Thursday, February 23, 2012

Do Liberal Activists Control the Democratic Party? Yes, Yes They Do.

A few critics of the report I wrote for Third Way have targeted my assertion that liberal activists control the Democratic party. It's worth noting that the folks who have taken issue with that claim are themselves liberal activists - so their perception may be skewed. As a quick check I examined the DW-NOMINATE scores of all Democratic House members in the 112th Congress. The average first-dimension score of the Democratic caucus is -.429. Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader, scores a -.533 - well to the left of average. I then took the party leadership - Minority Leader, Whip, Assistant Leader, Whips, Caucus Chair, Steering Committee and Ranking Members on major committees - and the average score across those folks was a -.496. Fewer than a third of the leadership had a DW-NOMINATE score more conservative than the caucus average.

A study last year by Joseph Bafumi and Michael Herron found that Democrats in Congress are to the left of even the median Democratic voter in their respective states (GOP members are too the right of the median GOP voter). So essentially, in a Democratic caucus in the House that is already to the left of Democratic voters, the leadership of the party is to the left of the caucus - so do liberal activists control the Democratic party? Well yes, yes they do.

Some folks questioned my reliance on self-identified ideology. The research on that is actually quite extensive and shows without question that how one identifies on a liberal-conservative dimension reflects one’s core system of preferences and attitudes and is reliably correlated with a range of substantive policy preferences including the size and scope of government, traditional vs. progressive social values, and the use of military force. I would direct critics to the following works:
  1. Abramowitz, A., & Saunders, K. (2006). Exploring the bases of partisanship in the American. Political Research Quarterly, 59, 175-187.
  2. Baldassarri, D., & Gelman, A. (2008). Partisans without Constraint: Political Polarization and Trends in American Public Opinion. American Journal of Sociology, 114(2), 408-46.
  3. Gerring, J. (1997). Ideology: A Definitional Analysis. Political Research Quarterly, 50, 957-994.JostNosek, B. A., & Gosling, D. S. (2008). Ideology: Its resurgence in social, personality, andpolitical psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(2), 126-136.
  4. Gerring, J. (1998). Party ideologies in America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Jost, J. T., Nosek, B. A., & Gosling, D. S. (2008). Ideology: Its resurgence in social, personality, and political psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(2), 126-136.
Democrats are a diverse coalition of voters, but ideologically the party is home to a large number of moderates even though party activists are liberal. The party cannot win without the support of those moderates. It cannot afford to push them away. To those on the left that refuse to accept anything less than ideological purity consider - if candidate A shares 5% of your beliefs and candidate B shares 60% of your beliefs - and there is no candidate C - withholding your vote because B doesn't represent 100% of your beliefs does nothing more than help elect candidate A.There are no moral victories in politics. After the election the moral victor goes home. The actual victor makes policy.

Maryland for Marriage Equality

45 years ago this week the Maryland General Assembly voted to repeal the state's ban on inter-racial marriage. The state hardly led on this issue, the state only passed the repeal once the Supreme Court accepted the Loving v. Virginia case that ultimately resulted in the declaration that all bans on inter-racial marriage were unconstitutional.

Last week the Maryland House of Delegates voted 72-67 to legalize marriage equality. Today the state Senate voted 25-22 to pass the measure. Governor O'Malley has promised to sign the bill.

This is historic. Maryland now becomes one of only 8 states to allow same sex marriage. More important, it's one of the very few to have have legalized same sex marriage via the legislature rather than through the courts. It is a distinction that will long be remembered. Maryland tends to be a cautious state, but on this issue the state has become a leader.

The law is sure to be subject to a petition challenge placing it before the voters in November. This the right of every Marylander. Proponents are worried. In every state where same sex marriage has been placed on the ballot it has been rejected. But of course, one state has to be the first to end that streak - perhaps it will be Maryland.

The most significant bloc of opposition in the state is African-American voters. Their collective vote will decide the fate of the law. There is a tremendous opportunity for Lt. Governor Anthony Brown to become a point person for the O'Malley administration arguing for public support of the measure. It wouldn't hurt if President Obama abandoned his support for civil unions and endorsed same sex marriage as well...

For now, however, Governor Martin O'Malley deserves credit for forcefully backing this measure. Last year his leadership was absent and that absence was felt. This year, though likely motivated by his own presidential aspirations, O'Malley staked his reputation on passing this bill - and it passed.

Now that battle moves on to the ballot box. It's unfortunate and inappropriate that a question of basic civil rights will be subject to voter approval- but such is the law of the state.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Democrats Need Moderates

In a piece in today's Washington Post, Ruth Marcus outlines a report I wrote for Third Way - a centrist Democratic organization. The report, Family Feud: Democratic Activists v. Democratic Voters - The Ideological Gulf that Thwarts a Sustained Majority, seeks to unravel a defining mystery of the modern political era. Since 1972, Democrats have held a lead in the number of Americans who identify with the party, but that hasn’t translated into sustained Congressional and White House dominance. In “Family Feud: Democratic Activists v. Democratic Voters,” I explain this quandary and its serious electoral consequences for Democrats. Essentially, the Democratic coalition is more divided between activists and rank and file members than are the Republicans. Most Democrats are moderates and this has not change in 40 years. Party activists are liberals. Republicans of all stripes are conservative, but many moderate Democrats find themselves situated between the extremes of the two parties and can "go either way." I conclude odds favor a re-emergent Democratic majority, but only if liberal party activists will cede control of the agenda and allow the party to move in the direction of its moderate non-activist voters.

Of course many in the political world argue there are no moderates and that the only strategy that matters is a base strategy - appeal to and turn-out your core voters. I think a base strategy can work - so long as 40% of the electorate stay home on election day. But a base strategy is the right choice only if your only concern is the current election cycle. The present base strategy approach being used by both parties is part of the reason we see such dramatic shifts in control of government. There are two parties with roughly matched bases. Each election comes to out motivating the other side. I argue the key to sustained party control is to move beyond the base strategy and bring moderate voters into the fold in a permanent way. The data I show in the report suggests Democrats have a real opportunity to do that - Republicans don't.

I have already heard from several members of the Democrats' activist base accusing me of trying to turn Democrats into "Republican-lite." This is simply not the case. My report shows the Republican party - activists and rank and file alike - have moved right since the 1970s and have reached a point where there is little divide between activists and non-activists. The Republican party is a uniformly conservative party. But there remains a divide between Democratic activists and non-activists. Non-activists are a very moderate bunch and include quite a few conservatives. Furthermore, non-activists make-up the vast majority of the party and those moderates are ideologically situated right between the liberal and conservative "peaks" of each party's activist base. Republicans have a smaller voting coalition, but can win by winning those moderate and conservative Democrats - the GOP is sunk without them. If Democrats can bring them securely into the fold they are unbeatable.

We see some of this playing out on the national scene right now. When President Obama essentially vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline or issued the initial ruling on religious affiliated organizations providing contraception as part of their health care plans, he was following a path paved by party activists. If the U.S. does not partner with Canada on the pipeline another country will work with them. The tar sands will be tapped, the oil extracted. Blocking the pipeline was a symbolic measure with no actual effect other than to eliminate even modest job opportunities and contribute to more expensive fuel prices when the U.S. imports the extracted oil. The Obama administration realized its mistakes - the contraception order was hastily changed and the white House is now trying to backtrack on the Keystone decision by arguing that the White House had no choice in the matter. The initial actions created the impression of a party too far left.

On the GOP side we see a party that is moving too right, too fast to win over Democratic party moderates. The clash between Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich has resulted in an effort by each candidate to "out-conservative" the other. Add to that the fact that Republicans horribly overplayed their hand on the contraception issue. Witness Santorum's seeming attacking on the moral ills of contraception and the legislative efforts to limit coverage of contraception - this has created a clear picture of a party too far right.

President Obama is enjoying a resurgence in the polls - but this resurgence has little to do with anything the White House has done. Rather it's being driven by two things 1) signs of life in the economy and 2) and GOP veering right and making the President appear more moderate in comparison.  This can work for the President but only if both factors remain. The rising price of oil may well derail the present boost of optimism and if the GOP does settle on a nominee and that nominee is Mitt Romney the intra-party battle that has resulted in the rightward shift will end. Romney will have time to reposition and focus will shift equally to the President.

The President must remain committed to keeping moderate Democrats in the fold. And there is reason to believe that he'll have difficulty doing that. A poll in December found that Americans see themselves as centrists - on a 5 point ideological scale voters rate themselves as a 3.3 - right or center. The rated Obama a 2.3 and most of the GOP candidates as around 3.5. In a new poll just out, 51% of voters described Obama as too liberal. Obama has a problem - his base is angry because they think he has been too moderate. Most voters, however, think he has been too liberal. Obama's advisor's are going to tell him to fire up that base - this is just bad advice. Think Rick Santorum is unelectable? Think again. 2012 will be a referendum on Obama. He needs to secure the support of the vital center.

The question for Democratic activists is clear, do you want to engage in a ping-pong battle for control and as a result have no coherent long term policy agenda or do you want to establish a sustained hold on power? With a sustained grasp on the mechanisms of government Democrats could begin to rebuild voters' trust in government, first through moderate and incremental changes - changes especially geared toward working class voters - and then, after trust has been restored, consider what larger reforms may be possible. At present, the American people fundamentally lack trust in their government. That lack of trust alone will derail the emergence of a truly progressive majority any time soon. As the anti-statist party, that lack of trust aids Republicans.

Democrats need to re-establish a permanent link with their moderate membership and then slowly work to build faith in a progressive agenda. There is a pervasive myth in America that at crucial times in our history strong leaders have emerged and through force of will these great leaders took the country in a new direction. This is myth. In presidential studies we refer to this as directors of change v. facilitators of change. Directors are revolutionaries, they change the system and take the people where they did not want to go. Facilitators are tacticians,the work the system to take the people where they already wanted to go. Directors of change are rare if the exist at all. Franklin Roosevelt came to power at a time when the people were ready for social change. His ideas weren't revolutionary, rather they were an extension of state-based reforms. And when Roosevelt tried to direct change through packing the Supreme Court or intervening in Democratic congressional primaries the public rose up and swatted him down. Ronald Reagan did not direct a conservative revolution, rather he channeled and gave voice to a growing public dissatisfaction with government. Reagan got his tax and regulatory reform. He got his defense budget. But he never unraveled he New Deal safety net. He never brought the force of the American people into his battle against communism in central America. He was not a director.

If Democrats on the left want a progressive revolution in America they need to understand that it will not happen from the top down - that's not how it works here. What they need to do is find the areas where activists and non-activists overlap. They need to facilitate the change that the vast and vital center is seeking. If they can accomplish that, then perhaps the vital center will become ever more open to a more progressive government. Then, when the people are ready, Democrats can help facilitate the change. Right now, however, Democrats need to focus on how they can win and win consistently - that requires engaging the party's centrists. Democrats can embrace the middle and win. If Republicans push too hard to embrace the middle they will lose too many of their activists and non-activists. The key to victory for Democrats is to force Republicans to fight for the middle.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Same Sex Marriage Vote was a Test of Character

With a vote of 72-67 Maryland's House of Delegates passed legislation that would legalize same sex marriage in the Free State. The measure will now move to the state Senate where it passed last year. Early indications are the measure could see a vote by mid-week.

Even as the bill moved the floor of the House last week, it was unclear whether the votes were there to pass the measure. With a key supporter in the hospital the late support of a few members became key. Though the bill must pass the Senate and is likely to face a petition challenge and a referendum in November there are a few folks who warrant specific recognition for the role they played in the House vote - Dels. John Bohanan and A. Wade Kach and Governor Martin O'Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown.

Del. John Bohanan (District 29B)
Bohanan stands out from most other supporters in very significant ways. Bohanan represents southern St. Mary's county. The county is the fatest growing county in the state and home to the Patuxent Naval Air station. The large military presence has steadily changed the political dynamic of the county. Once a solidly Democratic area (in local elections), St. Mary's has been trending Republican. Since 2008 the GOP has added 4,000 voters to its rolls - twice that of the Democrats. At present, Democrats and Republicans claim an equal share of voters. In 2010, Republicans swept all but one seat on the county commission and Bohanan won a narrow re-election against a very novice challenger. For Bohanan, the safe bet would have been to vote against same sex marriage. He would have paid no penalty. When asked about his decision to support the bill, Bohanan said “Once I began to look at this through the eyes of my own kids and other young people, it became pretty clear... You want them to have love, and if that’s how they want to express it, you want them to be able to do it openly.” Bohanan is likely to see serious political fallout in his home district. What he deserves is recognition for making the right call in an era when too many politicians care only about winning the next election.

Del. A. Wade Kach (5B)
Kach was one of two Republicans in the House to support the measure and as such their votes were crucial to ensuring passage (the other Republican, Bob Costa of District 33B, merits an honorable mention). In his role as chair of the Democratic Governors Association Governor O'Malley has been merciless in his attacks on Republicans as right wing extremists. Kach's conservative credentials stretch back to his college years when he was chair of the Maryland Federation of College Republicans. There is little doubt that when O'Malley is speaking about the dinosaur wing of the Republican party he is thinking of folks like Kach. Kach could've denied O'Malley this crucial legislative victory. In doing so, he would dealt an embarrassing blow to O'Malley's future aspirations. I'm sure for Kach the temptation was great - instead he did what he felt was right. Perhaps the best part of Kach's support, however, was his impassioned conservative defense of same sex marriage. Kach said that listening to the testimony of gay parents ultimately changed his mind. He then linked his vote to his pro-life beliefs, "As a pro-life Republican, I believe it’s my responsibility to make sure children are taken care of... If you care about children" vote for this bill. Kach reminds us that for many people, being pro-life is not rooted in a particular religious belief but is rather an issue of civil rights and protecting the vulnerable. By linking the two issues Kach has contributed greatly to the conservative argument for same sex marriage.

Martin O'Malley, Governor
After standing on the sidelines last year O'Malley realized his mistake and decided last summer that he would personally push for marriage equality in Maryland. O'Malley has national political aspirations and it would be easy to dismiss his decision as a simple political calculation - after all New York governor Andrew Cuomo was able to get same sex marriage through a Republican state Senate. But O'Malley actually took a big risk - something he rarely does. O'Malley made legalization of same sex marriage his highest profile priority in the 2012 legislative session - having no idea whether it would pass. Had the House again killed the measure O'Malley would have been viewed a failure. His ability to govern his own party, never mind his state, would have been called into question. Yet he decided to quite literally stake his reputation on passing this bill. He deserves tremendous credit for the House vote.

Anthony Brown, Lt. Governor
This may seem an odd choice, but hear me out... As Lt. Governor, Brown had no reason to say anything about the vote in the House. Brown could've stayed silent and that may have been the politically wise thing to do. The Democratic party in Maryland is divided over the issue of same sex marriage. While white Democrats clearly support marriage equality, Black Democrats just as clearly oppose it. This year, same as last, Many African-American religious leaders - especially in Brown's home turf of PG county - spoke out against gay marriage. Brown is very likely to seek the party nomination for governor in 2014. No Lt. Governor has made that jump since the office was reinstated in 1970. Given the likelihood of a four man race I consider Brown to be the early favorite in a primary owing mostly to the substantial African-American vote in the state. Just after the House approved the same sex marriage bill Brown issued this statement: "The Maryland House of Delegates has cast a historic vote in favor of stronger families, bringing us as close as Maryland has ever been to true marriage equality.  When two people come together in union, regardless of gender, and commit themselves to loving and supporting one another, they deserve the privileges and the responsibilities of marriage." But 60% of black voters in Maryland oppose same sex marriage. Brown could've remained silent, but by coming out in favor he could be a crucial voice in the effort to fight the referendum effort in November. But he does so at the risk of weakening his support among a crucial voting bloc. That's political courage.

To be certain, there are many other members who deserve some recognition. Personally I have to wonder how any delegate could've voted no after Del. Maggie McIntosh's deeply moving recollection of her coming out and what that meant for her personally and professionally - but 67 members did. Certainly I do not wish to diminish the efforts of any lawmaker who made passage of this bill possible. But in this day, I think it is worth taking a minute to recognize folks who are willing to act in a manner that may be against their immediate best interest in pursuit of the best interests of the state.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Decision Time on Marriage Equality

As a vote nears on marriage equality in Maryland it remains unclear whether the votes are there to pass the measure.

I offer the following as encouragement to wavering Democrats and Republicans.

For Democrats:
Writing in 2003 Rep. John Lewis, one of America's greatest heroes of the Civil Rights movement, declared in no uncertain terms “I have fought too hard and for too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”

For Republicans:
Ted Olson, Solicitor General under George W. Bush wrote this in 2010 "Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage. This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one's own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it."

Even Dick Cheney support same-sex marriage!

For Democrats and Republicans:
Fifty years ago, many states declared that African-Americans were not free to marry the person of their choosing. For a reason as arbitrary as the color of one's skin, a basic civil right was denied. Today, even more states deny the right to marry based on sexual orientation - is that truly any less arbitrary?

In Loving v Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court decision that outlawed bans on interracial marriage in the U.S., the court declared marriage to be a fundamental civil right. I would ask every delegate two simple questions - Will you stand up for equality? Will you support this fundamental civil right?

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution states "no State shall... deny to any person the equal protection of the laws." Your vote today will determine whether that amendment has any meaning.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I Support a Minimum Income, but Oppose a Living Wage

On Thursday February 16th a forum will be held at St. Mary's College to discuss whether the staff at the college should be paid a living wage. According to material distributed by organizers of the forum, some staff at St. Mary's earn as little as $24,500 per year while the annual cost of living in St. Mary's County is $34,000. Many of the staff employed by the college are single parents.

I sympathize with the motives of the living wage proponents, unfortunately I cannot support them in their effort because it would harm the very folks it's meant to help and would do nothing to address the growing problem of income inequality in America. I hope this forum provides an opportunity to discuss alternate, and I think better, ways to raise the standard of living of working folks and address the problem of inequality.

To elevate the salary of someone earning $24,500 to the living wage of $34,000 would require nearly $10,500 when factoring in the College's share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. In the end, to raise the salary of two staff members would require an amount nearly equal to the salary of one staff member in the absence of a living wage. Assuming the state refuses to provide sufficient funds to pay for the raises required by a living wage (a reasonable assumption) the only way to fund the pay increases would be to reduce the number of staff.  So for each two staff members who receive a pay increase, one staff member would receive a pink slip.

Economist David Neumark studied the effect of living wages after Baltimore City instituted such a policy in 1994 for workers paid through publicly supported funds. Neumark found forcing up wages causes demand for labor to fall. In his study he determined workers covered by the living wage law typically see a 3.5 percent increase in wages, but there was a 7 percent increase in unemployment among low-wage workers.

The living wage essentially creates an income transfer between low income people. In this case, two people see their standard of living rise at the expense of another person's job. Living wages are a poor means by which to increase living standards and do virtually nothing to deal with inequality. Worse, a living wage is a blunt instrument that does nothing to address actual need. A living wage would provide the same income to a working single parent with children as it would to a 17 year old dependent living at home.

But there is a better approach. The earned income tax credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit offered by the federal government and the state of Maryland. The EITC offers low income workers additional income, and because it is linked to family size, earnings, investment income, and other measures it is based on need. The 17 year old living home with Mom and Dad would not qualify, but a single parent would, and the amount of the credit would reflect such crucial matters as the number of dependent children in the family.

Under current tax law, a single parent with one child earning $24,500 would qualify for approximately $2,000 through the federal EITC (the amount is larger as income declines). In Maryland, the typical EITC amount is roughly half the federal amount - in this case $1,000.  So the staff member earning $24,500 in 2011 would actually receive $27,500.

But there's more. There is also the federal child tax credit (CTC) of $1,000 per child. The tax credit is used first to reduce your federal tax bill, but for low income parents if the amount of the credit exceeds the total taxes due the parent can receive the difference in a refund via the additional child tax credit (ACTC) - this could mean an addition $1,000 for a family with one child.

Perhaps more important, because the EITC and the ACTC are distributed via taxes they transfers income from those who pay income taxes to those whose incomes are so low that they do not - it redistributes wealth from those who have to those who have not. No employer needs to worry about firing one employee in order to increase the pay of two others. And living wage movements that target only specific employers distract from the larger and more important goal of reducing inequality in society.

If folks really want to address income inequality the better approach is to lobby the state to increase the EITC and ACTC for low income earners. If you believe in the basic premise of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" then the living wage is not the way to go. It removes from society the burden of responsibility to see to it that those who work are able to provide for their families. Only through a collective mechanism such as the tax code and the EITC and the ACTC can we address the issues of income inequality and ensure that we are not increasing the burden on the very folks we seek to help.

Down to the Wire on Marriage Equality

A joint committee in the House of Delegates voted 25-18 Tuesday night to send the marriage equality bill to the floor. On Wednesday the bill was held over until Thursday. Proponents say they are a few votes short of the 71 needed to pass, but the speed with which the measure is moving toward a vote suggests the votes are either there or nearly there.

Recent efforts to court Republican support bore fruit when Anne Arundel Republican Bob Costa voted in favor of the bill. Republican Del. Pat Hogan (Frederick) had indicated that he was undecided, but has since declared his intention to vote "No." Democratic Del. Sam Arora continues to confuse - last year he supported marriage equality, then changed his mind and opposed it in committee, and then changed his mind and supported it on the floor. Arora abstained during the committee vote on Tuesday.

Arora and other members of the committee who subsequently voted against the bill, voiced support throughout the hearing for amendments that would make civil unions legal in Maryland rather than legalizing same sex marriage. All efforts to amend the bill were defeated.

The delay in floor consideration will give marriage equality opponents ample time to prepare amendments to the bill. The votes on the amendments will be an early indicator of whether the 71 votes needed for passage have been secured.

Several delegates have argued that the issue of same sex marriage should be decided by voters at referendum. Of course, we elect members of the Assembly based on the assumption that they are capable of making decisions on our behalf. Never mind that nearly all bills passed by the legislature and signed by the governor are subject to petition and referendum by the voters. Voters will have multiple chances to be heard on this issue - in the petition phase, in any resultant referendum, and in the 2014 election. In the meantime, members of the Assembly were elected for the express purpose of considering legislation and casting votes. Those who lack the courage or will to cast "the tough votes" need to do the folks of Maryland a favor and let someone else run for their seat in 2014.

On a final note, if the General Assembly does pass this bill then Martin O'Malley deserves a tremendous amount of credit for putting the full weight of his office behind the measure. I am a frequent critic of O'Malley - last year over his silence on marriage equality, in the summer and fall for his disgracefully gerrymandered congressional districts, and this session for a very regressive package of tax increases, and I'm especially bothered by O'Malley's happy descent into the polarizing Us v Them rhetoric of the extreme partisans who control the two national parties. But in this instance and on this issue O'Malley has literally staked his reputation on the legalization of same sex marriage in the Free State. He should be commended and, if the measure becomes law, credited.

The severe divisions that this measure will reveal within the state's Democratic coalition will be an issue for another day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Romney and Inevitability by Any Other Name

A Guest Column by Mark Snyder:

After his decisive victory in Florida Mitt Romney looked all but assured to sail through the rest of the
contests and to the nomination, mostly due to Rick Santorum’s persisting inability to raise money
and organize volunteers and Newt Gingrich’s rapidly declining favorability numbers. He had shaken off the rebuke of South Carolina voters in Florida and ended up winning almost every major demographic group, winning the primary 46% of the vote and leading his next closest competitor, Gingrich, by 14 points.

Romney then went on the win Nevada with a full 50% of the vote, leaving Gingrich 29 points behind him. Even though Nevada was a state Romney was all but assured to win, the inevitability narrative seemed to be building. The month of February was not going to be a kind one to Gingrich, and Santorum still was not making enough money or building enough of a ground game to be taken seriously.

With Santorums sweep of Colorado, Minnesota, and the beauty contest in Missouri the inevitability narrative once again comes into some doubt.

Nate Silver opined after Romney’s win in Florida (and it looked even more true after his Nevada win) that there were a number of ways forward, but can be boiled down to four: the contest ends early and Romney
wins, the battle stretches on but Romney pulls it off, Santorum emerges as the anti-Romney that the media has been saying the Republican base is looking for, or the contest stretches on all the way to a brokered convention.

The first two looked like the likely scenarios, but now with Romney’s upset earlier this week are the latter too looking like better bets?

The answer, in my mind, is no. For several reasons.

First, Romney still holds a huge money lead. According to the latest FEC filing Romney has raised over $57 million, more than the rest of his competitors combined. Not only does this mean Romney will be able to control the airwaves if his campaign so chooses, but he will be able to go to the convention with just the money he has on hand at the moment, which differentiates him from his competitors. The super PAC
supporting Romney, Restore our Future, is also sitting high above the water financially, and showed its willingness to get involved aggressively on behalf of Romney in Iowa. The super PAC has also recently made a media buy in Ohio, a state seen as key for all of the contenders.

Second, though Romney’s favorability ratings have recently taken a hit he is not alone, as mentioned before Gingrich’s has as well, and now increased scrutiny of Santorum’s record and personal statements are
starting to have a negative effect on his ratings. Romney, though not seen as a good candidate by those who consider themselves very conservative, has maintained strong support from moderate Republicans and Independents in exit polls in the first four contests.

Finally the anyone but Romney contingent, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul, face serious questions about how electable they actually are; all three trail Pres. Obama in Gallup surveys, while Romney is running even with him nationally, and beating him in many swing states. In Iowa, New Hampshire, and Florida voters who thought that the ability to defeat Obama is the most important characteristic in a candidate overwhelmingly supported Romney. The exception was in South Carolina, where they support Gingrich 51%/37%, which can be attributed to the mini-implosion of the Romney campaign, marked by their handling of attack on Romney’s time at Bain Capital, his refusal to release his tax records, and his subjugation by Gingrich during the debates.

Looking forward Romney should be able to prove his inevitability with wins in Michigan and Arizona, but look for Gingrich and Santorum to stay long past those primaries. Due to the way the RNC fashioned
the primary season it is impossible for any one candidate to win enough delegates to become the nominee this early, however if Romney can cement his front runner status and make it stick this time, look for him to suck all of the oxygen out of the room, leaving Santorum and Gingrich languishing with dwindling funds and even dimmer prospects.

Romney’s relatively weak finish in Maine, along with the incredible low turnout, only bolsters the importance of the Michigan and Arizona primaries in the coming weeks. The current polling number suggest an interesting scenario: Romney could win Arizona by a large margin (50% to Gingrich’s 26% and Santorum’s 14%) and lose Michigan to Santorum (40% to Romney’s 27%, and Gingrich with 18%) With polling numbers in those states few and far between the current numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Michigan and Arizona primaries are February 28th.

Mark Snyder is a Senior Political Science major at St. Mary's College.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Will Maryland Lead on Marriage Equality?

In a very emotional hearing last week folks testified in favor of and against marriage equality in Maryland.  Last year, after passing in the Senate, marriage equality legislation lacked the the 71 votes needed to pass in the House of Delegates. Since that time, much has happened. Marriage equality was legalized in New York, Washington state just legalized it as well, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that proposition 8 in California - which took away the right to same-sex marriage - was unconstitutional. 

The march of history is clear. Marriage equality will come to every state, it's only a matter of time. Public opinion has shifted considerably in recent years and the trend is clearly in favor of same sex marriage.  In 7 states, plus DC, same sex marriage is now legal. Voters in Minnesota, New Jersey, and North Carolina will soon consider the issue.  Maryland still has a chance to lead on this issue, to set an example for other states.

I reiterate something I wrote last year on the day same-sex marriage died in the House of Delegates:
Today, I simply want to ask every member of the House of Delegates to look forward, beyond this vote, beyond 2012 or 2014. Look 20 years into the future, a future where same-sex marriage is legal everywhere - a likely scenario given the dramatic changes in public opinion on the issue. Future generations will look to this era in American history with the same confusion and embarrassment that our generation looks to the era of segregation and anti-miscegenation laws. That future generation will wonder how intolerance, hate, and bigotry could have so defined our public policy with regard to gender preference, much the same as we wonder how we ever believed that the color of one's skin should determine one's rights.

Many members of the General Assembly will have children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren among that future generation. I ask those members, what will you say when your child or grandchild ask what role you played in the fight for equality? Will you be able to say that you stood at the vanguard of the battle, that you cast a vote for equality that rippled across other states and set a new standard for tolerance? Or, will you lower your voice and your head and explain that when the time came to stand and be counted -- to lead -- you simply weren't up to the task?

Twenty years from now, will you be proud of the vote you'll cast?
Just over 45 years ago the Democratic party was divided over the issue of civil rights and the question of black equality. Democrats dominated national politics and party leaders and even presidents had tried to ignore the issue of civil rights out fear it would tear the Democratic coalition apart. In the end, President Johnson and committed activists in the House and Senate pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And guess what? It shattered the Democratic party coalition. The party lost its national dominance. It lost the White House in 1968, 72, 80, 84, 88, 2000 and 2004. It lost its hold on Congress.

But would anyone argue today that it was the wrong choice to make? African-American voter registration skyrocketed in the South. African-American representation in Congress and state and local office grew considerably. It was simply the right choice to make.

Democrats in Maryland are faced with a similar test of their character. Yes, legalizing same-sex marriage will likely fracture your coalition and perhaps challenge your dominance of state politics. But it's still the right thing, the only acceptable thing, to do. I have been a frequent critic of Martin O'Malley, but his decision to champion this issue, even if it means dividing his party, is to be commended. I only hope that Democrats in the General Assembly will follow his example and lead on this issue.

I hasten to add, in 1964 a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans was crucial to securing passage of the Civil Rights Act over the objection of conservative southern Democrats - but it was the Democratic party that paid the price politically and Republicans that claimed the subsequent allegiance of angry southern whites. Governor O'Malley has recently made overtures to Republicans in the House of Delegates seeking the support of a few party moderates. It would be great if Republican votes helped ensure final passage - but one must ask, why would Republicans consider helping a Governor who has made a habit of referring to them as right-wing, dinosaur, tea party extremists? O'Malley may soon learn that there is a price to be paid for harsh rhetoric. It may help his party raise money and it may raise his national profile, but it undermines coalition building and legislating.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Defensive O'Malley Hurts Only Himself

Maryland is unique in that it has two independently elected executive branch offices closely involved with state finances. The Governor has the power under the state constitution to set the state's budget and the General Assembly can do little to alter the Governor's priorities. The Comptroller is the state's tax collector and sits on the Board of Revenue Estimates and more important is an equal voice to the Governor on the Board of Public Works.

Our current Comptroller, Peter Franchot, would like to be governor. Our current Governor, Martin O'Malley, would like to be President - increasingly the career goals of these two men have been on a collision course.

Sporting a very modest record of accomplishments during his time as governor, O'Malley has put forth a very aggressive legislative agenda. His agenda includes significant tax increases during a time of a weak economic recovery. From decreased deductions for middle and upper income Marylanders to incredibly regressive increases in the gas tax and the state's so-called flush tax O'Malley has spared few from the pain of tax increases.

To quote President Obama, raising taxes during a weak economy is not a good idea. Unfortunately for O'Malley, the state's electoral calendar does not mesh well with his needs. The next governor and every member of the General Assembly will be on the ballot in 2014 - 2 short years from now. As such, O'Malley knows that no rational member of the Assembly would be willing to take politically costly votes the closer we get to the next election. Likewise, as each year passes, state term limits make O'Malley more of a lame duck. For O'Malley he must swing for the fences in the current legislative session. Neither the 2013 nor 2014 session will be any more favorable territory.

So O'Malley has put forward an unpopular package of tax increases and he is experiencing significant push back from within his own party. If O'Malley loses and his proposals are defeated or significantly altered he will appear weak - a Democratic governor that cannot get an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature in a solidly Democratic state to approve tax increases. Such a loss would hardly form a solid foundation upon which to launch a national campaign.

Enter Comptroller Franchot. As the state's tax and revenue collector and as an independently elected representative of the people Franchot, like Comptrollers before him, has exercised the power of his office to wade into the fight over taxes and spending. A likely candidate for governor in 2014, Franchot has been vocal in his opposition to tax increases during a weak economy. Not opposition to tax increases, just opposition during a weak economy. For a potential gubernatorial candidate it's not a bad position to take given a recent Washington Post poll that showed significant opposition to O'Malley's agenda. I hasten to add that Ken Ulman, Howard County Executive and another possible contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, has been equally critical of other aspects of O'Malley's agenda - especially the Governor's proposal to improve the state's budget shortfalls by simply shifting a significant portion of the costs for teachers' pensions onto the counties (which would of course result in local tax increases).

Likely quite frustrated by all of the in-party push back, O'Malley lashed out at Franchot today calling him "our Mitt Romney." O'Malley explained that he views Franchot as an opportunistic flip-flopper simply voicing opposition for political expediency. Franchot's response was devastating "I’m sorry if I’m getting in the way of his presidential efforts."

For O'Malley the whole episode just looks bad. First, O'Malley has served to make the party divisions over his budget front page news. Instead of railing against tea party extremists, O'Malley is broadcasting the fact that in his own state many Democrats are opposed to his tax plans. Suddenly opposition to O'Malley's tax increases is not simply a partisan affair. Perhaps worse, by bringing Mitt Romney's name into the fight O'Malley plays right into the criticisms that he is too concerned with national politics and not paying sufficient attention to the state he was elected to govern. Why not call Franchot a "Pipkin Democrat" or an "O'Donnell Follower" or "another Jim Brochin"... anything that would demonstrate a connection to state politics?

What's more, O'Malley is the de facto head of the state's Democratic party. But his personal attack on Franchot and the dissension within the ranks that it spotlights suggests a chief executive unable to unify his party. Imagine if O'Malley had instead said of Franchot, "the great, and sometimes frustrating, thing about Democrats is that we do not insist on ideological purity. Unlike our Republican counterparts we embrace diverse perspectives. The Comptroller and I may disagree on this issue, but there are far more issues that unite us as Democrats." Instead, he launched an ill conceived attack.

In one sentence, O'Malley elevated the story of party divisions and opposition to his agenda and furthers the narrative that he is otherwise engaged in matters of national politics during a critical period in Maryland politics. He also gave Franchot a lot of free publicity and highlighted the fact that Franchot shares the opinion of most Marylanders when it comes to tax increases. In short, O'Malley hurt no one but himself.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

O'Malley's Tax Plans May Hurt Democrats in 2012

In a recent post I criticized Governor O'Malley's proposed tax increase on gas and the plan to double the flush tax as too regressive to be acceptable. Now, the good folks at the Washington Post have done the math and show just how unfair O'Malley's tax increases would be.

According to an analysis by the Post low and then middle income Marylanders will face the most significant increases in their tax burden should all of O'Malley's proposals be accepted. And which group would see the smallest increase in their tax burden? Families earning over $500,000 per year. In fact, the percentage increase in tax burden for a single person earning $34,000 per year would be double that of a family earning $500,000 per year. Of the nearly $1 billion in tax and fee increases proposed by the governor only $200 million - 20% - would come from limiting tax deductions from higher income Marylanders. The remaining 80% on the increases come from regressive excise taxes.

President Obama has repeatedly argued for tax increases only on folks earning at least $250,000 per year, arguing that Republican opposition stems from the Republican party's desire to protect the wealthy at the expense of every one else. Martin O'Malley is no mere bystander in this national debate. As Chair of the Democratic Governors Association he is a spokesperson and symbol for his party. O'Malley's incredibly regressive tax proposals undermine the Democratic party message and suggest a party unconcerned with the plight of working class families - and that's no small problem. No doubt, defenders of the Governor's proposal will be quick to point out that the increased out of pocket costs for a family earning $500,000 per year will be $1,347 while the increase for a single person earning $34,000 will be $112. But ask yourself - who will feel the loss of income more acutely?

Working class voters will be crucial to the Democrats' success or failure in the 2012 elections. Forget all of the talk about Barack Obama winning in 2008 because of a surge in turnout by young or minority voters - by people who never voted before. Exit polls from 2008 show the share of first time voters  in 2008 was exactly the same as in 2004. The real key to Obama's and the Democrats' victories in 2008 was the return of working class voters to the Democratic fold.  As shown in the figure below, Democrats have been experiencing a steady erosion of support among working class voters since the late 1950s.

Source: American National Election Studies

In 2008 there was a reversal of the trend and working class voters returned to the Democratic party. These voters abandoned the party in the 2010 midterms and delivered control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans. If Democrats cannot win them back in 2012 the party will lose the White House and the Senate and Republicans will once again have unified control of the Executive and Legislative branches.

Democrats cannot win back working class voters by imposing regressive and punitive taxes on them in the midst of a weak economic recovery. Governor O'Malley's proposals would increase the cost of driving to work and the cost of goods and services through higher gas taxes, they would decrease disposable income by raising the flush tax (especially in rural and poor parts of the state where septic systems are common) and increasing utility costs.

And while Democrats nationally claim to favor progressive taxation that would ensure the wealthiest pay "their fair share" Governor O'Malley's plan would impose a greater burden (as a percentage of income) on low income, working, and middle class voters in Maryland as compared to the wealthiest earners in the state.

O'Malley has said that he gave a great deal of thought to his proposed tax increases. If true, that may be the saddest commentary of all. Democrats cannot win without the working class, and working class families cannot emerge from the great recession under the burden of regressive taxes.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Peter Franchot's Anti-partisan Message

Comptroller Peter Franchot was gracious enough to set aside time to meet with my Maryland Politics class today. Though the topic of his political future and the 2014 gubernatorial race never came up, I believe that my class heard key elements of Franchot's argument should he seek the party nomination.

I was especially impressed with the decidedly anti-partisan nature of his comments. And I do mean anti-partisan, not merely non-partisan. Franchot was equally critical of national party politics. He accused Democrats of using the issue of tax increases for the wealthy not as means by which to restore fiscal discipline, but rather a cynical effort to dived people and win votes. Likewise, he argued Republicans' insistence on tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts has noting to do with promoting economic growth, rather as with Democrats it's simply a strategy to divide and target elements of the electorate. In a state dominated by Democrats, the safe choice would be to criticize Republicans and embrace the Democrats, Franchot's criticism was risky and refreshing.

According to Franchot, the parties each have one central and overriding goal - winning elections. Not sound public policy, not responsible budgeting, and certainly not the common good - just winning for the sake of winning.

It was a refreshingly honest assessment of the sorry state of contemporary American politics.

When the discussion turned to Maryland politics, Franchot explained that he believes the tenuous nature of the economic recovery requires that Marylanders have some degree of predictability with regard to their finances. To that end he said he believes that state needs a moratorium on any tax increases. He singled out Governor O'Malley's proposed increases in the income tax burden of Marylanders earning more than $100,000 a year.

With regard to job creation, Franchot dismissed frequent Republican accusations that the state is hostile to business and instead offered perhaps a more damning critique - that the state's bureaucracy all to often seems indifferent to business. The Comptroller argued the state's bureaucracy has become too inefficient with too many redundancies.

When asked about the legislative session and whether there were any bills that he favored or opposed he quickly singled out the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act - otherwise known as BRFA - which he said is being used to push through tax increases in manor that limits debate and the General Assembly's input.

In a recent post I argued that in a four person race, the person best positioned to compete with Lt. Governor Anthony Brown would be the candidate with a message that resonates with Democrats outside of the I-95 corridor. Franchot may have the makings of a message that appeals to the folks in all parts of Maryland.

My students will be meeting with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman next month and I look forward to that meeting and hope to write a similar follow-up. I'm currently working to coordinate a meeting with the Lt. Governor.