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North Carolina may ban Gay Marriage/Civil Unions….but not because they want to

This Tuesday, there are primary elections in both North Carolina and Indiana.  A good deal of attention is being paid to the tough primary Indiana Senator Richard Lugar is facing, and there is some interest in the Democratic Primary for Governor in North Carolina, but the main focus of my attention this Tuesday is the vote on Amendment One; which if passed will ban both gay marriage and civil unions in the state.  The state of North Carolina already bans gay marriage via statute, and when Democrats controlled all of the government, they never pushed for civil unions.  Nevertheless, when Republicans took control of the state legislature in their 2010 mega-win, putting such bans in the constitution became a top priority.  Now this Tuesday we are faced with a referendum on gay rights, but it is a referendum that is more complicated than most seem to think.

Backstory

Since 2004, conservatives have been working in full force to pass constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage.  Some amendments where passed prior to this, but 2004 marked the major kickoff.  Since then, every southern state has passed the ban with the exception of North Carolina.  Most of these states passed the measures with percentages in the 70s and 80s.  Only Virginia staayed in the 50s range.   The map below shows the results of the bans for the southeast.  Red counties are a YES for the ban.  Green counties are a NO for the ban.

Yeah, depressing, I know.  What a shock, the south isn’t a big fan of gay rights.  Florida’s stance (which was 62%) had more to do with age, Florida being older, than with any southern culture (outside the panhandle).   North Carolina was the last state to go.  But Democrats who controlled the legislature refused to take the measure up.  That was, until 2010.

In 2010 the North Carolina legislature became solely Republican for the first time since the 1890s.  The state house had been Republican for a few years in the early to mid 90s, but otherwise, Democrats always ruled both chambers.  Then the 2010 red wave, and a continuation of the “southern realignment” toward the Republican Party (see that post here https://mattsmaps.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/southern-realignment-nears-completion/).   The results where a dramatic move toward the Republican Party in the state, giving them control of both chambers for the first time in 11 decades.

With this new Republican majority, the legislature got down to the important business of the day, banning gay marriage and civil unions.  With the Democratic Governor having no ability to halt the legislatures move to put it on the ballot, the big debate was over whether the measure would be voted on in November 2012 or during the May 2012 primaries.  Democrats, in a stunning display of cowardice, pleased for the measure to be put on the May ballot.  Their reasoning was they feared the measure would cause a conservative upswing in turnout, and doom many Democrats on the November ballot (despite their being no proof this would happen).  They agreed to not make a fuss if it was put on the May primary ballot, which at the time assured its passage.  Originally, the May ballot would be a largely Republican affair for state-wide races.  The Republican Presidential primary was going to be the main attraction, with a lesser-followed Republican Gubernatorial Primary.  Luckily, this view has since changed.  The primaries for President are basically over, and with the Democratic Governor, Bev Perdue, not seeking re-election, the Democratic primary for Governor is now a main attraction in the state.  This has evened out the party turnout field, and at least given gay-rights supports a fighting chance.

When the amendment went to the legislature for approval to get on the ballot, the state senate voted on party lines, with no Democrats agreeing.  However, 10 democrats in the state house backed the measure when a vote came up there.  Truly shameful.

So there you have it, gay marriage and civil unions are now on the ballot in North Carolina.  So lets take a look at where the polling stands on the matter.

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Polling on Amendment One

For the purposes of this section, I will only be referencing polling done by Public Policy Polling, a firm based in North Carolina that has a good track record, polls consistently, and is overall a firm who’s numbers I trust.  There latest poll a few days ago shows the Amendment passes with 55%, with 41% opposing.  So not a good sign.  However, lets break these numbers down a bit.  When we do, you see this isn’t as clear cut as many people think.  PPP points out that the problem is voters don’t understand what the measure does (bans gay marriage AND civil unions), which is important in determining how they vote.

  1. 55% of North Carolina voters FAVOR civil unions
  2. Only 40% understand civil unions are banned under this measure (among them, the amendment fails 38-60)
  3. 27% thinks it only bans gay marriage (passes 72-27 with these people)
  4. 24% have NO IDEA what this amendment does (and yet they favor it 64-28)
  5. 7% think this LEGALIZES GAY MARRIAGE
  6. When voters are INFORMED what the measure actually does, it FAILS 38% to 46%.

So as we can see, the current favorable stance for the amendment is not because the state wants to ban civil unions, rather its because the voters don’t understand what the measure does.  While gay marriage is not popular in the state (27%), civil unions do have decent support at 55%.   This is why, as PPP has stated, educating the voters is the key to victory.
Despite the tough scenario right now, their has been good progress made on this front of education and changing minds.  Polling from PPP has been going back to last fall, and has shown a ever slow closing of the gap.
The closing of the gap is more apparent among Democrats, African-Americans, and Independents.  Democrats started off favoring the amendment, but are now opposed.

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The move with Independents is equally noticeable.  Independents went from being in favor to now being essentially tied

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Finally, the movement from African-Americans is the MOST noteworthy.  Thanks to heavy outreach, and  push by the state’s NAACP, the African-American community has gone from being STRONGLY in favor to actually being against.

These polling line-charts show that movement with key groups is going in the right direction.  Maybe these trends will continue since the last poll that was done this last weekend.  The trends are in the right direction, but the question if it will be enough.

The one group that hasn’t shown movement in the right direct, and what may well be the reason the trends aren’t dramatic enough, is the movement among white voters overall.  There are been the smallest of narrowing, but overall, its not alot.

Overall, the trend lines are slowly in the right direction, but a stalling with white voters is keeping the numbers from not narrowing fast enough.

Regional Breakdown of Support, and the issue of “education”

This section covers where the amendment is currently favored in different parts of the state.  PPP was kind enough to break down their results by area-code, of which there are several major sections.  The area code numbers are to be regarded with some caution, because the sample-size by area code is lower than the sample-size at large, meaning that the margin of error is higher.  Nevertheless, there is something to be learned here.

First, lets take a look at the state as it voted for Barack Obama in 2008, to get a feel for where Democratic strength can lie on a good year.

Now, lets take a look at this map with the area-code boundaries layered on top of it.

So we see some area codes with more blue than others, especially more to the east and central area, with key blue pockets of Charlotte to in the West, and a few rural counties further west.

Now, lets look at how the amendment pulls by area code.  A standard color scheme will be used.  Green will indicate opposition to the amendment, red will indicate support.

From this map, only one area code is narrowly opposing the amendment.  But wait!  What happens if we look at the polling based on when people are educated on what the amendment actually does?  Remember, the polling shows education reverses lots of the support to opposition.

ALL green.  Granted alot of undecideds lower those “yes” numbers, but in these area codes you still have the chance for victory in all of them.  This is what the vote looks like when voters understand why what they are voting for.

This next image actually shows the difference between a YES without the explanation, and a YES when the voter is educated on the amendments effects.  The larger the number, the bigger of a dropoff YES gets

The dropoff in the south part is huge, and that is understandable, because it was an area that did well for Obama, yet seemed really in favor of the amendment.  The dropoff shows that area code’s issue was especially related to education.  Overall the lowest dropoff is 10 points.  That is a shocking figure.  It shows that voters don’t know what they are voting for.

Now, one last image, PPP asked what the voter’s stance on civil unions was by area code as well.  And from that we see this..

All area codes favor civil unions more than they oppose, with the three southern ones just under 50%, an the upper three much more steadfast in support.  These facts should indicate amendment one would easily fail IF voters knew what they where actually voting on.

Conclusions

The voting for Amendment one will be finished on Tuesday.  Maybe an upset will occur, maybe it won’t.  But if amendment one does indeed pass, it must be stressed that passage was NOT a rejection of civil unions in the state.  Rather, this amendment shows the major flaws of direct democracy and ballot measures; that people are voting on referendums they do not understand.  No doubt the media will likely simplify their coverage of this, saying it shouldn’t be  a surprise that a southern state passed such a measure, but the truth is much more complicated than that.

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Update:  ELECTION RESULTS

Well, as expected, the state banned same-sex marriage and civil unions Tuesday night.  This was the final map.

The final vote was fairly close to the polling.   The polls slightly underestimated the results (granted ballot measures are hard to poll).  However, even the last polls showed that voters would have heavily rejected the measure if they understood what the measure did.   The final poll showed the measure would have failed 39-44 if voters understood it banned civil unions.   Undecideds likely would have broken against passing the measure as well.  The result is that the voters understanding of the measure would have caused around a net 17 point swing against amendment one.  Those numbers are based on the polls and on the fact that undecideds tend to break against a measure that is failing leading into election day.  Assuming undecideds would only have slightly broken against the measure, the amendment still fails by a double-digit margin.  To get an idea of what the county map would have looked like under this scenario, we deduct 17  points from each county’s ‘yes’ column.  Granted, this a very crude method of doing things, since the reduction wouldn’t be equal over all counties, but this is just to give a general idea.

While the amendment one may have passed last night.  Its worth repeating again, it did not do so because it wanted it.

Florida’s New (Final) State Senate Map

Several hours ago, the Florida Supreme Court approved the state’s latest state senate map, a decision that came after the court had struck down several districts in the legislature’s original plan.  While I have strong disagreements about the court’s latest ruling to uphold the new map, my intention is not to get into that issue.  Instead, this blog entry seeks to simply educate the public on important details of the map, which now appears to be final.

I will not get into to much background on the process here.  As many people know, the state of Florida set new redistricting requirements, known as the FAIR DISTRICT amendments.  These measures where passed with 62% of the state, and required more compactness and no favoritism toward politicians or parties when the redistricting lines where drawn.  To a degree, the new senate districts do look better than the old ones, but there are still many flaws with the map.  Lets first start off with a view of the map, seen below.

These are the new senate boundaries.  Several of them have major issues.  But i will focus on a few key ones.

First, lets look at the 19th district, a plurality African-American district in the Tampa area.  The district stretches over the Tampa bay and loops around the area in an effort to grab as many African-American voters as possible.  Considering the African-American loyalty to the Democratic party, this helps Republicans in the surrounding districts (and it does).

Next, lets look at the Orlando area.  Which has a snake-like district that packs in Hispanic voters, while having a Republican-favored district loop around its northern edge.

Next, we look at the 32nd district, a coast-hunger that crosses THREE counties.

Finally, we look at the 40th district, down in south florida.  It covers many swaths of swampland and Everglades, and has appendages sneak into urban areas to pack in Hispanics and African-Americans.

These are the main district issues, but trust me most of the districts have problems and flaws.  I invite you to view the map in more detail to examine for yourself the many flaws with the map.

Racial Breakdown of the Districts

The racial breakdown of this map is significantly altered from its previous incarnations.  To a degree this was caused by requirements of the maps to be somewhat compact.  However, poor drawing resulted in a map that has only 3 majority or plurality African-American districts.  Two other districts that are less than 50% white do result in a Democratic primary that is likely to favor an African-American candidate (who can then win the general election).  There are six plurality or majority hispanic district, with 5 of them being in the South Florida area, a reflection of the areas strong Hispanic population.

The two light-red districts in Orlando and Jacksonville are the districts with an African-American favored Democratic primary.  The other light red district in south florida has significant African-American and Hispanic populations, as well a plurality white population.

This map shows the concentration of African-Americans by district.

The map shows the two light-red districts mentioned before have significant African-American percentages in the 30s and 40s.

Next is the map of Hispanic concentration.

This map shows how strongly concentrated Hispanics are in the osuth Florida region.  Percentages don’t even top 10% north of Seminole County, and most of the large percentages are in South Florida (except for the Orlando district, whose Hispanic population is more than 50% Puerto Rican specifically.)

Partisan Breakdown of the Districts

The new district lines result in a map that has 17 district voting for Barack Obama in the 2008 election.  That is 42% of the total 40 districts.  This, despite Obama getting over 50% statewide.  This shows the clear problem with the map.  In addition, only 15 districts voted for Democrat Alex Sink for governor.  In reality, the 17 districts is likely a high water mark.  Sure, Democrats can win districts not favorable to the national party, but it is no doubt a tougher challenge, especially in an era of growing nationalization of local races.

The map below shows the Presidential percentages by district.

now lets see a zoom in for Central florida

then lets take a look at south florida

those three red districts that are also majority-hispanic are the three predominantly cuban districts for the region.  These three districts are 53%, 46%, and 43% cuban.  The cuban population favors Republicans, contrary to Hispanics nationwide.

The next map shows the districts based on how they voted for both the Presidential race and the Governors race.  Blue districts voted for Obama and Sink, red voted for McCain and Scott, and green voted for Obama then Scott.

zoom in of central Florida

zoom in of south Florida

Future Prospects

No doubt, the republicans where able to create a map that still favors them, despite the new compactness rules.  Honestly the courts let them get away with more than they should have under the new plans, but this is the map we will be forced to contend with for the next 10 years.  It is by far the worst map of the three, with the congressional and state house maps being fairer (despite having their own issues).

There is one key Republican who found herself in trouble as a result of the new map though.  That is Senator Bogdanoff of South Florida (picture to right).  She had a coast-hugging district in Broward and Palm Beach counties, which packed in the few Republicans (largely wealthy individuals who live on the beach coast) in the area.  Under the first Senate plan, she had a district that voted for Obama, but then voted for Scott.  Under this new map, the district voted Democratic for both races.  In addition, she is now forced to fave off against Senator Maria Sachs, a well-known Democratic politican.  Bogdanoff definitely drew the short end of the straw.   Here is south Florida under the old plan.  Her district was the long brown district up the whole coast.


The whole are was a huge mess, an insult to the area.  Now look at the new map for the area.

That map is MUCH better.  Bogdanoff is stuck in the yellow district, which is still a coast hugger, but the portions of Palm Beach move further inland into democratic territory.  The Broward portion is kept on the coast because the green district is an African-American majority district working to consolidate African-Americans in that area of Broward.    This new district is much tougher for Bognadoff to survive in.  Especially considering that district is where two swing state-house districts are, which Democrats will be focusing on.  Bogdanoff is going to get alot of attention, and she may not want that.

Overall, the map doesn’t provide a great outlook for Democrats.  But Republican Senator Bogdanoff sure drew the short end of the straw here.  She could hold on, her defeat isn’t fore sure.  But she probably isn’t feeling as confidant as she once was under the old map.  While Democrats focus largely on winning state house and congressional seats; Bogdanoff’s senate district will provide Democrats at least one strong pickup opportunity.

The (Silent) war on the LGBT Community

Over the past few weeks, the media has been absolutely focused on what as been described as a “war on women,”  the “war on voting,” and the “war on labor,” when it comes to issues of contraption, abortion, voter ID laws, and collective bargaining restrictions.  The media has donated unprecedented time to these issues and debates.   However, what I find striking is that while the media never shies away from a debate over abortion, labor issues, or the environment, there is one other issue they give much less attention too.  In an era where 24/7 news is the norm, and no controversy lasts more than two or three days.  Even half-covered stories get completely buried and go by unnoticed.  That is why even though the media reports on the issues affecting the LGBT community, the war this community fights to preserve an semblance of human dignity and legal rights is a war that is largely silent in the mainstream media.  The media gives quick mentions to victories the community experiences (gay marriage passage in Maryland, New York, and Washington), but almost never covers the struggles and backtracks the community experiences.  And with the wave of GOP wins in 2010, the gay community has been targeted repeatedly in several states.   This blog entry aims to shed light on a war that is being fought as largely in the dark.

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The stance of Public Opinion and Progress made

The movement for equality has taken some dramatic leaps in public opinion over the last several years.  Since 2003, probably one of the most pivotal years of the gay rights movement, where the US Supreme Court in Lawrence v Texas struck down sodomy laws across the nation, and where the Massachusetts Supreme Court made the state the first in the nation to have gay marriage; the march for equality has been at full steam in many parts of the country.  Since this date, same-sex marriage has become the law in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, New York, DC, and providing positive results for referendums this November… Maryland, Washington, and Maine, as well.  In addition, strong civil unions laws have passed in Delaware, Nevada, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, Oregon and California.  And domestic partnerships have passed in Maine, Wisconsin, and Colorado.   In addition, several states have passed workplace protection laws and other protections.   Indeed there has been alot of progress over the last decade.  And public opinion continues to move in the right direction.  Support for same-sex marriage has gone from a fringe left-wing idea to a more popular option in many blue states, and civil unions have almost universal support in any state polled.

Lets look at a map of same-sex marriage polling in the states that have had a reliable poll done.

This map shows a traditional graduated color map to show support for same-sex marriage.  Several states have no reliable polling.  An important note, the light blue are states where same-sex marriage is above 45% but below 50%, but in all those states, the opposition was lower than support, with undecideds being what kept the support below 50%.  Also, for the two light red states, the opposition was literally one to two points higher than support, so to a degree these where ties.

The map shows that support for same-sex marriage is pocketed in the west and the northeast, but including states like Nevada, Arizona, Minnessota and Colorado.  The swing states are moving in the right direction on this.   The biggest factor in being against same-sex marriage is either a southern heritage or and older age (which is what throws off the numbers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which tend to be older and more blue-collar states).   If these polls where from 2004, most of the map would be some shade of red.  The fact that support is moving into the swing states really shows that public opinion is changing.

Now, lets look at civil union support.  This has much broader appeal than same-sex marriage, and most of the red states even back the measure.

Look at this map, only 3 states don’t back civil unions when polled on the matter.  Most state sfall above 60%, including Utah, Nebraska, and Montana.  Hardly blue states.  Texas, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina all back the measure as well.  The only states that don’t are South Carolina and West Virginia, which are southern/Appalachian, and lower educated, and Mississippi, which is always the last state in terms of progress on anything!  I would imagine Louisiana and Alabama would likewise not back civil unions, but I imagine the rest would.   Civil unions are quickly becoming non-political.

A good rule of thumb is that another gay rights initiatives (employment protection, hate crime protection, ext) are considered more popular then gay marriage/adoption/ or civil unions.  Keep that in mind…

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The Silent War

Despite the growing acceptance for gay rights thoughout the states, ever since the Republican takeover in 2010, their has been a continous assault on gay rights throughout the states.  While the Republican Party doesn’t focus as much publicly on LGBT issues as they used to, it doesn’t mean they have suddenly become accepting.  It also isn’t the case that all Democrats are now in favor of gay rights.  See what I am talking about.  The map below shows the states where anti-gay actions are taking place.

As the map shows, there has been a flury of anti[gay actions in many states.  Let me break down what each category means in more details

  • Anti-Gay Amendment means the legislature passed as an amendment to the state constitutions to restrict gay rights, any such amendment will have to be voted on
  • Anti-Gay Law passed means one or more anti-gay laws where passed and and signed into law
  • Proposed law means anti-gay legislation has been seriously considered, and may have fell short of passage or been vetoed, but that it was a close call.  This does not include introduced legislation that received no action or consideration.
  • Administrative change means the government of a state through executive authority made anti-gay administrative decisions
  • Multiple Offenses means a state took action in more than one of these categories
  • Failure to act means the state had the opportunity to fix a glaring problem for gay rights, there was debate and progress, but ultimately the effort fell short despite no logical reason for failure
  • Ant-Gay Petition push means there is, or was, an effort to put a pro-gay piece of legislation of the ballot for repeal by the voters, and that the push had significant organization and opportunity.

Now with the categories broken down, I take a look at each of these states and the actions that warranted this categorization.

  1. Minnesota (Amendment).  The moment the republicans took control of the legislature in the 2010 elections, they began talking about amending the constitution to ban gay marriage in the state.  While Democratic Governor Mark Dayton is against the measure, he has no veto authority over such amendments.  The legislature passed the law, and it will not be subject to voter approval in 2012.
  2. North Carolina (Amendment).  The same situation as Minnesota, a brand new Republican legislature has passed an amendment to ban gay marriage AND civil unions.  The Democratic governor had no way to stop it.  The real infuriating thing about this measure is that it actually had 10 democratic backers in the state house, and that most democratic opposition was from the idea of it being on the November ballot, because those Democrats feared a conservative surge in voting would affect their re-elections.  Therefore, the “compromise” was to put it on the May 8th ballot, during the primaries.  This should benefit the conservative side since its easier to mobilize their side.  Luckily, the end of the Republican primaries means the turnout might be more even than thought, since Democrats still will be coming out for the governor primary, while Republicans have less high profile primaries left.  But I’m not too optomistic.  While a majority of the state supports civil unions, the voters dont seem to understand that amendment bans those as well.    Look at the state house map of the vote, the light red districts are the Democratic yes votes.  They are all traitors.
  3. Michigan (Anti-gay law).  Michigan, under its new right-wing administration has passed not one, but two anti-gay laws.  First the the legislature passed a law that would ban state agencies from giving health benefits to same-sex couples if one was an employee.  Such a decision was at the agency’s discretion before, now they have no right to offer such benefits.  The second law passed was an anti-bullying law for the schools.  However, the law specifically gave out an exemption for religious talk that was so broad, it effectively allows verbal bullying of LGBT teens as long as you claim you did so for religious reasons.
  4. Arizona (Anti-gay law).  Arizona has alot of press for anti-Latino and anti-women legislation these past few years.  But Arizona, the home of a libertarian-minded Barry Goldwater, continues to trample all over his name.  The state passed an adoption bill that preferences every conceivable group of parents over same-sex couples.  You know, despite the fact that no studies say straight couples are better than same-sex couples at raising children.
  5. Utah (proposed law).  Utah actually passed the ‘don’t say gay law’ as part of an even more restricted sex-ed bill that gave very strict abstinence requirements.  The law was vetoed by the Republican governor, who was concerned about central state control over regional school districts.  So breath a sigh of relief here, the law went to far for the limited-government minded governor.
  6. Louisiana (proposed law).  This law is a recent development.  A senate committee has already passed a law that would allow charter schools (of any kind) to refuse admission to schools based on sexual orientation.  State sanctioned discrimination.
  7. Montana (proposed law).  Montana republicans where considering a law that would override the anti-discrimination ordinances that has been passed in local cities.  They seem to have abandoned the plan, considering a veto by the governor was assured.
  8. New Mexico (proposed law).  New Mexico is one of the only states that has no laws regarding same-sex marriage or civil unions on the book.  Rather, it recognizes any union from other states.  So a same-sex marriage from New York will be recognized in New Mexico.  Republicans tried to push legislation that would have stopped such recognition, but thanks to both chambers of the legislature still being controlled by Democrats, the legislation is dead for now.
  9. Oklahoma (proposed law).  The state legislature considered, but ultimately failed to pass, a law that would have kept ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ as policy for the state national guard, rather than adhere to the federal repeal of the DADT policy.   Failure probably resulted from concerns about conflict with the federal government over military issues.
  10. Kansas (proposed law).  This law is still being worked through the legislature.  It will repeal any anti-discrimination ordinances passed by the cities, like Topeka.  This one may well become law by the end of it all.
  11. Iowa (proposed law).  Ever since the state court legalized gay marriage, Republicans have been clamoring to pass same-sex marriage bans.  However, the state senate is still controlled by democrats, so that move is on hold.  There was a special election last November for a seat in the senate, which could have lead to a tied chamber, and given Republicans the chance to bring up the measure and pass it.  That issue became a theme in the election, which democrats thankfully held.  Republicans will not be letting up on this for awhile.
  12. Ohio (proposed law).  Everyone remembers Senate Bill 5, the anti-union law that was struck down in a referendum.  What got overshadowed was that in that law was a quick re-statement that marriage was one man and one woman, even though the state already has a constitutional amendment stating that.
  13. New Hampshire (proposed law).  Ever since Republicans came into power in 2010, they have been clamoring to repeal the state’s gay marriage law from 2009, despite the fact only 29% of the state wants it to be repealed.  Republicans kept pushing it, and finally held a voter, which failed overwhelmingly, thanks to libertarian Republicans and those from blue districts who didn’t want to risk defeat over the issue.   That vote is below, which was the final of several votes.  This one reflected the vote to kill the repeal bill, so “yes” was a good vote.
  14. Wisconsin (administrative change).  Wisconsin has been toying around with a variety of anti-gay moves for awhile.  First, Governor Walker tried to say the domestic partnership law in the state was invalid, which failed.  Then Governor Walker updated executive statutes that removed sexual orientation from the list of protections for registering rallies, parades, and marches.  In other words, a city can deny permit for a gay rights march because it doesn’t like gay people, all thanks to Walker’s changes.
  15. Virginia (multiple offenses).  There are two key anti-gay actions in Virginia.  First, the attorney general has removed LGBT protections from state employment, and demanded the Universities do the same thing (something being fought).  Second, the state has passed a gay adoption ban, which is finally did literally a few months after Republicans took control of the state senate in 2011.  The bill allows any agency to refuse adoption to gay couples, and since many of these are religious institutions… it doesn’t bode well.
  16. Tennessee (multiple offenses).  This one law has gotten a good deal of coverage.  It is known as the “don’t say gay law.” which demanded that schools never talk about homosexuality during sex ed or anything else, ever… no matter what… even if the kids asked about it.  Because anyone knows that education leads to acceptance, the best way to stop that chain of events is to stop the education from happening.  Right now the law is delayed in the Senate and hasn’t been voted on yet.  In addition to this debated law, the state already passed a law last year that would not allow cities and counties to pass anti-discrimination rules.  So much for local government.
  17. Idaho (failure to act).  Idaho never had an anti-discrimination law on the books, for anything.  Gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or anything else.  Finally the state got around to adding one, realizing it looked pretty stupid to not have one.  Then a fight emerged over adding sexual orientation to the list of protected groups.  In the end, the effort failed, and a law was passed for protections without sexual orientation being included.
  18. Colorado (failure to act).  Same-sex marriage is above 50% in support in Colorado, and over 60% support civil unions.  When the new government came to power in 2010 (Democratic Governor and Senate, and a one-vote Republican majority in the house), a push for civil unions began.  The state senate passed it, and it was believed the votes existed in the state house, but the anti-gay Republican leadership refused to let it come to a vote.
  19. Texas (failure to act).  The state’s sodomy ban was overturned in 2003’s supreme court case, but the legislature continues to refuse to officially remove the law from its laws (despite it being unenforceable at this point).
  20. Georgia (failure to act).  The state has been trying to pass an employment protection bill for awhile now, but can’t get it done.  The bill is being debated again this year.
  21. Mississippi (failure to act).  More than a month ago, the Jackson police told gay rights groups in the area that they have no right to rally.  The police basically said sexual orientation is not a protected class and isn’t recognized by the state.  The new Republican government hasn’t been jumping to step in and clarify the matter.  Not that Mississippi democrats would either.
  22. Kentucky (failure to act).  Kentucky, like many other states, is considering anti-bullying legislation for the schools.  However, the state senate, controlled by Republicans, refeused to allow sexual orientation to be a key bullying group (like race and ethnicity) protected, despite the please of parents and advocates.
  23. Rhode Island (failure to act).  When the state finally got a pro-gay governor in Independent Lincoln Chafee, gay-rights groups thought they finally had the needed push to pass same-sex marriage.  Democrats control the legislature by overwhelming margins.  However, thanks to opposition from catholic democrats in the state senate (including the senate president), the law went no where, and a civil unions bill was passed instead (pleasing no one).  This is despite same-sex marriage having more than 60% support in the state.
  24. New Jersey (failure to act).  When the legislature finally passed a same-sex marriage law in 2012, after failing to do so in 2009, Governor Cristie vetoed the law.
  25. West Virginia (failure to act).  Despite Democrats controlling the state legislature by an overwhelming majority, around 70%, a civil unions bill proposed has gone absolutely nowhere.
  26. Washington (referendum push).  After the legislature passed same-sex marriage a few months ago, opponents are organizing a signature drive to put the measure on the ballot.  They will likely succeed, and then the real fight will be at the ballot box in November.
  27. California (referendum push).  After the state passed an historic “Gay History” bill, which aimed to focus teachings on contributions from LGBT individuals and their history (same as with women, and other races), anti-gay opponents moved to put the measure on the ballot for repeal.  However, the unorganized state of the conservative movement and Republican Party in the state caused the signature drive to fail thanks to a lack of needed funds to get the monumental mount of signatures needed.
  28. Maryland (referendum push).  After a year of struggle, same-sex marriage finally cleared the Maryland State House.  Despite Democrats needing only 71 votes to pass the measure, and controlling 98 of the seats, opposition from catholic and black democrats made it a tough fight.  The measure finally passed with 72 votes, one more than needed.  Now the measure will likely go to a referendum thanks to a signature push.  It really is something to be said for how close this came to not passing, absolutely sad.  Every one of those defecting democrats should be primaried out.  The map below shows the final vote, which is complicated because most of the seats have more than one member. Look to the categories to see which colors had democrats voting no, and you will see there where plenty of defections.  Click the image to make it bigger.

So in 28 of the 50 states we have heavy anti-gay actions taking place.  I think that qualified as a war on the LGBT community.

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In addition to all these government actions or in-action, there are plenty of attacks taking place on LGBT citizens all over the country.  The news media has picked up on different hate crimes being committed, but other attacks are not getting as much coverage.  Here are just a few recent ones…

  • Have you heard the story of a college girl at Rochester College being threatened to be kicked out of her student housing because you mentions she is a lesbian on her facebook page?
  • How about that the catholic church defunded a homeless shelter in California just because the director spoke in favor of gay marriage?
  • How about a teacher in a catholic school being fired for being gay?
  • How about a lesbian being refused communion at a catholic church at her OWN MOTHERS FUNERAL!
  • How about a girl in Massachusetts high school being reprimanded by her vice-principle for wearing a shirt saying “All cool girls are lesbians”
  • How about a principle at an Iowa high school telling any gay students in the school that they are full of sin and going to hell.

These incidents don’t get mainstream coverage, but they are happening.   There is a war going all over the country.  All in the meantime, the suicide rate among LGBT teens has and continues to be alarmingly higher than the national teen average.  30% to 40% of LGBT youth’s attempt suicide, and suicide among LGBT teens is 4 times higher than their straight counterparts.  In addition, recent studies are showing that suicide attempts, drug use, and depression increase in the LGBT community of an area that has recently enacted anti-gay legislation.   See that study here..

http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2009.168815

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Conclusion 

We see alot of coverage for the different groups under assault by Republicans and conservative groups.   However, the silence that surrounds this war is truly deafening.  The media does not give this the coverage it deserves.  Rather coverage is given to every other issue out there.  However, this is a group that is loosing population to suicide and depression thanks to the actions against it.  The LGBT community has yet to feel the full equality that other groups have already received.  They still remain the least protected and most disciminated against group in the country.  The war on them is of the most importance because of the disastrous side effects it reaps.  Yet for all the stakes this war has, the casualties inflected because of it, it still remains one fought in the shadows.

Florida’s New State House Map

I did a blog entry several weeks ago on Florida’s new congressional map, and now and going to do posts on the state house and state senate maps passed as well.  I am continuing first with the state house maps, which reapportioned the 120 seats of Florida’s lower chamber.   Similar to how I broke down the congressional map, I will look at the demographic and political breakdown of the the state house map.

First lets take a look at the map itself…. you can see it below..

This map makes some changes to the current lines under the state house plan now, but many districts aren’t changed that much.  The Republicans where clearly aiming to ensure their majority is maintained.  This map has plenty of creative ways to pack minorities and Democrats just enough to ensure they maintain a strategic advantage when it comes to the state house elections in 2012.

Worst Districts

There are several districts that appear to be in clear violation of amendments 5 and 6 (see my congressional analysis for more detail on those), which mandated more compactness with the district lines.  Lets take a look at some of them

First on our list is House District 70, which stretches across the Tampa bay and dives down into Manattee county in order to create a 45% African American District.   Nothing about this district seems compact, as it goes over waterways it does not need to, and sneaks south like a spike in order to pack in African American voters, thus ensuring the districts around it to the south are less Democratic than they would be.

Down in South Florida we have district 81, which packs African Americans in Palm Beach, and then seeps its way down to Delray Beach to pack in more African American .  The result is a that the district on the coast (not colorized in this image) to the east of this one, is a swing seat despite Palm Beach being a very blue county.  The packing of the African American voters here is what helps Republicans have shots at any seats in this area.

Demographic Analysis

The demographic breakdown of the state house maps results in several minority districts in key area of the state, and especially the South Florida area.

In this map (click it for a larger version) green districts are hispanic seats, blue districts are african american seats, and red districts are white seats.  Lighter shades of these colors indicate a plurality, but not a majority (in other words, a light red seat means that the district is mostly white, but that the white population remains below 50%).

Here are some zoom ins for key areas…

And now south florida..

The maps show that Hispanic districts are heavily concentrated in South Florida.  African American districts exist in major city centers of the state (Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, Maimi, Orlando, and Palm Beach).

Lets take a look at a map of the house districts colorized based of the percentage that is African American alone.

This maps shows where the concentration of African American voters are in the state of Florida.  It shows that even in districts that are not majority or plurality african america, there are several districts where their is a strong bloc of voters that can help effect the election results (these types of districts are known as “influence” districts).

Next we look at a the districts based on Hispanic percentage

We see that the hispanic voters are largely concentrated in South Florida, with a few districts up in the central Florida region.   In many parts of the country, districts that are heavily hispanic are also heavily Democratic.  However, a large swath of hispanic voters in Florida are specifically Cuban, a group that trends Republican.   A map of the percentage of hispanics that are cuban is below..

Several of these districts have over 50% of the hispanic residents identifying as Cuban.  In addition, the three highlighted districts are so heavily hispanic/cuban that they are flat out 50% or more Cuban overall (not just as a percentage of the Hispanic community).  These three districts are highly likely to always elect a Republican.

Partisan Breakdown

The partisan breakdown of the districts shows a clear Republican edge.   The plan currently has Barack Obama winning 55 of 120 districts, less than 50%.   In addition, only 47 districts voted for Alex Sink in the 2010 Governor’s Race, when she narrowly lost to Republican Rick Scott.  Overall, 66 Districts voted for both Republicans John McCain and Rick Scott.  These 66 districts are therefor very likely to be solid Republican seats.  46 seats voted for both Obama and Sink, and the last 8 switched between Democrat and Republican between the 2008 Presidential Race and 2010 Governor Race.

Here is a map of the Presidential results broken down by district

zoom in of Central Florida

zoom in of south Florida

Now look at this map, which shows the McCain/Scott districts in RED, the Obama/Sink districts in BLUE, and the swing districts in GREEN

central florida

south florida

Overall these maps show democratic strength is concentrated in the major city areas and south Florida.

Conclusion

Overall the Republicans should be very happy with this map.  It allows them to preserve their majority with a fairly comfortable margin, offering Democrats little opportunity to take control of the chamber in this swing state.   It does so by packing minorities wherever possible and totally going against the FAIR DISTRICTS amendments that where passed in 2010.

Florida’s New Congressional Map

On Thursday and Friday, the Florida Legislature, which is working on redistricting for the state, came to an apparent agreement on the congressional map that both chambers are satisfied with. This quick compromise was not terribly surprising, sense both maps from the different chambers where fairly similar in many parts of the state. With the likely map now public, I decided to go ahead and do a detailed breakdown of the district map, and its effect on the state.

Background

Florida’s current legislative and congressional districts are heavily gerrymandered to favor the incumbent Republican Party.  Despite the state’s swing nature, the Republicans always maintain a compelling majority of congressional and legislative seats.  Even after the blue waves of 2006 and 2008, Republicans still help most of their seats thanks to the gerrymandering involved.  This has been helped by the 1992 creation of 3 majority-black congressional districts in the state of Florida.  These districts, only one of which is compact, allows for Republicans to pack African Americans into these districts, and thus ensure their dominance in areas like Orlando, Tampa, and South Florida.

One major change to how districts are drawn took place in 2010, when voters passed the FAIR DISTRICTS ammendments, which stated that districts must be compact, and that districts could not be drawn to favor a politican or political party.  The measures passed with a healthy 62% margin, winning in many conservative states.

This passage, which was something the Republican majority didn’t want, put them in a position of being forced to draw more compact districts.  However, as they began the line-drawing process, they continuously said that the 3 majority-black districts could not be eliminated because they where protected by the Voting Rights Act.  However, their is strong court precedent that does not back up this claim.  The most telling case is Shaw v Reno.  This case saw the Supreme Court strike down a seat drawn in North Carolina that, looking like a snake, packed in every African-American in the area.  The district was ruled a racial gerrymander, and thrown out.  The district would later being upheld in a future court case after the district was modified, and the argument for its shape was that it aimed to create a safe Democratic seat.  The court, which will not strike down political gerrymandering, upheld the new district.  However, sense FAIR DISTRICTS exist in Florida, any such explanation for the majority-African American districts can’t be used.    Another case, Miller v Johnson, saw the Supreme Court strike down a similar African-American packed district in Georgia.   There is clearly court precedent that badly-drawn districts to pack in minorities is not allowed.

I will get back to this issue in a little bit as I begin to go through the different districts.

The New Plan

The plan proposed by the state legislature is for 27 districts, with 2 new ones being added thanks to results of the US Census.  Both new districts are concentrated in the fast-growing I-4 corridor region.  One is a Republican-friendly seat, and the other is a Democratic-friendly seat with a strong hispanic minority (41%).

The plans can be seen below…

Another view, without the county lines and other landmarks… below..

The new plan still maintains racial gerrymandering in north and south Florida region.   Some of the worst-offending districts are below…

First, lets start off with the 5th district, which used to be the 3rd.  Its a majority-black district that snakes its way from Jacksonville down to Orlando.  it packs in African Americans wherever it can, and in doing so, ensures most of the districts around it in the Orlando district favor Republicans.

Followed by this, we have the the 20th, formerly the 23rd.  This is the other racially gerrymandered district, which used open Everglades land and Sugarcane fields (with little population) to connect the African-American communities in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.

This crazy result leaves us with the 22nd district, which connects with the 20th, looking bizarrely shaped as well, hugging the coast.

Then we have the 24th, a majority-Hispanic district, which takes communities in Miami-Dade, goes across federally protected Everglades land, and connects other communities in the West Coast.

The next district hugs the coast of the Tampa metro area, and then moves into Pinellas County, which is across the bay.  In doing so, it ensures the district in Pinellas is slightly less Democratic than it could be.

These are just some of the highlighted problem districts.  Look back and the first two, the 5th and the 20th.  The Republicans claim they are protected by the VRA as majority-minority districts.  Well, take a look at the districts the court struck down in the two Supreme Court cases I cited earlier.

These districts where struck down for racial gerrymandering.  I version of the North Carolina 12th only exists because it was eventually deemed a political gerrymander.  However, with the FAIR DISTRICTS passage, Republicans cannot claim as such.

Ok enough legal stuff… lets see how the districts break down overall.

Racial Breakdown

First lets take a look at the racial breakdown of the districts.  I have colorized a google map of the districts based off their racial statistics.  In the map below, you can click each district to get the presidential and racial breakdown.  The districts are colored Red for majority white, Blue for majority black, and Green for majority hispanic.  In addition, a lighter shed a Red indicates white is the largest racial group in the district, but less than a 50% majority.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=embed&hl=en&geocode=&q=http:%2F%2Fmaps.google.com%2Fmaps%2Fms%3Fauthuser%3D0%26vps%3D8%26hl%3Den%26ie%3DUTF8%26oe%3DUTF8%26msa%3D0%26output%3Dkml%26msid%3D205319258566567934411.0004b78afe2336f607765&aq=&sll=27.698601,-83.804615&sspn=8.70927,16.655273&ie=UTF8&t=m&ll=29.13297,-82.243652&spn=3.348684,4.669189&output=embed
View Larger Map

Just click the link above and you will get the google map with everything I described.

What we see is 3 majority Hispanic districts in South Florida, the 3 traditional majority black districts.  In addition, the 9th district (the light red one in Orlando area)is 43% white, but also 41% Hispanic, also, the 14th and 23rd are less than 50% white and thus considered minority-access districts.

In addition to the basic breakdown, I looked even further at the racial components of the districts.  First, let me show you guys all districts colorized based of the percentage of the Voting Age Population that is African American.

What we see here is that a vast majority of the African American population is concentrated in the 3 majority-black districts.  While the 24th district (the southernmost one) is nice and compact, and thus makes perfect sense, it takes the squiggle lines of the 3rd and 20th to achieve 50% African American status.  Both these districts are only 50% black voting age population.  It takes all that line drawing to achieve such a goal.  This screams of racial packing, and a racial gerrymander.

Ok, so what about the Hispanic population.  First, lets take a look at the same type of colorized map for Hispanic percentages of a district.

This map shows that a large portion of the states Hispanic population is centered in south Florida.  The three majority hispanic districts are in the south, but there is also the new 9th district and its 41% Hispanic population.  In addition, the 23rd and 24th (which is also majority black) have sizeable minorities of hiospanic residents.  Finally, the tampa-based 14th has a respectable 27% Hispanic population.

Now, this map simply looks at Hispanic population, but as anyone from Florida knows, Hispanic is a very general term.  Florida is unique in that it has a sizable Cuban population, which trends Republican, while Hispanics overall trend Democratic.  While a majority-Hispanic district is normally likely Democratic, that is not the case if the Hispanic population is largely Cuban.  Thats why I created another map showing the percentage of the Hispanic Population that was specifically Cuban.

With this map, we see that the three majority-hispanic districts are concentrated Cuban.  With 50% or more of the hispanic population is Cuban.  This helps show why (as we will see soon) these three districts are Republican favored or lean Republican.

Another breakdown of the Hispanic population is Puerto Rican, which is a sizeable community in Florida.  Map below.

The Puerto Rican population is clearly centered in the North/Central Florida area.  It is especially prevalent in the new 9th district.

Finally, just to show the contrast between Florida and the Southwestern states that share large Hispanic populations.  I mapped the percentage that consider themselves Mexican.

This shows that the only strong Mexican concentration is in some central districts (around the sugarcane fields and farm area) that have low Hispanic population to begin with.  Overall the hispanic population is largely Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Central and South American.

A few other demographic notes, this map below shows the districts broken down by spoken language.

This map just highlights the dominance of Spanish in these three southern districts.  Important note is that this statistic means Spanish is the first language, but not the only, as English is still a second language for almost anyone who can vote.  These districts through represent an area (especially true for Miami-Dade), where Spanish-language political advertisements are likely to be used as they are now.

Ok so we have broken these districts down in demographics.  Lets move on to partisan breakdown.

Partisan Breakdown

Now, when we look at how these districts break down on a partisan level, we see a real problem.  There are many ways look at the partisan nature of a district, and i will explore several past races.  (I did not use registration since in north florida its not reliable, because while Democrats dominate registration, they tend to vote Republican at the national level).   First I took a look at the districts by Presidential Election result from 2008.  This gives a general idea of the districts leanings, especially sense we are dealing with a federal office that is being competed for.  As i wrote in a blog entry months ago, the era of “politics is local” is coming to an end thanks to the way media is now.  If the national party performs badly in an area, it will be harder for congressional candidates to win and hold such seats.

Here is the google map link, districts are colorized based on result, and clicking each district gives you the presidential numbers.
http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=embed&hl=en&geocode=&q=http:%2F%2Fmaps.google.com%2Fmaps%2Fms%3Fauthuser%3D0%26vps%3D2%26hl%3Den%26ie%3DUTF8%26msa%3D0%26output%3Dkml%26msid%3D205319258566567934411.0004b78702dd9a2a42030&aq=&sll=29.957695,-84.47594&sspn=4.263746,8.327637&ie=UTF8&t=m&ll=27.698601,-83.804615&spn=6.60458,7.660652&output=embed
View Larger Map

This map shows that Obama only won 10 districts out of 27.  This is despite winning the state overall in 2008, but he only wins 37% of the districts.  Most of the districts are safe or likely democrat, and 2 districts are hardly easy for Dems to win (keep in mind Obama is the strongest national democrat sense Bill Clinton).  This makes Democrats taking control of the congressional delegates highly unlikely.  Yes Democrats can make gains in McCain districts, just like Republicans can hold Obama districts.  Simple fact, the gerrymandering done ensures Republican dominance.  The 5th district moving into Orlando ensures the 7th and 10th are less Democratic than they would be taking in their African American population, while the 14th encroaching across the Tampa bay ensures the 13th is only nominally Democratic.  In addition, in the south of the state, I am sure the three majority hispanic (with strong cuban populations) where cracked in three to ensure the Cuban population influenced all three districts.

Presidential results is one form of looking at it.  Lets look at the 2010 Governor’s race, where Democrat Alex Sink lost to Republican Rick Scott by 1%.

Sink performs the same as Obama, winning 10 districts.  However, this is caused by her winning the 2nd (which Obama didnt) but losing the 18th, which Obama did.  Still, this means a 48% win results in a 37% of districts.

Lets look at the 2010 Attorney General race

While Gelber did worse than other Democrats in 2010, which was a terrible year, which influenced down ballot races.  Again, Gelber only got 6 districts, 22%, compared to the 41% of the vote he got.  He lost severla Obama districts, including the 22nd and the 9th.

The other cabinet Democrats in 2010 did no better

Scott Maddox and Laurane Ausley, who ran for Agriculture Commissioner and Chief Financial Officer, won an additional district (the 2nd) because of their ties to the area, still, their average of low 40%, high 30% in their races only translated to 25% of the districts.

If we look back to the 2006 governor’s race, we see a similar dynamic.

Davis also only one 7 districts (25%) despite getting 47% of the vote in his race against Charlie Crist in 2010.

We continously see that Democrats underperform in the congressional districts, regardless of their showing statewide.  There are only a few instances of Democrats overperforming in the new congressional districts.

First, we have the 2006 CFO race, where Alex Sink won her cabinet seat with a strong win in a Democratic year.  Sink, who is from North Carolina, made strong inroads into rural areas that other Democrats didn’t.  This is reflected in her performance by district.

Sink’s inroads in the rural areas in the north and west allowed her to over perform and win several Republican districts.

The other over performer is Bill Nelson, who has a knockout win for re-election to his Senate seat in 2006.  Nelson won all but 9 counties, and that is clear when you se the results by congressional district.

Nelson’s win was so strong and so state-wide that he got all but 2 districts.  However, this performance will not be repeated in Nelson’s 2012 election, this is without a doubt the high point.

At the end of the day, strong local candidates can win some of these tougher districts, but these case studies show the scale is without a doubt tipped in the Republican’s favor.

Conclusion

Hope this entry helped give insight into what the new congressional districts may look like.  Don’t forget though, sense these districts clearly do not adhere to the FAIR DISTRICTS amendments passed in 2010, there will be a lawsuit and possible court intervention to change the maps.  What eventually happens, is up in the air.

2012 Senate Elections — Are Democratic Troubles Overstated?

Several hours ago,  Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson announced he would not seek re-election to his seat.  Nelson’s seat was seen as crucial in holding onto the US Senate, where they currently have a 53 seat majority.   Democrats can only lose 2 to 3 seats and retain their majority (3 if Obama is re-elected, 2 if Republican is elected President), 3 loses would give Democrats a 50-50 tie, but a Democratic VP gives control to the Dems, so a 50-50 Senate is dependent on how the Presidential election works out.  With Democrats being forced to defend 23 seats, several in red states, compared to Republicans 10 seats, only a few of which are competitive.   Four of the Democratic seats are from states Obama lost in 2008 (Nebraska, N. Dakota, Montana, West Virginia), and the media sensibilities is that the sheer numbers indicate a Democratic loss of the Senate is likely.  However, after looking this over for the day, I get the feeling that Democratic troubles are greatly overstated.

The Current Situation

Different organizations are ranking the senate contests different ways, and I agree with some and disagree with others.  The fact is that several supposedly toss-up seats are leaning blue consistantly in every to most polls released.   States like Ohio, West Virginia, and New Mexico are considered tossup, but in reality are highly likely to be Democratic holds based on the polling out there.

Lets start off with a map of what I think the polling reflects for the current US Senate races.

This map reflects looking at the polling results out of these states.   In no way are polls from 2011 a guarantee of results for 2012, but I will explain my reasons as i go through each state.

Lets take a quick look at each states rank and why I rank it that way.

Safe Republican Holds (5)

  • Utah (with Democrat Jim Matheson rulling out a run, their is no strong challenge to Senator Hatch)
  • Wyoming (poll shows that even the former Democratic governor loses by 20 points, so this isn’t happening)
  • Texas (no strong candidate running, Democrats have little hope)
  • Mississippi (every polls shows Wicker way ahead of any Democrat, not to mention the terrible terrain of the state)
  • Tennessee (No major democrats aiming for this seat)

Likely Republican Holds (2)

  • Maine (Democratic hopes are largely dependent on Senator Snowe either retiring or losing her primary, neither likely to happen)
  • Indiana (If Lugar loses his primary, then we could have a chance, but even then its a likely uphill fight)

Safe Democratic Holds (6)

  • New York (Senator Gillibrand is a fundraising powerhouse and their are no serious Republican challengers)
  • Vermont (technically independent, but whatever… Sanders is loved in his state, loved by Democrats, and totally safe)
  • Minnesota (Senator Klobachar is one of the most popular Senators in the country)
  • Maryland (Maryland GOP has no pulse at all)
  • Delaware (Same as Maryland, and Senator Carper is well known and popular)
  • California (red wave stopped at walls of California in 2010, unlikely to be any better for GOP in 2012)

Likely Democratic Holds (7)

  • Rhode Island (consistant good polls for Democrats, only slightly competitive if there is a Republican nominee)
  • Michigan (strong poll results, but I make this “likely” due to bad economy in the state)
  • Washington (elections often not blow-outs in the state, but no serious Republican challenger)
  • Pennsylvania (no strong Republican challengers, Casey as support of moderates and independents, consistently good poll results)
  • Connecticut (Lieberman retiring is of course awesome news, and in a Dem v Rep battle, Dems are in good shape to win).
  • New Jersey (Polls show Sen Menendez with consistant leads, and no strong Republican challengers)
  • West Virginia (Senator Joe Manchin has his tough fight in 2010, and is unlikely to have a serious challenger again after a decent win in a red year)

Lean Democratic Holds (4)

  • Ohio (Sherrod Brown has sported respectable approval ratings, and has strong single digit or double digit leads over his opponents.  No doubt helped by flaws for Republican challengers, and the negative approvals of Governor Kasich, Brown’s re-election prospects have continued to improve)
  • Florida (Senator Bill Nelson has led challengers in the polls throughout 2011, and his approval ratings show he can win over independent’s needed to secure re-election.  Rep Connie Mack’s entry took this from likely to lean Dem, but even Mack will have trouble overtaking Nelson in the polls.  Nelson has done a good job of attacking unpopular Governor Rick Scott, and can also hit Mack for being part of the Republican house caucus, a group that has pretty low approval ratings right now)
  • New Mexico (While its an open seat, democrats retain around a 7 point lead in the polls, and with Obama likely to win the state (up by 15 in latest polls), I’d say Dems are in a good position to hold this seat).
  • Hawaii (Democrats are only in trouble if Democrat Ed Case gets the nomination, where he could fall to the former Republican Governor who is running.  However, Case likely won’t win, and with Obama on the top of the ballot, I’m pretty confident in this race)

Lean Democratic GAIN (1)

  • Massachusetts (Democrats got a big win when Elizabeth Warren announced she would run against Scott Brown, who seemed to be avoiding major challengers until that point.  Warren has proven to be a great campaigner, strong fundraiser, and great as articulating the liberal vision.  Polls show Warren with a lead of a few points, to high single digits, with the latest having her close to 50%.  Brown has a tough state to hold his seat in, and with Obama on the ballot, and Warren likely to tie Brown’s voting record around him, I think Warren is the favorite to take the seat)

Tossup Democratic Seats

  • North Dakota (Everyone thought N. Dakota was out of range for Democrats to hold on to when Kent Conrad announced he was retiring.  However, Democrats got former state AG Heidi Heitkamp to run for the seat, while Republicans have Congressmen Rick Berg.  Problem for Republicans is that Berg has bad approvals (as does congress has a whole), while Heitkamp has decent approvals.  Polls show back and forth leads for both sides.  Democrats do have the issue that Obama is unlikely to do well in the state, which could drag down the Senate race.  Regardless, this is not the blowout Democrats feared and Republicans hoped)
  • Missouri (Senator Clair McCaskill won a tough and close race in 2006, and this race will be just as tight.  Polls have small leads or losses for the Democrat, and with Obama aiming for the state, it will be a big battleground)
  • Virginia (this is a battle of heavyweights in a state Obama will be aiming to win in his re-election.  Former Governor Tim Kaine will take on former Senator George “Macaca” Allen, who lost this seat in 2006 after the famous Macaca incident.  Polls show a dead heat, with Kaine pulling a lead in a recent poll)
  • Montana (Like McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester won a tight race in 2006, and has a tough challenge from the state’s at-large Congressman.  It will be a tough fight, and with Obama unlikely to come as close to a win in the state has he did in 2008, Tester has to work hard to win)
  • Nebraska (this race will go to deep red really quick if Bob Kerry doesn’t run for the seat.  Its a tough seat. a tough state.  Not much more to say till we see if Kerrey runs)
  • Wisconsin (this will be a hard fought fight, Democratic congresswoman Tammy Baldwin is the presumptive Democratic nominee, and has liberals united strong behind her.  Baldwin is ranked the most liberal congressperson in the house, and gay rights groups no doubt want to help her get elected the first GLBT Senator.  The likely Republican in Tommy Thompson.  Thompson led Baldwin by 2 points in an October poll.  However, Thompson is at risk to a primary from his right, and the race is early, with Baldwin having limited name recognition.)

Tossup Republican Seats

  • Nevada (Democrats have a shot at winning the Nevada seat, with Senator Dean Heller having gotten the job via appointment.  He is challenged by Congresswoman Shelly Berkley, who is tied or narrowly leads Heller in the polls.  Obama will aim to win Nevada again in 2012, and the Hispanic community will go Democratic for sure.  The only question is will the lagging economy in Nevada bring down Democratic hopes in the state.
  • Arizona (While Democrats thought only Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords could put the seat in play for Democrats.  However, polling shows that Democrat, and former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, is pulling only two points behind Republican Jeff Flake.  The controversial actions of Republican Governor Jan Brewer could drag down Republicans, and Obama seems to have a shot at winning the state depending on the nominee and how the next year goes.  Its early in this race, time will tell.

This gives Democrats 48 seats with 8 undecided.  Democrats will only need to win 2 or 3 of the 8 to hold control of the Senate, not so bad, and doable.  Now, lets try and narrow that field down a little further and eliminate some swing seats.

I took other factors into account to try and make decisions on the last 8 swing seats, and came up with a new map.

I narrowed the map down even further with 3 seats, 2 went to Democrats, and 1 went Republican, lets take a closer look.  I did so by doing my best to take into account the over-arching factors involved in the remaining races, however, several races are too undeveloped to narrow beyond “tossup”

Democrats

  • Nevada (while the polls are a dead heat, I think certain factors give Congresswoman Berkley an edge of Senator Heller.  First off, the hispanic population has no love for the GOP right now, which will help all Democrats of Nevada in 2012.  In addition, I am inclined to believe that the polling problems of 2010 are still evident now.  What I am talking about is the pollsters not tapping into the spanish-speaking population, a population the goes Democratic.  The Harry Reid campaign’s internal polling had Reid winning his seat while everyone else saw him losing because of this key overlook of the Spanish speaking population.  In addition, Reid built up a powerful election machine for his 2010 seat, and will no doubt use it to help Berkley get the seat from Heller.  The ground game will be a big boost for Democrats in Nevada in 2012.
  • Virginia (I have been saying this for about a year now, George Allen is weak in Virginia.   He has been damaged by the “macaca” incident and his voting record in congress, and in every hypothetical poll done, couldn’t get to 50% even with the weakest challengers.  Kaine will benefit from a recent and good run as Governor, and Obama’s decent numbers in the state.  At the end, I think this will be close, but Kaine winning seems to be the likely bet.

Republicans

  • Nebraska (even if Bob Kerrey runs, we will have tough fight to hold this seat, and I am not sure Kerrey will run, and I think he won’t if I had to make a call.)

Remaining Tossups

  • Arizona (this race is too new and undeveloped to really make a strong call either way on how it can go.  I need more polling and need to see if Obama will make a move for the state to get a better feeling about the race)
  • Montana (I almost made this a Republican gain, as Tester has been down by 2 points for two polls in a row, but I believe Tester’s centrist image and good approvals can pay off against a Republican who can be tied to his unpopular leadership in the house.  This is a race with two popular opponents, and is gonna be close all the way till election day)
  • North Dakota (Like Arizona, this race needs more polls and more details, but I really think it could be a sleeper where Democrats can hold the seat thanks to a flawed Republican candidate.  Still too early to tell)
  • Missouri (This is gonna be close up and till election day.  A bitter GOP primary could help McCaskill, while Obama could be a problem for her if he doesn’t do well in this state that he lost in 2008.  When the Republican primary is done, I’d have  a better understanding of the edge for either side in this race)
  • Wisconsin (My big question is when the recall for Governor Scott Walker takes place in 2012.  I am worried that is a recall happens in the spring/summer, it could burn out the money and energy of local democrats, while a loss at the recall booth could be a body blow, and win could cause Democrats to be less enthusiastic about voting in November.  However, if the recall is IN November, this creates a great show for Democrats to have alot of enthusiasm for November (Senate, Pres, and Gov recall).  How the recall moves forward could have dramatic effects on this Senate race, which will be close if Tommy Thompson is the Republican nominee.)

Conclusion

So where does this leave us, well I stress that predictions one year out can be hard and can change.  In 2010, Democrats didn’t think Russ Feingold was at risk in Wisconsin, and in 2008 Republicans didn’t think North Carolina was at risk, but actions by their opposing parties and nation wilds changed all the predictions.  However, what this article aims to combat is this notion that Democrats are almost sure to lose the Senate due to the sheer numbers.  This article shows that Democrats likely have at least 48 seats, and another 2 or 3 can easily be attained from the 8 toss-up races.  Democrats with the right allocation of resources and willingness to play a little offense in at least Nevada and Massachusetts give them a decent shot at holding the Senate.  The rumors of their doom are greatly exaggerated.

Battleground: The future of gay rights in Iowa

As the scattered 2011 fall elections draw closer, there isn’t alot on people’s radar.  The Louisiana, Mississippi, and Kentucky governor elections are not competitive (with Louisiana and Kentucky being blowouts).  Perhaps the most widely followed election in the ballot measure in Ohio, which aims to veto the anti-union legislation passed by the Ohio Republican legislature and signed by Governor John Kasich.  However, among the many down ballot and obscure races taking place in November, the most important is one taking place in Iowa’s 18th Senate district.

A turncoat Democrat

The district is being vacated by a so-called Democrat, State Senator Swati Dandekar, who vacated her seat to take a position working for the newly-elected Republican Governor, Terry Branstad,  on the Iowa Utilites Board.   This forces Democrats to defend a seat in the middle of the session, which is the goal of Branstad, who is eager to to get one more Republican into the Iowa Senate to help push through his party’s agenda.  The fact that Dandekar would take this position, knowing full well its done so Republicans can try and win her seat, makes her career in Democratic politics OVER!

A real Democrat

The district will hold its election on November 8th.  Democrats have nominated former aanchorwoman Liz Mathis (her photo is to the right), and Republicans nominated businesswoman Cindy Golding.   With Mathis’ career as a TV anchor, there is the hope among Democrats that she will be able to bring name recognition to the race, and hold the seat for the party.  Democrats are taking the race very seriously, because they understand that alot rides on winning this one race.

Currently, the Iowa Senate stands at a 25-24 Democratic majority (was 26-24 before the Democrat resigned).  If Republicans win the seat, the result will be a 25-25 tie, allowing the Republican Lt. Governor to cast the tie-breaking votes to give control of the chamber to the GOP.  With republicans controlling the state house and governor’s mansion already, this would give the GOP full control of the state.  Make no mistake, THAT is why Governor Branstad picked Dandekar for a position in his administration.  A vacancy followed by win for the GOP gives his party control of the state senate.  Let us all join in loathing former Senator Dandekar .

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The Iowa Senate and Gay Rights

So why does it matter to gay rights who controls the Iowa Senate?   Because, ever since 2009, when the Iowa Supreme Court voted 9-0 to allow gay marriage in the state, conservatives have been clamoring to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the courts decision (similar to California’s Prop 8).  However, because Iowa doesn’t allow petition gathering to get something on the ballot, any action must go through the legislature.  In order for a constitutional amendment to be put to a vote, both chambers must pass the measure two sessions in a row.  This puts a long timeline on getting any measure on the ballot.  If the Iowa legislature had passed such an amendment in 2009 or 2010, they would have had to pass it again following the midterm elections (at which point the composition of the legislature is likely to have changed somewhat).   Since Democrats controlled both the Iowa House and Senate during the 2009/2010 session, no vote was ever held.

Gay Rights Protector

After Republicans took control of the Iowa House and reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate to 2 votes, there was hope among conservatives that this could lead to the first set of votes on the constitutional amendment.  Even though the Senate was controlled by Democrats, who resisted such votes, there is the belief that there are enough conservative and rural Democrats that would side with Republicans on such a vote.  However, Democratic State Senate majority leader Michael Gronstal (picture to right)  has made it very clear he will not allow any such vote under his leadership.  Thus, as long as Democrats control the state senate, no vote will be taken.  However, if the 25-25 split happens, Gronstal will not have the power to stop such a vote.  Passage of the measure in the 2011/2012 session would allow for it to be brought up again in 2013/2014, and if Republicans still control the legislature in that session, the second passage allows the amendment to go for a vote in 2014.

This means the result of the election for Senate District 18 are crucial to the future of gay marriage in the state.  Since gay rights continuing to have a steady and strong upswing in support as each year goes along (look to my last post to read more on the subject), the longer it takes the measure to get put to a vote, the harder it will be for the measure to pass.

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18th Senate District Basics

The 18th Senate district is one of three district to cover Linn County Iowa.  Iowa has pattern of working to ensure district are compact and within county boundaries and much as possible, so the 18th only resides within the county.  Map below

Linn county is a perfect square and the district encompasses about half of the county’s total mass, covering the entire western and northern rural outskirt areas and moving inward to the cities of Ceder Rapids and Marion.  The pink precincts are the outer boundaries of Ceder Rapids, while the purple chunk is the entire city of Marion.    Most of the population is focused within those city areas.  The dot proportion map below shows larger dots representing larger population zones.

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The population clusters are focused in the small precincts of the two major cities, while the larger precincts in the rural areas have lower voter populations.

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Politics of the 18th Senate District

The 18th district is a true wing seat, with a large swath of independent voters that could swing either way in a given election.  While Lynn County overall is more lean/likely Democratic, since the 18th doesn’t have all of democratic Ceder Rapids, it does not enjoy the same blue lean.  The 18th tends to vote a few percentage points more conservative than the county at large, which can make the difference in several races.  For example, while Lynn county was one of just several to vote for Democrat Chet Culver over Republican Terry Branstad in the 2010 governor’s race, the 18th narrowly voted for the GOP.  While Lynn county voted in favor of retaining the three Iowa supreme court judges who sided with gay marriage, the results where close, and when you look at just the 18th district, it voted against retention.  This pattern of the 18th being a few points more conservative than the county as a whole hold up in most election cases.

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When we look at the district when it comes to registration, a plurarilty of the districts residents actually qualify as independents.   The map below shows the strength of independents in the area.

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Republicans have a small registration advantage (a few hundred voters), but with such a large swath of independents, that advantage means little.  Democrats have the plurality in some of the ceder rapids precincts, while Republicans have some rural areas, and especially the area outside of Marion, but independents dominate in parts of Ceder Rapids, Marion, and the northern rural areas.

18th District in Past Elections

There are several elections over the past three years that offer a window into how the 18th district has performed politically.  If we look at the district during the 2008 Presidential Election, Obama won the district by a comfortable margin.

Obama made strong strides in rural districts and the cities.  His performance reached the 60s and 70s in the small precincts of Marion and Ceder Rapids.

Then, if we look at the 2010 Governor’s race, where the district narrowly voted for Republican Terry Branstad.

Here we only see the precincts of Marion and Ceder Rapids  go above 55% for the Democrat, while a few other precincts went for Cutler by a plurality.  Overall though, several Marion and rural precincts made decided shifts over to the GOP that voted Democratic two years ago.  Thus showing the district has no trouble switching allegiances.

In that same year, there was a competitive congressional election for the 2nd congressional district, where Democrat Steve Loebsack was able to barely win re-election with 5% of the vote.  He won by a few points in Linn County, but his margin in the 18th was even closer.

Loebsack was able to hold on in the 18th district by a little over 1 point, winning a few rural precincts as well as taking some key areas in Marion and Ceder Rapids.  It was a win, but a very close win.  The same area on that same day gave their vote to the GOP for Governor, so the district shows its willing to split the ticket on different races.

One common tactic in any campaign is also to look at the high and low points for any party and see which area’s remain faithful to the party even in blow out elections.  Therefore, I wanted to see what precincts would remain loyal to a key party no matter how much of a landslide the race was.  Too see which area’s still voted Republican in a landslide for Democrats, I looked to the 2008 Iowa election for US Senate; where Democrat Tom Harkin crushed his opponent by over 30 points, winning every county in the state.  The results in the 18th are as follows.

Only two precincts voted for the Republican, and Harkin even won precincts that almost always vote Republican.

Then, for checking Democratic loyal precincts in GOP landslides, I looked to the 2010 election for US Senate, where Republican Chuck Grassley won by a similar 31 point margin statewide.

In this case, every precinct voted for the GOP, even those of Ceder Rapids and Marion.   This map shows that in GOP blowouts, no precincts will be safe for the Democrats.  On the opposite side, the GOP has two safe precincts.   This continues to show the district is a true swing district and will go completely for one party in state-wide blowouts.

To look specifically at the local politics of this district, we can look to the 2008 State Senate election, where now-former State Senator Dandekar won her seat (thanks again for BAILING ON US!!!).  She won with 54% of the vote, no doubt with the help of the party she is ABANDONING!!  The results below.

Dandekar did very well in several of the Republican-leaning rural precincts, no doubt helped by Obama’s strong win in Iowa.   Her 10 point victory has an open seat gives hope to Democrats next month, but I doubt a Dem win will be this good.

If we look further into local politics, there district is divided into two separate state house districts that are completely contained within the larger state senate seat.

First, we see the 35 district, which includes the parts of Ceder Rapids and the upper northern rural areas.

Next we see House district 36, which includes the city of Marion.

Both districts are represented by Republicans, who had challengers in 2008, the same time the Democrat won the state senate seat.  The results are below.

Both Republicans won their re-elections, with the race being closer in the 36th.  While every race has its local issues and a focus on specific candidates, what we see here is that the 18th district voted for a democrat for state senate, but the same voters voted for the GOP for the two respective state house seats.  Again, this highlights the swing nature of the district… it is beholden to neither party.

There is one last election to look at when it comes to this seat, and that’s the issue of the court retention elections of 2010.  After the Iowa supreme court legalized gay marriage, conservative groups launched a successful effort to get voters to reject the retention (which allows judges to stay on the bench) of the three judges of the 9 that where up that year.  The conservative groups won, and the retention failed for all three by a  47-53 margin (aka, the judges where not retained, and thus removed from the bench).   Linn County actually voted for retention with around 52 to 53% (depending on which of the three judges it was).  Overall the differences in the judges was small, less than one percent.  While it can’t be clear that the failed retention happened because of their gay marriage votes (or simply the anti-government mood of 2010), the votes against retention give a possible indicator to the voters stance on full gay marriage.  While legal recognition for gay rights in Iowa is above 60% (this includes civil unions), the marriage issue is still in the mid 40s and slowly gaining more support.

When I look at how the 18th district voted, i looked to one of the races, for the judge that performed the worst in retention, Marsha Ternus,  who performed about half a point worse than her colleagues at 52.88% (compared to the others at just above 53%).  However, in the 18th, her retention was below 50%.

The 18th rejected her retention, and likely that of the other two judges as well.  While retention was supported in ceder rapids, most of marion, and other parts of the smaller cities, the rural area’s where heavily against it.  This likely is how a vote on gay marriage itself would break down, with a narrow opposition to the idea.   I use this election to highlight my concern about the race for the 18th becoming about gay rights, because that is unlikely to play well in the district at this time.  The best stategy for Democrats is to make the race about local and economic issues.  Making the issue about gay marriage will likely cause all those rural precincts to vote overwhelmingly against the Democrat.

Clearly Democrats think this already, which is why in the race, the Democratic nominee is not commenting on the gay marriage issue, but instead focusing on economic issues.

http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2011/10/18/346362/democrats-quiet-on-marriage-equality-in-key-iowa-senate-election/

Already, the National Organization for Marriage has released a mailer that it will likely send to the rural residents of the district, highlighting that a vote for the Republican is a vote for banning gay marriage (mailer is below).  Whether this strategy works, we will only have to wait and see.

Leave it to the National Organization for Marriage to be total and complete bigoted dicks.

Conclusion

The 18th Senate District has proven itself to be a true swing district in every sense of the word.  Many of its elections are close, and it definitely to ticket split and switch allegiances between parties.  This is no doubt due to the general swing-state nature of Iowa, and the large plurality of independents within the district.  This race is going to be one of the most expensive state legislative seats in history because so much rides on its results.  I don’t know who will win, as the results of past elections showed the district prefers neither party.  With Democrats and Republicans unpopular, how this district votes would go either way.  One thing is sure, the future of gay marriage in Iowa could ride on this one small state senate district.

UPDATE — ELECTION RESULTS

WELL THE RESULTS HAVE COME IN FROM THE TUESDAY ELECTION, AND DEMOCRAT LIZ MATHIS PREVAILED WITH 55% OF THE VOTE, A FAIRLY RESPECTABLE MARGIN FOR SUCH A SWING DISTRICT.  POLLING SHOWED ONLY 11% OF THE DISTRICT CONSIDERED GAY MARRIAGE THEIR TOP ISSUE (GOOD FOR DEMOCRATS SINCE THE DISTRICT NARROWLY FAVORS SAME-SEX MARRIAGE BEING ILLEGAL).  THE ELECTION DAY RESULTS (REFLECTED IN THE MAP BELOW) ACTUALLY HAD LIZ MATHIS ONLY GETTING 48%, BUT SHE GOT A COMMANDING 71% OF ABSENTEE BALLOTS, WHICH MADE UP A THIRD OF TOTAL VOTES CAST — THUS GIVING HER THE WIN.   AN IMPRESSIVE VICTORY INDEED.   ELECTION DAY RESULTS BELOW… MATHIS HELD HER OWN IN CEDER RAPIDS AND SEVERAL RURAL PRECINCTS, BUT LOST SEVERAL MARION PRECINCTS (ALTHOUGH LIKELY WON THEM IF ABSENTEE’S ARE CONSIDERED… BUT WE DON’T HAVE PRECINCT LEVEL ABSENTEE RESULTS).