“What’s the downside of running unopposed?”

Dear Dr. Bob,
It looks like I won’t have any serious opposition during my primary election. That’s obviously good because it is one less thing to worry about and suck money away from the general election. But it also seems to be not so good because the other side has a huge field of candidates and looks like that’s about all the media seems interested in. I’m afraid that my campaign will just be ignored. Should I be concerned?
What can I do?
Being Ignored

Dear Ignored,
I never advocate concern…it is more a way of losing sleep than getting anything accomplished. So chill out and lets consider what you can do about the situation.
First off, having the other side bash each other is a gift. If you don’t believe me…although you should…just ask David Axelrod or, better yet, Mitt Romney. With any luck your eventual opponent will emerge from his/her primary beaten up pretty well after being clobbered by all manner of opposition research material. Assuming you are part of the great middle-left, your opponent will have had to swing way-the-frack over to the extreme right to make nice-nice with the “tea party” faction of their side. This is a good thing.

Secondly, you do not want to interrupt their circular firing squad with a big target on your back over something real or imagined or made-up. So chasing after press just to stay in the game makes no sense. That said, staying top of mind…at least in contrast to the looney tune crowd on the right does make some sense. But it must be done with near 100% accuracy — the last thing you want to do is give the boys on the right something around which they can unite — as in you.

So I recommend focusing on a few sure thing targets that you know will get bipartisan popular support. My favorite is the “Minimum Wage”. In 2006 a progressive coalition even ran the Minimum Wage as a ballot initiative and clobbered the McOpposition with bi-partisan support. This issue tests off the charts with support from Democrats, Republicans and Independents. In other words, it’s pretty much a no brainer. Given Arizona’s step forward in 2006, going back to the well for another round of minimum wage increases should be tested to see if it still holds up. But its also worth testing some new messaging like “A Living Minimum Wage.” My bet is that it tests in the 60-70% range.

But the real beauty is that the “tea party” folks hate it — fear of their cheeseburgers costing a nickel more —  and the GOP candidates are pretty much doing whatever their vocal far right minority tells them to do if they plan on winning their primary election. Which puts them squarely on the wrong side of the issue.

But minimum wage is just one of several “economic populist” ideas worth considering to keep in the news cycle but, more critically, to be the centrist, not crazy alternative to whatever the Republicans are doing.

Consider this: capping how much interest can be charged to people by their credit card company(s). A run has been made attacking the “payday loan” racket and there’s been some level of success — you may have noticed how “Title Loan” places have popped up to replace “Payday Loan” shops. But the core of the problem is that there is no limit on how much interest Joe and Jane are going to be charged on their credit card balance.

But there used to be! Its called the “usury” law and it was repealed during the Camelot years under Gov. Fife “Bill Clinton pardoned me” Symington. And for a specific reason: attracting all those great credit card call center jobs! Yeah, right.

That lasted a few years and then, poof! all gone.

But Arizona was left with no protection against interest rates so high that just thinking of them gives me a nose bleed and they continue through to today.

Like all matters of “economic populism” the folks making a killing charging those disgusting interest rates, like banks, are going to scream bloody murder and you probably won’t be able to count on them to show at your University Club fundraiser. But they weren’t going to show anyway. So no great loss.

Setting a cap on consumer interest rates at, say, the prime rate plus 3% seems like a good starting point to me.

Here’s another: The cost of higher education and student loan burdens. This one is a home run if it is handled properly.

You know the stories about how college students are being handed a debt of $25,000 or more along with their diplomas. This one is tricky when you’re dealing with state government. At the federal level they have a lot of tools available ranging from lowering interest rates on student loans to forgiving loans when graduating students do civic work for two years including the military.

At the state level you have to be a bit more restrained…but not silenced. Proposals have been floated to allow Arizona’s community colleges to offer 4 year degrees. Seems to make sense since they are teaching oriented, not carrying the heavy lifts of big-time research universities. After all, just how many nuclear physicists does Arizona need?

The freshman year at most community colleges is already functioning as a 13th year of school…adding 3 more seems to make sense. Of course, as with everything else, there will be opponents. Of course there will. But voters who can’t afford to send their kids to college or students who would prefer having an actual professor in the classroom as opposed to a grad assistant would be giddy.

And you can always point to the Arizona Constitution that says public schools — including colleges and universities– should be as free as possible. That one will fry the “constitutionalists” who hang out with the “tea party” types.

So…there are things that your campaign can do and say while the opponents are trying to make nice-nice with their far right. Just be sure to time your announcement of a proposal to fill in a time warp when the Republicans are busy licking their wounds and getting ready for their next food fight.

One final thought: If you don’t have a home run, as with economic populism, just keep traveling around meeting folks and not getting shot. There will be a temptation to shoot at whatever insanity is coming from the GOP primary, but resist. The idea is to be sane alternative. not another crazy player.

Good luck!

 

 

 

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HB2305 – What part of “permanent” do you not understand?

Dear Readers,

I hate to say this, but I have become used to Arizona weirdness. Now, that’s not an endorsement, just a personal statement.

I can handle Arizona’s attractiveness to The Daily Show producers. They’re in show business and we are a hotbed of comic relief — at least to those who don’t live here.

Then there are moments that defy humor. As when voter suppression becomes a social norm. Such as is happening right now.

HB 2305 is the latest effort to suppress the votes of Democrats and minority voters. In other words, everyone but Republicans. And the worst part of it, at least to this Doc, has to do with the PERMANENT  early voter file. Pay close attention to that word “PERMANENT.”

The PERMANENT early voter list was designed and intended to enable voters to cast their ballots from home using the USPS. And it was intended to be PERMANENT. As in don’t mess around with it.

But some, including at least one Arizona Republic columnist, seem to have it in their heads that PERMANENT means something less than “forever and ever.” From what I can tell, they must believe that “PERMANENT” means something like painting your house with watercolors: it looks okay when its fresh, but with the first rain you’re SOL.

As many of you know — I’ve written about this before — watching AZTV is the best political show in town. And I can remember watching as this deal was going down. Now I have to admit that nobody testified that the purpose behind tanking the PERMANENT early voter list was intended to suppress the vote. No…instead there was a parade of “elections supervisors” from the 15 county clerks’ offices. With Maricopa County elections bureaucrats in the lead, they said that having so many people on the PERMANENT early voter list caused them some kind of extra work or hardship. Boo hoo.

Never wanting to miss a trick, the GOP committee members must have been moved by their plight and said that people on the PERMANENT early voter list could be removed if they had not voted recently. That caused committee member state Senator Steve Gallardo (D-Common Sense) to go completely batshit.

And with good reason.

The entire purpose of the PERMANENT early voting list was to increase voter participation, not squash it. And, sure enough, as more and more people started using that voting option, a growing number of “minority” voters began using it. Getting people on the PERMANENT early voting list has become a staple of various voter registration drives. And that, in turn, has been causing Republican officials heartburn as they see their advantages slipping away while their white guy numbers continue to head downward as a percentage of the population. Boo hoo.

So around the country, including Arizona, they’ve been dreaming up schemes to keep a voter participation edge. Photo ID’s to vote, kicking people off the PERMANENT early voter list, gerrymandering legislative districts to ensure House and Senate majorities, photo ID’s to prevent voter fraud (despite the fact that there are more people getting caught at expired parking meters than committing voter fraud), etc.

Not ready to lay down and be willingly trampled on, an unlikely coalition of Democrats, Libertarians,  Greens, Latino groups, organized labor and others popped up to block enforcement of HB2305 by running a petition drive to put the measure on the ballot in 2014. And unless there is monkey business during the signature certification process that is conducted by the 15 county clerks offices (yeah, you read that right), they’re going to be successful. The proposed law will be blocked pending that 2014 vote when, one would hope, the majority of voters, including those on the PERMANENT early voter list will tank this grotesque assault on voting rights.

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Dr. Bob: “When should I start my campaign?”

Dear Dr. Bob,

I’m going to run for the state legislature, but I’m not yet ready to make a formal announcement since I don’t have much money and no campaign materials. When should I start my campaign?”

Thinking About It

Dear Thinker:

Yesterday.

Seriously, it makes more sense to go the other direction: announce now and then continue to announce as long as people show up.

With state legislative races, the reality is that you’re not going to get much news interest or coverage — this is particularly true in the major metro areas, less so in rural Arizona.

So get yourself in front of every group you can think of and tell them that you’re “proud to be here today to tell you that I am running for the state legislature…” That doesn’t require much more than your time and, as it turns out, is a good way of getting known, raising money and collecting petition signatures.

What is more important, by the way, is making dead certain that you know what your campaign is going to be before starting. You need to be able to explain exactly how you are going to win in a brief summary. This should be tried out on your spouse or BFF before jumping off the cliff.

Think of it this way, a campaign has a destination called “winning the election.”

The sole purpose of a campaign is to get the candidate from a starting point to the destination. Period. That’s why its often referred to as the “campaign trail.” The best candidates can close their eyes and see the trail with great clarity. The worst can’t seem to see past that day’s events — which usually involve begging for money.

So, when you should start your campaign is a bit more complicated, isn’t it. If you’re hung up on when to start, you’re already behind because a better candidate has already figured out a roadmap to get from here to there. But that’s okay. Rookies always make mistakes. Just make then early enough to be fixed. A former business partner of mine used to say that a campaign can make “three mistakes” before its time to turn out the lights.

So close your eyes and try to see how you are going to move along the trail, taking into account the likelihood that mistakes will happen and your plan is going to have to change now and then. Everyone can envision being sworn into office. So be one of the smart ones and start thinking at that point and then go backwards, if you like, laying down each and every step that your campaign will need to make to account for having arrived.

A word of caution: There is an endless supply of political tradesmen out there these days. Many are newbies who were along for the ride when a frontrunner amazed everyone by winning. But there are some who’ve fought the hard battles and won. Those are the folks you want to check out. There’s nothing like hitting the campaign trail with someone who’s been there.

Good luck!

Dr. Bob

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Dr: Bob: “Oh please, please, please run for Governor”

Dear Dr. Bob,

I just read in the paper that former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas (R-disbarred) is running for Arizona governor.

Is this a good thing or bad thing for Democrats?

Puzzled

Dear Puzzled,

Sorry it has taken a while to write a response, but I couldn’t stop laughing. Yes! It is a very good thing for Democrats and, if what we’re seeing from Mark Sanford’s campaign is any indication,  the news media which is hunkering down for something to justify acknowledging that there’s even going to be an election.

But it is also a good thing for thinking Republicans in the state who are fed up with their party having been taken over by the Taliban wing. This gives them an opportunity to say, “are you kidding us?” while hoping that they can get enough moderate Republicans to vote in their primary election so that there is actual change. Ok, perhaps not moderate Republicans..maybe just non-medicated Republicans or those who should be. Can you say “psychotic?”

But, as it is said, “hope is not a method.”

So, assuming that the Republican primary for governor turns into a classic GOP circular firing squad with the Taliban types supplying the ammo, it is unlikely that the moderates will even show their heads.

But I digress. So far the GOP field is shaping up to be a competition between the extreme right and the further extreme right that don’t seem like they are. And appearances count for a great deal in Arizona politics — I’m reminded of Jon Kyl’s TV spots in which he’s driving around in an old pick-up truck and Jon McCain’s “build the dang fence” spot. (As the third highest ranking Republican in the Senate, it is more likely that Kyl was being chauffeured around Washington in a black Lincoln not an old pick-up truck.)

So if Thomas’ handlers can clean him up and make everyone who isn’t an extremist appear to be part of a mindless attack machine out to destroy this ‘honorable public servant who was just fighting against the bad guys,’ then the dude might actually have a chance to squeak through a crowded GOP field. He certainly has name-ID, you know, and most likely the support of “Sheriff Joe.”

And that, I suspect is going to be very good news for the Democratic primary winner’s appeal to the majority of Arizona voters who are center-left or center-center. Now, who that is going to be is currently up for grabs, but will most likely boil down to Fred DuVal who has already announced and Chad Campbell who is still “exploring.” Those explorations, I suspect, are going to be a considerably more fruitful than finding the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. That’ll create a  two-person race between two superior and well-funded candidates, either one of which should be able to turn the GOP nominee into horse meat assuming no major screw-ups.

Possible Democratic screw-ups include:

1. Over reliance on consultants who rarely step outside of the Washington Beltway with little knowledge of our strange little state and don’t fight the Taliban very often. We’ve long since seen the domination of Arizona elections by out-of-state consultants, but having a few Arizona-based folks around makes sense.

2. Getting trapped into supporting something that most Arizona voters don’t like –this is the “Eddie Basha” error, god bless him, in which he was trapped into saying he’d support Gay marriage. Eddie was way ahead of the curve that is now seeing Gay marriage becoming a new centrist issue, by the way.

3. Failing to go on the attack early and often. This is often difficult for Democrats because we’re, well, nice. But failure to do that is akin to waiting for someone to knock you out and then trying to hit back while your head is spinning. There is a  tendency, by the way, to divide up positive and negative campaigns between the candidate’s campaign and so-called “independent expenditure” campaigns. Let the candidate be positive and the outsiders do the negative lifting. This an error, I believe. Voters, particularly in Arizona, want to see a candidate who can toss a right hook when warranted.

4. Wasting money. Oy…if I had a dime for every time a dollar was misspent I’d be as wealthy as the Republicans. There are only three things that are worth spending money: Media, votes and more money. If proposed spending doesn’t directly connect to one of those things, don’t spend it.

Finally, if you see that old pickup truck from wherever Republican props are kept between elections, get a horse.

Dr. Bob

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Dr. Bob: ACTV – Must see TV.

Dear folks…

I’ve have a cold for a few days and I couldn’t stand watching another episode of “House Hunters.” So I cranked up the ‘ole laptop and tuned into ACTV – Arizona Capitol Television. (You get to it via azleg.gov)

It’s a hoot and a half. You know all those whack-jobs that Laurie Roberts over at the Republic tried to warn us about? There they are in living color in committee meetings and even during floor sessions.

Today’s episode comes to us during the Senate Government Committee from Sen. Judy Burges R-Wackville. Ms. Burges is pushing  SB 1403 like she’s Paul Revere riding through the streets of Phoenix screaming “The Commies are coming! The Commies are coming!” All of this has to do with something that just happens to be the title of Glen Becks latest acid-induced head trip that’s come out in book form. It’s called “Agenda21.” (Already marked down from the publisher’s suggested retail price and available at Amazon for only $15.35 if you feel the need to keep up on events in Wackville.)

Ms.Burges, and what appears to be an endless stream of other Wackville residents, are convinced that the United Nations is up to no good and wants to take over the United States. Several, by the way, seem to be suggesting that they already have. The vehicle for this treason is the UN Rio accords designed to help keep the friggen planet alive before we’ve completely destroyed it. Things like water conservation, cutting down on fossil fuel dependency, etc. You get the idea: Science.

In any event, its been a great show!

 

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Dr. Bob: “Time for radical campaign finance reform.”

Buckle your seat belts my dear progressive friends. I believe it is time for a truly radical change in Arizona’s campaign finance laws.

No. Not more regulations or burdensome limits that make no difference in the quality of our campaigns. It is time, I believe, to simply do away with limits on campaign contributions.

The intent of limiting contributions was, to the extent possible, help keep money out of politics…or at least minimize the impact. But it just hasn’t worked.

Instead of cleaner more transparent elections where somebody is held accountable for virtually everything, we have a political free for all. Money is still influencing our elections, of course. Big money. Money that is getting bigger and bigger all the time with less and less accountability.

And that was even before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to a torrent of cash being poured into our campaigns. In fact, we still don’t know for certain who was behind the big time cash that sank two ballot measures in 2012. Oh, we have a pretty good idea, but the invisible deep pocket donors weren’t held accountable when it really mattered: during the election. To add to this campaign circus, we had to rely on state officials in California to get even a vague idea of where the money came from.

But we do know this: The money hasn’t disappeared. It has just drifted farther and farther away from control by our political candidates. Limit contributions to candidates = contributions go to outside groups.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, it was reported, is pitching for higher campaign contribution limits for state and local candidate campaigns. They are being short-sighted and, to be blunt, a bit naive.

The problem isn’t that there is too much money in our campaigns and elections. The problem is that our convoluted campaign finance laws are designed, inadvertently, to create criminals or at least criminal schemes to get around them.

We now have a ‘system’ that encourages subterfuge with campaign contributions flowing from one invisible group to another before finally coming out the other end as either direct candidate contributions or so-called “independent expenditures.”

These IE’s are supposed to operate without “coordination” with a candidate’s campaign. Ha. Folks operating these groups don’t need to sit down and lay out a strategic plan for how their cash is to be used after someone has become a candidate. They do it before a candidacy is established, at the very least. More often, however, the person running the IE is so close to the candidate that they simply know what needs to be done to win. And, typically, that means dirtying up the opponent.

I propose a new campaign finance system based on the Virginia model. Here’s how they describe their campaign finance rules:

There are no contribution limits in Virginia. A committee can accept contributions from any individual,
corporation, union, association or partnership. It is required that all contributions received by the
committee, and that all required information identifying the contributor, be reported on the committee’s
campaign finance reports.

That, coupled with some pretty stiff requirements regarding immediate reporting of contributions, has served the people of Virginia pretty well…at least with no more or more significant scandals than we have in Arizona.

I suspect that looking at Arizona’s campaign finance and election laws from this new and different perspective will cause some headaches. Take a few Advil. After spending a good chuck of my life in and around political campaigns I can tell you this: without taking a new, dramatically different approach to running our elections, we’ll just see more and more futile efforts to control the flow of money into politics.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Bob : “Mental Health First Aid”

Dear Friends,

I usually write things that are tongue-in-cheek or just failed efforts at humor.

But not this time.

In addition to my political work, my colleague Dennis Hart and I founded the Center for Public Media to help non-profit organizations and activists better use the media.

Our first project has been underway for nearly 9 months now: A public awareness campaign for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). MHFA is to mental illness what CPR or Red Cross First Aid is to physical issues.

It works.

And it has been quietly used nationally to train thousands of people and thousands of trainers. But it is a well kept secret. Too well kept for one of the best hopes to get treatment for the mentally ill, quoting our film’s title, “Before It Is Too Late.”

Lately, however, our little crusade has been picking up steam. We’ve been meeting with community leaders both in and out of the behavioral health arena. Their reception has been remarkable and we’ve been touched by their encouragement.

So, “thank you” to everyone who has been supportive. It looks as if we may get funding for our films, commercials and web-based delivery system to buil awareness that MHFA even exists. If you’d like to make a small contribution or see the film preview we can still use the help. Just go to the Center for Public Media. Thanks.

 

 

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Dr. Bob: “Guns in schools…?”

Dear Dr. Bob,

What is going on? Now the Arizona Attorney General says he wants an armed principal in every school and the Maricopa Co. Sheriff wants his “posse’ guarding our schools. Is everyone going crazy?

Losing Sanity

 

Dear Losing,

In a nutshell, “yes,” everyone is going crazy.

More to the point folks like the attorney general and sheriff are either going nuts or simply trying to score political points for their “we’ll protect the children” stand.

The trouble, of course, is that their plans (or press statements) are fundamentally flawed.

“Why” you ask?

Well, the ‘ole Doc here is going to tell you why.

Remember a week or two ago when the NRA said we need more ‘good guys with guns than bad guys with guns,’ or something like that.

The point was to arm teachers, pretty much what AG Horne is saying.

But the problem, my friend, isn’t what happens when a teacher fires and hits a crazed killer; it’s what happens when they miss.

And they’re going to miss…a lot.

One of law enforcements premier studies refers to “SOP9”. It is a report on the use of firearms by the New York City police department.

The data is overwhelming and, should Mr. Horne read it, sobering.

Highly trained and experienced NYCPD officers hit their targets (read that as “crazed killer”) less than 30% of the time they shoot. Got that? They only hit 30% of the time or less. That means they are missing about 70% of the time.

Got that: They are firing off bullets but missing about 70% of the time.

Now, if that makes you wonder what things would be like with a teacher or principal who received a bit of training during a crisis situation, you are not yet crazy.

Because it means that, in all likelihood, at least 70% of their bullets are going to be flying around and  eventually hitting someone and several people.

And it means, by the way, that even the Sheriff’s “posse” is pretty much worthless in school crisis situations as well. They are less trained than NYPD officiers.

So you see, my friend, the problem isn’t that these two politicians are trying toi curry favor with a scared public, its that they could wind up putting many more children in harm’s way because they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

 

 

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Dr. Bob: “Arizona Democrats – now what…?”

Dear Dr. Bob,

Before the election everyone seemed to have pretty high hopes for Arizona’s Democrats. But when the smoke cleared, things didn’t look that good. Now what?

Dazed and Confused

Dear Confused,

You’re right, I think, to avoid all of the sweaty palms and self loathing that often accompanies a campaign season like the one just passed. There are, however, pharmaceuticals to help you deal with that if needed.

So lets look ahead, shall we?

The first lesson I must preach is this: You can’t launch a campaign 4 to 5 months before the election and expect to win marginal districts or races. Voters have become somewhat immune to persuasion messages as they are pummeled by them day in and day out month after month by business and political ads are just icing.

This is especially true of campaigns intended to unseat GOP incumbents. Think of it this way: You have a crazy uncle who should be put away. At a family gathering you raise the issue and suggest that uncle nut-job be immediately institutionalized.

If you think the family is going to support you on this, you need the drugs. You see, everyone might agree with you, but springing the idea on them at a family event and with such a short turnaround time is doomed to failure. To actually get uncle put away, you would need to do two things: 1) Begin the conversation about institutionalization long before the family event and 2) make sure your supporters are prepared at the family event to back you up.

Translated to political campaigns, Dr. Bob’s prescription is pretty simple:

1. Identify the crazy uncle(s) now, not 16 or 18 months from now. Its not that hard. Just look at the legislative districts voter registration figures. Rank order them by the difference between Republicans and Democrats. For example:  District 1 +2% R District 2 +3% D, etc., etc. I usually consider anything with a difference of 10% or less something that can be won by either side given a good candidate and adequate funding. So, sitting here today, just a few days after the 2012 election, we can pretty simply ‘target’ the 2014 election, leaving things somewhat open to allow for unforeseen events. Indictments seem to be common these days…

For the 2014 statewide races, the same treatment applies: start now. You must be in campaign mode straight away. That doesn’t mean to announce your candidacy, just go meet everyone that needs meeting.

2. Put a permanent campaign structure in place now…and keep it operating forever. As with the crazy uncle, you can’t expect to win races unless voters have a long time to get to know you. That means they are are contacted regularly. I’d rather see four month outside campaigns operating with 50% less cash so that the other half can support the permanent campaign.

3. Publish the won-lost records of political firms operating in the state. There is no quicker way of ‘outing’ firms that seem to attract money and generally operate campaigns. Everyone really does need to have at least one losing campaign…it builds character. But continuing to hire firms or consultants that lose habitually is insane.

4. Take a ‘vacation.’ Okay, not everyone has the time or cash to head off to Hawaii or Europe right after a campaign whether won or not. Take a mental vacation from politics. Take up a hobby. Avoid watching cable tv news programs for at least a month. That should be sufficient time to detox.

Be well,

Dr. Bob

 

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Dr. Bob’s Election Day Wisdom…

Dr. Bob says, “I don’t have any right now. I hope to have some before going on KAET-TV8 this evening at 10pm”

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