Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yet another political quiz

These are always a fun way to test whether you are in fact the ideologue you claim to be. If you want to take this and report back with comments, I'll try to post them.

- Click here for the quiz

Weekly Written Assignment #8 - 11 week class only

Since I'll be on the road, I thought I'd put a second assignment up. This one won't be due until 7/31.

GOVT 2305:

It's worth keeping in mind that in a democratic republic - where elections to public office are prominent and never ending - politics is never far behind anything. This includes the recent decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

On the surface, this case was just about whether a privately held corporation could withhold coverage of certain types of birth control it judges to violate the religious views of those who own the company. Looked at this way, the case was about religious freedom. But since it concerned the religious freedom to impose on birth control practices that many women commonly use, it is also about birth control.

Democrats see an electoral opportunity in this.

Women tend to vote slightly more Democrat than Republican - this is referred to as the gender gap. Since women use birth control more than men, the party sees an opportunity to mobilize women who may have otherwise sat out the upcoming election this November.This could be good news for Democrats because many had predicted the Republican Party was likely to control the U.S. Senate after the election and that Democrats had little chance of controlling the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrats apparently think that this focus on birth control, and the possibility that employers might be able to keep it off insurance plans, could tip the scales in their direction. Maybe they'll be able to hold on to the Senate - perhaps they can also take over the House.

Elections tend to be won by whichever side is the most mobilized, so they are trying to use this issue to do just that. In this assignment I want you to evaluate this strategy and determine whether it is likely to work. Will attention to birth control provide an electoral advantage to the Democratic Party in the elections this November?

Below I've posted a variety of stories that should get you going:

- Democrats Are in a Perilous Position in 2014 Senate Races.
- The 2014 Election Is the Least Important in Years.
How big could the GOP House majority get?
- Can birth control help Democrats keep the Senate?
- Dems Seek Political Edge in Contraception Ruling.
- Republicans Accuse Democrats of Using Hobby Lobby Fallout to ‘Score Election Year Points
- The data is brutal: the GOP has a real birth control problem.

GOVT 2306:

An area that I spend far too little time on - one of many to be honest - is conflict between the state and local governments in the state. Each session of the legislature features disputes over what the state is willing to allow local government to do - often this has to do with taxes and local regulations. Conflict between state and local power has been a central feature of Texas government since at least the end of Civil War when Republicans tried to use the power of the state to impose national principles on local governments. Local areas pushed back and the power of local governments is written in the constitution of 1876.

But remember that a key point made in the power points is that recognizing cities - and issuing city charters - is a power reserved to the states. Cities have no legal existence apart from states, though as a matter of fact, they do - especially the big ones like Houston. The states allows cities to function as cities, but cities have political cultures that make them distinct entities with policy preferences that are not necessarily in line with those of the Texas Legislature.

There are a variety of areas of disagreement between the state and cities. One that has come up recently concerns the consequences of hydraulic fracturing. While it has been beneficial to the oil and gas industry - and the Texas economy in general - there are concerns that it has multiple negative consequences, including polluting ground water, destroying local road (those truck are heavy) and causing small earthquakes.

Since cities and local governments often bear the brunt of these costs, many have begin pushing back against fracking. Now that list includes the first city in Texas to do so: Denton.

I want you to read up on the conflict - with a focus on what is happening in Denton - and detail it as much as possible. What forces are lining up on either side of the issue? How can we draw a line between what the state of Texas gets to allow and what the cities can prevent? Go further and try to figure our what other forces are at work here and how it might work itself out.

What is happening in Denton could foreshadow what might happen here. There's lot's of drilling going in in our area - as I'm sure you are aware.

Here are a few places to begin your reading:

- Denton could become 1st Texas city to ban fracking.
- North Texas city rejects partial fracking ban.
- Texas city weighs ban on new fracking permits.
- Why A Texas City May Ban Fracking.
- Denton Council Punts Fracking Ban Proposal To Voters.
- Former Texas officials warn Denton against fracking ban.

Road Trip 7/16 - 8/6 (more or less)

Please note that I'll be on the road for the next 2-3 weeks - mostly driving through the southwest. I'll have my laptop and will stay connected, but I might be out of touch here and there.

Everything has been set up so you can get the work done that you need to do, so you should be able to handle things on your own. Let me know if you have issues or concerns.

Weekly Written Assignment #7 - 11 week class only

For GOVT 2305: 

In the early sections of this class, you were introduced to the concepts of democracy, oligarchy and autocracy. We mentioned that while the governing system has aspects of each, we also touched on the allegation that the United States was established to be a democratic republic, and that the nation has become increasingly democratic over time.

The increased levels of equality witnessed over the past few decades have led to some wondering whether the nation has become less democratic, and that we are in fact now an oligarchy. A few articles to that effect have been published recently. Here are a few:

- America is an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic, university study finds.
- Scholar Behind Viral 'Oligarchy' Study Tells You What It Means.
- Stop calling the U.S. an oligarchy.

I want you to read these - as well as any other material you find appropriate, and critically evaluate the claim. Is America in fact - now - an oligarchy. Whether you agree or disagree, back up your claim.

For GOVT 2306: 

Texas' ongoing struggles with the national government over gerrymandering and voting rights continues.

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case - Perry v Perez - about the maps the legislature drew following the reapportionment in 2010. Latino groups argued that the map was drawn in a manner that suppressed the Latino vote - which tends to vote Democrat over Republican. There's your political angle.

The court ruled that it was "unclear whether the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas followed the appropriate standards in drawing interim maps for the 2012 Texas elections" so they threw the map out and ordered the case to be reheard. Now they are being reheard, so Texas has to defend how it draws electoral districts once again.

I want you to read up on the current dispute, outline the issues involved in it, and provide an educated prediction about whether Texas will win or lose this case. It's an important case because it will tell us how much leniency the Supreme Court will give Texas in future disputes. This is up in the air following the recent decision in Shelby v Holder - which you should read up on.

Here are links for background - though note the two I provided above:

- Case Information.
- Gerrymandering.
- Texas GOP’s secret anti-Hispanic plot: Smoking gun emails revealed.
- Texas Congressional District Maps Redrawn by GOP to Lessen Democrat and Latino Influence, Lawsuit Claims.
- Texas Fights U.S. Again Over Black, Latino Voting Rights.
- Texas Redistricting Trial Begins; GöPerdämmerung: Twilight of the Grumpy White Legislators.
- TXGOP's anti-Latino redistricting scheme exposed in e-mails.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Written Assignment #6

For GOVT 2305:

For this assignment I want you to try some policy analysis. Read up on the most recent development on the border - the influx of children on the borer - and try to come up with the most effective solution to it. Preferable one that does not cause further disputes down the road.

I also want you to keep the political angles involved in this dispute. Keep in mind that we are just a few months away from the 2014 election. Politicians - especially those with difficult elections ahead - keep in mind how the positions they take on issues like this will affect them on election day.

There's lots to this story, so the more you are able to appreciate all the angles associated with it, the better your grade. This is more than a border security issue.

Here are a few items you might consider reading, but be sure to do your own research.

- ‘Flee or die’: violence drives Central America’s child migrants to US border.
- Why are so many kids crossing the US-Mexico border and what should Obama do?
- Debunking 8 Myths About Why Central American Children Are Migrating.
- Boehner: No 'blank check' for border crisis.
- White House seeks $3.7bn in extra funding to address child migrant crisis.
- Border Crisis Puts Spotlight on 2008 Immigration Law.

For GOVT 2306:

This assignment will build on the one for 2305. It's also about the recent influx of immigrant/refugee child on the Texas-Mexico border, but I want you to analyze this more from the point of view of federalism.

What are the relative responsibilities of the national and state government in this dispute? Try to drill down into basic conflicts between the two levels - three levels if you want to bring Texas cities into this as well. Outline as clearly as you can, the conflict between each level of government over this issue.

You can look at this from a constitutional perspective, but don't forget the political differences as well. The different actors are not only trying to deal with a public policy problem, they are also positioning themselves and their parties for the upcoming election. In the case of Governor Perry, he's trying to look like a viable presidential candidates as well.

You can also try to predict how this might be resolved, but keep in mind that not everything gets resolved. I'm betting that we forget about this issue before the semester is over.

Here are some articles you might consider reading:

- Perry, Obama Discuss Solutions to Immigration Crisis.
- Texas Democrats Say GOP Stalling Aided Immigrant Influx.
- Obama, on Texas Trip, Will Face Immigration Critics.
- Obama: Perry should press Texas delegation on border-security funding.
- Obama-Perry Texas talks tense as migrant children stranded.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reviews for the 5 week final exams now available

You'll see links to them on the top right column.

Use them as a starting point for your studies.

Remember that I pushed up the day for the final and paper. Look on Black Board for the new dates.

From The Dish: An Online Right To Be Forgotten?

It's the 4th of July - which is really all about barbecue and fireworks - but also supposedly about the signing the Declaration of Independence. I try to spend a good bit of time in early slides analyzing the argument it contains and the history leading up to it.

I try to draw attention to this open ended part of it: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

In lecture classes I like to generate a discussion about the word "among" which seems to suggest that other rights exist beyond those three listed. Is this in fact that case and if so what might those rights be? How would we figure this out?

The recent decision by the European Union Court of Justice that there is a right to be forgotten would be a perfect subject. This Dish links to a variety of stories discussing the right and the difficulty we might have in enforcing it.

- Click here for the post.

The digital revolution - which makes information retrieval easy - might make this impossible. And ironically, the more we actively try to conceal parts of out past, the more we highlight it. It's one thing to claim a right, a trickier thing to enforce it.

It just occurred to me that early Texas was populated by people who were trying to make themselves forgotten - by creditors, law enforcement and others. Life was different then.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

From the New Yorker: Celebrating FOIA on Independence Day

An interesting story about how the Freedom of Information Act came to be.

- Click here for the story.

In 1952, John Moss, a two-term California assemblyman, was elected to Congress, representing the state’s Third District, in Sacramento. Two years earlier, Senator Joseph McCarthy had made his fictive declaration that the State Department had two hundred and five Communists in its employ. McCarthyism represented the antithesis of Moss’s ideals. As Michael Lemov writes in “People’s Warrior,“ a biography of the congressman:

Moss knew all about the McCarthy approach. He had been a target of similar charges—of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer—in his California campaigns, for both the state assembly and Congress. He survived the attacks but he did not forget them. In fact, they played a key role in his long campaign to secure freedom of information in government—a campaign that was, in part, grounded in his anger at being attacked with such potentially devastating charges, and by the attempt to use unsubstantiated smears against him.

If secrecy, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, is best understood as a form of regulation, then the McCarthy era conjured the worst aspects of big government: oligarchic, sprawling, and inimical to individual liberty. The pressures of the Cold War were already transforming government into tiered, hermetic bureaucracies, each distinguished by its own sometimes Byzantine relationship to the idea of “national security.” The emergence of a hypersecretive ethic in national politics coincided with the very public erosion of Fourth Amendment protections—in effect transferring the right to privacy from individuals to government itself.

But, as Moss saw it, national security was an amorphous doctrine, and a corrosive one: meant to suggest the need for strength and expediency, in practice, it abetted incompetence, corruption, and the abuse of authority. “The unfortunate fact,” he remarked, is “that governmental secrecy tends to grow as government itself grows.” And so, in 1954, still in his first term, Moss introduced a bill designed to limit that secrecy.

From The Dish: Why Not Just Provide The Pill Over The Counter?

In a post about the contraception - and how the dust up over the Hobby Lobby decision might be minimized it was easier to obtain - and author points out one of the reasons why doctors, public health officials and pharmaceutical companies want to continue to require prescriptions to get them.

It's good for business.

- Click here for the post.

“Doctors regularly hold women’s birth control prescriptions hostage, forcing them to come in for exams,” wrote Stephanie Mencimer in a Mother Jones piece about her own doctor doing so. Dr. [Jeffrey] Singer described as it doctors extorting pay for a “permission slip” to get the same medication over and over again. Feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte says doctors use “the pill as bait” to make sure women come in once a year. Both doctors and public health officials publicly worry that women won’t receive annual cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings without such coercion. How much of this concern is motivated by profit, how much by paternalism, is hard to say. …

It’s not just some doctors and medical groups who want to keep things status quo. Pharmaceutical companies also gain from it. OTC sales “would drive down the prices substantially,” says Singer. Drugmakers can get higher prices from insurance companies than they could in a competitive contraceptive market. … Yet the pharmaceutical industry is the only entity with standing to challenge the prescription status of current birth control pills. In order to initiate the switch from prescription to nonprescription, a drug maker must approach the FDA.

This is a good illustration of the relationship between interest groups and executive agencies. File this under sub-governments and iron triangles. It gets to the heart of what really drives decision making.

More from Vox: Beating the odds Why one bill made it through a gridlocked Congress — and so many don't

A great story about how a bill gets through a divisive and dysfunctional Congress. It features an updated version of the "I'm just a bill video."

- Click here for it.

2305 and 2306 students will see some questions about the bill making process on the national and state level on the final, but most of it is about the standard institutional process. This takes a more expansive look at it.

This tells the story of the how the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act became law  and boils the process down to 9 simple steps:

1. Get the attention of the relevant committee chairman
2. Ease the concerns of outside groups
3. Win an ally in the federal bureaucracy
4. Find a way to pay for it
5. Make sure not even one senator has a problem with it
6. Make sure the House will pass the Senate version
7. Deal with leaks to the press
8. Smooth over the administration's concerns
9. Make some last-minute concessions to the Defense Department

From Vox: What maps of America get wrong

This is a fun video detailing the extent of the territories of the United States.

- Click here for it.

From the Atlantic: Corporations: Still Not People

The recent Supreme Court seems to disagree though. Norm Ornstein - a respected political commentator - critically discusses this trend. He does not see it as a positive development. The Hobby Lobby decision - in his eyes - was less about contraception and more about corporations acquiring power beyond that of individuals.

As the economy becomes more global, corporate interests are no longer tied into American interests.

- Click here for the article.

For many decades, corporations and corporate leaders took the long view and saw a strong American society as key to their own prosperity. But General Motors, in the global economy, is now a global company, even though it is still based in the U.S. and not yet tempted by inversion. Is what is good for a company with huge interests in dozens of countries necessarily good for America? Will it think first—or at all—about the prosperity and needs of the United States? Maybe—but can we say the same thing about "American" companies renouncing their corporate citizenship? When these companies get involved with politics—and you can be sure before long that the Supreme Court will extend the "speech rights" of corporations to include direct contributions to candidates—will they be thinking of America, or of what America can do to protect their interests in other countries? If the money comes from the "American" subsidiary of the foreign-owned company, will it only be reflecting the desires and interests of that American entity or will it reflect the interests of its parent? If a company with gambling interests in Las Vegas earns most of its money in Macau and gets involved deeply in American campaign finance, will it be most interested in promoting its interest in Macau—which might be counter to America's interest in its foreign relations with China?

From Vox: Are Republicans and big business on the brink of divorce?

Ezra Klein discusses the potential rift between big business and the Republican Party.

- Click here for the video.

Erik Cantor was a proponents of business interests and that seems to have been part of what drove ideologically oriented - Tea Party - Republicans in his district to vote him out.

They are part of a growing movement that does not think recent Republican presidents have been conservative enough.

For 2305 and 2306 - but mostly 2305 - this highlights the coalitional nature of political parties, and the fact that the Tea Party movement has had a major impact within the Republican Party. It's still anyone's guess what impact this has down the line.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

One of the major news items this week was the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that a privately (or closely) held corporation could use religious reasons to opt out of providing birth control as part of its health insurance package.

The decision has kicked up a predictable fuss, and hits some of the topics covered in 2305's sections on civil liberties and specifically religious liberty - where we dig into the court's decisions regarding the establishment and free exercise clauses. The case mostly hits on the impact on 1993's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the status of corporations under the Bill of Rights.

I'll post commentary about these separately, but as always ScotusBlog is the go to place for facts about the case itself.

- Click here for their post on the case.

Here is the basic decision the court made: As applied to closely held corporations, the regulations promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring employers to provide their female employees with no-cost access to contraception violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

2305 students should note the role the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has played in establishing what types of accommodations governments have to make to people based on religious viewpoints.

Here are a few links related to RFRA:

- Wikipedia: RFRA.
- What is RFRA and why do we care?
- The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and complicity in sin.

Weekly Written Assignment #5 is cancelled

I'll resume with assignment #6 for 11 week students next week.

I'll have some hints for 5 week students about what to focus on for next week's final.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

From Politico: How the Supreme Court Changed America This Year

I'll post separate items on the Supreme Court decisions released in the past few days, but here's an article that looks at the totality of the impact the court has had on a variety of factors in American government.

- Click here for the article.

Heres' the intro:

The justices have retired their robes for the summer (and the interns, their running shoes), after handing down decisions on issues ranging from Obamacare to affirmative action, campaign finance to school prayer. This term lacked a blockbuster decision like the court’s overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act last year or its upholding of the Affordable Care Act the year before that, so amid the back-and-forth about what the court’s 144 opinions this term really mean, we decided to pose a simpler, bigger-picture question to some of the best legal thinkers around the country: How has the Supreme Court changed America this term?
Some argued that the Roberts Court pushed the country farther to the right, while others noted the relatively low number of 5–4 decisions and high number of unanimous ones—perhaps a sign of diminished partisanship this year. Still others homed in on particular legal issues, citing the court’s commitment to freedom of speech and religion and to the right to privacy, or particular cases with the broadest political or social impact—McCutcheon, Hobby Lobby and Riley v. California seemed to top the list. Then again, there were those who thought the 2013-2014 term was a bit of a shrug. “For the most part, the Supreme Court didn’t rock the boat,” writes one. But for most, it was another year of big decisions—and big consequences for Americans.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

From the Guardian: The Pentagon's slush fund is arming a War Zone on Main Street. Let's end the local-cop addiction to backyard battle

This picks up a bit on the previous post since it concerns police behavior.

But in this case it focuses on the increased use of military weapons by local police forces. The weaponry has been made available by the military that has lots of it to sell.

- Click here for the article.
A few years ago, the police chief in Keene, New Hampshire (population: 23,000) announced plans to patrol the hamlet's "Pumpkin Festival and other dangerous situations" with a 19,000-pound armored vehicle called the BearCat (price tag: $285,933, courtesy of a federal Homeland Security grant).
The cops in nearby Nashua had already purchased one of the so-called "rescue vehicles" – typically reserved for Swat missions and, you know, IEDs – with hundreds of thousands in drug forfeiture money, but given that the town of Keene has had just three homicides in the last 11 years, some locals thought the gun ports, rotating hatch, battering ram and tear-gas deployment nozzle all might just be a little much.
"The police are already pretty brutal," said one resident. "The last thing they need is this big piece of military equipment to make them think they're soldiers."
What many other communities across America have learned since is that we're living in what the writer Radley Balko calls the age of the "warrior cop". And when warrior cops want a straight-outta-Baghdad toy, it's increasingly and unnecessarily simple for them to use a federally enabled slush-fund to wreak havoc – particularly against minorities, and even at a pumpkin festival. It's also pretty simple to start accounting for all the high-tech violence.
"Before another small town's police force gets a $700,000 gift from the Defense Department that it can't maintain or manage," Rep Hank Johnson of Georgia told me this week, "we need to press pause and revisit the merits of a militarized America."

The Supreme Court says policy must get a warrant before searching the contents of a cell phone

This raises issues covered in 2305's section on civil liberties and and the Supreme Court.

A unanimous court ruled that police need warrants if they want to search the cell phone of a person they have arrested. Police generally do not need warrants in such cases, but cell phones are argued to be different because of the information they contain. It is the first time the court has ruled on searches on cell phones. The data on them can only be searched if a warrant is issued to authorize it.

In the material on civil liberties I try to cover the exceptions the court has allowed for many of them. This ruling narrows those exceptions.

- Click here for NYT coverage.

In a sweeping victory for privacy rights in the digital age, the Supreme Court on Wednesdayunanimously ruled that the police need warrants to search the cellphones of people they arrest.
While the decision will offer protection to the 12 million people arrested every year, many for minor crimes, its impact will most likely be much broader. The ruling almost certainly also applies to searches of tablet and laptop computers, and its reasoning may apply to searches of homes and businesses and of information held by third parties like phone companies.
“This is a bold opinion,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. “It is the first computer-search case, and it says we are in a new digital age. You can’t apply the old rules anymore.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the court, was keenly alert to the central role that cellphones play in contemporary life. They are, he said, “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”

The case is Riley v California.

- Click here for the decision.
- Click here for ScotusBlog's background on the case.

The court argued that by being allowed to search through the cell phone without a warrant, police were able to go on "fishing expeditions" and broadly search for anything they can potentially arrest someone for. This defeats the purpose of warrants.

Here's an author that is not that satisfied by the decision:

In 1926, the court said, Judge Learned Hand “observed … that it is ‘a totally different thing to search a man’s pockets and use against him what they contain, from ransacking his house for everything which may incriminate him.’”
But “if his pockets contain a cell phone, that is no longer true.”
That’s why police need a warrant to search your phone.
And this the court did not say: Search warrants are not that hard for police to get. They go to a judge or magistrate and argue that they have probable cause to believe there may be criminal activity involving you. They don’t have to prove you’ve done anything.
You are not consulted.
Also, police need a warrant to search your phone but others — private investigators, industrial spies, identify thieves or your kid’s nosy friend (or your kid) — do not. The Constitution protects you from actions by the government, not anyone else.
And the court said police don’t always need a warrant. In “exigent” circumstances — a suspect texting an accomplice about a bomb or a child abductor who may have information about a child’s location on his phone — they need not waste time calling a judge.
The message from the court: Be careful what you put on your phone.

Weekly Written Assignment #4

This assignment serves as your personal responsibility assessment. It is the same question for 2305 and 2306. If you are taking both classes, apply one answer to the national government, the other to state and local government.


Compromise seems to have become a dirty word recently. Some candidates for public office - especially in primary elections - promise not to compromise if elected, and their supporters seem to demand that. Furthermore some officeholders are punished for reaching across the aisle and working with political opponents.

This is curious since multiple compromises were made in the constitutional convention, and a willingness to make adjustments in one's demands has historically been considered to be a virtue. But there are arguments made that compromise reflects a lack of moral principle or the existence of some fundamental value system that gives voters a sense of who a candidate is and what they stand for.

Then again, that can lead to governmental dysfunction.

So what to do about this?

I want you to consider this - as a matter of personable responsibility - and consider when compromise in political matters is and is not acceptable. What types of things should people compromise on? What types of things should they hold firm on? Why? You can use your personal points of view in this assignment.

I think this quote from 2305's slides on "Why Do I Have to Take This Class?" might be helpful:

In his essay on Representative Government, John Stuart Mill identified three fundamental conditions. . . . These are: "One, that the people should be willing to receive it [representative government]; two, that they should be willing and able to do what is necessary for its preservation; three, that they should be willing and able to fulfill the duties and discharge the functions which it imposes on them.
Fulfilling the duties and discharging the functions of representative government make heavy demands on leaders and citizens, demands for participation and restraint, for consensus and compromise. It is not necessary for all citizens to be avidly interested in politics or well-informed about public affairs–although far more widespread interest and mobilization are needed than in autocracies. What is necessary is that a substantial number of citizens think of themselves as participants in society’s decision-making and not simply as subjects bound by its laws. Moreover, leaders of all major sectors of the society must agree to pursue power only by legal means, must eschew (at least in principle) violence, theft, and fraud, and must accept defeat when necessary. They must also be skilled at finding and creating common ground among diverse points of view and interests, and correlatively willing to compromise on all but the most basic values.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Remember the kidnapped Nigerian girls?

Apparently not many people do.

The Dish publishes this chart showing declining use of #BringBackOurGirls:


It's a sad fact of public policy making that people only pay attention to problems for so long before we get distracted by other things.

In 2305 we briefly touch on the issue attention cycle. There's nothing new here really.

From the NYT: G.O.P. Senator Courts Blacks in Mississippi Primary Race

Incumbent Senator broadens coalition in order to win election.

- Click here for the article.

Inside an abandoned grocery store-turned-church here, a dozen black pastors gathered to discuss a seemingly impossible task: persuading their congregations to vote Republican next week.

“In tough times, you’ve got to do some unusual things,” said Bishop Ronnie C. Crudup Sr., a pastor of the New Horizon Church International in Jackson.

Unusual is an understatement. Mississippi, with its painful history of Jim Crow laws, may have the most racially polarized electorate in the country. Blacks make up a higher percentage of the electorate here than in any other state — 36 percent in 2012, according to exit polls. But they are so overwhelmingly Democratic that they remain nearly invisible in Republican politics, with just 2 percent participating in the Republican primary in 2012.

Now, with Thad Cochran, the state’s senior Republican senator, fighting political extinction in next Tuesday’s primary, his campaign is taking the unlikely step of trying to entice black voters to help decide the most high-profile Republican contest in the country.

And it worked.

Here's commentary:

- Thad Cochran's run-off win is a victory for pork, not a racially diverse GOP.

Cochran ran partially on the idea that Mississippi needs the federal government. Haven;t that one in a while.

Ambiguous ruling on the EPA's regulatory power

The Supreme Court issued a ruling that largely upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory powers, thought the decision was complex and has been portrayed in different ways. This applies to aspects of both 2305 and 2306. Especially the sections on federalism, the bureaucracy and the Supreme Court'

- Click here for the actual decision: Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Click here for ScotusBlog's coverage of the case.

The case stems from a lawsuit from Texas - specifically Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Greg Abbott. It is the latest in a long line of such cases, given Texas being home to oil and gas and petrochemical production and manufacturing, and given the political clout these groups have in the state.

Texas' environmental agencies are considered to be largely weak - so any muscle comes from the national level. This helps explain the tension between the two levels of government. Much of this has played out in the federal courts where the Texas government - and/or interests within the state - sue the national government for overstepping its bounds and regulating matters that should be fully up to the states.

Recently the EPA has used its pre-existing authority to regulate conventional pollution to also regulate greenhouse gases. Texas has argued that since the Clean Air Act does not explicitly mention greenhouse gases - which at low levels aren't pollutants - the EPA cannot deny permits to new plants on the basis that they will produce more of them.

The court disagreed - but only partially.

Here's coverage:

- Everyone Declares Victory After Supreme Court's EPA Ruling.
- Another Loss for Texas in Its Challenge of EPA Regulations.

Friday, June 20, 2014

What is a whip?

Since we have a new one - here's a description of the office found in the U.S. Senate's glossary:

Assistants to the floor leaders who are also elected by their party conferences. The majority and minority whips (and their assistants) are responsible for mobilizing votes within their parties on major issues. In the absence of a party floor leader, the whip often serves as acting floor leader.

Wikipedia's pages on party leaders in the House and Senate has a bit more on the position in each respective chamber. And there's this from the page on Whip (politics).

A whip is an official in a political party whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. Whips are a party's "enforcers," who typically offer inducements and threaten punishments for party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party policy. A whip's role is also to ensure that the elected representatives of their party are in attendance when important votes are taken. The usage comes from the hunting term "whipping in," i.e. preventing hounds from wandering away from the pack.

This academic paper contains a good description of the development of the whip system in COngress, as well as an analysis of its effectiveness.

- Party Voting and the Institutionalization of the Whip System

House Republican leadership team shuffled

For 2305's look at how Congress is organized.

In the wake of Eric Cantor's defeat and resignation as House majority leader, the Republican Conference meet yesterday to replace him. As expected the third in command - majority whip Kevin McCarthy - stepped up to be the new majority leader(second in commend of the party) - which created a vacancy in his old position. So there has to be a race for majority whip.

Here's a description of that process from the Washington Post.

- Click here for the article.

It's a great inside look at the process. Click here for another look at it from the National Journal.

Then came the day’s real drama, the election of majority whip. There were three candidates vying to take the spot that McCarthy was vacating and become the House GOP’s official arm-twister and vote-counter.
There was Scalise, the head of the right-wing caucus within the House GOP. Scalise, elected in 2008, sold himself as a voice of the South, and of red-state Republicans more broadly. Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio), the top Republican in the House, after all, was from a swing state, McCarthy from solid-blue California.

On Wednesday night, Scalise had hosted 40 allies at Acadiana, an upscale Louisiana Creole restaurant in the District. Even in a powerful institution like the House, the strength of a candidacy is measured by its free food. And Scalise’s food was solid.
At that gathering, Scalise also handed out red baseball bats. It was meant to be a message of toughness, that Scalise would be harder to say “no” to than the genial McCarthy. This, apparently, would be a whip for whom actual whips were not a strong enough metaphor.
The other major candidate was Rep. Peter Roskam (Ill.), who has been in Congress since 2007 and served as McCarthy’s deputy whip. Roskam’s pitch was that he had already worked closely with the GOP leadership and would be a candidate of stability.
He spent Wednesday afternoon telling that to the House’s older members, who have been there long enough to remember when therewas stability. Roskam knows “how to run the trains on time,” as Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), Roskam’s main campaign strategist, put it to reporters. He offered free food, too: burgers from Good Stuff Eatery, served to supporters in his office.

Scalise won a majority on the first ballot. The story ends up with this ominous note:

But, before Thursday was even over, the House’s two new GOP leaders got a hint of how many other people — outside conservative groups, even other Republicans in Congress — want to lead their troops instead.

At 4 p.m., immediately following the leadership elections, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) — who has repeatedly encouraged House conservatives to defy their leaders — sent an e-mail to a large group of conservative House Republicans.
Cruz invited them to meet with him June 24 for an “off-the-record gathering” and “an evening of discussion and fellowship.”
Pizza, Cruz told them, will be served.

City of Houston passes $5.2 Billion Budget

For 2306's look at local government:

The budget is for the fiscal years starting July 1, 2015 and ending June 30, 2016.

- Here's the document itself: City of Houston: Fiscal Year 2015 Proposed Budget.

Here are a series of links related to the process and the result:

- A time to make tough decisions.

One of the city's city council members (who represents a single member district - G and plans on running for mayor in 2015) outlines the challenges presented by the budget, namely the fact that deficits are projected for next year's budget.

- City of Houston 2015 Budget Amendments.

This lists both the proposed amendments and the response to them by the mayor's office. 63 amendments were offered. 

- Live Coverage: Houston City Council budget decision.

A Chronicle reporter tweets as the process goes forward. 

- Houston Matters: City Council Passes 2015 Budget.

A radio conversation. 

- City of Houston: Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Operating Budget Bootcamp.

This is kinda cool. It stems from a project proposed in a city sponsored hackathon. It walks you through the budget, the process, the lingo - everything.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

And here's a link to the platform of the Republican Party of Texas

- Click here for it.

When Democrats produce theirs, I'll have an assignment where students can compare the two.

From the Texas Tribune: GOP Platform Complicates Hispanic Outreach for Abbott

This story compliments the previous post.

While the Democratic Party has - and continues to try to expand - its coalition, forces within the Republican Party resist similar efforts for that party. The greater effort is to purify the party and expel people that do not conform to the party line.

At least that what some of the activists within the party attempt to do, to the chagrin of party leaders that see this as self defeating - if not in the near future - sometime ahead when the Latino population gets to the point where due to size they become a legitimate political force.

This author points out the difficulty the party's recent platform make it to make the party appealing to Latino voters. While activists approved language that might drive Latino voters away, the party's candidate for governor is trying reach out.

- Click here for the post.

In the wake of the GOP's approval of a platform that includes a hardline stance on immigration, Attorney General Greg Abbott finds himself at the top of the ticket for a party whose members are deeply divided over the subject and under fire from opponents who say the Republicans' position is offensive to Hispanic Texans.
And it all comes during an election cycle in which Hispanic Texans are seen as an especially critical voting bloc that Abbott has worked to woo.
"It effectively puts him in an awkward position," said Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, because the attorney general does not want to risk alienating Hispanic voters or contradicting the official party stance.
Last week, the Republican party adopted a political platform that no longer endorses a provisional visa program for immigrants and calls for ending in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and for prohibiting “sanctuary cities” that do not enforce immigration laws.
Abbott has largely been silent on the issue. Representatives for the Abbott campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and they have not responded to previous inquiries about his position on the immigration plank of the platform.

What Keeps the Democratic Party Together?

Both 2305 and 2306 students should be working through the material on political parties.

The material in 2305 covers abstract issues about parties while more specifics are offered in 2306 - since states have the power to pass laws related to parties, that seems to me to be the best way to divide up the subject.

A major point made in 2305 about parties is that certain electoral rules - winner take all elections and single member districts chief among them - lead to the creation of two large political parties that are each composed of a variety of factions. Each faction has its own set of issues it prioritizes and chooses to ally with other factions they are ore or less in agreement with. So our major parties are best understood as being coalitions - you'll note that I make that point repeatedly in the class notes.

A party is only strong if it contains within it more factions than the other one, and if those factions are in fact cohesive - they are willing to work together to achieve party goals, the primary goal being winning elections.

Prior to each election, commentators tend to speculate about whether the factions that identify with either party are cohesive enough to win.

A brief flurry of opinions were offered about whether Democrats might be able to pull it off (I'll have a few stories about Republicans soon enough). I should note that these stories are about each parties performance nationally. In Texas its a different story.

Here are a few items you might wan to run through:

- There Is No Alternative.

This author is doubtful that the coalition that elected President Obama has enough to keep itself together - apart from the personality of Hillary Clinton. But if she does not run, the coalition will fragment. No single issue binds the party together, so without the force of Hillary's personality matters for the party's electoral success.

- Clinton and the Ramshackle Democrats.

This author offers a counterpoint. The lack of a single issue that binds all factions within the Democratic Party together is a strength, not a weakness. Democrats have outperformed Republicans in most recent elections (in number of votes cast anyway): by being “sprawling” and “heterogeneous,” and doesn't depend on a particular nominee to do this.

- 7 reasons the Democratic coalition is more united than ever.

The author argues that key issues - banking reform and inequality - unify the party and that those that divide it - K-12 education - aren't topical national issues. They resonate more at the state and local level. The major divisive issue in 2008 was the Iraq War, and that has faded into the distance. The fact that each party dislikes the other so much is bad for the nation but good for party cohesion. The author states that Clinton leads the pack because of Democratic unity, not the other way around. 

Intra-party divisions are important to comprehend if one is to come to grips with the nature of American politics. And these occur because of the coalition nature of American parties, which are the result of our unique way of electing people to office.

Weekly Written Assignment #3

This assignment also serves as your critical thinking assessment.

So be sure to think critically on this one.

Note that the assignment is different for 2305 and 2306.

For GOVT 2305:

The U.S. Patent Office did something interesting yesterday. They cancelled the trademark for the Washington Redskins' name (though not its symbol). They argued that the name is disparaging and granting it protection makes the U.S. Government complicit in their using it. The move does not ban the use of the name, but it makes it possible for other to use it for their own purposes.

- Click here for some background.
- Click here for the ruling.
- Click here for team's legal response.

I want you to apply your critical reasoning skills - not your opinion making skills - to unpack the logic underlying the decision, as well as the argument against it. Speculate on what this precedence might mean for other teams with similar names.

For GOVT 2306:

Recently President Obama announced that he would use executive authority already granted to the Environmental Protection Agency to order cuts to carbon emissions from coal plants. States where these coal plants are located have cried foul and argued that these regulations go beyond the constitutional authority of the national government (some also argued that Obama overreached by using executive authority to implement the policy instead of Congress - but let's not worry about that aspect of it here.)

Since this story raises issues associated federalism - the ongoing conflict between state and national authority which we covered early in the class - this event gives us an opportunity to apply our critical thinking skills to it.

- Click here for come background on the regulations.
- Click here for political issues associated with the decision.
- Click here for a story on "climate federalism."
- Click here for "keeping the cooperative in cooperative federalism."

Pollution is one of those nasty things that just don't seen to respect state borders. it tends to drift from place to place depending on wind patterns and topography. One state's environmental policies impact those of its neighbors. So how do we reconcile this reality with the desire of states to create their own environmental regulations? How do we determine where the line is drawn between national and state authority on environmental issues?


Remember that I want answers of at least 150 words - and you may go over.

I'll have the links on blackboard open by the end of the day.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

From The Dish: America’s Trust Deficit

The Dish points to a story in 538 that argues that opinions about Obamacare are low due to the decreasing level of trust American hove to government - which almost always means the national government.

- Click here for the post.

Both links are worth reading, but I like it because it contains this great graph based on poll results from the American National Election Studies:

Trust America

The graph should be self explanatory. I posted it because it helps support one of my working theories about why the world works the way it does.

Everything changed in 1964.
Why? That was the year the Civil Rights Act was passed, and the next year the Voting Rights Act was passed. Suddenly the national government - and the state and local governments as well - had to respond to the needs of populations that had been previously excluded.

I have no proof - but I'll work on it one day.

The True Threat Doctrine

The Dish flags a few stories related to the true threat doctrine and how it plays out online.

This applies to 2305's look at the limits of free speech - true threats are not protected by the First Amendment - and the overall concept of civil liberties. It also provides an example about how the courts determine the limits of free speech. The case - Elonis v. United States - will allow the Supreme Court for the first time to apply the true threat doctrine to online communications and social media. 

- Click here for the post.

Here's a description of the true threat doctrine and the problem posed by it:

A true threat is a threatening communication that can be prosecuted under the law. It is distinct from a threat that is made in jest. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that true threats are not protected under the U.S. Constitution based on three justifications: preventing fear, preventing the disruption that follows from that fear, and diminishing the likelihood that the threatened violence will occur. There is some concern that even satirical speech could be regarded as a "true threat" due to concern over terrorism

- Click here for the First Amendment Center's discussion of the doctrine.

Here's detail about the specific case that the court will consider:

. . . the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that defendant Anthony Elonis’ 2010 Facebook rants mentioning attacks on an elementary school, his estranged wife, and even law enforcement, constituted a “true threat” under First Amendment precedent. As such, the court upheld Elonis’ sentence and conviction. In his petition to the Supreme Court, Elonis’ counsel said the issue boils down to “whether a person can be convicted of the felony ‘speech crime’ of making a threat only if he subjectively intended to threaten another person or whether instead he can be convicted if he negligently misjudges how his words will be construed and a ‘reasonable person’ would deem them a threat.”
For example, in one such Facebook posting, about which Elonis has since argued that he lacked criminal intent, he wrote: “Do you know that it’s illegal for me to say I want to kill my wife? It’s illegal. It’s indirect criminal contempt. It’s one of the only sentences that I’m not allowed to say.”

Monday, June 16, 2014

Some advise on the second writing assignment

Keep in mind that the subject of this assignment is not the person who represents the district, but the nature of the district itself. I don't need any more information - at this time - about Pete Olson, or Ed Thompson, or whoever else holds the position.

Instead I want you to figure out what issues and interests are likely to be dominant among the people who live in the 14th Congressional district or the 29th State House district. If you go to the websites of the incumbents you'll find demographic information about the districts - which is a good way to start - but by analyzing the maps you should be able to do searches that give you an idea of what types of things people are most concerned about - or not - in the local area.

To give you an obvious hint - there's lot's of oil drilling in the local area. A a result, fracking is a big deal, as is the Johnson Space Center. There's also the fact that we live near the Gulf Coast and we know what types of storms we get from time to time. Think broadly about the concerns that dominate people around here - and what the national or state government can and cannot do about it. Think about how this influences what areas representatives and state senators do in office.

The purpose of this assignment is to get you further prepared to do s good job on the 1000 word essay.

Let me know if you have further questions.

From the Dallas Morning News: Political consultants battling it out behind the scenes

I have very little material on political consultants - which is a major deficiency.

These are individuals who have expertise in campaigning - and other related political matter like lobbying - and offer their services to candidates.

Occasionally we will have candidates speak to a class - especially when they see it in their interests to do so. The good ones have a consultant along with them, and they're the ones I'm especially interested in. Sometimes I can talk them into coming back by themselves to talk to the class since they can provide a much clearer inside look at the political / electoral process.

Here's a look at some state races in Dallas that feature the political consultants going at each other.

- Click here for the article.
The bitter, all-Republican fight for the Park Cities-based legislative seats did more than rattle the usually staid politics in that wealthy enclave.
It also provided an up-close look at two opposing political teams and their strategies, driven by attack ads that drew statewide attention — and even a misdemeanor charge against one of the candidates.
Some of the hard-edge tactics worked; some backfired. And, as in many campaigns, the final outcome has prompted a vigorous bout of second-guessing.
The GOP match-ups pitted North Texas newcomer Matt Langston and national political operative Jeff Roe against Mari Woodlief, president and chief executive of Allyn Media, a local advertising and public relations agency.

Here's a 2004 list of the powerful political consultants in Texas.

Click here for Blakemore and Associates - one of the more influential area consultants.

It's tough to make sense of the political landscape - on all three level of government - without appreciating the influence of these individuals.

Elections are sometimes won or lost based on who someone was able to hire as a consultant.

From PolicyMic: In 33 U.S. Cities, It’s Illegal to Do the One Thing That Helps the Homeless Most

For 2306's look at the role local government - as well as 2305's look at federalism - some analysis of the consequences of local policies related to homelessness.

- Click here for the article.

This is also an example of both agenda setting and interest groups - since it is based on a report by an advocacy group which is attempting to highlight the problems caused by cities banning food-sharing by private organizations for the homeless.

The report argues that such laws - as well as others - "criminalize" homelessness.

That said, this also illustrates the concept of an unintended consequence, as well as criminal justice policy. An increasing number of people are concerned about the tendency of government to deal with social problems by criminalizing them, making them a felony.

Are there more effective - and cheaper ways to deal; with these problems?

Here's a bit from the story:  

The news: In case the United States' problem with homelessness wasn't bad enough, a forthcoming National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) report says that 33 U.S. cities now ban or are considering banning the practice of sharing food with homeless people. Four municipalities (Raleigh, N.C.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Daytona Beach, Fla.) have recently gone as far as to fine, remove or threaten to throw in jail private groups that work to serve food to the needy instead of letting government-run services do the job.
Why it's happening: The bans are officially instituted to prevent government-run anti-homelessness programs from being diluted. But in practice, many of the same places that are banning food-sharing are the same ones that have criminalized homelessness with harsh and punitive measures. Essentially, they're designed to make being homeless within city limits so unpleasant that the downtrodden have no choice but to leave. Tampa, for example,criminalizes sleeping or storing property in public. Columbia, South Carolina, passed a measure that essentially would have empowered police to ship all homeless people out of town. Detroit PD officers have been accused of illegally taking the homeless and driving them out of the city.

Houston's mayor is featured:

Some city officials, like Houston's Mayor Annise Parker, claim that "making it easier for someone to stay on the streets is not humane" and say that uncoordinated charity efforts "keep them on the street longer, which is what happens when you feed them."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Washington's thoughts on political parties

This provides a good counterpoint to the previous posts. It's material 2305 students will run across in the section on political parties. The founders were concerned about the emergence of factors that might undermine the stability of the republic.

Washington thought the newly formed political parties were one of these factors. This concerns was a key part of his farewell address in 1796. It might be worth considering whether the results of the Pew survey make his point.

- Click here for the entire address.

Here are some outtakes:

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. . . .

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

Republicans and Democrats hate and fear each other

These might be the most problematic findings in the Pew study. It helps explain the inability of Congress to work together. Tough to do so if you think the opposition is a threat to the nation.



Why the increase since 1994?

Why the - slightly - greater animosity of Republicans towards Democrats?

There is a tactical advantage for political parties to foster antipathy however. It helps get the vote out, and it helps persuade people to donate money.

So while we might conclude that these attitudes are problematic for the long term health of the republic, they can benefit parties in the short term. So this is not completely irrational.

The politically engaged are more polarized than the detached

This seems to cut against the idea that the key to a stable and rational governing system is to get people involved in the political process. The more engaged, the more polarized. The degree of polarization has increased far more among the engaged than the less engaged.

- Click here for the source.


I don't really know what to make of this.

Increased participation - according to these data - may make things worse.

This might explain party polarization more than anything else

Chew on this graph for a moment:

When we discuss voter turnout - mostly in 2305, though it certainly applies to 2306 - we point out that turnout varies depending on the types of election. We also point out that the composition of the electorate varies depending on the election.

This is especially true for primary as opposed to general elections.

Primary elections - as you have hopefully already seen - are party elections. It's how party identifiers determine who their party's candidates for the general election are. Notice what the graph is telling us.

The more ideologically consistent the voter - the more likely he or she will vote in a political primary. The more mixed - meaning the more moderate the voter - the less likely this is the case. This tells us that candidates for general elections are selected by ideologues. This guarantees that those candidates will be ideologues also - since that's what it takes to win primary elections.

What's more, moderates have little ability to determine what candidates will be on the ballot on the general elections because they opt not to vote in primary elections.

There's a school of thought - that I tend to agree with - that looks at primary elections as the driving factors behind ideological and party polarization.

This graph provide evidence why that's the case.

This is what party/ideological polarization in Congress looks like

This is mostly for 2305 - but it helps describe the shift in party dominance in Texas, which we touch on in 2306. The chart applies to the United States Congress - not the Texas Legislature.

Click here for the chart's source.

Notice that Republicans become increasingly conservative in the 95th Congress which was elected in 1976 - the first election following the Watergate scandal, and the election that brought Jimmy Carter to the White House. And also that the ideological drift is more pronounced among Republicans than Democrats.

The story that is commonly told about about the roots of ideological polarization is that it begins with (Texas Democrat) Lyndon Johnson's signature of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Doing so re-positioned the Democratic party - which had historically supported slavery and racial segregation - to being the party of desegregation and civil rights.

Republicans - notable Richard Nixon in 1968 - saw an opportunity to flip the south from being a Democratic stronghold - to a Republican one. The process for doing so was called the Southern Strategy and it involved a series of positions that indirectly touched on race, but mostly focused on the animosity southerners had towards a national government that was forcing them to change laws related to racial segregation.

The above graph reflects the gradual shift of the South - a conservative area of the country - from the Democratic to Republican party.

Note that these efforts - begin in the 1960s - have a delayed effect in Congress. There are many reasons for this, most having to do with the fact that Democrats dominated Congress until the election of 1994. They were the majority party for 40 uninterrupted years. Being a member of the majority party allows access to goodies that are then beneficial to the local constituencies.

But this would not happen for some time - so why do we see the shift occur when it does?

From the Pew Research Center: Political Polarization in the American Public

An emerging concern about American politics is that it has become increasingly polarized over the past two or three decades - meaning that an increasing number of people have clustered around either end of the ideological spectrum. There are more self identified "extreme" liberals and conservatives and fewer moderates.

Since ideologues vote at higher rates than moderates, this polarization in the electorate has infected electoral institutions - notably the United States Congress. The recent story about Eric Cantor's defeat in the Virginia Republican Party Primary could be an example of how this works - energized conservative ideologues kick out a Republican office holder they deem too moderate, replacing him with someone more to their liking. Moderates - voting in the general election - may be able to stop this from happening, but they have to show up at the polls.

It's a dynamic I want to dig into more this summer.

Click on these for a collection of related blog posts:

- ideological polarization.
- party polarization.

Polarization continues to be popular research topics. Inquiries range from isolating its sources, figuring out what its consequences are, and speculating on what can be done about it.

The Pew Research Center released its most recent study on the topic - which promises to be the first of a series. I'll throw a few posts out that touch on the studies findings. You should consider these things in light of the question posed in this class' opening slides - for both 2305 and 2306 - is representative government sustainable? Can the republic be maintained?

- Click here for the actual study.

And some commentary on the findings:

- The single most important fact about American politics.
- Polarization Is Dividing American Society, Not Just Politics.
- Five charts that show how conservatives are driving partisan rancor in DC.
- Wonkbook: The American center is shrinking.
- America's Fracturing Electorate.
- Energized partisans are driving polarization – but so are apathetic centrists.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

From The Dish:What Really Doomed Cantor? Ctd

This post should help shine light on what I want you to do with your essay.

- Click here for it.

It's yet another look at why Eric Cantor lost the primary this week, but this time it looks at what issues were more important to the voters in his district as opposed to voters across the nation.

Notice what this graph is telling us:

Important Issues

Nationally, the dominant issue is jobs and the economy, and it has been that way for the past two electoral cycles. As majority leader, Cantor focused on these issues - as he should have - since they were what his party overall had to concentrate on.

But the voter sin his district were focused on spending/debt and Obamacare (but not so much on immigration). Cantor obviously did not see that while his opponent did. That's why Cantor lost - if true. He lost touch with what was important to voters - or more specifically Republican primary voters - his district.

Think about this as you develop your paper topic. Are the elected officials on the same page as their constituents?

What is a majority leader anyway?

This primarily for 2305 - there is no similar position in the Texas Legislature (House or Senate) because the Speaker and Lieutenant Governor are far more powerful in each chamber, which means there is less need for a majority leaders. Parties matter less in the Texas Legislature also.

But in the 2305's section on Parties and Committees in Congress, mention is made of the party leadership structure so this illustrates that point. For now, its best to understand this - the House Majority leader is the second highest position in the majority party in the House of Representatives. It's #2 because the leader of the party is nominated by the party to be Speaker of the House when it convenes after each election. Since the majority party is the majority, they get to select the Speaker.

So what happened earlier this week was that the primary voters in Virginia's 7th District defeated the second most power Republican in the House by not renominating him for the general election. That has never happened before in American history.

Here are a few links for further info about the position of House majority leader, and of leadership in the House in general.

- Wikipedia: Majority Leader.
- Wikipedia: Party leaders of the United States House of Representatives.
- NCSL: Roles and Responsibilities of Selected Leadership Positions.
- US House:
- US House: Majority Leaders of the House (1899 to present).

I want to call special attention to this report from the Congressional Research Service:

- The Role of the House Majority Leader: An Overview.

Here are the opening two paragraphs from the report:

The majority leader in the contemporary House is second-in-command behind
the Speaker of the majority party. Typically, the majority leader functions as the
Speaker’s chief lieutenant or “field commander” for day-to-day management of the
floor. Although the majority leader’s duties are not especially well-defined, they
have evolved to the point where it is possible to spotlight two fundamental and often
interlocking responsibilities that orient the majority leader’s work: institutional and
From an institutional perspective, the majority leader has a number of duties.
Scheduling floor business is a prime responsibility of the majority leader. Although
scheduling the House’s business is a collective activity of the majority party, the
majority leader has a large say in shaping the chamber’s overall agenda and in
determining when, whether, how, or in what order legislation is taken up. In
addition, the majority leader is active in constructing winning coalitions for the
party’s legislative priorities; acting as a public spokesman — defending and
explaining the party’s program and agenda; serving as an emissary to the White
House, especially when the President is of the same party; and facilitating the orderly
conduct of the House’s business.

Randon items About Eric Cantor's loss

Eric Cantor - the U.S. House majority leader - was defeated in a primary election in Virginia Tuesday. The story caused quite a stir, not only because he was the first House majority leader to not be renominated by his party, but it was not expected. It also suggests the Tea Party - at least on states like Virginia - still has legs.

Here are a few items related to this event and how they illustrate class material:

- Eric Cantor Defeated by David Brat, Tea Party Challenger, in G.O.P. Primary Upset.

Read this for basic background about what happened.

- Cantor internal poll claims 34-point lead over primary opponent Brat.

All campaigns run their own polls in order to figure out how well they are doing, but not all polls are conducted well. The poll was taken in late May, so perhaps it did not take into consideration last minute shifts in Brat's direction - or perhaps it was just wrong.

- Tea Party Cannibalizes Cantor.

The author here argues that the major factor in Cantor's defeat was low voter turnout. We will discuss the importance of turnout - as well as the decision to not vote - at different times in this class. Low voter turnout cuts against the idea that democracies reflect the will of the majority of the people. They reflect the will of the majority of those who show up. In primary elections this number can be especially low. 
The key factor in this upset is a 12% voter turnout—meaning that 6.1% of the local electorate could make a majority. This is a paradise for activists and ideologues—Main Street voters, not so much. No one seriously doubts whether Cantor could have won a general election in his Virginia district. This is purely a numbers game. An unrepresentative turnout makes for an unrepresentative result. And for Republicans, it is perhaps the most pointed reminder of the dangerous game they’ve been playing by stoking the fires of furious conservative populism.
The Tea Party's strength has been due to their members' decision collectively to actually show up and vote.

- Cantor’s Loss a Bad Omen for Moderates.

Cantor was the last Jewish Republican. He may have been inadvertently gerrymandered out of his own district.

- Total Raised and Spent.

Cantor raised $5.4 million to his opponents $206,663. So despite what we say elsewhere about the influence of money in politics - and it remains important - it ain't everything.