November 22, 2016

(Late) post-Election 2016 thoughts: The local, state, and national enchiladas

Though the election is very old news now, I want to write some post-election thoughts. Why not? Everybody else has (with varying levels of excitement or distress), and I want (need) to write. I’ll start local and move my way out to the big, national enchilada.

IOWA CITY AND JOHNSON COUNTY
The local ballot mostly included the usual slate of uncontested races with incumbents and a conveniently equal number of candidates needed to fill the available board, commission, and council seats, so everyone got elected or re-elected. Sally Stutsman did not seek re-election, so those in Iowa House District 77 did elect a new representative, Democrat Amy Nielsen.

However, the big ballot issue in Iowa City was Measure C, a proposal to lower the number of signatures required for initiative and referendum petitions to 10 percent of voters in the previous city election, but no fewer than 10. The requirement had been set at 25 percent, but no fewer than 3,600.

Bobblehead supported Measure C and blogged about it a couple times (here and here), arguing that more democracy is a good thing. (I agreed and voted to approve the initiative on Election Day.) A number of vocal opponents, however, railed against the proposal with pathetic scare tactics and an unsettling distain for democracy. They argued that special interest groups would take advantage of the low petition threshold to drastically change city policy and government structure. One P-C guest columnist wrote a nonsensical, fictional conversation with barflies, warning them against the influence of “the twins” — most likely local activists Caroline Dieterle and Carol deProsse — who want a partisan council and a directly-elected mayor. (I don’t know if Dieterle and deProsse support either — I typically don’t read their columns in the P-C. However, I do remember that they were active in the city’s last charter review.) Measure C opponents also argued that it’s too expensive to have special elections and add initiatives to the ballot. “Keep the process that works!” was their cry.

Sure, I suppose it was working — for the people and groups who enjoy holding power in the city. That is why it was such a joy to see Iowa City voters stick it to them, approving Measure C by a 16-point margin.

So what happens now? Will Iowa City voters be inundated with local measures on their next ballot? We’ll see. I don’t know how many signatures are currently needed based on the last city election, but I’m sure it is much lower than the former minimum of 3,600.

In Iowa City, two things happen when initiative petitions receive enough signatures and are presented to the city council: (1) the council can adopt the initiative but revisit and presumably repeal later, or (2) let voters decide whether or not to accept or reject it during the next election. Those are the only two choices; the council can’t say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” That’s why the council chose to adopt an ordinance banning red-light cameras, plate readers, and drones for surveillance purposes in 2013: they didn’t want voters to put a permanent ordinance on the books.

Moving forward, it should be interesting to see what passes the threshold and appears on the ballot. Since this is Iowa City, I expect an effort (however serious) to decriminalize marijuana. Could the city’s 21-only ordinance be targeted for repeal again? Maybe, but another effort to do so would face a major uphill battle since voters supported it twice earlier this decade.

THE HAWKEYE STATE
The big news at the state level was that Republicans were able to wrestle control of the Iowa Senate away from Democrats.

Previously, Democrats clung to a slim majority in the Senate while Republicans controlled the House, so lawmakers plied the art of the possible, crafting legislation and budgets that garnered (mostly) bipartisan support. Democrats didn’t get everything they wanted, but neither did Republicans. (Republicans probably had an edge, though, since they held a larger majority in the House and had the Mustache signing bills.) It definitely won’t be like that for the next two years.

What’s to come in the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions? Across the board tax cuts, accompanied by dwindling state revenue; status quo or reduced funding for most state institutions; incremental funding increases for K-12 education; the continued erosion of funding for the state’s three public universities; and little or no action to address the state’s water quality issues (much to the delight of Big Ag). There are indications that the legislature will try to enact a universal minimum wage law, negating the increases that have been implemented by four counties. There will likely be attempts to further limit abortions, and I’m sure some legislators are chomping at the bit to once again ban same-sex marriage. If they try, I think it will mostly be bluster and hot air. Both the state and federal supreme courts ruled in favor of marriage equality, and Iowans and Americans are now mostly in favor of it as well. But that won’t stop the most socially conservative. Folks with discriminative beliefs, like Bob Vander Plaats, still pull a lot of weight among social conservatives in the legislature. If anything, there will be attempts to punish the remaining Iowa Supreme Court judges that unanimously struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban in 2009. (All the judges on the ballot this year, by the way, were retained by voters.) Also, I’m sure there will be attempts to slash funding for or completely defund Iowa Public Television and Iowa Public Radio.

What else? The state’s five-cent bottle and can deposit bill is always targeted for repeal (unfortunately), so there may be attempts to do that. I’m sure there will be an attempt to ban traffic cameras statewide, putting an end to debate that has raged about the speed cameras along Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids — supposedly the only speed cameras along an Interstate highway in the entire country. The state’s ban on fireworks may go up in flames, so Iowans will no longer need to buy their small-scale pyrotechnics in Missouri and Wisconsin. (Keep the money in state!) I assume public sector collective bargaining will also get a long, menacing stare. At some point, public employees will need to chip in a lot more for their health insurance, too.

However, much like at the federal level, the party in control can’t do everything it wants. The Republicans will definitely try, much like the Democrats would, so we’ll see what actually gets done.

THE NATIONAL ENCHILADA
When I arrived at Sweets and Zaza’s for their election night party, the mood was celebratory. Everyone was giddy, munching on the political-themed snacks, and drinking wine or beer. Polls were closing on the East Coast and the first states were being called by the networks. I was probably the only one there who had not voted for Hillary Clinton (I voted for Jill Stein, by the way), so everyone else seemed to be expecting a type of coronation.

However, when Florida leaned toward Donald Trump, the mood changed drastically. The happy chatter and smiles faded, everyone started to concentrate on the commentary on TV, and the little kids began crying for one reason or another. More states were called and more red painted CNN’s national map. “What’s going on?” people asked rhetorically.

Unsatisfied with the CNN coverage, I took to Twitter and checked a couple websites. Both PBS and the AP were calling states much sooner than CNN, so I relished the shocked faces in the room when Wolf Blitzer made an announcement that dismayed everyone else at the party.

Those with little kids left before Iowa’s polls closed and Sweets and Zaza put their kids to bed. The few of us who remained eventually saw Iowa colored red and watched as the CNN commentators started circling counties in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, wondering if there were still enough Democratic votes to turn the states blue. Someone started romantically reminiscing about the days of George W. Bush.

Eventually, everyone else left and it was just Sweets, Zaza, and I. Sweets was depressed, so I tried to distract him with scuttlebutt about the Cubs’ 2017 pitching rotation. It worked for a little while.

Upstairs, their eight-month old daughter started crying and they brought her into the living room to soothe her. She calmly studied us as we watched the predictions and talk on TV. When the prospects of a Hillary Clinton presidency had turned bleak at best, Sweets told his little girl, “I’m sorry I bought you into this world.”

I left shortly afterward. Driving home along a dark and mostly empty Interstate 380, listening to coverage on NPR, I had to smile. The despair of others at the party had been sad, but also amusing. I wondered how many election night parties had turned out the same way — celebration slowly and painfully morphing into distress and depression. On the other side of the coin, I heard excitement from some voices on the radio. How many across the country had expected to despair as the results rolled in, but become more and more ecstatic as the night progressed?

I felt an interesting mix of emotions regarding the election results, as I tweeted the next day:


I’m a laid-back guy who rolls with the punches, adapts as best he can, and accepts thing as they are, especially when there is no other option. I’m old enough to know that everything evens out in the long run. I voted, made my voice heard at the ballot box, and what happened, happened. The election of Donald Trump was a surprise, yes, but I’ve mostly shrugged my shoulders and gotten on with my life.

Would I have preferred a President Hillary Clinton? No. The idea of having a second member of the Clinton family as president was unappetizing, much like it was having a second Bush in the White House. It smacked of political privilege and royalty. With a Republican-controlled Congress, I am sure Clinton would have signed many bills that will be signed by Trump. As someone who supports third parties and believes corporate interests pull many of the levers in Washington DC, I doubt life in a Clinton administration would have been all that different than the coming Trump administration. Some cabinet members may have been a little more personably palatable, but would they have gotten anything done? (Do some of them ever do anything? I’ll need to find that out.) Does it really matter whether the president’s political mascot is a donkey or elephant, whether their political color is blue or red, or whether they have a “D” or “R” next to their name if everyone is taking money from the same donors, taking cues from the same corporate interests? I don’t think so.

Based on the results, millions of Americans who previously voted for Obama also thought a Clinton presidency was unappealing — so much so they voted for Trump, someone they more than likely saw as a Washington outsider who will “drain the swamp” and shake the federal government out of its useless torpor. Will that happen? We’ll see, but it looks increasingly unlikely based on his transition team and developing cabinet.

Is the sky falling? No — or at least I don’t think it is right now. Some people do, though, which I don’t understand. To me, the hysteria of the last two weeks — the crying, the protests, the sudden interest in organizing defiance in the face of a man who has not even taken office — is akin to the hysteria conservatives felt when Obama was elected. Back then, conservatives were deeply dismayed and scared. To them, the country had been lost. The America they had known and loved would become extinct. Extreme taxation and regulation would crush the economy. The Second Amendment would be repealed. Socialism was coming. Everyone would be forced to convert to Islam. Pro-choice liberals would be on the warpath with rusty coat hangers. Oh, the humanity! Really? Give me a break! Time has shown just how idiotic that thinking was and still is. Based on what Trump said during the campaign, I can see why a lot of people are scared. Personally, though, I think it was mostly an act, mostly over-the-top campaign rhetoric. Regardless of whether it was or not, though, we elected a head of state, someone who shakes the hands of foreign dignitaries and signs pieces of paper — not an autocrat.

What do I expect to happen at the federal level? Much the same as I do in Iowa. Across the board tax cuts, deepening the budget deficit and national debt; an attempt to dismantle many environmental regulations and a decreased emphasis on clean energy; further and costly entanglement in volatile regions we can’t control; likely a continuation of the wasteful War on Drugs, though there will likely be an epic fight with the states that have legalized recreational and medicinal marijuana; additional financial deregulation and an attempt to repeal Dodd-Frank, perhaps reopening the credit market for speculation; and the usual array of social issues, though it’s debatable how much can be done. When certain things can’t be done, I am sure fingers will point to those menacing, “activist” judges.

[Sigh.] Didn’t we do all this in the last decade? Sometimes I think there is a concerted effort to never resolve certain issues, or willingly allow the needle to move one way or another every couple years, so they remain worthwhile campaign fodder and Capitol Hill bluster.

Speaking about judges, Trump gets to nominate a Supreme Court judge right off the bat. I have read that over the next four years, or potentially eight, another two or three justices may need to be replaced, giving the Republican-controlled executive and legislative branches a chance to influence the dominant ideology of the judicial branch for a while. Will swing votes be lost? Theoretically. (Speaking about Supreme Court judges, there should be a law banning former presidents from serving on the Supreme Court. There was talk that Obama would have been nominated by Clinton. Though there is not an extensive precedent, one former president has been appointed to the Supreme Court: Taft was appointed by Harding in 1921, eight years after Taft left office. Regardless, I don’t think it should ever happen.)

But similar to the state level, a majority in both chambers of Congress is not a guarantee that a party can do everything it wants. Democrats had an insane majority in Congress in 2009 and 2010, and off the top of my head, the only thing I think they did was pass a bill written by the health care industry that nobody seemed to have read. One thing people have overlooked in the hubbub about Trump’s election is that Democrats gained seats in both the House and Senate, so what does that say?

One thing is for certain, though: the pendulum keeps swinging.