Mayor Pete

Last night something incredible happened. It was a totally unexpected moment that I think changed my personal direction and finally gave me some hope that there was a way to save our democracy.

I was watching the triple billing CNN Town Halls and it was the third one that surprised me. It was one featuring a guy who I knew was running but I didn’t take at all seriously. I mean, I couldn’t even pronounce his name (still can’t… working on it). It was a town hall featuring the mayor of South Bend Indiana. A 37 year old guy by the name of Pete Buttigieg.

Here is a link to the Town Hall. I hope its still around when you read this because if you haven’t seen it, you should take 15-20m to get a taste of it.

This man speaks in a way that is totally refreshing. Not only that, he appears to know what he’s talking about on each and every issue and he is able to convey what his thoughts are without seeming to be pandering and also without being partisan. It’s fairly incredible to witness.

I’ve since learned that he’s done two notable podcasts : First on Pod Save America and Stay Tuned with Preet. I will be giving them a listen as soon as I get a moment.

Last night was a moment that was kind of like when I first saw Obama speak in the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It was a moment of hope.

Can “Mayor Pete” (as people like to call him) pull off a total underdog moment and become president? Probably not. The way we vote in elections (see my previous posts) make it impossible for candidates that don’t have a lot of money and name recognition. However, I feel that he should very much be in the debates and could potentially become a VP pick. Also, he could use this to move up to higher office and make another run in 8 years or so.

Speaking of the debates. The DNC claims that they will let anyone into the debates if they get enough individual donations from unique people. This means that if you want to support a candidate and see them in the debates, you should give at least $1 to them. For Mayor Pete, you can do that here.

It’s All About the Benjamins

In my perfect American utopia all campaigns are publicly financed but until then candidates need to raise money in order to gain visibility and hire campaign workers.

When I was growing up I had the unique privilege to learn first hand how campaigns work from the inside, from the back room. What I learned ultimately was one major rule of thumb : the candidate who raised the most money generally would win. This was partially due to the fact that people and entities giving money to a candidate was/is a great way to gauge early popularity of the candidate, because nobody would give to someone they didn’t like or thought couldn’t win.

Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve been giving my money to candidates I support for years. In my mind, I love these people and want to help them to win and so I kick in some of my money. But if you think about that for a minute, isn’t that super weird? Why should we have a system where we citizens need to vote for someone more than once? And why should one of our votes be done with money? And is it fair? Clearly some people (and companies) have a lot more money than I do so their ‘vote’ is proportionally a lot greater than mine. Is that right? It’s become so normalized in my brain that it never seemed odd until I stopped to think about it.

Shouldn’t we have a system where we citizens vote exactly one time, on election day? And shouldn’t we have a system where our votes were fairly counted and applied in a rational way that ensures that the candidate with the most support wins?

The answer is YES and we need to fight for that and for public financing of elections every day until things change. But sadly, that’s not our system right now and we have to consider the race as it is today.

I was reading an article this morning about Joe Biden and why he hasn’t declared yet and one major reason was that he didn’t think that he would be able to compete with the other candidates in the small donor race. One aside, Biden thought that part of the reason was that he wasn’t of the “Social Media Generation” (as if the reason people were giving money to other candidates was because they were blindly responding to social media messaging as opposed to actual policies of the candidates!).

I took some time to dig into how much money the current candidates have raised at this point but it seems that there isn’t very much data on the FEC website yet. I can say that the Donald has raised over $67M (and spent $55M) however. We will have to wait, I’m sure for the first FEC quarterly report.

But we can speculate.

There are many reports that Sanders is winning the money race so far, followed by Harris. Elizabeth Warren has decided to swear off big money private donors as well as PACs (good for her!) so it would be interesting to see how she is doing.

But we can’t know at this moment. I’m guessing that the FEC will report out their quarterly numbers at the end of the month. We will check in then!

Iowa

At times like this I so wish I lived in Iowa.

I have often complained about how stupid and unfair it is that one state pretty much determines which candidates move forward in the primary race for president. I could go on and on complaining about it. But right now I won’t. I will pretend I live there.

If I did I would be really into this process. I would be out there on the streets (farmlands?) and joining up in the caucuses and participating in grass roots government. The entire state would be alive with excitement and I would be able to see candidates in person almost every single day.

For example, here is a candidate tracker site by the De Moines Register. Just look at all those candidate events! There are websites like this one that track the entire horse race. They cover staff and endorsements by local residents and groups. I mean how much fun would this be? If I lived there I would be right in the middle of everything!!

God dammit, I can’t get around how dumb this is, that this tiny state with a population smaller than my city gets to choose who is going to be the next president way before I even have a chance to!

PSM episode

I dig the Pod Save America podcast and listen to it often but sometimes its not as substantive as I’d like to be. The latest episode “I’M GONNA REGRET THIS SPEECH.” is not that. In fact it’s the opposite. After some discussion about the batshit crazy CPAC speech by the Donald, they dig into 2020 and talk about polling, issues and voting and elections in a really interesting way. It’s totally worth a listen if you’re into this kind of stuff.

 

2020 Power Rankings

I think I’m going to try and do this once and while…

Here is a list of the candidates in order of how I think they are doing in general. It’s not who I like, but who seems to have momentum.

  1. Harris : She came out super strong with a great announcement, had a CNN town hall right away (and killed it) and has had little or no negative press happening. I’m impressed with how smooth her operation is and campaigns running smooth is what it’s all about.
  2. Bernie : Bernie started off raising over $4M in his first day. That is incredible and more than double the 1.5 that Kamala raised on her first day. And Bernie has continued that streak by raising $10M in his first week from almost 360k thousand donors. But here’s something incredible : almost 40% of those donors were _new_ donors! I rank Bernie #2 because he’s suffering from a bunch of backlash from haters and nay sayers.
  3. Amy : Klobuchar started off with a killer announcement in the snow and even though she has a big time centrist viewpoint, she seems to be maintaining her momentum even with negative stories about the way she treats staff, etc.
  4. Warren : Elizabeth Warren is doing an amazing job selling her views and they sound super refreshing and pragmatic. The issue with her candidacy is that like Bernie in 2016, the media is almost completely ignoring her campaign and it’s making me crazy. If they would cover her, she would be #1 in my list.
  5. Gillibrand : Is Kristen Gillibrand a candidate? I mean, she declared but I haven’t heard a thing about her campaign in the media anywhere.
  6. Booker : Like Gillibrand I haven’t heard a thing about Cory Booker. Also, I think with the exception of Bernie, this election is about the women and most voters are not going to vote for a man.
  7. Gabbard : Tulsi is getting killed. Her anti-interventionist platform (which I love) is being demolished by pretty much everyone and her campaign seems to be nonexistent.
  8. Everyone else : there are a lot of others but right now they don’t warrant much mention.

Listen to Warren

I know I just wrote about Elizabeth Warren but I had to drop this little tidbit. If you want to get to know her a bit better, do listen to her interview on Pod Save America last week. It was pretty incredible. What I loved about it most was that she articulated pretty much everything I care about and in a very rational, thoughtful way. She really is becoming the candidate that I am looking for. Of course we need to keep digging into others and thinking about this, but she is very much in the lead in my book.

You can’t always get what you want

I’d like to start this post with a quick detour into voting systems. And by that, I mean, the systems we use to count our votes to determine who wins. There is an _amazing_ book that should be required reading for all voters called Gaming The Vote. This book goes into a bit of history and demonstrates why the current way we count votes is completely terrible and often leads to results that do not reflect the will of the voters. The central thesis is that when you have more than two candidates in an election, the plurality system (she who gets the most votes wins) totally breaks down in many un-obvious ways.

One of those ways is that candidates can get elected with a small percentage of the vote total. Think about that one factor. There are 4 candidates and you love A, B is ok, C is eh but you hate D. In fact, the D candidate is pretty different than A-C in what they believe and A-C are pretty interchangeable to a large group of voters. (eg. D voters hate candidates A-C and A-C voters hate D).

The totals end up 30% A, 19% B, 17% C and 34% D. Is it right that D wins with only 34% approval? If the people who voted for B and C knew D would win and A had the best shot they would have gladly voted for A and thus A would have clearly won. If you think about it as A-C vs D (which is kind of is when you consider the platforms of the candidates) it’s clear.

The above problem not only shows you how shitty the results can differ from the real will of the people they also demonstrate another problem with plurality voting: strategic voting. People start to cloud their decisions by thinking about who actually can win the election rather than who they want to win the election. You can probably see a ton of examples in the past where this was an issue and imagine a ton more where it will be an issue.

I won’t get deeper into this, but this kind of stuff, to me, is extremely fascinating and the subject of many, many studies. What I will tell you is that while the studies often suggest differing solutions _all_ of the studies say that our current system is the worst. Two of the most popular systems that I’ve heard about are Approval Voting and Ranked Choice.

Approval Voting is beautiful in its simplicity. It requires (almost) no changes to machines or the math. When you go to vote, you vote for all of the candidates you approve of. So in the example above if you were an A, B or C voter, you’d vote for all 3. If you were a D voter, you’d vote for D alone. At the end, whoever gets the most votes will be the winner. Just take a second to think about how incredible this system is. Its so clean and elegant, it’s the system (last I checked) that the International Society of Mathematicians uses to pick their officers.

The other system that I like a little less is called Ranked Choice. The reason I don’t like it as much is because it’s a bit more complicated and I think that may turn off some voters and voter turn out is low enough. However, it’s gaining some traction (I think it was used in Maine in the last election) so I am totally for it. In this system you rank your choices when you vote (eg. A, C, B, D) and they use a bit of math to compute who wins based on runoffs: If no one has 51%, they drop the lowest vote getter and reallocate their votes based on their rankings and then recompute then repeat if necessary. This system again is _way_ more representative of the will of the people. I think this Radiolab episode (which I heard 2-3 months ago) talks about an election in Ireland that uses this system.

Ok. So where am I going with all of this?

The way we choose our presidential nominee is terribly unfair and will not reflect the will of the people.

This is not only based on the voting system (see above) but also on the fact that we do primaries on different dates and also a bit on the fact that our elections are not publicly funded (maybe we dig into this another time).

So, assuming that we had our primaries on the same day, what would happen is that the field would be incorrectly split up based (mostly) on ideological leanings, on the ways the candidates are different and also the same.

In very broad strokes:

by Economic beliefs : (Bernie and Warren) vs. (Kamala and Gillibrand) vs. Booker vs. Klobuchar

which would mean that the election would be between Cory and Amy since the others would split each others votes.

by Sex: (Bernie and Booker) vs. (Kamala, Gillibrand, Warren, Klobuchar)

so this would come down to Bernie v. Booker.

etc.

Of course its a lot more complicated when you come up with different venn diagrams and put them all together, but I feel that the election will be decided in these ways. This is how Trump became the nominee. He was so different than the rest of the field that they all split up the opposition to him in every primary. Will this happen if Joe Biden joins the race?

The moral to this story is that I feel that unless we change the way we vote in America, we will never get the candidate we all are happy with. And that’s sad because in every election, such a candidate does exist.

So Much to Write About

Things I need to write:

  1. More about Elizabeth Warren since I think she’s a super candidate
  2. A scorecard about where all the candidates seem to be right now in my mind
  3. A bit of discussion about the Klobuchar Town Hall on CNN
  4. Discussion about voting in general and how we pick candidates
  5. Bernie has entered the race!

Stay tuned.. I think #2 is next

Who is Tulsi Gabbard

I really want to learn more about TulsI Gabbard. She was the first candidate that I was interested in when she joined the race and she’s struggling to get any traction with the big names like Harris and Warren.

I went to her webpage for more info and there wasn’t much of substance there (other than some nice photos and a decent ‘about‘ section). What I’m looking for is her platform. I want to know what she believes in, how she stands on the issues, etc. Nothing yet. So I’ll wait a bit on that.

Maybe it would be useful to dig into who gives her money. I have been using OpenSecrets.org to look up things. For her 2018 Congressional election she got money from mostly benign sources as far as I can tell from a quick look. This includes a decent amount from independent donors. OpenSecrets did a nice article recently digging in a bit more deeply that shows that she got some money from the defense industry. What does this mean? We will need to dig into her support of their agenda.

I found a couple nice ways to check voting records. My favorite is called Ballotpedia which gives voting as well as a ton of other useful info  (including her platform from the 2018 election). One issue is that it only has the 115th congress for now but I urge you to dig into her page which is here. (Note on foreign affairs she wasn’t a total hawk). This site actually does a really nice job of summarizing a politicians political life.

The second voting record site is Votesmart. This has more up to date info including her vote for us to pull out of support for SA in Yemen.