Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Senator Al Franken, A Look at the NJ & VA Gubernatorial Races

Franken Wins the Long Battle
It took nearly 8 months to decide, but as of yesterday, Al Franken (D-MN) has won his extremely close-fought battle with now former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) for Minnesota's second Senate seat. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday against Coleman's appeal of the certified recount results, with had Franken with a razor-thin 312 vote margin. Coleman has conceded and will not appeal to a federal court. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has stated he will sign the election certificate. Many were expecting Coleman to fight on if he lost in the state Supreme Court, but the ruling was unanimous and pretty decisive and it seems unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court would have had any interest in weighing in. Elections this close are always tough because no mechanism that we have for counting votes is perfect and when you are talking about tiny fractions of a percent deciding a race, even a very small error can tilt the balance. But the evidence seems to be that Franken won narrowly and will be the next Senator from Minnesota.

Two parting thoughts on this race -- first about the impact on the Senate. Much has been made in the media of the fact that Al Franken gives Senate Democrats the 60-vote supermajority that they need to bust fillibusters without Republican support. While that is technically true, if you count Independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders with the Democrats (Bernie is definitely a left-winger, Lieberman's record is more mixed although he certainly tends to the left on domestic issues), it misses the point. Parties don't vote in lock-step. The power still lies with the moderates: Ben Nelson (D-NE), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dick Lugar (R-IN). Franken figures to be a reliably liberal vote, so the net effect is that the Democrats will need to pull in one less moderate on crucial votes to break a fillibuster. They will, in most cases, have 57 reliably Democratic votes (excluding the Democrats and Independent listed above), but in many cases only 55 as Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) are both very ill and will likely be only available for major pieces of legislation. This means that they will need to hold all the moderately liberal and liberal Senators and peel off 3 to 5 of the above to break a fillibuster. Also, on specific pieces of legislation, I could certainly see them losing additional votes. On climate change, Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) might vote his states coal-producing interests rather than his party line, for instance. So, the Dems don't have a "fillibuster-proof" Senate, but 1 added reliably-liberal vote certainly helps them as they take up appropriations, health care and climate change.

My second thought is the continuing disgrace that our electoral technology is. While it seems that the recount process in Minnesota was transparently and fairly run and that the result was as fair as it could be given the circumstances, there is simply no excuse that we don't have a uniform, robust system of voting in this country. Electronic machines, with verified paper print-outs to validate the machines' tabulations could be rolled out nationwide at a very reasonable cost, given what we are spending on economic stimulus, health care and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To be the greatest Democracy on Earth, we need to secure the underpinnings of that Democracy -- the counting of every vote. We need a national voting-technology bill that puts uniform technology in place. If we had uniform electronic machines in Minnesota in 2008 or Florida in 2000, recounts would be as simple as retabulating the machines and sampling some paper print-outs to validate the machine's tabulations. It could be done in a day. No questions. No appeals. No bitter feelings and charges of election-stealing. We deserve this.

The 2009 Elections
It's early in the cycle in New Jersey and Virginia, but there is already a fair amount of polling information. In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine (D) is still trailing, but as many (including myself) had predicted, the race seems to be narrowing. In early June, polls had Republican Chris Christie's lead at 10-13%, the most recent non-partisan poll (sampled just this week) had it at 6%. Corzine still has a tough road to go, as do all incumbent governors, but I believe this will be a pick 'em race by election day. Christie is a good moderate Republican candidate, but New Jersey has been a true blue state for several years and we've seen a lot of early GOP leads crash and burn in that time.

The Virginia race already is a horse-race in this now-purple state, with the polls ranging from Dem +4% to GOP +6%. Virginia will be a test of party status and may give us early insight into what may be in store in the 2010 mid-terms.

Site Updates
I will be traveling with friends over the long weekend, so posts may be a little more scarce. Congress is on recess, so I expect the news will continue to mostly about Michael Jackson anyway.

We had 366 visitors to the site in June, the highest total by far of this year, but I suspect well below the run-up to the election.

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