Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Website

Thank you for reading "What Are You Looking At?" over the years!

We are moving the blog to our company website. To see new blog posts please visit

This web address will stay up for our archived posts from 2008 to early 2011.

Thanks again!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Wisconsin Recall Process and Timeline

Summary: What to know about State Senate Recalls in Wisconsin this year.

On Friday, grassroots organizers in the La Crosse area announced they had collected more than twice as many signatures as they needed to recall GOP State Senator Dan Kapanke.

Many Wisconsinites, and non-Wisconsinites alike, have been asking about the exact process and timeline for the recall of state senators this year.

This is the jist of it.

The recall process is complex and, due to the unprecedented number of recall efforts happening at the same time, specific timelines for recalls in any individual State Senate district are uncertain.

Petition Due Dates
Recall petitioners have 60 days to collect the appropriate number of signatures needed to initiate a recall election following the registration of their committees.

The number of signatures a recall petition committee needs to collect is equal to 25% of the number of votes in the most recent race for Governor in that district.

The following table reviews the petition due dates and signatures needed for every State Senator facing recall efforts.

*Recall petitions completed.

Timeline for Recall Elections

General Timeline

The normal timeline (according to state law) for recall elections is as follows:

*Depending on when the closest Tuesday is to that timeline.

Thus, the earliest any general recall election will take place (Kapanke’s) would be July 19th. The latest any recall election (Lassa’s and Hansen’s) can happen this year is September 6th.

Consolidated Recall Elections

The Government Accountability Board has not yet determined what actions it may take to try to consolidate recall elections to the same dates. There is no rule or legislation in Wisconsin for consolidating recall elections because no one ever thought there would be this many recall efforts happening simultaneously.

Nonetheless, the GAB has indicated that they may use the court system to consolidate these elections, arguing that it is unfair to voters who might be confused as to what exact date they are supposed to vote in the recall election in their district.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What to Know About Wisconsin’s Voter ID Bill

Summary: Important information for voters and political operatives when Voter ID becomes law.

The Wisconsin State Legislature will soon be passing a Voter ID bill, and it will be quickly signed into law by Governor Walker. Just as the recent move to eliminate collective bargaining was meant to reshape the electoral landscape, so is Voter ID.

The right-wing in Wisconsin says that voter fraud is an ongoing epidemic -- particularly in Milwaukee -- that has allowed Democrats to “steal” elections. The way they see it, there’s no way they could actually lose elections -- people love them! There must be a scam going on.

The truth is that voter fraud is incredibly rare and virtually impossible to get away with. This bill is clearly designed to disenfranchise voters who tend to support Democrats.

But all that aside, here’s what you need to know.

For Voters

For the April 5th election, poll workers will be required to ask for identification. However, you DO NOT need to give it to them if you’re already registered. The bill’s provisions are not enforceable until 2012. Republicans stuck that part in to scare younger and poorer voters (aka, Democrats) from voting this year.

In 2012 you will need one of the following pieces of identification (with up-to-date residency information) to vote:
-- A drivers license
-- A state ID
-- A passport
-- Naturalization papers
-- A military ID
-- A Native American tribal ID

Student IDs will no longer be acceptable. Right now student IDs can be used, with poll workers cross referencing the ID with a list of students living on campus provided by their college. But college students vote more for Democrats than Republicans, so they will now need their driver’s license (or another state-issued ID) to include their campus address to vote there.

Similarly, disabled veteran cards will not be accepted. Disabled veterans tend to vote for candidates who support things like BadgerCare, so they will need another form of identification.

It should be mentioned that if you don’t have your ID the day of the election, you can still cast a provisional ballot, but you must show an election clerk your ID by 4pm on the Friday after the election.

Additional things you must do to vote:
-- Register early (same-day registration is going away, because it helps busy working people and college students vote)

-- Live at your residence 28 days before the election (the current 10-day requirement helps the mobile population cast their ballots, and studies show these voters tend to be younger and more progressive)

-- Sign your name in the voter log when you go to the polls

For Political Operatives

Democratic consultants and campaign staffers will need to start to focus on getting their supporters to climb the new barriers to voting.

Here are three things we will need to start doing:

1) Registering Voters Early. Operatives for our side already do it in most states; we just need to start to do it here too. Hiring organizers, sending voter registration applications in mailers and other efforts will be required. This will be especially important on college campuses and in the inner-city.

2) Better Voter Education. Because Wisconsin has a history of relaxed voting laws, Democrats have never seen a strong need for educating voters on what they need to do to vote. That’s going to have to change. We will need to communicate the law in a clear and effective manner to re-enfranchise our voters.

3) Fight for Repeal. The law is going to pass, and it’s going to pass soon. The Republicans in Madison work in lock-step and can pass anything they want. Looking forward, however, we must support candidates who promise to roll-back this attack on voting rights. Climbing barriers to voting will distract us from focusing on other important campaign operations -- we must break the barriers.

Monday, February 28, 2011

What Losing Unions Means for Democrats

Summary: Why Wisconsin's "budget repair" bill is really about giving the GOP unlimited power.

By now, everyone is aware of what’s happening here in Wisconsin.

Our newly elected governor, Republican Scott Walker, has introduced a “budget repair bill” that would strip public-sector workers of their collective bargaining rights.

Although there are budget-balancing measures in the bill, it goes far beyond that.

What the bill would do to public-sector labor organizations:
• Prevent collective bargaining over salaries and wages beyond cost-of-living adjustments
• Ban collective bargaining over pensions and health care benefits as well as working conditions
• Stop unions from receiving dues through paycheck deductions
• Require the unions to hold annual elections among their members for the recertification of the union.

When you put all these things together, it is obvious that many public employees will ask the same question: why keep the union?

Make no mistake, if this bill passes in the form Walker is demanding, it will dissolve public employee unions.

Walker claims the bill is to prevent a $137 million shortfall in the state’s budget, and to close the gap public employees needed to put approximately 6% of their income toward their pensions and 12% of their income toward their health care plans.

The unions conceded on those grounds long ago.

So state Democrats issued a proposal that would balance the budget -- and give Walker virtually everything he wants -- while leaving collective bargaining untouched.

Walker: “not good enough.”

Then, state Republicans offered another proposal. It would give Walker virtually everything he wants, with a two-year moratorium on collective bargaining.

Walker: “still not good enough.”

So why does Walker insist on busting unions?

At this point, it is clear that the controversial bill has nothing to do with balancing the budget. It doesn’t even have to do with destroying unions. It has to do with Democrats.

It’s often said that the Democratic Party is a “big tent” party. Well, if the Democrats are a big tent, the unions are the poles that hold it up.

Back when I worked on a congressional campaign in northeast Wisconsin, and my organization needed to quickly round up volunteers, I always told my interns to contact three groups of people:

1) Previous volunteers
2) Leaders in the local county Democratic Party.
3) The United Steelworkers

Unions are critical to the Democrats. No one else in the tent offers the same structural support. Environmental groups, LGBT groups, minority groups, and even women’s advocacy groups tend to be little more than social clubs that offer their votes and -- occasionally -- a little money.

Unions, on the other hand, are well financed and well organized for the mass support efforts needed to win elections. And with the exception of SEIU and a few others, public-sector unions like AFSCME and the teachers are the only ones left with any real strength.

Without organized labor, Democrats will lose easy votes, a ready-to-assembly pool of volunteers, and most importantly, a lot of massive PAC checks.

(Want further proof? The three public employee unions who endorsed Walker and who tend to be more conservative -- the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, and the Wisconsin Troopers’ Association -- were all exempt from his proposal.)

Simply put, without organized labor, Democrats will be neutered.

To be fair, the Republicans have a lot of similar resources (like the Tea Parties) rooted in business groups (Koch Industries being the most notorious these days). But business groups are at no risk of being broken up, especially in the age of Citizens United.

As a political operative for Democratic candidates, I have real concerns about staying in Wisconsin if this bill passes. If labor groups don’t survive, how will my party survive? If my party doesn’t survive, how will I survive?

Make no mistake; this bill is about destroying the opposition -- not balancing the budget.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Editorial: The Difficulty in Facing November

Summary: Dave speaks to the fears that Democrats have moving forward.

Taking a look at this blog, comparing this year’s posts to last year’s posts, you can see a burgeoning trend.

Whereas last year I commented much more on Tea Parties, day-to-day embarrassments for the GOP, and Obama’s job approval ratings, I’ve now started talking more about things like the effectiveness of campaign ads and the British elections from earlier this year.

It’s because I’m finding it harder and harder to speak of good news for the Democrats going into November’s midterm elections.

It’s not difficult for Democrats to feel a bit frightened right now. Even those who (unlike me) can’t ignore the topic altogether -- those who work on Democratic congressional campaigns at the moment -- are still doing their best to practice cognitive dissidence. It’s the only way to proceed and do their jobs without falling apart emotionally.

But like all Democrats, I have to confront this fear for the moment, and speak to the reality of the political environment.

November 2, 2010, is going to be a bad day.

I’m not going to say we’ll definitely lose the House of Representatives, and I actually doubt we’ll lose control of the Senate. But I will say this much: don’t expect a terrific Congress or terrific state governments next year.

I look toward my own state, Wisconsin, as a golden example of this reasonable pessimism.

Here in the Badger State we have a governor’s race, U.S. Senate race, and two Congressional races that could easily flip their respective offices from Democratic to Republican.

We cheeseheads have proudly gone blue in the past five presidential races, two gubernatorial races, and eight U.S. Senate races. Our Congressional Delegation, State Senate, and State Assembly all have Democratic majorities.

Yet the model statesman we have always been most proud of -- Senator Russ Feingold -- is currently trailing a millionaire GOP insider named Ron Johnson by a 52%-41% margin.

The Congressional seat held by retiring Appropriations Committee Chair Dave Obey is leaning Republican. Another seat -- held by Democratic Dr. Steve Kagen -- is considered a “toss up” in the midst of a race against a Republican businessman who moved to the district (only a matter of months ago) specifically to run for Congress.

Our Governor’s mansion is also at risk of going to Tea Partying Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker -- a man notorious for flip-flopping and lacking in anything that resembles an intellectual capacity.

Why? One simple reason: the economy is bad right now.

It doesn’t matter what party screwed the economy up, nor does the fact that the same party has no real ideas to solve the problems they complain about.

As political scientists (Niemi and Weisberg, Nadeau and Lewis-Beck, Miller and Shanks, Lodge and Steenbergen) have pointed out for decades, people blindly vote against incumbents when the economy is bad. And for the past few years now, the economy has been really, really bad.

That is the nature of the problem: voters will treat 2010 like a referendum and not as a choice between leaders and their ideas.

Democrats have tried to explain to voters how they should not treat this election as a referendum. But this argument can, in practice, only limit the inevitable damage.

When this election is over, there will certainly be things the Democrats did wrong that we can point to, trying to explain our failures (after the election, I plan on writing an extensive piece on the abysmal failure that was OFA). But most of the problem really boils down to factors that are out of our control as Democratic campaigners.

So until then, let’s do all we can ever do in these scenarios, a plan of action I have come to learn well as a political operative…

…brace for the worst and hope for the best.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is There More to Online Ads Than Meets the Eye?

Summary: A new study suggests that online campaign ads might be more effective for voter persuasion than previously thought.

Last year, we mentioned how some political scientists were beginning to think that campaign ads were going to go the way of the dodo. We challenged that theory.

From the post:

“…we’ve mentioned how little beats voter-to-voter contact in spreading a campaign’s message and winning support. That means candidates have to rely on volunteers to make phone calls and canvass neighborhoods, as well as hopeful donors to finance it all. And just like the disappearance of yard signs would scare a campaign’s donors and volunteers, so would the disappearance of TV spots in a national, statewide, or even congressional election."

And thus, we made the following prediction about the future of campaign advertising:

“…more campaign ads will be produced, but perhaps seen less on television. With the online age, more and more ads will be emailed, blogged, and seen on YouTube than TV. It will be a more cost effective way to communicate with supporters that expect to see an operational campaign producing ads.”

However, a new study by Global Strategy Group finds that online campaign advertising might be good for more than engaging one’s supporters.

From an email blast they sent about the study:

“…likely Democratic primary voters exposed to television and online ads viewed our candidate, Chris Kelly for Attorney General, more favorably than those exposed only to television ads. Telephone polling of voters in two media markets uncovered a 19 point lift in Kelly's overall favorability ratings in Santa Barbara, where voters saw only television advertising, and a larger 23 point lift in Palm Springs where voters saw both television and online advertising. The study also showed a lift in favorability, recall and vote share among the campaign's key target audiences who were exposed to the TV and online ads.

The results of this study offer the first real evidence that campaigns can count on the web, not only to raise money and drive voters to their sites, but also to help build their brand, get their message out and positively influence voters. It is clear that online advertising will continue to play a key role in political communications in the coming years.”

Now it’s difficult to say what exactly caused the “point lift” in Palm Springs. It could have easily been attributable to more word-of-mouth communication between supporters and their friends and family. After all, supporters who see the online advertising might have been more inclined to tell their immediate contacts about Kelly than supporters who did not.

Nevertheless, the results speak for themselves. A greater online presence is certainly beneficial to a campaign, and online advertising can bolster that presence.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Political Activity Keep the Economy Moving

Hi everyone! Sorry I’ve been off the map for the past three months or so, I was working a very exciting race in Milwaukee County over the summer and had to take a break from the blog.

Now I’m back.

I’ll have more on the race I did in the future, but in the meantime I thought I’d share an interesting story I heard on NPR recently.

We all know that the United States is going through a rough patch economically. But there are some high-growth industries out there, and one of them is politics.

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, there has been an explosion of growth within the world of political campaign activity. Even Democratic consultants who disagreed with the outcome of the case couldn’t help but look around and say “there is some strong opportunity for business here.”

And just like that, one relatively nominal sector of the economy received the biggest stimulus of all -- an influx of corporate and union cash.

Now, as I pointed out back in January, it’s not likely that many of these organizations would be willing to dole out cash for independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates. What happened to Target in Minnesota is a good example. But as NPR makes clear, it’s been pretty easy for these corporations and unions to do it without being identified.

It’s been an interesting election year, watching just how much of an impact the Court’s ruling -- and the precedence it’s created -- has had on the political realm. I am certain this will not be the last we hear about campaign finance issues this year.