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The Finals Begin

Well, it looks as if former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton truly is the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee after all, even it wasn’t nearly so easy as promised and even if her long presumed status as the First Woman President remains somewhat in doubt. After nearly eight long years of waiting she was officially pronounced her party’s presumptive nominee by The Associated Press even before the voting in California, and her landslide win in that populous and crucial state makes it all but a fait accompli.
There’s still an outside chance this thoroughly awful woman will be indicted on felony charges for influence-peddling and for endangering national security by communicating through an insecure private e-mail server to avoid public scrutiny of her disastrous tenure as Secretary of State, but at this point the Democrats are so horrified by the prospect of the presumptive Republican nominee that the vast majority of them just don’t care. She also lost by blow-out margins to much peskier-than-expected rival and self-described socialist and full-blown nutcase Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the far less populous and even less crucial states of North Dakota, adding to a long streak of embarrassing defeats, and her presumptive status is still contingent on all those party establishment “super-delegates” who have been promising her the nomination for the past nearly eight years, but she also won in the more populous and crucial states of New Jersey and New Mexico, as well as South Dakota, and even Sanders’ most embittered supporters will eventually be forced to admit that over the long run she got by far more primary and caucus voters from the national party’s rank-and-file.

The presumptive Republican nominee, whose much easier win of the nomination was unexpected by almost everyone, is already making overtures to those disgruntled Sanders voters and promising a big speech about the presumptive Democratic nominee’s old and ongoing thoroughly awful scandals, but it remains to be seen how any of that will work out. The presumptive Republican nominee is Donald J. Trump, a self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul, and we expect that most of Sanders’ scruffy and resentful supporters will eventually glumly fall in line with their party’s chosen one the same way, and for the same reason of revulsion to the alternative, that most Republicans are now glumly siding with Trump. Although it’s hard to overstate the case against the Democrats’ thoroughly awful nominee the Republican will probably manage to do so, perhaps by doubling down on his insinuation that Clinton had a former associate assassinated, just as he once insinuated the father of one of his vanquished Republican rivals might have been in on the Kennedy assassination, or whatever else his friends at The National Enquirer might come up with, and the news cycle might yet wind up dominated by continued coverage of the thoroughly awful Republican nominee’s criticism of one of the “Mexican” of the three judges in the civil suit and ongoing scandal about that “Trump University” he ran that sure likes to be a case out of outright fraud against our most vulnerable fellow suckers.

By now everyone who keeps abreast of Republican politics knows that the judge in question is indeed of Mexican heritage, and belongs to a lawyer’s club that goes by the admittedly problematic name of “La Raza,” and that Trump has vowed to build a wall to keep their kind out, and that one top of that the guy’s an Obama appointee, but we doubt that any of those disgruntled Sanders supporters care much about any of that. So far as they and even some more sensible people are concerned, the judge was born in Indiana to naturalized citizens and is therefore not a Mexican, the complaint that any judge not tainted by any touch of Mexican heritage would have surely summarily dismissed the same case that is still going on in two other courts run by more Anglo-Saxon judges is patently ridiculous, that his original appointment to the bench was by a Republican governor and his subsequent career has included notable fights against Mexican criminal organizations, and they might even note that the case was indeed dropped in two other states after the Attorneys General received generous contributions from a presumptive Republican nominee who has openly bragged on Republican debate stages that he made contributions to gain posterior-kissing favor from politicians. We do hope that the presumptive Republican nominee’s big speech will make mention about the presumptive Democratic nominees phony-baloney influence-peddling “family foundation, but we don’t expect he’ll mention he was among the six-figure contributors, and we can’t say how this mud-slinging contest will come out, except to say that they’ll both be covered with plenty of mud.

— Bud Norman

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A Tale of Two City Elections

Tuesday was Election Day in Chicago, which you probably heard about even if you’re not a Chicagoan, and also here in Wichita, which you might not have noticed even if you are a Wichitan. The disproportionate national attention paid to the two elections is easily explained by Chicago’s far larger population and national prominence, but the disparate amount of interest within each city is more complicated.
Local politics is one of Chicago’s favorite pastimes, followed with the same obsessive interest that attends the Bulls and Bears and Black Hawks and Cubs and White Sox, and for good reason. No sport in Chicago is quite so rough, features such fascinating players, or exerts such a meaningful influence on the daily lives of the citizens as a mayoral race. Chicago’s politics doles out patronage to a large portion of the city, provides essential city services to favored neighborhoods, regulates businesses according to their political donations, creates ethnic coalitions that affect race relations, and even intrudes into the private lives of ordinary people in a variety of ways. In Chicago, people have reason to care who is elected mayor.
This time around the mayoral race featured incumbent Rahm Emanuel, the former investment banker, congressman, and White House chief of staff who was known for bringing the rough-and-tumble “Chicago Way” to each job, against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a former community organizer, alderman, state legislator and Cook County commissioner, which is really all you need to know about the sorry state of Chicago politics. The big issue was the city’s rather dire financial condition, as well as its frightening rate of violent crime, although such matters as the irksome red-light camera system the city has been using to raise revenues were also raised, and Emanuel was forced to apologize for a managerial style that has been brusque even by Chicago standards, but as always it largely came down to who could make the better deals to form the larger coalitions.
Garcia enjoyed the support of the city’s sizable Latino population due to his name, along with help from teachers unions upset with the numerous school closings, but Emanuel was favored by the big business interests whose neighborhoods were spared any school closings and even got a Barack Obama College Preparatory High School opened in the affluent near north side, and we assume that despite the efforts of Jesse Jackson he also enjoyed support from the city’s sizable black population due to his past association with the school’s eponym. Throw in more campaign funds, better name recognition, and some shrewd appeals to the various ethnic groups that comprise the city’s sizable white population, and Emanuel wound up winning another term. We’re still not clear on what he intends to do about the city’s mounting debt and unfunded pensions and other fiscal woes, although we expect whatever he does will leave that affluent near north side unscathed, but we have no reason to believe that Garcia would have handled it any better.
Here in Wichita, local politics is more easily ignored, to the point that even such political junkies as ourselves tend to focus more on the national and international news. The city’s workforce is relatively small and the biggest scandals the local newspaper can find there usually involve small-time expense account padding that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in Chicago, only the main thoroughfares are cleared of snow and even the richest neighborhoods are not favored with libraries or better schools, some businesses tend to enjoy preferential treatment but none are singled out for harassment, the past two mayors were Latino and black without anyone noticing, and except for the infrequent anti-smoking crusade or occasional pointless resolution about some social issue or another the city mostly lets people screw up their own lives. Besides, the city’s system of government doesn’t even grant that much power to the mayor, with most decisions left to a city council that is usually content to defer to the city manager and his staff of credential professionals. The resulting apathy and the springtime scheduling elections ensures a low turn-out dominated by teachers and city employees and activist types who routinely choose a city government more liberal than city, which reliably votes conservative in the county and state and national elections in the fall, but so far they haven’t provoked sufficient outrage to shake things up.
This time around it came down to city councilman Jeff Longwell against local businessman Sam Williams, and so far as we can tell the big issue was what to do about bringing water to this exceedingly landlocked city in a state with few rivers, no natural lakes, and a diminishing aquifer, which is a problem but not yet so pressing that the government is timing people’s showers,  as they’re threatening to do in California, along with some mud-slinging that seemed rather harsh by local standards but wouldn’t have offended even the most sensitive Chicago sensibilities. Both were white guys, which no one seemed to notice, both had resumes that could plausibly suggest some level of competence, and neither seemed to have any fool-proof plan for providing water. Longwell had the support of the business community, or at least the portion of it that’s been getting preferential treatment from the city during his tenure as a councilman, and we suspect the teachers and city employees and activist types were on his side, while Williams seemed to garner his support from the out-numbered regular folk who actually bother to vote on such a lovely spring day as Tuesday. We wound up voting for Williams, mainly because he had a somewhat back-handed endorsement from Sedgwick County Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau, whose principled stinginess and anti-government instincts we have come to admire, but when we’d heard that Longwell won it didn’t cause us any anxiety.
The low turnout might have been even lower if not for a local referendum to lower the penalty for first time marijuana offenses, which passed even though it has no legal effect because the marijuana laws are the state’s doing. Perhaps the turnout would have been greater if not for all the “yes” voters who forgot the election date or got lost on their way to the polling places, but in any case the short lines at our local voting place did not distress us. Some people judge a community’s civic-mindedness by the turn-out in an election, but in Wichita’s case the lack of interest suggests a very healthy lack of the city government’s importance. Wichitans can also boast that at least Rahm Emanuel isn’t their mayor.

— Bud Norman

Kansas Lurks Back to Normalcy

The Kansas economy has lately been swelled by the expense accounts of big city newspaper reporters, as much of the national media have rushed to our usually overlooked state to cover its Senate race. There’s no wondering why there’s a national interest in the story, as it could wind up determining which party controls the Senate, and it provides some reason for the reporters to hope that it will  be the Democrats who somehow prevail, and it is a most intriguing tale. The latest developments are more hopeful to the Republicans, however, and even the most partisan presses seem to have noticed.
Ordinarily even the reporters in Wichita and Topeka wouldn’t get out of their newsrooms to cover a Senate race in Kansas, which hasn’t sent anything other than a Republican to Washington since that one time everyone lost their minds early in the New Deal and Dust Bowl days, but this is not an ordinary year. Long-time incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts has been around a long enough time to have found disfavor with the Republican party’s anti-incumbent mood, and he barely survived a challenge to a little known and under-funded and underwhelming neophyte with a Facebook scandal only because a couple of crank candidates split the majority of the party’s throw-the-bums-out vote. Roberts then went into a three-way general election adorned with the out-of-touch and out-of-state label stuck upon him in the primary, hoping that another split of the anti-Roberts vote would save him, but the Democrats went to court insisting that they shouldn’t be compelled to run a candidate just because their party had gone to the expensive trouble of nominating one, and it was suddenly plausible that a well-heeled and largely self-financed independent candidate who was running on an appealing platform of common sense solutions and bipartisanship would win. That the most reliably Republican state in the Union over the past century and a half might allow the Democrats to retain control of the Senate was a tantalizing possibility, and thus the influx of national media to Kansas.
What they’ve found, however, is an impressive all-out effort by the Republicans that casts doubt on the upset storyline. Local newscasts have been saturated with advertisements for Roberts, almost all of which make the essential point that a Republican loss could allow the Democrats to retain control of the Senate, complete with scary pictures of the wildly unpopular President Barack Obama. There are also radio ads that combat the unfortunately true charge from the primary that Roberts hasn’t had a legitimate Kansas residence for years by touting his Kansas birth and Marine service and twangy-gravelly voice and weather-beaten visage and generally conservative voting record to remind voters that he’s still a Kansas kind of guy. Our internet browsing keeps popping up ads from the National Rifle Association touting Robert’s support for Second Amendment rights, the spots running on the local right-wing talk radio stations sound tailored to the concerns of those staunch conservatives who might be tempted to stay at home rather than for a man whose lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is a mere 86 percent, and such anti-establishment heroes as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have taken to the hustings to shore up the base. With the Democrats successfully suing in court to avoid the ignominy of a third place finish the anti-Roberts vote won’t be split, but that and the annoying minority of Kansas’ liberals full-throated support for the indendepent have made it easier to portray him as the de facto Democrat in a state where the Democrats are begging to be left of the ballot.
Meanwhile, independent Greg Orman’s campaign has seemed unready for both Roberts’ sudden aggressiveness and the inevitable scrutiny that falls upon a frontrunner even when he’s front-running against a Republican. At first he tried to dodge the question of whether he would caucus with the Democrats and potentially retain their control of the Senate, then said he’d join whichever side held a clear majority on his inauguration day, and is now trying out the line that it doesn’t much matter which party controls the Senate. He’s also dodged such obvious questions as whether he’d vote to repeal Obamacare, telling a random curious citizen at a small town parade that it’s an “interesting question,” and has otherwise been vague about what he considers a common sense and bipartisan solution on such issues as gun control and the XL Keystone Pipeline. He can’t deny his past campaign contributions to Obama and Democratic Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and other hated Democrats, or his past attempt to run for Senate as a Democrat, or the loud support he’s getting from that annoying minority of liberals, and in his rebuttal ads he’s been reduced to saying that Roberts’ criticism of the Obama agenda is “only half right” and that an equal portion of blame should be allotted to those who oppose that agenda. The argument is likely to fall flat with the vast majority of Kansas who express disapproval of Obama, even if it resonates with those confounded low-information voters who don’t stop to think about such claims,  and if Orman has some third way that both parties will follow toward a golden age, he doesn’t explain it in these 30-second spots.
There’s still plenty of time left for an October surprise, and if it comes it will be during a most peculiar election season, but we sense that Kansas is turning back to its traditional Republican form.

— Bud Norman