Saturday, October 30, 2010

It’s The Turnout, Dummy!

Do you remember voting on November 4, 2008? I sure do. That was the day my name was on the ballot as a candidate for the Richmond City school board. It was my first (and probably last) time as a candidate and I intended to make the most of it. I got up early to get to the polls before they opened so I could vote early and then do some last minute electioneering. I live in Richmond’s precinct 402, which votes at the Forest Hill Presbyterian Church. Guess what? I did not get to vote early. When I arrived at the intersection of Forest Hill Avenue and W. 44th Street it was 5:45 AM. I saw a huge line of voters circling around the church parking lot and then proceeding west down Forest Hill Avenue. It looked like the whole neighborhood was out there waiting for the polls to open.

Do you remember voting on November 3, 2009? I do. That day I was covering the 402nd precinct for my friend Betsy Carr (now Delegate Betsy Carr). I got up early to get to the polls and introduce myself to the election workers as the precinct captain. When I arrived at the intersection of Forest Hill and 44th it was pretty quiet; just a few people in line. And it stayed that way for most of the day. The voting line never got outside the doors to the church.

So, what’s this about, beside the memories of a not-so-young man? Well, it’s about all those voters in line in 2008 who found things to do other than voting on Election Day 2009. Those voters won the election for Barack Obama (and lots of other Democrats) in 2008. Those non-voters won the election for Bob McDonnell (and lots of other Republicans) in 2009. And, they did so without leaving the comfort of their own homes.

We in the Commonwealth elect our governors and other state wide officials in the year after the national presidential election. Although this partially immunizes our statewide elections from national trends, it also results in a significant drop in voter turnout in these odd year elections. The smallest turnout drop—from 77.6% to 66.5%, a drop of 11.1%--was from 1988 to 1989. The largest drop—from 74.5% to 40.4%, a drop of 34.1%--was from 2008 to 2009. (Hey, weren’t these the very elections I was talking about above?)

So, from 2008 to 2009 voter turnout in Virginia dropped 34.1%, the largest one year decrease since at least 1976. Why is this significant? It wouldn’t be if the drop in turnout was evenly divided between the two major parties. If the drop in turnout had been 34.1% of those voting Republican and 34.1% of those voting Democratic, then Creigh Deeds, Jody Wagner and Steve Shannon would be the top elected officials of the Commonwealth. However, the drop in turnout was not even close to being even. (At this point, I need to move from turnout percentages to raw numbers. Since we don’t register by party in Virginia we cannot know the turnout percentage by party.)

In 2008, Democrats Obama and Biden drew 1,959,532 votes in the presidential election, the most ever cast for president and vice president in Virginia.* The second most votes ever cast for president and vice president in Virginia was 1,725,005 for Republicans McCain and Palin in the same 2008 election.

A year later, Republican Bob McDonnell received 1,163,651 votes for governor. This was about 560,000 votes less than cast for McCain and Palin the year before. Democrat Creigh Deeds received only 818,950 votes in 2009, a drop of over 1.1 million votes from those cast for Obama and Biden in 2008. (The votes received by Deeds were the lowest for any candidate for governor since the 1997 election.) In percentage terms, Mr. McDonnell received about 33% less votes than the top of the Republican ticket in 2008. Mr. Deeds, however, received about 58% less votes than the top of the Democratic ticket in 2008. Looking at it another way, Creigh Deeds’ drop in votes from those voting Democratic in 2008 was about 540,000 more than Bob McDonnell’s drop in votes from those voting Republican in 2008.

So, dear reader, where were these 540,000 voters (who voted for Obama and Biden in 2008) on November 3, 2009? First, as I pointed out after the 2008 election, it was the Obama campaign that won the election, not the Democratic Party. Dems Heading For A Big Fall? That means that the Obama campaign did not attract a large number of new people who would vote Democratic in the future. Second, the Democratic Party in Virginia was very complacent after the 2008 election. As I pointed out then, the talk was of how easy it was going to be to capture the House of Delegates and make Virginia a fully blue state. Nobody even considered that the Democrats might lose the governorship. Third, the hard fought Democratic primary campaign in the Spring of 2009 produced a lot of anger in the losers that was not dissipated before the election. Further, many of those who voted for Moran or McAuliffe in the primary were personally loyal to either of those two but not necessarily to the Democratic Party.

So what does this mean for the upcoming election? If you voted for President Obama in 2008 but you stayed home last year, you need to remember that you helped elect the current crew in Richmond. If you voted for President Obama in 2008 and you stay home this year, you will assure that the Democrats you elected to the House of Representatives will be one term wonders. You will also assure that President Obama will face a hostile Republican-controlled Congress for the next two years and will have almost no chance of getting any more of his agenda accomplished. It’s up to you because this election will be all about turnout.

My thanks to former Richmond Commonwealth Attorney David Hicks for enlightening me about these turnout issues.

*The most votes ever cast for any candidate in Virginia was 2,369,327 for Mark Warner for United States Senate, also in the 2008 election.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eric Cantor: The Arrogance Of Power

Perhaps it’s because he rose to the top so quickly. Eric Cantor was elected to the House of Representatives in 2000. After only one term, he was appointed Chief Deputy Republican Whip. This made him a major Washington insider while still in his thirties.

Or, it might be the fact that the Seventh District of Virginia was designed as a safe district for Republicans. Eric has been reelected four times, never getting less than 63% of the vote cast. The district has been represented in the Congress by Republicans since 1971. In the last three presidential elections, the district has voted Republican.

Or, maybe it’s because Representative Cantor has led a charmed life in Washington. Although he was closely connected with the corruption of Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay, Mr. Cantor came away unscathed. See The New Teflon Kid.

I guess it’s not surprising that Eric Cantor radiates an aura of arrogance. He is the golden boy. He is destined to rise to higher positions of power in Washington. And Eric Cantor is not going to let a little thing like an election get in his way. Eric isn’t really running to keep his Seventh District seat. He is running for House Majority Leader. And that election is decided by his fellow Republicans in Washington, not by the voters of the Seventh District.

When the Congress adjourns so that members can return to their districts to campaign, Eric Cantor stays in Washington. He has no need to campaign. Although other incumbent representatives participate in debates so that their constituents can make intelligent decisions on election day, Eric Cantor refuses to debate. As he puts it, he is much too busy in Washington working on creating jobs. He can’t be expected to take time out to debate. After all, it’s not like he can lose.

Of course, when Eric is through creating jobs he does come back to the district. But still, he will not debate. In fact, he is not in the district to campaign, but for a victory tour. Every other candidate (and athlete) waits until the race is over before taking a victory lap. Not Eric. He is so sure that his reelection is a sure thing that he is celebrating in advance.

I don’t want you to think that Eric Cantor doesn’t like to talk to his constituents. That’s not true. He will gladly talk with any constituent so long as he or she is committed to his reelection. Those constituents are bound to further inflate his ego. But he doesn’t want to see or hear from those who oppose him. First of all because anything they might say is obviously wrong. Second because he doesn’t want any of the real voters in Washington to think that he is anything but the most beloved favorite son of the Seventh District.

One other thing—because he is a golden boy and his constituents are mere mortals, Eric Cantor doesn’t expect anyone will notice if he says a few things that are not quite true in his reelection campaign. For example, Eric has the chutzpah to be running against Washington. Here’s a guy who has been a Washington insider for at least the last eight years and he thinks we won’t notice if he portrays himself as an outside reformer. Eric also portrays himself as a fiscal conservative. When exactly did this transformation take place? When he lusted for advancement in the party and therefore voted consistently with the Bush Administration, Eric Cantor voted to cut taxes and to significantly increase federal spending. During the years when George W. Bush was president, Eric Cantor voted to increase our federal debt by an outrageous four trillion dollars. See Eric Canter a Fiscal Conservative?—No Way

But, Eric Cantor is sure that no one will notice the inconsistencies. He is sure he will not only be reelected by his compliant constituency in the Seventh District but also that he will be elected House Majority leader in January. And if that happens, trusted reader, his arrogance will know no bounds. Is there something beyond intolerable?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Times-Dispatch Neutrality

Our beloved metropolitan daily made it clear today that it would not allow fairness to get in the way of influencing the “right” election results. In its Letters to the Editor it published three letters relating to the Third District contest between Democrat Bobby Scott and Republican Chuck Smith. All of them were pro Smith and anti Scott. I find it hard to believe that the TD didn’t have a single letter to publish that advocated Bobby Scott’s reelection. Oh well, I guess this maven expects too much from the editorial staff of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Pledge Allegiance. . .

Well, there were two big celebrations in Richmond this week. One was the Richmond Folk Festival, in its third year, getting better with each version. Two was the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The Folk Festival drew more than 100,000 people in three days. The Tea Party party drew over two thousand. Having attended only one of the festivities, this maven is unable to tell you which was more entertaining. The Folk Festival was mainly music. The Tea Party party was mainly citizens bad-mouthing the Federal Government.

Every Republican politician in the Commonwealth—those formerly in office, those currently in office and those hoping to soon be in office—attended the Tea Party party. These Republicans have a tough balancing act in dealing with the Tea Party Patriots. They are trying to encourage the Tea crowd to come out on November 2, and throw the rascals in Washington out of office, assuming they are Democrats. However, they certainly don’t want the Teas to throw any
Republican rascals out of office. That would totally defeat the whole purpose of Republicans creating and nurturing the Tea Party throughout the country in the first place.

Our own Republican governor, Robert (Bob) McDonnell, went to the Tea Party preparty party on Thursday. He encouraged the Teas to do the right thing (pun intended) on Election Day. To win them over he stated his support for a constitutional amendment—the Federal Constitution, that is—allowing the legislatures of two-thirds of the states to overrule any legislation or regulation issued by the Federal Government. McDonnell, trying to avoid being out-teaed by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, pledged to get a resolution to that effect through our General Assembly. (Cuccinelli considers the amendment too mild. He wants one granting state attorneys general the unilateral authority to strike down any federal law.)

I could sit here for a few hours setting forth the pros and cons of the suggested constitutional amendment. But, I’m sure there are many people out there quite willing to do so. I might just point out that such an amendment would have some pretty drastic effects. Some state legislatures would spend so much time voting on laws enacted by the Congress that they would have no time to legislate for their own state, which I guess might be a benefit. Also, it might be difficult to find candidates to run for Senate and House of Representative seats. Who wants to have all your work reviewed by a legislative body that you have already outgrown.

But, the greatest effect would be on the school children in our fifty states. They would have to learn a new morning ritual to start their days. It would go like this:

I pledge allegiance to the flags of the Friendly States of America, and to the republics for which they stand, fifty nations, under God, quite divisible, with liberty and justice for those whose legislatures allow it.