Friday, August 14, 2015

"Shirley" you're joking? Jacksonian Jim Webb Channelling Chisholm?

OVERLOOKED: Is fmr. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia - who has long nagged the Democratic Party for neglecting its once white, working class and Southern base - channelling Shirley Chisholm, the Bed-Stuy congresswoman and first black woman to make a serious bid for the White House?

Stepping up for the Des Moines Register's "political soapbox" at the Iowa State Fair yesterday, Webb fielded a question on campaign finance reform, declaring himself "Unbought & Unbossed" by SuperPACs, mega-donors, etc.  Scroll through to about 13:35 for Webb's answer.

In her trail-blazing 1972 bid, Chisholm - Brooklyn born to Caribbean immigrants - billed herself by that same tagline: "Unbought & Unbossed."

A curious choice, considering how the self-described Jacksonian Democrat is facing the party's "break up" with its Jefferson-Jackson Day rubber chicken dinners thrown by county and state affiliates, a nod to its base that's been diversifying for decades.

Curious, too, considering that in this year of #BlackLivesMatter dominating the discourse in Democratic presidential politics, that Webb, in keeping with his affinity for Southerners of Scotch-Irish descent, has offered a nuanced view on recent efforts to furl the Confederate battle flag.

(Nuanced it should be, as the South's bastions of Unionist, anti-Confederate sentiment during the Civil War were were Scotch-Irish mountain folk who dominated in East Tennessee, West Virginia and NW Arkansas, for instance.)

Resurrecting this memorable slogan offers up a chance to plug this fascinating documentary telling the tale of Chisholm's insurgent bid from PBS' POV, circa 2004.  Check out the doc's trailer here:

Friday, July 10, 2015

New Orleans' love for 'Teddy Bear' Roosevelt bloomed too late to cuddle him in the polling booth

New Orleans, La. - Holed up here in New Orleans' historic Roosevelt Hotel, I've been curious about the origins of the place's name.

A grand hotel built in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th Century might be expected to honor the Crescent City's colonial legacy, named after a now-forgotten French comte or long gone Spanish patrĂ³n.

Or the hotel might have been caught up in the current Confederate controversy. But there's no need to consider wiping the name of a now-disgraced statesman or general of the "Lost Cause" off the edifice's exterior.

It's not named for for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a quite plausible honoree for New Orleanians, as he won near unanimous votes across the Democratic "Solid South" in 1936 from  impoverished Southerners devoted to, and benefiting from, FDR's New Deal largesse.

In fact, it's named for President Theodore Roosevelt, a Yankee and a...Republican!

To find out why, we made sure to schedule a lobby tour featuring the structure's colorful lore, courtesy an extraordinarily knowledgable concierge dedicated to continuing the Roosevelt's legacy.

On the tour we learned that the hotel has only been recently restored as the Roosevelt, Post-Katrina, from a Fairmont property. Workers pulled up the water-logged carpet, installed as a supposedly modernizing amenity in 1965, revealing the magnificent original tile work.

Our concierge-cum-tour guide regaled us with stories of Prohibition-era speakeasies, legendary Louisiana Gov. Huey Long's holding court on the upper floors and the hotel's claim to have first concocted the original Sazarac, with rye and absinthe.

So why, I wondered, "The Roosevelt?" And why does Teddy's name pop up around New Orleans?

Remember, in 1924 when the Roosevelt was renamed from it's original Grunewald moniker, Southern pride was still smarting from Reconstruction, which had wrapped up just a half century earlier.

Theodore's surname only added alliterative reminder of those two of Dixie's then most-detested bugbears: Reconstruction and the Republican Party: objects of so much florid Southern indignation.

Roosevelt was a card-carrying member of the Republican Party! And it was Republicans who in the wake of Appomattox imposed the humiliating program of Reconstruction of the former rebel Confederate states.

But New Orleans seems to not hold his party and Section against him.

TR's NoLa legacy isn't contained within the hotel walls.  Roosevelt's "Teddy Bear" legend has a New Orleans connection.

If you take the self-guided tour of the Crescent Cityh's historic Garden District's grand (mostly) Antebellum homes per the brochure furnished by the famous Commander's Palace restaurant, you'll walk by 2520 Prytania Street, where Roosevelt was entertained by a later Louisiana governor, John Millikin Parker, before heading off on the hunting trip where TR saved the life of the bear cub that inspired the stuffed Teddy Bear craze.

(We had to bring along a "real" Teddy bear, pictured above, decked out in Rough Rider ensemble, purchased in the gift shop at TR's Long Island home of Sycamore Hill in Oyster Bay, NY.)

That hunting trip was in 1907, during Roosevelt's second, but only elected term. Teddy had made earlier connections in 1898 when he was recruiting his Rough Riders for battle in Cuba in the Spanish-American War.  Joining Roosevelt and future Gov. Parker on that hunting trip and in the Rough Riders was John A. McIlhenny, of the Tabasco hot sauce brand-founding McIlhennys.

Roosevelt roots in New Orleans were planted way back to 1811 when TR's great-great uncle sailed a steamer down from Pittsburgh.

So, was it the Bavarian-born founder of the hotel, Louis Grunewald, among some of the South's then-few and far between Republicans, like his German immigrant brethren who settled in a cluster of counties in central Texas' Hill County?

Nope. Grunewald seem to have calculated that his business interests would benefit if he cozied up to New Orleans' arch-conservative, anti-reform Old Regular Democratic organization.

Turns out, the hotel was renamed in 1923-24, a few years after Teddy's 1919 passing.  The real reason New Orleans city fathers came to appreciate Roosevelt and name its grand hotel after him, despite his Yankee Republicanism, was his crucial role accelerating work on the moribund Panama Canal project, which brought in more trading ships from South America into the Port of New Orleans, boosting the city's bottom line in a big way.

Alas, the Panama Canal's completion in 1914 was too late for Teddy to reap any of that good will in the ballot box.

Although he couldn't become a Republican, Parker did join TR's Progressive Party off-shoot from the GOP, and made his first, unsuccessful, run for governor on it's Bull Moose ticket in 1916.  (Post-Progressive, he won a term as a Democrat.) Before Roosevelt abandoned a second White House bid under the Progressive banner earlier in 1916, Parker was even slated to be his hunting buddy's running mate.

In Roosevelt's winning run for a full term in 1904, only 380 voters in Orleans Parish backed the incumbent president - or 2.3%, far below a statewide total that couldn't even crack double digits.

(Maybe the McIlhenny family campaigned for the Rough Rider in Tabasco's home of Iberia Parish.  There Roosevelt pulled in nearly 22%, over double his statewide total.)

Unburdening himself of the "Republican" label so noxious to Southern voters of that era - after he stormed out of the GOP convention in to found the Progressive Party - didn't seem to help TR much in 1912.

Only 15% of Orleans Parish voters picked him in that four-way election, a few points of his 12% statewide.  (Again in Tabasco-land, he fared much better.  Iberia Parish was his second strongest statewide, giving him 27%.)

in 1924, the next election after the hotel's Roosevelt-renaming, a Progressive Party, inspired by TR's Bull Moosers, re-emerged with Wisconsin's "Fightin' Bob" LaFollette as its standard-bearer.

LaFollette wasn't even on the ballot in Louisiana, but you can't help wonder if Theodore Roosevelt had lived and been that Progressive candidate in 1924 if Orleanians would have demonstrated their appreciation for the old Rough Rider in the polling booth.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Who's Who in the House: Flippers on Trade from NAFTA to TPA

Notable in the U.S. House roll call vote on TPA (Trade Promotion Authority, a.k.a. "fast track" negotiating authority for the president) is the far fewer numbers of Members who "crossed the aisle" to vote against the majority of their caucus or conference compared to the House roll call to pass NAFTA in 103rd Congress in Nov. 1993.

On NAFTA: Just under 40% House Democrats - then in the Majority - voted "Aye" and
just over 20% of then in the Minority House Republicans voted "No."

On TPA: Again, just over 20% of now Majority House Republicans voted "No" on TPA, but
this share of House Democrats voting "Aye" on TPA fell to just 15% of the caucus.

Here's a handy list of incumbent U.S. House Members who were in office back when NAFTA passed the House, but whose votes on TPA have flipped, either from "pro-trade" to "anti-trade" or vice-versa:

"Aye"on NAFTA to "No" on TPA

Democratic Reps.:

(incumbent House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
Xavier Becerra (CA)
Anna Eshoo (CA)
Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA)
Alcee Hastings (FL)
(incumbent House Minority Leader) Steny Hoyer (MD)
Nita Lowey (NY)
David Price (NC)
Jim McDermott (WA)

Republican Reps.:

Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
John Duncan (R-TN)

"No" on NAFTA to "Yea" on TPA

Republican Reps.:

Ed Royce (R-CA)
John Mica (FL)
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL)
(incumbent House Appropriations Comm. Chair) Hal Rogers (KY)


A "No" on TPA, Rep. Doris Matsui's (D-CA) took the seat of her deceased husband, fmr. Rep. Robert Matsui who voted "Aye" on NAFTA.

An "Aye" on TPA, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) took the seat of his late father, the powerful chairman of the House Transportation Committee from 1995-2001, fmr. Rep. Bud Shust who voted "No" on NAFTA.

Then-House Members now serving in the Senate who have flipped on trade votes:

"Aye"on NAFTA to "No" on TPA

Democratic Sens.:

"Dick" Durbin (D-IL)
Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Ed Markey (D-MA)

"No" on NAFTA to "Yea" on TPA

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID)

Sen. Diane Fienstein (D-CA) voted "No" on NAFTA, but "Yea" on TPA

Monday, June 08, 2015

Prairie Parkway:
Paving a path for Dems' drive into Denny-Land?

As the scandal embroiling fmr. U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has unfolded, reporters have trekked out to Hastert's exurban home base, just beyond Chicago's fabled suburban "Collar Counties."

The predictable rash of stories have been filed, quoting slack-jawed locals in shock and disbelief over possible "prior misconduct" allegedly committed by their humble, hometown boy, Coach "Denny" Hastert.

Hastert's reputation for hometown humility was grounded as much in an apparently middle class lifestyle as it has been on his approachable, avuncular demeanor.  Despite his long tenure wielding the Speaker's gavel, Hastert never appeared to have forsaken Yorkville in Kendall Co. and "gone Washington." profiting from his post-Congress connections.

So reporters have gone digging into where the piles of cash in question came from. Turns out: it wasn't all from the predictable consulting and lobbying gigs.

A WaPo story found that "Hastert made a fortune in land deals" as corn fields were cleared for the strip malls and subdivision construction that have fueled the exurban growth that's exploded in Kendall Co., Hastert's home, and adjoining Kane Co. since Hastert's initial House election in 1986.

(Kane Co.'s schools are bursting with bored suburban teens, but the county seat's civic boosters insist that Aurora has much going on than just Wayne and Garth's basement public access cable TV "studio.")

One deal that raised eyebrows over ethics as far back as 2006 involved a federal earmark for the proposed Prairie Parkway that would cut through both Kendall and Kane cos. Hastert owned farmland nearby that he seems to have figured would reap him a real estate windfall from the growth parkway proponents promised.

Kendall's and Kane's voting patterns have followed a familiar shift: booming exurbanizing counties that see a marked shift from their reliably Republican rural days to a sharp increase in Democratic suburbanite support at the polls.

The "Collar Counties" were once so rock-ribbed Republican that local teenager Hillary Rodham Clinton was a "Goldwater Girl," even as LBJ was burying Barry nationwide. By 2008, the "Collar Counties" followed other affluent suburban counties and voted again for president for a guy named "Barry" - this time a Democrat of color, "Barry" Obama.

The shift in exurban Kendall and Kane wasn't as pronounced.  Republicans still dominate state legislative and county offices, and boost competitive statewide GOP contenders.

But neither county had voted for a Democrat for president for the entire 20th Century, not only snubbing "Landslide Lyndon" in 1964, but never going for FDR, not even in 1936.

But by 2008. suburbanites - and a likely "favorite son" factor - were overwhelming the small town GOP habits, and Obama carried both Kane and Kendall comfortably.  (Obama took a hit four years later, winning Kane and losing Kendall, but in both by narrow margins.)

Although America is littered with public works projects that failed to spur the growth promised,   parkway opponents dubbed it the "Sprawlway," expecting strip malls to strip the land of remaining agricultural areas.

So let's posit that the proposed Prairie Parkway would indeed follow the "if you build it, they will come" maxim that supporters of big ticket public works projects like this lean on to sell the scheme.

Then Hastert, the longest-serving Republican U.S. House Speaker - possibly desperate for hush money to cover-up some very un-"Values Voter"-approved behavior - was plotting a scheme to profit from a project that could help chip away more from the already-chiseled Republican voting bloc in his home base.

- John Vaught LaBeaume
Twitter @JVLaB

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Can Lindsey’s “Grahamstanding” Really Ruffle Rand? It’s important to think back to Ron vs Rudy, SC ‘07

Weeks before yesterday’s formal announcement, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was already spelling out his vision for a potential presidential bid to Politico and WaPo.

How, pundits might wonder, can a senator who’s hardly a household name - despite frequent talking head spots on cable news - and saddled with a record of bipartisanship that’s viewed with suspicion by Republican primary voters, build a campaign that’s competitive?

Lindsey Graham has a plan: make Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and, specifically, his supposedly un-Republican foreign policy, his foil. Playing off Paul, Graham hopes to mark territory as 2016’s most hawkish competitor.

On a debate stage crowded with future also-rans in near uniform agreement over world affairs, Lindsey Graham can’t wait to stand out from the GOP cattle call by pounding Rand in person.

Call it “Grahamstanding:” look for Lindsay to denounce “demagoguery” and “isolationism” in suspiciously demagogic terms (Read: “Those who believe we can disengage from the world at large and stay safe by leading from behind, vote for someone else. I'm not your man.”).  We’re sure to hear the senior Senator from the Palmetto State repeat his smear that Rand Paul’s foreign policy is “to the left of Obama.”

A 538 blogger suggests that “Lindsey Graham May Have Already Won” in his long-shot bid by making sure that his hawkish foreign policy is front and center in the conversation on the road to the nomination, and that Paul will not go unchallenged.

But there’s reason to be skeptical if Graham can take off with this strategy.

First off, the political press might hound Graham out of the race, should he “underperform” (a notion still undefined) in South Carolina’s “third in the nation” presidential primary.

Graham can’t reasonably expect a “Favorite Son” effect to take the Palmetto State effectively off the early date on the primary battleground calendar.

Graham’s relations with South Carolina’s GOP base is strained - he’s been lampooned for peddling “Grahamnesty” on immigration.  In 2014, Graham faced down a host of candidates that the Tea Party make a ruckus over.  Graham far outpaced his runner-up, but he won renomination with an unimpressive 54% of the primary vote. An early poll shows Graham back in the presidential pack in his home state.

And Graham may not even have this lane all to himself.  While former UN Ambassador John Bolton has demurred from a bid waving that banner, he’s endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), who may try to sound like even more of a warmonger than  Graham.  Unlikely at this point, but Rep. Peter King of New York has not yet closed the door on a foreign policy-focused bid.

In assessing if Lindsey Graham can gain traction as the “anti-Rand,” it’s important to think back to how Ron Paul became a phenomenon in 2007.

Back in May 2007, before he took the stage in South Carolina for a Fox News-hosted GOP presidential debate, then-Rep. Ron Paul was recognized by the political press as a famously prodigious fundraiser from his fervent mailing list fanbase, but one who barely registered in national polls.

Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani walked onstage aware that his relatively liberal stances on social issues could be a liability in this Bible Belt state. But he knew that his reputation as “America’s Mayor” during 9/11 could divert attention from those social stances among the famously flag-waving, military-venerating South Carolina Republicans. So when a moderator asked Ron Paul about 9/11, Giuliani pounced.  “As someone who lived through the attack of 9/11,” “America’s Mayor” butted in, spinning Paul’s remarks as asserting that American “invited” the attack.

It played to the hall, drawing enthusiastic backing from the crowd, just as Giuliani had expected. But spat was the first presidential debate moment to go viral and Ron Paul’s profile boomed via social media, setting the stage for his record-breaking online fundraising “money bombs.”

Just a few primaries into the season, Giuliani was out, but Ron Paul soldiered on, the only candidate other than the nominee to make it to the GOP convention.

That viral debate moment highlights the pitfalls with this strategy. Despite not being shared by most GOP voters, it was his unique perspective that carved his niche in the campaign.  It can be tough to succeed by being the loudest or most impassioned among a crowd that shares your position than voicing a view distinct among all of your rivals.

And Graham’s approach, however sharp his remarks, is much less bombastic than Rudy Giuliani’s and lacks a compelling narrative like becoming “America’s Mayor” on 9/11.  So he may not even be able to out-shout Rubio and the rest.

While his more cautious foreign policy may be generally popular with general electorate, Rand Paul remains outside of the GOP “mainstream” on foreign policy.  But in cautioning more military restraint, Rand Paul is distinct among Republican presidential hopefuls in speaking up for a view shared by a not-insignificant minority of his fellow Republicans.

Instead of forcing him out of the race or discrediting his positions, attacks against Rand Paul could just as easily redound back to his benefit.  And remember, Rand Paul’s cautiousness is shared by many more Republicans than Ron Paul’s isolationism.

With the ghost of Giuliani's 2008 bid haunting the path to the Republican convention, why would Graham get in? To answer, consider that so much has changed in how presidential campaigns unfold since that start of the 2008 presidential campaign, just two cycles ago.

Ron Paul was one of the first to harness social media in 2008, a tool now de rigueur. And, post-Citizens United, the possibility of super pac largess dangles before Graham, hoping that it might be spread his way.

One super pac backed by some of the “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth” strategists from 2004 launched into Rand Paul the very day of his announcement. Vegas mogul Sheldon Adelson’s - whose super pac kept Newt Gingrich hobbling on in 2012 - holds hawkish views that could back Graham. Support like that could keep Graham on the debate stage long after and despite of a potential single-digit home state primary performance.

A pro-Rand super pac has already called Graham into the ring.

In the end, it could be a wash; a symbiotic deal for both candidates.  Graham’s attacks could cement his standing as the GOP’s pre-eminent hawk, and compare to most of his ilk, a thoughtful one at that.

And attacks on Rand Paul that draw attention to his uniquely restrained Republican foreign policy could attract more support among cautious Republicans than his father could have hoped to win.