Election 2014 Post-Mortem #2: The Bad News About The Ballot Questions And National Politics

Awesome post. One of my favorite parts: "And while we’re on the subjects of Democrats, money, and that which is ridiculous, here’s hoping that in 2016 and going forward the fundraising DNC/DSCC/DCCC-emails will take a different tone than the ask for money you’d expect from some desperate, batsh!t drug addict." - promoted by Bob_Neer

So much bad news.

Question 1.  It’s important to remember that we got to this place because Speaker DeLeo, Rep. Dempsey, et al. dictated the terms of the tax bill last year, carved out the gas tax increases from Patrick’s ambitious $1.9 billion package and (eventually) jettisoned the rest.  They deserve blame.   Perhaps Governor Patrick could have done more to stand his ground, too.  As I argued in this space last year, raising the income tax would have been a more palatable, less regressive, and better way forward.  I also think that, especially coupled with the significant sales tax cut included in the package, it would have been more popular.  Of course, hardly anyone was eager to make the case to the public that, despite our Taxachusetts reputation, our tax burden is not all that high.

The result here should not have come as a shock.  The automatic gas tax increases were unpopular across rank-and-file party lines from the get-go.  But we now face some significant budget issues going forward (already!).  How do we realistically make those much needed investments in our transportation infrastructure with No-New-Taxes-Charlie in charge?  I have no idea.

Question 2.  The ugly truth here is simple and easy to recognize: Yes, indeed, big, bad, corporate Super-PACs spent a lot of money, ran dishonest ads everywhere locally, and reversed public opinion.  Among voters, the narrow, “Hey, I recycle, but I don’t want to spend more money on groceries or make more of an effort than I possibly have to”-sentiment took hold.  It’s too bad, because as a matter of policy, deposits work.

Question 3.  Despite mountains of evidence that casinos are altogether bad for life, the repeal was a long-shot.  And despite some significant NIMBYism, most voters thought it was a settled matter.  (I personally found it slightly brutalizing to watch the gubernatorial candidates try to formulate a coherent position on this, by the way.)

Question 4.  The silver lining!  A wonderful achievement made possible by the hard work of so many!  And the folks who worked on this should feel especially gratified considering that the legislature was afraid to take it on earlier in the year.

* * *

Charlie Baker won because he, and his outside supporters, raised and spent millions more

Money talks and everything else, as a rule, walks in politics. Charlie Baker and the Republican PACs and associations that supported him — far stronger since Citizens United — outspent Martha Coakley and her allies by many, many millions in absolute terms, and likely by even more on a relative basis: 2-1, according to some calculations. He beat her by a whisker. If that imbalance had been reversed, sure as Obama raised more than McCain and Romney, and beat them both, and sure as Warren raised more than Brown, and beat him (and Brown beat Coakley when he raised more than her), the former A.G. would now be Governor.

It’s just math: Candidate Popularity * Money = Outcome, and it is as plain as the golden dome on the State House or the bills in your pocket. Rare exceptions prove the rule.

What I find striking is the resistance to this political reality. Jack Sullivan, for example, a gifted analyst, offers the best catalog I have yet read of reasons why Coakley lost. In Martha We Hardly Knew Ye in Commonwealth Magazine’s superb free Download newsletter he lists the following: “she didn’t carry with her the ‘lessons learned’ of taking and making bold policy stances and statements” (quoting Scott Lehigh), “being splattered with the Patrick administration missteps” (citing Michael Jonas), “a victim of the national enmity towards President Obama and Democrats in general,” “timing of former mayor Thomas Menino’s passing,” “abandonment of Democratic mayors and their machines as well as the passive, in some cases non-existent, support of legislators leaders,” “Coakley isn’t a good politician,” and “lacking political acumen for races that required more than just legal skills.”

Those factors probably all played some role, and they are worth discussing, but the list does not include the most straightforward explanation: cash. It is also the best explanation for last night’s Republican sweep: they spent more. For a micro-example, it explains how Thomas P. O’Neill’s PR factory, armed with millions of dollars, could use “false” information, according to the Globe, to flip 2-1 support for less litter and municipal cost savings to an opposite margin in favor of polluted beaches and a free pass for irresponsible behavior (an impressive example of how to turn a fine family name into a synonym for a trash-filled park in one generation, but I digress).

My theory is that most observers find it deeply unsettling to acknowledge the degree to which our politics is determined by money. First, it is undemocratic, and many people have an attachment to that political system. Second, it devalues the importance of the political elite — journalists, activists, etc. — except to the degree they can raise money. Third, it requires an understanding of the campaign management industry — the talented people who spend the money — a relatively new field with billions in annual revenues that is almost completely opaque.

Here come the crazy ideas

There’s something about the post-election hangover that causes people to say really goofy things, and sometimes to publish them in an op-ed.

Case in point, Globe columnist Tom Keane.  Personally, I’m not a big fan anyway, but this one’s downright silly.

It’s time to get rid of bottle deposits…. The notion of deposits on containers is deeply problematic, a flawed scheme from the 1980s. I first became disillusioned with the law when, living in Boston, I’d find my trash bags razored by bottle-pickers, debris strewn about. Now I’m in an apartment building, and single-stream recycling is — literally — down the hall: one chute for trash, one for recyclables. Trudging to the store to return bottles and cans makes no sense. From my point of view — and that of many others, I suspect — the expanded bottle bill would have been simply more money out of my pocket.

This is a classic self-absorbed bottle-bill-hater argument.  It’s messy; it’s a hassle for me; my life would be simpler and cheaper if I didn’t have to pay deposits on bottles.  It’s an argument that’s been made since the first bottle bill was passed; it’s been rejected for years.  Nothing has changed.

But somehow, in light of Question 2′s failure at the ballot, the time has come to get rid of all bottle deposits?  Say what?  Surely, Keane has some excellent arguments in store.  Before we examine them, let’s recall why we have a bottle bill in the first place.  It is in place to solve a very specific problem, namely, discarded bottles on the streets.  Litter.  If there’s a financial incentive not to throw a bottle onto the street, people won’t do it, the argument goes – and if they do, someone else will pick it up.  And it works: as we all know, 80% of deposit containers are recycled, compared to only about 25% of non-deposit containers.

OK.  So, what does Keane have in the way of arguments for getting rid of the bottle bill, aside from the standard argument noted above?

The existing law is antiquated and in need of updating. But since that’s not going to happen, it’s time to come up with some new approaches.

Expanding “pay-as-you-throw” programs would be one approach. Now in place in more than 140 Massachusetts communities, the concept is to charge homeowners a fee for each bag of trash they put out, while collecting recyclables for free. According to case studies by the state, such programs can dramatically increase recycling.

#Fail.  Pay-as-you-throw may be a fine idea, but it has nothing to do with the litter problem.  Pay-as-you-throw creates an incentive to put recyclable waste in the recycling bin, instead of in a trash bag.  But litter, by definition, doesn’t end up in either.  If someone’s already inclined to toss their empty water bottle onto the street, pay-as-you-throw doesn’t create any incentive not to do so.

At the same time, we could follow the example of Delaware, which abandoned its bottle deposit law in 2010 and moved to what the state calls “universal recycling.” Initially funded with a fee on beverages, all businesses have to participate, and all household trash haulers have to offer residents single-stream recycling. Since the bottle bill ended, the percent of Delaware’s trash that is recycled has climbed from 33.7 to 40.1, according to the state.

Still not good enough, for several reasons.  First, a 40% recycling rate may be good for Delaware; it obviously pales in comparison to the 80% recycling rate of deposit containers in Massachusetts.  Second, common sense tells you that many single-serving beverage containers are not consumed at home or in a restaurant.  Rather, they are something you pick up at a convenience store, you drink, and then you throw away (either in a trash can or on the street).  It’s commendable, but I’d venture quite rare, for people to chug that bottle of water and then hang onto the empty bottle until you get home several hours later so that you can dutifully toss it into your single-stream recycling bin.  Most people just don’t operate that way.  Plus, notice that Delaware’s plan was “initially funded with a fee on beverages,” which sounds a lot like a tax (much moreso than the bottle bill, where deposits are refundable).  I imagine that’s going to go well.

And that’s all he’s got.  Astonishingly, Keane never comes to grips with the basic point about the bottle bill: it works.  It’s too bad it didn’t get expanded; what that means is that we’ll continue to see water and juice bottles on the streets, both in communities that have single-stream curbside recycling and communities that don’t, just as we do now.  Getting rid of deposits all together would simply mean that we’d start seeing Coke cans and beer bottles on the streets as well, which now is fairly rare.  And that would be good because…?

Democrats need to hire Daily Show writers

Painful. - promoted by david

After watching The Daily Show last night (if an editor could get the video to embed, that would be awesome [happy to oblige! -ed.]), I’m convinced that the whole messaging thing isn’t that hard. If their writers can give the lines to Jordan Klepper, why can’t someone give them to Democratic candidates?

Jordan Klepper: Last night, at approximately 11:27pm Eastern Time, the Republicans gained control of the US Senate, and results were almost immediate! The economy – now growing at a robust 3.5%. Gas this morning? Under three bucks a gallon. Look: Stock market at record levels; deficits cut in half; ten million more Americans have health insurance; and unemployment sub-6% for the first time since we elected “Chairman Obama”.

Jon Stewart: Well, wait! Hang on a second Jordan, because the things that you’re describing…

JK: And even Ebola, Jon, think about this, which was on the verge of destroying this country under Obama’s feckless leadership is suddenly only a problem now for one guy. It’s Morning In America, Jon!

JS: Jordan, that is an incredibly impressive list you’ve ticked off, of things that happened under Obama and the Democratic Senate.

JK: Oh, please, Jon! If Democrats had accomplished all that, they would have been out there bragging about it for months! It would have been the central message of their campaign, instead of their actual message, which was, like, I’m quoting this here, “I’m sorry! Don’t be mad! We don’t like Obama either! We like guns too!”.

Done. Was it really that hard?


A @#$%burger to go: even yet still more takeaway

A few takeaways from a bad night

Well, well, well.  Another day, another midterm bloodbath.  And this time, unlike 2010, we can’t even be all self-satisfied by looking at how bravely Massachusetts withstood a national Republican juggernaut.  There was really only one race that was expected to be close here, and Charlie Baker won that one.

So, what did we learn?

  • Polling works, sort of.  I’m fond of saying “polling works” after every election – usually, the polls taken within the last couple of weeks of election day correctly spot motion in the race, and as election day approaches, pretty much nail what is going to happen.  That kind of happened again, but kind of not.  Here in MA, there was an enormous amount of polling, and pretty much all of it correctly detected that Baker had a late advantage.  Almost all of it also overstated Baker’s advantage, especially the Globe/SocialSphere, which published the shocking Baker +9 poll followed by its final poll showing Baker +7.  Seems pretty clear that that’s never where the race actually was.  Closest to the mark were Suffolk (continuing its long streak of doing very good polling inside Massachusetts) which showed Baker +3, and MassINC, which correctly showed Baker at +1.  Around the country, too, a lot of polling roughly got the results right, but was way off on the margin.  The statistics geeks will no doubt have more to say about all of this over the next several days.
  • Massachusetts likes having a Republican Governor.  I don’t really see a way around this one.  Think about it: in the last 25 years, the only time a Democrat has won a race for Governor is when the Democrat was one of the most gifted campaigners anyone has ever seen.  Deval Patrick also had the good fortune to run against two lousy candidates: Kerry Healey, and Charlie Baker 1.0.  John Walsh and I got into a little back-and-forth on this subject on Twitter, which you can peruse here.
  • We have a new party.  Since Evan Falchuk got just over 3% of the vote, his “United Independent Party” will be a real party now.  If anyone knows what that actually means going forward, or what he is actually planning to do other than lose another run for Governor, please do let everyone know.
  • At least Scott Brown lost again.  In all the grim news last night, there was one very bright, shining spot: Jeanne Shaheen won reelection to the Senate in New Hampshire, defeating our old friend Scott Brown, who apparently became the only person in history to lose two US Senate elections to women.  Unfortunately, even New Hampshire wasn’t all good news: Maggie Hassan won the Governor’s race and Annie Kuster was reelected to the House, but Carol Shea-Porter lost her House seat to Frank Guinta.
  • Money talks, as my co-blogger Bob accurately observes.  Paul McMorrow at MassINC, among others, did a great job keeping track of the outside spending in the race for Governor.  Among other appalling tidbits: the day before election day, McMorrow could state that “the RGA spent more money last week than Martha Coakley has spent all year.”  No wonder Charlie Baker didn’t want to sign a People’s Pledge.
  • Tom Menino’s death came at a really bad time for Martha Coakley.  Unexpected late events can have an outsized impact on elections, and that seems to me what happened here.  Charlie Baker committed a major unforced error in the last debate by telling a story about a fisherman that seems to have been fictional in substantial part, and that generated a flurry of bad headlines and embarrassing press appearances where he was mumbling things about the essence of the story being true, whatever that means.  If the press had run with that for another couple of days, who knows how many late-breaking undecideds it might have swung in an already very close race.  But Menino’s death took over the front pages for about four straight days, and made it impossible for either campaign to make news in the final stretch – which suited Team Baker just fine.

Citizens United 1 Massachusetts 0: Coakley Concedes

Politics is a business and money has the loudest voice: yesterday’s election was a stark demonstration of the point. In Massachusetts, Baker outspent Coakley approximately 2-1 — CommonWealth magazine put the total for third party groups at $8 million to $4 million two weeks ago. Nationwide, with the Citizens United legislation passed 5-4 by the Supreme Court’s Republican majority now solidly in place, Republicans outspent Democrats and took control of a second branch of the government.

Charisma, positions, and grass-roots organizing have important roles to play, especially in close elections, and there are always exceptions, but on the broadest scale and over time, money appears to be determinative. In 2010, under John Walsh’s leadership, Democrats outspent Republicans and Patrick beat Baker. If Coakley had outspent Baker 2-1, she probably would be the governor now.

We need to raise more money for our candidates.

Results open thread

Looks like MA residents will be able to drive along poorly repaired trash strewn roads to gamble after calling in sick. Nationally, as David Frum Tweeted, “Is tonight’s takeaway that Republicans do great when voter turnout drops below 38%?” (Maybe the GOP’s voter limitation efforts are paying off). Is Evan Fulchuk (62,000+ votes) a local Ralph Nader 2004? Will Scott Brown move further north to the state of his birth and run for Senate in Maine? Lots of interesting questions to discuss: have at it.

Election 2014 results thread

Moved to the flip…

Wonk Post: WBUR Turnout Projections

Turnout today will be either higher or lower than in previous elections. - promoted by Bob_Neer

From WBUR Poll Vault:

Where are we going?

The record. - promoted by Bob_Neer

What if President Romney had this record?***    

–unemployment from 11% to 5.9%; 11+ million new jobs; how many consecutive months of job growth? (50+)

–stock market from 7,000 to 17,300

–50+ consecutive months of economic expansion?

–stimulus bill that saved the country from depression (yes, it worked, it just should have been bigger)

–saved the auto industry (saving millions of jobs)

–saved much of the banking system (saving millions of jobs)

–largely out of Iraq

–largely out of Afghanistan

–15 million (?) previously uninsured Americans with health insurance (and counting)(yes, Romney likes people to have insurance)


–Dodd Frank

–annual deficit from $1.4 trillion to $450 billion

–ordered the risky raid that resulted in UBL taking one right between the eyes

–Sandy relief

–assistance for 9/11 first responders

–led government efforts to keep people in their homes who had predatory mortgages

–kept US safe at home

–increased energy independence

–increased use and development of alternative energy

–expanded the college tax credit

–lowest federal tax burden on middle-class families since the 1950s

–two women on US Supreme Court (“binders full of women”)

–first female Fed Chair (“binders full of women”)

***If I’m wrong on any of this correct me but this is off the top of my head; not researched, not fact checked. 

Would Republican candidates around the country run on this record, or cower in fear?

I just got to thinking, as we lose ground in the House and [perhaps] lose the Senate, how did we get here?  Do we as a country want to go back to Bush-era policies?  I don’t get it.   

Election day open thread

Today’s the day! Get out there and vote, and tell us what you see. Bob and I will be live-blogging the results this evening, from the BMG Media Empire compound, as they come in.