Marco Rubio’s Miami Vice

Don’t feel bad, Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. We found someone probably as corrupt as you to run for president while you’re in prison — Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami, Florida:

As Mr. Rubio has ascended in the ranks of Republican politics, Mr. Braman has emerged as a remarkable and unique patron. He has bankrolled Mr. Rubio’s campaigns. He has financed Mr. Rubio’s legislative agenda. And, at the same time, he has subsidized Mr. Rubio’s personal finances, as the rising politician and his wife grappled with heavy debt and big swings in their income.
A detailed review of their relationship shows that Mr. Braman, 82, has left few corners of Mr. Rubio’s world untouched. He hired Mr. Rubio, then a Senate candidate, as a lawyer; employed his wife to advise the Braman family’s philanthropic foundation; helped cover the cost of Mr. Rubio’s salary as an instructor at a Miami college; and gave Mr. Rubio access to his private plane.

The money has flowed both ways. Mr. Rubio has steered taxpayer funds to Mr. Braman’s favored causes, successfully pushing for an $80 million state grant to finance a genomics center at a private university and securing $5 million for cancer research at a Miami institute for which Mr. Braman is a major donor.

Rubio seems pretty convinced that this is all above-board because he doesn’t try to hide any of his extensive campaign finance ties and personal (financial) relationships to Braman. I guess that’s the John Roberts school of non-corruption: If it’s fully transparent and there’s no explicit quid pro quo of money for favors/contracts, then it must not be corrupt.

However, it’s not even clear that there isn’t some kind of quid pro quo, formal or otherwise. It’s not pay-to-play, but Rubio certainly seems willing and eager to play as a thank you for all the paying.

“What is the conflict?” [Rubio] asked. “I don’t ever recall Norman Braman ever asking for anything for himself.” He acknowledged that Mr. Braman had approached him about state aid for projects, such as funding for cancer research, but said that he had supported the proposals on their merits.
Mr. Braman acknowledged seeking the occasional “small favor” from Mr. Rubio’s Senate office. There was the daughter of the woman who does his nails, Mr. Braman recalled, who had an immigration problem, and the student from Tampa who wanted a shot at military school. In both cases, he said, Mr. Rubio’s staff was quick to respond. (Mr. Rubio’s staff said it had decided not to recommend the Tampa student.)

Um, ok. Whatever this is, maybe it’s not strictly speaking illegal, but it’s certainly against the spirit of ethics and anti-corruption laws and principles. It’s disproportionate and narrow favoritism for a specific wealthy benefactor.

And I guess Rubio would probably suggest he’s not the only one doing this kind of thing and just happens to be one of the least affluent and most indebted high-profile U.S. politicians (and certainly is one of the least cash-flush presidential candidates on a personal basis).

There’s a lot more in the NY Times article (quoted above) about how much Rubio has benefited from Braman’s support. The latter has been saying he was going to make Rubio president since before he was even in the U.S. Senate — and he’s paid for most of the steps to get him close to that goal.



ABC12 in Flint, Michigan reports on a high school tour of colleges for Black students from Flint, which ran into serious trouble in northern Florida after their bus broke down and they want to a local motel:

Odum says things felt so tense that to avoid any trouble, he tried to be proactive by calling police. When police arrived, they told the group to stay in their rooms for the night. Odum says the officer left him with a chilling message. “The officer pulled me to the side and said, ‘You know, I just want to let you know this area right off the interstate, people aren’t too accommodating to you all.’ And he said, ‘If you know what I mean.’ I said, ‘Black people?’ And he said, ‘Yeah,'” Odum said.

The students tell ABC 12 overnight, the staff antagonized them. The group says they were told to check out the next morning immediately at 10. As they left, that’s when Odum says tensions reached a boiling point, when he says he heard the manager say, “‘We’re going to get these N****rs off our property.’ And I was blown back by that,” Odum said.

Good thing American racism ended with the election of a Black president. *eyeroll*

Jeb Bush emails show special access/treatment for donors

What has been uncovered so far just from the emails Gov. Bush chose to release…

Among the many thousands of emails Jeb Bush received as Florida governor are a string of notes from campaign donors asking favors and making suggestions. Invariably, Bush responded quickly. Sometimes, he appointed a person a donor had recommended for a position. Other times, he rejected advice about a piece of legislation.
Yet a review by The Associated Press of Jeb Bush’s emails found that prominent donors to Bush and his family regularly urged him to appoint candidates for judgeships, public boards and other positions. One suggested Bush appoint a political supporter’s step-daughter to a hospital board and asked the governor to support funding for his alma mater. One Palm Beach County fundraiser told Bush, the best man at his wedding, that companies hired him “because of my association with the administration and you.”

Update 3/14/15 at 2 AM ET: Additionally, in a related story, it turns out Jeb Bush significantly delayed the required release of his emails:

Jeb Bush has rebuked Hillary Rodham Clinton for her use of a private email account as secretary of state, holding up his own conduct as an example of transparency in government.

But it took Mr. Bush seven years after leaving office to comply fully with a Florida public records statute requiring him to turn over emails he sent and received as governor, according to records released Friday.

Mr. Bush delivered the latest batch of 25,000 emails in May 2014, seven and a half years after leaving the Statehouse and just as he started to contemplate a potential run for the White House, according to a newly disclosed letter written by his lawyer.

Oops. According to sources in Florida quoted by the Times, that delay is illegal. All records were due upon conclusion of his term, seven-plus years earlier.

July 16, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 92


The Big Ideas for Reforming American Governance episode. Topics: gerrymandering, constitutional amendment conventions, interstate compacts. People: Bill, Nate, Persephone. Produced: July 13, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– How should Congressional districts be drawn?
– Should the states exercise their option to request a national convention to discuss constitutional amendments?
– Can some U.S. policy problems be solved through interstate compacts instead of state-only or Federal-only approaches?

We’re piloting a new concept on this week’s episode for future segments. All three segments this week are examples. Please email us or contact us on social media to let us know what you think.

Part 1 – Gerrymandering:
Part 1 – Gerrymandering – AFD 92
Part 2 – Amendment Convention:
Part 2 – Convention – AFD 92
Part 3 – Sectional Interstate Compacts:
Part 3 – Interstate Compacts – AFD 92

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

– PBS Newshour: Judge rules Fla. Legislature broke laws on congressional district maps
– AFD: Democrats need to focus on state legislatures (or stay doomed)

Segment 2

– AFD: Amending The Constitution: The National Convention Option?
– The Atlantic: “A Real Step to Fix Democracy” by Lawrence Lessig

Segment 3

– Book: “American Nations” by Colin Woodard
– Wikipedia: Interstate compact
– Wikipedia: Compact Clause
– Wikipedia: Driver License Compact

Correction Note: In the third segment, Bill incorrectly listed the states in the Delaware River Basin compact. They are Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

State of the Governors’ Races in 2014 (with charts & maps!)

There are a huge number of races for governor up for election this year (which is true of any midterm year since most states adopted four-year terms aligned with the non-presidential cycle). 36 states — almost three-quarters of the states — will be electing or re-electing governors in November of this year, as you can see on the map below:

U.S. state governorships by party (red=R, blue=D). Asterisks mark 2014 races (not capitals!)

U.S. state governorships by party (red=R, blue=D). Asterisks mark 2014 races (not capitals!)

That’s a lot to take in. All of New England, most of the Mountain West and the Plains States, and so on. 36 states are on the board, and Republicans won a lot of them in the 2010 wave, which puts them in a good position overall, given the power of incumbency. But how do we analyze the state of the races more logically and clearly?

In the chart below, I’ve broken it down in an easy-to-read list form, with the states listed in either the Democratic or Republican column, based on current occupant (there are currently no independents in the state governorships). There are boxes around the retiring or term-limited current governors.

In that graphic, I’ve also put in italics the states that are most likely to be within reach. It’s not exhaustive, of course, just the likeliest. I based that determination — since I confess to being unable to keep up with all 36 races closely — on a) incumbent favorability from a year ago in the last Fivethirtyeight analysis I could find on the governors, and b) whether the voters have a solid preference for one party or the other in the governorship of their state.

In other words:

  • a very popular incumbent is very likely to be re-elected (if running)
  • a reasonably popular incumbent is pretty likely to be re-elected, even in a swing state
  • a very unpopular incumbent is relatively likely to lose if running even in a solid state and could flip the office by negative association even if not running
  • a state with a strong preference for one party in the governorship will likely not flip it to the other party whether or not the incumbent is running, even if quite unpopular
  • but a state with a tendency to swing (or to elect a governor opposite to its overall preference) is somewhat more likely to flip an open seat to the other party

It’s a bit subjective and un-statistical, but it’s a good way to break down the problem when there are 36 races to analyze and too much data to crunch without being Fivethirtyeight or the like.

Using that assessment system, I concluded that there is a relatively narrow set of races that are fairly likely to be competitive come November.

Democrats’ biggest vulnerabilities — in my eyes — are Illinois, Massachusetts, and Arkansas. Let’s take those one at a time.

  • Illinois: Gov. Pat Quinn (D) was an accidental governor elevated during the Blagojevich scandal. He won a very hard-fought race in 2010 to hold onto the office for his own full term. Now he is even more unpopular than he was in 2010, when he survived the Republican wave, and I don’t think the race is going well. That said, there’s very little recent data, and he’s come back from the brink once before.
  • Massachusetts: Democrat Deval Patrick hung on in a 3-way race in 2010 but is retiring. Runner-up Charlie Baker (R) has generally been campaigning strongly in his repeat effort, while Democrats have fragmented between terrible, uninspiring, and unheard-of candidates. On top of this, Massachusetts has had a string of moderate Republicans between Dukakis and Patrick, with voters often seeming to prefer the office to counterbalance the single-party rule of the Democratic legislature. Dems may still hang on — indeed, leading contender Martha Coakley is currently polling well ahead of Charlie Baker (which means very little given her past track record and sketchy Bay State polling histories) — but the seat is very vulnerable.
  • Arkansas: The state has Republican supermajorities in the legislature, has a term-limited Democratic Governor, Mike Beebe, who recently often seemed like the last Democratic oak standing in a Southern desert. The other windswept tree in the state, Sen. Mark Pryor, is in the political fight of his life right now. (I don’t have a good sense of how the Senate race will affect the governor’s race, if at all.) Dems seem to have a recruited a solid candidate to try to save the governorship, but it will be difficult. The RCP average has a close race, but the PPP poll within that average shows an 8 point advantage for the Republican.

Republicans’ biggest vulnerabilities — in my eyes — are Florida, Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And now let’s take those one at a time:

  • Florida: Rick Scott (R) is a terrible and very unpopular governor. Republican-turned-Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist, his opponent, is far more popular and is polling relatively far ahead. Maybe Scott turns this around, but probably not.
  • Maine: Paul LePage (R) is also a terrible and very unpopular governor, who is also (ideologically) a crazy person. He was only elected in a 3-way race in 2010, where the sane people made the mistake of splitting their votes between the other two candidates. Maine isn’t planning to repeat that mistake this year. Haha, just kidding: It’ll be a 3-way race again and probably a nail-biter to the end, between LePage and Congressman Mike Michaud (D). LePage is doing better (somehow) in polls more recently than he was for most of last year.
  • Michigan: I am of the opinion that Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has been a horrendous governor for Michigan. He was, last year, almost as unpopular as LePage was in Maine. Democrats have coalesced behind a solid recruit, a U.S. Congressman, Mark Schauer. Nevertheless, Snyder seems to be a good campaigner with a lot of powerful friends (i.e. interest groups) and a ruthless agenda that the tea partiers love. He’s doing well in the polling, unfortunately.
  • Pennsylvania: 2010 was a great year for Pennsylvania Republicans. However, Gov. Tom Corbett has been such a bad governor (and was dragged down further by the Penn State scandal) that he will probably be the first governor since the state allowed multiple terms in 1970 to lose re-election to a second term. These “unbroken precedents” in U.S. politics — most of which date back only as far as the 1970s — always tend get broken right after they’re declared ironclad. While researching this post, I saw some posts arguing that he will actually win. (Good fundraiser, incumbency precedent, his past big victories, past popularity before it tanked, etc.) But he’s trailing by high single digits in most polls at minimum and by double digits against several candidates in a lot of polls.

So there are about seven seats to watch right now. It might expand to 10 or drop to 5 as we get closer to November. My guess is that Republicans will lose a few of these seats — which isn’t surprising given how many they are defending — but will retain an overall edge and even pick up at least a couple. That basically means it’s probably going to be roughly a wash overall, without changing much nationally. I think that may be echoed in many of the other contests this year: Republicans will end up in about the same position they were when they started, but still ahead by a bit.

Charlie Crist: Future slashfic author

Dave Weigel recently reviewed the decisive ambivalence and non-ideology of former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, as seen in his new memoir. Crist, for those who may not remember, switched from Republican to independent during his failed 2010 US Senate bid against Marco Rubio. Since then, he has puttered around regaining much of his once very high popularity, and he has launched a bid for a second (non-consecutive) term as governor, this time running as a Democrat against incumbent Medicare fraudster and Voldemort lookalike, Gov. Rick Scott (R-Deeply Unpopular).

As Weigel observes, Crist seems to be running primarily on a rose-colored and self-idolizing platform of “Hey, remember how you guys liked me and I wasn’t too offensive or partisan most of the time?” — which may actually work out for Crist, given that he is pretty popular and most people want Rick Scott gone. Plus, it’s Florida, and a lot of people aren’t all that committed to party affiliation (relative to some other states), which makes Crist’s switching palatable and understandable to many voters.

Weigel also highlights how the book dwells heavily, even creepily, on the career-derailing hug Charlie Crist received from President Obama when the former was still a Republican:

In The Party’s Over, his unimaginatively titled memoir of a political life cut short by the Tea Party movement, Crist returns again and again to his February 2009 appearance with President Obama. “As he and I made our way through the crowd toward the stage,” Crist writes, “how could anyone not feel the power of this man?” When they reach the podium, Crist gave a short speech about budgets and infrastructure that was, he reminds us, interrupted frequently by applause.

Then came the moment. “The new president leaned forward,” Crist writes, “and gave me a hug. Reach. Pull. Release. As hugs go, it wasn’t anything special. It was over in a second—less than that. It was the kind of hug that says, ‘Hey, good to see you, man. Thanks for being here.’ It was the kind of hug I’d exchanged with thousands of thousands and Floridians over the years … reach, pull, release—just like that.”

After the shudder fades, the reader at least understands where Crist is coming from. In 2009, a few months after Obama had carried his state, Crist was one of the only Republican governors willing to take strings-attached stimulus money and denounce anyone who wouldn’t. One of the first rallies of the nascent Tea Party movement took place outside the Crist–Obama rally. Marco Rubio created a fundraising site consisting entirely of the “hug” photo. Conservatives heckled Crist, dared him to “hug Obama again.”

So if this governor campaign doesn’t work out, I’m thinking maybe Charlie should consider going into self-publishing weird romance e-novels. I hear (minute 28) there’s a growing market for dinosaur-based romances; maybe he could write slashfic between some Everglades gators and “Florida Man.”