Nate Silver: GOP Has 60% Chance of Taking Control of Senate

Nate Silver has built a brand as a successful prognosticator of U.S. elections — and fantasy baseball projections, for the record. So Democrats are understandably concerned about his prediction that Republicans will regain the U.S. Senate in 2014. The Huffington Post writes:

Cue the hand-wringing in Democratic circles everywhere: Nate Silver says the GOP will probably re-take the Senate in November’s elections.

After he ran the table in 2012, correctly predicting the electoral outcomes in every single state, Silver has become something of a modern-day oracle to political junkies.

On Sunday, Silver took to his new FiveThirtyEight website—and his new TV home on ABC—to deliver one of his breathlessly awaited prognostications.

Republicans need six seats to regain control of the Senate chamber. How many seats did Silver think the GOP would win? “Exactly six,” he told ABC’s Jonathan Karl.

Silver gave Republicans a 60 percent chance of wresting the Senate out of Harry Reid’s hands—a big blow to the final two years of the Obama presidency. In Silver’s words, that only makes the GOP “slightly favored” to win, and there are still very many months to go until November.

Some Legislators Pushing to End U.S. Senate Elections

For politicos, Indiana's 2012 U.S. Senate primary and election had it all: Drama. Faction rivalries. Gaffes. But if it was up to some legislators, the ultimate victor would not be left up to the general voting public.

Some Georgia Republicans are seeking a repeal of the 17th Amendment, and want state legislators to start appointing Senators in order to bring more power back to the states. The Huffington Post writes:

The resolution calls on Congress to begin the process of repealing the 17th Amendment, passed in 1913, which provided for the direct election of senators. State Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton), the main sponsor of the resolution, told the Douglas County Sentinel that moving the power back to state legislatures would allow for the original intent of the Constitution.

“It’s a way we would again have our voice heard in the federal government, a way that doesn’t exist now,” Cooke told the paper. “This isn’t an idea of mine. This was what James Madison was writing. This would be a restoration of the Constitution, about how government is supposed to work.”

In the text of the resolution, Cooke cites Madison's writing in the Federalist Papers, specifying that members of the Senate would be "elected absolutely and exclusively by state legislatures."

The resolution says the 17th Amendment has prevented state governments from having a say in federal government and that repealing the amendment would hold U.S. senators accountable to the states. The federal government has grown in "size and scope," it says, in the century since the amendment was adopted.

The 17th Amendment was adopted out of concern for state-level corruption influencing Senate elections, which Cooke said would not be the case now.

“It’s the responsibility of each and every citizen to make sure of who gets elected to office, that they’re principled people,” Cooke told the Douglas County Sentinel. “You can look at the current state of ethics and transparency. Anybody has the ability to look at money being donated to campaigns. It would keep anything from being done out of the public eye.”

Politicians Lie? Not Shocking. But Why Don’t We Care More?

Lies. Falsehoods. Misleading statements. Whatever you call them, they’re part of the political process. Reuters’ blog has a worthy piece making the case that lying is part of election season. No matter how devoted we are to our favorite candidates, we’re probably lying to ourselves if we think they’d rate a perfect score on the truth meter.

This is the kind of info I’m keeping in my hip pocket for when I run for president of Newt Gingrich’s moon colony. "Today I promise you, if I’m elected, every city block will have an oxygen bar — and each citizen will have an American flag-themed moon suit featuring an image of ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan. Malektor! (That means ‘God Bless’ in Moon Talk – a fake language I’ll create to help sell more tchotchkes to tourists.)"

The candidates lie about each other, they lie about themselves, they lie about issues they know intimately, and they lie about issues they barely understand. Of Romney, the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank writes today that the candidate has changed, reversed and obliterated his views so many times that “Whatever Romney’s positions were, they are no longer.”

If either presidential candidate met you, he’d tell you a lie within 15 seconds of shaking your hand, and if he knew he were going to meet your mother, he’d invent a special set of lies for her. Politicians lie not because they’re wicked – though some are – but because they’ve learned that political markets rarely reward honest campaigners. Say what you will about Ralph Nader and H. Ross Perot, but they ran relatively honest campaigns on the issues, and the voters rejected them. The political market spoke many years ago and continues to speak: Telling the truth is not great for campaigns – and if it were, more people would be doing it…

Some of the lies the candidates tell are innocuous and are not held against them, as Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman write in their 2003 book, The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories that Shape the Political World. For example, “It’s great to be in Kansas City” is a completely acceptable lie, as is the platitude, “Nothing is more important to me than the future of our children,” Jamieson and Waldman write. Nor do voters care much if candidates claim to have “led the fight” for a piece of legislation if all they did was vote for it or sign it. Moving up the ladder of lying, candidates rarely are forced to pay a political price when they butcher the truth, even in presidential debates. ”You can say anything you want during a debate and 80 million people hear it,” said Vice President George H.W. Bush’s press secretary Peter Teeley in 1984, adding a “so what?” to the fact that reporters might document a candidate’s debate lies. ”Maybe 200 people read it or 2,000 or 20,000.”…

Campaigns can survive the most blatant political lies, but candidates must be careful not to lie about themselves – or even appear to lie about themselves, as Jamieson and Waldman demonstrate in a long chapter about Al Gore’s image problems. Gore never claimed to have invented the Internet or to have discovered Love Canal. He did, however, falsely claim during the 1988 presidential contest to have gotten “a bunch of people indicted and sent to jail” while working as a reporter. Voters demand authenticity in their presidential candidates, even if the authenticity is fake, as was George W. Bush’s just-folks manner. To lie about an issue is to be a politician. To lie about a corporation is to be a public relation executive. To lie about a legal matter is to be a lawyer. To lie about international power relations is to be a diplomat. But to lie about who you are is to be a hypocrite, and voters despise hypocrites.

The pervasiveness of campaign lies tells us something we’d rather not acknowledge, at least not publicly: On many issues, voters prefer lies to the truth. That’s because the truth about the economy, the future of Social Security and Medicare, immigration, the war in Afghanistan, taxes, the budget, the deficit and the national debt is too dismal to contemplate. As long as voters cast their votes for candidates who make them feel better, candidates will continue to lie. And to win.

NLRB Developments This Week

Here are a couple key developments from the NLRB within the last week. If you’re a business owner, prepare to be annoyed:

Mandatory Posting Requirement
The National Labor Relations Board decided Friday to delay the required posting date of its new NLRB posting yet again — this time until April 30, 2012 (it was previously January 31, 2012). The NLRB’s web site reports:

  • The National Labor Relations Board has agreed to postpone the effective date of its employee rights notice-posting rule at the request of the federal court in Washington, DC hearing a legal challenge regarding the rule. The Board’s ruling states that it has determined that postponing the effective date of the rule would facilitate the resolution of the legal challenges that have been filed with respect to the rule. The new implementation date is April 30, 2012.

Rules Regarding Union Elections
Baker & Daniels reports: 

The National Labor Relations Board (Board) has formally adopted a final rule that will expedite the pre-election process and limit the post-election process in union representation cases. The rule will be published in the Federal Register on December 22, 2011, and is due to take effect on April 20, 2012.

As we previously informed you, the Board enacted this rule, which will significantly impede an employer’s right to communicate with its employees and petition the government for redress, while faced with the prospect of losing its quorum at the end of 2011. The rule focuses primarily on union representation cases in which parties cannot agree on issues such as whether the employees the union seeks to represent are an appropriate voting group. It significantly changes existing procedures in these types of cases by limiting the issues to be determined in the pre-election process and precluding pre-election review of regional office decisions in most cases. This rule will likely mean that elections are held in a much shorter timeframe.

It is expected that a variety of pro-business advocacy groups will pursue litigation in an attempt to overturn the new rules.

Unions will most likely be emboldened by the Board’s action, and it may spark an increase in union organizing. To remain union free, it is increasingly important for employers to focus on positive-employee relations and supervisory training.

Our Statement on NLRB’s Push for Swifter Union Control Via Election Process

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just approved a push for swifter union control through speedier elections that could occur within two to three weeks after filing a petition. Before the rule goes into effect, it will be drafted into final language for a subsequent NLRB vote within the next three weeks.

Comments from Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar on this development:

"This is yet another attempt by organized labor to abandon the historical democratic process within labor-management relations and tip the scales in favor of employees voting for a union. Currently, the average time it takes to have an election is 38 days. By cutting that time in half, unions are boldly trying to rob employers of their time to fully discuss the impact of unionizing their workplace.

"It all comes down to fairness. Employees need to be able to fully hear both sides of the union organizing argument, and then let them make an informed decision. What the NLRB is attempting is basically an ambush and once again illustrates the Board’s increasing abuse of power."

There are other concerning changes covered in the new rule, says Brinegar, including no pre-election appeals to the Board and any post-election review of issues would be strictly discretionary.

Background:
The NLRB has less than three weeks to finalize its recommendations since the Board loses its quorum of three members later in December, including one key supporter of the approved election changes. The Board’s vote on Wednesday was 2-1. There are up to five members in total on the Board at any one time.

The National Labor Relations Act provides employees with the right to form or join a union in order to collectively bargain with their employer. To be recognized by an employer, a union must demonstrate it has the support of a majority of the employees. Any union election process is supervised by the NLRB.

Tuesday Vote; 2012 Consequences

Elections, no matter the year, do make a difference. Sure, some are more important than others. Michael Davis, who led the Indiana Chamber’s political affairs efforts before joining BIPAC in Washington, offers his analysis of what next week’s national votes mean for the states involved and for 2012. Here are some excerpts:

With three states holding gubernatorial contests, four states holding state legislative elections plus numerous special election and ballot initiatives, the 2011 elections may give us an early preview of how upset voters will be throughout next year.

The results for next week’s elections, particularly the fights for control of the Virginia State Senate and the Mississippi House of Representatives, may give us an early indicator of what issues will be top of mind for voters (economy, jobs), which voter base is more motivated (look for turnout numbers of those identified as younger voters, Tea Party supporters, 2008 Obama supporters and independent voters) and if voters will continue to be more than willing to retire incumbent candidates seeking re-election (should be higher than historical averages, but will they be higher than that of the last couple of cycles?).

One of the big stories of the night could be the locking up of the South by Republicans.  If the GOP can gain control of the Virginia Senate and Mississippi House, Republicans will control the State House, State Senate and Governor’s office of every Southern state except Arkansas.

Here is a list of top races to watch on Tuesday, November 8:

Control of the Virginia Senate.  Democrats currently control the State Senate by a 22-18 margin, but Republicans in Richmond are optimistic they will win back control.This would give Republicans control of the Senate, House and Governor’s office at the same for only the second time in state history. Following the election, control over the state’s congressional redistricting process looms large.

Control of the Mississippi House. Democrats currently control the House by a 68-54 margin with Republicans strongly knocking on the door to win control. Like in Virginia, this would give Republicans control of the Senate, House and Governor’s office. The Republican playing field is large enough and there are clearly enough districts with favorable numbers to put Republicans in control.

Ballot measures. Issue 2 in Ohio, an effort to repeal a 2011 act that places limits on collective bargaining for public employees, will likely attract the most national attention.

Iowa State Senate District 18 special election. With Democrats holding a 25 to 24 majority, this special election will result in either Democrats holding a 26 to 24 majority or the State Senate being evenly split 25 to 25 heading into the 2012 legislative session. Anyone who has been through an evenly a legislative session with an evenly split legislative body can give you an excellent definition of "chaos" or "gridlock."   

Still a Chance for Civility in Politics?

Though we’re now more than a month past the November elections, I still get the jitters when I turn on the television and see what looks like the potential for a political advertisement. I’m probably not the only one, either, following a particularly negative campaign season.

One of the biggest complaints heard about the election was the overabundance of negative political campaigns. Instead of hearing about what the candidate was actually going to do while in office, most just slammed their opponents – in print, television on the radio. After a while, you start to relate the candidates’ tactics to those you might see in a high school campaign for class president, except these political campaigns are for the men and women that will be deciding things like how much we’re going to pay in taxes. Yikes.

This growing trend of incivility in politics has not gone unnoticed. In fact, a study of this trend was recently released by the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College, co-authored by Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) Associate Professor of Political Science Michael R. Wolf.

The most recent phase of the study, which was conducted during the last four days before the November election, shows that Americans are calling the atmosphere “increasingly nasty” and potentially harmful for continued democracy in our country. But, the study says, the good news is that a large majority see the potential for passionate and respectful campaigning in the future.

A little less than half (46%) of the registered voters who were surveyed said that the 2010 election was “the most negative” they’d ever seen and 63% of responders said politics had become less civil since President Barack Obama took office – though the responders blamed different sources. Whatever the cause, 64% of study responders said the current tone of politics is unhealthy for our democracy, with 17% saying the tone is healthy and 14% saying it has little impact.

While these numbers indicate the harmful effects of negative campaigning, it turns out that nine out of 10 registered voters are actually optimistic that candidates can conduct aggressive, but respectful, campaigns.

It seems we will just have to wait until the next election rolls around to find out if the candidates themselves are optimistic that respectful campaigning works. Here’s hoping they figure it out, so I can relax next time I flip on the tube.

Casting the Vote in Various Ways

An innovative vote center option has been unable to expand beyond the pilot stage in Indiana. In Hawaii, meanwhile, various methods of casting absentee ballots are in play with an effort to institute all-mail elections. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser has the story:

As of last year, Hawaii was among 29 states allowing some form of no-excuse absentee voting and is now among five states that allow citizens to become permanent absentee voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Hawaii’s Legislature approved the system in 2008 over Gov. Linda Lingle’s veto, but a bill to require statewide all-mail election failed in last year’s session.

The governor expressed concerns that the permanent absentee ballot could result in fraud because it lacks a means for verifying that the intended voter was the person who mailed in the vote. That should no longer be an issue since the 2009 federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act requires states to be equipped with reliable ballot tracking technology.

The Honolulu administration has sent out permanent absentee voting applications to the state’s 250,000 registered voters and other counties also will reach out to their voters. Applicants must provide their Social Security number and sign the form. Election workers are to compare the signature accompanying the mailed-in vote to the one on file from the application.

Oregon initiated all-mail elections in 2000 and appears to have avoided serious fraud by leveraging signature verification and ballot tracking, while increasing turnout by 7 percent in previous years to 67.6 percent in 2008.

Voting by mail follows a trend in that direction in Hawaii.

Thirty-eight percent of votes were cast by absent ballot in the 2008 general election, compared with only 19.7 percent in the 2000 election.

In Oregon, the cost of elections has gone down from $1.81 to $1.05 per voter since the move to all-mail balloting. However, the Los Angeles city clerk warned last year that an all-mail election would entail the prohibitive cost of hiring 480 new employees to process ballots. Hawaii is closing only about one-fourth of polling places, so cost-saving in this year’s election seems doubtful.

This year’s primary and general elections in Hawaii should provide an indication of whether voter turnout is enhanced by permanent absentee ballots and the cost would be affordable if the state were to move to all-mail voting. The Legislature should visit the issue in its next session.

Not Enough Time on Their Hands in D.C.?

Quirky Congressional calendars and policy stalemates are nothing new in Washington. For those of that mindset, it appears the rest of 2010 won’t be too upsetting. And with some of the damage Congress has inflicted on businesses of all sizes and their employees over the last few years, maybe that isn’t all bad.

In the House (which doesn’t return until Tuesday), it’s less than three weeks until the August break (starting a week earlier than normal). House members will not be back in Washington until mid-September, with a targeted adjournment date of October 8 in order to hit the campaign trail fulltime in the weeks leading up to the November 2 election. Are we looking at a lame-duck session in November or December — or no action on major items until 2011?

For the Senate, the legislative backlog includes:

  • Seeking two votes (Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe are the top targets) to move the financial regulatory reform conference report
  • A lending pool/tax incentives increase for small businesses, which was originally seen as an opportunity to address other financial issues — including the expiring Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003
  • A $75 billion war supplemental that faces a White House veto over issues unrelated to the original intent. The House added $16 billion, including $10 billion to local school districts to help avoid teacher layoffs. Part of the offsets feature recissions in education programs (among them Race to the Top); hence, the White House opposition

CongressDaily reports the following on that bill:

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye did not include funding for teachers in the measure the Senate approved in May because it was unclear if there was enough support to pass the bill. 

Supporters of the teacher funding will also have to overcome opposition from a group of 13 Democratic senators led by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., who called the proposed cuts to education programs "unacceptable" in a letter to Inouye earlier this month.

"Choosing between preserving teacher jobs and supporting vital education reforms is a false choice and would set a dangerous precedent," the letter said.

Or school districts could utilize any number of other cost reduction methods instead of simply cutting teachers. If only that suggestion would become part of the common practice.

Cleaning Up Indiana Elections

This week’s Indiana Supreme Court ruling upholding the requirement that voters show a picture ID to vote really wasn’t much of a surprise, considering case law.  However, it does represent an important reform to stop years of egregious frauds committed by slimy characters from both parties.

I once followed a suspicious voter between three polling sites where she cast ballots, before I was able to get an official in place to challenge her at a fourth site. At the time, all she had to do was give a name, no ID, and sign in the poll book. The unusual thing was catching someone in the act, not the act itself.

Electronic voting systems have come to most counties and the age-old game of tweaking paper ballots and machines has largely passed into the ashbin of history. However, absentee balloting continues to be a gaping hole in Indiana elections.

A voter casting an “absentee ballot” simply files a basic application indicating they will not be able to physically go to a polling site on Election Day. A ballot is then mailed to their residence to be filled out and returned by mail.

Convenient? Yes. Secure and fraud-free? No. 

Slimy political agents hang around mailboxes to collect applications and ballots they filed for eligible or not eligible (dead, moved, non-citizen, etc.). Absentee ballots are cast from voters at homes that don’t exist. Small rental homes or single apartments can be found from which dozens of absentee votes are cast. The list goes on.

Prosecutions in this state for voter fraud are up, but you’ll find the cases are almost always about absentee ballot abuses.