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The Dems Get Some Wins

This had been a long and desultory 364 days for the Democratic Party, what with President Donald Trump winning the White House and the rest of the Republicans maintaining control of congress before reeling off a winning streak of four special elections, but on Tuesday night they at long last put some impressive wins on the board. The Democrats decisively won a gubernatorial race in Virginia that was widely seen as a referendum on Trump, as well as all the other statewide offices and a House  of Delegates race pitting a transgender candidate against the self-described “chief homophobe of Virginia” who had authored a segregated restroom bill, and they ended eight years of Republican rule in the New Jersey governor’s mansion with a  far bigger rout.
That Virginia gubernatorial race got the most attention, of course, because it was expected to be close and was by the far the most interesting. The race pitted Republican Ed Gillespie against Democrat Ralph Northam, and the stark contrast in a state that is neither very Republican nor very Democratic had obvious national implications. Both parties, we suspect, will carefully analyze the race.
Gillespie is a longtime Washington lobbyist who served as a counselor to President George W. Bush and ran the Republican National Committee’s state organizing operation and was a senior member of Republican nominee Mitt’s Romney’s campaign, and such impeccably establishment credentials and a mainstream message brought him to a near upset against longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Warner in 2014. By 2016 Trump had won with anti-establishment and defiantly outside-the-mainstream message, and although Virginia was the only southern state that Trump didn’t carry Gillespie decided to pursue a similar strategy. His advertisements stressed Northam’s past support for “sanctuary cities” that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws and promised a much tougher stand, touted his own opposition to the removal of public statues honoring the Confederacy, and included some direct mail showing pictures of National Football League players taking a knee during the national anthem.
The campaign was careful not to mention Trump by name, and reportedly declined Trump’s repeated offers of an appearance on Gillespie’s behalf, but it was hard not to notice the Trumpian overtones. Trump had narrowly lost the state despite huge majorities in the very Southern southern part of the state because of huger majorities in the northern part of state where everybody works in nearby Washington, D.C, so the apparent strategy was to rile up the rednecks in the south without alarming all the more genteel Republican congressional staffers and lobbyists and reporters in the D.C. suburbs who had almost carried him to victory just three years earlier. If Trump were a shrewder politician he would have played along by staying away, but of course he “tweeted” his way into contest with taunts of Northam and no mention of Gillespie, and that didn’t help Gillespie pull of what was already bound to be a difficult trick.
The president predictably “tweeted” while on his Asian tour that Gillespie lost because he didn’t fully embrace Trump, forgetting that Virginia was the one southern state that he didn’t win. A full-throated Trump endorsement might have brought out a few extra votes in those oh-so-southern precincts, but it would have also energized all the Democrats in the D.C suburbs while discouraging those Republican establishment voters who live next door, so there’s no reason to think he would have fared any better in the state this around. The last time Trump was invited to a campaign appearance was during the special Republican primary in Alabama, where he rarely mentioned his preferred candidate’s name and admitted he might have made a mistake in endorsing the guy in the first and got more headlines by fulminating about NFL players, and that guy wound up losing to a full-fledged theocrat who’s Trumpier than Trump himself, who might yet wind up losing in Alabama of all places.
There’s a strong case to be made against “sanctuary cities,” although our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities prefer they not be couched in such frankly racialist language as both Trump and Gillespie have used, and the there’s a reasonable case for preserving those statues honoring confederate soldiers, but no case to be made for honoring the Confederacy, and surely the country has better things to worry about than what some NFL players do during the national anthem, so we’re not sure what good Trumpism did Gillespie even without bringing Trump into it.
Meanwhile the Democrats were running a very mainstream and establishment candidate, who was of course too far left for our tastes and most of the D.C. suburb Republicans, but it could have been worse. Self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the entire Sandersnista wing of the party backed insurgent candidate Tom Perrielo in the primary, but after that fell short Perrielo enthusiastically campaigned on Northam’s behalf against the Trumpian threat, and the party unity carried the day. That’s a lesson Democrats elsewhere would be wise to heed, but so far they don’t seem any smarter about this stuff than the Republicans.
The Democratic blow-out in New Jersey was more predictable, given the state’s Democratic tendencies, but also has implications for Trump and Trumpism. Gov. Chris Christie won the office eight years ago because the longtime Democratic rule had over-taxed and over-spent and over-regulated the state so badly that it went for a rare Republican, and after some initial pain the tax cuts and spending cuts and deregulation had worked out well enough to win him reelection, but since then he’s managed to annoy just about everyone. Hard-core Republicans were appalled when he literally hugged President Barack Obama in the aftermath of a hurricane that hit New Jersey, and of course the Democrats weren’t all placated. He denounced the character and intellect and temperament of Trump when they were both vying for the Republican nomination, and when became an obsequious sycophant after Trump forced him out of the primary of course the Trump supporters weren’t placated. Christie had sent Trump’s son-in-law’s father to prison back in his days as a federal prosecutor and didn’t get a cabinet appointment, which made him look ridiculous, and a bridge tie-up engineered by his underlings and an embarrassing photo of him of sunning his considerable self on a public beach he’d ordered closed during a government didn’t help,
Despite his first term heroics Christie is leaving office with an approval rating below 20 percent, so it’s hardly surprising that an instinctively Democratic state overwhelmingly rejected his Lieutenant Governor to replace him. We’re not sure what lessons Republicans or Democrats should learn from this, except that Trump always complicates things, but it provided another reason for the Democrats to be celebrating on a cold and windy November night for the first time in years.
That four-and-oh winning streak the Republicans racked up during the special elections were in states and districts replacing popular Republicans incumbents who had been tabbed for Trump administration jobs, and although none were very close all were closer than the party could usually expect. Here in the fourth congressional district of Kansas the Democrat ran ads featuring himself firing semi-automatic weapons and distancing himself from the usual Democratic craziness, and he came within single digits of a Republican whose ads showed him wading in the same metaphorical swamp that Trump had promised to drain, and across the country both Trump and Trumpism aren’t polling well.
Trump can rightly claim that the unemployment rate is down and the stock market is up since his election, albeit on more or less the same trajectory that preceded his election, but the mainstream of America and the old guard of its political parties surely surely deserves some credit for that, and what we gather from Tuesday’s results is that as used to be usual whichever party comes closer to the center will reap the benefits.

— Bud Norman

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Meanwhile, Here in Wichita

There’s a much-watched gubernatorial election with national significance in Virginia today, but for the moment we’re happily preoccupied with the City Council and School Board elections being held in our part of Kansas. Local politics is a pleasant distraction here in the big city of Wichita, where things generally seem to be going well enough.
These off-year elections always produce a civic government and school board that’s reliably more liberal than this staunchly conservative city at large, as the turnout is low and therefore city and school district employees have an inordinate share of the vote, so the last time we were  invited to address the local Pachyderm Club at the swank Petroleum Club several stories above down we recommended the elections be re-scheduled to the general election season when more Republicans are voting. The city government has gone crazy with bike lanes lately and seemingly scheduled a decade’s worth of road work all at once, with orange cones tying up traffic everywhere, and the local schools seem to be graduating a steady stream of very ignorant young people, so things could clearly be better around here.
Things could be a lot worse around here, though, and whenever we look at the state and national and international news our city seems in pretty good shape. Wichita is a beautiful city except in the coming winter months, with parks and libraries and an efficient way of getting around, the crime rate is lower than most of the 49 or so bigger cities, its schools continue to produce graduates with boast-worthy accomplishments, and we’ve noted recent improvements in our beloved core of the city even as its outer boundaries expand. We’re sanguine enough about things around here that we only recently bothered to research the now-scant media for how we should vote for the city council and school board, and found ourselves well satisfied with the choices.
In the last presidential election we voted for an obscure write-in candidate because “none of the above” wasn’t on the ballot, but our neighborhood’s city council ballot offers two choices we wouldn’t mind at all. One is a woman named Cindy Clayborn, a 60-year-old political neophyte who is assistant to the president for strategic planning and a professor of marketing at Wichita State University, which has a hell of basketball team coming up, and who has an extensive resume of community involvement in all sorts of do-good causes. The other is 59-year-old Sybil Strum, who lists her past occupations as nurses’ aid, medical assistant, waitress, homemaker, teacher, and latchkey worker, and previous community involvement as safety patrol. Clayborn is clearly winning the yard sign race in our neighborhood, with her professional-looking popping up on the lawns of liberal and conservative and Democratic and Republicans friends of ours along our daily routes, and based on what we’ve gleaned from the local media she’s got our vote as well, but we won’t be frightened by a very long-shot upset.
Much of what’s gone wrong and much of what’s gone right around here lately is the result of private and public partnerships in local developments, and it’s a matter of much public squabbling. The far right elements object to the public involvement, the far left objects to the private interests that clearly benefit, and the center-right and center-left seem satisfied that  the results have been generally favorable, and we’re sympathetic to them all. So far as we can tell from the brief interviews that the local media provide Clayborn is more knowledgeable about what’s going on than Strum, so she’ll get our vote, but we won’t much mind if a skeptical homemaker winds up winning.
The school board race makes for a tougher choice. We’re proud graduates of the Wichita Public School District, the goodest schools in America, but we’ve always tried choose the least objectionable candidates for its board. This time around they all at least have credible credentials. One holds a high school diploma from Wichita East and a bachelor’s degree from Kansas University and a doctorate from Michigan State and previous experience on a California school board, another is a retired Boeing executive with extensive experience in local government, and the third is a long time teacher with a master’s degree in education. The brief interviews by what’s left of the local media suggest they’re all too moderate for our anti establishmentarian tastes, but none plan to disappoint all those off-year election-voting school who pine for a long-delayed pay raise, and none of them strike us as utterly unqualified for the job as  the past two presidential nominees. We’re tentatively inclined to go with that Walt Chappell fellow, but no matter the outcome we won’t worry the local schools with at long go totally crazy.
At some point today we’ll wander over to the lovely Gloria Dei Lutheran church here in the picturesque and fashionable and liberal-leaning neighborhood of Wichita to cast our votes, but we’ll then anxiously turn our attention to that gubernatorial race in Virginia. Things seem safe enough around here for now no matter the local election results, but the rest of the country and the rest of the world seems a very scary place.

— Bud Norman