that under the brand new rules they were no longer entitled to vote for their own candidate.

I don't have a problem with the College Dems adopting any rules they want. But I do have a problem with them changing them at the last minute to help their buddies, particularly when doing so drives a wedge between the Democratic Party and the minority community.

But there's a bigger problem here. Some of our Democratic party leaders are not only completely oblivious to the racial overtones in this case, they also appear to be supportive of what the UW Madison College Dems did and how they did it. This "win at any cost" culture, while necessary for a political party to succeed, tends to obscure the fact that some battles just aren't worth the cost. A "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" attitude is great most of the time, but you still have to think about the consequences of damning those torpedoes, and many of our party leaders are incapable of doing so. They tend to think very short term, tactically rather then strategically, and this leads to errors in judgment. Sadly, those errors can really damage our party.

I want to make it very clear that my objection isn't to Eli Judge as a candidate. Although I prefer Lauren Woods for many reasons, I believe that either candidate would do a good job representing their district on the city council. My beef is with the utter stupidity of the College Dems board members and the adults who advised and supported them.

Here are some links from both sides of the issue if you want more information. Be sure to read the comments on the stories to get a flavor of the strong feelings this race has generated:

The Badger Herald 1/19/07 - UW students go head-to-head for District 8 seat. A good intro to the race.

The Badger Herald 1/24/07 - College Dems endorse Judge. This is the original news story about the College Dems endorsement. It doesn't mention the controversy at all.

Badger Herald 01/30/2007 - UW Dems limit Woods’ support. This is the first story that talks about the voting rule change.

The Daily Cardinal 2/7/07 - UW Dems bylaw change unfair to Woods, some say. Another story that gets into the rule change.

The Critical Badger Blog 2/7/07 - The Daily Cardinal… what are you thinking?. A critique of the story above by a member of the College Dems. I believe the "Bloggers in the area [that] will be going crazy with this story" refers to me.

Lauren Wood's campaign website

Eli Judge's campaign website

A final word. I've talked to many people on both sides of this issue, and while everyone schemed behind the scenes to support their own candidate, it's my opinion that the UW Madison College Dems board and particularly their chair, Eli Lewein, have been considerably less than honest about their actions and motivations. Although much of the blame must be placed on the adults within the Democratic Party who are selecting and mentoring the College Dems leadership, that doesn't excuse either what they did or their unwillingness to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. This incident exposes a serious flaw in the way we recruit and train future Democratic Party leaders, a flaw that must be fixed if the party is to be truly successful in Wisconsin.


UPDATE: Although the Dane Dems board recommended an endorsement of Eli Judge, the endorsement did not pass at the general membership meeting on 2/23. Unfortunately Judge's endorsement was lumped in with several other endorsements that were voted on as a group, so there was little debate. I would have preferred to have seen a robust discussion of the issues, but I think we did the right thing by staying out of this race.

Madison Primary Results

In general I'm pleased with the Madison and Dane County primary results. The only really disturbing race is the Supreme Court. Although Linda Clifford won the county with 44.6%, verses 38.3% for Annette Ziegler, I had expected her to do significantly better here. If Clifford can't win Dane County overwhelmingly in April she's not going beat Ziegler. The rest of the results:

Madison Mayor. As everyone expected, Dave walked away with it.
Mayor Dave - 57.5%
Ray Allen - 29.9
Peter Munoz - 9.9%
Will Sandstrom - 2.4%
Madison District 6 Alderperson. A complete blowout. This race is over.
Marsha Rummel - 67.9%
Carol Durocher - 15.3%
Adam Casey - 11.5%
Brooks McGrath - 4.7%
Madison District 10 Alderperson. An even bigger blowout.
Brian Solomon - 71.8%
Chris Ogden - 17.1%
Thomas McClure - 6.0%
Nick Dorneanu - 4.5%
Madison District 11 Alderperson. An impressive performance by Chris Schmidt against a fairly strong incumbent.
Tim Gruber - 46.4%
Chris Schmidt - 43.1%
Sandra Lynne Saul - 10.0%
Madison District 12 Alderperson. These number look good for Satya. She should pick up almost all of Mike Basford's votes (assuming Mike supports her, which he should) giving her a clear lead over Deadman in the general.
Mark Deadman - 34.3%
Satya Rhodes-Conway - 34.0%
Mike Basford - 28.6%
Marcus Watson - 3.0%
Madison District 13 Alderperson. Another lopsided blowout.
Julia Kerr - 73.7%
Duane Steinhauer (Progressive Duane) - 14.3%
Mike Clark - 10.7%
Madison District 15 Alderperson. Vicky has her work cut out for her in this one.
Larry Palm - 50.0%
Vicky Selkowe - 40.4%
Mark Schmitt - 9.2%
Madison District 17 Alderperson.
Joe Clausius - 55.4%
Sarah Florino - 22.6%
Mary Thornton - 21.1%
Madison District 18 Alderperson. Props to Olivas who never ran for office before. Despite his defeat I hope he stays involved in politics.
Michael Schumacher - 49.1%
Jon Becker - 36.4%
Benito Juarez Olivas - 10.4%
Andy Lindgren - 4.0%
Madison School Board Seat 3. I haven't seen Rick Thomas do much campaigning, but what he did clearly worked. I believe he is a fairly conservative Christian, and church support may have been his secret weapon.
Beth Moss - 50.0%
Rick Thomas - 26.3%
Pam Cross-Leone - 22.4%
Shame on you if you didn't vote today, and on to the general election!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Jail Time for Rep. Mark Pocan?

Representative Mark Pocan very publicly broke Wisconsin law, and if tried and convicted he faces thousands of dollars in fines and nearly a year in jail. His crime? Going to Toronto last November to marry his male partner.

Under an obscure Wisconsin law, anyone living in Wisconsin who goes to another state or country and gets married there, when such a marriage is not permitted in Wisconsin, is subject to criminal penalties and can be fined ten thousand dollars and thrown in jail for nine months.

Everyone knows that a marriage between two men or two women isn't legal in Wisconsin, and wasn't legal even before we amended our constitution to enshrine intolerance in that great document. But there's been little attention paid to the fact that it's also illegal for a gay or lesbian couple to travel out of state to get married. The Human Rights Campaign and Attorneys Against the Ban both picked up on it, but I haven't seen this discussed in the MSM or on any of the blogs I read.

Wisconsin Statute § 765.30 states:
(1) The following may be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than 9 months or both:
"(a) Penalty for marriage outside the state to circumvent the laws. Any person residing and intending to continue to reside in this state who goes outside the state and there contracts a marriage prohibited or declared void under the laws of this state."

Now, you might think this was put in place just to make life difficult for single-sex couples, but it wasn't. It appears to have been intended to prevent Wisconsinites from doing stupid things like going to Alabama to marry their fourteen year old first cousins. Unfortunately the law is broadly drawn, and Mark Pocan and probably many others have unintentionally broken it. While Mark and his partner have little to worry about because it's unlikely a DA in Dane County would bring charges against them, that may not be true in other parts of Wisconsin.

BTW, congratulations and best wishes to Mark and Philip. I hope their marriage, whether recognized in Wisconsin or not, is long and happy.

I'm Back!

I took a little unplanned break from blogging, but I'm back with a bunch of good stuff in the pipeline including some mighty interesting investigative journalism and some posts on local politics that will probably piss off a lot of people.

Writing isn't easy for me. My training is in science and engineering, and in my younger days I studiously avoided writing. I've grown wiser as I've grown older, but putting this blog together is still a lot of work for a dumb engineer with very limited language skills. Despite this I've had pretty remarkable success judging by the number of hits I get and how often my posts get picked up by WisOpinion and other big sites. I just want to say thanks to all of my readers. You're the reason I do this.

Non-Binding Resolutions...

But not bad for a first act...