Darryl Paulson - SaintPetersBlog

Darryl Paulson

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

Groundhog Day for Democrats: Selecting the Party chair

Democrats in Florida and at the national level have a similar problem. In both cases, there are more Democratic voters than Republicans, but in both cases, the Republican candidates have trounced the Democrats.

Between 2009 and 2016, which coincides with the terms of Barack Obama as president, Democratic candidates suffered heavier casualties than many military divisions. Democrats lost 11 Senate seats (-16 percent), lost 62 House seats (-24 percent) and, in the biggest surprise, lost control of the White House.

It was even worse at the state level. The numbers of Democratic governors declined from 28 to 16 (-43 percent), and Democrats lost 959 seats in the state legislatures. The only good news for the Democrats is that it can’t get much worse. The seats they still hold are mostly in strong Democratic areas.

Democrats hope that a change in party leadership will be the first step in reversing party fortunes and helping to lead the party out of the political wilderness.

Florida Democrats held their contest for a new party chair at the end of 2016. Numerous candidates came forth to replace one-term party chair Allison Tant, who had just as much success as previous party chairs.

The two leading candidates were Dwight Bullard, a black state legislator representing the liberal reform wing of the party. Stephen Bittel, a wealthy developer and leading donor to the party was supported by the establishment forces.

Bittel was backed by the teachers’ union and Sen. Bill Nelson, the only Democrat currently elected to a statewide office. Nelson, up for election in 2018, argued that Bittel would bring “professionalism” to the party and “raise money.”

Bullard was backed by Bernie Sanders and his supporters. One Revolution, a Sanders organization, believed that Bullard would stop “an extremely wealthy donor” who wants to “buy his way to lead Florida’s Democratic Party. . .”

Bittel won the required votes and is now busy raising funds for the party and is attempting to reinvigorate party fortunes.

About the time Bittel was winning his election in Florida, the race for the Chair of the Democratic National Party was heating up. The early front-runner was Keith Ellison, a Black Muslim congressman from Minnesota, who represented the Sanders and reform wing of the party. Ellison quickly won the endorsements of liberal icon Elizabeth Warren, along with incoming Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

The race was actually pushed backed a month. Some argued that it was done in order to generate more debate about the candidates. Others argued that it was done to give opponents of Ellison additional time to overcome his lead.

Critics of Ellison pointed out that he was highly critical of Israel and had supported Black Muslim Louis Farrakhan, issues that might hurt the party in elections.

The Democratic establishment found its candidate in Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who was encouraged to run by both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Like Bittel in Florida, Perez represented the establishment and wealthy donors who were concerned that Ellison would push the party too far to the left.

On Feb. 25, 2017, Perez won the post of party chair by a vote of 235-200 on the second ballot. Ellison supporters shouted “Party for the people, not big money.” Many Ellison supporters walked out.

Perez quickly appointed Ellison as Deputy Party Chair in an attempt at party unity. Whether this placates Ellison supporters or irritates them remains to be seen. What duties, if any, will Ellison be given?

In both Florida and nationally, the race to head the Democratic Party pitted a white, establishment candidate representing the moneyed interests versus a black legislator representing the reform and liberal element of the party. In both cases, the white candidate defeated the black candidate, and money prevailed over “the people.”

It appears that it is not only Donald Trump and his supporters who have issues with race and Islamophobia.

Bernie Sanders fired a warning shot across the bow of the Democratic Party after Ellison’s loss. Sanders warned that it was “imperative that the same-old, same-old is not working and that we must open the doors of the party to working people and young people in a way that has never been done before.”

The Democrats have their new party leaders in both Florida and nationally. The question is whether the new leaders will improve the party’s electoral performance, or will it lead to further divisions between an already badly fractured Democratic Party?

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Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida Politics and elections.

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Out like Flynn: The Firing of National Security adviser Mike Flynn

“In like Flynn” has been part of American language since the 1940s.

The San Francisco Examiner in February 1942 contained the first known use of the term when it stated: “Answer these questions correctly, and your name is Flynn, meaning you’re in …”

Within a few months, the term became closely identified with movie idol Errol Flynn. Flynn had developed a reputation as a fighter, drinker and womanizer. In November 1942, Flynn was accused by two underage girls of statutory rape. Flynn was cleared of the charge in 1943 and “in like Flynn” became part of the actor’s persona. The phrase has had a sexual connotation ever since.

A final variation of the origin of “in like Flynn” is tied to New York political boss Edward J. Flynn, who dominated politics in the Bronx during FDR’s administration. Boss Flynn’s “Democratic Party machine exercised absolute political control over the Bronx … The candidate’s he backed were almost automatically in.”

Whatever the origins, we may now coin a new term: “Out like Flynn.” “Out like Flynn” refers to someone who supposedly has the complete support of his boss, but is quickly fired. It is also associated with a political appointee who was quickly hired and quickly fired. Mike Flynn‘s tenure as National Security Adviser lasted 24 days.

Although Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump‘s campaign manager and now presidential adviser noted on MSNBC that Flynn “does enjoy the full confidence of President Trump, a few hours later press secretary Sean Spicer told the press that Trump was “evaluating the situation.”

Within hours, Flynn submitted his letter of resignation.

At issue was whether Flynn gave Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak assurances that the Trump administration would reverse sanctions imposed by President Obama after the intelligence community concluded that they were involved in trying to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Flynn denied discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador several times, including in conversations with Vice President Mike Pence. Pence went on national television and used Flynn’s remarks in stating that the Trump Administration never discussed the sanction issue before assuming office.

Flynn then modified his statement to say “he had no recollection of discussing sanctions” with the Russian ambassador, but “he couldn’t be certain the topic never came up.”

The same day that Conway said that Flynn enjoyed “the full confidence of President Trump,” Flynn submitted his resignation stating that “I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.”

In announcing Flynn’s resignation, press secretary Spicer noted the resignation was due to “eroding trust” between Trump and Flynn, and for misleading the president and others in the administration.

During the presidential campaign, it appeared that Trump was encouraging Russian intervention in the election. At many campaign appearances, Trump told his supporters: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Foreign intervention in American elections is illegal. Trump could say he was joking, but the integrity of elections is no joking matter.

When the American intelligence community investigated the Russian involvement in the presidential election, they uniformly concluded that we are “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails.” One of those released emails led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as Chair of the Democratic Party when it was clear that Schultz and the Democratic Party were favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries.

Instead of defending the intelligence community, Trump attacked their credibility. “You ever notice anything that goes wrong, they blame Russia? Russia did it. They have no idea.”

When the intelligence community stated that Russia was seeking to help Trump win the election, Trump attacked them by saying “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

I do not know of any American political candidate, let alone the president, who has so uniformly attacked the intelligence community. I hope I never see another one engage in such undeserved attacks.

The basis of Flynn’s firing is the Logan Act, passed in 1798. The law essentially says that no United States citizen can attempt to influence the conduct of a foreign government without the authorization of the United States. No one has ever been convicted of violating the law, and there has only been a single indictment.

Even though there has never been a conviction associated with the law, the Logan Act frequently pops up with respect to foreign policy. Democratic Majority Leader Jim Wright was attacked for negotiating with Cuba and Syria for the release of American prisoners. More recently, 47 Republican senators were accused by Democrats of violating the Logan Act when they sent a letter to Iran opposing President Obama’s nuclear agreement with that nation. Critics of the Act contend it violates the First Amendment freedom of speech provisions.

Although Flynn is out as the head of the National Security Administration, the issue is not over. Trump will need to find a replacement for Flynn. Favorites are the Acting Director of the NSA, Lt. General Joseph Kellogg, Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, formerly a Navy SEAL and deputy director of CENTCOM in Tampa, and retired general David Petraeus. Petraeus had a distinguished military career and then directed the CIA before being forced to resign for sharing classified records and having an extramarital affair with his biographer.

Remaining issues include an investigation into Flynn’s actions. Did Flynn act on his own or was he directed to call the Russian ambassador? If so, who directed him and did they expect Flynn to discuss sanctions? If there is an investigation, should Attorney General Jeff Sessions lead that investigation because he was the first member of the Senate to endorse Trump for president?

We are only a month into the Trump Administration and we already have a major problem in one of the most important segments of government. If this is an indication of what is to come, what can we expect in the next three years and 11 months?

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

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Florida’s drug laws are giving me a pain in the ass

No one disputes that opiate addiction is a national problem. Statistics show that over 52,000 Americans died because of drug abuse, or about 142 people a day. One-third of those deaths are from opioids prescribed by doctors.

Although a national problem, Florida led the nation in opioid abuse until recently. Individuals from all over the southeastern United States flooded into Florida to visit our “pill mills.” I-75 was known as the gateway to easy drugs. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration referred to I-75 as the “Oxy Express.”

A single pill mill in Tampa wrote scripts for over 1 million oxycodone pills in a six-month period in 2010. Of the top 100 doctors in the nation prescribing oxycodone, 98 resided in Florida.

The situation was so bad in Florida that Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi created the Florida Regulatory Drug Enforcement Task Force to combat drug abuse in Florida and crack down on the pill mills.

The Task Force had great success in reducing the abuse by pill mills. The number of oxycodone pills prescribed dropped from 650 million in 2010 to 300 million in 2013. Almost 4,000 individuals were arrested including 67 doctors. Over 848,000 pills were seized, as well as $10 million in cash. 254 pill mills were shut down.

Changes in the Florida drug laws now require patients to see a certified pain specialist monthly in order to receive prescriptions for pain meds. Where 98 out of the top 100 doctors prescribing oxycodone resided in Florida in 2010, that number was zero in 2013.

Florida had great success in closing the pill mills and eliminating much of the drug abuse that existed. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that individuals with chronic pain have a very difficult time getting their pain meds in a timely fashion. Pain specialists can write a prescription for a 30-day supply of pain meds. You can’t have your next prescription filled before you use your 30-day supply. The problem is that pharmacies, at least 25 percent of the time, do not have pain meds in stock.

I visited my pain specialist last week and received my script for a 30-day supply to be filled Feb. 13. I went to five different pharmacies before finding one that would fill my prescription. It took almost two hours and driving over 25 miles in order to get the meds I was entitled to receive. There is enough stress with chronic pain; I do not need the additional stress of trying to find a pharmacy that will fill my prescription.

My pain started at age 12 and was related to disc and nerve problems in my back. At age 20 I had my first back surgery. It helped, but never ended the pain problems. For the past 30 years my left leg has been numb and the muscles have atrophied. At the present time, I have had seven surgeries, including three back operations and a total knee replacement.

Because of chronic pain, I often can’t stand for more than a few minutes and have problems walking more than a short distance. The pain meds help me to function. I would much prefer no pain and no pain meds, but that option is out of my control. The best I can hope for is to have my pain meds available.

About 25 percent of the time the pharmacy I use does not have the pain meds available. I am forced to make the trek to pharmacies hoping to find one that has the meds available. The problem with that, in addition to wasting my time, is that the state of Florida may look at this pharmacy hopping as an attempt to game the system. It is merely an attempt to get the drugs I need.

Many pharmacies won’t carry pain meds for fear of being robbed or because they are frustrated with the record-keeping involved with pain meds. Other pharmacies have told me that they will only fill orders for regular customers; one pharmacy told me they will fill my order, but only if I transfer all my prescriptions to them. That would cost me a great deal more because my insurance provides lower prices for medicines through their supplier.

Those who have never experienced chronic pain, which is most of the population, have little sympathy for those suffering from chronic pain. Those suffering from chronic pain don’t want sympathy, but they do want your empathy. They want you to understand that chronic pain is real and we want to receive the medicines that will help us function.

Florida had an opioid epidemic and dealt with it. That is a good thing. But, Florida also has an obligation to make sure its citizens receive the medical care they need. Those with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other debilitating ailments expect to get the meds they need to live a healthy and productive life. Those suffering from chronic pain expect the same thing.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

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Darryl Paulson: We are not the same; the immoral equivalency of President Donald Trump

Voters who supported Donald Trump for president did so because they liked his free-speaking ideas, his attacks on the political establishment and his promise to “make America great again.”

President Trump has repeatedly stated that he would have won the popular vote for president if not for massive vote fraud. Does Trump believe that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin won his office in free and fair elections?  I hope Trump cannot be that deluded.

Republicans raised strong criticisms when President Barack Obama conducted what many Americans viewed as an “apology tour,” criticizing America for all its failures. Americans prefer their presidents defend the nation and its values, and not constantly criticize the nation for its shortcomings.

Obama told a European audience in 2009 that “there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.” He also criticized the notion of American exceptionalism that all presidents have defended.

When Jihadists burned a Jordanian pilot alive, then showing the video online as a recruiting tool, President Obama cautioned a national prayer breakfast audience not to “get on our high horse” and “remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

Many Americans were sickened and highly critical of Obama’s efforts to apologize for America’s shortcomings. Instead of defending American exceptionalism, the president seemed to delight in pointing out our deficiencies.

If President Obama’s “apology tour” disgusted many Americans and most Republicans, President Trump’s defense of Putin and the Soviets should strike a similar response from the electorate. To cast America and the Soviets as “one and the same” should thoroughly repulse Republicans, in particular. Republican Ronald Reagan must be retching.

President Trump turned in one of the most disgusting performances of any American president when he placed America and the Soviets on the same moral plateau. In a Fox News interview with Bill O’Reilly before the Super Bowl, Trump defended Putin against O’Reilly’s charge that “Putin’s a killer.”

Trump responded that “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” If Obama had made that statement, Republicans would be calling for his impeachment.

But, weak-kneed Republicans, who have no problem praising Trump, have a far more difficult time criticizing him when he becomes ill with “foot and mouth” disease. In their silence, supporters of Trump are neither doing him, or the nation, favors anyway.

Do you remember when one of our political leaders ordered the assassination of a political opponent?  Neither do I. But, Putin did that to Boris Nemtsov in 2015.

Anti-corruption reporter Sergei Magnitsky was killed in prison in 2009. Respected journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed the same year, and fellow reporter Yuri Schekechikhin was poisoned in 2013. The list of reporter and political opponent deaths is a long one.

The United States does not purposely bomb civilian neighborhoods as did the Soviets in Syria. The United States does not shoot down unarmed civilian aircraft as the Soviets did in the Ukraine. The United States does not invade independent neighboring countries as the Soviets did to the Ukraine.

Does President Trump really believe that murders of political opponents could happen in America?  I hope that Trump sees America in a different light than Putin and the Soviets.

Some Republicans have objected to President Trump’s abhorrent remarks about the moral equivalency between the Soviets and the United States. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who called Putin a “thug,” and rejected any attempt at moral equivalency.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted:  “When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP or vice versa?  We are not the same as #Putin.”

Republicans, in particular, and all Americans must support the president when he is right and must criticize him just as vigorously when he is wrong. To not do so will embolden both Trump and dictator Putin to continue a reckless path.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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Darryl Paulson: Florida – Land of electile dysfunction

During and after the 2016 presidential election, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump complained about “millions of people who voted illegally.” He offered no proof to his charge, and virtually all state supervisors of elections found little evidence of fraud.

It is “big news” when a single case of vote fraud emerges. It would be the story of the decade if 3 million individuals cast fraudulent votes as Trump alleges.

When Sara Sosa of Colorado voted in the 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 elections, every wire service carried the story. The unusual part of the story was that Sosa died in 2009.

Examples such as Sosa are used by those who want to preserve the “integrity” of the election process. It is also used by those who use the case to show how unusual and rare such cases are in any election cycle.

President Trump has become the first president to demand an investigation of an election he won. My guess is that this will be the first of many “firsts” during Trump’s tenure as president.

With all of Trump’s complaining about vote fraud, it should be remembered that state and local governments have probably engaged in more case of fraud than have individuals. Few states have manipulated the voter rolls more than the state of Florida.

Vote fraud by individuals in Florida

Perhaps the prime example of vote fraud by people in Florida elections was the 1997 Miami mayoral race. Incumbent Mayor Xavier Suarez hired “Boleteros” or paid absentee ballot brokers to stuff the ballot boxes to win the election. Because of the vote fraud, the election results were overturned, and Joe Carolla became mayor of Miami.

More recently, Zakee Furqan of Jacksonville, convicted of second-degree murder under the name Leon Nelson, voted in several elections before his felony conviction was discovered. The first trial resulted in a hung jury and he is currently facing a retrial.

In the 2016 Florida Presidential Primary, Trump complained that 2,500 of his supporters were unable to vote for him in the primary. That may have been true, but it was not due to vote fraud. It turned out that these supporters were not registered as Republicans and, therefore, were not eligible to vote in Florida’s closed primary.

Vote Fraud by the State of Florida

In previous writings, I have documented Florida’s long history of suppressing the right to vote for certain groups, especially the state’s minority voters. After the Civil War, the Democrats passed laws and amended the state constitution to eliminate black voters from the election rolls. Using devices such as the poll tax, the white primary, the eight-ballot box law and a host of other discriminatory devices, Florida could move from blacks being a majority of the electorate to blacks accounting for less than 10 percent of the electorate. All of this happened within a period of about 10 years.

For those who argue that this was an embarrassing part of Florida’s early history, but it no longer happens, all one needs to do is look at recent Florida political history. The 2000 Presidential Election is filled with examples of how the Republican-dominated legislature and governor attempted to eliminate minority voters to help the Republican Party and its candidates.

The Republican-controlled legislature passed a series of laws which collectively eliminated thousands of legal Florida voters. Before the 2000 Presidential Election, the Legislature approved of a “purge” of felon voters and non-citizens from the ballot. They hired a company, Data Based Technologies, to set up guidelines to remove potential felon voters. The guidelines were vague, and election officials were told to challenge any voter even if it was not an exact match.

“John Smyth” could be removed if “John Smith’s” name was on the list. Or, John Smith could be removed even if the birthday or Social Security numbers did not match.

Not surprisingly, most of those who were challenged were minority voters who tended to vote Democrat. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held three days of hearings in Tallahassee in January 2001 to investigate “alleged voter irregularities” in the Florida 2000 Presidential Election won by George W. Bush by a few hundred votes.

Among the Commission findings:

– African-Americans were 10 times more likely to have their ballot rejected

– African-Americans cast 54 percent of the rejected ballots due to antiquated voting machines such as punch cards.

– There were over 180,000 over-votes cast in the 2000 election. Of the 100 with the highest rate of disqualification, 83 percent were majority black.

– In Miami-Dade, blacks were 65 percent of those on the purge list, but only 20.4 percent of the county’s population.

– Blacks were 11 percent of the Florida electorate in 2000, but 44 percent of those on the purge list.

– Florida, which disqualifies more felon voters than any other state, eliminates 10 percent of the voting age population and 23 percent of the black population from voting.

Instead of ending the voter purges after the disastrous results of the 2000 elections, Florida renewed the purges in 2008 and 2012. In 2012, Florida sent supervisors a list of 180,000 potential illegal voters. 75 percent of those on the list were black or Hispanic.

Only 207 non-citizens were found on the list and only 85 individuals, or .0002 percent, were removed.

Pinellas County supervisor of elections Deborah Clark commented on the purges:  “I’m sorry Florida is doing this right now. This does not reflect positively on Florida’s election process.”

Everyone wants elections to be untainted by fraud and, according to all the evidence, Florida has experienced little voter fraud.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement study of the 20.7 million voters who participated in the last two statewide elections found only 13 cases of possible fraud and this resulted in only six guilty pleas.

Studies have consistently found virtually no evidence of fraud in Florida elections and, yet, the state has adopted policies to protect the integrity of the elections which have resulted in thousands of individuals losing their right to vote.

Florida needs to open wide and swallow a giant-size dose of political Viagra, because it suffers from a terrible case of electoral dysfunction.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at University of South Florida St. Petersburg and is an expert in the area of voting rights. He has testified in numerous voting rights cases in state and federal court and testified at the request of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in the 2001 hearings concerning “voting irregularities” in the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida.

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No, Donald Trump did not win the popular vote!

Shortly after defeating Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump claimed he would have won the popular vote if not for “millions of people who voted illegally. He then revived those comments after the inauguration in a Twitter post that set off a political firestorm.

Trump has called for “a major investigation” of voter fraud, although the issue has been widely examined by legislative bodies and academic scholars. The conclusions have almost always been the same:  fraud happens, but it is limited and isolated. It has not taken place on the massive scale that Trump implies.

Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million votes, and no one can find 300 cases of vote fraud in the election, let alone 3 million.

President Trump stands alone in his claim of massive electoral fraud, even among his Republican colleagues. Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters he found no evidence of vote fraud and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham told Trump to “knock this off.” Graham argued that Trump is undermining his own political legitimacy and credibility in pursuing his bogus claims.

Even President Trump’s own attorneys disagreed with him in defending him against the voter recount in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania brought by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Trump’s lawyers told the court that “all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

State supervisors of elections, most of whom are Republicans, have uniformly claimed there was little evidence of fraud, especially the massive amounts claimed by Trump.

Ohio Supervisor of Elections Jon Husted commented that there was “no evidence of widespread fraud.” The National Association of Secretaries of States wrote that “we are not aware of any evidence that supports the vote fraud claims by President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the administration’s concerns.”

Critics of the president find it surprising that Trump sees fraud where his own party members see none, but that he fails to see the Soviet influence in the presidential election although the American intelligence community uniformly concluded that the Soviets were directly involved in attempting to influence the election.

What is Trump’s evidence that voter fraud exists?  According to Sean Spicer, President Trump’s press secretary, Trump believes that ‘vote fraud and people voting illegally during the campaign and continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence people have brought to him.”

I would love to see that evidence. So would every political reporter and supervisor of election in America.

Spicer cites a Pew report from 2008 that he claims found that 14 percent of voters were non-citizens. Unfortunately, the authors of that study say it does not say that.

Spicer also cites a 2012 Pew study that found there were almost 2 million dead voters and 2.7 million voters were registered to vote in two cities or states. No one denies that there are dead voters on the registration rolls or that many people are registered to vote in two places. This is not illegal unless the dead attempt to vote along with those registered in multiple jurisdictions.

It was somewhat embarrassing when it was found that Trump’s daughter Tiffany was registered to vote in both New York and Pennsylvania. Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign and political adviser, was registered in Sarasota and New York and his nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, was registered in California and New York.

Election officials are constantly “cleansing” the rolls of dead voters and those who have moved. Unless an individual notifies election officials of their move, it will take some time to remove them from the rolls.

So, did almost 3 million individuals illegally vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 allowing her to win the popular vote. No, is the simple answer. If you can get 3 million people to cast illegal votes, you ought to make sure they vote in the closely competitive states where the electoral vote was needed.

According to the highly-respected Brennan Center, vote fraud in elections generally runs between .00004% and .0009%. Trump is wasting his time, as well as the nation’s time, in focusing on an issue he has no credibility. He is also impugning the integrity of the electoral process which may have devastating long-term consequences.

President Trump, don’t waste your time and political resources in trying to prove the unprovable. You won. Move on to more important things.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at Unioversity of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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Obama’s electoral legacy: After 8 years, we get a Donald Trump

(Part 2 of the Obama legacy)

With the inauguration of Donald Trump, it is a good time to review the electoral impact of eight years of the Obama White House. One of the impacts is the election of Trump which surprised the entire political universe.

Whatever Obama may have achieved in public policy, it is that policy which is in great part responsible for setting “the post-World War II record for losses by the White House party,” according to Larry Sabato. Democrats lost over 1,000 seats at the state and national level.

However important the Obama policies may have been, it is fair to argue that those policies contained the seeds of Democratic losses. The Wall Street and big bank bailouts led to the creation of the Tea Party. The Tea Party became a primary vehicle to organize disaffected Republicans against bailouts for Wall Street and not Main Street. Combined with opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), mobilized Republicans took over control of both the House and Senate, and effectively denying Obama the needed votes to carry out the rest of his agenda.

After the 2016 election, Democrats held 11 fewer Senate seats than they did Jan. 20, 2009, a 16 percent decrease. Democrats hold 62 fewer House seats than in 2009, a drop of 24 percent. They also lost control of the White House giving Republicans complete control of the national government.

At the state level, the number of Democrat governors fell from 28 to 16, a 43 percent decline. In 2009, Democrats controlled both houses in 27 states; after 2016, the number dropped to dual control of only 14 states, a 48 percent drop. On top of this, Democrats lost 959 seats in the state legislatures, weakening them for years to come.

These losses mean that Democrats will have a difficult time in passing their agenda at the state and national level. It also means that the Democratic bench of future leaders has been wiped out, making it difficult for them to find and finance competitive candidates. Finally, since Democrats foolishly changed the filibuster rules in 2013, cabinet nominees and most court appointees will need only 51 votes to be confirmed. This creates the possibility for more extreme nominees to win confirmation.

One of the few positive thing for Democrats is that it is difficult to imagine them losing many more seats. The out-party normally makes gains in midterm elections. Unfortunately for Democrats, they must defend 25 of the 33 Senate seats up for election in 2018, and Trump won 10 of the 25 states that Democrats must defend.

If the Democrats could pick up only two Senate seats in 2016 when Republicans had to defend 24 of the 34 seats, it is hard to imagine them doing better in 2018 when they must defend two out of every three Senate seats up for election.

Without Obama on the ballot in 2016 and 2018, fewer young and minority voters will turn out at the polls. Although Democrats have dominated among young voters, few of them turn out, especially in off-year elections.

Democrats have complicated their problem with young voters by having an array of senior citizen leaders. Nancy Pelosi has been the ranking Democratic leader for 6 terms, as has second-ranking Democrat Steny Hoyer. Third-ranking Democrat James Clyburn has served five terms as leader. Pelosi is 76, and Hoyer and Clyburn are 77.

Although Democrats have been devastated during Obama’s tenure, he is not solely responsible. Obama is only the third Democratic president to twice win a popular vote majority, along with Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt.

Democratic National Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Congresswomen from Florida, was widely viewed as an ineffective spokesperson for the party and was eventually ousted for what many Democrats viewed as her favoritism for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries. Obama appointed Wasserman Schultz to become chair of the Democratic Party and, critics contend, for standing by her for far too long.

Politics is a strange beast. Six months ago, almost everyone believed the Republican Party was on its last legs, and the Trump nomination would doom them forever. Today the Republicans control all three branches of the federal government, and it appears that the Democrats are on life support.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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A look at Obama’s legacy, foolish hope of ‘post-racial’ America

(Part 1 of two. Part two will deal with Obama’s political legacy)

The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama focused on the theme of change. Obama promised to “restore our moral standing” and “focus on nation-building here at home.”

Obama, as a candidate, told audiences that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” “Yes, we can” and “change you can believe in” became the campaign themes.

Obama promised to “make government cool again.” This would be achieved by an activist, expanding federal government. Obama seemed to be contradicting the message of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who argued that “the era of big government is over.”

Although Obama viewed himself as a transformative president, much of his first year in office was spent stabilizing America’s collapsing economy and avoiding another Great Depression.

America was losing 700,000 to 800,000 a month with no let up in sight. Major banks and Wall Street brokers were declaring bankruptcy, and the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse.

If nothing else, Obama deserves credit for stabilizing the economy. His action plan included an unpopular stimulus program, a bailout of the auto industry that some described as socialism, and shoring up the big banks that were responsible for much of the economic instability with their risky loans.

As a result of President Obama’s efforts, an economic catastrophe was avoided. We have had eight consecutive years of economic growth, although critics pointed out the less than 3 percent growth rate was low. The economic programs, in part, lead to an 88 percent increase in the national debt and the loss of the United States AAA bond rating.

“Obamacare,” or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was the primary domestic accomplishment of the Obama presidency. Young individuals could remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, preexisting conditions would not disqualify you from coverage and 20 million more Americans received health care coverage.

The ACA was not without its critics. The plan did not control health care costs as promised, and Obama’s promise to Americans that “if you like your doctors, you can keep them” and “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” proved not to be true. In fact, Politics-Fact labeled those promises the “lie of the year.”

The ACA was narrowly passed without a single Republican vote. That does not bode well for its long-term success. Major public policy change in the United States, to succeed, needs to be comfortably passed with bipartisan support. Civil rights legislation and Medicare are just two examples of that.

Democrats contend that Republicans were not going to vote for the ACA and give Obama a major political victory. Republicans argued that the president made no attempt to reach out to them and find common ground. The president has many tools available to curry support, most importantly, the power of persuasion. For whatever reason, the goal seemed to pass the ACA with or without Republican votes.

The election of Donald Trump now jeopardizes the ACA. Republicans must realize that if they attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare without Democratic support, their plan will fail just as Obama’s plan is likely to fail.

Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, was supposed to lead to a “post-racial America.” That was a foolish and unrealistic expectation.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama gave a speech on race in Philadelphia in an attempt to counter the negative public reaction to statements from Jeremiah Wright, the president’s longtime friend and minister. Wright attacked racism in America in many of his talks. The most explosive comment found Wright stating: “Not God bless America. God damn America!”

In his address on race, Obama said Wright was correct in talking about racism but wrong in speaking “as if no progress had been made.”

Almost as soon as he assumed the presidency, Obama dealt with one racial issue after another. In 2009, Obama said a police officer “acted stupidly” when he arrested Henry Louis Gates, a prominent black Harvard professor when Gates entered his home through a window after forgetting his house key. Obama quickly held a “beer summit,” inviting both Gates and the police officer to talk through their dispute.

In 2012, the nation was divided when a white neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed a young black male named Trayvon Martin. Obama told reporters that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.” The white shooter was found not guilty.

A police shooting of another black teen in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 led to criticism of Obama by both whites and blacks. Whites attacked the president for criticizing the police in “using excessive force” against protestors who were “lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.” Blacks criticized the president for stating that there is “no excuse for violence against the police” or “those who would use this tragedy to cover for vandalism or looting.”

 In 2015, the nation was shocked by the brutal murder of nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof, a young white male who had been invited to join the Bible study. The nation saw the moving acts of forgiveness as one relative after another of the victims said they forgave him. This act of grace led President Obama to conclude his remarks at the church by singing Amazing Grace.

Obama was widely criticized for his foreign policy actions or inactions. Critics blamed the early exit if American forces from Iraq as creating a vacuum which allowed ISIS to emerge. His nuclear pact with Iran was criticized by Republicans, the military, Israel and others who saw the act as creating a nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East. The president’s failure to enforce his “red line” in Syria if chemical weapons were used by Bashar al-Assad, created an inroad for both ISIS and the Soviets to expand their role.

Like all presidents, Obama has a mixed bag of successes and failures as president. In his own analysis of his presidency, Obama praised his administration for stopping the economic crisis, saving the auto industry, creating the longest stretch of job creation, opening relations with Cuba, shutting down Iran’s nuclear program, passing national health insurance and securing marriage equality. “America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

During the 2016 campaign, Obama stated: “My legacy is on the line.” By that standard, the public decided they wanted to move in another direction.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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Darryl Paulson: Selecting party chairs: The Florida experience

(Part 2 of 2)

 In the first part of this series, I discussed the process and candidates used by the Republican and Democratic parties to select their national party chairperson. We will now look at the process and candidates used to choose the Florida Republican and Democratic chairs.

After a disastrous showing by the Florida Democratic Party in the 2016 election, a fate which has become all too common for the party, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party decided not to seek a second term. Like recent Democratic Party chairs, Allison Tant agreed that “one and done” was the proper course of action.

Given Donald Trump‘s Florida victory, as well as a better than expected showing by Republicans in the Congressional and state legislative races, one might have expected incumbent party chair, Blaise Ingoglia, to be a cinch for re-election. That is not the case. Ingoglia faces opposition from Christian Zeigler, a Sarasota County Republican State Committeeman.

The race pits House member Ingoglia versus Senate Republicans who do not want the House and Speaker Richard Corcoran to control the supply of money. It also pits Gov. Rick Scott against party pragmatists.

Scott was incensed in 2015 when his choice to lead the party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by Ingoglia. This rare rebuke of a governor’s prerogative to select the party chair, resulted in Scott telling donors to give money to his political action committee, Let’s Get to Work, instead of to the Republican Party of Florida. Senate Republicans pulled $800,000 out of the GOP account.

Twenty years ago, the Florida Republican Party, under the leadership of Tom Slade, was considered to be the premier state party organization in the nation. Today, after the fiasco of the previous chair Jim Greer and the efforts of Scott to decimate the state Republican Party, it more closely resembles the Keystone Kops.

At the very least, it more closely resembles Democratic Party operations (and that is faint praise).

Although the Florida Republican Party operations have been a mess for a number of years, the Democrats are approaching its third decade as a nonfunctioning party organization. The Democrats, due to their poor showing, have had a difficult time recruiting quality candidates and raising sufficient funds to support their efforts.

The Democrats lack of success at the polls has accelerated party squabbles. Every Democrat is looking for someone to blame for their poor showing, and the party chair is the easiest person to blame. The pettiness of Democrats can be seen in the 2016 election, where several potential Democratic candidates for chair were defeated in internal elections.

Alan Clendenin, Susannah Randolph, and Annette Taddeo were all defeated in races they needed to win to run for chair. The winner of the battle for state committeeman between Stephen Bittel and Dwight Bullard in Dade County will determine which candidate will run for party chairperson.

After losing the race for state committeeman in Hillsborough County after a controversial ruling by the county chair, Clendenin has moved to Bradford County in North Florida and was sworn in as the committeeman for Bradford County, making him once again eligible to run for state party chairperson.

Clendenin lost the election for the Democratic chair four years ago when he lost to outgoing chair Allison Tant by 139 votes.

It appears that Bittel is emerging as the last man standing, although there is still sufficient time for his campaign to be torpedoed. Bittel has been a major Democratic donor, which has led some Democrats to accuse him of trying to buy the position of chair.

Sen. Bill Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat who will be up for election in 2018, says: “I think Stephen Bittel would bring that type of professionalism to the organization. We need a professional to run the organization and raise money.”

Bittel received a surprise endorsement from Keith Ellison, who is running for National Democratic Party chair. Ellison supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary, while Bittel was a backer of Hillary Clinton. One Revolution, an organization of Sanders supporters, has announced its support for Bullard, saying that “An extremely wealthy donor wants to buy his way to lead Florida’s Democratic Party and the only thing between him and control of the party is our political revolution.”

Bittel also won the endorsements of the Florida Educational Association and the Florida Service Employees Union, two important constituency groups within the Democratic Party.

Ingoglia, the incumbent Republican Party chair, is backed by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Sen. Marco Rubio and Susie Wiles, who managed Trump’s campaign in Florida. Wiles said that “I can say that the organization built under chairman Ingoglia’s leadership was a critical element in our success.”

With that backing and the Republican success in 2016, Ingoglia should be favored. But, with Scott sitting on the sidelines, he is really encouraging Republicans to back Zeigler.

On the Democratic side, no one should be foolish enough to predict what Florida Democrats will do. After all, they seldom know what they are doing.

___

Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

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Darryl Paulson: Selecting the national party chairperson

(First of two parts)

The state and national elections are over. At least most of them are over. Still to be decided is the person who will chair the Florida and national party organizations. Is it much ado about nothing, or do party chairs make a difference?

Selecting the party chairperson is normally easier for the victorious party. Whoever wins the governorship or presidency usually can handpick the leader of the party. This was not the case in 2015 when Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice to head the Florida Republican Party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by challenger Blaise Ignoglia.

After winning the presidential race against Hillary Clinton, President-Elect Donald Trump selected Ronna Romney McDaniel to head the Republican Party. McDaniel, the niece of Mitt Romney, replaces party chair Reince Priebus who was chosen to be Trump’s chief of staff. McDaniel served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and played a key role in Michigan voting for the Republican presidential nominee for the first time since 1988.

McDaniel will become only the second woman to chair the Republican Party, the other being Mary Louise Smith, who was appointed by President Gerald Ford to head the party in 1974. The 168 members of the Republican National Committee will confirm McDaniel at their January 2017 meeting.

With the surprising loss of Hillary Clinton, the race for party chair is wide open. As the outgoing president, Barack Obama can influence, but not select the incoming party chair. As the losing candidate, Clinton will have no voice in picking the new head of the party.

The last Democratic Party Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, left the position in the midst of widespread controversy. Bernie Sanders supporters accused Wasserman Schultz of blatant favoritism for Clinton. The scarcity of Democratic presidential primary debates and the scheduling of those debates at non-prime viewing times was a major criticism of Wasserman Schultz.

The final straw occurred when WikiLeaks released emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) showing favoritism for Clinton, led to Schultz’s resignation at the close of the Democratic convention. Her fate was sealed when Schultz was loudly booed after addressing the Florida delegation and agreed not to gavel open the convention.

Donna Brazile was selected as interim chair of the Democratic Party until a permanent chair is elected by the DNC at its February meeting. The selection of a new party chair may help mend divisions within the party, or it may further divide the party and lead to an internal civil war between the establishment and progressive forces. Three months ago, everyone thought this would be a battle that Republicans, and not Democrats would be facing. Brazile warned Democrats that they need to “pick ourselves up” and not “pick each other apart.”

If an establishment candidate wins, the progressives will be angered that their views have been once again neglected by the party and some may seek to form their own political movement. If the progressives win, the Democrats run the risk of moving too far to the left and moving even further away from voters who gravitated to Trump. A similar problem confronted Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s when Republicans effectively branded Democrats as “San Francisco Democrats” who moved too far to the left.

Among the potential Democratic Party Chair candidates are South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison and New Hampshire Party Chair Ray Buckley, along with Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison.

On December 15, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced his candidacy for party chair, and many believe he is the preferred candidate of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Ellison is backed by the progressive wing of the party and has the endorsement of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He is also supported by the outgoing Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, as well as the incoming leader, Chuck Schumer.

Critics have several concerns about an Ellison candidacy. As the only Muslim member of Congress, some are concerned that Dems will be accused of engaging in identity politics with a group that is not trusted by many American voters. Ellison’s writings have been critical of Israel and supportive of Louis Farrakhan and the Black Muslims. Ellison supported Farrakhan after he was attacked for his racist and anti-Semitic views, as well as his support for a separate state for blacks.

Another problem for Ellison is an issue that faced Wasserman Schultz. Can a sitting member of Congress have the time for both jobs and doesn’t that create conflicts of interest? Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, among others, has said the Democrats need a full-time chair. As a result of this criticism, Ellison has vowed to resign his congressional seat if selected as party chair.

Former presidential candidate and former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean flirted with serving as chair before backing away. Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm‘s name was often mentioned for the job, but she has announced that she is supporting Perez, the most recent candidate to enter the field.

Where Romney McDaniel has the race for Republican Party Chair all wrapped-up, the Democratic field is wide open, and some of the announced candidates may drop out before the February vote of the DNC; others may enter the race if they see all of the current candidates unable to attract widespread support.

Also, Democrats have had a dual chair system before, so it is possible that both an establishment and progressive candidate might emerge. Wouldn’t that make things fun?

(Part 2: Selecting the Florida party chairs)

___

Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

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