Friday, June 20, 2008

Where Do the Dollars Go?

Brady raised an interesting question yesterday in response to my post listing State House races that I expect to be closely contested this fall given their basic political baselines and past voting history. Brady noted that the MDP often overlooks the candidates running for seats, and rather plow the money into races that they feel will be closed based on analysis similar to mine. Thus, many strong candidates get left in the dust, and our chances to increase our numbers declines.

That got me thinking about where the MDP sends its money for house races. I pulled up the Michigan Campaign Finance Network reports for 2002, 2004, and 2006 to see what races each party put their money. Before analyzing the data I suspected that both parties would protect incumbents first, and then spend money on flipping open seats. I suspected that independent expenditures (from both parties) would also follow this logic. Finally, candidates that raised little money on their own would not receive any financial support from the state parties.

I looked at the data from 2002, 2004, and 2006. I listed any race where there was an investment of over $15,000 from either party. I also note whether the seat was open or whether a party’s incumbent was defending the seat.
Figure 1: 2002 Races

Figure 1 shows the races that each party contested in 2002. The Republicans contested 18 seats, the Democrats 17. The Democrats contested 13 open seats and 3 Republican-held seats, while defending 1 seat. The GOP also contested 13 open seats and 1 Democratic-held seat, while defending 4 Republican seats. Of the 15 seats that each party actively contested, Democrats won 6, while the Republicans won 9.
Figure 2: 2004 Races

As shown in Figure 2, the 2004 election cycle saw an increase in contested seats. The Republicans spent serious money on 21 seats, while the Democrats challenged in only 11 races. This difference may be a result of the large GOP money advantage for the state level races in this cycle. Regardless, the Democrats contested 7 open seats and 2 seats held by the GOP, while defending 2 Democratic seats. The GOP challenged 13 open seats and 4 Democratic seats, while defending 4 Republican seats. However, in the 10 races contested by each party, the Democrats won 7 seats. Of the 10 seats that the Democrats did not contest, the GOP won 7.
Figure 3: 2006 Races

Figure 3 shows the total number of contested races decline in 2006. However, the Democrats increased the number of challenges, spending heavily in 17 races, while the GOP contested only 13 seats. Of the 17 races that the Democrats spent money on, 5 were open seats and 7 were held by the GOP, while 5 seats were defended. The GOP challenged 4 open seats and 2 Democratic seats, while defending 7 GOP seats. Of the 12 seats that both parties challenged, the Democrats won 8.
Figure 4: Updated Competitiveness Matrix

Figure 4 is a modified version of a chart in yesterday’s post. I have added the number of times each party has challenged a seat. For example, in House District 51, the Democrats have invested in the seat 3 times, while the GOP has invested in it twice. It quickly becomes apparent that neither party ever spends money defending or challenging seats in their Safe or Strong category. Hence, that gives the Democrats 31 worry free seats, and the Republicans 25. For an upset occur in these areas means that the challenger needs to be self-financing, as the party will pay for nothing.

Hence both parties put their attention on the 54 Leaning, Weak, and Swing Seats. The Democrats have historically spent a great amount of money on defending seats, with the exception of the 2006 cycle. However, even in this past cycle the party ignored a number of seats that almost sent Democratic, such as the 61st (Kalamazoo County) and the 78th (southern Berrien County). Depending on the candidates, I would recommend that the MDP pursue the following funding priorities:

Invest heavily in the offense. Picking up GOP seats will be never be better as in this cycle, with the Michigan GOP in money woes, and the traditional GOP national financial advantages are gone as the Obama fundraising machine threatens to overwhelm the opposition. Don’t spend money defending Weak Democratic seats that are not open, nor should much money be spent on 2nd term Swing seats held by our party. I highly doubt that the GOP will challenge the 57th and 83rd Districts that Democratic seats with Weak GOP baselines.

Focus instead on picking up GOP seats. The 62nd and 108th are prime pickup opportunities, as are Districts 1, 21, 24, and 51. These seats should receive priority in funding. Also, seek to pick up a number of Weak GOP seats, as Districts 32, 43, 61, and 101 are also tempting targets, with able candidates looking to run for these seats. Also consider scaring the GOP by putting some money in open GOP leaning Districts like 19, 70, and 78. Nothing beats scaring Saul into spending some additional money.

Defend on the outer edge. Depending on how the primary season shapes out, defend Districts 20, 64, 65, 84, and 107 stoutly. Swing Districts such as 37, 91, and 106 will also be hotly contested by the GOP, so be prepared to give a helping hand.

Let’s get a discussion started!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Where We Stand

Having looked at the big picture for Michigan State House races a few weeks ago in two posts, where do we go from here? The first is that a series of articles at Michigan Liberal covering various seats will be written to help increase reader awareness of the state of races, especially primary contests. An informed progressive readership will be more effective come the fall, as the GOP machine starts roaring into action. The second is that the State House candidates will face unique challenges for their races, as each district is unique. For more insight on each race we’ll be talking to some knowledgeable political souls across the state.

At the moment, it appears that there are at least thirty five seats that might change party control when the 2009-2011 session of the Michigan State House convenes. Obviously, some seats are more likely to switch than others. Republican-held seats that have a status of being a “weak Democratic” seat are far more likely to switch than a Safe Democratic seat becoming Republican. Others may disagree (and please discuss this in the comments section of this post), but I firmly believe that open seats (generally seats being vacated by term-limited representatives in their third term) are the most vulnerable, followed by seats held by first-term representatives. Seats held by second-term representatives are generally the least likely to flip, although there are some examples of this happening in past election cycles. 1: Standard Template

Figure 1 represents the general template in order of vulnerability for a partisan switch.
Figure 2: Partisan Status Matrix

Figure 2 shown above lists the State House districts following this formula with the PVI included in parentheses. Partisan affiliation is provided for instances where a party controls a seat with a lean towards the other party. Affiliation is also provided for all swing seats.

As Figure 2 shows, the Democratic Party has good and bad news heading into the 2008 election. The good news is that 26 seats are Safe Democratic seats, while there are only 9 such seats for the Republicans. There is little chance the GOP will attempt to run serious campaigns against any of these candidates, and there are a number of seats with no Republican challenger this fall. There are also three seats that are weak Democratic seats the GOP currently control, and two are open seats (Districts 62 and 108). Both of these seats should be opportune places for the Democrats to pick up a seat. The third seat (District 97) might need to wait until 2010 for a spirited Democratic challenger. Finally, a number of swing seats controlled by the GOP (Districts 1, 21, 24, and 51) are ready for the taking, and a number of swing seats currently held by Republicans in their second term will open up in 2010 (Districts 30, 39, 71, 85, and 99).

However the State House Democrats have some vulnerable seats as well. Two Lean GOP seats are controlled by the Dems, and District 20 held by first-term Representative Marc Corriveau is especially open for Republican challenger. District 107 is also likely to experience some strong Republican opposition, although Saul might wait until 2010 for making a race of this seat. Democrats also control a number of Weak GOP seats. Three are held by first-term representatives (Districts 64, 65, and 84), and two are held by second-term representatives (Districts 57 and 83) that are less susceptible to a challenge. Finally, expect fierce GOP races against first-term Democrats holding Swing Districts (Districts 67, 75, and 91-although the feeble GOP recruiting efforts in the 75th are puzzling).

Based my research, I suspect that the thirteen seats listed below (in no particular order) will be the most fiercely contested in the general election this November. I do think that this toxic national environment will force Saul et al. on the defensive, although much depends on the candidates in each race.

1. 62nd-open
2. 108th-open
3. 84th
4. 64th
5. 65th
6. 91st
7. 37th-open
8. 1st-open
9. 51st-open
10. 106th-open
11. 37th-open
12. 21st-open
13. 24th-open
14. 20th


PS. For those interested in seeing the maps from the previous posts, see the following links:

Current Partisan Control:

District Status:
Map 2: Wayne County
Map 3: Macomb and Oakland Counties
Map 4: The Thumb
Map 5: Ann Arbor & Downriver
Map 6: Southwestern Michigan
Map 7: Western Michigan
Map 8: Northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On a New Shore

This past Friday I finally accomplished on of my life dreams by walking the length of Manhattan down Broadway Avenue. This seventeen mile walk down a former Native American trail that became a colonial toll road before being incorporated into the 1811 New York City grid plan was a great way to see parts of the city that I would never have strolled by at any other time. One can see New York City through its different ages and stages, from quiet residential neighborhoods in Washington Heights and Inwood to massive commercial centers such as Midtown and SoHo. While four blisters greeted me the next morning, I am eagerly awaiting the next urban hike, as I hope to walk the length of Brooklyn via Flatbush Avenue at some point in the coming year.

Walking through 400 years of history on one path is an eye opener, especially in the seven mile stretch between 59th Street and Battery Park. Ending at the beginning of European settlement in 1624 at Battery Park was a unique experience, and I can only think about what millions of other people have thought upon landing at base of Manhattan over the last few centuries as they looked north. There is nothing like standing on a new shore and seeing a range of possibilities and challenges in full view.

The end of a Manhattan stroll at Battery Park represents an ending and beginning in my life as well. In April I finished my Masters of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. My graduation from Michigan was preceded by Susan being offered a Lilly Residency in Ministry position at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Susan accepted this two-year position, and two years after moving back to the Midwest from Princeton, New Jersey, we are headed back out to the land of dense populations and ill-plotted roads.

I loved my time back in the Midwest. Ann Arbor is a great town, and if any readers have not visited yet, the summer is the best season to experience this city. Rarely does a city of 100,000 have such fine cultural offerings, bookstores galore, and a well-plotted grid, but Ann Arbor does. The University of Michigan was a great place to learn and work, and I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed walking to work or school each day from our apartment in the Old West Side neighborhood. It was great being back in Michigan as well, reestablishing political connections, visiting my hometown of Grand Rapids to see friends and family, and helping to build the family’s cottage on Lake Michigan.

When Susan and I were in Philadelphia last weekend apartment hunting, I experienced a range of emotions about moving back to the East Coast. I hate changes to my routine, and for all my traveling, do not appreciate life changes that bring me out of my comfort zone. I have warned others that I hate anything new for the first two weeks, and this has largely held true through my life. True to form, I was really disoriented in Philly for the first three days. However, after doing a number of informational interviews for potential jobs, I realized that a large part of my anxiety was job-related, and by talking to possible employers over the week, my fears were slowly replaced by a greater sense of confidence and assurance. Susan and I also found a nice row house that will be a great fit for us for the next two years in Philadelphia. If our four years of marriage have taught us anything, it is that 1) be flexible and supportive of each other, and 2) God always provides, even if it is not what you expected.

When I graduated from Calvin College in 2002, I did not expect to move five times in the next six years. I lived in Columbus for a year (2002-2003), Washington DC for another (2003-2004), Princeton for two (2004-2006), as well as Ann Arbor (2006-2008), and am now heading off to Bryn Mawr. One expects the college years to be ones of constant transition, but in my life, it seems that the years following Calvin have required more mobility. While constant moving has helped us keep the junk levels to a minimum, the uprooting does have its downside. White apartment walls lose their luster pretty quickly, as does the need to make new friends, find new haunts and walking routines, not to mention jobs.

Walking down Broadway helped to put some of this transition into perspective. While one might in different communities and in a different setting, the road always remains. I suspect that Susan and I will end the two year moving cycle, although I do not know where the next destination after Bryn Mawr lies. Then again, neither did thousands who landed at Battery Park on a new shore.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Michigan State House 2008-A Brief Overview

(Cross posted at Michigan Liberal and West Michigan Rising-PB)

As the state legislative campaigns wound down in late October 2006, most Michigan political experts expected Democrats to gain control of at least one chamber in state legislature. However, the money was on the Democrats picking up seats in the State Senate rather than the State House. After all, the Republican controlled state legislature had effectively gerrymandered many State House districts in 2001 that almost guaranteed GOP control over the next decade. The gerrymandering was less severe in the State Senate, which featured very competitive races in Oakland, Kent, Muskegon, and Wayne Counties. While much attention was focused on the gubernatorial battle between Governor Jennifer Granholm and challenger Dick DeVos, both parties also exerted strong efforts for legislative races.

Yet it was the State House where the Democrats gained a majority in November of
2006. Democratic lost two close challenges in the State Senate that preserved a slim 21-17 Republican edge for the next four years. In the State House Democrats pulled off upsets where pundits did not expect-such as Marc Corriveau’s upset of in House District 20 over Republican Rep. Mark Abbo (Northville and Plymouth). The Coalition for Progress funding helped carry two excellent Democratic challengers to victory in Jackson County (House Districts 64 and 65). Democrats pulled off a shocker in Kent County, pulling a long-standing Republican seat in Grand Rapids to their side, as Rev. Robert Dean bested Tim Doyle in an open seat battle. In Muskegon County Democratic Mary Valentine beat vulnerable Republican incumbent David Farhat, whom Republicans abandoned in mid-October in hopes of saving other seats. Democratic gains resulted in a 58 to 52 margin in the State House.

The past two years have been rocky for the Democratic majority. The chamber dealt with a number of tough budgetary choices that previous Republican legislatures had ignored for years. Republican anti-tax zealots sought to recall a number of Democratic state representatives (including newly elected members Dean and Corriveau), but fell well-short in their efforts. The last ditch effort to recall the Democratic Speaker of the House Andy Dillon likewise failed after recall leaders displayed neglect and fraud in their collection signatures in Dillon’s district (House District 17-Redford Township).

As the 2008 primary season begins in Michigan, be prepared for another heated campaign season. Despite the foundering fiscal fortunes of the Michigan Republican Party, the McCain campaign’s decision to seriously contest Michigan for the Presidential election will ensure that GOP GOTV efforts will be strong. Such efforts will embolden Republican state house candidates to run competitive campaigns to regain the majority in the State House. This article outlines the current status of State House races for Michigan Liberal readers, and breaks down the analysis in geographic regions. This analysis in indebted to Mark Grenber’s numbers, as well as the helpful thoughts of many other knowledgable political junkies in Michigan.

Michigan Political Background

Prior to the American Civil War, Michigan was a solidly Democratic state. Lewis Cass, a powerful Democratic politician from Michigan, served in a number of Democratic Administrations, as well as in United States Senate from 1845-1857 while also serving as the Democratic Presidential nominee in 1848. Michigan’s Democratic roots broke in the 1850s, as Yankee migrants from upstate New York and New England formed a new political alliance built on free labor, free soil, and free men. In 1854 this growing alliance of ex-Whigs and Democrats met in Jackson, Michigan to create the Republican Party, which promptly began dominating Michigan politics.

By 1860 the Republican Party had gained control of the governor’s mansion, as a long-standing alliance between businesses and ethno-cultural groups throughout the state profoundly shaped the state government for years to come. While Democrats made some inroads in the late 1880s and in 1910s, the Republican Party continued to dominate the state, as Progressive reformers worked within the party. Voter loyalty in Michigan was driven by Civil War era politics well into the early 20th century, and only with the arrival of the New Deal coalition in the 1930s did political identity begin to shift, as millions of new residents hailed for portions of the United States with Democratic allegiances. Republican control of the state legislature remained ironclad, as malapportionment insured that Republicans would have large majorities in both chambers. Such malapportionment did not end until the Supreme Court’s Baker v. Carr decision in 1962 mandated “one person, one vote” that required equally populated legislative districts.

Democratic Labor-Left Coalition and GOP Moderation: 1948-1982

Despite continued Republican malapportionment in the state legislature, a resurgent Democratic Party took over the Governor’s office in 1948. A collection of leading intellectuals and labor figures, including Mennen Williams, Walter Reuther, Gus Scholle, Hick Griffiths, and Neil Staeble developed and formed a new Democratic coalition that was built on the growing strength of labor unions and progressive intellectuals. This new coalition appealed to Democrats outside of the traditional Democratic stronghold in Detroit, and sought to build a state-wide Democratic Party. Mennen Williams was elected Governor in 1948, and remained in office until 1960, building a strong Democratic coalition that passed policies that strongly supported labor unions and progressive social policies. Democratic infighting after Williams retirement in 1962 led to Republican George Romney winning the 1962 gubernatorial race, ushering a twenty year period of GOP control of the executive branch. Romney, and his successor William Milliken, pushed good government reform measures that included a new state constitution that ended malapportionment of state legislative districts. With this reform, the state legislature became hotly contested between the two parties, ending 100 years of GOP dominance (see Figure 1).

Democratic divisions continued after 1962. Tensions between labor and liberal groups within the party boiled over in the late 1960s, as tensions over Vietnam and social issues allowed for Milliken to win close elections in the 1970s. The decline of the American automobile industry in the mid-1970s spelled further trouble for the Democratic Party, and the state’s worsening economic condition in the late 1970s ended a nearly thirty year period of genial political cooperation between the two parties in Lansing.

An Era of Partisan Identity: 1982-Present

With the end of William Milliken’s long tenure as Governor, a new era of partisan politics dawned in the state. By the late 1970s the Republican Party moved sharply to the right, as social conservatives and anti-tax activists succeeded in capturing control of the state party. While labor unions continued to decline, Democrats such as Jim Blanchard moved away from the party’s traditional allies, nurturing economic development while pushing through tax increases and user fees to balance a staggering budget deficit early in his tenure. Such political bravery resulted in sharp partisan divisions in the legislature, as anti-tax groups recalled two Democratic State Senators from Macomb County, long considered a base of Democratic strength. The politics of economic recovery and social tensions resulted in partisan divisions in the state legislature well through the 1980s and early 1990s, as partisan loyalties among traditional Democratic groups declined.

The election of John Engler in 1990 began a period of Republican domination of the state legislature. Republicans took control of the State House in 1994, and remained in control of the State Senate after the early 1980s, ensuring a receptive audience for Engler’s policy proposals. Engler was not shy about slashing state social programs, cutting taxes, and promoting GOP political domination through the state. Engler served until 2002, just as the good economic times in the state were ending.

Democrat Jennifer Granholm succeed Engler, and has navigated the state’s severe economic slump by working with a Republican controlled state legislature to find ways to balance the budget while preserving the state’s social net. The state’s finances were preserved by slashing social services, educational spending, and sharply reducing state aid to local governments. By the 2006 election, a sustained sour voting public responded to the state’s woes by reelecting Granholm and giving the Democrats control of the State House, while allowing the Republicans to hold a narrow margin in the State Senate. It is in this era of continued partisan division that the 2008 election should be understood.

Current Partisan Geography

Map 1: Current Partisan Status

Map 1 shows the current partisan makeup of the Michigan State House. Republicans have long dominated western and northern Michigan, while Democrats continue to hold strength in the Upper Peninsula and southeastern Michigan. Map 2 shows the Democratic dominance in metropolitan Detroit better.

Metropolitan Detroit holds the bulk of the Michigan State House seats. Democrats control 20 out of 23 seats in Wayne County (including 12 seats within the City of Detroit), while Republicans control 8 of 13 seats in Oakland County, and 5 of 9 in Macomb County. Hence, within Metropolitan Detroit, Democrats hold 33 of 45 seats.

Join me as we examine the political geographic of Michigan to better understand the 2008 Michigan State House races.

(Tomorrow I'll talk a bit about determining the partisan identification of various seats, and we’ll look at western Michigan in our first regional study.-PB)