Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tedisco Concedes, The One-Sided Carbon Discussion, Sebelius Delayed, Stimulus Spending Update, Random Presidential Trivia

As I write this, we are in Day 95 of the administration of President Barack Obama. My next blog will focus on the review of his first 100 days, but unlike many in the media, as I've held to before, I like to at least wait until his first 100 days are up before I write my review. My coverage will focus on 3 primary areas: a review of his accomplishment against objectives in his first 100 days, an in-depth look at his popularity and a guide to the rest of his first year in office. For now, let's talk about the political news of the day.

Gillebrand to Be Replaced by Another Democrat

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R) has conceded to now Congressmen-Elect Scott Murphy (D) for the vacant NY-20 congressional seat that has been empty since Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand (D) was appointed by Gov. David Patterson (D) to fill Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's vacant senate seat. This was an extremely close race, with the current unofficial tally, following re-checks of the voting machines and the counting of absentee ballots, showing Murphy winning by 399 votes out of over 160,000 cast, or about a 0.2% win.

This seat was thought to be a critical test of the parties relative strength in the aftermath of President Obama's first days in office. As I discussed in a previous blog, this district is approximately 3% more Republican than the nation as a whole, so it is pretty much a swing district.

A close win by Murphy, in my mind, shows that the nation is still pretty closely dividied. A decisive win by either party might have indicated a changing tide, but we didn't get that.

Congratulations to Murphy on his win. And congratulations to Tedisco for both a hard fought race and having the good sense to concede at the right time.

Maybe you should give Norm Coleman a call. His challenge of the lower court ruling to the state supreme court is scheduled for June 1st. Even if he losses this challenge (as most expect he will), he will have the option to appeal to federal court under the equal protection clause. Let's hope he doesn't. This drama will have drug on for 7 months by the time the Minnesota Supreme Court hears the case. Enough is enough.

One reason for the vast difference in the amount of time that it took to decide a closely contested race is one of voting technology. Minnesota is still on paper ballots, which meant that a recount entailed a detailed ballot by ballot count with all kinds of potential for error (part of Norm Coleman's appeal is in fact based on the premise that 135 ballots were incorrectly double-counted in the recount.) In New York, other than absentee ballots, everything was machine-based, so the recount took little time.

I'm well aware of the risks of a machine count with no paper trail. The obvious, best solution is an electronically-tallied machine count with a paper printout as a back-up (the machine would print a voters selection and let him or her see the paper back-up before casting his or her final vote.) This would enable fast, accurate totals and a verification process to ensure the machines were correct. We would defer to the machine count and use hand counts of the paper back-ups only to verify that the machines were working properly.

Honestly, why can't we get this right in the 21st century? Over 8 years after Florida, our election system, the lynchpin of our democracy is still woefully under equiped to handle close elections in many places. It's sad.

Have We Forgotten About the Trees?
It occurs to me in all this debate back and forth about Cap-and-Trade and the broader topic of global warming in general, we are only having half of the debate. We debate feverously the best way to reduce carbon emissions, while seeming to forget that emissions are only half the equation.

Lot's of things generate CO2 -- any type of fire, any time of animal life basically. The reason we didn't have global warming in the 1500s is that nature has it's own solution for carbon build-up -- plant life. All plants suck up CO2 and emit O2, it's part of the basic science of how the earth works.

Why then do we focus solely on CO2 reduction? Couldn't the same end be achieved by advancing sustainable forestry and protecting and planting trees and other plant life?

Seems like we still need some basic education into how to look at these problems. Let's hope Interior Secretary Ken Salaazar opens up some dialogue about how to protect those magical carbon-scrubbers that mother nature gave us.

Sebelius Nomination Delayed
In what seems to have become a standard ritual, unamed Senate Republicans are again delaying the approval of an Obama-Appointee for a top cabinet post. President Obama's last remaining cabinet vacancy, Secretary of Health and Human Services, a critical role in his year 1 goal around Health Care reform, is being held at least for a week or two by "several" Senate Republicans. The arcane Senate hold procedure does not require that those Senators identify themselves.

Sebelius' nomination had already been moved out of comittee by a 15-8 vote with 2 Republicans voting "aye".

There is no precedent in recent history for the amount of obstructing that is being done here to hold up a President's nominees. President Bush had all but one of his cabinet appointees approved on day 1 of his administration (John Ashcroft being the exception). There are no serious questions about Sebelius' qualifications.

This hold up is due largely to a campaign by pro-life groups to conservative senators. Sebelius does have a very solidly pro-choice record and they are flexing their muscles.

In the end, it will just be a delay. When they do get around to voting, Sebelius will gather almost every Democratic vote and 15-20 Republican votes, getting around 75 overall, cruising to confirmation.

Stimulus Spening Update
I mentioned that I would be tracking the success of the Obama Administration in spending the stimulus money. Fortunately, has significantly upgraded the quality of the information available to the public and we can now track this on a near-weekly basis.

Of the $499 billion appropriated for spending (the other $288 billion was tax cuts which took effect April 1st), $69.3 billion has now been allocated to projects (13.9%) and $14.2 billion has already been spent (2.8%).

Since those numbers were next to nothing at the first of April, clearly the Obama administration has kicked it into high gear.

Spending the money quickly is very important to getting the desired stimulative effect. Spending it wisely is important too and we will be keeping an eye on that side of things as well.

Random Presidential Trivia
Milestones like the first 100 days always cause me to troll through Presidential history and dig up interesting facts. Some data on the length of service of President's is informative:
Served > 8 years: 1 (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
Served Exactly 8 Years: 11
Served Between 4-8 Years: 8
Served Exactly 4 Years: 12
Served < 4 Years (excluding Obama): 10

Some other interesting facts:
(1) George Washington did not serve a full 8 years as his first term started late
(2) President Obama has already served 3 times as long as the shortest-serving President, William Henry Harrison, who died a month after taking office from a fever he got while giving a long-winded innauguration speech. The next shortest-server, James Garfield, was only President for 6 months.
(3) Gerald Ford is the only man ever to be President who never won an election to any national office. He was appointed Vice President after Spiro Agnew resigned and then began President when Richard Nixon resigned.
(4) Grover Cleveland is the only President to serve two terms that were not continuous. Ironically, he won the popular vote in all three elections, but lost the electoral vote to Benjamin Harrison in his first attempt at a second term. He is often counted twice in the count of Presidents as both the 22nd and 24th President.
(5) 5 of the first 7 Presidents were two-termers (John Adams and John Quincy Adams being the exception.) From there, you have to go 9 Presidents, all the way to Abe Lincoln to find a guy who won re-election -- and Lincoln only served a month of his second term before being killed -- you have to go all the way to Ulysses Grant for a President who served the full 2 terms.

Some Reader Comments
As you know, I always like to address reader comments that people are brave enough to post on this blog (and I encourage you to do so, although it seems many people would rather e-mail me than post comments publically.)

NetBizSaavy writes that strength of the domestic economy is key to addressing the foreign policy challenges that we face.

I agree, although I think there is a need for a balanced approach -- what is going on in Mexico and Pakistan right now is very scary and we can't afford to wait for our economy to recover before addressing it.

Kingsmillblogs writes that I am nuts for saying President Obama would win Texas if an election were held today.

Well, maybe, but let's understand the context of what I was saying. I was certainly not projected that when election 2012 rolls around that President Obama is the favorite to carry it. What I was saying was that based on his current popularity, if an election were held TODAY, he would carry virtually every state, except the most right-wing.

But, let's look a little bit at Texas. In 2008, Sen. John McCain carried the state of Texas by a vote total of 4,479,328 to 3,528,623 to Obama or about a 56%-44% margin. In 2004, President Bush carried Texas of Sen. John Kerry by a margin of 4,526,917 to 2,832,704 or about a 62%-38% margin. The interesting thing about these numbers are that President Bush and Sen. McCain both got roughly the same number of votes, but President Obama gained about 700,000 for the Democrats versus what John Kerry got. In large measure these were new votes, young people, hispanics and other groups that either could not or did not vote in 2004.

Do I think Obama will carry Texas in 2012? No...not unless it is a landslide. Might it continue to get closer, absolutely. If the trend from 2004 to 2008 continues into 2012, it would be a 4.5 million to 4.2 million margin for the Republicans...and 2016 might well be a toss-up.

Before you say that I'm nuts, consider two case studies:
(1) California -- this was a swing state in the 1980s, with Ronald Reagan carrying it twice and George H.W. Bush carrying it again in 1988. By 2008, the margin was so wide that nobody even bothered to campaign, with Barack Obama prevailing by a margin of 8,274,473 to 5,011,781 or 62% to 38%. Over a 25 point swing in 20 years. And very similar trends to Texas -- an influx of hispanic immigrants, new, younger voters registering, etc.
(2) North Carolina -- In 2004, President Bush carried the state 56% to 44%, the same margin by which John McCain carried Texas in 2008. Of course, as we all know, President Obama won the state by a narrow margin in 2008.

There are many other case studies of electoral shifts in recent years: Indiana and Virginia to Democrats, Arkansas and Louisiana to Republicans (Bill Clinton carried both states), etc.

I'll I'm saying is if you are asking if it is possible for Barack Obama to win Texas in 2012, I say yes. If you ask me if it is likely, I say probably not. But we are a long way off and there is much script to be written. Obama could be a disaster and lose Pennsylvania and Ohio or could be immensely popular and win Texas and Georgia. We'll just have to see how the next 4 years unfold.

Keep those comments coming -- I love a good debate. And tell all your friends about this site and encourage them to join in.

Next up -- my 100 days scorecard on President Barack Obama

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