Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hawkman Post-Election Analysis

Guest post by the Hawthorne Hawkman. Contributed photo.

Now that all but the last few park board seats have been officially declared, it's time to examine what happened in the 2009 city elections. I hate to get all legalistic, but it's gotta be done: The following commentary is attributed to Jeff Skrenes, private citizen, not John Hoff or any other organization that cannot weigh in on political candidates. (Click here for John's "gloves are off" post-election analysis.)

Now that we've dispensed with the formalities, here are a few post-election musings...

1. People are, by and large, satisfied with the direction NoMi is headed. All incumbents (including a park board rep not endorsed by this blog) in NoMi were returned to office. This is not to say that even the JNS-endorsed (and DFL-endorsed) incumbents are perfect, but that voters see the improvements in our neighborhood that are happening DESPITE an economic downturn of historic proportions, and credit much of these improvements to our elected officials.

It's been said that low voter turnout was an indictment against the status quo, and I heartily disagree. The number one indicator of voter turnout is how competitive the race at the top of the ticket is. That race was the Minneapolis mayoral race, and it was not in the least competitive. When the highest-profile race IS competitive, then you've got two key factors: A public that gets excited about and invested in the voting process, and not one but two campaigns running a wide GOTV effort. Without that in place, people wind up far less likely to get out and vote.

Anyone who says, "Oh, only 20% of voters got out and voted, so that means such-and-such a candidate that was reelected didn't REALLY have public support...well his or her opponents got EVEN LESS SUPPORT.

2. IRV/RCV is not a game-changer. For better or worse, Minneapolis is pretty much a DFL city, and incumbents who both want to keep their jobs and receive the DFL endorsement still have a major head start over challengers. I have my own reasons for feeling buyer's remorse over IRV (I was a supporter when it was introduced but now feel it's worse than what we had before), but at least this time around, it didn't change much. Candidates still needed to run good campaigns, and those who did not failed to garner votes. Several examples:

- Lennie Chism receiving less votes than Roger Smithrud. It is my opinion that Lennie, Natalie, and Kenya acted in concert, with Natalie and Kenya, and the deal was that he would be the pit bull to make Natalie and/or Kenya appear more moderate, and if either of them won then they'd return the favor later. I could be wrong about this of course, but my impression was that Lennie's only role was to attack Don as viciously as possible. Frankly, if I AM wrong then this is an even more damning indictment about the voters' response to Lennie's message.

- Kenya's challenges to the DFL endorsement were fruitless and exposed a campaign unprepared to navigate the minor arcana of the political process. Upon hearing the complaints raised by her campaign, I was left with the impression that the only basis for those complaints was, "No fair! They understood the rules and we didn't!" At best, I thought the challenge was made so that they could run a media blitz and try to de-legitimize the 5th Ward DFL endorsement. They didn't even do THAT much. But spending that much time and energy on the challenge wasted valuable resources and ultimately favored the incumbent. There's no way around it; this was a bad idea.

IRV may even have HELPED incumbents. To the degree that there was voter dissatisfaction in the 4th and 5th Wards, the lack of a primary meant that fringe candidates like Lennie Chism, Roger Smithrud, Marcus Harcus, and Grant Cemak were around to siphon off votes. (And as much as I like Marcus and recognize Cemak gained the Republican endorsement, the numbers show that those two WERE fringe candidates.) Under our primary system, voters would have had to choose between Samuels/NJL and Johnson/Parker. Those may have been much closer elections.

Along those lines, this blog was the first to declare winners in the 4th and 5th Wards, but I expect when the math plays out similarly in future IRV elections, other media will begin to feel more comfortable making similarly-timed predictions.

3. One thing that's very important is......TIMING!

I can't help but think of how different the elections would have been if Allan Kathir and Natalie Johnson Lee had gotten in the game earlier. While I have my doubts about whether either one would have affected the winning outcome, the races themselves would have been drastically different. I'd bet Kenya McKnight wouldn't have even run (certainly not past the DFL primary) if NJL was in the race from the start. Natalie might have had a chance to rally enough of the anti-Don Samuels voters to make a more serious run if she'd been in the race earlier. Kathir could have also made a stronger push if he'd been actively campaigning early enough to challenge Hofstede for the DFL endorsement.

The bottom line is this: If you don't have a core of volunteers ready to do the grunt work by the time precinct caucuses roll around, your chances of unseating an incumbent who IS prepared in that manner are very slim.

4. Rules matter.

Whether it was Kenya's ill-fated challenge to the DFL endorsement, her reported attempts to campaign at polling places on election day, or Marcus Harcus' Revere-like ride through NoMi (biking around and yelling through a bullhorn about voting, until someone called the police for disturbing the peace), or even RT's $26,000 penalty for campaign finance issues, rules were enforced. Seeing order upheld kept my faith in local democracy strong.

Regarding Harcus, I have to admire the political theater involved in his actions, even if they were ill-advised. He's someone I hope will continue to remain active in our community.

On a final note, I've heard people who associated with Flowers, NJL, and others go on about how they got to know these candidates personally, and they're such great people. Well when you're hanging out on Hillside Ave and you see Don Samuels stand up to gangbangers IN HIS SOCKS, you get to know him personally too. JNS readers who supported Samuels, Johnson, and Hofstede have worked side-by-side with these incumbents for years and know that these three are personally invested in our communities too. Thanks, and it's looking like the next four years will be even better in NoMi!


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't classify Cermak into the same fringe category. Cermak actually represents a distinctive viewpoint as opposed to being simply a gadfly, gaming or revenge type fringe candidate. Cermak's a libertarian. In 2008, there was clearly some type of urban libertarian movement. The candidates were all pretty young too, drawn in to owning homes on the Northside by the low prices for homes. It didn't produce much in terms of votes and it's unclear whether it will in the future. It got steamrolled by the Obama turnout in 2008 but in an open seat race in a low turnout election, who knows, with IRV.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

@ Anon 10:43

Point taken. I was using the term "fringe candidate" to refer specifically to vote totals in this election. But as somewhat of a political junkie, I actually prefer your definition, now that I think about it.