Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Disorganized Lame Duck Congress, Joe Miller Fires Off Pointless Legal Challenges, The 2012 Calendar

The Clock is Ticking....
One of the oddest by-products of our Republic's system of elections is the notion of lame duck elected politicians. Every 4 or 8 years, we see a President who still has a couple of months left in congress but has absolutely zero accountability to the voters, as he has already lost or was ineligible to be President again.

Sometimes Lame Duck Presidents make sweeping humanitarian moves, such as when President George Herbert Walker Bush sent U.S. troops for a humanitarian mission to Somalia in late 1992. The move obviously didn't end well, but by all accounts it was very positively intended. Ditto President George Walker Bush's extraordinary moves to use TARP funding to provide bridge loans to GM and Chrysler. Sometimes Lame Ducks do things that we find difficult to stomach, such as President Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich in his waning days in office (11th hour Presidential pardons are often fairly painful to watch, as opponents have no recourse given the absolute power of Presidential pardon.)

Just as we have Lame Duck Presidents, every 2 years we have a Lame Duck Congress. The gap between November elections and the early January convening of the new congress presents a narrow time window to pass legislation. More often than not, Lame Duck Congresses pass unnoticed for a number of reasons:
(1) When party control isn't changing, they don't really matter. If the new Congress looks a lot like the old one, it really doesn't matter whether a bill gets passed by the outgoing or incoming congress.
(2) If the President isn't on board, they don't mean much -- if party control IS changing but it's changing from, say, Democratic to Republican with a Republican President, he would just wait it out or veto whatever the lame duck session passes and wait for a more favorable congress.
(3) They often don't meet -- the time period between November and the New Year is chock full of holidays -- who wants to be in Congress?

We are in one of those rare years where party control IS change, it's changing in a way that's unfavorable to the President and Congress IS meeting in Lame Duck session.

So, hopes on the left were high to do a lot...the proposed agenda included addressing Gays in the Military, the fate of the Bush Tax Cuts...some with crazy ambition even talked of doing bigger reform.

The results so far? Not much is happening. Congress seems totally disorganized on agenda and time is rapidly ticking away.
In week 1, the House failed to pass an unemployment benefit extension and named a couple of post offices. The Senate has started debate on a Food Safety improvement bill.

Don't expect much from the lame duck session. There is a good chance that unemployment benefits won't get extended, the Bush tax cuts won't get resolved and Gays in the Military, an issue for which the Democrats have the support of 75% of the American people and 70% of the enlisted military, won't even get debated.

Do we really need to wonder how the Democrats lost so badly in November?

Joe Miller, Even His Backers Are Screaming Now
After counting all the write-in ballots, Write-In incumbent Lisa Murkowski leads upstart Republican nominee Joe Miller by over 10,000 votes. Even accounting for every vote that Miller challenged, which included some perfect ballots for Murkowski and other ballots that were not mis-spelled but for which the Miller felt the handwriting was bad, Murkowski would STILL lead by over 2,200 votes.

Yet Miller is suing. He's suing to make the standard more strict. He's suing to hand re-count all of the scan ballots, claiming that since the write-ins were hand counted, a comparable standard has not been used in all ballots.

There are some legitimate questions of law at stake in Miller's suit. Should minor mis-spellings be counted according to Alaska law? I would argue yes, for reasons I've previously documented, but I can see the argument, reading the statute verbatim. Should scanned ballots be hand counted alongside write-ins? I would certainly argue yes, in any election where such a hand recount would make a difference. But let's be real...Miller trails by 5%. Even if he wins all his challenges, which he won't, he would still trail by 1%. The total number of under votes is a fraction of a percent. Miller cannot win even if everything breaks right.

This is why the Alaska GOP is urging Miller to step aside and unify the party. But like a dog chasing a bone, he just can't seem to stop. At least he doesn't have much of a political future to wreck.

Miller has won 1 victory...a federal judge has stopped election certification while the state court looks at his ballot standard challenge. This will delay, but not change the outcome of the race. Murkowski has already won.

First Look: The 2012 Nomination Calendar
Don't kid yourself, the 2012 campaign is getting ready to get really busy, really fast. 2012 is not far away at all in political terms. Here is the calendar of the early nomination contests for the 2012 year:

January 16th -- Iowa Caucuses -- first contest in the nation
January 24th -- New Hampshire Primary -- first primary in the nation
January 28th -- South Carolina Primary ("first in the south"), Nevada Caucuses
January 31st -- Florida Primary -- first "big state" primary
February 7th -- Super Tuesday -- 13 state primaries including New York and California

Since many of the GOP primaries are "winner take all" with the winner of a plurality receiving all of the delegates in the race, it is quite probable that the nomination will be basically decided after February 7th. This leaves less than 15 months to campaign.

Obviously, it is early, so the calendar could shift. But Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina's positions will almost certainly be maintained as the first 3, in that order.

Let the games begin!

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