Monday, August 31, 2009

The Sky is the Limit

The Space Shuttle Discovery reached the International Space Station today.  This flight is a particularly proud moment for Latinos because the Space Shuttle carries with it the story of a remarkable journey.  Jose Hernandez was born the son of migrant farm workers from Michoacan, Mexico.  Hernandez is not the first Hispanic to board the Space Shuttle, but his humble origins are an inspiration to all about the potential of the human spirit.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

ex-Felons and Civil Rights

A continuation of sorts on the right to keep and bear arms. Some believe ex-felons should have their right to vote restored. However, I am curious what these folks think of the restoration of all this person's rights, such as the right to keep and bear arms. A recent case in North Carolina has ruled that some ex-felons do have a right to keep and bear arms. I think if you are going to argue ex-felons have a right to vote, something I am certainly open to, I don't think you can justifiably argue that the same person cannot enjoy all his/her rights. If you're argument is that this person is too dangerous to be trusted to exercise this right, then maybe this person should be serving more time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Competitive House Districts in 2010

To add to Zachary's comment below regarding competitive districts, the GOP leadership recently announced a list of 70 house districts that they will be targeting for 2010. Ten of the districts on the list are located in the Southwest. Above is a graph of the targeted districts and how they voted for president in 2008.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Karan English Malaise

Blog, rimes with fog, a component smog - pollution or obfuscation?

I think I would like to introduce a new phrase into our political lexicon – “Karan English Malaise” Political slang can be useful shorthand for describing phenomena. Most are familiar with ‘The Bradley Effect” (although most are ignorant of the fact a gun control measure on the California ballot has as much to do with a Deukmejian win as did latent racism). The “Karan English Malaise” (or KEM) would seem to be just as important in understanding political success or failure. KEM is caused when a politician doesn’t pay attention to his or her base – or takes said base for granted.

Some background. Democrats need to have a registration advantage of about 7 points to overcome the tendency of Republicans to get out and vote. Hence a district that is – say 52 Democratic and 38 percent Republican is actually a competitive district – the parties will fight over a district like that (in contrast a 50-50 district is generally solid Republican).

The congressional district that encompasses Flagstaff Arizona has always been competitive. In order for a Democrat to win all the stars need to be aligned correctly and the base of the party has to be motivated and work hard. Karan English, it is widely assumed by local observers, lost her bid for re-election in part because an important part of her base – environmentalists – did not get to work and get out the vote. This is KEM – not taking care of your base (specifically not taking care of the environmental vote in Northern Arizona Congressional elections – but if I put too fine a point on it KEM won’t catch on).

Ann Kirkpatrick voted against the House cap and trade bill. The Republicans are waiting for the chance to take back her district. KEM looks like it might be settling in.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Be careful what you wish for.

Blog, rimes with fog a component smog - pollution or obfuscation?

Like most political scientists I have long been a proponent of public financing of political campaigns. Almost 20 years ago I wrote disparagingly about the practice of Arizona legislative candidates parading in from of lobbyists to be video taped and then later evaluated by said lobbyists to determine who would be blessed with their largess. The anointed could count on about 50K and a good shot at election - those not chooses had to look for other work.

Such a system struck me as borderline corrupt and at a minimum influence peddling and sinister. So when Arizona got public financing it was a cause for rejoicing.

Fast forward. As always party nominations are determined by the fringe elements of the parties (the people who religiously turn out for primaries). These happen to be the most liberal in the Democratic Party and the most conservative in the Republican Party. Since Arizona is mostly a Republican state - Democrats can get elected statewide but it is often because Republicans do something stupid - Republican primaries are very important in Arizona politics.

Public financing has meant that any wingnut (right or left) can get funding, run a viable compaign and win. It turns out that those corporate campaign money people of yesteryear were actually moderate compared to the wingnuts who can now use public funding to get elected. Corporate lobbyists may have had interests to peddle but they also had an interest in a well run state (with, for example, good schools).

When you add to the mix term limits.....well that is for another time.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Should firearms and rallies mix in Arizona?

The recent political event in which Arizonans exercised their right to openly carry firearms, and to which my colleague Fred Solop reasonably commented on, has been the subject of much ire. First to be clear, the open carry laws quite expressly allow eligible citizens to openly carry their firearm at an event such as this one. However, whether or not it is a good idea to open carry at a political rally is another matter. Since firearms are expressly prohibited from being carried at a polling place on the day of an election, it seems for good reasons, it is perfectly reasonable to question the wisdom of openly carrying firearms at a political event in which there will be contentious debate. However, not necessarily because you distrust the citizen exercising their rights. In addition to being contentious, political events can be crowded. Openly carrying may be an invitation to someone commandeering another person's weapon. This need not be a pro or anti 2nd Amendment argument. The tactical advantage to open carrying in certain situations is itself debatable among firearms experts. I am not calling for a law to be passed to restrict open carry at such rallies, I only suggest it is wise to reconsider. This also does not preclude the right of permit holders to conceal carry a firearm. Those who feel unsafe at the sight of an open carry firearm should know that its very likely that people around them are carrying weapons concealed. There are almost 140,000 active permits in Arizona and Arizona has substantial reciprocity laws, meaning they honor conceal carry weapons permits from every other state. For those concerned about firearms at a political rally, the bigger worry in my mind is the inability to distinguish those folks carrying concealed weapons legally or not. This is a problem one cannot escape without outright outlawing weapons from being carried on any person, but then by definition only lawbreakers will remain unaffected by these types of laws.

For those students at Northern Arizona wondering if NAU allows open carry or concealed carry on campus, the answer appears to be 'no'. Oddly, it is legal to store a weapon on the campus of a k-12 school if it is locked in a car, but not at a university. The state authorizes the Arizona Board of Regents to establish the policies concerning safety, and possessing or storing a firearm is a violation of that policy. I am not an expert or lawyer on the gun laws in Arizona, so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Doin' the Hard Work

The shouters and screamers who have made their presence known in various debates these past few months remind me of one of my pet political peeves. Where are they when the "hard work" of politics needs to be done? Were they sitting in the hot sun at a voter registration table, trying to get their fellow residents to participate in the process of electing officials? Did they join the cadre of volunteers who rode buses to another state to try to get out the vote? How many of them made telephone calls on election day to remind their neighbors to get to the polls, or drove those without transportation to a local polling place? Did I see them working at the polling place for less than minimum wage, getting up before dawn and working til late at night to make sure the process worked efficiently? And most importantly, were they the ones who put their lives on hold to run for elected office, patiently listening to the uninformed at rallies and even in the supermarket.

The people I respect most are the ones who realize that the political process can be messy and ugly and difficult to understand, but they participate in it nevertheless. They recognize that it works only when they do the hard work. The easy part -- yelling and chanting old slogans -- is just that-- easy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Boundaries of Speech and Tolerance in the U.S.

I've been quoted hundreds of times (maybe more) in media stories appearing throughout the U.S. and the world. Rarely do I hear from anyone who has actually read my comments and agrees or disagrees with what I have to say. Today has been different. I was quoted in the following AP story which began appearing in newspapers and on TV throughout the country this afternoon (including tomorrow's Washington Post) and the hostile reaction I'm receiving in my e-mail inbox is incredible.

Man carrying assault weapon attends Obama protest

PHOENIX — About a dozen people carrying guns, including one with a military-style rifle, milled among protesters outside the convention center where President Barack Obama was giving a speech Monday — the latest incident in which protesters have openly displayed firearms near the president.

Gun-rights advocates say they're exercising their constitutional right to bear arms and protest, while those who argue for more gun control say it could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Phoenix police said the gun-toters at Monday's event, including the man carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, didn't need permits. No crimes were committed, and no one was arrested.

The man with the rifle declined to be identified but told The Arizona Republic that he was carrying the assault weapon because he could. "In Arizona, I still have some freedoms," he said.

Phoenix police Detective J. Oliver, who monitored the man at the downtown protest, said police also wanted to make sure no one decided to harm him.

"Just by his presence and people seeing the rifle and people knowing the president was in town, it sparked a lot of emotions," Oliver said. "We were keeping peace on both ends."

Last week, during Obama's health care town hall in Portsmouth, N.H., a man carrying a sign reading "It is time to water the tree of liberty" stood outside with a pistol strapped to his leg.

"It's a political statement," he told The Boston Globe. "If you don't use your rights, then you lose your rights."

Police asked the man to move away from school property, but he was not arrested.

Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona University political scientist, said the incidents in New Hampshire and Arizona could signal the beginning of a disturbing trend.

"When you start to bring guns to political rallies, it does layer on another level of concern and significance," Solop said. "It actually becomes quite scary for many people. It creates a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication."

He said he's never heard of someone bringing an assault weapon near a presidential event. "The larger the gun, the more menacing the situation," he said.

Phoenix was Obama's last stop on a four-day tour of western states, including Montana and Colorado.

Let me now quote from a sample of comments I've received this evening:

1) For the time being, Americans still have rights under the Constitution. That includes the right to bear arms. I wonder, did you express the same level of concern during the elections when heavily-armed Black Panther terrorirsts were harassing and intimidating White voters at the polling stations? Did that "create a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication"? Or do they get a pass because they are anti-White, left-wing terrorists? Why are you so threatened by a law abiding citizen exercising his Constitutionally protected rights? The police were armed, so were Obama's Praetorean Guard cadres. Why is it ok for them but not for every other American citizen? (sent by Obed Santos)

2) People like You make me sick !! Please let me educate you ! What the hell are you calling an assault weapon !! an AR-15 ?? No its a semi auto, or rapid fire weapon !! Whats an ASSULT WEAPON !!--- Is a rifle or pistol !! That fires FULL AUTO or 3 round BURST !! Its book worms, like you that have never did. a days hard work in your life !! But has lived in a sheltered world, scared of the dark, and drive around with your doors locked !! Its ok, democrats, dont live in realilty ! and have NO BALLS !! I wish all you democrats would pull, your heads out of Obama's ass ! and educate yourselfs, in being a Man and an American ! America was built on GOD-GUNS-GUTS, And tough Men, and women ! people that would'nt back down from a fight ! Do you own a gun? if so thats very sad, that you dont know enough, So please educate yourself ! My Family has fought for the right ! so we are free, to carry a gun, and live FREE !! Get out of your class room, go to the country and meet some hard working people,who love there guns !! and love the right to carry them !!

Does the irony escape these authors? I raise the issue of guns creating a chilling effect on discussion at political rallies and they respond in a hostile, threatening manner meant to silence my ability to comment on political conditions in America.