Sunday, October 21, 2018

Five effective things that you can do between now and Nov 6th

You feel that civility in political discourse is replaced with rudeness and crassness. You see that scientific evidence is disregarded with impunity.  Ignorance is celebrated.  With a single party controlling the House of representatives, the Senate, the White House, and now a conservative leaning Supreme Court, there are no checks and balances to this administration.

You are upset about the direction of the country.  You feel that half the country has gone bonkers.  You want to make a difference, but you also want to make sure that your limited resources - time, money, and energy - are well spent.

Here are five smart things that you can do between now and Nov 6th that will make a difference.

1. Find a competitive race and support it

Not all races are created equal.  While supporting a candidate who is unlikely to win may lay the foundation for future victories, at this juncture, we do not have the luxury of moral victories.  It is time to spend our resources with surgical precision to be effective.  Dr. Sam Wang - a professor at Princeton, has put together a scientific tool that will help you identify a competitive race near you (if you want to volunteer) or across the nation where your dollars will have the most impact on the direction of the country.  All you need is your zipcode.

2. Reach out to your friends who are indifferent to politics (Gently)

Not everyone is politically engaged.  You may have 10 friends  (or 100) who are not politically  tuned.  Talk to them, and ask them to vote.  Pick a candidate and tell them that you support him or her, and explain why, and personally ask them - if they would consider voting for your candidate based on your recommendation. 

If 10% of democrats could convince just one more person to show up to polls that could well be the difference between winning enough seats in the House of Representatives to become the majority and just falling short.  According to the analysis done by, unless democrats win the popular vote by 5.5% points or more, the likelihood of retaking the house dims.

3. Use your social media as a surgical scalpel to target younger voters

Let us be frank.  Only your friends really read your post.  If you inundate them with a lot of stories leaning just one way, they may simply tune you out. 

Make a concerted effort to tag - younger voters - your nephew, your cousin, your son or grandson, who is a senior in high school or in college.  If they show up to vote consistently, that would be the end of the republican party as we know it.

When younger voters show up even a bit more than usual - a few more percentage points, democrats can win big.

If you come across a hard core tea party supporter, (trust me, you will) don't waste your energy.  

4. Use your smartphone smartly

There are many apps that are trying to increase the voter participation.  For example, my wife recommended an app: votewithme - that is available on Apple iOS as well as Android.  This app, goes through your contacts, and identifies the voting pattern of your contacts.  (If they have voted in a primary, you also can know their party leanings as well).  The app provides handy tools to contact them via text messages.

It is easy, and it is fun.  Tell younger people - in your contact list - about the app, and ask them to contact their friends.

5. Join the neighborhood progressive organization

At the end of the day, you need to be part of a community that shares your values.  Join the local progressive organization, and if there is none, start one.  Isn't that the whole point?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Class of Trump

In 140 characters, fabulist Trump summarizes his year long effort to concoct an alternate reality to explain the numerous connections between Trump campaign, and Russia.  Trump is running scared.

The former RNC chairman, Reince Preibus, provided key organizational apparatus that he had  built over the years to help Trump - a neophyte to republican politics with no infrastructure in place, win in 2016.  Trump appointed him as the Chief of Staff.  Reince learnt that Trump has fired him while waiting on Trump on the tarmac of Air Force One on a rainy day.  Trump could not wait until the motorcade reached the White House to make the announcement.

Trump sent his personal bodyguard Keith Schiller to deliver the letter notifying FBI director Comey that he was being fired, when Comey was traveling to LA on official business, and the nation's chief investigator learned that he was being fired by watching TV.   Apparently, the President of the United States, was so bothered by the fact that James Comey - his FBI director until a day ago - was allowed to fly back from his official duties on FBI plane, that he called Andrew McGabe - the acting FBI Director - the very next day to berate him.

Rex Tillerson who served as the nation's Secretary of State, learned that he was fired through a tweet after a six nation tour of Africa.  Trump White House also fired Steve Goldstein - Under Secretary at the State Department- mere hours after he released a statement that contradicted the WH timeline regarding Rex Tillerson's firing.

It is clear that Trump bullied Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire the Deputy Director of FBI, Andrew McGabe, on the eve of his retirement from Bureau after serving for two decades.  While we cannot yet know for certain if Andrew McGabe's firing was justified until the IG investigation report is released, we can be certain that President Trump's gloating about the firing of a civil servant - unduly politicizes and taints the institution of FBI.

A common thread in all these firings is the pettiness and vindictiveness of Trump - a characteristic normally associated with crime bosses.  It is increasingly clear that Trump is deeply scared about what Mueller might find out - or more likely, he suspects what Mueller has already found out.  It is also clear that Trump has no class.

The real questions are:

(a) if the Republican controlled Congress has any integrity left and will perform its constitutional duty to provide oversight over the executive branch?

(b) if the crassness of Trump's behavior would shock the American public to get them to call on their Congressmen/Senator to do their job?

Friday, December 29, 2017

Five Democratic Candidates Vie for TX-22

If you go by past Congressional election results, TX-22 is a solid republican district.  The current republican incumbent Pete Olson won comfortably with double digit margins in every Congressional race since 2010 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Republican victory margin in TX-22 was at least 19 points
or greater in every Congressional race since 2010.  However, in 2016,
Hillary Clinton lost this district by a mere 7 points.

The fact that Hillary Clinton narrowly lost this district - by a mere 7 points - offers hope to many democrats that this district is poised to flip.  As a result, there are five democratic candidates vying for representing their party in TX-22.

There are three reasons for this optimism among democrats. 

First, TX-22 is a district with 25.2% Hispanics, 19.0% Asians, and 13.3 % Blacks, has nearly 100,000 residents with graduate degrees, and the median household income is over 85,000 USD.  A well educated, diverse population voted overwhelmingly against Trump in 2016, and many democrats are encouraged by their strong showing in the special elections held in traditionally strong red districts.   If that trend continues, then the days of republican dominance in TX-22 may be a thing of the past.

Second, the incumbent Pete Olson, is widely seen by many in the district as someone who has been hiding away from his constituents.  He refused to hold town hall meetings, and his poor performance in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, has left a bad taste in the mouth of many constituents.  It remains to be seen if his poor performance will be exploited by his democratic opponent to diminish his chances in November 2018.  There are a handful of republican challenger for Pete Olson - a sign that his stock is not that high even among republicans.

Third, perhaps for the first time in the last decade or so, in the two counties that constitute the bulk of TX-22 - Brazoria and Fort Bend Counties, there are numerous democratic candidates running up and down the ballot.  This bodes well to bring more democratic voters to the polls than usual - particularly for a mid-term election.  It has also attracted some top-tier candidates to TX-22 race.  Among the four, Sri Preston Kulkarni - a veteran foreign service professional, and Steve Brown appear to be top-tier candidates with real-world experience with the legislative process.  I heard Sri Kulkarni speak today.  He was eloquent, well versed in policy positions, and came across as very likable. 

Sam Preston Kulkarni (right) - a democratic candidate for TX-22
with Leshan Jayasekera - a democratic candidate for Justice of Peace (Precinct 2)
at Brazoria county. 

There is a chance that TX-22 may turn blue this cycle.  The enthusiasm on the democratic side is high, and there are several good candidates running up and down the ballot.  2018, should be an interesting mid-term election.

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.