Weekend open thread: Huckabee passes on 2012

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee announced on his Fox show last night that he will not be a candidate for president in 2012. I doubt many people were surprised, because Huckabee had done little to lay the groundwork for a campaign. Shortly after Huckabee visited Iowa on a book tour earlier this year, his 2008 state campaign manager Eric Woolson signed on with former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Several other influential Huckabee backers from the last go-around are committed to other candidates as well, including State Senator Kent Sorenson and Wes Enos (now backing Representative Michele Bachmann) and former leaders of the Iowa Family Policy Center (supporting Judge Roy Moore).

It’s anyone’s guess who will benefit most from Huckabee’s absence. Every poll of Iowa Republican caucus-goers I’ve seen this year has put Huckabee in the lead. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney typically places second in those surveys, but he has signaled that he won’t campaign hard in Iowa this year. Judging from how other potential Republican presidential candidates reacted to yesterday’s news, Huckabee’s endorsement will be highly prized.

This story caught my eye: former Governor Chet Culver is co-chairing the National Popular Vote campaign, which seeks to ensure that the winner of the presidential election is the candidate who receives the most popular votes. Since a U.S. constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college would never be ratified by enough states, the National Popular Vote campaign is seeking to prevent a repeat of the 2000 presidential election.

I was surprised to see Culver on board. When an Iowa Senate committee approved legislation in 2009 to assign Iowa’s electors to the winner of the nationwide popular vote (if enough other states approved the same reform), Culver spoke out against the bill. He warned, “If we require our Electoral College votes to be cast to the winner of the national popular vote, we lose our status as a battleground state.” Then Secretary of State Michael Mauro also opposed the bill, saying, “Under this proposal, it is hard to foresee Iowa maintaining its dominant role and expect candidates to spend their final hours campaigning in our state when they will be focused on capturing the popular vote in much larger states.” Todd Dorman views the national popular vote campaign as an “end-around” the normal constitutional amendment process, but I support the getting rid of the electoral college by the only practical means available. The president should be the person who receives the most votes.

May is Bike to Work Month, and the Iowa Bicycle Coalition has lots of resources to support recreational or commuter bicyclists. The Urban Country Bicycle blog posted about a study that showed the average worker in this country works 500 hours a year (about two hours per working day) just to pay for their cars.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Huckabee’s Fox News contract played a big part in his decision not to run for president.

Governor Terry Branstad used his weekly press conference on May 16 to urge Republicans candidates to compete in Iowa:

“This is probably going to be the most wide-open, competitive race we’ve ever had for the Iowa caucuses,” Branstad said. “This is a state where a candidate – with hard work and retail politics, going to all 99 counties and meeting with people and answering the questions – this is a state where you can effectively launch a campaign. And it’s not too late.” […]

Branstad publicly took issue with [former New Hampshire GOP Chair Fergus] Cullen’s editorial, which said, “Iowa Republicans have marginalized themselves to the point where competing in Iowa has become optional.”

“Mr. Cullen couldn’t be further from the facts,” Branstad said. “The truth is that Iowa is a full-spectrum state. I think the primary election that I won last year proves that. I would also point out that the front-runner, Mike Huckabee, made a decision over the weekend, which is momentous. He is not running this time, which means he got the largest block of votes in the Iowa caucuses four years ago and those are up for grabs.”

Cullen’s editorial is here; I posted excerpts here.

Branstad’s close associate Doug Gross, who co-chaired Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign in Iowa, has long warned that the caucuses are not hospitable to moderate candidates. In November 2008, he said, “[W]e’ve gone so far to the social right in terms of particularly caucus attendees that unless you can meet certain litmus tests, if you will, you have a very difficult time competing in Iowa.” But Gross had a very different message today:

I think this is a different year because largely with Huckabee getting out, you’ll have multiple social conservatives in the race. As a result of that, they’ll divide up a lot of the Caucus vote and there’ll be an opportunity for a mainstream Republican to come in and do surprisingly well here. If I were Mitt Romney and I wanted to be the nominee for president, I’d play in Iowa this time because if you win in Iowa this time you have a chance to win the nomination.”

Talk radio conservative Steve Deace shared his perspective as an enthusiastic Huck supporter in 2008 who has grown disillusioned more recently: “Ideologically, the Huckabee of today sounds a lot more like the Rod Roberts of 2010 than the [Bob] Vander Plaats of 2010.”

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Keep early ballots sealed until election day

On Wednesday IowaVoter posted a diary here about a bill passed by the Iowa House to allow absentee ballots to be counted before election day. Click here to read the text of HF 670, formerly known as HSB 133.

IowaVoter uses humor to raise valid concerns about this bill. Quite a few people could be tipped off about the early voting results, and if they leak the information, some candidates could gain an advantage on election day. Lots of state legislative races in Iowa were decided by very narrow margins last November, and it is not uncommon for a local or county-level race to be decided by a handful of votes.

I can’t see any public interest served by this bill. Even though early voting has grown in Iowa, with about a third of the electorate casting early ballots last fall, we still got our election results promptly.

Mr. desmoinesdem pointed me to this site, which shows that only California and Colorado allow early ballots to be counted before election day. Many states don’t allow them to be opened until after the polls close on election day (Iowa law currently allows counting to begin the morning of election day).

I can understand why many would support early counting of absentee ballots in a huge state like California. Even though California election officials were allowed to start counting on October 25 of last year, some had hundreds of thousands of votes still uncounted after election day. But California has three counties more populous than all of Iowa, six more counties with at least 1 million residents, plus another 12 counties that have more residents than Iowa’s largest county (Polk).

There is no logistical need for county auditors in Iowa to open the early ballots before election day. I would rather wait a few more hours for the final results than open the door to political mischief by insiders.

HF 670 is worse than a solution in search of a problem—it’s a solution that could spark allegations of fraud and misconduct every time we have a very close election outcome. The Iowa Senate should reject this bill. If they pass it, Governor Culver should veto it.

Saving the electoral college will not keep Iowa relevant

Both Governor Chet Culver and Secretary of State Mike Mauro have now come out against a bill that would award Iowa’s electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote. Their opposition in effect kills any chance of the bill advancing. Although it has been voted out of committee in the Iowa Senate, it may never come to a floor vote there or a committee vote in the Iowa House.

I don’t know what so many people have against one person, one vote for president, just like we have for every other elected office. I also take issue with this part of Culver’s statement:

As the last three elections have shown, Iowa is now a battleground state, and, as such, the issues of Iowans are heard by the candidates of both parties. If we require our electoral college votes to be cast to the winner of the national popular vote, we lose our status as a battleground state and the opportunity to ensure that the ideas that are important on Iowa’s Main Streets remain important on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

If the governor wants to buy into Republican propaganda about this bill, fine. But let’s not pretend Iowa is bound to be a swing state forever. Oregon was a battleground state for a few cycles, but John McCain didn’t seriously compete for it this year. West Virginia was a battleground state in 2000, but hopeless territory for Democrats in 2004 and 2008.

Democratic gains in voter registration could make this purple state blue if Culver and the statehouse Democrats give us a solid record of achievements to run on in 2010. If that happens, don’t count on Iowa’s six electoral votes being up for grabs during the 2012 general election.

I am also unconvinced that the electoral college ensures presidential candidates pay attention to small states. When was the last time a presidential candidate spent time in uncompetitive small states like the Dakotas, Montana, or Vermont?

John Deeth is right:

# The person with the most votes should win.

# It would be better if the Constitution actually said so.

# But National Popular Vote is a nice stopgap.

# If big states want National Popular Vote, it will pass without Iowa.

# The caucuses, not the electoral votes, are what makes Iowa important.

And about those caucuses: we won’t have competitive caucuses on the Democratic side in 2012, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some major Republican presidential candidates skip Iowa. It didn’t stop McCain from winning the nomination last year.

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What election reforms does Iowa need?

John Deeth posted a good summary of bills on the election process that the Iowa legislature may consider this year. I agree with Deeth that teenagers who will be 18 by election day should be able to register at any point during the calendar year of the election, and that Iowa should keep its late poll closing time (9 pm).

Unfortunately, no one appears willing to step up and lead on the Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections (VOICE) act, which would create a voluntary public-financing system for state elections. It’s worked very well, commanding bipartisan support, in states like Arizona and Maine.

Our Democratic leaders in Iowa seem to enjoy the current system, where special interests flood the capitol with money and individuals can give as much as they want to incumbents.

This is one reason why I’ve been saying no to all solicitations for the Iowa House and Senate Democrats’ funds. I will give to individual legislators and candidates who share my priorities—not to a fund that increases the power of leaders standing in the way of change.

I note with amusement that some legislators would have us believe it’s important to prevent candidates and their spouses from receiving a salary from campaign funds. No one who follows politics can credibly argue that this is the biggest ethical issue related to campaign finance.

I agree with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board, which wrote of last year’s attempt to close the “Fallon loophole,”

A thistle to Democratic legislators who would bar candidates from drawing a salary from campaign donors. This bill (aimed at Ed Fallon, who is challenging Leonard Boswell) is an Incumbent Protection Act. Challengers who give up day jobs to run for office must fend for themselves or be independently wealthy. Meanwhile, the taxpayers support or subsidize incumbents. If contributors want to spend their own money for the care and feeding of a candidate, it is no business of the Iowa Legislature.

I wonder how many of the legislators backing this bill have a problem with Joe Biden, who has employed his sister Valerie Biden Owens to manage all of his Senate and presidential campaigns.

The legalized corruption in our political system has nothing to do with a handful of candidates drawing salaries and everything to do with the excessive influence of wealthy individuals and corporate interests.

Share your suggestions for improving Iowa’s election law in this thread.

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