Saturday, August 24, 2019

So What's Damon Circosta's Deal?

Foreign intrusions into the 2016 elections have been proven. I'm not just talking Facebook manipulation and Wikileaks. Also proven: Russian hackers attempted penetration into the actual voting machinery of 21 states in 2016 -- no kidding! -- and although we were told that none of those hacks actually gained access to the ability to change vote tallies, those worms burrowed deep into the heart of our cabbage.

For one example, "In 2016, the Illinois Board of Elections acknowledged that voter data had been breached. Hackers were inside the system for several weeks and were downloading data when they were caught, though they did not alter any files."

So relax, the hack wasn't successful. That's what we were told back early in 2018. We're told a lot of things.

In this current national reality of greatest insecurity, there's only one explanation I can think of (but see below) for Republican officials' refusing to take steps to increase the security of our balloting systems: They welcome an intrusion that helps their side win. They must assume that any hack by the current crop of foreign computer malefactors would be in the greater GOP's favor, while not also considering for a moment that there's more than one nation of hacker nerds wanting to play havoc with us. Republicans have something to gain -- they think -- from insecure voting systems. They're playing the odds in a very dangerous game.

Do you have another credible, logical explanation for why two Republican members of the NC State Board of Elections (SBOE) -- David Black and Ken Raymond -- would vote yesterday afternoon against requiring vendors to guarantee their systems can be audited -- audited first, and visually, by the voter on a paper ballot and then by the Elections Board counting machinery? Why would two Republicans on that very Elections Board want to allow systems that are 100% unauditable? At a time when computers and bar codes manage our lives and clever black hats know how to penetrate via Internet any computer on the planet and there make mischief -- why wouldn't Republican guardians of the public trust want to increase trust?

I don't want to think of Republicans as stupid -- which, let's face it, is actually another credible explanation for the David and Raymond votes yesterday. I know they're not stupid. Therefore, they must have corrupt intent.

But why did Democrat Damon Circosta lead the "no" vote?

Damon Circosta
Why would the newly appointed Chair of the SBOE, a kind of folk hero among left-leaning non-profits and do-gooders everywhere, on his very first action after being appointed by Governor Roy Cooper, why would he vote against demanding greater accountability from voting machine vendors?

Carolina Public Press (CPP) reported:
After the meeting, a reporter asked Circosta if he agreed with the security concerns. 
“I disagree,” Circosta said. “I fundamentally disagree.” 
Members of the board were asked to identify the information and experts they used to come to their decisions. CPP asked Circosta for references to the research he used to form his decision. He did not respond, but instead provided, through the board’s press secretary, links to the Davie and Transylvania county statements advocating that system certifications not be changed.
I listened in on that SBOE meeting yesterday. I heard every word that Damon Circosta uttered leading up to the vote when he suddenly went against Stella Anderson's well publicized motion. He said he had been contacted by election board officials in different counties -- well, Transylvania and Davie, to be precise -- and otherwise he offered no rebuttal evidence against the expert testimony presented in Stella Anderson's initiative. Nor did he address the unanimous urging of public speakers -- 20 of them -- some of them also expert in voting machine technology as well as representatives from the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, DemocracyNC, and other public advocacy groups that are already discussing immediate litigation.

(The only person who spoke against Anderson's motion was the rep of the very voting machine vendor that can't certify an audit of their machines -- Election Systems and Software (ESandS). That company stands to make millions selling those machines in North Carolina, because Circosta also voted, a little later in the meeting and along with the two Republicans again, to certify ESandS as a legit vendor. The state's 100 county boards of election can choose to buy those 100% unauditable electronic machines, with absolutely no worries.)

Stupid, in this case, does immediately come to mind. And images of surfer dudes.

I don't think Damon Circosta is stupid. Some on social media are calling him a "sell-out," which implies he has something to gain. I don't believe that either. So I'm flummoxed. Maybe he just wants to be seen as completely independent, which in this case also looks very much like being completely untethered to reality.

Governor Roy Cooper is already getting blamed for this latest malfunction of democracy. Brad Friedman on Pacifica Radio sarcastically thanked North Carolina's governor for appointing such a brilliant new chair to the SBOE. (Here's the audio -- bashing of Roy Cooper for appointing Damon Circosta occurs soon after minute 22.)

Cooper has been singularly unlucky in the chairs he's appointed to the SBOE. His first pick, Andy Penry, had to resign for posting partisan shit on social media. His second, Josh Malcolm, was unjustifiably hounded by Republicans for having private conversations with county elections officials in the notorious Bladen County ballot fraud case -- hounded until the governor lost confidence in him and Malcolm voluntarily withdrew. (Malcolm was the best chair -- maybe ever -- and should have been made chair again instead of Damon Circosta, IMO.) Malcolm was followed by Bob Cordle of Welsh Cow fame.

Now we have an SBOE Chair of mysterious and indecipherable certitude, while North Carolina voters in counties where Election Systems and Software reigns can have no trust in the outcome.

Friday, August 23, 2019

BREAKING: Damon Circosta Votes With the Republicans on Ballot Security

Good Lord.

A vote of 3-2 against Stella Anderson's first motion to change the certification demands for electronic voting equipment.

Did Governor Cooper know that Damon Circosta was going to throw a clod in the churn over the certifying of voting equipment that many people can't and won't trust?

The Worst Member of the NC House

Larry Pittman
Rep. Larry Pittman of Cabarrus County represents District 83 in the NC House. He first got his seat by appointment late in 2011 and then won election in 2012 and has easily won again every general election since then. He had his first genuine threat to reelection in 2018 in the candidacy of Democrat Gail Young, who came within 1,559 votes of beating Pittman (Pittman 14,798 v. 13,240 Young).

Gail Young has already declared that she's going after Pittman's job again in 2020.

The 83rd House District is mainly in central Cabarrus County (Kannapolis and Concord) but also extends northward into southern Rowan County. The average population of NC House districts is mandated at 79,462; according to Ballotpedia, District 83 had 78,419 citizens as of the 2010 Census, yet only 28,038 of those residents opted to vote in the District 83 race in 2018 -- which suggests that Gail Young has plenty of opportunity there for expansion.

Gail Young
For comparison, in the House District 93 race -- Dem Ray Russell v. Repub Jonathan Jordan -- some 35,983 votes were cast out of basically the same size population base as District 83 (which means that in District 93, almost 8,000 more votes were cast than in District 83). In the District 37 House race in Wake County -- Dem Sydney Batch v. Repub John Adcock -- some 45,680 votes were cast, a whopping 17,642 more votes than in District 83. Clearly, District 83 was underperforming in 2018 something awful, even though it had a credible Democratic candidate running for the first time.

If my voter registration numbers are correct for District 83, the problem for Gail Young is not just general underperformance by all voters but particular underperformance by voters registered as Democrats:

Partisan Registration in NC House District 83
If there is a Republican lean among registered Ds in that district, there may also be a "Larry Pittman fatigue" factor in the 83rd very similar to the Trump fatigue phenomenon, though the turnout by Trump enthusiasts in 2020 isn't expected to slump noticeably. If Trump voters remain enthusiastic, a Democratic win in districts like the 83rd will still be very difficult. I hope the Gail Young campaign is raising money and identifying those voters who are disaffected with Trump -- no matter how they're registered -- and making plans to door-knock or call them. It's going to take large troops of boots-on-the-ground for a Democrat to win in many rural districts in the next presidential year.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Who Got the NCGA Office That Rep. Ray Russell Was Evicted From?

That would be Rep. Jake Johnson, the newest (and now youngest) member of the NC House, appointed at the end of July to finish out the term of Rep. Cody Henson (previously the youngest member). Henson resigned his seat after admitting in court to cyber-stalking his estranged wife.

Jake Johnson is a pet of the Republican establishment, and we can see why. He's a rare bird, a talented millenial who's all in for the conservative brand. Johnson checks all the boxes: acidly pro-life, pugnaciously pro-NRA, and piously pro-family.

He's also politically accomplished: Ran for county commish of Polk County at the age of 19, lost but came back in two years to run again and win (highest vote-getter among commish candidates). It wasn't long before his fellow commissioners voted him chairman of the board, making him officially in Republican circles A Force To Be Reckoned With. He was the obvious choice to replace the other conservative millenial, the out of control Cody Henson, in the NC House -- that cow palace on Jones Street in Raleigh where the newest Republican wunderkind was going to need an office, which -- turned out -- was just coincidentally already occupied by Rep. Ray Russell, who also just coincidentally needed punishment for being a too uppity freshman legislator.

Jake Johnson claimed that he went to college (the year after he lost that first race for co commish) to get a degree in business administration but that Barack Obama in the White House was the straw that broke his business back. He switched to political science out of revenge for Obama and became an avowed partisan warrior against what America was becoming under a president who might have been -- probably was -- born in Kenya. I found on-line where he was scheduled to speak to the Asheville Tea Party back last January on the "steps we are going to have to take to get younger people into conservative politics." (I wish I'd heard that rap!)

Here's the passage in Johnson's biography that's almost forgotten: He says he served as "field director" for the successful congressional campaign of Mark Harris. That would be the Reverend Mark Harris, whose winning campaign against Democrat Dan McCready in November of 2018 was called back to be redone because of massive ballot fraud committed -- wait for it -- in the field operation.

Question: Did Jake Johnson know McCrae Dowless? Did he as Field Director know what McCrae Dowless was up to? And does his experience on the Mark Harris campaign still deserve prominent mention in his resume?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

This Is Not the Texas I Grew Up In

As a son of the Texas Panhandle, I take more than passing interest in what looks increasingly like a resurgence of Democratic prospects back there for 2020 -- not in the actual Panhandle of Texas, which is redder than a baboon's ass, but in the urban centers and their suburbs where most of the voters live.

Take the 22nd Congressional District of Texas, the district that Tom Delay used to represent and is now a bizarre gerrymander to the south and west of the beltline expressway around Houston known as Texas 8.

District 22 contains most of Pearland and Sugarland and all of Rosenberg. I-69 cuts through the heart of it, linking Houston to its southwest burgeoning suburbs. District 22 used to be solid Republican country. (Tom DeLay was its maester for many years before he succumbed to the White Walkers.) But with the sudden retirement of its incumbent Republican five-term Rep Pete Olson back near the end of July, the Cook Political Report moved the district to tossup. (Rep. Olson is one of several Texas Republican congressmen who has chosen early retirement over the headwinds his political heavy-weather radar sees building in the atmosphere.)

Multiculturalism: The Texas Threat to Everything Dan Forest* Holds Sacred
The Democrat already in the Texas-22 race -- he also ran in 2018, and snuck up on Pete Olson in a heartstopping insurgency, losing by a comfortable-enough 14,500 vote margin to Olson (47% to 51%), but considering his heritage and brown pigmentation, the 138,153 votes that Sri Preston Kulkarni earned in 2018 were pretty damn impressive. He promises to do better in 2020, and the Cook Political Report obviously agrees.

Sri Preston Kulkarni
Who is Sri Preston Kulkarni? He's the son of an Indian immigrant father -- "Sri" being a Hindu honorific -- and a mother -- Margaret Preston -- who's a direct descendant of Sam Houston hisownself. No kidding! A son of a brown immigrant wearing a Hindu headlight for a name gets 47% of the vote in red Texas, not only because Sri Preston Kulkarni also carries a direct bloodline to the Texas Revolution but because Sri Kulkarni was a gawd-damn accomplished foreign service officer with 14 years of experience and a speaker of English, Spanish, Hebrew, Hindi, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese.

Incidentally, Texas-22 has evolved into a kind of multicultural haven, and is still evolving. "The district is 26 percent Hispanic, 19 percent Asian and 12 percent black, and 43 percent of adults hold college degrees, among the highest in the state" (David Wasserman, Cook Political Report). Not good soil any more for Trumpist seeds. More fertile for a candidate like Sri Preston Kulkarni. Take a look at his website -- Kulkarni for Congress.

The Texas-22 goes on my list of most avidly watched flippable districts in the #2020BlueWave.

*Dan Forest is the Christian Right Republican frontrunner candidate for Governor in 2020. He has a Republican primary first (in March 2020) against moderate Republican NC House Rep. Holly Grange. He has made an issue of "multiculturalism," claiming it means the death of the country he wants to run. He's not wrong about that.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Is Marcia Morgan Considering Another Race Against Ted Davis in NCHouse District 19?

Marcia Morgan
NC House District 19 includes much of south Wilmington and all of Fort Fisher, Kure Beach, Carolina Beach, and Wrightsville Beach. The incumbent Republican Ted Davis Jr. had been a New Hanover County commissioner until he was appointed to the seat in 2012. At the time of his appointment, Ted Davis was most famous to us for voting to turn down a grant of $8,899 from the North Carolina state government for "family planning" supplies and services, particularly contraceptives for young women who wanted or needed them. Ted Davis said at the time, "If these young women are being responsible and didn't have the sex to begin with, we wouldn't have this problem to begin with."

That pretty much tells you everything you really need to know about not-quite-extinct dinosaurs.

Retired Army Colonel Marcia Morgan ran against Ted Davis in 2018 and came within 883 votes of beating Davis. I profiled her on this site in January 2018.

She would seem to be a natural pick to try again (though I confess I haven't met her and don't know what sort of campaign she ran ... but I tend to trust those 2018 numbers, since Ted Davis had not previously had Democratic opposition when he ran for reelection).

Morgan's Twitter account has lain idle since the election last November until a single tweet on August 7:

Ted Davis hasn't had time to review HB 86 to reduce gun violence, yet they have wasted legislators' time and taxpayers' money by calling sessions for 25 days that last for only 20 minutes to discuss trivial issues. What did they do the other hours in those days? #MakeTimeTed
8:31 AM · Aug 7, 2019Twitter Web App

If she's beginning to bestir herself as a political tweeter, might an election announcement for 2020 be far behind?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

I Never Pay Attention to Polls

I took a vow approximately 45 quad-shot skinny lattes ago not to pay attention give any actual credence to polling about any election that is more than a year away hasn't happened yet, but okay I get weak sometimes, and this new Fox News poll has caught my attention and not only because it's FOX NEWS, though that's a lot of it.

It's a poll testing potential general-election matchups for Twitterman. He trails Joe Biden by 12 percentage points (50% to 38%), Sen. Bernie Sanders by nine points (48% to 39%), Sen. Elizabeth Warren by seven (46% to 39%), and Sen. Kamala D. Harris by six (45 to 39). Trump's fat ass can't crack 40% against anybody.

But there's something else interesting: Although he gets 38 to 39% in all four matchups, his approval rating is actually 43%. "That means roughly 4 percent of registered voters say they approve of Trump but they’re not ready to vote for him" (Aaron Blake).

Some are calling it "Trump fatigue." People even slightly to the left of Louie Gohmert worry that people won't stay woke to all the outrages -- because when everything's an outrage, there is no outrage -- and hence will forget to vote next November. I don't think that's a legitimate worry.

The Fox News poll suggests that Trump fatigue may be working more directly on the minimum wage waitress who thought she'd "give Trump a chance" back in 2016. How did that work out for her? Maybe she doesn't actually hate immigrants and brown people, and how has the constant romper room hissy fits by the toddler in the White House actually improved her situation?

Everyone's not as dumb as Trump thinks we are.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

When Political Billboards Get Too Clever By Half

NC State Senator Erica D. Smith (Dist. 3 in the lowlands), one of at least three declared Democratic candidates who'll be in the 2020 primary to take on incumbent Republican US Senator Thom Tillis, is trying to make campaign hay ($$) out of this billboard that recently went up in Raleigh.

It's a curious message, psychologically elevating Smith to frontrunner status when she is a distant challenger to frontrunner Cal Cunningham, who has raised almost 3-quarters of a mil to her $85,000. Turns out that this billboard -- and several others just like it that are popping up in other states -- is a psychological ploy to give a boost to a Democratic candidate that the Republicans would prefer to run against.

According to Nathan L. Gonzales in Roll Call, "Smith was eager to use the billboard as evidence that she’s the most feared challenger to Republican incumbent Thom Tillis .... But Republicans were targeting Smith because they believe she’s the weaker potential general election foe, not because they’re afraid of her." Ouch.

And she took the bait, bragging about her fearsomeness on her Twitter feed.

'Course, when Cal Cunningham wins the primary, they'll use that same billboard message against him. Because that's as far as their imagination goes.

Big Trouble for Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates

Short, unkind story
The courts recently threw out Republican-drawn maps for the Virginia House of Delegates. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, with the Republican leaders in the Virginia House arguing vociferously that they had not racially gerrymandered the maps. Courts said, yes you did, and now you'll have new maps drawn by a special master. (The Virginia Senate maps were not part of the litigation.)

Virginia Democrats were already within two seats of controlling both the House and the Senate. They made huge gains in the last elections in 2017, and they intend to take both houses in the elections of  2019. Yeah, Virginia is for lovers.

Kirk Cox,
Speaker of the Virginia
House of Delegates
One of those Republican legislative leaders who went to the Supremes for reprieve, and who was going to be most devastated by remapping, happened to be Kirk Cox, the speaker of the House, "the most powerful Republican in Virginia" (WashPost). Cox's 66th House District suddenly went from R+25.5 to D+6.5. His former District had been 76 percent white. Now it's 58 percent, with 34 percent black citizens. Cox has 30,000 new constituents he doesn't know.

Good reading about Kirk Cox in the WashPost. Interesting politician, and a strong one. He's "a reserved Christian conservative steeped in the intricacies of policy and parliamentary procedure. He supports gun rights and opposes abortion. But he has mostly tried to keep a lid on social legislation that has caused problems for his party, most notably in 2012, with an uproar over a bill that would have required most women seeking an abortion to first undergo a vaginal ultrasound. He has had certain hot-button bills — from conservatives and liberals alike — killed in committees."

Not only moderate but courageous at times, and personable. He spent his working life as a teacher of social studies in middle schools. He taught -- successfully and with good vibes -- many African-American children of parents and aunts and uncles and cousins of some of those 30,000 new constituents. He relates well. According to Laura Vozella, he's showing up directly in the black neighborhoods he's now inherited, talking directly to black voters, and winning black votes. “It’s a challenge,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity. You have to look at it that way ... I always say, ‘I’d like to earn your vote.’ ”

Sheila Bynum-Coleman
The Democratic Challenger
Sheila Bynum-Coleman is a young (47) African-American woman who almost won a seat in the Virginia House in 2017. She came within 815 votes of beating a Republican incumbent in a different district (against whom she had also run in 2015 and got trounced). She's been remapped for 2019 into Cox's district, and she's coming on strong.

"Bynum-Coleman is a building contractor." I had to read that line twice, and then I went looking. She's indeed listed on the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation as a "single-family residential contractor" and as a member of the Virginia State Licensing Board for Contractors. That's pretty powerful in its own right. She's got to be tactically smart and knows what she's doing.

She has a political science degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and tells an impassioned personal story -- "A son with a learning disability. A daughter who was shot. A cousin rejected by a landlord because she is married to another woman .... ‘We don’t rent to y’all,’ she says her cousin was told. 'Right here in Richmond, Virginia. How is that possible in 2019?' ”

Crystal Balling
If hardcore Trumpists in Cox's district are as insane about moderate Republicans as they are in North Carolina, and consequently have no enthusiasm for coming out to vote on November 5 for Cox...

And if the strong blue wave is still rolling in Virginia in 2019 like it was in 2017...

Then the remapping of Cox's District 66 will have been the fatal blow and the last straw.

But if Republican hardliners hang with him, and if the fabled blue wave of 2017 has fizzled in 2019, Cox can survive on his deep community commitments and his personality.

Cox is not the only Republican incumbent in both House and Senate who has strong Democratic challengers. Even if Cox can hold onto his seat, he may not hold onto the speakership.