Election 2012

Exercising My Right to Complain (and other random election thoughts)

Today, I voted over the lunch hour, guaranteeing my right to complain for another four years.  I would like to exercise that right, as well as share some of my thoughts and feelings on other national and local issues.

Let’s start it off with the main event:  the presidential race.

President Obama reelected.  Despite this and my last two posts, I do want to keep this space largely free of politics so I’ll withhold my thoughts on the reelection itself.  But I will say this:  I have two (adopted) children under the age of four.  My daughter has an African-American birth father, and both my son’s birth parents are African-American.  Having an African-American President isn’t going to erase (or likely reduce) the racial challenges they will face in their lives – especially in an overwhelmingly caucasian state like Nebraska – but it will make it easier for me to tell them that anything is possible.  And that is a huge victory in our household.

Poor timing.  For the majority of the night, we kept our coverage on ABC – mainly because I prefer their Lincoln affiliate for local coverage.  Unfortunately, when Obama got the necessary 270 electoral votes, we missed out on the moment as we were watching a local reporter stumble through an interview with a reelected Congressman.  Talk about anti-climatic.

Popular vote vs. Electoral College.  As I write this, President Obama has a very slight lead in the popular vote* (around 200,000 – less than the population of Lincoln, NE), but he is absolutely crushing Romney in the all-important Electoral College (303-203 at the moment).  This is bringing up the same debate we have every four years on if the best way to elect our President is to continue the Electoral College or put it simply to a popular vote where the candidate with the most votes wins.

*Currently, I’m mixing up my election coverage with some Fox News.  The nice blonde lady is struggling to figure out why Romney lost even though he is doing well in the popular vote.  I’m guessing this anchor was hired more for her looks than her political savvy, but surely somebody there can explain the Electoral College to her, right?

Without getting into that debate, I think the thing we must recognize is how well – in this election and in 2008 – Barack Obama and his campaign team did in a) understanding exactly how the system worked and b) creating a winning game plan to win under the system in place.  Frankly, I think if the goal was to win the national popular vote, Obama’s team would have emphasized that instead of focusing on the critical swing states.

For what it’s worth, I’d love to see how the election would have played out if every state used the system in place in Nebraska and Maine:  the electoral votes are not winner-take-all, but are divided by Congressional district.  That could be a fair compromise to the issue.

Long lines to vote.  Throughout the day, I heard stories of folks having to wait for hours on end to vote at their local polling place.  And I don’t understand it.  This is my sixth presidential election, and I have never waited more than five minutes to cast my ballot – and for most of them (including today) I simply walk in, sign the thing and vote.  So what is the deal?  Are there not enough polling places?  Not enough workers staffing them? Whatever it is, it needs to be fixed.

Moving closer to home, there were a handful of local races and amendments that I felt strongly about.  Looking back, I probably should have shared my thoughts before the election, but given the large margins by which they were defeated, it probably would not have mattered.

Bob Kerrey loses his bid for the U.S. Senate.  Despite some late polls that showed Kerrey (a former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Senator) had closed the gap on state senator Deb Fischer, this was never really in much doubt.  Kerrey never had much of a chance, and the simple fact that he – somebody who has not lived in the state since 2000 – represented the Nebraska Democrats’ best (and only) hope for retaining Ben Nelson’s Senate seat should tell you everything you need to know about the strength of the democratic party in Nebraska.  But to be clear – it stinks.  Yes, there are some bright, young, and talented democratic senators in the Unicameral, but blowout losses in the elections for  three congressional districts, both Senate seats, and the Governor’s mansion over the past few years demonstrates the failure of the democratic party to recruit, develop, and support talented candidates.

I can certainly understand that few people in this vastly Republican state care about the stumbles and fumbles within the Democratic Party, but, having both parties being viable and competitive is in the best interest of all Nebraskans.  The GOP is more than holding up their end fo the bargain.  Let’s see if the Democrats can do the same.

During his acceptance speech, Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry forgets one of his children.  It is a standard part of the post-election speech.  Candidate thanks his wife, his kids, and everyone who supported him.  Fortenberry was doing the same thing; he recognized his wife, named three or four kinds, and was moving on when his wife interrupted him to point out that he had forgotten about one of his daughters – who was standing four feet away from him.

An amendment to extend term limits is rejected.  The amendment would have kept term limits on the Nebraska legislature, but would have changed the maximum number of terms from two to three.  Personally, I liked the idea as the Unicameral is seeing good senators forced out and replaced with inexperienced newbies, who spend most of their first term getting familiar with the ropes.  A part of me thinks this was defeated for the same reason term limits were initially enacted – to keep argumentative and contrarian senator Ernie Chambers out of office.

Speaking of which….

Ernie Chambers reelected to the Nebraska Legislature.  He’s baaack!  His WikiPedia page refers to him as “‘Defender of the Downtrodden’, the ‘Maverick of Omaha’ and the ‘Angriest Black Man in Nebraska.'”  He was forced out by term limits, sat out for four years, and is back and ready to use his mastery of the political process to block bills that he does not support.  Ernie adds much-needed life to the Unicameral, and he does a good job of thinning out some of the junk bills that get pushed every year.

No pay raise for the Legislature.  An amendment to give Nebraska’s state senators a $10,500 pay raise (from $12,000 to $22,500 a year) is soundly rejected.  I know that my fellow Nebraskans are a fiscally conservative bunch, but I wonder a) why anybody would spend thousands of dollars campaigning for a full-time “part-time” job that likely pays less than minimum wage per hour worked. and b) if there is any way that a person like me (i.e. married, kids, car payment, job that pays considerably less than six figures) could ever survive as a Senator without starving (or getting cozy with a lobbyist).  As the old cliché goes – you get what you pay for.

Campaign Workers and Volunteers.  As I was driving my kids to daycare this morning, I recognized a former co-worker (Phil Montag) holding a alarge campaign sign at an intersection.  Ten hours later, as I was taking my daughter to her gymnastics class, Phil was still on the street corner still holding that sign.  I assume that Phil did not spend his entire day holding a sign up for motorists to ignore, but I have a ton of respect for the folks – on both sides – who freely give their time, talents, and energies to help their candidates get elected.  Some really believe in their candidate(s).  Some – like Phil – are political junkies who enjoy the nuts and bolts of elections.  Regardless, I applaud those who do the little things to help make our democratic elections work, from the presidential elections down to a humble race for County Commissioner, such as the one Phil was holding a sign for.

Why I Vote

Nebraska is a big red state – both in football and in politics.  It’s been said that the only thing that outnumbers Republicans in Nebraska is cattle – and most of those cows would vote GOP if they could.

There are definitely pros and cons to living in a state where one party dominates all of the state and national offices.  For example, I don’t think the Lincoln TV stations have shown a single Obama or Romney ad (or super PAC attack ads bashing one of the candidates)*.  The campaigns know that Nebraska’s miniscule amount of electoral votes are going to Romney, and no amount of soft focus ads with ominous voice-overs will change that.

*This isn’t quite the case in for folks who watch the Omaha channels, as a) neighboring Iowa is a swing state, and b) because Nebraska is one of two states who splits their electoral vote by congressional district, there is a (slight) chance that Obama could steal an electoral vote in Nebraska, as he did in 2008.

And I’m okay with that.  I have a degree in Advertising and I’ll be first to tell you that political ads (from both sides) are entirely composed of lies, half-truths, and slanderous evil.  So the lack of wall-to-wall ads is a positive.

But there is one big negative:  pretty much any vote I cast in a state or national election – regardless of party – is purely symbolic.

Since I live in Lincoln, a vote for Obama isn’t going to help him win an electoral vote.  I could still vote for him as a show of support (or dissent from my Republican neighbors).  I could also write-in my own name*.  Both have the same impact.

*Nebraska residents, for the first time I am elgible to be elected President of the United States.  Feel free to (FeitCan) write me in.  I’m willing to release my birth certificate, tax returns, helium balloons, whatever it takes.

If I vote for Romney, I’m a single snowflake in a GOP avalanche.  In 2008, John McCain won Nebraska by approximately 120,000 votes, which is more than the number of registered voters in Nebraska’s third, fourth, and five largest cities.  Combined.  I feel safe in saying that Mitt will do just fine in Nebraska without my vote.

But I will still vote today.

Why?  I’ll spare you the 8th Grade social studies response about it being my civic duty, or any other clichéd answer.  Instead, I’ll give you the primary reason I vote – and the reason you should vote today too:

By exercising your right to vote, you gain one of the most fundamental American rights.  It may not be in the Constitution, but all Americans hold this right dear.

The right to complain.

That is why I’ve been tolerating the barrage of politically charged Facebook posts this year – I know the people posting that stuff have voted in the past, and will vote today.

But if you don’t vote, I don’t want to hear it for another four years.

The Irony of Joe Ricketts

Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade (and part of the Chicago Cubs ownership) is donating lots and lots of money this campaign season through his super PAC.

He recently spent $200,000 on an ad to defend U.S. Senate candidate Deb Fischer (R-Neb) against an attack ad by her opponent Bob Kerrey.  This brings Ricketts’ total to almost $700,000 in this race.  And the Nebraska Senate race is small potatoes compared to what Ricketts has spent on the Presidential race – almost $10 million, with likely more to come.

I’ll try my best to leave politics out of this post – Ricketts earned his millions and can spend them any way he damn well pleases.  If he wants to try to impact/influence/purchase an election, that is his right under the current set of super PAC rules, as enacted by the Supreme Court.  Maybe Ricketts really like Deb Fischer.  Maybe he believes it is an investment – that he’ll make all of that money back with Fischer and/or Romney in office.  Who knows?  That’s not how I’d chose to spend $10 million dollars, but again, it’s not my money to spend.

And don’t go thinking this is some partisan rant against big spending Republicans.  You better believe that there is somebody on the other side spending the same amount of money to get Kerrey elected and reelect President Obama.

But the reason I bring this up is the sick, twisted punchline that is ripe for the picking.  Joe Ricketts’ super PAC has a name that is painfully ironic considering everything above:

Ending Spending

Seriously.

I couldn’t make that up if I tried.

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