In the Bag

It is clear the press is going to be in the bag for Pete Peterson for Secretary of State.  He's "not a politician" and a "reformer" (whatever that is supposed to mean) and "really wants to do the job" and is "different" mostly because he is a Republican versus all those Democrats. 

But I did find one irony in a recent U-T article on the contest:

Even though he's a media favorite, Schnur received fewer votes than indicted Sen. Leland Yee, who withdrew from the election, but whose name remained on the ballot.

Maybe the GOP needs to ask the mainstream media to stop being so helpful.

Must Admit I Miss

Don't miss the tie.  Don't miss the office politics.  But there are things I miss about not being in the Capitol anymore.

One is missing some of the dramas of end of session.  Take this article on a bill on franchisees. 

Lawmakers sought for hours to whip up support after failing to secure the votes needed to advance Senate Bill 610. The final tally was 41-27, and the bill now heads to the Senate.

Those two sentences fail to capture all the fun that surely must have accompanied that final vote.  Staff sitting in their offices.  Watching the vote dance up and down in the 30's through multiple pulls off call.  Some with a vested interest in the outcome.  Others just bemoaning how the bill is slowing down session and getting members on their planes.

Lobbyists and activists scrambling around the 3rd floor hallway.  Often resigned that they simply have to wait until the person they need becomes available.  

Hearing whomever is holding the gavel yell out to record the vote as quickly as they can when the bill hit 41 before anyone else could drop off.  And for the very patient waiting for the end of session to see who slips a vote change in when they think nobody is watching.

Something a news story simply can't capture.

Experienced Campaign Hand

Someone asked me how old my pug Tigress was yesterday.  When I told her nearly 10 the staffer was shocked, remembering Tigress as a puppy at Assembly Democrats' campaign office.  The staffer reminisced just how many cycles we've been through since then.  Amazing how time flies.


Thought of the moment is where to get coffee between my four meetings downtown today.  Chicory to see and be seen or Temple to be able to sit and work.  Decisions, decisions. 

All Politics is Local

Something all consultants should be keeping an eye on.  The lower the turnout, the more distortions you can get due to local issues.  A controversial local measure does not matter much in a Presidential year when turnout is already high.  But that exact same measure can have a huge impact in a Gubernatorial, particularly one without much on the ballot.  And with very little to motivate voters this year, those impacts could be magnified even more.

Further, while most local elections used to be in odd years, they have increasingly shifted to even year ballots, largely due to local jurisdictions trying to save money during the Great Recession. This just increases the opportunities for such local issues to drive the results for state and federal contests.

So whenever you see an article in Rough and Tumble on some local measure you normally might not care about, check to see if it overlaps with a still competitive legislative contest.  At the minimum you will have something that makes you sound smart when gossiping.

Losing a friend

Many in Sacramento and beyond can identify.  Robert Jordan was not just a coworker.  He was one of those truly genuine people far too rare in this business.  We lost him last week.  We will remember him this week.  We will feel his loss far after.

I was privileged to visit him in his last 24 hours.  I'm not sure if he knew I was there.  But I know how much it matters to me that I was.

Robert and I were both wise-asses.  We would mouth off to power even when it was to our detriment.  We didn't know how not to.  I referred to him as "pesky party staff."  He referred to me in terms I won't repeat.   And it was always mutually terms not of detriment but of affection.

I met Robert in my preteens.  I was too young for him being gay to mean much to me.  He was not flamboyant.  Nor was he ever closeted or ashamed.   Maybe because I knew Robert at such a young age being gay, straight or Eskimo never really meant much of anything to me.  Then or now.

The best symbol of respect for all wasn't the purple triangle he often wore on his collar but the person he was.  All I know is I will miss my friend.  

Big Data

One of the things I love about data is its ability to reveal.  Despite complaints from some reformers there are quite a lot of systems built into government/politics to shine light onto what is going on.  Admittedly some of them are not particularly user friendly and certainly should be made better to expand accessibility.

But that is also where data comes in.  The ability to take large datasets, break them down, put them back together, and find the diamonds in the rough.  I'm always amazed when people ask, "How'd you figure that out" and all I can say is, "I looked on their website."  Similarly I am always amazed when people tell me, "We had no idea what you were up to" and all I can say is, "Really?  I assumed you did because it was on their website."

Now that is a bit facetious.  Due to the aforementioned limitations of many systems it does take some work to pick through what is available.  And it does require people with very different skill sets to work together.  A statistics/computer geek may know to break down data but not what they are looking for.  A political guru may know what they are looking for but have no idea how to find it. 

But when you find ways to bring people with those skill sets together, it is a major strategic advantage.  And sadly, it is one that too many groups forgo.  For my last amazement in this post, it is incredible how many people in this industry choose to pay obscene amounts of money for gossip and rumor when the actual facts are sitting there for free right under their noses just waiting to be discovered.

The Thing

John Myers (as usual) has a nice summary of the big issues that the Capitol will be facing this month.  The thing I always find interesting is what will be the bill that ends of blowing up that nobody anticipated.  Due to a combination of late amend (or gut-and-amend), floor debate where everyone feels compelled to say the same thing the person before them did, Republicans deciding the bill is really a chance to talk about something else, multiple attempts at reconsideration, etc., there is always that bill that nobody anticipates at the start of August that everyone is sick-and-tired of by the end of August. 

Anyone have any nominees?


The last weekday before members return to the Capitol.  Looking forward to seeing everyone downtown on Monday as the sprint to the election begins.  Particularly looking forward to still not having to wear a tie for the occasion. 

Sometimes Smart Wins

When any of us politicos need an ego check, they should put on this week's Bill Maher and watch physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (aka the guy from "Cosmos", aka the only physicist most of us might know other than Stephen Hawking and the guys from "The Big Bang Theory") take out everyone else on the show (including Bill) with clear, logical, concise points on a wide range of political topics.   

Reflections on a Recount

Daniel Borenstein wrote this weekend about how John Perez does not deserve all the attacks he has drawn for taking advantage of the state's recount rules.  I agree with Borenstein's premise that much of the criticism is unwarranted.  However, I differ in that much of the criticism could have been avoided had the recount request been structured differently to better reflect both the letter of the law and the potential for public backlash.

So where did the recount go wrong?  I'm not talking about the campaign.  Anytime you lose by a tiny fraction of the vote you can think of a million decisions you might have made differently.  I'm talking specifically about the period between waiting for Lake County to (finally) report until conceding the election and how small changes might have reduced criticism and limited and damage to the Perez “brand name”. This post is a reflection of the mantra “first do no harm.”

My guess is that even with these changes the recount still would have failed. It is just too hard to make-up votes in a recount with current voting technology in a state that defaults towards counting versus rejecting ballots. 

1) ASK FOR A STATEWIDE RECOUNT: Note, I did not say pay or even commit to a statewide recount.  I said: ask for a statewide recount.  In 2000 Gore lost significant ground in the public relations debate because he only asked for some  counties to be counted.  Indeed, that strategy was later exploited by the U.S. Supreme Court with their "creative" ruling against the Vice President. 

A statewide recount request could have still have specified which counties and precincts be counted first.  When asked why prioritize the order for the recount, the answer would be not wanting to waste local election officials’ time and expend money until a more limited count showed whether the results were legitimately in doubt.  This would be defensible and understandable reasoning.  If Perez had then started making up ground (at the same time the  money ran short to finish the entire state) editorial boards would have been focused on criticizing state law not the candidate.  If there was no ground being made up and he pulled the plug, his message that he wanted to be sure that EVERY vote was counted might have had more resonance.

2)  OR REQUEST WHOLE COUNTIES BE RECOUNTED: At a minimum, the recount should have requested whole counties to be counted.   Indeed, California requires an entire county be recounted to change the final outcome.  So what was the good of doubling-down on the flawed Gore strategy by not only requesting only some counties to be counted, but only some parts of some counties? 

Again one could have still requested certain precincts and certain counties be done first.  As the Kern/Imperial counts showed, it would have taken a long time before any Betty Yee precincts would be reached.  The trick is you want to hand count your precincts and machine count your opponent's.  The former is more likely to change the result than the latter (and a machine count is far cheaper than a hand count).  The memo requesting the recount stated, "For each of the precincts specified in my list, I am seeking a manual recount.  For each of the remaining precincts in those counties, I reserve the right to recount them manually or by machine as the recount proceeds."  The specificity of the request made the selectiveness too transparent. 

Compare instead, "I am seeking a manual recount of all precincts in the specified order.  I reserve the right to request a change to a machine count for remaining precincts as the recount proceeds."  Then,  when the first Yee precincts were reached, the request could have been updated to switch to a machine count in that county.  When a reporter asked why, limited resources  could have been used as a shield to explain the shift.

Instead the "cherry picking" seemed so obvious that it handed Parke Skelton (Yee’s consultant) a talking point.  And you just don't empower Parke like that.

3) FOCUS MORE ATTENTION ON REJECTED BALLOTS: There were really only three places that Perez could have made up enough votes to close the gap.   The first was if something systematic was happening in “his” counties to cause Democratic voters generally and his voters specifically to have their ballots disproportionately rejected.  That is why his team made a wise choice to start with Kern County to see if Democratic (and Latino) ballots were disproportionately being thrown out in Republican counties. 

The second was to look at statewide systemic problems, but only seek redress in his best counties.  Perez's best results were on Day 2 in Kern when he added four votes.  All of these came from ballots initially counted as overvotes (i.e. someone the machine said voted for two people).  One can see how this would happen.  A voter marks Candidate A.  They meant to vote for Candidate B.  They don't understand  (or care enough) to get a new ballot, particularly if they are a mail ballot voter. So they cross out Candidate A, mark Candidate B, and trust or hope that the machines can figure out how they voted. 

As Borenstein points out, part of the reason the request was so selective (and thus so open to criticism) was because the state requires those requesting a recount to pay their way and Perez had less money for a recount than most assumed.  When resources are limited, you focus on the low hanging fruit.  Back during the days of punchcards, the low hanging fruit was indeed a full count in your best areas.  For example punchcards would give a different count each time you ran the ballots through the machines as more and more chads would be knocked off. 

But punchcards are no more.  Optical scan equipment is VASTLY more reliable.  Now the low hanging fruit consists of those ballots not counted before, either because the mail or provisional ballot was tossed before being opened or because the ballot was marked as an over or under vote. 

Focusing on these rejected ballots would have produced more potential votes more quickly.  Fundamentally, public opinion was going to turn within a week unless enough ballots were changing fast enough to throw the results into doubt.  Thus the recount request needed to be designed to maximize the odds of making up ballots as quickly as possible. 

4)  PUT MORE PRIORITY ON LOS ANGELES:  The other place Perez could have picked up ballots was in Los Angeles.  And that is not because he won Los Angeles or even because of Los Angeles' size.  Well not only for that reason.  Rather, as discussed before, while most of the state radically changed their voting systems after the 2000 election, Los Angeles made much more modest changes.  LA's InkaVote is really just a modified punchcard where the pin to punch a hole has been replaced with a pen to mark a target.   

This means that LA's voting system is more prone to differences between a machine count and a hand count.  For this reason if the recount had included a handful of LA precincts to be counted in the first week, he may well have picked up a few votes.  Due to LA's aforementioned size, even small margins from these precincts would have made it much easier to argue to the skeptical public, press and donors that the results of the election really were in doubt. 

If you count five of Imperial's 159 precincts and make up one vote, at best you can say you are on pace to pick-up around thirty votes.  But if you count five precincts of Los Angeles' 4,870 and make up one vote, you can say you are on pace to make up more than a thousand votes from just that one county.  This would have insulated Perez from the Yee press operation and allowed more time for the recount to play out (and raise more money to pay for the remaining areas). 

5) ANTICIPATE TIMELINE QUESTIONS: A 39 page recount request just begged the question: How is it possible for this to get done?  The request could have been much simpler.  We want you to count all 58 counties (or at least all 15).  Please start with these three (adding LA to their initial two).  For these counties start with these precincts.  After these initial results we will provide direction for the remaining counties. 

This would have eliminated the stories about the count going past November.  It would have maintained the ability to ask for a concurrent (rather than consecutive) count in the remaining counties.  And again, if anyone asked what was the plan to finish in time the response would have been simple, "We are starting with the areas that will tell us whether the election results are truly in doubt before asking for an expanded recount.  We wish we could have requested a statewide recount to start but unfortunately state law and our limited resources forced us to make a more narrow request."

BOTTOM LINE- Perez was not at fault requesting a recount nor was its failure the fault of those interpreting the election results.  However, it did not fully integrate this statistical information with the nuances of California election law and knowledge of inevitable press and public reaction. 

I hate to say it

But having the primary in June does not work.  It used to.  But a series of unrelated changes have made it increasingly problematic. 

* SCHOOLS- Kids used to get out in June.  Now they increasingly get out in May.  More and more families are on vacation in the first week in June.  When only one in four voters cast their ballot, one cannot say June is a magic date for getting voters to the polls. 

* INITIATIVES AND VBM- Mail ballot rates are increasing.  Meanwhile all initiatives have been moved to November.  This means most VBMs are being processed at the same time petitions are being checked.  In many counties the staff who check VBM signatures are the same ones who check initiative signatures.  This has created a bottleneck and pressure on both systems. 

* RECOUNTS- The real problem with California recount law is not money but time.  We cut a month out of the practical time to complete a primary recount when we gave military/overseas voters an extra month to cast their ballot in November.  If we pushed back the primary a month there would have been a lot more time for the process to play out.  Coupled with some more minor reforms to the recount process (focusing on rejected ballots, allowing candidates to raise unlimited funds, giving candidates only one-bite at the apple to request counties be counted) we could fix the process without simply sticking the taxpayers with the bill.

* GLOBAL WARMING- Just kidding.  But it is about 7 degrees hotter in June than May.  And the sun is already setting around 8 PM by early May so no walking in the heat or the dark. 

How do people feel about May Day GOTV?


New York Minute

Some political fates are determined by large, global trends that sweep up everyone in their path.  Some turn on individuals, the sheer will and determination of those involved (or conversely their stupidity and laziness).   Still others turn on tiny, inconsequential and random events beyond anyone's control.   And whether a national trend, an individual player, or a flip of the coin, the consequences often play out in surprising ways.

This thought is nothing new.  It is one everyone learns at various points in their lives.  And usually it is one we quickly forget until reminded again.  It is one I was reminded of when out on my morning run and the great Eagles' New York Minute popped up on my iPod. 

When I was eight or nine I heard Jesse Jackson give a speech.  I told my mom how cool he sounded and she should go work for him.  She did.  That job caused her to later get hired by Michael Dukakis.  That in turn brought her to Phil Angelides and then the Capitol community.  That is how I met Jim Wisley who brought me into the small family of redistricting nerds.  Wisley's personal history in Fullerton and my personal history with a feminist mother caused the two of us to hatch a plan to defeat Chris Norby.  And with it came the two-thirds.

Now perhaps Norby would have lost no matter these individual efforts.  Certainly the state's growing Latino population and the Obama bump played their part.  And certainly it was a random chance that a photographer caught that great imager of Brandi Chastain's shocked face when Norby attacked Title IX and put himself on the target list.  But just as possibly an inconsequential twenty-five year old speech by Jesse Jackson also played its part. 

As I was running this thought was rattling around in my head.  I also thought about all the global trends, critical individual decision and random moments of fate that could have moved 500 votes in the Controller contest.  I thought about all the other factors that will impact the coming game of political musical chairs as one generation steps out of the political limelight.  Finally I thought about how to avoid downtown traffic when on foot... seriously the walk sign means wait until I am out of the crosswalk to make your right turn people.

Keeping busy

By the end of next cycle, there will be a precipitous drop in the number of competitive legislative contests as the impacts of term limits reform fully kick in.  On the other hand, as Politico points out, we are preparing for a major shake-up in statewide offices, both as there is a generational shift in the top-of-the-ticket offices and as younger pols give up their safe seats to take their shot at moving up.  And political consultants everywhere breathe a collective sigh of relief.