Appointing U.S. Senators

Note: I want this column up now; I’ll post pictures later.

JANUARY 17 2009 UPDATE: The Illinois and Delaware seats have already been vacated and replaced and the New York seat is the only one still left to be decided.  I am currently writing an update on the New York seat and my thoughts on the putative frontrunner, Democrat Caroline Kennedy.


JANUARY 24 2009 UPDATE: The New York seat has been decided and this entry has been updated.  At this point, barring further developments of interest, I just need to put up pictures of everyone.

Few topics in U.S. politics interest me as much as Congress, and particularly the Senate.  So the recent rash of Obama appointments from the Senate means that those states will have to come up with ways to replace them.  In most states, including all of the ones from which senators have so far been appointed, the governors of the states choose a senator who will serve until the next general election – in this case, November 2010.


Let me first say that I have no problem with gubernatorial appointments until the next election.  I think they’re a great way to fill a seat quickly and ensure that a state has full representation while waiting for the next election.


Having said that, I think that there is one important factor and two not-so-important factors that would help guide the decision.  The best kind of appointment would be a “caretaker”, or someone who would not run for reelection for the seat.  The idea is to get someone in there until the next election in which the voters can choose from an open field, with no candidate having the benefit of incumbency.  The not-so-important factors are: 1) That the person be someone who has served in public office, and has been wanting to be a U.S. Senator, for a long time (this usually correlates with being a caretaker, as having a long record of public service and desire for a Senate seat generally means that the person is of advanced age, and so would be less likely to stand for reelection) and 2) That the person be close to the departing incumbent Senator in terms of ideology, voting habits, and general political outlook.


This second factor might not be as important; obviously if the departing Senator is from the opposite party it wouldn’t matter, but also in terms of (roughly speaking) centrists vs. liberals.  I wouldn’t complain if a governor appointed a liberal to replace the outgoing centrist Democratic Senator; in fact I might do that myself if it were my decision.  But of course I’d be peeved if a liberal was replaced by a centrist.  But this principle of trying to appoint someone who shares the same politics might explain why historically many governors have appointed the departing Senator’s spouse (usually wife) to the seats; I’m operating under the assumption that spouses generally share roughly the same politics, which of course may not be true – just look at James Carville and Mary Matalin.

JANUARY 17 2009 UPDATE: There are several arguments and concerns that I’ve heard regarding the caretaker option.


First, what if the caretaker decides to run for reelection?  I don’t think there should be a legal requirement that the caretaker be required to step down.  That smells like term limits, which I despise as silly and anti-democratic.  If I were the appointing governor I would require the caretaker to publically pledge to not run for reelection as a condition for their appointment.  Legally they’re still free to break that promise and run, and they should have to deal with any of the consequences that come from breaking such a promise.  How’s the record on voters punishing politicians who break their promises to step down?  Not very strong – recent history is littered with candidates (mostly Republicans, but some Democrats including my beloved hero Paul Wellstone) who promised in their campaigns to step down at a certain point and then went on to break that promise. (The most notorious of these politicians was Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA-5), who won his first election as a fierce term-limits crusader but then tried to justify breaking his own term limits pledge with a series of ridiculous excuses, ranging from the narcissistic to the cynical.) So this sort of hope that voters will punish renegade caretakers probably wouldn’t work out so good in practice.  But I’d oppose an actual legal limit so there’s no other voluntary way to do it.

I might add that one good way to make sure your pick will stay a caretaker is to pick someone who is relatively old and/or was going to retire from public service anyway.  Former Senator Zell Miller (D-Ga.) is a good example of this strategy.  Miller ensured his caretaker status when he stepped down at the end of his term in 2005, which is just as well since he is a despicable and pathetic excuse for a human being.

Second, wouldn’t the state lose seniority with a caretaker?  Yes, yes, Governor Paterson, it would. (See the New York entry below for more details about Paterson’s objection on this basis.) But that’s putting parochialism above democracy, which I don’t think is a good thing.  Besides, a caretaker serves for at most two years and two years is a pretty short time compared to the decades that a senator could serve, so I don’t view it as a terribly big deal.  And Senators that have served a short amount of time can still wield tremendous influence; in fact, most Senate Floor Leaders in recent history have been relatively short-serving ones.  A strong and effective short-serving Senator can be much more powerful than a weak long-serving one.


Third, wouldn’t the caretaker not be accountable to the voters since they don’t have to run for election?  Yes, but you could say that about any retiring senator as well.  So what, are we going to ban retirements and force every senator to run for reelection until they die?  If one is really concerned about voter accountability one should fight for a constitutional amendment that would provide for voter recalls of Senators and other federal-level elected officials.

Anyway, let’s look at how these ideas work with each of the appointments before us:



Incumbent: Barack Obama (D)

Reason for vacancy: Elected President of the United States

Next regularly scheduled election for the seat: November 2010

Designated replacement: Former Illinois Attorney General Roland W. Burris

My pick: Senator-select Roland W. Burris (D)

Comments: With Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) in a world of political trouble involving this very Senate seat, a replacement may be decided either by a newly-minted Governor Pat Quinn (D) (currently the Lt. Governor) or a special election.  If it’s an election then I have no comment except to say that I’ll probably support liberal Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9) who has already declared her intent to run, though there are other good Democrats being mentioned as possible or likely candidates as well.  If there is an appointment, many names have been floated but one of the few I’ve heard that would actually be a caretaker is outgoing Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, Jr. (D).  At 73 he’d likely not run for reelection and as a key mentor and backer of Barack Obama he may have similar political views and style.

DECEMBER 31 2008 UPDATE: Well, it looks like Gov. Blagojevich decided to make things even more interesting for himself and appoint a successor anyway.  That man is former Illinois Attorney General Roland W. Burris (D) and he may very well be the best guy for the job, actually, given that he’s 71, a long-time figure in Illinois politics (though I’d never heard of him until just now) and, most importantly, he’s a caretaker!  Yes, he’s being appointed by Gov. Blagojevich, but just because the appointer is tainted, doesn’t mean that the appointee is a poor choice.  I’d like to see him appointed by someone else (i.e. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn) if Blagojevich’s nomination falls through – yes, I have no problem with Burris being rejected by… whoever, when Blagojevich appoints him, and then getting confirmed and sworn in once someone else appoints him.  Btw, all this talk about Burris’s being black and how that’s soooo important since we no longer have a black Senator (gasp!) and how we should clear a path for Burris solely because he’s black… yeah that’s a bunch of bullshit.

DECEMBER 31 2008 UPDATE II: Just to clarify… do I think that the Senate should seat Burris as is, being appointed by the tainted Blagojevich?  My answer is a tentative yes.  While I do think that the allegations leveled at Blagojevich are very serious (much more so than any tryst with a hooker or hand gestures in an airport bathroom), we still do operate on an innocent-until-proven-guilty system here, and I think we often ignore that fact when we bash on politicians whom have been charged but not yet convicted (even Bill Jefferson, he of cash-in-the-freezer fame, has not yet been convicted).  Plus Burris is a commendable candidate in his own right.  Of course the best scenario is for Burris to be appointed by someone else, but right now the Senate has to make a decision on whether to accept him or not, and assuming that there were no deals or shady going-ons between Blagojevich and Burris, there isn’t any good reason to reject Burris independent of what Blagojevich did.  Yes, Blagojevich tried to sell this seat.  But the important question we should be asking is, did Burris buy it?  If the answer is no and everything is on the level, I see no reason Burris should be rejected.  After all, it’s very possible that even though Blagojevich was a snake not too long ago, he wasn’t this time.  So I say that the Senate should confirm Burris ONCE they (or someone else, like Patrick Fitzgerald) have done an investigation and ensured that no illegal, unethical or otherwise shady dealings occurred between Blagojevich and Burris.

JANUARY 7 2009 UPDATE: So Burris was unsuccessful in getting seated as the next Senator from Illinois yesterday, as he lacked a signature from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White certifying his appointment.  Massive drama preceded, followed, and continues to surround Burris’s epic journey.  I have three things to say about this.

First, I strongly believe that the Secretary of State MUST sign all legitimate appointments, regardless of how he or she feels about the appointment process or the appointee.  The Secretary should NOT – I repeat, NOT – have this kind of veto power over Senatorial appointments.  Fuck, if that’s the case why don’t I run for Secretary of State so I can singlehandedly block anyone my Republican Governor decides to appoint?  If Norm Coleman won his race for reelection could Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Democrat Mark Ritchie, simply refuse to certify him cuz he’s full of shit?

Second, I believe that Burris should be seated immediately.  In stating this I revise my previous opinion that the Senate should investigate him first.  Burris is a duly appointed Senator and he should be seated regardless of whatever “cloud of doubt” surrounds him or the man who appointed him.  That is the law, plain and fucking simple.  I wouldn’t care if Burris not only bought the seat from Blagojevich but also beats his wife and butt-fucks donkeys on a regular basis – the appointment was legal, period.  If the Senate thinks that it can just get on a high horse, look down its long nose and say to anyone, “We’re not going to let you in cuz we don’t like you” then someone needs to bitch-slap it into making (legal) sense. (Incidentally, on this issue I agree with none other than Dianne Feinstein herself.  Wow!)

Third, Burris seems to have backed away from his promise to be a caretaker, saying that he doesn’t want to discuss it at this time.  I think that one big benefit of Burris is that he will most likely end up a caretaker (or, more precisely, will not serve past January 2011), because 1.) It may be a condition to his admittance to the Senate 2.) He’s 71 years old, which while still relatively young in a body full of octogenarians and a 91-year old Robert Byrd, is a little on the old side in terms of just being a human 3.) He’s a “tainted” candidate, which would encourage challengers and increase their likelihood of success.


Incumbent: Joe Biden (D)

Reason for vacancy: Elected Vice President of the United States

Next regularly scheduled election for the seat: November 2014

Designated replacement: Edward E. “Ted” Kaufman (D)

My pick: Senator-designate Edward E. “Ted” Kaufman (D)

Comments: This pick is probably the best one possible.  Ted Kaufman is a caretaker (having stated that he will not run for reelection in 2010), has a long record of public service (though not necessarily with Senatorial ambitions), and, as a long-time chief of staff to outgoing Senator Joe Biden, is probably pretty close to Biden in terms of his politics.  Many of my fellow liberals complain that appointing a caretaker was done to clear the path for Joe Biden’s son Beau Biden to easily win the seat in 2010, but you know what, Beau will at least still have to compete in an election rather than being handed the seat, and giving the seat to anyone else who’d stand for reelection would have given that person an unfair advantage of incumbency.  Not to say that this pick wasn’t steeped in Biden’s favoritism of his son, but that element of cronyism actually guided what became the best kind of decision from my point of view.

I have no opinion on the Senate election in 2010.  I don’t know Delaware’s Democrats well enough.


New York

Incumbent: Hillary Clinton (D)

Reason for vacancy: To be appointed as Secretary of State

Next regularly scheduled election for the seat: November 2012

Designated replacement: To be determined

My pick: No definite pick at this point; would have picked Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY-18) if she’d been willing, but she’s not; would pick former Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) if he were willing – I don’t know if he is

Comments: Hoo boy.  This seat is probably the most controversial of the four vacancies so far, in large part because New York is crewed by a thick bench of smart, ambitious Democrats for whom a vacant U.S. Senate seat is a rare prize (probably rivaled only by a few states like Massachusetts and West Virginia).  And yet, with all these great New York Democrats, who is getting all the attention right now?  Political neophyte Caroline Kennedy!  Her supporters say she’s smart, caring, passionate and progressive.  And no one else in New York is?  I think the real reason she’s getting so much support is because she’s a Kennedy, and not just any Kennedy; she’s Camelot’s daughter, and there’s a great deal of sentiment surrounding that.  Well we don’t need sentimental shit; we need a caretaker in that seat so that Kennedy – and anyone else who wants to – can run for the seat in 2010.  As great as she sounds – and she does sound great – I would not pick her because she wouldn’t be a caretaker.  Let me be clear: my reasons against Kennedy are based solely on her not being a caretaker; they have nothing to do with lack of experience or not being an elected official or anything like that (though I am annoyed by the way she’s hogging all the media attention solely due to her family and her last name).  I do think she should by all means run for the seat in 2010.

So who would be a caretaker?  I haven’t yet heard any names that would likely be caretakers.  One really good pick would have been Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY-18).  Actually, not just good; she’d be perfect: long-time public servant (almost 20 years in the House), not only has Senatorial ambitions but she was going to run for this very Senate seat before Clinton got into the race, a strong liberal who’d be as or more liberal than Clinton, and, best of all, the 71-year old Lowey would be a likely caretaker.  The one catch?  She doesn’t want to be a Senator anymore!  Apparently she’s happy being on the House Appropriations Committee… god, the perfect appointment ruined.  With Lowey out I don’t know who else would be a caretaker Senator, so I don’t have a dog in this fight at this point.  Maybe liberal former Democratic Governor Mario M. Cuomo (age 76) if he were willing.

As for the 2010 election, I can imagine supporting a number of people, including Kennedy, or Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-14), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-8), or, if they want someone from upstate, Maurice Hinchey (D-NY-22).

JANUARY 7 2009 UPDATE: The drama surrounding Kennedy and this seat has only slightly abated with the even fresher drama surrounding Roland Burris and Al Franken.  Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks a caretaker is the way to go.  A widely-circulated report mentioned not only Mario Cuomo but former President Bill Clinton.  A Senator Bill Clinton would be very interesting, as he’d be the first former President to serve in the Senate since Andrew Johnson in 1875, and only the third person to hold the honorary position of Deputy President pro tempore of the Senate, a position normally reserved for former Presidents and Vice Presidents serving in the Senate (the only such person so far is Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) from  1977-1978; the other person to hold the post, Senator George Mitchell (D-Me.), was elected to it).  But the caretaker option seems to be out of the question.  First, Clinton says he has no interest.  Second, Cuomo has not responded to inquiries, making it seem less likely that he’d accept the position.

Third, Paterson himself has ruled out the caretaker option. His argument is that once a caretaker left office all that seniority would be gone.  I would argue first that a caretaker is the most democratic option available and that’s why I’m in favor of it.  Beyond that, in regards to seniority, yeah the state would lose two years or so of seniority, but is that really such a big deal?  Especially if the Senator ends up serving several terms; two years out of a twenty- to thirty-year tenure is not a whole lot.  I just think it’s a relatively silly and trivial concern next to giving the people the fairest and most democratic process possible in choosing a replacement.

JANUARY 21 2009 UPDATE: Here’s an good older (relatively) article about the wisdom in appointing a caretaker for the New York Senate seat.

NY Democratic advisers talk up ‘caretaker’ senator

By MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press Writer Michael Gormley, Associated Press Writer Wed Dec 31, 6:05 pm ET

ALBANY, N.Y. – Sen. Bill Clinton? Sen. Mario Cuomo? Don’t completely rule it out. The former president and the former New York governor are among several boldface names being touted as possible “caretakers” for New York’s Senate seat — people who would serve until the 2010 elections but wouldn’t be interested in running to keep the job.

As the process of picking Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s replacement gets messier, the option may become increasingly attractive to Gov. David Paterson, who has sole authority to name a successor.

A spokesman for Bill Clinton, Matt McKenna, said Wednesday that the former chief executive isn’t interested in the job and plans to continue the work of his foundation. Cuomo declined through a spokesman to discuss the Senate seat.

A big name could have an immediate impact for New York in the Senate while letting the large field of hopefuls duke it out in 2010, according to three Democratic Party advisers in New York and Washington who are close to the discussion with Paterson’s inner circle on this issue.

Two others in the party confirmed that Paterson is still considering the caretaker option. The advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment.

“You could find a very senior person who could serve New York well” on an interim basis, said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and dean at the State University of New York at New Paltz. “Then you can say to Caroline Kennedy, `You know, you’d make a good senator. Run for it.’ And you can tell everyone else that it’s a level playing field.”

Paterson has made it clear in recent days that he’s getting annoyed by the constant jockeying by supporters of high-powered hopefuls including Kennedy, half a dozen members of Congress and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of the former governor.

The candidates — especially Kennedy — have made daily headlines as Paterson tries to focus on a fiscal crisis of historic proportions, his first budget proposal and preparations for his first full legislative session as governor. He took office last spring after disgraced Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned.

The caretaker option was exercised last month by Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who picked a former aide to Vice President-elect Joe Biden to succeed him in the Senate until a new senator is elected in 2010. By then, Biden’s son, state Attorney General Beau Biden, will have returned from a tour in Iraq with the National Guard — just in time to run for his father’s seat.

A week ago, Paterson said he favored appointing a senator soon after Clinton is confirmed to start building seniority, and he ruled out an interim placeholder. Under state law, there will be an election to fill the last two years of Hillary Clinton’s term in 2010 and another for a full six-year term in 2012.

The process, however, wasn’t supposed to be a big distraction.

Some of the other names circulating as possible caretakers among party operatives include the state’s retired top jurist, Judith Kaye, and former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, now president of the New School in New York City.

Kaye declined through a spokesman Tuesday to discuss the Senate seat; Kerrey and Paterson did not respond to questions Tuesday and Wednesday.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll, said the caretaker option wouldn’t surprise him. “To pick a caretaker is to say … win it in the court of public opinion.”

An interim appointment also could sidestep an internal struggle in New York’s Democratic Party.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — the longest-serving and most powerful legislative leader in the state — has reservations about Kennedy, and Paterson needs Silver if he wants to battle powerful labor interests to turn around the state’s fiscal problems.

But Kennedy’s supporters include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent who is another important ally for Paterson.

Meanwhile, the handicapping continues about the prospects of some of the lesser-known contenders.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York City, who is known as a tenacious legislator, has been endorsed by three women’s advocacy groups: the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Political observers say Paterson is under pressure to pick a woman because all the state’s top leaders — except Clinton — are men.

In the political blog Connecting.the.dots, media critic and editor Robert Stein wrote Sunday that a caretaker would show that Paterson has the best interests of the state in mind during the fiscal crisis, while letting powerful political families fight it out in an election two years down the road.

Doug Muzzio, professor of politics at Baruch College, isn’t convinced.

“If in fact you are looking to appoint a senator who can be an effective advocate for the people of the state, those two years you can learn a lot and to give that up is problematic.”

But Muzzio also sees some benefit to Paterson in picking a caretaker.           

“If he is feeling trapped about this Caroline Kennedy thing, this gives him, in a sense, a way out … without naming someone else that would really anger the pro-Kennedy people,” he said.

JANUARY 23 2009 UPDATE: So Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn herself from consideration for this appointment.  I want to make clear that I opposed Caroline Kennedy’s appointment to the New York Senate seat not because there are a lot of good arguments against her but because there are so few good arguments for her.  The main reason I opposed her is because she probably would not be a caretaker (in fact, much of the pro-Kennedy argument is that she would NOT be a caretaker and will run successfully for reelection).  If she were to announce that she would definitely be a caretaker I’d support her in a heartbeat (at least until another definite caretaker came along, at which point I’d weigh their relative merits in a more conventional manner).  However, she had not and all assumptions and indications were that she would not.  So now we’d have to look at why she’d be a better choice than all the other non-caretakers out there.

Marcos Moulitsas of Daily Kos has written a great post on why appointing Kennedy is so vapid and pointless.  Essentially, the argument is that Kennedy’s sole claim to fame is her… famous name. (Wow, three rhyming words in one sentence!) Nothing else about her really qualifies herself for the seat above all others. (More on this below)

As you can see for yourself, that same Kos post drew lots of hateful ire from the Kennedy fans.  Most of them are weak and nonsensical.  Let’s address them one by one.


Kennedy is very qualified for the seat.  She has done this and that…


Let me put it to you very simply.  If someone with the exact same résumé, personality, appearance, political stances and ideology (or what little we know of hers) comes along and her name is Caroline Smith or Caroline Kendrick, good luck getting anywhere near that Senate seat, to say nothing of being the frontrunner.


Qualifications are not the issue here.  Sure, her history and activities might make her “qualified” for the seat.  That would very well depend on your definition of “qualified”.  She’s qualified in the sense that she’s above the age of 30, has been a citizen for the past nine years and lives in New York.  By those same standards a homeless illiterate bum who’s over 30, a citizen for nine years and lives in New York is also “qualified” to serve in the U.S. Senate – and would probably do a finer job than half of the people currently there.


Okay, you might ask, “is she smart/knowledgeable/good enough” for the Senate?  That again depends on your perspective.  Currently in the Senate we have a 91-year old who speaks at the rate of a sloth moving through a tree, a former baseball player bordering on senility, a family values advocate who got caught using a prostitution service (and subsequently received a standing ovation from his fellow Senate Republicans), and a far-right conservative who campaigned on fears of predatory lesbian gangs running rampant in Oklahoma schools.  So the moral of the lesson is: anyone can be a Senator!


If we’re talking in terms of accomplishments, Kennedy has apparently done some great things for schools (though what, I’m not sure) and written a book on privacy rights.  That’s great.  But if you were looking at someone else who had that exact same background but was not named “Kennedy”, do you think they’d really have a chance?


I’m certainly not saying that Kennedy’s record is somehow insufficient or too thin for a prospective U.S. Senator.  And I’m most certainly not saying that only elected public officials can be considered for Senator.  I encourage and support non-politicians in their bids for public office.  What I’m saying is that Kennedy’s record is not something that puts her above all other potential contenders for this seat.  It’s not something that stands out.  So when her supporters try to make that argument they come off as more than a little silly.


She’ll be a liberal/progressive.


She has only outlined her policy positions in the vaguest terms, and has offered no real indication of her overall ideological beliefs and what convictions guide her when thinking about government.  Her positions are all standard run-of-the-mill liberal, which is not a bad thing but not exactly something missing from any of the other contenders (except for Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, an even worse choice who I’ll get to in a minute) and pales in comparison to the records of distinguished New York pols like Rep. Jerrold Nadler.  So I don’t know why pro-Kennedy liberals are all excited about her as if she’s the living incarnation of Paul Wellstone.  About the only thing that stands out is that she supports same-sex marriage.  Whoop dee doo, yeah cuz that’s the most pressing issue facing this country today.

JANUARY 24 2009 UPDATE: To be sure, Kennedy is most likely to the left of Gillibrand and Hillary Clinton, and many other “standard” liberal Democrats.  The reason I say most likely is because she has been so vague on many of her positions, so it’s hard to be 100 percent sure.


I’d rather have Kennedy as my Senator than [insert some conservative red-state Senator that the speaker has the misfortune of having as their representative in the Senate, e.g. John Cornyn or Mitch McConnell].


Okay sure, of course Kennedy would be a better Senator for us liberals than John Cornyn and Mitch McConnell.  But did anyone really think that a Cornyn or a McConnell is in serious contention for this seat?  This was not a choice between Cornyn and Kennedy; it was a choice between Kennedy and any number of other New York DEMOCRATS, and if we’re really at the point where a Senator is good enough if they’re better than Cornyn then our standards have really hit a new low.


She’ll be able to hold the seat in 2010/outraise any of her opponents.


This I find quite absurd, as if no other New York Democrat would be able to do what is necessary to win statewide.


This Democratic paranoia is really starting to annoy me.  I’d understand if this were some place like Utah or Wyoming, where the Democratic bench isn’t particularly strong.  But if we Democrats are pissing our pants over winning in a state that gave 63 percent of its vote to Barack Obama, what does that say about our confidence in states that are a little less decisive in supporting Democrats?


I can’t say this loudly enough.  People, this is NEW YORK, a HEAVILY DEMOCRATIC state.  We have a LARGE bench of local Democrats, most of whom are VERY SMART and VERY AMBITIOUS.  WE CAN WIN THIS ELECTION.  It’s not impossible!  Seriously.


But we need someone with “star power” to combat the all-mighty Fearsome Dread Lord of New York Politics… Rudolph… William… Louis… GIULIANI!!! <runs and cowers>


According to an inside source (Rep. Peter King (R-NY-3), who is himself running for the seat), Giuliani has no interest in running for the Senate.


And guess what people?  Giuliani did run for the Senate, back in 2000.  There’s a reason he didn’t make it, and that reason was that he was an epic failure of a Senate candidate, and was really unmotivated to run for the office other than for the chance to beat a Clinton.  And the Giuliani hype is clearly trumped-up and overplayed.  Giuliani might have struck a leader-like pose on 9/11 but it’s become abundantly clear that he fucked up in several ways and did nothing in many more, and his 2008 presidential bid collapsed spectacularly because people have finally realized that he really is nothing more than a noun, a verb and 9/11.  He’s damaged goods now people; we don’t need to be scared of him anymore.


She’s so nice!


Okay… that might make her a great choice for Miss Congeniality, but what does that have to do with the Senate?  Most Senators are not nice, at least not to those whom they disagree with.  In fact, if anything being “nice” might make you a more vulnerable target for being bullied and overrun by vicious Republicans.


She’s a Kennedy!


I think this is the real reason that inspires most of her supporters.  Look, I love the Kennedys as much as the next liberal.  I encourage any Kennedy that wants to run for office to run.  And I encourage any Kennedy who doesn’t to not run.  The point is, they have to run.  As for the appointment, it’s unseemly to give the appointment to someone whose only real qualification is that she’s a Kennedy.  Being a Kennedy is not really a qualification.  It does not mean that she “knows how to be a Senator” because “she’s seen it up close”, any more than Hillary Clinton’s being married to the President qualified her to be President herself.  There needs to be another reason for Kennedy other than “she’s a Kennedy!”  And as I have not at yet heard any real good ones, I’m all ears.


So with Kennedy out, what’s next?  Today Governor Paterson is set to announce his choice and it appears that the choice will be Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY-20).  I am NOT happy with this choice; not only does this choice mean giving up a lean-Republican House seat, but, more importantly, Gillibrand is in the moderate Blue Dog wing of the Party.  While she still votes mostly with the rest of the Democrats, I strongly believe that safe Democratic Senate seats (and yes, despite the worries of the hand-wringers, I count New York’s seats among them) should be held by strong and committed liberals.


I hope to see a competitive primary for this seat (and all the others) regardless of who the nominee is, but I especially hope for one if Gillibrand is the appointee.  Apparently Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY-4) (not to be confused, as I did, with another contender, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-14)) is intending to challenge Gillibrand in the primaries over the issue of gun control, where McCarthy is a fanatic supporter of it and Gillibrand has been friendly with the NRA.  Personally I’d prefer to see a fight over something a little more overarching, like matters of political ideology, but in my opinion it’s always good to have a competitive election and democracy at work.


So, my plea to New York liberals: primary Gillibrand!

JANUARY 24 2009 UPDATE: Now a lot of liberals who are disappointed in having Gillibrand are blaming the selection on Kos for his opposition to Kennedy.  WTF?!  First off, it wasn’t Kos who appointed Gillibrand.  I could only WISH that Kos had that kind of influence over decisions on Senate appointments; if Kos had that kind of power we would have someone more liberal in the Colorado Senate seat and Joe Lieberman would be in the dustbin of history.  Secondly, since when were the only two choices Kennedy or Gillibrand?  It’s not like opposing Kennedy somehow equals or translates to supporting Gillibrand… what the hell kind of connection is that?  And blaming Kos for not “getting behind someone else” doesn’t cut it; Kos never had a favorite that he was pushing, he was just trying to argue against having Kennedy as the appointee.  It’s not like Paterson was reading Kos’s writings, seeing that he opposed Kennedy, and then thought to himself, “hmm, since Kos doesn’t like Kennedy and doesn’t say who he does like, I guess that means he really likes Gillibrand so I’ll appoint her!”


Third, picking Gillibrand over Kennedy only makes sense on 1) Picking a moderate over a liberal 2) Picking an upstater over a downstater 3) Picking someone with a little bit of experience in elected office over someone with none.  Kos’s main argument against Kennedy was that she was unproven and unqualified in every way other than her last name, so that would fit in with the third factor, but to reason picking Gillibrand over Kennedy because Gillibrand has “more experience” seems a little stupid; Gillibrand’s sole elected office to date has been two years in the U.S. House of Representatives; prior to that she had a legal career in the Department of HUD and in the private sector.  So the other two factors, which Kos did not mention, were more likely the bigger factors.  The truth is, there are plenty of New York Democrats who were as liberal or more so than Kennedy AND had more experience than Gillibrand, and they should have been in stronger contention than either Kennedy or Gillibrand.


Paul Begala of CNN is now insinuating that Gillibrand could become President someday.  Ugh, I really hope not.

JANUARY 25 2009 UPDATE: Interesting article in the AP about Caroline Kennedy’s political future:

For bruised Caroline Kennedy, what’s next?

By SAMANTHA GROSS, Associated Press Writer Samantha Gross, Associated Press Writer Sat Jan 24, 2:29 pm ET

NEW YORK – Following a brief, torturous foray into the public spotlight, Caroline Kennedy has retreated back into privacy. And if there’s one thing on which political spectators agree, it’s that she is unlikely to rush to repeat the experience.

“After the beating that she took, a sane person would not want to subject themselves to that,” said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College.

Her campaign for an appointment to the senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton started with a halting rollout and ended this past week in a spectacular implosion — marred at the end by accusations leveled by someone close to the governor.

Kennedy is telling friends she won’t be stepping away from the public sphere entirely, although it remains unclear what path she might take. Rumors abound that, given her early endorsement of now-President Barack Obama, she could land a federal appointment.

In a matter of months, America’s dominant image of the daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy was transformed from that of the adorable little girl riding a pony on the White House lawn to that of someone more complicated — a woman who remained connected to her father’s Camelot legend but who was now forging a bumpy public path of her own.

She drew fire throughout her campaign. Critics questioned her experience and accused her of profiting off her family name. She was attacked for declining to answer questions, then was lampooned for giving interviews replete with conversational fillers such as “um” and “you know.”

Some accused her of not explaining clearly enough why she wanted the job, while others worried she seemed ill at ease under the spotlight and questioned if she could win election to the seat in 2010.

Friends and supporters maintained that the 51-year-old Kennedy was driven by a passion for public service. They argued that the unconventional path she had followed allowed her to build a resume as a fundraiser, mediator and legal thinker — all skills they said would help her excel on Capitol Hill.

Kennedy herself cited her “relationships” in Washington, and supporters believed her friendship with Obama and her closeness with her uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, would smooth her way. Associates said her verbal glitches had never gotten in the way of her reputation as a brilliant mind and gifted writer.

But early Thursday, she confirmed she had dropped out of contention, and on Friday Gov. David Paterson announced he was appointing Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand — a little-known Democrat from a rural upstate district — as Clinton’s successor.

Kennedy’s decision to withdraw played out messily Wednesday over hours of conflicting accounts in which she apparently wavered in her determination to win the seat, ending with a terse, one-sentence e-mail to reporters after midnight in which she cited “personal reasons” for her withdrawal.

On Thursday, a person close to the governor claimed she was facing possible tax and “nanny” problems, and there were media rumors that her marriage was on the rocks. A Kennedy spokesman complained that the mudslinging demeaned what had been a fair process.

The governor eventually said in a statement that no candidate had been disqualified by vetting.

The bitter back-and-forth caused at least short-term damage to Kennedy’s image — and may have reflected even more poorly on Paterson.

One Kennedy friend involved with the process said later that Kennedy had a “minor issue with a nanny” that the governor’s staff reviewed and found to be irrelevant. The friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, also said Kennedy had a minor, $615 city tax lien that she settled in 1994 and no other tax problems.

The friend, who’s been speaking with her nearly daily in recent weeks, said Kennedy had expressed a desire to continue looking “for ways to serve.”

“She would like to serve in some capacity, but it’s a little too fresh to know what that capacity might be,” the friend said.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Friday he had spoken to Kennedy and was sorry she wouldn’t be taking the New York seat, which once was held by another Kennedy uncle, Robert F. Kennedy.

“I think she really was put in a very difficult position, almost impossible one, but she’ll go on to do terrific things,” he said. “She just made a personal decision for a number of reasons this is not the right way to do it and it’s not the moment to do it, and I can understand that.”

Kerry even speculated that she might still one day run for office.

That would shock Muzzio, after what he called “the trashing that she’s suffering from the Paterson folks.” But Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll, said Kennedy could still have a shot.

“She would have to regroup, but people have come back from worse,” he said.

The longer she waits, the more the power of the Kennedy mystique will fade, argued Rutgers University politics professor Ross Baker, who noted that few younger voters feel the Camelot-era pull toward her family.

“The Kennedy appeal has become kind of quaint,” he said.

If Kennedy returns permanently to private life, she could continue her fundraising work on behalf of New York City’s public schools or move into an under-the-radar advisory role, akin to the job she had as a member of Obama’s vice presidential search team.

But Kennedy has long acted as one of the primary tenders of her family legacy — writing and editing books that have helped to keep alive the Kennedy mystique and working to guide family efforts such as the selection of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award winners. With that history and her professed passion for contributing to political and social change, she may not be willing to fade into the background.

Writers for The Washington Post and at least one British newspaper wondered whether she might follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Many have suggested Obama might offer such a post or another appointment in part out of gratitude for her endorsement during the Democratic primary contest, which came at a key moment in his showdown with Clinton.


Associated Press Writer Glen Johnson contributed to this report from Boston.

I’ll be very sorry and disappointed if this is the end of Kennedy’s political career.  Remember, even though I opposed her appointment to the Senate, I supported her running for the office in 2010 all along, and I think it’s especially important and viable now that the Senator-select is a moderate.  Kennedy could very well run to Gillibrand’s left and I think she should go for it.


Incumbent: Ken Salazar

Reason for vacancy: To be appointed as Secretary of the Interior

Next regularly scheduled election for the seat: November 2010

Designated replacement: Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael F. Bennet (D)

My pick: No definite pick; as always, prefer a caretaker

Comments: As always, I support whoever would be a caretaker.  Of the names that have been floated, none I know of would be a caretaker.  As for the 2010 election, I’ve heard good things about most of the usual suspects: Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D), Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D), Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO-7) and – the most liberal potential candidate – Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO-1).  Two lesser-profile candidates who could be even stronger liberals are State Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald (D-16), who lost a primary race for the House seat being vacated by Senator-elect Mark Udall, and Mike Miles, a school superintendant in Colorado Springs, who lost a primary race in 2004 for this very Senate seat.  The one candidate I would oppose for this seat is Salazar’s brother, Rep. John Salazar (D-CO-3), who is just as (if not more) moderate as Ken.  Not only would we get another weak moderate Salazar in the Senate seat, but we’d probably lose John’s Republican-leaning House seat to boot.

JANUARY 17 2009 UPDATE: The good news is that John Salazar is not the Senator-designate.  The bad news is that the Senator-designate is little-known Superintendent of Denver Public Schools Michael F. Bennet, a 44-year old who will run for reelection in 2010.  Not a caretaker.  What’s more is that, in the vaguest terms, he’s a “centrist” like the man who appointed him, Governor Bill Ritter (D).  Will there be a competitive primary?  As with all these seats, I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath for it.

My hope is that caretakers will be appointed in all these states so we’ll have competitive elections in 2010, but, failing that, I hope ambitious contenders who were passed over for appointments will have the guts and smarts to run anyway in 2010, especially if the appointees are dismayingly moderate.

Post-Election 2008 Senate Races

<img style=”visibility:hidden;width:0px;height:0px;” border=0 width=0 height=0 src=”*xJmx*PTEyMjk5NDcwNjA3MzQmcHQ9MTIyOTk*NzA2NDAxNSZwPTQ1Nzk*MiZkPXRyaWJ1bmVBbWF6b24mZz*yJnQ9Jm89M2NmMjRjZWMzZGUzNDQwZDhiNzdjYzEwZmZlYTliMDE=.gif&#8221; />

December 16 2008 Note: The core text of this entry is finished but the links and pictures are not yet in place.  I plan to put them in over the course of the next few days.


December 17 2008 Update: All done!


There were four undecided U.S. Senate races after Election Day.  Two of them, in Oregon and Alaska, were decided in favor of the challenging Democrats once the votes had been counted.


The third, in Georgia, required a runoff between incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss (R) and challenger Jim Martin (D).  A runoff is required if no candidate reaches 50 percent.  Sadly, Chambliss had “only” some 49.95 percent.  I was hopeful that we could win this race because now that Barack Obama had already won his election, the resources, staff, money and attention that had previously been sucked up by his campaign could now flow undivided to Martin’s campaign and we could overwhelm and crush the Republicans.  Unfortunately, that was not to be, as Chambliss won the December 2 runoff by a stunning 57.5%-43.5%.


The fourth was the one I’ve been most invested in: Minnesota.  Liberal hero and the man I want the most to become a U.S. Senator Al Franken was locked in an incredibly tight race with incumbent slimeball Senator Norm Coleman (R) for the seat once occupied by liberal titans such as Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and my political hero Paul Wellstone.  Coleman has been polluting this seat with his do-nothing, care-for-nothing crony conservatism and we need Franken’s brand of openly pro-government liberalism in the Senate.



Norm Coleman (left) and Al Franken (right).  Source:


On Election Night I watched the results of this contest with nail-biting nervousness, as the early returns showed a virtual tie, with Coleman slightly ahead of Franken and Independence Party candidate former Senator Dean Barkley.  Coleman finished ahead by some 700 votes on Election Night, which amounted to something like 0.04% of the vote and mandated an automatic recount.  Over the next day that lead dwindled first to some 400 votes, then to some 300 votes.  It continued to fluctuate as more counties reported in and some counties that had already reported in corrected their totals for mistakes in counting or addition.  Finally, about two weeks after Election Day when the first count was finished, the Coleman lead had settled at 215 votes.


Then began the high drama as the manual recount began.  Since each campaign could challenge the other’s votes – that is, disagree with what the ballot judges decided as they counted each ballot – both campaigns could theoretically reduce the other side’s totals by challenging – legitimately or otherwise – their votes, since challenged ballots were not counted for either side but placed in a third pile.  So for example, if an election judge looks at a ballot and sees that the vote is obviously for Coleman, but there’s some stray mark or some other random crap near Franken’s name, the Franken campaign can say, hey that’s for Franken, and the ballot will go to neither camp but rather to the third pile, and vice versa for Coleman challenging Franken’s votes.  And those challenged ballots will be decided by a five-member election canvassing board in a process that starts… today, December 16.  This process gives both campaigns an incentive to challenge like crazy the other side’s totals and drive their numbers down so that they can look like they’re winning in the official numbers.  And challenge away they did – 6 000 challenges total, with the Coleman campaign challenging somewhat more than Franken’s.  Both campaigns have withdrawn some of their challenges since then, but it’s still high and many of them are frivolous.  Some, though, are not, as some of Minnesota’s voters found a way to make life hard for these ballot judges.  The Star Tribune published some examples of crazy ballots here.

The ability to reduce the numbers of the other side through challenges made it difficult to gauge who will end up winning in the end.  When the recount finally finished on December 5, it showed Coleman ahead by 192 votes.  However, two factors tilt in favor of Franken emerging as the ultimate victor.  First, Coleman has challenged more votes than Franken, and from what I’ve seen some of their challenges are really ridiculous.  Supposedly Coleman challenged a bunch of ballots where the voters had voted for Franken while at the same time voting for John McCain for President, on the grounds that, you know, there’s no way a person could vote for Franken and McCain, cuz, you know, that doesn’t make any sense…yeah.  The second factor is that most challenged ballots are challenged because they’re messed up, and most messed up ballots are that way because the voter is a first-time voter, or they don’t understand English, or they’re elderly.  Those voters tend to break towards Democrats and towards Franken.  So there’s a good chance that Franken will come out ahead with the challenged ballots.


There are two more X-factors to consider here.  First, hundreds of legitimately completed absentee ballots have been rejected for administrative or clerical errors.  The Franken campaign has been pushing to get those ballots counted.  It’s very possible that those ballots will break towards Franken.  Second, one precinct in Minneapolis has apparently lost 133 ballots, which counted as a net 46 votes for Franken in the first Election Day count.  As of this writing those ballots have still not been found.  On December 12, the state canvassing board decided to not only recommend the absentee ballots be counted, but that the +46 votes for Franken from the missing Minneapolis ballots would stay in place if they couldn’t find the ballots and recount them.  Both were victories for the Franken campaign.


The Franken campaign did its own internal count, where they assumed that every challenge will be rejected; that is, the canvassing board will agree with the original ballot judges in the recount in deciding who gets each vote.  Considering that most of the challenges are frivolous and the ballot judges got it right the first time in most cases, this seems like the best assumption to make.  Assuming that the +46 from the missing ballots stays in place, which the canvassing board has decided it will, the Franken campaign has claimed that it’s now ahead by 4 votes, a stunningly slim margin, but one in the right direction.


The canvassing board starts deciding on the challenged ballots today, and it could take anywhere from several days to several weeks.  Hopefully things turn out in favor of Franken, who I’m rooting hard for to win.  Personally, I hope Franken does win by 4 votes – it’d be a hilariously sweet victory.

DECEMBER 18 2008 UPDATE: With the Canvassing Board going through the Coleman challenges to Franken’s ballots, Coleman’s lead has dwindled to five votes.  Five.  And more will be counted tomorrow, surely putting Franken in the lead.  I’ll enjoy seeing Franken’s face replacing Coleman’s on the Strib’s Senate webpage.


Also, interesting little tidbit from the Strib:


One Bemidji voter blackened the oval for Franken, but also put an X through the oval and scribbled “Lizard People” on the write-in line. The board ruled twice Wednesday that writing in a person in addition to marking another oval cancels out the vote.

” ‘Lizard People’ is not a genuine write-in” because there’s no such person, argued Marc Elias, Franken’s lead recount attorney.

Wait a minute, said Chief Justice Eric Magnuson. “You don’t know that there’s not someone named ‘Lizard People.’ You don’t.”

“You’re right, you don’t know,” chimed in Coleman recount attorney Tony Trimble.

“Isn’t ‘People’ plural? How can you have an individual named ‘People?’ ” asked Ramsey County District Judge Edward Cleary, a board member.

“I think it’s silly too, but we have to judge on the face of the ballot,” Magnuson said.

“If someone wants to make a statement of some sort, they may not get their vote counted,” Ramsey County Chief District Judge Kathleen Gearin said.

Elias: “If we think it’s just a statement, then I think it’s [a vote for Franken].”

Trimble: “We know that ‘People’ can be a surname. And ‘Lizard’ can be a nickname.”

The board finally sided with Trimble and declared it an overvote, not a vote for Franken.

The voter who did this is probably laughing their ass off right now. As am I.

I love watching this recount.

DECEMBER 18 2008 UPDATE II: Okay I’m not really laughing anymore.  I actually looked into this rejected “Lizard People” ballot and at the vibrant discussion over at Nate Silver’s, which ranks with Daily Kos as my favorite blogs.


Okay, first off, here’s the ballot in question:


As you can see the voter wrote in “Lizard People” for both Senator and for President.  However, for President he actually bubbled in the write-in oval, whereas for Senate he left Lizard People unbubbled and bubbled in Franken instead.  In both cases the bubbles were also X-ed out, showing that the Xs through the bubbles are not meant to mean “I’m crossing this vote out”, but rather that it’s his particular style of bubbling in things.


As stated in the earlier update the canvassing board rejected this ballot because the write-in vote counted as a second vote, even though the bubble was not filled in.  And two votes for the same office means that you throw out the vote.


The board did rule consistently with its previous rulings, but my dispute with the board is that I think a failed write-in vote should not override or spoil a legitimate vote.  I see no reason why a write-in vote that’s not bubbled in somehow means that it’s another vote in addition to a legitimate vote.  Rather, I agree with the interpretation of some, that if there’s a write-in name, but the bubble is not filled in, and then there’s a name that DOES have the bubble filled in (which is the case here), then the voter’s intent was to present the write-in name as an option, but ultimately decide to vote for another option.  In other words, the voter here is saying, “Lizard People ought to be a candidate for U.S. Senate, and I support Lizard People’s place on the ballot, but I’m not voting for Lizard People; I’m voting for Franken.”


This is actually the very explanation that’s presented by Lucas Davenport, who has come out and identified himself as the voter who submitted the ballot in question.  Davenport lays out his position on the U.S. Senate race very clearly:


I had first written in lizard people on all of the write ins. I then went through and X’ed all the ovals for which I intended my vote, and then blackened them all in. So, yes, I intended to vote for Franken. I had no idea that a write in was an automatic vote. I assumed you still had to fill in the oval for the scanning machine to read the vote. I left “Lizard People” blank intentionally.


This confirms my interpretation, that Davenport offered Lizard People as a choice but NOT his choice.  Get it? (It also supports my interpretation that crossing out his bubbles is his way of doing things.) Unfortunately, there’s no way (that I know of) to prove that this Davenport is for sure the guy who voted on this ballot.


So if I were on the Canvassing Board, here would be the way I count votes.


Wrote in a name but did NOT bubble it in, and DID bubble in someone else: The write-in is only an endorsement of the option of that person, not an endorsement of that person themself.  Vote goes to the person that’s bubbled in.


Wrote in a name and DID bubble it in, and DID bubble in someone else: That’s a double vote – an overvote – and should be thrown out.


Wrote in a name and DID bubble it in, and did NOT bubble in someone else: That’s a vote for the write-in.


Wrote in a name and did NOT bubble it in, and did NOT bubble in someone else: That’s a vote for the write-in.


Why does a write-in vote with no bubble count if there’s no other bubble, but it doesn’t count if there is another bubble?  Because I believe that voting errors are usually unintentional.  People do not take the time and energy to go to the polling place or fill out an absentee ballot and then deliberately fuck up their vote so it won’t be counted.  If they are determined to cast a fucked-up vote, they would do so by filling in both ovals as I indicated above.  But if they write in a name with no bubble, and do NOT vote for anyone else, chances are they really want that one write-in vote to count rather than making it a throw-away vote, and they left the bubble unfilled by accident.


That doesn’t apply so well if there’s one bubble filled and one write-in bubble unfilled.  If you make that count as a double vote you’re essentially arguing that the person “forgot” to fuck up their vote by voting for two people.  I can imagine someone walking out of the polling place going, “Shit, I forgot to fill in the bubble next to Lizard People; now it won’t count!  Oh no!”  It’s harder for me to imagine someone going, “Shit, I forgot to fill in two bubbles for the same office and fuck up my vote.  Now my vote will actually be counted instead of being laughed at by the whole country and then thrown into the garbage!  OH THE HORRORS!!!”  If the person did intend to deliberately fuck up and overvote, they probably would have done so by filling in both ovals, because deliberately overvoting is a more thought-intensive process than inadvertently undervoting.  That is to say, it’s a lot easier to fuck up voting the right way than to fuck up voting the wrong way.  Or, in other words, it’s easier to make a mistake than to make a mistake in trying to make a mistake.  Usually people who are determined to make a mistake are pretty careful and deliberate in doing so.


So with the Lizard People ballot, you could interpret it two ways.  One is the interpretation that I hold: that the voter wanted the option of Lizard People (or was going to vote for Lizard People) but ultimately chose Franken instead.  The other is that the voter wanted to vote for both Franken and Lizard People but forgot to fill in the Lizard People’s bubble, and yet somehow remembered to fill in Franken’s.  You could argue that the voter bubbled in Franken and then changed his mind and wanted to vote for Lizard People but forgot to bubble in, but then wouldn’t he have crossed out Franken’s name first?  Or is he that absentminded?


Remember, the goal of the canvassing board is to determine the voter’s INTENT.  Overvotes are thrown out because the intent cannot be determined.  In this case there are three possible intentions.  One, he wanted the option of Lizard People (or was going to vote for Lizard People before changing his mind) but ultimately chose Franken.  Two, he was going to vote for Franken but then switched to Lizard People, and forgot to cross out Franken and forgot to fill in the bubble.  Three, he intended to overvote and fucked up by not filling in Lizard People’s bubble.  Which of these three intentions do you think is the most likely?


Consequently, let’s look at the results from the voter’s point of view if the ballot were to be awarded to Franken.  One, voter wanted to vote for Franken and vote ends up for Franken.  Two, voter wanted to vote for Lizard People (who has no realistic chance of winning this election anyway, and probably does not even exist) and vote ends up for Franken.  Three, voter wanted to have his vote rejected and failed, with his vote ending up for Franken.  Which of these three outcomes do you think is the most fair to the voter?  You could argue that the third outcome is unfair because now his vote will go to Franken, whom he may not like, instead of getting thrown out.  But if he took the time to fill in Franken’s bubble on his way to fucking up the ballot, that shows that at least Franken was a second choice.  It’s not like Coleman or Barkley got any honor or recognition in this glorious process of screwing up the vote.


So in conclusion, I would have ruled that the “Lizard People” write-in was just an option, not a vote, and thus there is no overvote and the ballot should be awarded to Franken.  God I wish I were on the Canvassing Board.

DECEMBER 22 2008 UPDATE: On Friday December 19 Franken finally pulled ahead of Coleman, finishing the day – and the resolution of all the disputed ballots – 251 votes ahead of Coleman.


Today the withdrawn challenges will be reallocated to the respective campaigns, and be either counted for Franken or Coleman or tossed out as bad votes.  The Franken campaign at this point predicts, using the same methodology that predicted a lead of four votes, that when all the reallocations are through, Franken will be ahead by 35 to 50 votes, which amounts to a 31 to 46 vote improvement over its previous calculation (or 31 to 46 successful challenges?).  We’ll see how things turn out.


But the process isn’t over yet.  The campaigns will still have to sort through disputed “blue folder” ballots, supposedly double-counted ballots, and 1 600 uncounted absentee ballots.  And after that, legal challenges.  It’ll be a rough ride but things look better for Franken than ever before.


And now, here’s a handy Star-Tribune widget that tracks the changes and news in the Senate drama.  I will also post the widget at the top of this entry.


<img style=”visibility:hidden;width:0px;height:0px;” border=0 width=0 height=0 src=”*xJmx*PTEyMjk5NDcwNjA3MzQmcHQ9MTIyOTk*NzA2NDAxNSZwPTQ1Nzk*MiZkPXRyaWJ1bmVBbWF6b24mZz*yJnQ9Jm89M2NmMjRjZWMzZGUzNDQwZDhiNzdjYzEwZmZlYTliMDE=.gif&#8221; />

DECEMBER 22 2008 UPDATE II: The widget is not working as I hoped it would.  I’ll leave the embed codes in place (to show where they would have gone) but I’ve had success using the Star-Tribune’s actual Xanga upload tool.  Unfortunately, that tool creates a new Xanga entry.  I’ll put it up later today.

DECEMBER 24 2008 UPDATE: The withdrawn challenges have been appropriately allocated, leaving Franken with a diminished but still definitive 46 vote lead.  With the two campaigns having to hash out the details on how to count absentee ballots and a meeting to decide on the absentee ballots scheduled for January 5, this race will for sure not be wrapped up until well into the new year, most likely after the new Senate convenes on January 6.


Would Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty be able to appoint someone to the vacant Senate seat until a winner is certified?  Probably not, as the Senate seat is a temporary vacancy and not likely to be considered in need of an appointed replacement.

DECEMBER 28 2008 UPDATE: Okay, the blasted Star-Tribune widget is not working.  Well, I tried.

DECEMBER 28 2008 UPDATE II: Looks like I spoke too soon.  Behold, the Senate recount widget!

JANUARY 21 2009 UPDATE: This will probably be the last update in awhile.  Franken ended the recount with a 225 vote lead following the counting of disputed absentee ballots.  Coleman can now only gamble on winning a court challenge that pins his hopes of undoing Franken’s lead on supposed double-counted ballots and cherry-picked absentee ballots, among a few other random things.  Eric Kleefeld of TPM helpfully outlined the main Coleman arguments and shows us that the Coleman case is ridiculously thin, and unlikely to succeed both in court and in putting Coleman over the top.  And it’s ironic that the same Coleman who called on Franken to concede ASAP to “start the healing process” is now talking about how “reaching the best conclusion is never quick because speed is not the first objective, fairness is”.


Many liberals have been calling on Coleman to drop his futile challenge and concede.  I do not do the same, however, because I think, and I’ve always thought, that everyone should get their day in court.  Coleman is entitled to pressing his case in court, the same way Franken would be if he were on the losing end (and it was pretty much expected all along that whoever came out of the recount behind would go to court).  And I agree with Coleman (the current edition of Coleman, that is): the election process should be thoroughly reviewed with a fine comb so that in the end, as Minnesota’s Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty put it, “the court process will allow … everybody to say every stone was turned over, and… then [we] have more confidence in the result.”


Should Franken have been seated provisionally with the rest of the new Senators on January 6?  Minnesota law says that the new Senator can only be seated after all the legal challenges have played out, so no.  And I think that law does make sense, and that’s how I prefer it; I’d rather not see people seated until the dark cloud of lawsuits and challenges have been cleared from over their heads.  But if that’s the case, then Senator Coleman – or, I should say, former Senator Coleman – should be held by the same rules.  After all, Coleman’s term officially expired on January 3, at which point he was a Senator no more.


So whoever wins this, does not get to be seated on the 6th, but does their seniority get retroactively dated back to then?  I do think that things should be equal – if one of them gets to be retroactively “sworn in” on the 6th, then both of them should be.  That said, I think that the fairer thing to do is to have their seniority start at whatever date they’re sworn in.  I realize that Franken would be at the back of the pack, but it’d be even worse for Coleman – because there would be a break in his service from January 3 2009 to whatever date he’s sworn in, he would be going from number 67 to number 100.  Well, that sucks for them, but I don’t think that Senators should get retroactive seniority.

JANUARY 28 2009 UPDATE: One of the memes that’s been circulating around in the midst of the recount drama is that Coleman would have been a sure-fire loser in this race against most Democrats, and was only spared from a decisive defeat because his opponent was a joke named Al Franken.  Coleman himself has regurgitated that conventional wisdom, which seems a little odd as he’s on the losing end of a 225-vote difference between him and Franken.  While I agree that Franken was probably less well-received than a more generic Democrat would have been (through no fault of his own; the voting public is often simply narrow-minded and hesitant to accept any candidate outside of the usual lawyer), the idea that Coleman was a sure-fire loser seems a little overdone.  It should be noted that early polls gave other Democratic contenders about the same or less strength against Coleman as Franken had.  While those results would have surely narrowed as the general election went on, it’s difficult to confidently predict that another contender would have done better against Coleman.


Moreover, Coleman is, as Franken put it, “politically agile”, and in terms of being a politician he’s shown himself to have some fairly impressive skills, especially in terms of being a conniving, two-faced snake-oil salesman – an important ability to have as a politician.  In advance of the 2008 election he was already shifting towards the center to distance himself from President George W. Bush after having been Bush’s right-hand man in the Senate for the previous four years.  And the effort was apparently working, as many Minnesotans didn’t necessarily see Coleman as a hard-right Bush acolyte (even though he was), but as more of a “moderate, bipartisan Senator” – a bunch of hooey, as Coleman is and always has been a political animal who’ll go wherever he needs to go to keep or get a job.  And, having said that, I for one think that Coleman was a formidable incumbent to knock off, no matter who his Democratic opponent was. (Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) was another agile moderate (though his centrist leanings were probably more genuine than Coleman’s) who was a difficult one to defeat, losing to Democrat Jeff Merkley by 2 percent in a state that gave some 57 percent of the vote to Barack Obama).


Having said all that, it’s remarkable how pathetic a career Coleman has had, even as he’s used his political cunning to build and sustain it.  He served as Mayor of St. Paul for two terms, his remarkable political skills being put to use when he was able to win reelection in the heavily Democratic city after switching parties to become a Republican.  He then lost a gubernatorial race in 1998 to a rather uncouth professional wrestler, before running in 2002 for the U.S. Senate against liberal icon (and my political hero) Senator Paul Wellstone.  Wellstone looked like he was on his way to a narrow victory over Coleman before dying in a plane crash less than two weeks before Election Day.  His replacement, former Vice President Walter Mondale, also looked like he was going to triumph over Coleman before Wellstone’s memorial ceremony was used as an election controversy, arguably leading to Coleman’s narrow victory over Mondale.  And now it appears he has lost (narrowly) to a professional comedian, which presumably would be the end of Coleman’s political career.


One other thing.  Coleman has defended his new job with the Republican Jewish Coalition as a way to pay the bills, since he’s not in the “millionaire’s club in the Senate”.  What he’s left unsaid is that he needs money and lots of it, not only to pay for his election contest but also to prepare for his defense against possible corruption charges.  Life is not fun for Norm Coleman right now.

JULY 7 2009 UPDATE: Well, the Minnesota Senate race is over and Al Franken is now officially the junior United States Senator from the great state of Minnesota.  Norm Coleman has for the second time lost an election to an untraditional politician widely considered to be a joke, and hopefully his political career will be over now (though I wouldn’t be surprised if he staged a rematch against Franken in 2014).


Senator Franken should be a potent force for liberalism in the Senate, following in the footsteps of his friend and our shared political hero, the great Paul Wellstone – whose seat Franken now holds and who Franken has already shown signs of wanting to emulate.  The significance of his presence is not the much over-hyped 60th Democratic vote – we don’t need 60 Democratic votes, we need 60 liberal votes.  And though we don’t have that (yet), we can definitely count on Al Franken to be one of them – his solid liberal credentials, much like Wellstone’s, were one of the main reasons why I so strongly supported his Senate bid.  And perhaps even more important is the liberal voice that he will bring to the Senate – a voice that can help inspire and push forward the liberal movement in this country and ensure that politics, as Wellstone and now Franken puts it, improves people’s lives.


Congratulations, Senator Franken!


Oh, and haha, sucks to be you Bill!

November 4 2008 General Election

On November 4 2008 at around 530 PM, I voted in the General Election at the Costa Verde apartment complex’s business center.  Here’s how I voted.


President and Vice President: Barack Obama/Joe Biden.  See details here and here.  Result: WON 52.9%-45.7%


United States Representative, 53rd District: Susan A. Davis.  No complaints with her as of yet.  Result: WON 68.5%-27.5%


State Senator, 39th District: Christine Kehoe.  Again, no complaints.  Result: WON 65.2%-31.3%


Member of the State Assembly, 75th District: Darren Kasai.  I hadn’t done any research on this race so this was one where I just voted for the Democrat.  Result: LOST 52.3%-41.6%


San Diego Community College District Member, Board of Trustees Districts B and D; San Diego Unified School District Member, Board of Education Districts A, D, and E; City of San Diego City Attorney:  I abstained from all of these races from lack of knowledge and interest.


City of San Diego Member, City Council, District No. 1: Sherri S. Lightner.  She’s a Democrat and had worked with the College Democrats at UCSD a number of times so I voted for her.  Result: WON 51.9%-48.1%


Proposition 1A: Would issue bonds to create a high-speed railway connecting Northern and Southern California.  I voted Yes because such infrastructure projects are important.  Result: Yes 52.3%-47.7%


Proposition 2: Would create requirements for more ethical treatment of farm animals.  I voted Yes because such better treatment for farm animals is long overdue and is the right thing to do.  Result: Yes 63.2%-36.8%


Proposition 3: Would issue bonds that would go towards children’s hospitals.  I voted Yes because, well, children’s hospitals are great!  Result: Yes 54.8%-45.2%


Proposition 4: Would require parental notification for abortion for minors.  This shit again?  I voted No on this before because all women regardless of age should have a right to privacy if they elect to have an abortion, and because government should not be the one to get involved in such private matters.  For those reasons I voted No again.  Result: No 52.2%-47.8%


Proposition 5: Would increase funding for drug rehabilitation programs and lower penalties on nonviolent drug offenses.  I voted Yes because it’s time for us to stop treating drug addiction as a “crime” and more like what it really is: a (potential) health problem.  Result: No 60%-40%


I will discuss this in a future entry.

Proposition 6: Would increase spending for police and prison programs.  I voted Yes because more spending on police is necessary.  Result: No 69.4%-30.6%


Proposition 7: Would require government-owned utilities to generate a certain percentage of their energy from renewables by 2010 and raise requirements for all utilities for 2020 and 2025.  This was the hardest measure, and the last measure, for me to decide on.  I voted No because of the proviso that utility companies can recover the additional costs of renewable from consumers by up to 10 percent.  I definitely would have voted for this proposition had that proviso not been there, but looking back on it now, I think that even with that 10 percent allowance I maybe could have/should have voted Yes on this prop.  I was very unsure about this one.  Result: No 65%-35%


Proposition 8: Would change the California Constitution to eliminate the right for same-sex couples to marry.  I voted No because I’ve been a longtime advocate of marriage equality.  Result: Yes 52.3%-47.7%


I will discuss this in a future entry.


Proposition 9: Would increase the role of the victim in parole and bail processes for the criminal.  I could barely understand it so I abstained.  Result: Yes 53.4%-46.6%


Proposition 10: Would help consumers buy alternative energy vehicles and increase research funding for alternative energy.  I voted Yes since I support alternative energy and this seemed like a no-brainer.  Result: No 59.9%-40.1%


Proposition 11: Would assign redistricting responsibilities to a commission selected from registered voters.  I still felt a little guilty at having voted against Prop. 77 in 2005 and I still think that reform in redistricting is very important.  I figured that this time, with the changes in redistricting being at the hands of a commission of voters, meticulously selected through multiple applicant pools, it would be fairly safe and on the level, or as much so as is possible, so I voted Yes.  Result: Yes 50.8%-49.2%


Proposition 12: Would issue bonds to help veterans purchase homes and farms.  This seemed like a no-brainer to me; I voted Yes.  Result: Yes 63.4%-36.6%


Proposition A: Would raise taxes and establish a new agency that specializes in preventing and stopping wildfires.  I voted Yes because I thought this was very important and necessary, especially given the recent wildfires that have devastated San Diego County.  Result: No 63.25%-36.75%


I will discuss this in a future entry.


Proposition B: Would allow for development at the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal.  I didn’t feel that I understood this issue well enough so I abstained.  Result: No 70.39%-29.61%


Proposition C: Would require excess revenue raised from Mission Bay to be used on improving Mission Bay and various other specific city parks and beaches.  I voted No because while I think money for parks and Mission Bay is important, I don’t believe in locking in funding requirements by law.  Result: Yes 67.01%-32.99%


Proposition D: Would permanently ban alcohol consumption at city beaches.  I strongly opposed this measure and voted No because I think that alcohol is a scapegoat and this measure was, quite bluntly, anti-freedom.  Instead of clamping down on people’s liberty, target those who would abuse it by spending more on police programs (hence, my Yes vote for Proposition 6).  Result: Yes 52.62%-47.38%


I will discuss this in a future entry.


Proposition S: Would spend more money on fixing schools.  A no-brainer Yes to me.  Result: Yes 68.49%-31.51%


I will discuss the results of Props. 5, 8, A and D in future entries.

Some More Thoughts on Joe Lieberman

A smiling Joe Lieberman can be seen in the back and to the right of Harry Reid.  Source: thaddeus74 of Daily Kos

I have a few more things to say about the Lieberman case.


First, instead of making this a vote on whether Lieberman should be the Homeland Security Committee chairman or not, why don’t we simply have a competitive election for the position?  House Democrats just decided in an election who they wanted as their Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, replacing longtime committee overlord Rep. John Dingell (D-MI-15) with the more aggressively liberal Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA-30).  Why can’t we have that same kind of election in the Senate, where Lieberman will defend his seat in a competitive election?  That’s not retribution; that’s democracy.


Second, I keep seeing on the blogs this curt “I trust Obama and whatever he does” (sometimes with the addendum “and you’re just some loser nerd in his mom’s basement, so what do you know”) argument, as if Obama supported Lieberman and Obama = God, so we should just go along with whatever he says and thinks.  Remember when Britney Spears was ridiculed for her “I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know”?  Yeah, this isn’t much different.  I’ve been worried about the deification of Obama for some time, especially among the younger (i.e. my age) voters that overwhelmingly supported him – do my fellow young voters even know what he stands for, or do they just back him because it’s the cool thing to do? (This is not a knock purely directed at young voters; I suspect there are many voters of all ages that support Obama simply because it’s “trendy”.) Needless to say, Obama is not God, he does not know all, what he says and thinks isn’t always right and we as voters should not only think for our own goddamn selves, but we should be vigilant in holding Obama – and all our elected officials – accountable and make sure he does what he promised to do, and NOT nod our heads dumbly at every judgment he makes.  That includes the Lieberman case, where his comments in regards to Lieberman staying in the Democratic caucus – NOT in regards to keeping his chairmanship, I must point out – were taken as if the words of God himself were spoken to us.  Give me a fucking break.  If I wanted to be a mindless yes-man who nods dumbly at every word the President speaks I would’ve become a Republican.

DECEMBER 7 2008 UPDATE: Added the picture.