Sunday, May 28, 2017

What can democrats learn from Montana Special Election?

Rob Quist Campaigning (Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)
In the recently held special election for the lone Congressional district in Montana, Democrat Rob Quist lost to Republican Greg Gianforte by six points.  Just seven months ago, in Nov 2016 Ryan Zinke, the republican, handily won the seat by a 16 points margin, and Trump carried the state by a comfortable 20 points margin.  What lessons can democrats draw from this election?

In this election, Greg Gianforte unabashedly supported Trump, and Trump Jr campaigned for him.  Rob Quist, who started the race with little money, made healthcare his signature campaign issue.  So, in a way it is not a overstatement to declare this special election was a referendum of Trump's policies.

How well did Rob Quist do across the state of Montana? More importantly, how well did he do in rural Montana?  Although some analysts such as Martin Longman  correctly point out that the Montana special election results indicate that Democrats have a problem in appealing to rural voters, a county-by-county analysis of Montana results shows that the democrats have managed to broaden their appeal in both rural and urban areas.

Compared to 2016 election, democrats on the average have gained at least 10 percentage points in most counties - urban and rural, across the state of Montana.  In the graph below, if the center of the bubble falls in the blue region, it indicates that democrats performed better in 2017 compared to 2016. Looking at the graph, one can see that the democratic improvement in performance was not just restricted to traditionally blue counties (to the right of the vertical axis) but was also true for even deep red counties ( to the left of the vertical axis).
Democrats improved their performance in 2017 Montana Special Election (vertical axis) compared to Hillary-Trump margin in 2016 (horizontal axis).  The size of the bubble is representative of the size of the county, and if a county fell in the blue shaded regions, democrats outperformed in 2017 compared to 2016. 

What is surprising is that the democrats performed better in the special election across the entire state - even in small rural counties - compared to 2016.  How well did they do?
Even in many counties where democrats lost by 50% or more in 2016 (horizontal axis), democratic candidate, Rob Quist, gained at least 10 percentage points compared to the performance in 2016 (vertical axis).  The size of the bubble is representative of the number of voters in that county.

Based on these results, democrats have reason to be optimistic about their prospects in 2018.  In Montana, Rob Quist campaigned in both rural and urban areas in his Winnebago.  By showing up in these rural areas, Rob Quist was able to give voters a reason to consider him. 
Democratic party establishment did not think that this seat was winnable, and until early May, did not commit funds to the campaign.  It was the grassroots support that kept Rob Quist in the race.  In the end, although both sides spent roughly the equal amount, it was telling that the republican party establishment was worried enough to pump a lot of money early in the race with negative advertisement to define Rob Quist, which ultimately might have made the difference in the race.  On the democratic side, small donors fueled Rob Quist's campaign, and on the republican side, outside groups, heavily contributed to the Greg Gianforte's campaign.

There are two messages for democrats from this special election. 
(1) Democrats can win even in deep red districts if they compete everywhere - rural Americans face the same issues: healthcare, education, and social mobility as urban Americans. 
(2) Pick candidates who can talk to the anxieties of rural Americans who feel besieged by forces of globalization and automation, without pandering to them.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Changing Pearland ...

Pearland is the fastest growing city in the Houston region.  In the last two decades, Pearland's population exploded nearly six fold from approximately 19,000 to nearly over 120000.

Elections in Pearland have been boring for years.  The usual suspects - predominantly from East Pearland with long standing political power and clout- have defeated nominal opponents handily and easily for decades.  By that measure, the long time Mayor Mr. Tom Reid, well liked in the community, should have won handily in the recent local election.  But, when a young challenger, Mr. Quentin Wiltz, came a close second to force a run off, Pearland's local elections got interesting. What changed in Pearland?

Pearland's close proximity to prominent economic hubs of medical center, space center, and oil refineries has brought in medical professionals - doctors, nurses, and allied health staff, engineers from aerospace and chemical industries, to Pearland.   A bulk of this growth is concentrated on the Westside - close to 288.  However, the seats of local political power - school board, city council, and the Mayor's office - have all been dominated by established players from East of 35.

In the recent local elections held last month, for the first time, many positions were contested by some solid candidates from West Pearland.  In fact, a local Dawson High School senior, Mr. Mike Floyd, unseated a two term incumbent member from the school board.

Mr. Quentin Wiltz, a young professional working in the energy industry challenged the 10+ term Mayor Mr. Tom Reid and has forced a run off.  Similarly, a young woman, Ms. Dalia Kasseb - a pharmacist who hails from Shadow Creek ran for the city council position 7, and is now in a run-off election against a political veteran Mr. Woody Owens.

Mayor Tom Reid, a 10+ term incumbent, is fighting to retain his seat against challenger Mr. Quentin Wiltz, an unabashed progressive from the West side of Pearland.

The very fact that there are run off elections suggest that the growing Westside comprised of professionals from diverse backgrounds are starting to flex their muscles to demand that they be part of the deliberations regarding the future of this fast-growing city.

Early voting for the run off elections are on:

May 30 (Tue) - Jun 2 (Fri) from 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Jun 3 (Sat), Jun 5-6 (Mon/Tue) from 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM

Early voting is at three locations, Tom Reid Library at Liberty Drive, West side Library at Shadow Creek, and at the Public Safety Building at Cullen.

The run-off elections will be held on June 10th - 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM, and you can vote at three more locations Pearland Recreation Center at Bailey, Drainage District 4 Building at W. Broadway, and Shadycrest Baptist Church at Yost.

If Mr. Wiltz and Ms. Kasseb, should prevail on the June 10th, this will harbinger an era where the West Pearland starts to play a active role in the local governance of the fast growing Pearland.

Go vote!  If you have friends and relatives in Pearland, encourage them to go and vote.  Because the turnout in these elections is so low, your vote truly has more weight than in other elections.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Tale of Two Deputy Attorney Generals : Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein

The former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified under oath that she informed the White House that the then National Security Advisor Gen Flynn was possibly compromised by Russians on Jan 26th.  

White House completely ignored the warnings given by Sally Yates, and kept Flynn in the sensitive position of national security advisor with no restrictions for another 18 days, before it became untenable to keep him any longer due to widespread press coverage.

Now there is another Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstain.

He writes a memo on 5/9/2017 about how Comey mishandled Hillary Clinton's email probe in July 2016.  Based on this Deputy Attorney General's letter, Trump summarily fires Comey -who was investigating the Trump-Russia story, within hours of receiving this letter.

So, what does that tell you about Trump's priorities?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The unraveling of Trump-Russia Story!

It is shocking to see that many of those who are in the position of authority to investigate the Trump-Russia story are disappearing like flies.

1. James Comey, FBI Director: Fired by Trump for an improper investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server.  (If you believe this, I have a bridge to sell you).

2. Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Lied to Congress about Russians during sworn testimony.  Recused himself after getting caught.  

3. House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes: Tried to bamboozle the US citizens with breathless claims about 'evidence' supporting Trump's claim that President Obama wiretapped him. Nunes's lies were exposed partly due to his ineptitude and had to recuse himself from the Russia probe.

4. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, appears very reluctant to touch the Russia-Trump story.  It is unclear if he is keen to start one as he has announced that he will not seek reelection.  Hmm..

5. During the testimony of former deputy attorney general of the US, Ms. Sally Yates, republican members of the Senate Judiciary SubCommittee made it abundantly clear that they are more interested in investigating the so-called 'leaks' rather than about a possibly compromised National Security Advisor.  It is like launching an investigation to find out who who called the fire department regarding an ongoing arson, rather than investigating the arson.  

If the Justice Department, FBI, oversight committees in the House and Senate, can not investigate a blatant interference by a foreign entity in US elections, who can?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Story for Rachel Maddow From Deep Red Texas

Pearland, a growing suburb of Houston, has been a reliable republican bastion at all levels of government from the school board to the city council.  An unlikely trio of candidates have challenged this status quo in this mid-term election held on May 06th 2017.  It looks like a slate of progressive candidates have made some inroads.