Governing in Divided Government

The pre-primary season is winding down and the primary season is upon us. The field of candidates will now start dwindling a little faster than it has over the past year. There have been numerous televised debates, town halls, campaign rallies, and new stories.

We have heard countless questions from moderators and from voters themselves. But in all this time, there has been one question that I have not heard asked that should be asked of every candidate that is running. How do they plan to govern with the other side?

independent2It essentially doesn’t matter which candidate wins the presidential election in November when it comes to this simple question. It all hinges on the Senate. Regardless if the winning candidate’s party is in control of the chamber, the opposition will still have enough to invoke the filibuster. And there is the possibility that the opposition could be in control of the chamber as well. Neither side will have a filibuster-proof majority.

Partisan divisiveness has gotten worse in the past several years. We have seen what happens when neither side want to work together and instead just point fingers. This goes for the halls of the Capitol and the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

We need candidates that are willing to step up and acknowledge that in divided government it becomes necessary to govern with the other side and govern by that mentality. It cannot be an all-or-nothing approach. And it is up to us, the voters, to ensure this and to hold our elected officials accountable to it.

Presidential candidates will spout off promises and tell their voters what they want to hear. But when the dust settles, and we have a winner, then it’s an entirely new situation. They must figure out what they have in common and work through their differences keeping open communication the entire time.

A recent RCP poll average gives Congress a 14-percent approval rating. As we vote, we should remember that as well. We have repeatedly said that we are tired of brinkmanship and going from one crisis to another with only immediate fixes and not long-term solutions. The time has now come to elect candidates that can and will work together regardless of the ideological divide.

So how do the various candidates plan to govern with the other side? I guess we should start asking and find out.

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The Fight for the Senate: Who Will Win Control?

The main talk of the 2014 election has been which political party will control the Senate after the votes have been counted.  Democrats have been on defense throughout most of the country as President Obama’s approval rating has been low. So with just a little more than a week to go, where do I think the numbers will fall?

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Colored: Safe Seats; Gray: Toss-Ups

In this election cycle, Democrats have 38 seats that are safe or not up for reelection while Republicans have 42. So that is where my numbers start.

Democrats are projected to win the elections in Illinois (Durbin), Michigan, Minnesota (Franken), New Jersey (Booker), New Mexico (Udall), Oregon (Merkley), and Virginia (Warner).  Republicans are safe in the elections in Mississippi (Cochrane), South Dakota, and West Virginia.  This brings the total to 45-45 with 10 states that will determine the balance of the Senate.

In their latest forecast as of the time of writing this column, Nate Silver and those at fivethirtyeight.com give the Republicans a 62.1% chance of retaking the Senate.  The race is on for either side to grab 6 of the 10 toss-up seats.  It is going to be close, and it might just hinge on one thing we would not have predicted even 6-months ago.

It seems likely that Republicans will win seats currently held by Democrats in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, and Louisiana.  Though in Louisiana, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu will win on November 4, she will not cross the 50% threshold sending the top 2 into a run-off in December in which she will fall.  Republicans will also hold onto their seat in Kentucky.  This gives the GOP a total of 50 seats.

So what about the Democrats?  I believe they will hold onto their seats in New Hampshire and North Carolina.  I’ve watched over the polls of Colorado, and they have given me a headache just as they did during the 2012 election.  I will go out on a limb that Colorado will stay in the Democratic column but just barely.  There is still a state that was a surprise for this grouping.  Even a month ago, I had not included it here but my gut tells me to do so now.  Georgia.  Again, I believe this will be extremely close, but that the Democrat will come out on top.  Total for the Democrats… 49.

This leaves one seat remaining.  Republicans need it for control; Democrats need it for a tie with Vice-President Biden (Democrat) being the tie-breaker.  I hinted at this earlier, and it is Kansas.  As the election year started, Republicans saw Sen. Pat Roberts as a safe seat.  He had a tea-party challenge in the primary which he defeated.  He was being challenged by the Democrats and an Independent candidate Greg Orman.  Then the Democrat, basically seeing the writing on the wall, dropped out leaving only Orman to challenge Sen. Roberts.  The race has tightened up, but I’m predicting that Orman will pull off the upset and join Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) in the Senate.  So it will come down to where he caucuses: with the Republicans to give them majority, or with the Democrats to give them a tie (and thus majority off the tie-breaker).

My 2014 Prediction

My 2014 Prediction

This is how close it is going to be.  The Senate will be 50-50 or 51-49 Republican.  The Senate may need to learn how to compromise and function a little bit better with the chamber so evenly divided.  Despite all the polls and predictions, it will all still be determined by who shows up to vote.  So make sure to vote on November 4.

** This column is my sole opinion based off examining various polls.
** Special thanks to RealClearPolitics for allowing me to create my own map.

Reforming the Electoral College

The way we elect the President and Vice-President in the US is quite unique compared to the way we elect every other elected office.  We don’t elect them directly. Instead, we vote for Electors who then cast votes for President and Vice-President.

Electors from each state are supposed to cast their votes for whichever candidate won that state’s popular vote… “Winner Take All.”  Every once in awhile there is a rogue Elector that casts a different vote.  It doesn’t matter how many votes a candidate won the popular vote of a state, that candidate will receive all the Electoral Votes, except in the states of Nebraska and Maine which reward their votes based on whichever candidate won the congressional district.  The extra two votes are then given to the winner of the state’s popular vote.

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2 of the US Constitution

Only four times in American history has the Electoral Vote and the Popular Vote been different… 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000.  There have been numerous calls for Electoral reform since the 2000 election but nothing has gained a lot of attraction.  To completely abolish the Electoral College, there would have to be a constitutional amendment.  But to make changes to how those electors are awarded (without abolishing the Electoral College) could be easily done without changing the Constitution as each state has the right to determine how it rewards the Electors.

After the 2008 election, Republican legislatures in several states which did include several swing states like Virginia tried to change how their state’s would cast their ballots.  Their plan was similar to Nebraska and Maine but with a little tweak.  The Electors would be determined by whoever won the congressional districts.  The difference would lie in how the other two Electors (the ones that represent a state’s Senators) would be chose by whichever candidate won the most districts instead of the candidate that won the popular vote of the state.  This did not sit well with Democrats and nothing came from these plans in any of the states.

There is a movement that is gaining traction though.  It’s called the National Popular Vote (NPV).  This would require a state’s Electors to vote for whichever candidate won the national popular vote in an election.  This way the winner of the popular vote would not lose to the winner of the Electoral College as happened last in 2000.

As of now, 11-states plus DC have enacted NPV legislation. (The Hill) It accounts for 165 Electoral Votes in total so far and needs only 270 in order for it to become active in the states that have passed the legislation.  Of the states that have enacted such legislation, most of liberal-leaning such as Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, etc.

2012-Election-Results-by-CD

2012 Election Results by Congressional Districts

But as this new debate continues in other states, there is the question as to whether this is any better than the current system.  Each state is separate from the others.  The Founding Fathers wanted there to be state autonomy and unification under the federal government.  Each state gets to choose how it decides its Electors in the broader election.  But is it fair to have a state’s Electors cast their votes for a candidate that the people of that state didn’t choose simply because more voters throughout the rest of the country voted for the other candidate?

As of April 15, 2014, Oklahoma was one of a half-dozen states considering NPV legislation.  Can anyone imagine that state casting is Electoral Votes for a Democrat despite the people of the state voting for the Republican candidate in large numbers?  Oklahoma is one of the “reddest” states out there.

Yes, NPV is an effort to make sure that every vote counts and not just those in swing states as our current system does.  But it almost sounds as though the NPV would overrule a state who’s population disagreed with the popular vote.  And without most states (more than 270 Electoral Votes) being a part of this plan, it would focus all of the attention on to the states that do have such a law enacted should it become so.

According to a 2007 Washington Post Poll, 78% of Democrats support direct popular vote in future presidential elections.  60% of Republicans and 73% of Independents also support such a move.  But would a direct popular vote shift focus to the major cities and away from the rural areas since that is where the bulk of the population lives?

Maybe states should consider what Nebraska and Maine have.  Rewarding Electors by the popular vote of each congressional district and giving the candidate that wins the popular vote of the state the extra 2 votes.  Though it has only happened once in the two states that currently use this method (Nebraska-02 in 2008), most states have districts that swing in the opposite direction of a state’s typical Electoral Vote.  There are Republican districts in California and Democratic districts in Texas.  Suddenly, both parties would focus on those particular districts and any swing districts.

There is no definite answer to the solution to the way we elect our President and Vice-President.  There are pros and cons for any option.  We just need to make it as fair and balanced as possible so that the majority of Americans feel included in the political process and there is not a focus on just a handful of states.

Do Independent Voters Really Matter?

It’s 2014 and that means that it’s a midterm election year.  So that means that the two main parties will head to their respective corners and leave out nearly a third of Americans.

Throughout the primary process… especially the early primaries… candidates tend to move more toward their base so that they can win.  This is helped by the fact that the two main parties don’t want independent voters to have a say in who their candidates are.  This is usually left up to the states to decide for themselves, though.  It’s not until after the primaries are over that a candidate tries to center their message and attract the independent voter because most elections can’t be won without them.

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There are basically two types of independent voters.  The first type is the moderate voter that switches back and forth between the two parties.  The other type are the independent voters that can vote Democrat or Republican, but they also are willing to vote for third party and independent candidates.  They are not held down to the two-party belief that our political system has tried to force upon the voters. The latter group is where I’m placing my focus.  More and more Americans are starting to realize that there are other options out there and are fighting to get them equally included.

As the two main political parties become more polarized and more bent on just serving those voters that vote for them.  Those that exist in the middle find themselves left out.  Third party candidates (and independent candidates) are often left off out debates and are sometimes sued by the major parties in an effort to keep them off the ballot.

The mentality is the same for both Democrats and Republicans.  A vote for a third party candidate or an independent candidate is a wasted vote.  It’s a vote that could have gone to them.  And all one needs to do is to express their intent to vote for such a candidate to hear how much they have that thought in our mentality.

The two main parties still control the election process and are actually working together to keep it that way.  They want to make sure that the voters don’t really have a choice and that the political pendulum only swings two ways.

FACT:  Nearly 40% of people do not vote. This is because they feel left out and ignored.

But as the parties move farther and farther apart, the moderate and independents in the middle are getting left out and the country is losing because there aren’t any real debates or solutions.  It’s just the same stuff over and over again.  If the independents were to rally around one third party or independent candidate, they could make a real play at winning an election.

When it comes to a presidential election, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has imposed a 15% minimum in polls for a third party or independent candidate to be allowed into the debates.  This number was made higher after the 1992 presidential election in which Ross Perot had significant support and was included in the debates.  So now when complaints come in that other candidates aren’t included, the CPD just points to the rules.  What they aren’t telling the voters is that they don’t even include the other candidates in the polls.

Independent voters are constantly discussed when an election year comes around.  Even the media seems to talk about them nonstop.  The rest of the time, the parties and even the media could care less.  A question was posed this past Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos about who should be the guest of honor at the State of the Union address.  Political contributor Matthew Dowd said it best, “First Lady should have empty chair in her box at SOTU to represent millions of americans forgotten in dc.”

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So do independent voters really matter?  Of course they do in the general election.  They are the most prized votes to get.  But there is a saying. “If I’m not good enough to vote for your candidates in the primary, then I guess they don’t need my vote in the general election.”

Independent voters should listen to that saying.  They have more voter power these days than they realize.  If they were to unite and exercise their vote, they could shake up the election process.  If independents are the deciding vote in elections then maybe it’s time they make a different decision.  We really do have more than two options.

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