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Close Calls But No Cigars on a Summer’s Election Night

Life is full of rude awakenings, but we found it especially annoying when our slumber was interrupted early Tuesday afternoon by a robocall from President Donald Trump. He was calling to urge us to vote for Kris Kobach in the Kansas Republican gubernatorial primary, but we’d already made up our minds to vote for the other guy, and Trump has never persuaded us to do anything, so we hung up at out the outset of what we expected to be a lengthy harangue and went back to sleep for another hour or so.
Even so, it proved a nice enough day. After washing the sleep out of our eyes and finding some clean clothes we took a top-down drive to the Woodland Methodist Church up n North Riverside to cast our ballots, where we ran into three of our favorite neighbors while standing in line, then talked it over with some political friends at a couple of local gathering spots. After that we went home for a long night of poll-watching, and at this late point in the night, we’re still watching. Those most-watched races are very, very close, and although Trump’s picks seem have the slight edge at the moment the closeness should leave him worried.
The GOP is declaring victory for Troy Balderson in that special election in Ohio’s 12th congressional district, but it’s too close for Democratic candidate Danny O’Connor to concede defeat, and far too close for Trump’s comfort. Trump won the district by double digits in ’16, and Republicans have held the seat by larger margins for decades, and this is just another special election in which the Republicans have lost double-digit leads since Trump was elected. So far the Republicans have narrowly edged out wins in most of the special elections, which have mostly been safe safe Republican seats vacated due to Trump administration appointments, but the Republicans have managed to lose a Senate seat in Alabama of all places as well a number of suburban congressional districts, and if you subtract all those votes from the Republican candidate in a number of upcoming congressional races in November the Democrats will be picking the next Speaker of the House and holding subpoena power in all the investigative committees. So far most of the Democrats are distancing themselves from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who always turns out lots of votes for Republicans for here in the heartland, but anyone they might choose will be troublesome for Trump, and there’s no telling where those Democratic subpoenas might lead.
It just turned Wednesday as we write this, and at the moment Trump’s favored candidate in the Kansas gubernatorial primary is clinging to an ever-so-slight lead over incumbent governor and oh-so-establishment candidate Jeff Colyer with plenty of votes left to be counted, but even if that holds up Trump won’t have much to brag about. It’s already clear that some 60 percent of Kansas’ Republican voters didn’t vote for Trump’s endorsed candidate among the crowded field, and given that the Democrats chose long time legislator and cautiously centrist and not very scary Laura Kelly as their nominee we expect another too-close-for-comfort race in November’s general election. The conventional wisdom is that Kobach will be easier than Colyer for her to defeat, and we’re inclined to agree, so it remains to be seen how Trump’s pick ultimately fares here in Kansas.
Here in the Kansas fourth congressional district incumbent Rep. Ron Estes easily defeated another guy named Ron Estes in the Republican primary, and although Democratic nominee James Thompson gave him a single-digit scare in last year’s special election following Rep. Mike Pompeo’s rise through the Trump administration, we figure that’s still a safe Republican seat. The state’s second and third districts overlap with the affluent and well-educated Kansas City suburbs, though, where white collar women who are sick of sexual harassment have an outsized influence, and given the national trends since Trump’s election we’d say that both are very much in play if the Democrats aren’t too shrill. Kansas is still a traditionally Republican state, and has been ever it since entered the union as a Lincoln-ian free state, but what we’ve got right now is not a traditional Republican party.
Although it’s of less importance to the rest of the world, we also kept an eye on our neighborhood’s Fourth District Sedgwick County Commission primary races. As usual we voted in the Republican primary for incumbent Richard Ranzau, who is locally legendary for his tight-fistedness with taxpayer dollars and aversion to any exercise of governmental power, and we also appreciate that he’s principled enough to have made the most noise about a fellow Republican county commissioner serving while under indictment for several serious criminal charges. A few months ago we caught a terrific twenty minutes of alt-folk-rock by an attractive young woman named Lacey Cruse during Kirby’s Beer Store’s Sunday afternoon acoustic sets, and were much impressed by her far-ranging intelligence during a post concert conversation, and somehow she wound up winning the Democratic nomination for the seat. Which makes for an interesting choice.
As much as we admire Ranzau’s tight-fistedness and laissez faire attitude and party-be-damned good government principles, he’s so darned principled he’s voted against a lot of things the state and feds wanted to pay for around here, as well as some public-private projects that probably would have benefited both the public and private sectors. Cruse disappointed us by running an unabashedly-“I-am-woman-hear-me-roar” campaign, with buttons proclaiming “women inspire change” and handbills asking voters to bring their mothers and daughters and aunts and sisters and nieces to the polls with them, but even with out help from fathers and sons and brothers and nephews it prevailed over a longtime black male politico in a district that stretches from our fashionably white and gay Riverside neighborhood through the barrio clear over to the ghetto where you’ll find Kirby’s Beer Store, and by now we can’t deny that Ranzau also represents a certain sort of white male identity politics.
All of which makes our various choices in November more interesting than usual. Usually we vote a straight Republican ticket, as do most respectable Kansans, but these days we’re pondering our choices. If that’s also happening in less reliably Republican states, as the election results suggest, our Grand Old Party could be in for a blue November.

— Bud Norman

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No All-Star Game at the Halfway Point

The presidential political season has now passed the halfway point, without anything nearly so entertaining as the all-star games that mark the middle of more respectable professional sports, and although the front-runners in both leagues padded their leagues on Tuesday padded their leads the outcomes are at least still somewhat in doubt.
Over on the Democrats’ senior circuit, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was awful in each of those capacities, won decisive victories in the populous and all-important “swing states” of Ohio and Florida, as well as the Democratic stronghold of Illinois, and the populous and possibly Democratic state of North Carolina, and is neck-to-neck with her lone challenger in the populous and even more possibly Democratic state of Missouri. Such a good night gives her a better than two-to-one lead in the delegate count, with all the super-delegates and other cards stacked in her favor, but she’s also had some bad nights, and against the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, at that, and he looks to be sticking around. Sanders’ supporters are quite committed to his crazy cause, and quite sanely if inadvertently aware of Clinton’s dishonesty and corruption and incompetence and purely opportunistic stands on the issues, as well as generally low moral character, and they’re coughing up twenty bucks at a time to keep funding his anti-establishment insurgency at a faster pace than the hated Wall Street fat cats can fund her unappealing campaign, and even if the Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t get a game-changing indictment against her for her irregular and national-security-endangering e-mail practices, or her scandal-ridden family’s highly suspicious “foundation,” she’s still got problems between now and her long-predicted coronation.
By now Clinton’s unfavorable ratings are so high that the current Democratic administration might be tempted to let the FBI proceed with that indictment, so that some wild card might be played at a contested convention, but Tuesday night’s Republican results suggest she might be running against pretty much the only person in the United States of America with even worse polls numbers. Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-and-scam-university mogul, also racked up a sizable win populous and swing-state Florida, as well as Illinois and North Carolina, and is quite narrowly leading in Missouri as we write this, and with the winner-take-all rule in Florida and the more convoluted systems elsewhere he added to an already sizable delegate lead. There’s no denying it was another good night for Trump.
He’s got his problems, too, though, even if his own looming legal problems are merely of a multi-million dollar civil nature. He was humbled in Ohio, where favorite son Gov. John Kasich handily won all the delegates in a winner-take-all primary and some potentially important bargaining chips in the potential contested election, where they almost certainly would not go to Trump until at least the final ballot, and he was dogged in Missouri by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has several wins against Trump and almost certainly would have won Missouri if not for the presence of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is now mercifully out of the race after his un-favorite son finish in his home state, and the intra-party opposition to Trump is also committed and contributing and increasingly well-organized, and the deal-maker’s deal is far being made.
Even if he does seal the deal on a nomination, there are still those worse-even-than-Clinton’s polling numbers, and it’s hard to imagine that one of Trump’s stream-of-consciousness rants during his nomination acceptance speech will do much to change, and a certain number of us are going to start choosing between the Constitutionalists and the Libertarians and any other conservative-sounding third party, while a certain number of similarly picky picky Democrats will be investigating the Socialist and Green and other liberal-sounding parties, but until then there’s at least some outside chance of an honest conservative versus an honest liberal.

— Bud Norman

Oh-High-Oh

The good people of Ohio will vote today on a referendum called Issue 3, which would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana use and confer a legal marijuana-growing monopoly on the ┬ásmall group of wealthy investors who have largely bankrolled the public relations campaign for its passage. This is quite the dilemma for certain types of both conservatives and liberals, but we expect that even the most addled Buckeye potheads will be able to figure out that it’s a bad idea all around.
The more sober of the libertarian sort of conservatives will have to weigh their aversion to legal monopolies on anything against the prospect of legal weed, while the more fervent sort of liberals will have weigh their enthusiasm for both legal weed and legal monopolies against their aversion to small groups of wealthy investors getting rich on anything, and it will be interesting to see how they both choose. The social conservatives won’t find anything to like in the deal, of course, and those Democrats honest enough to admit they don’t mind a good public-private sweetheart deal so long as the state gets its cut won’t find anything wrong with it. So far as we can tell about the ideological composition of the Ohio electorate, this means the referendum could come down to the pothead vote.
If so, any hookah-huffing Ohioan should consider the question from a self-interested perspective and realize that a legal monopoly is always unlikely to meet his demand with a reliable and high-quality and cost-efficient supply better than the currently illegal and thus entirely free market. Should the referendum pass those tax dollars that are tempting even the straightest sorts of voters will be added to the price of a bag, monopolies tend to raise prices further yet, regulators regularly get involved to stifle innovations and further raise prices, and eventually there is a certain wistful nostalgia for the good old days of Prohibition and the friendly unincorporated neighborhood speakeasy and that old neighborhood hippie who always had The Allman Brothers playing during a deal. Given that almost nobody gets jailed for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana anymore, unless they happen to have some on them when they get busted for a more serious crime and have it added on the charges for the sake of plea bargain negotiations, an otherwise law-abiding marijuana enthusiast would not be better of if the referendum were to win.
We won’t be surprised if it does win, though. Public opinion has slowly crawled to a bare-majority support for legalized marijuana, those promised tax dollars are always tempting to voters, by now pretty much everyone knows someone who uses marijuana that they don’t care to send to jail, and such outrageous cronyism and corruption and convoluted capitalism as Issue 3 represents can be sold as responsible regulation of some ineradicable problem. Gambling used to be widely considered a social evil, and was as strictly forbidden as marijuana ostensibly remains in most jurisdictions, but the lure of tax dollars and the pervasiveness of gambling and the promises of sensible regulation have resulted in legal monopolies on “gaming” within a short drive of almost every American. We’ve got a big Indian casino just a few miles of high-speed Interstate south of our own very conservative city, although the office basketball pool and the weekly poker games in the buddy’s basement and the craps games that are said to still flourish on South Broadway remain as illegal as ever, and that referendum passed with the support of all the local business groups as well as all the liberals who hate every industry except the one that does nothing but separate suckers from their money.
All the local offices are still having basketball pools and the same old married guys are still sneaking away to weekly poker games and South Broadway will always be South Broadway, even if the big Indian casino south of town does draw a significant share of the local gambling market, and we expect that a similar legal arrangement regarding the marijuana market will yield similar results. We know a fellow who lives in a remote mountain town in Colorado where there are seven legal marijuana shops to serve a town with a year-round population of 2,300, and we take his word for it that most of the local vipers still patronize the same unlicensed and untaxed and unregulated and downright illegal dealers they bought from before “legalization.” Those promises of tax dollars won’t be kept, the promises of responsible regulation will prove even more overstated, and the inherent problems of an illegal market that can’t call the cops to resolve a grievance will remain.
If Ohioans decide not to send anyone to jail for smoking marijuana that will be fine by us, and neither will we worry if they choose to retain the current laws and continue to enforce them with the usual laxity. We hope they won’t decide on some middle ground that makes it legal for one person to sell the stuff but continues to make it illegal for others, though, as that sort of two-tier legal system does not serve the purpose of democracy and there is way too much of that going on already.

— Bud Norman