Club Building Basics

Every couple of years, the local leadership of the Democratic Party decide they need to build their clubs. It’s a funny process of people getting together, complaining about who’s not doing what and who is and then arguing over the strategy of building the club.

As I wrote before, political parties don’t serve the same function they did in the past. The local apparatus should be no different, except they are a whole other beast.

There are inherently two types of clubs: active and inactive. We have inactive clubs for many reasons, and there’s little reason to get into it. Building a club takes work and starts with understanding your purpose and knowing your audience.

To know your audience, you’ll need to figure out the political leanings of your district. Turnout varies from year to year and by the office. To get the best picture leaders need to look at all races within their club’s boundaries and understand the variance of turnout between them.

Races for governor, US Senate, and other statewide offices will cover all of the club’s district. But state legislative offices often share these districts and cross parts of multiple wards, townships, parishes and other types of political subdivisions. You may have to piece together the puzzle to understand your district.

By understanding turnout for the different offices you will hopefully learn patterns and get an idea for how your audience is spread out across the geographic area. If you have access to a party database, you will be able to manage all of this from the dashboard for easy access.

Voter Database Basics

Who votes is a public record, accessible to any person or organization for political purposes. A lot of people don’t realize that anyone can go to the local board of elections and request a copy of that record. Political parties regularly collect this information and have developed technology to add other information in what is called a voter file.

The voter record starts with the name and address of the voter and then you can request which elections they voted. Lists are purchased adding phone numbers. They also collect information about gender, race, religion and other relevant demographic information. This information is the bulk of the voter database.

The information you add to the file will be the most crucial part of the database.

From the party database, you may have access to party scores and a preference for your party. The party preference is usually the easiest way to identify your audience. By calling and talking to voters, we collect their feedback. The more contacts there are, we create a better picture of the voter. Simultaneously, the higher office that collects the information, the greater weight is given to that data.

The preference will use five identifiers of strong, leaning and independent voters for party preference. However, if they are a new voter, you will likely see unidentified for the preference of some voters. That will change after a couple of contacts. Keep in mind that campaigns are using the database simultaneously and changing information all the time.

The dashboard at the data director level is the controlling mechanism for permission to the functionality of the database for all other users. The fact is that candidates and committeepeople usually don’t know the full spectrum of permissions and therefore don’t know what permissions to request.

At the same time, we have to recognize some people can’t use a computer. Technology and politics are very similar. Neither is a place for amateurs, and you can only move past being an amateur by poking around.

On Organizing

My favorite way of poking around in politics is through mapping and cross-tabs. The party database can do both. But before we get into data analysis, we have to develop a list.

Breaking down the database into manageable chunks of cohorts is a great way to be strategic and build a club. There is a lot of talk in the 2020 cycle about the importance of Black women to the Democratic Party’s, and I have no doubt this is true.

But how do we build the list for outreach? If we query every registered Black female, we will have too much data. Not all of these women are actual voters. So let’s go back to the purpose of our organization: we want die-hards and activists who will volunteer and engage in the political process. We want them to join the club and participate in some form.

At this point, we aren’t asking anyone to support a candidate because we want people to support a dialogue of ideas for our cause, not the candidate. To that end, we want regular voters to speak with first. They appear to have the highest interest in politics.

If we search the file for African-American women, we can save this search as a list and use it to create other lists. Let’s say our search yielded 1,000 Black females registered to vote in our area. We can then search this new list for women who have voted in the last four elections. Of those women, 120 voted in each of the previous four elections. If we have the right permissions, we should be able to see activist codes such as volunteering for canvassing or phone banking. Some may attend events. Others may only want yard signs.

We now have a good start for our outreach. You can break the 120 women into smaller components to speak with each group about their specific activity or leave it alone. Being able to scale your list to your ability and time is very important.

Remember what I mentioned above. Many people don’t know their voting status is public. We don’t know how they voted, but what elections they voted in are public records. Someone will question how you came by information about them. Be clear and upfront that their voting history is public record.

But to the point, these differing levels of activism are good indicators of the likelihood a person will be interested in the club. Because there are many reasons people go beyond voting and choose activism we might want to look at irregular voters, that is voters who turn out inconsistently and see if any of them have ever participated.

We can go back to our full list and query for women who have voted in any three of the last four elections, an eight-year history. We can also break this list down the same way we did with regular voters and rank their activism.

Using your list

You can assign the list to a phone bank or cut it into turf, a neighborhood to walk, for canvassing. If you are building your club, then I would highly suggest walking house to house to talk to the women on your list. Personal outreach has a higher rate of success compared to phone calls. They may have questions for you and will feel more comfortable speaking person-to-person.

I would suggest having a pamphlet inviting them to you meeting and including contact information when you walk. Every house should get a pamphlet whether you talk to them or not.

You will need a strategy to build a connection with your audience. That may include email, social media, and a website. Collecting email addresses and social media handles is a great way to develop your voter list and your membership. Some people will not want to go to meetings but may join the club. They may only come to one meeting a year, that is fine.

Your membership will likely be a mix of virtual and active people. For people involved in politics, we all get involved for different reasons and with varying concerns. Your job is to be able to meet each person’s interest.

My take on clubs is that they serve a great community purpose. But they are only limited to what their leadership wants. Successful clubs will attract candidate attention, sponsor events, and have a presence in the broader community. It is up to leadership to determine how they want that relationship to work.

This is meant to be an introduction to the voter file with some suggestions about organizing your club. You’re welcome to contact me and ask for specific guidance. I will expand on some of these issues in later posts.

The User Experience

Folks, the political field needs to up its game. And until voting includes a virtual reality program that allows you to punch the candidates you don’t want representing you we need better solutions for voter engagement and mobilization.

Political parties and their smaller public interest group friends haven’t all transitioned into modern activist organizations. It used to be they managed coalition and machine politics. Today, they’re tech companies acting like whips for patronage and defenders of their constituents.

The core business of parties and interest groups today is data management. Their primary concern should be to build and clean data so they can communicate with the different sectors of their interests. Their infrastructure should focus on dynamic pathways of communication knowing these paths will be fluid and provided by third-party vendors. That’s the modern model for politics.

What parties have to focus on are finding those dynamic pathways that are the most efficient and that their constituents can adopt for their own.

Restaurant and entertainment venues consider everything about your evening out in the concept phase of building their business. Attention to detail and proper planning make for a better experience for the customer, and they reward these companies with higher spending.

The user experience (UX) is the central part of any business in the hospitality industry. For tech companies, it is the primary concern among the competition for apps. It is what keeps people on the platform and and coming back to their seats.

The UX also exists in politics, but not enough attention is on it as a core component of the campaign and party operations. The user experience includes everything in politics. It encompasses everything about your constituents and their possible relation with the organization.

Knowing your brand is not the same as knowing what your UX means to people.

Not every political organization today has been able to identify its user experience. They have a bag of tricks to get their constituents to give money or do calls to action. But, few political organizations put constant attention into the overall experience they have with the public.

Times Change

It used to be that the political cycle was a four year period of presidential elections with a midterm bump in activity. There would be high activity in presidential years and low turnout in off years. Fundraising has become a constant, but actual action use to not be as meaningful in the same way.

Public action is now a constant necessity because a lapse in interest becomes a lapse in the user experience. People need to stay connected in modern politics, but we also have the technology to help people stay connected. Only a lazy organization would stop engaging their constituents with calls to action and engagement.

The cycle is now two years, always. The reason is that voter rolls get purged in massive amounts before important elections as a political tactic. Purges have become a standard tool in the Republican arsenal to win elections in crucial states. Tolerating this action is the highest form of fraud for any political organization because you’re saying their money is good enough for you, but not their vote. Expulsions put every political organization on code red to protect their constituents and their issue.

Issue organizations have to have stronger ties to these constituents. They can’t just manage a donor list they can tap. And they can’t just email a list of activists who will show up and write letters. Today’s organization has to be more engaged and manage a voter list they can verify and protect. Downtime is a thing of the past. The days of constant engagement are here, and you need to have a UX plan.

It is ironic, Republicans take a profoundly undemocratic action, and the only way to fight back is actually to take an action that leads to greater democracy.

90% of Politics is Showing Up

Who showed up in 2018 and why? Interest groups should have already been looking at these questions ahead of 2020. Public relations campaigns focus on who, what, and why and build attention from there. That’s an older model that doesn’t reap the same rewards we see in UX. We are often more focused on the who and what in this circumstance than anything else.

The UX process starts with internal reflection. We are more focused on why people use our product and creating excitement out of its utility. So we start by answering why then what, and how.

A political organization’s why is always its values. Our why is the issue people act on that ends with voting, the what. The environmentalist votes to protect the earth. The environmental organization exists to push people to action to protect the planet. The most important action they can push for is a vote. Without the vote, there is nobody with a favorable ear to lobby. The how is how we vote. It doesn’t matter how hard anyone makes it to vote. Our UX will make it so that people want to vote because we are always telling them why and how.

Data Management Strategy

Each organization is going to be different in who they target, but they all have to be engaged, or they will be replaced. Political organizations and professional groups used to add value to their primary focus by offering insurance, specialized education, and other services for members. These services are a part of the UX. But they don’t go to core interest, so they are just throwaways like hat night at a baseball game.

Voters and everyone purged from 2018 are the first people to protect- tier one. Tier two are the people who showed in 2016, but not in 2018. These people are likely to show up in 2020 and need to be re-energized. Our tier three voters are our infrequent and expansion voters.

This scheme is nothing new. It’s not complicated, and anybody who has run a field program in any tight race has done something similar. Data managers should be driving this process and need to be looking at the long game laid out here.

Technology has opened up all kinds of new paths for efficiency in communications. Blending the best data management plan with strong vendors who can provide online backend communications support for social media and dynamic online advertising will become the future platform model for political organizations.

This model might sound complicated, but campaigns need to adapt as technology and costs change. The reality is that staff who can manage these processes are a low skill resource in the industry, but they are of high value. Most of them are college students, and online management doesn’t require coding skills if you use the right platform.

It’s an exciting time to be in politics if you care about why you’re there.

Adaptation to Change

I once read it took the English over 100 years to adopt the use of the fork while dining. The English saw the fork as an extension of what they called French effeminacy and argued the proper way to eat is by using one’s own hands.

And, at one time in France, women were believed to be of ill repute if they were seen out at night dining. It took a lady of high status to join friends in a very public display to change people’s minds. In this story, she is a prop for the purpose of public relations in, what I remember to be, a new fine dining restaurant seeking to succeed. This one event had a remarkable change, not only on the culture but on the economy of France. The French, long known for their love of spectacle, created a market for spectacle based on what could have been a scandal. It is difficult to criminalize what, and who, we love.

We often see change as a right. Change is analogous to choice and if we choose mashed over fried potatoes is of little consequence until we decide to have rice. But, can we get rice? The feelings are not the same when we are told we will be getting rice when we want fries. People like options, but they don’t like being force fed.

This is similar to the state St. Louis is in right now. We have nothing but change on the menu today. The idea of having to adapt to change is fed by fear and that is a bitter meal.

We are trying to welcome new-comers to our region to grow. Any region trying to compete has population growth on the menu. This includes growing our foreign born population. St. Louis is an insular place with tremendous civic pride. We support our communities so much that we are often in the top 1% in charitable giving in the whole US.

Some are also trying to effect social change. There are big fights between progressives and conservatives in the region wanting to see more equitable solutions from local government. Ferguson, a small suburban city in the region, has been a catalyst and a choke point in this effort.

A police shooting of a young, unarmed, Black man in Ferguson launched protests and conversation about what our region was doing wrong. The event came four days after the first Black county executive was ousted from office under a dubious campaign calling him corrupt. I was a member of that administration and remember the chorus singing the tune of corruption, which was nothing but dog whistles.

But before these two events there was unemployment through a prolonged downturn in the economy. The Black community was hit harder than most and inequity would be the timber which would soon ignite into fire.

And, just before the events in Ferguson would become a symbol of dis-function in the region, a group called Better Together (BT) would launch their efforts to restructure the city and county governments and limit the authority of local governments like Ferguson. By erasing the imaginary lines of city boundaries in favor of a unified regional government, they argue a common voice can lead us to a better position in the global economy.

Their early internal polling showed that the region is against the change BT want, but not necessarily the rest of the state. BT saw that, after hearing messages about the benefits and problems with status quo St. Louis, statewide voters moved to be more favorable to voting for unification compared to the voters in the region.

The poll identified the vehicle of change: a statewide vote. And now, this is the biggest fight in the region. In fact, regional consolidation includes the fight for equity and the growth of the region. But as much as a consolidated region can improve equity, mostly through spreading planning decisions like low-income housing and improving access to workforce development and jobs for all, consolidation means concentrated power.

Concentrated power is a big part of what people are against. Until yesterday, it was certainly what I had been against because I don’t trust the person who would have been running the whole show. The BT plan was to skip the regularly scheduled election and instill the current county executive into the newly created metro mayor position. Not only does the new position benefit from stronger powers to govern and make decisions the position includes a greater portion of the metro area and limits the local control of existing municipalities within that area.

Fortunately, the current county executive is being investigated by a federal grand jury for contract rigging and will not most-likely not be continuing his “service” for much longer. But the structure of the government and power of the metro mayor do not change, just the first design on who would conceptually lead the region.

Most people are against a centralized government that would largely erase the hyper-local city governments in St. Louis where people reside. This is why a statewide election is the only possible vehicle to get the outcome BT wants. Restructuring the St. Louis region is not in the interest of the people who live their today. It is in the interest of the people who will come after them. The quaint communities that makeup St. Louis are the embodiment of living nostalgia. But they are all past their peak.

The statewide vote raises serious issues of self-determination and rights. It is certainly an infringement on the concept of government for the people and by the people. Here, self-determination is in conflict with the notion that cities are creatures of the state. The state does have an interest in the future well-being of St. Louis. But does it have the right to direct a change that has been in conversations for over 100 years?

We have to acknowledge the slippery-slope and comparative analysis fallacies that go along with this discussion, but we will attend to them at another time. These are statements that if they do it to St. Louis, they can do it to X and then the comparison of X city either in the region or another state. These hypotheticals are pointless because they are too simple and ignore the complexities of regions, especially in St. Louis.

The present policy Better Together is pushing is all about control. The City of Champ is a model example. It exists in St. Louis County and was built on the idea of being a domed Olympic stadium. That never came to fruition, and the 518-acre incorporated village became a landfill. It is a corporate town with just enough residents (14 or so) to keep it from being dis-incorporated (everyone who lives their works for or is related to workers of the company).

As it stands, Champ has full self-determination as prescribed by state law. But a landfill is a messy business when it comes to governing. Consolidation would likely mean a change in tax structure for the business and possibly reconfigured regulations. Mostly it means a wholesale shift in their political power.

Proof of this comes from those who would most likely want to see this operation change. Whether or not an environmentalist lives near an environmental issue is rarely of consequence to them. Changing the structure of governance would have a real impact on the possibility of regulation change in this instance. Businesses tend to want something close to complete self-determination for themselves.

The policy implications are such that there are community benefits as well as concerns. For the few people who live in Champ, it is pretty evident that they lose a lot of their voice for a government that attends to their concerns. They may start getting more services, but it changes the fact that it is actually most consequential to them and the greater St. Louis region. That is, why live here?

In some rural communities, cities are fighting for their lives against laws regulating CAFO’s. A CAFO, or concentrated feeding operation, produces a lot of environmental waste and disruption in the form of dust, runoff and foul smelling air. They aren’t good neighbors. The legislature in Missouri has been debating legislation which would make it impossible for counties to regulate CAFO’s. This is good for these businesses but not for the greater community.

The same could be said of the Better Together proposal. Most industries we have in St. Louis would certainly benefit from having one government and code. Policies like these, pushed for the benefit of businesses, can have dramatic effects on communities.

But, just as most people like a good steak, our trash has to go somewhere. How do we meet these needs while maintaining control of our community. There is a lot of value in noticing similar constituencies between residents fighting CAFO’s and residents fighting BT.

BT claims one regional government will implement efficiencies that don’t exist today. But this is also a false argument because of the vast majority of municipalities in St. Louis County contract with the county for inspections on electrical, plumbing, building and other codes. This means those cities are mostly using the code adopted by the county already.

So if we’re all ordering off the same menu already, albeit with multiple logos, why is one menu with one logo better? What does the new menu have that we don’t already have? And what can one menu provide that 90 can’t?

Let’s go back to graft. Our county executive mentioned earlier is on display for exactly what people should be most concerned with in this deal- contracts. Contracts are big business and the reality BT is not dealing with is that contracts, just like tax credits, can be bought and sold. Since the 1950s, the St. Louis region has created dozens of private organizations to manage public services.

Transportation: Metro (once called bi-state), Great Rivers Greenway

Municipal: Metropolitan Sewer District, Zoned trash contracts, private water supply, Regional Health Commission

Economic Development: The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership (EDP) is a regional eco devo service operating an umbrella organization of about a dozen entities empowered to manage loans, grants, land reclamation, oversees regional industry sector development. It operates under a formal agreement between agencies in the city and county through the brand of the EDP, which is dissolvable.

Entertainment: St. Louis Zoo, Botanical Garden,

These entities and more operate through agreements with the city and county. For instance, St. Louis County has a sales tax for transportation. There are other taxes but this is just an example for simplicity sake. They can use that money to provide transportation in just about any capacity they want. But, through the structure of the organization of the board for Metro elected official have some control over operations.

Metro is the only real game in town for what we consider public transportation and considers that revenue stream as theirs. But cabs could also become public transportation as well as Uber and Lyft. This would certainly change the politics of the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission. It would change the nature of service delivery and change the market in many unknown ways. With modern technology, diversification may actually lead to more efficiency in the short run, but not meet all the needs in the long run.

Consolidation may meet regional needs in the long run. But, that is only if the person in charge values equity, efficiency, productivity and the perceived value of existing communities over political ties and power. The BT failure is that they are putting faith in government over the pride of communities. How can we have faith in government while our leaders are doing a perp walk?

For the past 60 years, St. Louis created private and quasi-public organizations run by nonprofits to provide infrastructure and services to the region. This increased complexity actually limits local communities from tapping into their tax base. It also hides things of value form the public, like contracts.

Major change like the one proposed should come from within an institution and branch out. Forced change not only faces questions of legitimacy, but also rips people’s sense of buy-in away. The English, in one way, rebuked change that seems like a beneficial idea all because of where it was coming from. The French embraced change because of who it came from and why.

If the state decides we are required to change people will eventually adapt to the change by attrition. That is those opposed to the change will do their best to vote with their feet or die trying. But I don’t see the change being of any consequence to the run of the mill resident. I see the change as an attempt to manage procurement and bigger contracts to fewer organizations. Whoever has control over the contract process will have control over the well-being of the region. Let’s hope they stay out of jail.

Triangulating Outcomes

Source: St. Louis City Planning
Sources: City of St. Louis Board of Elections

1: Wards
2: Republican Governor’s Vote- 2016
3: Lewis Reed’s vote in the 2013 Mayor’s race
4: Francis Slay’s vote in the 2013 Mayor’s Race
5: Mayor’s Race vote total between Reed and Slay
6: Slay’s vote minus Reed’s vote in the Mayor’s Race
7: Reed’s Vote in the BOA President race
8: Nasheed’s Vote in the BOA President race
9: Green’s Vote in the BOA President race
10: Total Vote in the BOA President race
11: Mayor’s Race Total Vote Minus BOA President Total Vote

The 2019 President of the Board of Alderman race is exactly what the Democratic Party needed at this time in St. Louis. A three-way race between a black male and white and black females shows exactly where the splits are in St. Louis. And there’s a good chance we can extrapolate this information to show the same veins in the county.

The table above tells a hell of a tale on that race. The first column of Republican voters for governor. You may be asking why I would include something like that in a primary race for the Democratic nomination. The answer is to show there are republicans that turn out. But when it comes to the mayor and BOA president race these Republicans vote Democrat. Sure, not all of them. But a lot do. And even if it’s only half, that’s enough to win in yesterday’s race.

Reed demonstrates this by winning four wards where there is significant Republican voting.

I include the results from the mayor’s race to show the old guard outcomes. It appears that Reed has taken control of most of that Republican vote to maintain control of the BOA. However, his performance is not as good against progressive females in Democratic precincts. In other words, the conservative Slay coalition has switch over to Reed and the Reed coalition largely split between Nasheed and Green on racial lines, based on racial mixes of wards. The city of St. Louis machine is in flux.

Reed maintained a relatively stable vote per ward garnering no less than 200 votes in all but 2 wards, while winning only 5. Nasheed won 13 and Green took 10. Most wards way under performed compared to the mayor’s race, which is to be expected when issues like less money come into play. One report pegged the total spending at $1m. But Green pushed 3 wards to increase their vote in the BOA race and Nasheed and Reed each pushed one.

Each candidate’s outcome is interesting by what it tells us of St. Louis at this time. In the context that all incumbent aldermen won their races we would expect Reed to coast to victory. And he may have coasted. Green looked to solidify her progressive base, but lost African American support to Nasheed, who ultimately saw neither she or Green could win a three-way race and publicly asked for a sit down with Green.

The problem there is that Nasheed and Green were fighting for the hearts of activists and Reed fought for the heart of the city- a centrist leader versus two liberals.

The mechanics of this race are peculiar. Looking at the first five wards, which are largely Black wards, Reed lost to Nasheed almost 2:1. He was closing in on 3:1 against Slay in the mayor’s race. That’s a big flip in the other direction for him. Notwithstanding the decline in turnout, Reed should be concerned with what comes next for him.

But, if it is the case that the progressives can now run the town it appears that Nasheed and Green should sit down to decide what that means and how they should run it

For the progressives, they now have a treasure trove of data to resolve. When the precinct data comes out they will be able to triangulate what comes next with a clear vision.

But, they have to ask themselves if this vision is shared or if it is mutually exclusive.

Florida 2020

This document dives in on the state of Florida pointing out relevant data, voter trends and relevant recent events.

Other Sources Not Included:

Florida isn’t just a toss-up at this point. Florida is a conundrum. Republicans eked out their wins in the mid-term. The 2018 US Senate race cost $181 million. As I’ve mentioned before, there won’t be a Senate or governor’s race in 2020. That means there won’t be a notable big-ticket candidate going around daily building up momentum for either side.

Republicans control the governor’s office, which will help a lot on the ground. They also have a one-seat edge in the congressional seats. All but two seats are relatively safe. Those both flipped to the Democrats in ’18 and only one of them came within two-percentage points.

Trump saw big gains in 2016 and his coattails appear to be long enough to help two statewide officials get elected, barely. Democrats hold a lead in voter registration over Republicans. But, voters who do not have a party identification is increasing, as are those who identify with the two major parties.

2020 will likely come down to those voters who don’t identify with either party, but are more upset with a certain one. The state legislature should focus on tending to the needs of the people while finding a way to blame the feds for the local problems. This message is likely to work for both parties.

The Road to 2020

Download this chart of the 2012 and 2016 presidential election and then make your own prediction for 2020.

This table shows the 2012 and 2016 presidential election results by state and including the District of Columbia. I then compare the turnout between the two elections by total vote, and the Democratic and Republican Party turnout. Finally, I analyze the Obama vote with the Trump vote.

In this hypothetical scenario a Trump candidate would beat the Obama candidate with 274 electoral college votes.

This is an important comparison because it raises the question of whether there is a path to victory for a Democratic challenger to the sitting president. The states to watch are the swing states Obama and Trump won. The mid-terms saw Wisconsin and Michigan elect Democrats statewide after going to Trump in 2016. The backlash to right-to-work laws is likely to favor Democrats in 2020 in these states.

I would not expect this backlash to be found in Missouri where a referendum was soundly defeated at the ballot box.

Republicans barely won Florida in the midterm elections. This could make for another exciting cycle when Trump has the state to himself to defend his electoral victory. The hypothetical matchup shows a decisive win for Trump against Obama. However, federal reaction to hurricane damage and an influx of Puerto Ricans coming to the mainland due to the almost nonexistent federal response to the island’s damage is impacting the state politics. Although one might expect the president to coast to victory based on past performance we will likely see him very vulnerable and struggling.

The chart shows Republicans expanded their vote by 2 million between 2012 and 2016, while Clinton had a net loss of nearly 100,000. Digging in on these numbers we see that the California vote masks the real losses in other states due to the pick-up of over 868,000 votes in this time. The Obama coalition actually out-performed Trump by 1.4 million votes nationally and we look to this as a guide for the path to victory for both sides in 2020.

Looking at each of the states that Obama won but Clinton lost tells us where the 2016 election was decided. Clinton lost a significant number of votes in all but one of these states giving Trump the win. A review of the 2018 election and a look ahead at the 2020 ballot will give us a glimpse of the troubles both parties face ahead

The 2020 Scenario

The states to watch continues to be Ohio and Pennsylvania. Democrats won the Senate seat and the governor’s office in Pennsylvania and split these offices in Ohio in 2018. Pennsylvania and Ohio ballots look like Florida’s with Trump leading an empty ticket.
Republicans have 22 Senate seats to defend, with a special election in Arizona, versus the 12 for Democrats in 2020. The problem Republicans face is that they are on defense in what are largely considered to be safe states for them. Democrats may trade a loss in Louisiana where Doug Jones has to defend his seat for a win in Maine where Republican Susan Collins will be hard pressed to defend her vote for Kavanaugh.
The problem Trump faces is that he would be better served with full tickets in battleground states. Instead, he has weakened congressional support after losing the House in the mid-terms.

Trump is in a better position to defend when he can use his coattails in support of another candidate to energize a whole state. Further investigation will need to be done to see his performance in states where no one else appeared at the top of the ballot with him.

Meanwhile, Democrats are throwing the kitchen sink at the election with candidates appealing to every constituency in their coalition. Their base has proven their ability to mobilize and Trump will continue to energize them. The key to success will truly be who can unite the party and turn that energy out on election day.

The Democrats would benefit from a lengthy debate rather than a decisive early win for one of their favored leaders. At the same time, Trump may find it difficult to motivate his base and retain the independents he pulled his way who suffered from Clinton fatigue.

Trump is likely to lose Wisconsin and Michigan in 2020. He may also lose Iowa if Democrats go with a centrist, although I think Biden has the best shot of winning all three he would need a credible progressive to complete his coalition and maintain the energy in the party. The lack of a full party voice in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania may be the end for Trump.

The 2020 election is about the future of the country in a way it never has been before. Republicans are digging in their heals for smaller government that protects socially conservative ideals of pro-life and pro-gun lobbies. Democrats are eyeing a turn in the economy with the Green New Deal, healthcare for all, and ensuring equal protections for all people.

At this point, Democrats have found a deep bench of qualified and inspirational candidates representing up and coming challengers to what had once been safe spaces for Republicans. The possible near future loss of Georgia and Texas would upend the Republican path to victory for a generation. Although neither state has shown cracks in any recent presidential election they have become surprised contests among new talent from the Democrats.

Incumbency is usually seen as a plus for a candidate. However, if the stories are true and people feel he has turned his back on them, citing issues like tax reform, natural disaster relief, and an unpopular government shut down, then we may see Trump finding a new group to blame for the woes of America. Namely the American voter.

3 Speeches

Yesterday, the longest government shutdown in US history ended. A compromise to re-open remaining offices and provide back pay for some 800,000 federal employees has been put forth with additional funding for three weeks. President Trump announced from the White House Rose Garden the plan in a speech.

One of my favorite things to do is writing for candidates and elected officials. A good speechwriter gets in the head of the orator. I like to consider the natural pauses and rhetorical style people go through. One of my favorite people I had the opportunity to write for was a local pastor who was going to deliver a recorded message to voters.

The man has a distinct style of elocution including rhythmic rhetoric with forceful tone. Obviously, my responsibility was to match his style with substance ending in a call to action for a positive vote. He was expecting a call from me to go over the material and record the message. We hopped on a call and I sent him the material and as he read through it the first time he stopped to say how much he liked what I had written. It is among the most enjoyed compliments I have had in my career.

Writing a speech for another individual can be a difficult process. But, when you do it right the orator is comfortable with the material and the speech comes off strong. In the example above I managed to write something that connected with the person giving the speech.

Trump has an interesting rhetorical style. It has been analyzed and written about and even dissected. I am often confused as to whether Trump goes off talking points or is given a speech that he delivers with random ad-libbing. He does have a speechwriter.

When Trump spoke in the Rose Garden about the end of the 36-day closure, he could have gone in several different directions. He could have spent the entire time attacking Democrats for a myriad of reasons, whether real or imaginary doesn’t really matter. Trumps rhetorical style is effective because it resonates with his audience. And they believe him.

You can see both his delivery and the transcript of his Rose Garden speech here. If you want to dig in on Trump’s public statements and tweets I recommend digging through the archives. I’ll admit I don’t always understand their methodology for what is positive and what is considered negative, but it seems to work for what they’re selling.

Have you seen the recent Gillette advertisement about toxic masculinity? It’s been widely panned by conservative pundits as a male-bashing pile-on and held as an example of the pitfalls of “woke” commercials within the industry. In reality, it may be the perfect commercial.

Although the material is widely thought to be targeted towards men because they are the focus in the ad, do you to believe it was really targeted towards toxic men to rethink their choices. It is more likely that women are the primary target of this ad. Women choosing to support the message and buy this product and those men who believe in the socially progressive ideas are the likely targets. In short, the message may not have been intended for you.

I can’t even tell you if it ever aired outside of social media. If it was largely limited to social media then they intentionally, and smartly, left out key demographics. It did create a flashpoint of debate in free media with a feeding frenzy of shares and comments helping to spread their message.

If you get hot and bothered by a message it is probably not intended for you. If there’s any genius in the Trump organization it is in that statement. He and his team have the ability to both activate his base and diffuse his antagonists. In that I do mean he can diffuse his antagonists and do not mean to defuse.

Let’s face it, Trump gives his enemies so much fodder that they all focus on different things. There is so much ammunition that every different public has an opportunity to respond. It may also be that his detractors focus more on having a differently qualified statement as to market themselves separately.

That can be a powerful weapon. Spreading out your enemies across different platforms to where it’s difficult to unify when the time comes can be a nasty form of torture.

So the speech Trump gave managed to do a few things. First, it seems to have given his base a wake-up call that they may not get the wall they want. This may become the call-to-action Trump needs to keep them engaged into the 2020 election.

Second, it gives some people a reason to say that Trump is showing he has a heart. Deep down, people don’t want to believe their president is a crook, a liar and a puppet of a foreign government. If you’re not a fan of Trump’s, then you are likely able to point to how he is all three.

Third, Democrats were lulled into a false sense of security and with a win.

If you are a fan, then you know precisely how Trump is being set up. If you are not sure about Trump, then the drama of a government shutdown affects you much more directly then the arrest of anyone associated with the dirty politics of an election. After all, weren’t both candidates for president crooks in 2016? Aren’t men toxic?

So, what if Trump gave a different speech focused on the human situation of the 800,000 employees who weren’t getting paid through the shutdown? This speech would not have been given under any condition but Trump could have moved to the center by doing so. To answer this we have to reconcile the fact that Trump’s administration is not so much Conservative but Libertarian.

The Libertarian ideology calls for free markets and no government regulation. They don’t believe in public education and believe in a minimal public service from the police. Fundamentally, people must care for themselves and can do so by their own word. Ironically, if you follow Trump’s business dealings, you might become terrified of this proposition.

For Trump to focus on the plight of the government worker would be to abandon a part of who he and his base are. Conservatives, for the most part, are just along for the ride in a Libertarian administration.

Missouri’s story illustrates this very well. In 2000, 2,361,586 people voted in the US Senate race that year. Then 9/11 happened, and in 2004, 2,731,364 people voted for president. These are the races that most people cast ballots for in those years. Nearly 300,000 people started voting in 2004 who did not previously vote. These people are Libertarian. This explains why Missouri can vote for marijuana referendums and a senator who pledges to do what Trump wants.

These people became the foot soldiers of the Tea Party and now are the power center of the Freedom Caucus and controlling interest of the Republican Party.

For Missouri, this is a significant change in the political ecosystem. It’s as if an entire underground ideology woke up seeking retribution for government failing to protect them. They are thousands of miles away from ground zero and yet awoke as if it was their backyard on fire. And this happened all over the nation.

Trump’s tweet that he doesn’t want a lot of those 800,000 employees back dovetails perfectly with the ultimate goal of his base: having no one to regulate them.

So if we hoped for Trump to hold the center ground by being less callous to federal employees that boat has sailed. He didn’t and won’t. Media portrayals of the administration being aloof completely missed the mark. It is completely reasonable to libertarians to turn to the market to finance needs rather than a social safety net.

The wall remains a goal of the administration. It is both a symbol of what is necessary and what is wrong. The absence of the wall is necessary for Trump to be successful in 2020. It doesn’t matter that space where there is an absence of the wall is where there are the fewest arrests.

The next speech Trump is likely to give will allow him to regroup. It will be a call to action followed by a flurry of events rousing his base. The next speech will actually lay out his agenda and berate the Democrats to their face. For Trump’s base, this will keep them unified and focused. Trump will also use it to test their will for a more extended shutdown.

Trump has demonstrated he can do without a status quo government. We are still to believe he can’t do without a physical wall, despite the offer of a more high-tech infrastructure by Democrats.

We move past the Super Bowl this weekend. It is an event seen by some as the reason Trump folded as flights were canceled going into La Guardia Aiport. The effect in Atlanta would be terrible for the influx of expected money for such a high profile event. One thing Libertarians can’t abide is a market failure, especially if it is caused by government failure. In this case, the safety infrastructure showed cracks as people called in or just didn’t show up for work.

The privatization of airports is likely going to be a part of the State-of-the-Union. St. Louis is debating this issue right now. The people pushing airport privatization in St. Louis happen to be Libertarian.

It’s the perfect narrative for change. The government demonstrated it is inept. If you followed the NPR coverage of prison guards and how they coped with the shutdown you often heard about how well they were paid compared to the rest of the community they served. Do you think that might sow some seeds of jealousy?

Put yourself in the mind of the person in that rural town. You are hearing about how better-off a government worker is compared to you. You don’t like government. What is your response? Probably get another job, do what’s necessary and stop whining because your life, in general, just hit a snag.

How attractive would privatization look if it ensures prison guards show up and get paid? Add airports to the debate and sweeten the deal with improvements for the safety infrastructure? You can expect all ports to be looked at for privatization at some point.

The next big travel day is Mardi Gras on March 5th. That is just after the planned three-week cease-fire. After Mardi Gras is another significant travel day with Easter. Both end a list of the worst travel days in the US. They also feature lots of money exchanging hands for Louisiana and Christians, although they are not exactly the same demographic targets here.

You can bet that Trump wanted people to give a taste of government not working. The moment they started canceling flights in New York was our “Oh, no” moment. But was it the intended message? It was a palpable moment sending messages to us all. Some of us saw it as a sign of a callous government once again not working. Some of us saw it as bi-product of politics. Others blamed Trump. But those people weren’t Trump supporters, to begin with.

So now we have a new crisis. It’s not the border. It is us. Our crisis is one of government. That is something most voters just saw. It is in part the fact that politicians can high-jack the system preventing people from working. The only possible solution could then be to privatize the system. If the government can’t protect the people it is meant to serve and simultaneously keep it running then the answer must be to privatize.

Progressive Democrats will have to struggle with their answer to this question. Their position that government works best when we work together just failed in the face of a national audience. Good government requires a people willing to negotiate in good faith. We either lack faith or our faith can be manipulated quite easily. We will know after the third speech.

So progressives, when the next speech is given in your face there won’t be a drum pounding. It will be a fist. You can stand there with a smirk on your face, or you can take action. If you understand the events as I have unfolded them, then I suspect you are not smiling at this time. That’s a lot to consider. America will be waiting for your rebuttal.

All food is local

A college professor once asked my class to write an essay explaining why all politics is local. A young man raised his hand and said, “what if you don’t believe that.” I sat there quietly a little swollen in my chair at the foolishness of the line in the sand the guy was drawing.

The professor’s shocked face gave all the reply the class needed. “What else could it be,” he replied. “If you don’t agree with that statement you had better have a good reason, and that is the point of the paper anyway. So as long as your focus is on the idea that all politics is local you should write your essay explaining what that means.”

Harold Laswell says that politics is who gets what, when and how. We can apply this definition to everything you do. Every decision you make in life is a political decision and answers the question can you do X.

We tend to think that politics is about voting or whether we have certain rights. We want to push politics out of our lives when all we are doing is not recognizing everything we do is political. If you’re thinking right now that money decides who gets what when you’re kind of like that kid in class and not recognizing the central point- politics happens before economics.

Have you ever tried chicken feet? There’s a restaurant in St. Louis I like called the Mandarin House. They serve authentic Chinese cuisine and when you go with a friend from the community you will probably hear about how what most of us order isn’t authentic Chinese food. It’s an interesting discussion because like you I’ve had my fill of General Tso’s chicken.

A few years ago some friends were telling me about problems we were having with Chinese restaurants. The health department was cracking down on how they prepared food. Cooks were leaving food out too long before it was being prepared. This can cause problems because bacteria grow at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The United States Department of Agriculture has all kinds of regulations and recommendations for food handling. This is important because for most of the food we consume it goes through a process of being broken down and transformed within a supply chain. Their guidelines define how long you should let food sit out before cooking and then once cooked what temperature you need to hold the food at and even how long you can take to cool food for storage. It’s a complex system designed to prevent people from getting sick.

Those standards, it turns out, also don’t fit the cultural traditions of some chefs who weren’t trained in the US, as I’m told. It may be they came from a place that was either lax in these standards or they knew these standards and just ignore them. The reality is if you don’t follow these rules you will, eventually, get people sick.

Many restaurant owners in the Chinese community felt they were being targeted because they weren’t passing their health inspections and being threatened with fines or being shut down.

I was introduced to the Mandarin House by then Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal who I worked for a few times in the past when she needed a local person to help with things in her district. If you think she’s wild on twitter ride around all day for a few month with her. You’ll see her whirlwind life is a passion for the people in her community. She’s kind of like water: if there isn’t a way she’ll make one.

Maria introduced me to the Mandarin House with an intern who was from the community. We didn’t go to the buffet. Instead, we chose from the dim sum carts and that’s the way to go for a real experience. The food is amazing and intricate and the texture is nothing like Western food.

One of the items we had was chicken feet. Not every place on earth has the commodity hog, beef or chicken we have in the US. In fact, we didn’t always have those beasts at the level we do now. People had to make do with the food they had and animal protein was sparse. Bone marrow is a trendy dish now in part because it tells a story of who we use to be.

Chicken feet will set some people off but it’s really good and a fun dish, in part because you can’t help but break etiquette to do it properly. To make chicken feet you have to boil them forever in high-temperature water, broth or sauce. The tendons need to break down and they become loose and then get cooled. Here in lies a problem based on where you’re from. Some might take them straight to a refrigerator but they should actually go into an ice bath.

The ice bath not only lowers the temperature quickly passing the danger zone but it also seizes up the feet making it a crispier product when you finally fry it.

So the dim sum cart comes along and Maria chooses for us and there are the chicken feet. I’m listening to how my company passes on Americanized Chinese food and that they have never really tried it because it lacks the flavor. So here I am jamming chopsticks into my mouth and twisting the feet around and sucking on knuckles. I slide the bones back between the chopsticks with my tongue and place them clean back on the plate, no different than a wing besides the utensils.

I mentioned I had never had the opportunity to eat chicken feet before and I was curious. They watch me maneuver the morsels and ask me what I think. I kid you not, I said it tastes like General Tso’s chicken because it did. Right down to the sauce the feet were served in. It was crispy, chewy and tasty. And I moved on to the pork bun.

Whether you eat chicken feet today is first a political decision because it answers who gets what, when and how. Whether you’re eating chicken breast or feet is an economic question. Economics is about choice where politics is about decisions. Once you have choices you can then make a decision. Politics decided that it is possible to serve chicken feet so long as you follow certain rules along the way.

The issues with the restaurants made it’s way up to the ninth floor and the health department convened a meeting with the offended parties. Staff from the county executive’s office attended and the situation was discussed as a group. St. Louis County government is the chief regulator of restaurants within its boundaries where food is concerned.

As an aside, Urban Chestnut in the Grove is actually regulated by both the City of St. Louis and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) because they produce liquor on site and distribute it around Missouri and other states, who also regulate them. But, the restaurant itself falls under local jurisdiction.

The county adopts a code and implements it locally. It also implements it across the board and applies it the same to everybody regardless of the municipality the business is in. It’s one uniform code. But the purveyor has to choose which municipality to set up in.

Between the city and county we have the choice of some 90 municipalities, unincorporated space and the City of St. Louis. The politics is different among all of these places and the city county merger can’t change that. Why? Because all politics is local and neighborhoods will always determine who gets what, when and how. Right?

The Mandarin House set up on state highway 340 in University City because they wanted to be in U City, right? Well, they wanted to serve their authentic cuisine to a population who would appreciate it. They wanted their customers to have a reasonable drive to get to them. So they chose to be located on that stretch of 340 known as Olive Boulevard. If you click on the embedded link above, you will see that 340 runs through multiple municipalities.

That Wikipedia page states the entire route is in St. Louis County. If you Google Olive Boulevard you are shown a map that designates 340 as running into the city ending at North Skinker Parkway. This is important to the Mandarin House because they want their customers to be able to find their way in the easiest way possible.

All customers know that the commute is a part of the experience of eating out. How you get there and home is as important as whether you have water placed in front of you when you sit down. If the commute sucks that will likely taint the whole experience. How do I know this? Because some restaurants make getting there a part of the experience. Ever heard of the Safe House?

But if I were to leave from Ellisville and go to eat in U City I would pass through multiple municipalities who all have different feelings about the state highway running through them. To my knowledge, the state has responsibility for the entire stretch. However, they hear from the different communities in different ways and at different times.

The Mandarin House probably doesn’t lobby a lot about the condition of 340 out front. But the fact that a state legislator likes to go there likely means that if they need to ask questions about its condition they know who to talk to, as do the city administrator and mayor of U City. As do the same people in Ellisville where you will find a Pasta House.

This is another popular place in our region and franchises are available. So if you were interested in buying this franchise what would you do? You’d talk to the county about health code and then probably talk to a couple different cities. Why? Because you need to be informed on each of their own codes, which may or may not have slight differences.

In reality most cities in St. Louis County actually use county code for buildings. The answer is straight forward, economics. These cities can’t afford to manage the technical needs of building code. But before it’s an economic choice, the county made it a political decision. They won’t implement individual codes for each muni. Public Works in the County keeps a matrix to keep track of which city they have a contract with to manage electrical, plumbing and other codes. But each city the county contracts with uses the adopted County code.

This leads to some interesting lobbying from school districts, city aldermen from county munis and business. Enter the raw politics most people can’t abide. I’ll tell some of those stories another time.

But, if you wanted to start a business, would you want to spend time getting to know all of your choices? Or, would you prefer knowing you had one place to deal with?

If it’s a choice of chicken feet or chicken breast you’re really talking about economics. But if I were having dinner with Laswell, I’m pretty sure we would focus on the fact that this choice doesn’t go away because both are regulated the same way.

A Story from St. Louis

St. Louis is spinning right now! We are just now starting to see real movement out of years of inaction after events in Ferguson rocked our community. We were severely divided. My father-in-law is a retired police officer from St. Charles County, near St. Louis, and my daughter is a social justice-minded teenager and aspiring artists. I am a political operative who wrote the St. Louis County policy on human relations, created a bi-state human relations commission and has worked for progressive politicians who often put inequity on the table. Needless to say, my daughter’s mouth takes after me.

A couple of years ago, when Ferguson erupted, members of my family immediately took polar opposite sides on issues. Many saw Mike Brown as a punk who got what was coming to him for attacking a police officer. My daughter posted a lot on social media about how people are treated by police, especially people of color. Something she believed was unfair and needs correcting. This was met by backlash from my in-laws. My side of the family is largely non-existent on social media because they’re teachers and you all can’t control your kids.

My wife ended up in the middle of a firestorm. She was being told by her brothers and sister what to do, which is never a good place to be. Her father wasn’t talking to anyone in my house and posted some hurtful things about his grand-daughter online. Sides were taken and there was no shaking anyone out of it. Essentially we all moved on from each other for a while.

That’s St. Louis for you. We’re a bunch of municipalities of different ages and maturity who occasionally take sides against each other. Now, the question is: If we could come together, can we address our issues and actually solve problems?

St. Louis City is a charter city in Missouri. It has about 308,000 people according to the census bureau’s 2017 estimate. The city has been shrinking since the middle of last century and has been ranked last according to some reports in growth. Updated reports place St. Louis a little higher these days. But, if you’re in the business of big sales, that isn’t enough for most people these days. We’re in a global economy and we need to act like it.

The city separated from the county over the same issue: You can’t tell me what to do or who to be.

The solution we are debating is should we get the family back together. The reality is that we’re different people since our big fight. In St. Louis we call this split “The Great Divorce.” The event, outcome and failed resolution have had drastic consequences. But so too has other policy on the region.

We once had an amazing trolley system. We were a connected place. Kenneth Johnson’s Crabgrass Frontier describes a St. Louis where weekenders would go to Kirkwood and Webster Groves. Those lines were scrapped in favor of automobiles and the interstate highway system bulldozed through neighborhoods speeding up suburbanization into St. Louis County.

The way we are connected in this region constantly changes. We continue to lay tracks, invest in a virtual persona, and rebuild those highways. As such, the conversation has evolved and a resolution is expected to be put in front of us in 2020. While the outcome is not certain, a parent’s command of you will fix this is hoped for by some and frightens many in the region.

Some claim the many municipalities in the county hamper economic growth. And others point to the city as an example of being too big and failed. Social media is being filled with pockets of the city where neighborhoods look rundown. Neither side recognizes the thriving neighborhoods of the region that exist because of and despite the separation. Our focus is on the question of, can we thrive better if we act more as a singular family unit under one direction?

Do we lose our individual perspective if we act as one? Will we be seen only as one if we join forces?

Over the summer and fall, I spent a lot of time in Michigan for work. I had never heard of Troy, Sterling Heights or Royal Oak, which are all suburbs of Detroit. This place is massive. Detroit itself is reported as 142.9 square miles through a Google search. The Census Bureau calculates the urbanized area to be 1,337 square miles. That makes it 11th in the U.S. in the urbanized area even though Detroit City ranks 64th in size by area compared to other major cities. It should be noted that 14 of the cities on that list above Detroit don’t have a population of 100,000.

So in this global economy, if it makes sense for St. Louis City and County to merge, why not Detroit? Well, first, St. Louis City is 66 square miles according to a Google search, other estimates have it being less. Either way, that’s a pretty small community. But there are still over 300,000 people living in that little place.

Using Census figures Governing Magazine puts the density of St. Louis City at 5,030 people per square miles. You’ll notice that’s respectably high for population density.

St. Louis County is another story. Google says it’s 523 square miles. The City of Wildwood in St. Louis County is 67.08 square miles making it larger by area than St. Louis City. The Census estimates the counties population to be 996,726 residents. The county is almost eight times the size and only three times the population. Could it be more populous if one government was managing growth?

It’s been a few years since the uproar in my family. We’ve largely grown in our own ways since then, much like the region where we all live. There hasn’t been much reconciliation from anyone. We do our best to support each other in our own ways. The parallels to the city and county are striking. Both issues will always be there. It’s become a part of who we are in many ways.

Nobody has the opportunity on any side to just walk away from each other because we are, in all reality, bound to each other for good and bad.

It is said cities are creatures of the state. If a city acts outside the intentions of the state’s interest they can be forced down a different path. In 2020 we may see the state take St. Louis City and County down another path. Emotions are high on both sides. Personal identity is at stake and individuality is on the line.

So what will we do? Will we see the common interest is not what our individual want reflect but that together we can address the bigger problems. Or should we hold on to what we want at this time despite the fact years pass and new needs emerge?

I invite you to explore St. Louis and discover how much fun you can have here. I’ll be exploring St. Louis over time and discussing what I enjoy here. If you have questions message me and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. But I would point out that I can’t contrive your experience. You will need to explore what works for you along your own path.