Ben Buchwalter


Dem Casting Call: Who Will Replace CO Gov. Bill Ritter?

2010 started off rough for Democrats, due to a stream of high profile Democratic retirements in important districts. When CO Gov. Bill Ritter added his name to the list of Dem retirements, it set off a flurry of speculation about who would run to take his spot. I compiled a run down of the most likely Democratic candidates:

So let’s take a look at the state’s in-house candidates. The top contender seems to be Andrew Romanoff, the state Rep. who has already launched a 2010 Senate primary campaign against Sen. Michael Bennet. Bennet was appointed to complete Salazar’s term last year, but he must win the seat for himself this November.

Some have suggested that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper would be a good fit. Hickenlooper has long been rumored to be a potential Gubernatorial candidate, but declined to run against Ritter in 2006 to replace the term-limited Republican governor Bill Owens, saying “I would not be unraveling the fabric of collaboration.” Asked on the phone by a local reporter if he would run this year, Hickenlooper responded that his cell phone was running out of batteries.

Former Rep. Scott McInnis, the leading Republican in the field, was ecstatic. “We beat the varsity team a little earlier than we thought we would,” said a McInnis spokesman. “They’ve got to go to plan B, or the b-team.”

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Dodd Deemed ‘Unelectable’ in CT Senate Race

It’s been a crappy year for embattled Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. Toward the end of 2009, it became increasingly clear just how dire his reelection chances were. In mid-December, the respected elections predictor the Cook Political Report called Dodd “as unelectable as unindicted incumbents get.” That was a pretty safe prediction considering that, at the time, Dodd trailed former GOP congressman Rob Simmons and former WWE CEO Linda McMahon by 13 and 6 points respectively. On the MoJo blog, I predicted that Dodd’s retirement was imminent and rounded up the field of potential Conn. Dems to replace him. Looks like I was right about one of them:

As Connecticut Attorney General for the past 20 years, Dick Blumenthal has made ripples most recently for his harsh words about financial badboy AIG, which has offices in the state. Back in March, Blumenthal called the legal justification for AIG bonuses “a joke of a justification for squandering scarce taxpayer resources.”



Alan ‘Die Quickly’ Grayson Seeks 55-Vote Supermajority
February 1, 2010, 10:57 pm
Filed under: General Politics, Mother Jones | Tags: , ,

Alan Grayson continually cracks me up. His basic strategy is to serve as the liberal antidote to firebrand Republicans like Michele Bachmann and Steve King, who never fail to say crazy things. Grayson doesn’t disappoint. But the freshman congressman from Florida has also introduced his fair share of smart, important legislative suggestions. Back in November, for example, he circulated a petition to reduce the Senate super majority to overcome a filibuster from 60 votes to 55 votes. As I wrote in MoJo:

Whether you agree with Grayson’s proposal or not, it is clear that something needs to change. Kevin Drum writes today that “full-blown unanimous obstruction is something new under the sun…Dems, for better or worse, never tried to make every single bill a destruction test of the opposing party’s governance.”  The filibuster was not consistently abused until the Dems reclaimed control of Congress in 2007.  During the Reagan administration, for example, there were as few as 20 cloture votes per congressional term, compared to more than 100 in the 2007-2008 term, twice what was necessary in the preceding six years.

As the debate about the filibuster continues, it’s increasingly likely that congress will come up with some sort of reform. But I wouldn’t expect that reform to garner broad bipartisan support if it’s introduced by Alan Grayson.



Half-Assing the Electoral College Phase Out
May 7, 2009, 4:46 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, General Politics | Tags: , ,

I just saw this post by Hendrik Herzelberg.

News flash: Last Tuesday, Governor Chris Gregoire of Washington State signedthe National Popular Vote bill, making her state the fifth to officially commit itself to the revolutionary idea of electing Presidents the way we elect other important holders of public office.

With Washington’s eleven electoral votes added to the fifty of Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, and Hawaii, we’re now between a fifth and a quarter of the way to the 270 needed to make living, breathing human beings (rather than “artificial entities,” as Alexander Hamilton called states), the relevant unit in Presidential elections, just as they are in gubernatorial, congressional, mayoral, and dogcatcheral elections.

This is cool! And I think that all states need to move toward abolishing the electoral college system. BUT this doesn’t seem like the right way to do it. If I vote in Washington for a Democrat, and the Democrat wins in WA, but most of the rest of the country votes for a Republican, I don’t want my electoral votes going to the other guy. And look at the states that have the law – Washington, Maryland, Hawaii, New Jersey and Illinois – all states that reliably send all their electoral votes to the Democrat. 

That said, I don’t think that the winner of the national popular vote should ever lose an election. But even in the cases of 2000 and 2004, there is value in showing accurate numbers of who won the election and how close the other guy was. 

In 2004, for example, George W. Bush won 286 electoral votes (only 16 more than the 270 needed to win) and John Kerry won 251, only 19 shy of the magic number. If this law had been in effect, it would have been an electoral landslide, Bush: 347 to Kerry: 190. (well, not as much of a landslide as 2008.)

This just seems like an all or nothing deal. Either we get rid of the electoral college system altogether, or adhere to the rules that we’ve used for more than two centuries.



Specter Gets a Small Carrot
May 7, 2009, 10:11 am
Filed under: General Politics | Tags: , , ,

In a switcheroo, Arlen Specter will become chairman of the Judiciary Crime and Drugs Subcommittee. This is a bit of a surprise because the Dems had initially decide to strip Specter of all seniority, which would have meant that he would not have any chairmanships through 2010.

The Democrats had the choice between the carrot or the stick. It seemed they initially chose the stick by taking away Specter’s seniority, hoping this would scare him into staying closer to the Democrats’ agenda. Today’s announcement, though, indicates a partial cave and the offer of a small carrot. They’ll let Specter keep some seniority, hoping that it will make him more sympathetic to more liberal goals and Democratic lawmakers.



A Modern Court For Modern Dudes and Dudettes

Of the three branches of government, the Judicial is the only one that is structurally designed to resist change. Allowing Supreme Court Justices life tenures, for example, result in outdated bias toward modern issues. After David Breyer was appointed, the Court didn’t see a change for more than ten years, when John Roberts was confirmed as Chief Justice. That’s a very long time for a branch of government to remain static.

We get to pick a new President every four years, and Senators and Congressmen are rotated out regularly. Representatives in the House have short terms for the purpose of getting new ideas in there more quickly than in the Senate. So if change is important in Congress, why not in the judicial branch?

The Supreme Court should undergo two changes to become more diverse and representative. First, Matt Yglesias says that the Court should do away with lifelong tenure and set up term limits of 18 years. Under this system, a new judge would be appointed every two years, ensuring that every President appointed at least two judges. This way, the Court’s ideological composition would mirror the public’s ideology that elected the Presidents.

As Yglesias wrote in a similar post last fall, keeping the current system is “just a pure example of status quo bias.

There is much speculation about who President Obama will appoint to fill David Souter’s seat on the Supreme Court. Some say that the pick should adhere to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Doing so would further show the Supreme Court to be an institution ruthlessly opposed to change. Maybe we should view the Constitution more like most religious Americans view the Bible. It has some great lessons about how we should live our lives, but we need to use it as a guide rather than a rulebook. As Jed Bartlett famously pointed out in the West Wing, some rules in the Bible are crazy and make no sense in our modern time.

Sonia Sotomayor, the appeals court judge rumored to be a front runner for the appointment, has been slammed by conservative cable news shows all week for saying that courts of appeal are “where policy is made.” Many view this as a tacit approval of activist judges and a sign that Sotomayor would dominate the court as an outspoken liberal.

Sotomayor’s statement was definitely poorly worded, but I’m not sure the sentiment is wrong. Schools might not have become integrated as quickly if the Supreme Court did not make the Brown v. Board of Education precedent. That led directly to policy changes that dramatically helped the Civil Rights Movement. The Court used the spirit of the Constitution to extend human rights and affect policy, not make it.

A more inclusive judicial philosophy and the implementation of term limits could greatly improve the Supreme Court’s accessibility and representation. And though these changes aren’t likely (at all), I hope that Obama will appoint someone like Sotomayor to the court, who will apply the Constitution’s lessons to modern issues like gay marriage and abortion.



Best Fit Justice
May 4, 2009, 4:23 pm
Filed under: General Politics, Supreme Court | Tags: , ,

Ezra Klein brings up a pretty good point about the debate going on right now over who Obama should appoint to the Supreme Court. So often, when lawmakers are asked what kinds of candidates Obama should consider, they respond that past experience should be high on the list. The success or failure of past judges, though, is rarely related to the experience they had before they joined the Court.

Instead, liberals will view Justices as successful if they fight for the right to privacy and erode some of the most outdated aspects of our legal system that harm minorities and women. Conservatives, on the other hand, will respect judges with a strict interpretation of the Constitution.

Obama seems to understand this. In his statement about Souter’s retirement, he said he would look for justices with a “quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes.”

So, as Klein points out, Obama should not look for the most experienced judge, but rather the best fit for a 21st century court. It’s like applying to college. Aiming for an Ivy League school will do little for your education if it is not the best fit and you cannot do the work.

This argument suggests that Obama should, as many have already argued, appoint a woman, an African American or a Hispanic to the Supreme Court, even if there are some white men out there who are “better qualified.”

Klein concludes that the Supreme Court

is responsible for a country that’s 51 percent female and whose law graduates are 48 percent female. Its highest profile cases revolve exclusively around things that happen in a woman’s body. If we were aware of those facts and were stocking the Court from scratch, there is no doubt that we would strive for more gender balance.

Viewed from that perspective, the situation clarifies considerably. The reason white men are disadvantaged in this nomination process is pretty simple: They are not, right now, what the Court needs. They are not the best candidates for the job. This has never been a search for the right brain in the right vat. But if Obama does add a bit of gender diversity to the Court, he’ll be doing something we’ve not seen in some time: making his choice at least partly on the needs of the institution rather than basing his decision solely on the interests of his party.