My apologies for not getting this in closer to the actual new year, but you could say that "a day late and a dollar short" has been the theme of the new year so far for me. Or five days short, as the case may be.
In any case, before we start the new political year for real, I thought it might be fun to share our predictions for the new year. Here are nine predictions of mine for two thousand and nine.
1. The state budget is in far worse shape then we think. Expect the fight over the budget to get ugly, quick.
The Iowa state fiscal year runs from July 1 2008 to June 30 2009--right in the heart of the economic meltdown. Given that the estimates for this period are just starting to come in, it's reasonable to assume that the stories we're currently hearing about the "budget crisis" represent only the tip of a much larger iceberg. Likewise, the 1.5% across-the-board cut currently proposed by Gov. Culver isn't going to be nearly enough to solve the crisis. It's going to get ugly and fast.
2. Unemployment will hit 10% by the end of 2009, and recovery will not come until early 2010.
Call me a pessimist, but I think things are going to get much worse before they get better. When you combine the potential failure of the Big 3 (a still unresolved issue, by the way), plus a global manufacturing slowdown, with the fact that up to 25% of retail stores may declare bankrupcy in the next year--you have the recipie for unmitigated economic disaster.
To complicate matters, I do not expect President Obama's recovery measures to be passed before May of this year. (There are already signs that a long battle is ahead for this bill.) That means that many of the infrastructure projects given funds through the program will miss out on the summer construction window--meaning they likely won't start until Summer 2010. Many other measures, like tax cuts or social programs won't go into effect until 2010 as well...moving the light at the end of the tunnel further and further away.
3. The Big 3 will not survive in their current form. Get ready for the Big 2.
Regardless of whether the auto bailout was the correct move at the time, by the time the big ball drops in 2010--there will no longer be a Big 3 as we know them now. My best guess is that one of the Big 3 automakers (most likely Chrysler) will implode into disorganized bankrupcy. No buyer will be found, and the brand will simply cease to exist. This will spark a crisis that will either lead to the organized bankrupcy/restructuring of the other companies, or government assistance with severe Bob Corker style conditions.
The good news is that out of the multitude of laid-off engineers and designers, we could see new and innovative technologies, designs, and companies form. By 2020 we could all be driving solar hybrids designed and built by ex-Big 3 designers who started their own companies.
6. The Supreme Court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage in the case of Varnum v. Brien.
Beware the ides of March rings true in Iowa in 2009. Expect a ruling on the case of Varnum v. Brien to come down with a rulings for several other cases on March 13, the conclusion of the Court's March session. When that happens expect a whirlwind of craziness to descend on the state: national media, a rush of spring weddings, celebrity attention, half-cocked legal challenges, right-wing rants, Fred Phelps-ian protests, legislative blustering, Steve Deace's head exploding, and who knows what else.
I don't think the moon turning to blood, the dead walking the streets, or any other Pat Robertson-style pronouncements will come true...but expect a wild ride.
5. The Republican candidate for Governor will be a serious contender who already holds a major elected office.
The current fight over the RPI chair has a definite and familiar theme: change. Old hacks are out, new hacks are in. While there is a faction of the GOP that clings to BVP like life preserver, the majority of the party is, I think, waiting for someone new to come along.
That someone is either State Auditor David Vaudt, Sec. of Agriculture Bill Northey, or 4th District Congressman Tom Latham.
Vaudt looks to emerge as one of the main faces of opposition to Culver on budget issues, a position he could use to slingshot him to the governorship. Northey is the darling of the Republican Party and, with agricultural issues on the back-burner this year and little to do, may find the Governor's race an attractive prospect. Latham, by all measures a low-importance member of the minority party might decide that its now or never for him. And he has nothing to lose: if he wins, he's the Governor; if he loses, he can run again as the elder-statesman in the dogfight that will be the new 3rd district.
6. Sen. Grassley will announce 2010 to be his last election.
Sen. Grassley has always had a keen sense of which way the wind is blowing. As rumors swirl about big name challengers (one of whom's name might rhyme with Wristy Swillsack...) expect Grassley to announce this as his last election, with a retirement in 2016.
Politically, it's a very schrewd move. Grassley announces his retirement, turns his campaign into a "farewell tour", holds off any serious challengers, and Iowa voters vote one more term for 'ol Chuck.
7. A rise in crime will bring law-and-order issues back in a big way, including gun control.
All big drops in the economy have seemed to come hand in hand with rises in crime. Muggings and burgulary will rise, as will domestic violence. As more and more companies lay off employees (some of whom were unstable to begin with), workplace shootings and other dramatic acts of violence will rise. Already overcrowded and cash-strapped prison systems will struggle to keep up with the new wave of inmates.
This will set the stage for new law-and-order and gun control legislation not seen since the early '90s. Expect Vice President Biden to take the lead in crafting a new Crime Bill that includes a renewal of the assult weapons ban and provisions of the Matthew Shepard Act, passing such a bill by the end of the year.
8. Caroline Kennedy won't get a Senate seat, Roland Burris will.
In the wake of the election and Obama's cabinet selections, there were four Senate vacancies; Sen. Obama's seat, Sen. Biden's seat, Sen. Salazar's seat and Sen. Clinton's seat. So far, we've seen three of the four seats filled with "placeholder" candidates.
IL- fmr. IL Atty. Gen. Roland Burris, 71 (expect Burris to eventually be formally nominated and seated by Lt. Gov Pat Quinn after Gov. Blago's impending impeachment)
DE- fmr. Biden Chief-of-Staff Ted Kauffman, 69 (he has explictly said he will not serve past 2010)
CO--Denver school superintendent Michael Bennet, 44 (a weak candidate who could easily get skunked by Gov. Ritter in a primary fight)
This leaves New York. While Caroline Kennedy was percieved to be the frontrunner just a few weeks ago, new polls show her popularity among New Yorkers to be plummmeting. Look to Gov. Patterson to appoint a well-liked, older placeholder senator who will bow out after two years; potentially Nita Lowey or even Mario Cuomo.
9. 2009 (and especially 2010) will mark the start of a new era in Iowa politics.
Iowa is changing. Iowa has been changing for a long time, but 2009 marks the tipping point. Iowa is becoming more urban and more diverse...and as a result more blue. Power in the statehouse is flowing to urban/suburban districts like Kevin McCarthy's and away from vast rural fiefdoms. Just look at the leadership of both parties, the majority of which come from either urban or suburban districts (with the exception of Paul McKinley, of course).
As rural districts get redistricted out and rural legislators lose power, issues that have been taboo in the past (such as county and school district consolidation) will be on the table. That won't happen in 2009, but 2009 marks the start down that road.