Contradictory Readings in the Tea Leaves

Sheridan          It’s a tough time to be a commentator, pundit, or general political wizard.  It must be like walking a tightrope.  They know it’s scary when they start walking the wire and have to wonder if they’ll made it to the other side.

Take for example a long piece in the press about the continuing popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders and the nonexistent coattails his candidates have shown in recent elections, including the fact that only about 40% of Our Revolution picks have prevailed.  Days later I’m talking to friends in the Bay Area and a Sanders star and Richmond Progressive Alliance stalwart is giving long time Democratic Obama and Clinton operative Buffy Wicks a wild run for her money in a state assembly race.  Given Wicks refusal to endorse the statewide ballot initiative allowing cities wider discretion over rent control, that hot button issue could be her undoing.

An even bigger hole was punched in the “conventional wisdom” when Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a 28-year old former Sanders organizer in Queens and the Bronx, upset the 10-term Congressman Joseph Crowley, the fourth ranking Democrat in the US House leadership who coveted a shot a being Speaker and upsetting Nancy Pelosi if the Democrats win control in the midterms.  Not only was Cortez advocating single payer health but she called for dismantling the entire Immigration and Customs Enforcement apparatus going to the heart of the beast.

A chart in the Times also measured increased voter turnout by Democrats so far in elections in twenty key Congressional districts that could flip the House.  Before the celebration starts while the game is still underway, it is worth noting that the increased turnout is lower than what the Republicans registered when they wrested control in 2010 in rebellion against Obama.

And, that’s the problem if “premature certainty” creeps in now when the tea leaves are so muddled.  Take immigration where the hard line and hard-hearted Trump-Sessions hateration and escalation on the border and its policy of family separation and child incarceration drove a wedge through the right and united the American people in drawing a line on fundamental values.  A poll cited by the Washington Post is a good example of the perils of prediction:

A new Economist/YouGov poll showed that 54 percent of Americans disapprove of separating families who cross the border illegally. But only 19 percent support “releasing the families and having them report back for an immigration hearing at a later date” — the approach now endorsed by every single Senate Democrat. By contrast, the poll found the most popular policy — supported by 44 percent of Americans and even 49 percent of Democrats — is “holding families together in detention centers until an immigration hearing at a later date.” And it found that 46 percent also support Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy of arresting and prosecuting anyone who crosses the border illegally.

See what I mean.  Politics is not simply a blunt instrument swinging one direction.  We can’t hope to win only talking to ourselves.  It must drive the pundits crazy, but for the rest of us, it’s a reminder to look before we leap and make sure we have people behind us before we jump.

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Independent Political Action is Blooming in Columbus and Ohio

organizer screening at the historic Drexel

Columbus     Ohio has been a battleground state for a number of elections, even though it went solidly red in 2016 for Trump and seems southern with a Republican governor and legislature.  Visiting with people in the state capitol, Columbus, as well as spending time in Youngstown, Cleveland and Cincinnati, it is clear that there is a concerted grassroots fight to resist the red tide and turn Ohio around again.

I had met Amy Harkins one of the organizers of Yes, We Can Columbus at the screening of “The Organizer” and heard briefly about the effort and its attempt to elect members of the local school board and city council.  As luck would have it, I met later with Amy and some of the team after they participated in the local version of the March for Our Lives to learn more about the organization.  Like so many, they had founded the effort in the wake of the 2016 election both in reaction to the Trump victory and the inadequate response of established leadership of the local Democratic party and its electeds.  Assembling a group of up to 300 volunteers committed to the campaign, they have constructed an activist base sufficient to poll well in their inaugural efforts when they presented their slate to the voters in local elections.   Their success moved them to form alliances with other organizations in Ohio as well as nationally where they became an affiliate of the Working Families Party and a partner of the Bernie Sanders follow through organization, Our Revolution.

excitement over Nuts & Bolts in Columbus

Most of our conversation about the future concerned the chances to put an initiative on the ballot to change the at-large district governance system in the city to a district form or a combination of district and at-large seats that would give citizens of Columbus a stronger and clearer voice in local affairs.  We talked about the nuts and bolts of such efforts since ACORN has waged several successful fights along these lines including in Little Rock over the years.  In Columbus only 8000 valid voter’s signatures would be required with a full year to gather them, which should be within the capacity of Yes, We Can Columbus itself, but the organization wisely wants to also help build a larger coalition dedicated to progressive political action in the area.  Worth watching for sure!

interviewing and video at WGRN with Bob Fitrakis

Talking to Bob Fitrakis and Suzanne Patzer it was also clear that the Greens are something more than the color of grass in Columbus and Ohio as well and are regularly putting up a slate of candidates, including Bob himself who polled 35,000 votes in a losing race to become the prosecuting attorney.   One of his law partners is running for Governor as well.  Never say never in Ohio because not only is Richard Cordray, a former state attorney general and most recently the first director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau on the federal level, running for governor as well, but so is former Cleveland mayor and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

All of this anger and activity will move the needle in Ohio, so we need to all stay tuned and support these initiatives and experiments.

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