Monday, July 17, 2017

An Open Letter to Greg Orman

Dear Greg:
I hope you’re doing well. I met Sybil for the first time last week at Starbuck’s; she was there with Cindy Holscher. Meeting her reminded me that I’ve been meaning to reach out to you regarding next year’s gubernatorial election. I hope you will forgive me if I impose on our rather fledgling friendship to offer you a little unsolicited political advice.

I’ve been talking to a lot of folks about this, as you might expect from someone as politics-obsessed as I. I’ll just put it to you right off the bat that for me, the highest priority in Kansas politics right now is making sure Kris Kobach does not become the next governor.

I’m sure I don’t have to enumerate the reasons why. Kobach as governor would be an unmitigated disaster. This year a bipartisan majority began the process of digging out of the Brownback experiment, over the opposition of a misguided but largely checked-out governor. The last word anyone would use to describe Kobach is checked out. His harder-than-hard right policies and his monomanical focus on the “issues” of voter fraud and immigration are exactly what Kansas doesn’t need at this delicate stage - or ever, really. Just when we’re digging out of the hole, a Kobach governorship would kick us back down it, and throw dirt on us besides. 

The problem is that, as things stand right now, in my estimation the path is relatively clear to this disastrous result. I do not believe that there is any Republican who can beat Kobach in a primary: he starts off with 30-35% hardcore support amongst Republicans, universal name recognition, and easy access to a large number of Trump supporters. I don’t think it matters how much the field is split: in a split field his name recognition gives him the advantage; in a 2-person race against Ed O’Malley the almost fanatical regard in which he’s held by all too much of the Republican base would give him the victory. Honestly, I think he would eat Ed O’Malley for breakfast.

As for the Democrats, I don’t see the one in the current field who can beat Kobach in a general election. Josh Svaty isn’t going to win a Dem primary, and I doubt Carl Brewer can raise enough money. Jim Ward would make it interesting at least -- I might actually go to the state fair to hear that debate. But Jim is undisciplined and Kobach is very disciplined, and that will make a big difference.

Which leads me to you. Rumors are that you are considering jumping into the race. I’ve talked to a lot of people about this, and my recommendation is that if you do so, you run as a Democrat.

I know, I know; hear me out.

There are just too many Democrats who wouldn’t vote for you as an Independent. They say, “The only question the press should ask Orman is if he’s trying to help Kobach become governor.” Now, that’s not how I see it, because I don’t think the race without you makes any of the Dems more likely to win. What difference does it make if the Dem gets 20% with you in the race or 40% without you? Kobach still wins. If there are, say, 15-20% of Dem voters who won’t vote for an Independent on principle, in my judgment that just makes the hill too steep to climb.

However, these very people, who say they would not vote for you as an Independent, who say that your entry into the race would guarantee a Kobach victory, when you are posited as a Democratic candidate, say, “I could go for that.” I believe you would be the odds-on favorite for the nomination on Day 1, with the name recognition (and platform) that Svaty doesn’t have and the ability to raise money that Brewer doesn't have. And with the nomination, you’d have every Dem and a large number of Mod Rs on your side. Frankly, It just makes the accounting easier.

Now, of course I am well aware that you have invested a great deal in the idea of being independent of the two parties. You wrote the book, after all. I know It’s very easy for me, who doesn’t hold that issue dear, to advise you to throw it all to the side for the sake of an election. But I would make two points:
  1. For all your belief in the model, there is as yet no proof that it can work. There have been several Independent candidates in Kansas over the past couple of years, and with the exception of your Senate run they haven’t even caused their regular-party opponents to break a sweat. 
  2. It bears repeating: the highest priority in Kansas politics right now is making sure Kris Kobach does not become the next governor. However dearly you hold the principle of independence, it is not as important as making sure Kobach is kept out of power. 

It really comes down to this: As a Democrat, the path for you is clear. As an Independent, it isn’t. And the stakes are just too high. 

And look, if Bernie Sanders can do it, you can do it. I would even be okay with you making air quotes with your fingers every time you say “I’m a Democrat” in public. But what I couldn’t abide is Kobach becoming governor if there’s a way to stop him - a way I believe that only you can provide. 

Thanks for listening.

Reb Moti.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How Tim Owens Saved Kansas

I want to relate a little story that might otherwise get lost in the historical shuffle.

The first year I was a lobbyist in Kansas was 2012. It was a very eventful year: the Brownback tax "experiment" got underway, and it was also the year Brownback and the Koch's purged the moderate leadership in the state senate - 7 out of 9 moderate GOP Senators were knocked off in Republican primaries. It took years for sanity to return; till this year, in fact.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Barbecue, Hold the Politics

An old friend, a musician, came in from out of town. His band was playing a barbecue festival in south KC, so I went. It was a thing I would never have gone to otherwise; in fact, I had never heard of the event before.

It was something like 77 teams of barbecuers; the band was hosted by one of them and the dressing room was that team's RV (the teams tend to travel to different events, and they stay on the grounds in RVs; non-team members have to be off the grounds by midnight).

These were totally nice guys, in the circumstances. They were very concerned with our comfort, and were generous with their food and their booze. They were guys who like their comforts. They really enjoyed the music and we all had a good time.

While we were sitting in the trailer before the set, two of the guys got to talking about the Roger Waters show at the Sprint Center the previous Friday night. Waters had really reamed out Trump. Tim Finn, the rock writer at the Star, had posted on his Facebook page something to the effect that, “If you went to Waters' show and left because of the politics, you obviously never really listened to Pink Floyd.” So these guys were talking, and they said, “The music was great, but he really dumped on Trump,” and then they turned to my friend and said, “I hope you're going to stay away from politics.” To which he answered, “Of course!”

That's when I realized I was probably surrounded by Trump voters. White guys, probably in the beginnings of middle age, used to having America be for them. I didn't ask them, but if they're mad about Roger Waters' politics they probably weren't wearing pussy hats in January.

Of course, most people don't think or talk about politics in the obsessive way that my friends and I do. These guys are just happy to be driving around in RVs, cooking up huge hunks of meat, drinking bourbon and listening to rock music. Life is good; they don't want to be bothered by politics.

My friend actually has progressive politics, but one thing you learn playing frat parties and such is that you give the people what they want. (The band played the Dead's “New Speedway Boogie,” which I pointed out later is actually pretty political, not that anyone would notice.)

One of the most significant conversations coming out of the election has been about the necessity of reaching across cultural lines (to say it that way) to people who feel themselves being left behind in contemporary America, and who had found comfort, or a weapon, in Trump. This has been Bernie Sanders' approach. Of course, the presumption is that this “reaching out” only has to be to white folks. The other side of the argument (often, but not always, coming from African Americans) is that this is kowtowing to the dark racist underbelly of the American electorate. I'm of the dedicated opinion that racial justice and economic justice are deeply intertwined, and also that you can't win an election in the US, even on the state level, without white votes. If white non-progressives are going to be written off from the political equation, there are going to be a lot more Donald Trumps in our future.

So that's it, really. I didn't talk politics with these guys and my friend and I left right after the show. I didn't ask them why Hillary didn't appeal to them or what it would take to make a Left message do so. I didn't ask them what they thought about Trump pulling out the Paris agreement. (Truth be told, I'm assuming their politics based on a random comment.) But those are conversations that I need to have, and with people exactly like them, in order to be effective in my job.

But I also know that the expectation that “we shouldn't talk about politics” (which I've come across plenty in the Jewish community as well) is a luxury that not everyone can afford – in fact, it is itself an indicator of privilege, and as such, must always be questioned. Except at private parties, I guess.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The End of Growing the New American Economy

Jeffrey Sachs is probably the country’s predominant expert on sustainable development. He has written a number of bestselling books on the subject, and also was an adviser to Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race.

Building the New American Economy (Columbia University Press, 2017) is a relatively brief (121 pages) primer for the lay reader on what Sachs thinks we all need to know about the economic problems facing the country, and where we need to go from here. The key idea is found in the introduction: “The keys to success in building the new America [sic] economy can be summarized in three words: smart, fair, and sustainable.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Devil's Bargain

Here’s what’s a somewhat longer and thought out version of what’s been coming out of my mouth the last few times I’ve spoken:
  1. The system is broken.
In 2003 the Bush Administration led us to war based on cooked intelligence. They instituted “enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e., torture). No one was ever punished except for some extremely small fish at Abu Ghraib. In 2008 the financial system collapsed, due largely to chicanery on Wall Street; the country bailed out the system to the tune of over $1 trillion but again, none of the responsible parties were ever held liable.

In 2016 we had the most absurd election campaign imaginable, which ended with a completely unqualified and temperamentally unsuited celebrity winning the White House. This isn’t the place to detail the perfect storm of factors that led to this result, but it suffices to say that for the second time in 20 years someone entered the presidency who had not won the popular vote.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Brownback Agoniste

Rumors are flying that Sam Brownback is about to get a post in the Trump Administration. As he prepares to leave behind the flaming wreckage his policies have caused in Kansas, it's time for some amateur, armchair politico-psycho-analysis.

It's been interesting, if that's the right word, to see Brownback steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that the tax plan that he forced through in 2012 isn't working. Kansas has a $1bn deficit through the end of 2018, which you would think would speak for itself, but Brownback continues to wait for the magic beans to work, and has a whole staff of people dedicated to putting magnifying glasses to any small piece of good economic news they can find.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Resilience of the White Right

I recently read the book, The End of White Christian America by Robert Jones. He's the CEO of PRRI, a institution in Washington that researches public attitudes toward religion. The book traces the history of political involvement in politics by White Christians and their institutions. He covers the Mainline and Evangelical streams as two parts of the same whole. and sees the same demographic and political pressures facing them both; the two streams are following the same trajectory of waning numbers and influence, with the Mainline about 20 years ahead of evangelical Christianity in terms of timeline.

The two issues he traces in detail are gay marriage and race. He shows how White Christianity was on the wrong side of both of these issues, and that the attitude - and the laws - of the country have moved faster and farther than White Christianity wanted to go.