Wednesday, June 9, 2010

California Gubernatorial Primary Results

Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, won yesterday's Republican primary for governor of California. Whitman, 53, got 64% of the vote, to 26% for Steve Poizner, the state's insurance commissioner. As is the case with her ticket-mate, Carly Fiorina, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in California, this is Whitman's first run for public office.

Her general election opponent will be state Attorney General Jerry Brown, a former governor. Brown, 72, got 84% of the Democratic primary vote, against several minor candidates.

According to Real Clear Politics, polls show Brown ahead of Whitman by an average of 6.2%.

I wrote about the background of this race, here and here.

California Senate Primary Results

Two female former CEOs of major corporations won the major Republican primaries in California yesterday.

In the primary for U.S. Senate, Carly Fiorina, who formerly headed up Hewlett-Packard, easily won the Republican primary. She won 54% of the vote, while her closest challenger, former Congressman Tom Campbell, got only 24%. Fiorina, 55, is making her first run for public office. Those of us who are alumni of a certain college will note that "Carly" is short for "Carleton" (with the "e"; that makes all the difference.)

In the Democratic primary, Senator Barbara Boxer saw off token opposition, winning with 80% of the vote. Boxer, 69, has held the seat since 1993, having previously served in the U.S. House for 10 years.

Polls reported by Real Clear Politics show Boxer with a fair-to-middling lead over Fiorina.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Resignations and History

When did World War II end?

Of course, the history books tell us that May 8, 1945, was Victory in Europe (VE) Day. However, the war in Asia was still going on, and the end of the fighting can be dated from either August 15 of that year, when the Japanese announced their intent to surrender, or September 2, when the formal surrender ceremony was held.

Some would argue that the War didn't really end until German reunification, in 1990. I suppose, by the same token, an argument can be made that the true end of the War awaits a similar reunification on the Korean Peninsula. But, most would say that, by now, the War has been over for many years.

The War is a thing of the past, but its effects are still being felt in world politics. Two resignations of national leaders this week are both tied to World War II-related issues.

On Monday, the German head of state, President Horst Koehler, announced his immediate resignation. He had been strongly criticized for saying that:

A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.

Everyone knows that protecting a country's economic interests is one of the primary reasons for maintaining armed forces. Politicians will softpedal that to some degree, preferring to emphasize, for example, the protection of human rights, as in the Kosovo War of 1999.

But, in most countries, it wouldn't be considered a scandal, if the head of state were to acknowledge the economic motive. Germany, however, is not most countries. Memories of German aggression in World War II make its own people, and those of other countries, sensitive about any hint of a renewal of an aggressive German foreign policy.

The Federal Republic of Germany (then West Germany, but now governing the entire country) became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1955. Under NATO's aegis, Germany has fought in places such as Kosovo and Afghanistan. Those wars have been clearly defensive in nature, and therefore are not seen to violate the taboo about Germany using military force to further its national interests.

It was in the context of the war in Afghanistan that Koehler made his remarks. Because that statement edged too close to taboo territory, he had to go.

The following day, in Japan, that country's head of government, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, announced his resignation, to be effective when his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has chosen a successor.

The main issue in Hatoyama's case is also an outgrowth of World War II. The U.S. retained control of some Japanese islands, including Okinawa, long after Japan's main islands again became self-governing. Finally, in 1972, those islands were returned to Japanese control. However, the U.S. has continued to maintain military bases on Japanese territory. Over the years, that American presence has become increasingly controversial with the Okinawan population.

As I described in this and other posts, the DPJ's victory in last year's general election was seen at the time as a major turning point in Japanese politics. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had maintained an almost-continuous hold on power for more than half a century, was finally booted out. Hatoyama and his party were to be the wave of the future. And one of their main policy changes was to be a recalibration of Japan's military alliance with the U.S.

Hatoyama recently reneged on a campaign promise to end the American military presence on Okinawa. Strategic concerns regarding China and North Korea militated against a weakening of the American alliance at this time. But, for residents of that island, the most important consideration was that it be "Not In My Back Yard" (NIMBY). In all parts of the world, NIMBY syndrome puts personal considerations ahead of national and international interests. As was the case with Germany's Koehler, Hatoyama mishandled a post-World War II issue, so he, too, had to go.

An episode of the 1970s British TV series Fawlty Towers involved innkeeper Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) playing host to a group of German tourists. The catch-phrase of that show was "don't mention the War." Even when German and Japanese leaders don't specifically mention the War, they still need to be careful what they say and do, regarding the consequences of World War II.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oregon Primary Results

No surprises in yesterday's Oregon primary.

Senator Ron Wyden was easily renominated in the Democratic primary, receiving 91% of the vote. His Republican opponent will be Jim Huffman, a law professor, who got 42%, putting him well ahead of his opponents in a crowded Republican primary contest.

Apparently there is no poll more recent that a Rasmussen poll in February, with Wyden leading Huffman by 14 points.

The gubernatorial election will be between Democratic former Governor John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley. Kitzhaber trounced former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, 66% to 30%, in the Democratic primary. Dudley got 40% in the Republican primary, to 32% for runner-up Allen Alley.

The most recent poll reported by Real Clear Politics shows Kitzhaber and Dudley tied.

Arkansas Primary Results

Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas, fell short of renomination in yesterday's first round of voting in her party's primary. Lincoln led the field with 45% but, because she failed to reach 50%, there will be runoff between the senator and the number-two candidate, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, on June 8. Halter received 43% of the vote.

The Republicans, on the other hand, do have a nominee. Congressman John Boozman easily won the G.O.P. primary, with 53%. The runner-up, Jim Holt, a former state senator, got only 17%.

Polls reported by Real Clear Politics show Boozman ahead of both potential Democratic candidates, by almost identical margins, over 19%.

The 538 blog ranks this Senate seat as the second most likely Democratic seat to go Republican (after North Dakota).

Kentucky Primary Results

Rand Paul, a physician making his first run for public office, won yesterday's Republican U.S. Senate primary in Kentucky. Paul received 59% of the vote, while his main opponent, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, got 35%.

The result is considered a victory for Tea Party upstarts against the Republican establishment. Grayson had been endorsed by senior Republicans, including the state's senior senator, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader.

Rand Paul's father, Congressman Ron Paul, twice ran for president on a libertarian platform.

In a very close Democratic primary, Attorney General Jack Conway defeated Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo, by 44% to 43%.

Paul holds a narrow lead over Conway, according to polls reported by Real Clear Politics.

Pennsylvania Primary Results

When Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched from Republican to Democrat last year, he made no secret of the fact that his motive was to give himself an opportunity to win a sixth term in the Senate. Yesterday, his strategy backfired.

Congressman Joe Sestak defeated Specter in yesterday's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat Specter has held since 1981. Sestak's margin of victory was 54% to 46%.

The Republican primary was, as expected, won by former Congressman Pat Toomey. I mistakenly stated here that Toomey was unopposed. It's a sign of how ineffectual the campaign of his primary opponent, Peg Luksik, was, that I, a registered Republican Pennsylvania voter, who therefore received several mailings and robo-calls from Republican candidates, was not aware of her candidacy. Luksik, a perennial candidate who has never won an election, garnered only 21% of the Republican vote.

Polls reported by Real Clear Politics show Toomey slightly ahead of Sestak.

Allegheny County Executive Don Onorato won Pennsylvania's Democratic primary for governor. That was predicted by the pre-election polls. Onorato won with 44% in a multi-candidate race. His closest challenger was Jack Wagner, the state's auditor general, who got 25%.

As expected, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett easily won the Republican gubernatorial primary. Corbett got 72%, to 28% for Sam Rohrer, a state legislator.

Corbett has a comfortable lead over Onorato, according to polls reported by Real Clear Politics.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Diversity: Both Harvard and Yale

As I noted here, if Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination is confirmed, we poor oppressed Protestants will be shut out of the institution that we used to overwhelmingly dominate.

Just as Kagan's presence on the Court would mean that only two religions would be represented (Roman Catholicism and Judaism), it would also be true that only two law schools (Harvard and Yale) would have produced almost all of the nine justices.

The one exception, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who received her law degree from Columbia, had earlier attended Harvard Law School. So it is true, as noted in this National Public Radio report, that all of the nine (after a Kagan confirmation) would have been students at either Harvard Law or Yale Law.

NPR mentions certain highly-rated law schools further west, that have, up until recently, been represented on the Court. John Paul Stevens, whose retirement led to Kagan's appointment, is an alumnus of Northwestern Law School. Two recently-departed justices, the late William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor, went to law school at Stanford.

But, aside from that, there have been some justices in recent decades who attended law schools that did not sit particularly high in the ratings. Chief Justice Warren Burger got his law degree from what was then called St. Paul College of Law, later renamed William Mitchell College of Law. Thurgood Marshall graduated from Howard University Law School, and Hugo Black from the University of Alabama Law School.

During the first two years of the Burger Court, the Harvard/Yale group was in the minority (William Brennan and Harry Blackmun from Harvard, and Potter Stewart and Byron White from Yale). But William O. Douglas, a Columbia Law alumnus, made for an overall Ivy League majority.

Is there any correlation between the party of the president who nominated a justice, and which law school that justice attended? No. Including Kagan, and counting Ginsburg with the Harvard bunch, the five Republican appointees include three from Harvard and two from Yale. The four Democratic appointees include three from Harvard and one from Yale.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Governor -- Oregon -- Republican Primary

Chris Dudley, an investment manager, and former professional basketball player, is the front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor of Oregon in tomorrow's primary election, according to this poll.

Dudley, 45, played in the National Basketball Association from 1987 to 2003. He was with the Portland Trail Blazers for five seasons is two different stints, the last of which ended in 2003. This is his first run for public office.

His main primary opponent is Allen Alley, a 55-year-old businessman. He was the unsuccessful Republican candidate for state treasurer in 2008. Alley briefly served on the staff of outgoing Governor Ted Kulongoski.

Governor -- Oregon -- Democratic Primary

Governor Ted Kulongoski, Democrat of Oregon, is barred by a term limit from running in tomorrow's primary election.

According to this poll, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination is former Governor John Kitzhaber, 63. He was governor from 1995 to 2003, after having served in the state legislature for 14 years, including eight years as president of the Senate. Kitzhaber, a physician, has headed up health-related not-for-profit organizations since the end of his first stint as governor.

His main opponent is Bill Bradbury, a former Oregon secretary of state. He held that office from 1999 to 2009. Bradbury was in the state legislature from 1981 to 1995 and, for the last two years of that period, was Kitzhaber's successor as president of the Senate. He also worked in television news.

Senate -- Oregon -- Republican Primary

Oregon will hold a primary election tomorrow. There are five candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, none of whom have been elected to public office prior to this race. The Republican primary winner will face incumbent Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in November.

According to the poll reported here, the leader is Jim Huffman, a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School. Other candidates include:

Tom Stutzman, a real estate broker.

Robin Parker, a logistics analyst.

Shane Dinkel, an army officer.

Loren Later, a businessman.

Senate -- Oregon -- Democratic Primary

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, will seek his party's nomination for a third full term in the U.S. Senate, in tomorrow's primary election. He faces only token opposition from within his party.

Wyden, 61, won a special election in 1996, to replace Bob Packwood, who had resigned his Senate seat in the wake of a scandal involving sexual harassment and related charges. Wyden was subsequently reelected to two full terms. Before that, he had served in the U.S. House since 1981.

Governor -- Pennsylvania -- Republican Primary

Pennsylvania's Attorney General Tom Corbett remains the front-runner in tomorrow's Republican primary for governor.

Corbett has been attorney general since 2005. Also, he was appointed to that office on an interim basis in 1995, after Attorney General Ernie Preate pleaded guilty to mail fraud. Corbett filled out the remainder of that term, until 1997. Aside from that, he has worked in private practice, and as a federal prosecutor.

His primary opponent is state Representative Sam Rohrer, who has represented a district near Philadelphia since 1993.

I have received robo-calls from Rohrer's campaign over the last couple of days, that emphasize that he is the "conservative" Republican candidate. Corbett apparently accepts that notion, and embraces the moderate label, because he reprints this endorsement from The Philadelphia Inquirer, a newspaper with a left-wing editorial page, on his campaign website.

Pennsylvania has a history of electing moderate Republicans. Rick Santorum, who represented the state in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2007, is the most obvious exception.

Here is a report from The Morning Call, an Allentown newspaper, on polls showing Corbett well ahead of Rohrer.

Governor -- Pennsylvania -- Democratic Primary

Tomorrow is primary election day here in Pennsylvania, and the Democratic incumbent Governor Ed Rendell can't run for a third term, because of a term limit in the state constitution.

Several Democrats are vying for a chance to succeed Rendell. I described them in this earlier post.

It took a while for a front-runner to emerge but, by now, Don Onorato, county executive of Allegheny County (which includes Pittsburgh), has established a big lead in the polls.

Pennsylvania has a long-established pattern of switching back and forth between Democratic governors and Republican governors, at eight-year intervals. If that pattern holds, we will elect a Republican this year. Polls indicate that Republicans will make gains throughout the U.S. next November, which only reinforces that expectation.

But there is another pattern of alternation, between governors from the eastern and western parts of Pennsylvania. Rendell is a Philadelphian, so, this year, it is the westerners' turn. Is that why his party seems to be preferring Onorato over his primary opponents, some of whom are from the Philadelphia area?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Senate -- Pennsylvania -- Republican Primary

Former Congressman Pat Toomey is unopposed in Tuesday's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, here in Pennsylvania.

Toomey, 48, represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House from 1999 to 2005. In 2004, he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Toomey lost a close primary contest against Senator Arlen Specter, who might be Toomey's Democratic opponent this time.

In the meantime, Toomey was president of the Club for Growth, whose PAC had provided much of the financing for his primary run against Specter.

Senate -- Pennsylvania -- Democratic Primary

My home state of Pennsylvania will hold a primary election on Tuesday. Incumbent Senator Arlen Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party last year, faces a tough primary contest in his new party.

Specter, 80, was first elected to the Senate, as a Republican, in 1980. He became a Republican in 1965, when he won that party's nomination for Philadelphia district attorney, an office he went on to hold for eight years. Specter chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 2005-6 Congress.

Specter's opponent is Congressman Joe Sestak, 58. Sestak was a career Navy man until 2005. Then, in 2006, he defeated longtime Republican Congressman Curt Weldon, as part of the Democratic midterm landslide. Sestak was reelected in 2008.

Specter had a large lead in early polls, but it's now a much tighter race. Real Clear Politics reports that polls now show Sestak with a slight lead.

Senate -- Kentucky -- Democratic Primary

Two statewide office-holders are the leading candidates in Tuesday's Democratic Senate primary in Kentucky:

Attorney General Jack Conway, 40. Before becoming attorney general, in 2008, he divided his career between private practice and other state government work. Conway unsuccessfully sought a U.S. House seat in 2002.

Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo, 49. He served in the state Senate from 2001 to 2007. In 2004, he lost to Republican Senator Jim Bunning, in the previous general election for the U.S. Senate seat for which he is running this year. Mongiardo became lieutenant governor in 2007. He is a physician.

Real Clear Politics reports several polls, which average out to a five-percentage-point lead for Mongiardo.

I described the Republican primary here.

Senate -- Kentucky -- Republican Primary

Tuesday, May 18, is primary election day in Kentucky. Republican incumbent Senator Jim Bunning is not seeking reelection after having spent 12 years in each of the houses of Congress.

The main Republican candidates to succeed Bunning are:

Rand Paul, 47, an opthamologist who is making his first run for public office. His father, Ron Paul, is a congressman from Texas, who has twice run unsuccessfully for president.

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, 38. He has held his current office since 2004. Earlier, Grayson had worked in the private practice of law.

Polls reported by Real Clear Politics show Paul well ahead of Grayson.

Here is a Weekly Standard blog post that describes how Republican heavyweights, both within and outside Kentucky, are lining up in this contest.

Senate -- Arkansas -- Republican Primary

Having described next Tuesday's Democratic primary, here is how the Arkansas Republican primary shapes up:

The leading Republican candidate for U.S. Senate is Congressman John Boozman, 59. He has served in the House since 2001. Boozman is trained as an optometrist, and worked in that field before entering Congress.

Here is a report on a poll showing Boozman well ahead of several Republican rivals. The only other candidates showing more than 10% support are:

Former state Senator Jim Holt, 45. After a military career, he was, in1996, ordained as a Southern Baptist minister. Holt subsequently served one term in each house of the state legislature. He lost the general election for this Senate seat, in 2004.

State Senator Gilbert Baker, 53. He has been in the Arkansas Senate since 2001. Baker has also worked as a college teacher.

It seems as though the only open question, with this crowded field, is whether Boozman will reach the 50% mark. If not, there will be a runoff on June 8.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Senate -- Arkansas -- Democratic Primary

Arkansas will hold a primary election next Tuesday, May 18. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln is up for reelection.

Lincoln, 49, is completing her second six-year term in the Senate. She served in the U.S. House from 1993 to 1997. Lincoln chairs the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Her main opponent in the primary is Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, 49. He has held his current office since 2007. During the presidency of fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton, Halter worked in Washington in the Office of Management and Budget, and the Social Security Administration.

Lincoln has a significant lead, in polls reported by Real Clear Politics.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

No Leaving Early

Coalition negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives produced agreement regarding some fundamental changes to the British electoral system.

One of those changes is that Parliament should sit for a fixed term of five years, before the next general election. That will end the traditional practice, which I described here and here, of allowing the prime minister to set the election date.

The other method of cutting short the term of a Parliament has been the vote of no confidence. By a simple-majority vote, the House of Commons has been able to, in effect, fire the prime minister. Under the coalition agreement, that will still be allowed, but it will require a supermajority of 55%.

A no-confidence motion could be blocked by 294 MPs. The Conservatives, with 306 seats (and possibly 307 after the delayed vote in one constituency), could defeat such a motion, unless (as if often the case for a governing party) their numbers are eroded over the next five years via by-election losses.

In the short term, the effect will be to lock the two coalition parties into their deal, and not enable either of them to bring about the scenario that many had expected, i.e., another general election within a year or so, to try to resolve the deadlock, and produce a parliamentary majority for one party or another.

In the long run, it will probably change British politics in ways that are neither intended nor anticipated.

Also, the two parties are committed to a referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote system for electing the House of Commons. That method is sometimes called Instant Runoff Voting, and I described it here, in an American context.

While falling short of the Liberal Democrats' ultimate goal of proportional representation, Alternative Vote might increase support for that party in future elections, and make coalition negotiations, such as those that have taken place over the last few days, commonplace in Britain.

The Dust Settles

After a wild day in British politics yesterday, the situation has become more clear by this morning. Major U.K. media outlets were live-blogging all day, and all sorts of contradictory stories were being posted. After all that, I'm not totally sure that all of the following is finally final, but here is how things look as of now:

David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, became prime minister Tuesday evening, several minutes after Gordon Brown resigned that office.

Some hours after that, the Liberal Democrats approved their party's participation in a coalition government with the Conservatives. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is deputy prime minister.

William Hague, 49 (an old man by the standards of this government), is foreign secretary. He has been a member of Parliament (MP) since 1989. Hague was elected leader of the Conservative Party in the wake of the party's landslide defeat in the 1997 general election. He held that position until 2001, when he resigned after leading the party into another landslide loss, in the 2001 general election.

George Osborne, a 38-year-old Conservative, is chancellor of the exchequer. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 2001. Osborne became shadow chancellor when Cameron took over as party leader in 2005.

The BBC has provided a summary of the Cabinet appointments so far, including the names of four Liberal Democrats in the Cabinet.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Prime Minister

David Cameron became prime minister of the U.K. this evening (London time). In contrast to a head-of-government transition in the U.S., which involves a huge outdoor ceremony, the British hand-over of power occurs in a private meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, in which she invites him to form her government.

British media are making much of the fact that, at the age of 43, Cameron is the youngest prime minister in 198 years. However, he is less than one year younger than Tony Blair was, when he had a similar meeting with The Queen, in 1997.

An odd story is emerging. After Cameron's predecessor, Gordon Brown, had delayed his resignation for five days after the general election, once he decided to leave, he reportedly was in such a hurry, that he didn't confirm with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats that their coalition was in place, before he resigned. According to a blog on the website of The Times, Liberal Democrats were "hacked off" at Brown, for upsetting the timing of the coalition negotiations.

There's still no official word on the shape of the coalition. There are several media reports that Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, will be deputy prime minister. While that has been a somewhat meaningless title in single-party governments, I suspect it might carry more weight in a coalition government. For example, in Britain's World War II coalition government under Winston Churchill, Labour leader Clement Attlee, as deputy prime minister, was more of less in charge of domestic policy, while the prime minister was preoccupied with the war.

The circumstances are different, now. But Cameron may need to allow Clegg to play a major role, in order to keep Clegg's party committed to the coalition.

It's Over

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown emerged from 10 Downing Street a few minutes ago, and announced that he is headed to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to The Queen. Contrary to his statement yesterday of his intent to eventually resign as leader of the Labour Party, this resignation will take effect immediately.

He is changing his plan regarding his role as leader of the party. Brown will also resign that position effective immediately.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders have been reported to still be engaged in a marathon meeting to hammer out the final details of their coalition government.

I assume that Brown's statement means that those talks are completed. David Cameron, who will be prime minister in the coalition government, will need to follow closely on the heels of Brown to the Palace, because any delay would leave Britain without a prime minister.

Shifting Sands

As London's afternoon goes by, media commentary from there has shifted once again, back to the notion that the Liberal Democrats will form a coalition government with the Conservatives.

More and more senior Labour Party figures are publicly stating their opposition to a deal between their party, the Liberal Democrats, and nationalist parties in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

For one thing, they are alarmed by the proportional representation proposals that have been put on the table, in Labour-Liberal Democrat talks.

At least one major Labour figure has stated something that is rather obvious, that his party could not co-exist with Scottish Nationalists in a coalition government. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is a Scotsman, and his government, and that of his Labour predecessor Tony Blair, have been dominated by Scotsmen at the highest levels. It has been a high priority for them to head off the movement for an independent Scotland, which is spearheaded by the Scottish National Party (SNP). The coalition arithmetic doesn't work without the SNP's six members of Parliament (MPs).

The Times reports that Liberal Democrat MPs will meet at 7:30 tonight (2:30 pm EDT), and speculates that they might at that time approve a coalition with the Conservatives.

UPDATE: London media are now reporting that a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition looks like a sure thing, and that Brown's resignation as prime minister could happen as early as tonight. There is even a report that moving vans are assembling at the back door of 10 Downing Street.

Paraphrasing Shakespeare

When historians of British politics look back on the events of this week, they might say that nothing in Gordon Brown's political career became him like the leaving of it.

Brown's announcement yesterday that he would give up the leadership of the Labour Party within the next few months had what seems to have been its intended effect. That was to shift the Liberal Democrats' focus away from a potential coalition with the Conservative Party, and toward a coalition with Labour and some of the small regional parties.

Despite the Liberal Democrats' rhetoric about giving the Conservatives the first chance to form a government, it now seems as though they have maneuvered themselves into a position of being able to choose between Labour and the Conservatives as coalition partner. A report this morning on the BBC World Service opined that Brown's announcement caused this shift in focus.

There was really no news in Brown's statement. Everyone assumed that he would be leaving, one way or the other. If Labour ends up being shut out of government, his own party will want to replace him. On the other hand, if Labour enters into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, that latter party will probably insist on Brown's resignation as a necessary condition for entering into an agreement.

But, apparently, the timing of it, and the language of it, might turn it into a game-changer. Having said that, it's still quite possible that a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition will come together. If Brown's gambit succeeds, however, observers will be amazed that a leader thought to have a tin ear and a bad sense of timing, finally gave an example of eloquence and effective timing, right at the end of his time as party leader. Hence, the above paraphrase from Macbeth.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Where have all the Protestants gone?

During the first 47 years of the existence of the U.S. Supreme Court, all of the justices were Protestant. The first Roman Catholic on the Court was Chief Justice Roger Taney, the author of the infamous Dred Scott decision, which held that African Americans were not citizens with standing to sue in federal court, and which contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War.

Although their monopoly had been broken, Protestants continued to dominate Supreme Court appointments for many decades.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis as the first Jewish justice.

Another milestone was passed in 1994, when Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish, was nominated by President Bill Clinton. For the first time, Protestants were in the minority; there were four of them, serving with three Roman Catholic justices, and two Jewish justices.

Now, if Elena Kagan, who is Jewish, is confirmed to replace John Paul Stevens, there will for the first time be no Protestants on the Court. Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito and Sotomayor are Roman Catholic, and Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, and Justice-designate Kagan are Jewish.

None of this is to say either that 1) I think adherents of any religion are inherently more qualified for any government office, including Supreme Court justice, than adherents of any other religion; or 2) I feel oppressed as a white, male, Protestant (my being gay is another matter).

I just find it interesting that there has been such a quick and thorough turnaround from such a strong preference for Protestant justices. Much has been said about the predominance of judges from the northeast, with Ivy League credentials, on the current Court. But those numbers make clear that this Eastern Establishment is not the same Eastern Establishment that existed before about 1980.


Throughout the weekend, the tone of much of the commentary surrounding negotiations between Britain's Conservatives and Liberal Democrats regarding the formation of a government in the wake of last Thursday's inconclusive general election, was to the effect that those two parties had passed a point of no return. Therefore, that line of reasoning went, they need to do whatever is necessary to complete a deal, and cannot back down. In part, that was based on the notion that the financial markets would react badly to a failure of their talks.

Now, there are increasing signs that a coalition led by Labour and the Liberal Democrats remains a real possibility. Two developments reinforce that impression:

First, it came to light by this morning that, while Conservative-Liberal Democrat negotiations were ongoing, senior Liberal Democrats also met, secretly, with a high-level group from the Labour Party (which did not include that party's leader, Prime Minister Gordon Brown).

Second, Brown announced today that he will resign as party leader. He suggested a timetable under which his successor would be chosen before Labour's conference next autumn. It has been obvious for some time that Brown could not continue as leader in the long term. But the timing of this announcement appears calculated to jump-start talks between his party and the Liberal Democrats, who have made it clear they do not want to participate in a Brown-led coalition. Brown's statement included a disclosure that "Mr [Nick] Clegg [the Liberal Democrat leader] has just informed me that, while he intends to continue the dialogue he has begun with the Conservatives, he wishes now to take forward formal discussions with the Labour Party."

Policy differences between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives constitute the main stumbling block to a deal between those two parties. But, the question of who will be prime minister appears to be the biggest issue standing in the way of a Labour-Liberal Democrat alliance.

Brown had already been criticized for being prime minister for almost three years before facing the voters, as leader, at a general election. If a new Labour leader now becomes prime minister, that situation, viewed by some as undemocratic, will only be prolonged.

Another complication for Labour and the Liberal Democrats is that they don't have enough seats between them to constitute a majority. Therefore, such a coalition would also need the support of Welsh and Scottish nationalists.


When President Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, in 1981, O'Connor was a judge on a state appellate court in Arizona. Since then, all new justices have been judges on federal circuit courts of appeals.

In October of 1971, President Richard Nixon was presented with the unusual situation of appointing two new justices simultaneously. John Marshall Harlan II had retired the previous month, three months before his death from cancer. Also in September 1971, Hugo Black retired, just days before his death, following a stroke.

Nixon's two nominees were William Rehnquist and Lewis Powell. Rehnquist had been in private practice in Phoenix, and was an assistant attorney general in Nixon's administration. Powell's entire legal career had been in private practice. Those two justices are the most recent ones who had no experience as a judge, prior to joining the Supreme Court.

That's a bit misleading, however. Clarence Thomas had been an appeals court judge for less than two years, when President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the Supreme Court. Thomas's previous experience had been in state government, and in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

David Souter had been a federal appellate judge for less than five months when he became an associate justice, also having been appointed by the elder Bush. Souter, however, had been a judge in the New Hampshire state judiciary for 12 years.

Now, President Obama has nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. She has never been a judge. There has already been much talk about whether someone from that background is qualified to join the Supremes, and there will be much more of that, during the next few weeks.

Those on one side of the argument say that long-time judges bring a uniformly sterile view of constitutional concepts, with insufficient appreciation of the impact of those concepts on everyday life.

The counterargument is that, when politicians join the Court, they are the ones who are most likely to legislate from the bench, judging according to their policy preferences, rather than the dictates of applicable law.

That's an interesting question. As with all issues connected to modern Supreme Court nominations, it will probably generate more heat than light. But I hope for at least some enlightened debate on the topic.

Elena Kagan

Quite a few names were mentioned as candidates to succeed retiring Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, but, as it turned out, the appointment went to the one who had been considered the front-runner from the beginning. This morning, President Obama announced that he will nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 50, to the Supreme Court.

She was appointed to her current job by Obama in 2009. According to the Department of Justice website: "The Office of the Solicitor General is tasked to conduct all litigation on behalf of the United States in the Supreme Court, and to supervise the handling of litigation in the federal appellate courts." Kagan is a former law professor, who also worked in the White House counsel's office during Bill Clinton's presidency. Her bachelor's degree is from Princeton, and her law degree from Harvard.

I recently commented on my other blog about some discussions regarding Kagan, during the search process.

Kagan is 30 years younger than former Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and 27 years younger than Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But, as was the case with those other women, Kagan had her share of "first woman to" situations. She is the first female solicitor general, and was the first female dean of Harvard Law School.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Negotiations are in full swing in Britain between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats regarding cooperation in forming the U.K.'s next government. In the runup to Thursday's inconclusive general election, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that those two parties would negotiate an arrangement under which the Liberal Democrats would refrain from voting a Conservative minority government out of office.

By now, there are indications that they might be looking toward forming a coalition government, with Cabinet positions split between the two parties. The Daily Telegraph reports that "the Tories denied they had offered three specific Cabinet seats to the Lib Dems – home secretary, transport secretary and Treasury chief secretary – but did not rule out Lib Dems having roles in a future coalition cabinet." The Times similarly reports that "Cameron is understood to be ready to offer at least three posts to Clegg’s team."

In terms of policy, one of the big issues is the Liberal Democrats' longstanding advocacy of proportional representation for House of Commons elections. Before the election Prime Minister Gordon Brown committed his Labour Party to a referendum on changing the voting system. But the Conservatives have consistently opposed any change to the so-called "first past the post" system, under which each constituency elects a single candidate to Parliament, with the winner being the top vote-getter, regardless of whether that vote total constitutes a majority of the overall vote.

According to The Times, "in a sign that the parties are moving closer to a settlement, senior Lib Dems indicated that voting reform is unlikely to be a “deal breaker”. That is consistent with other Liberal Democrat statements since Thursday.

In the past, when no one party has a House of Commons majority, the remedy has been minority government. Under that structure, the largest party holds all of the Cabinet jobs, and the role of smaller parties is limited to a pledge not to vote the government out of office, in exchange for policy concessions.

But coalition government is not unknown. Majority parties have brought other parties into the government at times of national crisis, for the purpose of achieving broader acceptance of difficult government actions. Those crises have included World War I, the Great Depression and World War II.

The use of the coalition concept to create a majority government that wouldn't otherwise exist is a common practice in many other parliamentary democracies, but would be a new experience for the British.

Friday, May 7, 2010


One of the uncertainties in the current British political situation is how long it will take to resolve the questions of who the next prime minister will be, and what shape his government will take.

Under similar circumstances in 1974, then-Prime Minister Ted Heath resigned on the Monday following an inconclusive Thursday election, after conducting failed coalition talks. Some commentators expect similar timing this year.

A blog on the website of The Daily Telegraph, a London newspaper, give some clues on the timing question:

Lib Dem sources describe Cameron's offer as a "significant step". He will meet with his new parliamentary party tomorrow [Saturday] afternoon.

The first face-to-face talks between the Tories and Lib Dems are due to take place tonight [Friday], after David Cameron and Nick Clegg chatted on the phone earlier, the BBC reports.

The BBC's Nick Robinson predicts that the Browns will be packing their bags and moving out of Downing Street within days after Nick Clegg and David Cameron thrash out a deal over the weekend.

Coalition negotiations in some parliamentary democracies go on for weeks. Because the British rarely face these circumstances, I suppose we can't rule anything out. I suspect that the most likely scenario under which negotiations would be extended over a long period of time, would involve a breakdown in negotiations between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

It would obviously take additional time, if negotiations had to restart from square one, if Labour then became the Liberal Democrats' interlocutor. Also, Labour-Liberal Democrat negotiations might be more complicated by the fact that, unlike a Conservative-Liberal Democrat alliance, a Labour-Liberal Democrat combination would require at least the tacit support of the nationalist parties outside England, because Labour and the Liberal Democrats do not have enough combined seats to constitute a majority.

Aside from the timing question, there are some interesting quotes on that Telegraph blog about the possible nature of an alliance between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats:

Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister, says Tory concessions to the Lib Dems to strike a deal would be a "price worth paying".

William Hague says cabinet jobs for Lib Dems are not off the table. He said "there must be a lot of scope to talk" about the subject of electoral reform between the two parties. He said Cameron has taken the initiative.

Looking back at my prediction

The British general election results are as close to final as they're going to be, in that the vote in one constituency is postponed, due to the death of a candidate.

Here are the results in 649 of the 650 constituencies (with my predictions in parentheses):

Conservative 306 (300)
Labour 258 (255)
Liberal Democrat 57 (68)
Other 28 (27)

I overestimated Liberal Democrat support. While realizing that the major gains that were indicated by earlier polls would not come about, I didn't realize that the party would actually lose seats.

Keep her out of it

A report on the BBC website addresses an issue I discussed here, which is the role (or lack thereof) of Queen Elizabeth II in the confusion about who should be prime minister of the U.K. following yesterday's inconclusive election.

While, formally, the monarch appoints the prime minister, a king or queen wants that to be a mere formality, after the issue has been decided by the electorate and the parties. Two reasons: 1) a perception that a monarch were engaged in partisan politics would weaken public support for the monarchy, perhaps resulting in a move to replace the monarch with an elected president; 2) the appointment of a prime minister with insufficient support in the House of Commons could immediately be overturned by a no-confidence vote in the House.

As the party leaders go through their mating dance, I'm sure they will keep in mind the need to avoid any scenario that would put the Queen in an awkward position. In addition to the difficulties for her, I would think that could create a backlash against the party of any leader who is perceived as having caused such a situation.

Shall we do it again?

Yesterday's U.K. general election was the first one since 1974 in which no party won a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

A February 28, 1974, election gave Labour a four-seat lead over the Conservatives, even though the Conservatives got more votes. That Labour total was short of an overall majority.

Over the following weekend, the incumbent Prime Minister Ted Heath, a Conservative, unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a coalition with smaller parties. In the current situation, the incumbent, who in this case is from the Labour Party, wants to make a similar attempt, and I suspect he will be just as successful as Heath was.

Once Heath resigned, the then-leader of the Labour Party, Harold Wilson, returned to 10 Downing Street, at the head of a minority government.

But that situation didn't last long. On October 10, 1974, there was another general election. In that one, Labour won a tiny overall majority. They soon lost that majority through by-election losses, but were able to limp on for four-and-a-half years, until they lost a no-confidence vote. That resulted in the general election of 1979, when Margaret Thatcher led the Conservatives back to power, which they subsequently held for 18 years.

If the current situation plays out as expected, and David Cameron leads a Conservative minority government, the question becomes whether there will be a snap general election within a year or so. Peter Riddell, writing in The Times, a London newspaper, thinks the answer is "yes".

If so, will the result of a second general election be any different from yesterday's? For one thing, Labour may well have a new leader by then. If Gordon Brown fails to emerge at the head of a coalition government, it seems likely that he will be replaced as party leader, perhaps by Foreign Secretary David Miliband. That would test to what degree Labour's defeat is attributable to Brown's personal unpopularity, as opposed to a broader verdict against his party.

U.K. General Election

As expected, the Conservative Party emerged from yesterday's British general election as the largest party in the House of Commons, but short of an overall majority.

The situation is still unclear, but it seems likely that the Conservatives' leader, David Cameron, will become prime minister, and will reach an understanding, but not a formal coalition, with the Liberal Democrats. If that is going to happen, it is not clear when it will happen, or exactly what sequence of events will lead up to it.

The nearly-complete results, as reported by the BBC, currently stand as follows:

Conservative 301
Labour 255
Liberal Democrat 56
Other 27
Undecided 11

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Labour leader, has let it be known that he's interested in forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said that the Conservatives, with the largest vote total, and largest number of seats, should be given a chance to form a government. Brown has backed off, and said he respects the right of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives to enter into discussions about a Conservative-led government.

Presumably, if/when Cameron and Clegg indicate that they've come to an agreement that is sufficient for such a government to be formed, Brown will resign, and the Queen will summon Cameron to Buckingham Palace to formally designate him as prime minister. It's impossible to tell, at this point, whether that will happen quickly, or take some days or weeks to be concluded.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Exit Poll

The BBC has reported on its website on an exit poll of voters who voted in today's British general election. The poll projects the Conservative Party falling just short of an overall majority.

The Liberal Democrats would actually lose seats, according to that poll, which would be a major disappointment. Poll numbers in the middle of the campaign indicated that they might make major gains.

If those projections are correct, a coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats wouldn't be feasible.

The BBC brings up another possibility, i.e., that unionist MPs from Northern Ireland might be sufficient to shore up a Conservative government. The Liberal Democrats, and their leader Nick Clegg, might be shut out of the picture, after all.


A prediction of the outcome (in terms of seats in the House of Commons) of today's British general election:

Conservative: 300
Labour: 255
Liberal Democrat: 68
Other: 27

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Next Steps

If, as expected, the British give no one party a House of Commons majority in tomorrow's general election, what happens next?

Apparently, there is an unwritten rule that the incumbent prime minister is given the first chance to form a government. That is typical of British constitutional principles. The so-called "British Constitution" is not a single written document, as is the case with most other countries, including the United States. Instead, it is a set of precedents, some of which are codified by acts of Parliament.

An article in today's Financial Times addresses how those precedents might apply to this situation:

Some Whitehall old hands are puzzled that both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have appeared to question the convention that allows Gordon Brown, as the sitting prime minister, the first opportunity to form a government. “It is absolutely the correct interpretation [of the rules] and if they feel that’s a rum deal they can challenge that in parliament,” said one who pointed out the practice was intended to ensure continuity.

That points up the tricky nature of dealing with an unwritten "constitution".

The article goes on to describe the roles of leading permanent civil servants in the process:

Sir Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary, is reshaping Whitehall practice to facilitate discussion while protecting the monarch, the integrity of the civil service and continuity of government. He is one of a “golden triangle” of senior officials – that includes Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Downing Street permanent secretary, and Christopher Geidt, private secretary to the Queen – with crucial behind-the-scenes roles in ensuring a smooth and stable transition after election day should there be a change of government.

One key consideration from their standpoint is:

ensuring the Queen is not “dragged into politics”. “She’s very loathe to be put on the spot,” said one person familiar with the conventions. “The strength of the system is that Her Majesty never has to use any of her latent powers.”

As I described here, a non-political head of state, such as Queen Elizabeth II, might intervene if there were a major crisis threatening her country's democracy. The need to negotiate a coalition government, while being an unfamiliar ritual to the British, would not constitute such a crisis. The Queen does not want to decide who the next prime minister will be, if it's at all possible for her to avoid doing so.

As a practical matter, coalition-building would largely involve the Liberal Democrats, and their leader Nick Clegg, deciding to back either the Conservatives or Labour. Some reports have indicated that Gordon Brown's resignation will be the price Labour will need to pay for a coalition. There are hints that Clegg may be willing to work with a successor to Brown, perhaps Foreign Secretary David Miliband, or Ed Balls, the secretary of state for children, schools and families. On the other hand, I don't think that a Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition can be ruled out.

Wonder where the yellow went

The Liberal Democrats' poll gains seem to be fading away, on the day before the British general election. According to the BBC, that party has fallen back into third place, after having inched ahead of Labour in some earlier polls.

The BBC's "poll of polls" puts the Liberal Democrats three points behind second-place Labour. The numbers are: Conservatives 35%, Labour 29%, and the Liberal Democrats 26%. The Liberal Democrats' high hopes of a second-place (or even first-place) finish seem to be disappearing. If that trend continues, they might not poll much (if any) ahead of the 22.6% they got at the most recent general election, in 2005.

Despite a six-percentage-point Conservative lead, the BBC projects that those poll numbers would equate to only 270 Conservative seats, with Labour winning 272 seats, and 79 for the Liberal Democrats.

But, even if the Liberal Democrats merely replicate their 2005 total of 62 seats, they would still hold the balance of power in a "hung Parliament".

The BBC page with its seat projections includes an interactive calculator to vary those projections based on any hypothetical split of the vote. According to that application, the Conservatives would need to gain an additional 3.2 percentage points at the expense of Labour (i.e., up to 38.2%), in order to establish a razor-thin overall majority.

The headline on this post applies an old toothpaste slogan to the official color of the Liberal Democrats. They are yellow, in contrast to the Conservatives' blue, and Labour's red.

May 4 Primary Results

No surprises in yesterday's primaries for senator and governor.


Former Senator Dan Coats easily won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Coats got 39%, to 29% for state Senator Marlin Stutzman, and 23% for former Congressman John Hostettler. Observers had called this primary a race between three factions: Coats representing the Washington GOP establishment, Stutzman as the Tea Party candidate, and Hostettler as libertarian. Perhaps an oversimplification, but there seems to be a good deal of truth in that analysis.

The state's Democratic Central Committee will meet on May 15 to choose the Democratic candidate. They are expected to nominate Congressman Brad Ellsworth.

Polls reported by Real Clear Politics for the general election matchup show Coats leading Ellsworth by double-digit margins.


There will be a runoff primary for the Democratic nomination. North Carolina's Secretary of State Elaine Marshall got 36%, to 27% for her main opponent, former state Senator Cal Cunningham.

State law sets 40% as the threshold for nomination; because no candidate reached that mark, there will be a runoff on June 22.

Incumbent Republican Senator Richard Burr won his party's primary with 80% of the vote.

Real Clear Politics reports polls showing Burr comfortably ahead of both of the remaining Democratic candidates.


As expected, Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher easily defeated Ohio's Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, by a margin of 55% to 45%, in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Former Congressman Rob Portman was unopposed for the Republican nomination.

Polls indicate a close contest in the general election, according to Real Clear Politics.

Republicans had done very well in Ohio until recent years. Republican Mike DeWine won a U.S. Senate seat in the GOP landslide of 1994. Then, George Voinovich was elected to succeed Democratic Senator John Glenn, in 1998. Voinovich and his fellow Republican, Bob Taft II, between them held the governorship from 1991 to 2007. Then, Taft's approval ratings fell to single digits, after he pleaded no contest to charges that he had illegally accepted gifts. The Republican brand has been tarnished in Ohio since 2006. In that year, DeWine lost a reelection bid to Democrat Sherrod Brown, and Democrat Ted Strickland was elected governor.

So, in a Republican year, in what has traditionally been a swing state, a high-profile GOP candidate still faces a tough fight.


There were no contested primaries. Governor Strickland is in a very tight race with the Republican nominee, former Congressman John Kasich, according to Real Clear Politics.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tory Momentum?

Over the past few days, I've read several media reports about the upcoming British general election that state that the Conservative Party (a.k.a. the Tories), and their leader David Cameron, are gaining momentum as election day approaches (day after tomorrow).

But the opinion polls don't show much movement. The Liberal Democrats made a major gain after the first of the three unprecedented televised debates between the party leaders. Since then, the polls have put the Conservatives in the low-to-mid 30s, (in terms of percentage of the overall vote) with Labour and the Liberal Democrats close together in the high 20s.

The BBC projects that, based on its "poll of polls", an average of the results of several surveys, the Conservatives will win 278 seats, which would be the largest total, but well short of the 326 required for an overall majority. That projection puts Labour at 261 seats, with 82 going to the Liberal Democrats.

The reports of pro-Tory momentum sound credible, so I won't be too surprised if the election produces a small Conservative majority. However, it still seems likely that they will win a plurality, but not a majority.

That would put Britain into uncharted waters. Countries such as Germany expect to enter into protracted coalition negotiations after a general election. Those talks can go on for weeks. The British, on the other hand, are used to voting on Thursday and, if they decide to throw out the governing party, seeing the new prime minister move into 10 Downing Street on Friday.

This time, instead of wrapping things up on Friday, the fun might be just beginning.

How is Britain coming to resemble Canada?

The expectation is still that, when the U.K. votes in its general election on Thursday, no party will win an overall majority in the House of Commons.

That sort of outcome has become standard operating procedure in one of Britain's former New World colonies, Canada.

2000 saw the last Canadian general election in which a party (the Liberals) achieved an overall majority in the House of Commons. Four years later, the Liberals won a plurality of seats, and formed a minority government. Two subsequent general elections followed in quick succession, in 2006 and 2008, in an unsuccessful effort to break that impasse. The Conservatives have led a minority government since 2006.

As I see it, there are close parallels between the circumstances that created that situation in Canada, and those that have led to the expected deadlock in Britain. In each case, the sequence of events has been: 1) a third party makes a significant gain in seats, and 2) the main center-right party experiences a resurgence.

In Canada, the third party is the Bloc Quebecois, which I described in this post. Pro-independence Quebecers left the other parties, and formed their own party at the federal level. Siphoning off votes from the established parties, the Bloc made it more difficult for any party to win an overall majority.

In three elections between 1993 and 2000, that wasn't a problem. The center-right was split, so the Liberal Party could amass a majority, even with the loss of some Quebec seats. But, by 2004, the center-right had united under the banner of a new Conservative Party, and the Liberals lost their majority. Later, they fell from power, as the Conservatives overtook them, albeit short of a majority of their own. As of now, a Conservative minority government elected in 2008 continues to govern.

In the U.K., the ascendant third party are the Liberal Democrats. Formed in 1988, via a merger of the Liberal Party, a once-major party that had long since fallen into third place, with the Social Democrats, a centrist faction that had recently broken away from the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats made steady gains in subsequent general elections.

But, as was the case with the Canadian Liberals, the British Labour Party became so dominant during the 1990s, that they were able to put together large majorities, even while the Liberal Democrats were gaining seats of their own.

Now, the U.K. Conservatives are overcoming their post-Thatcher hangover, and achieving their best poll numbers in many years. However, those poll numbers point to, at best, a small overall majority, and, quite possibly, a plurality of seats that falls short of a majority. Further gains by the Liberal Democrats during the current campaign may well contribute to such a result.

If Thursday's British election plays out that way, the question will become: is the U.K. fated to experience a series of inconclusive general elections, as their friends across the ocean have done?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Senate -- Indiana -- Democratic Primary

There isn't one.

Tomorrow is primary election day in Indiana but, after incumbent Democratic Senator Evan Bayh abandoned his reelection campaign, the filing deadline came and went, with no other Democrat qualifying to get on the primary ballot. Therefore, the Indiana Democrats' central committee will choose a nominee.

That group is virtually certain to select Congressman Brad Ellsworth, 51, who has represented an Evansville-area district in the U.S. House since 2007. In the Democrats' 2006 landslide, Ellsworth defeated six-term Republican incumbent John Hostettler, who is a candidate in the Republican primary to nominate Ellsworth's opponent in this Senate race.

Ellsworth had previously worked in law enforcement, having been a sheriff at the time of his election to Congress.

Republicans accused Bayh of timing his withdrawal announcement so as to guarantee that party insiders could choose the Democratic nominee, and avoid a primary.

Senate -- Indiana -- Republican Primary

There are three main candidates in tomorrow's Republican primary in the race to choose the successor to Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, who unexpectedly dropped out of the race in February:

Former Senator Dan Coats, 66. He was in the U.S. House from 1981 to 1989, and the Senate from 1989, when he was appointed to replace Dan Quayle, who had been elected vice president, until 1999. Coats was ambassador to Germany during George W. Bush's first presidential term. After that, he joined a Washington law firm.

Former Congressman John Hostettler, 48. His tenure in the House matched the Republicans' most recent period in the majority. Hostettler was first elected in the Republican landslide of 1994, and he was defeated for reelection when the Democrats regained control of the House, at the 2006 election. Trained as an engineer, he worked in that field before being elected to Congress. Since his defeat, he has worked in publishing.

State Senator Marlin Stutzman, 33. Stutzman, a farmer, has served in the state legislature since 2002, first in the House, and then, since 2009, in the Senate.

Here is a report from The News-Sentinel, a Fort Wayne newspaper, regarding a poll showing a comfortable lead for Coats.

Governor -- Ohio -- Republican Primary

Former Congressman John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, is unopposed for his party's gubernatorial nomination in tomorrow's primary.

Kasich, 57, represented a Columbus-area district in the U.S. House from 1983 to 2001. When his party took control of that body in 1995, he began a six-year stint as chairman of the House Budget Committee. He had previously served in the state Senate for four years.

After leaving Congress, Kasich worked for several years for the now-defunct investment bank Lehman Brothers. He has also appeared frequently on FOX News Channel.

Governor -- Ohio -- Democratic Primary

Governor Ted Strickland, Democrat of Ohio, is unopposed in his party's primary, scheduled for tomorrow, for a second term in that job.

Strickland, 68, has been governor since 2007. Earlier, he served 12 years in the U.S. House, representing a district in the southeastern corner of the state, bordering West Virginia. Before entering the political arena, Strickland worked as a psychologist.

Senate -- Ohio -- Democratic Primary

There is a two-way race in tomorrow's Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Ohio, to choose the opponent of Rob Portman, who is unopposed in the Republican primary. The Democratic candidates are:

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, 53. She was elected to that office in 2006, after having worked in the private practice of law, and as a judge.

Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher, 58. He has extensive experience in public office in Ohio, including 10 years in the state legislature, and one four-year term as state attorney general. Fisher has served in his current office since 2007. He twice unsuccessfully ran for governor.

Fisher has a substantial lead over Brunner in polls reported by Real Clear Politics.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Senate -- Ohio -- Republican Primary

Next Tuesday, May 4, will be primary election day in Ohio. Republican Senator George Voinovich is not seeking reelection. Voinovich, a former mayor of Cleveland, and later governor of Ohio, has represented that state in the Senate since 1999.

Rob Portman, 54, is unopposed in the Republican primary, in the race to succeed Voinovich. Portman has repeatedly jumped back and forth between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

He held some White House staff jobs during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. In 1993, he was elected to the U.S. House, representing a district near Cincinnati. Portman remained in Congress for 12 years, before being appointed U.S. Trade Representative and, subsequently, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in the administration of George W. Bush.

Senate -- North Carolina -- Democratic Primary

A handful of Democrats are vying in the May 4 primary for their party's nomination to oppose Republican Senator Richard Burr. Two Democratic candidates appear to be the front runners:

Former state Senator Cal Cunningham, 36. He served one term in the state Senate, from 2001 to 2003. A lawyer, Cunningham did a tour of duty in Iraq as an Army reservist.

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, 64. She was elected to her current office in 1996, after serving four years in the state Senate. In 1996, her Republican opponent was professional auto racer Richard Petty. This is Marshall's second run for the U.S. Senate; she lost the Democratic primary in 2002 to Erskine Bowles, who went on to lose to Republican Elizabeth Dole.

Polls reported by Real Clear Politics show Marshall slightly ahead. There will be a June 22 runoff, if no candidate receives at least 40% of the votes.

Senate -- North Carolina -- Republican Primary

North Carolina will hold its primary election next Tuesday, May 4. The Republican incumbent Senator Richard Burr is running for reelection.

Burr, 54, was first elected to the Senate in 2004. After John Edwards gave up his Senate seat to run for vice president, Burr defeated his Democratic rival Erskine Bowles, who had been White House chief of staff during Bill Clinton's presidency. Burr had represented a district in the northwestern corner of the state, in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2005.

Burr carries the dubious distinction of being a distant relative of Vice President Aaron Burr. Aaron Burr is one of only two vice presidents to have shot someone while in office. And his episode was much more serious than the hunting accident involving Dick Cheney. Burr's victim Alexander Hamilton, died after his duel with Burr. After leaving office, Burr was charged with treason in connection with a plot to set up a rival republic on the western frontier; he was acquitted.

Richard Burr faces token opposition in the primary from three Republican challengers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


As I noted here, regarding retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and his predecessor, and here, regarding Supreme Court justices generally, people tend to stay in that job for a long time. Unlike most presidential appointees, they are not shuttled out of office with every change of administration.

But longevity in the seat Stevens is vacating has been exceptional. Just coincidence, I suppose, but interesting to a trivia buff like me.

The third-to-last justice in that seat was Louis Brandeis, who was appointed by Woodrow Wilson in 1916. (As an aside, Brandeis was the first Jewish justice, which ties into my discussion of identity politics and the Court, earlier today, on my other blog.) A short-timer by the standards of his two successors, Brandeis was on the Court for almost 23 years.

Brandeis's successor, William O. Douglas, appointed by Franklin Roosevelt, set a record, by serving as an associate justice from 1939 to 1975. After suffering a stroke, Douglas reluctantly agreed to retire from the Court. Stevens has held the seat since being appointed by Gerald Ford in 1975.

The seat that is the second most longevity-prone, by that measure, is that of Anthony Kennedy (Hugo Black 1937-1971, Lewis Powell 1971-1987, and Kennedy since 1988).

The seat with the most turnover is Stephen Breyer's. Still, not much turnover; three justices since 1965: Abe Fortas 1965-1969, Harry Blackmun 1970-1994, and Breyer since 1994. Breyer has one longevity record, which I described here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nick Clegg

As I mentioned yesterday, the Liberal Democrats have been gaining in the polls for the May 6 British general election, ever since their leader Nick Clegg put in a good performance in a televised debate last week. That gives rise to an obvious question: who is Nick Clegg?

Clegg, 43, was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2007. He was first elected to the House of Commons at the most recent general election, which was held in 2005.

Educated at Cambridge, Clegg spent time in two of my favorite places, before and after university. During what the British call a "gap year", before Cambridge, he worked for a while at a bank in Helsinki, the capital of the homeland of my maternal ancestors, Finland. Then, as a graduate student, Clegg studied for a year in my native city of Minneapolis, at the University of Minnesota.

After five years on the staff of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, Clegg was elected to the European Parliament, in 1999. He remained in that legislative body until 2004. The Liberal Democrats have consistently been the most pro-EU of the major British parties, so it's not surprising that their leader has had such close connections with that organization.

Clegg returned to England in 2005 to run for Parliament from the constituency of Sheffield Hallam, in the county of South Yorkshire. That had been considered a safe Conservative seat, until a Liberal Democrat won in 1997, the year of the Conservatives' landslide defeat. The Liberal Democrats have held the seat in the meantime, and Clegg won with 51% of the vote in 2005, as compared to only 30% for his nearest rival, the Conservative candidate.

Clegg quickly moved into a "frontbench" position, becoming his party's Home Affairs spokesperson in 2006. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats were having issues with their leaders.

Paddy Ashdown, a dashing former Marine and spy, led the party from the 1988 merger that formed it, until 1999. Sort of James Bond in politician's garb. The party did well under Ashdown's leadership, winning 46 seats in the House of Commons in 1997.

His successor, Charles Kennedy, had a less military bearing than Ashdown. But he continued the Liberal Democrats' uphill climb, increasing their total to 52 seats in 2001 and 62 in 2005. Kennedy's main opponent was not Labour or the Conservatives, but rather the bottle. As alcoholism led to increasingly erratic performance of his duties, Kennedy resigned as leader in January 2006.

Sir Menzies Campbell, who was deputy leader at that time, was elected to replace Kennedy. Sir Menzies represented a safe pair of hands, but, at the age of 64, many Liberal Democrats considered him to be past his prime. After an unhappy 19 months as leader, Sir Menzies resigned in October 2007.

Over the past few years, each of the British parties has tried turning to a Fresh Young Face when seeking a new leader. It worked well for Labour, after they chose the 41-year-old Tony Blair, in 1994. The Conservatives did less well with the 36-year-old William Hague, in 1997. Whether the Conservatives' current leader, David Cameron, who was 39 when chosen in 2005, can win a general election is very much an open question at the moment.

Despite that mixed record, the Liberal Democrats elected Clegg, who was then 40 years old, in 2007. Early indications are positive, in light of the party's poll numbers. The BBC reports on its website that its daily averaging of poll results has improved further for Clegg, putting his party in second place, two points ahead of Labour. This BBC report indicates that the other major parties have, presumably as a result of those numbers, been increasingly targeting Clegg and his party.

As a footnote, I will describe the candidates' joint television appearances as "debates", because they have so labeled them. However, I have not changed the opinion I explained here, that they are not really debates, but merely joint press conferences.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Great Debate

Last Thursday, the U.K. saw an event that was new to their political system: a televised debate between major party leaders during a general election campaign. Most of the speculation before the telecast centered on the leaders of the two largest parties.

David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, is a better television performer than Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who heads the Labour Party. However, Cameron, whose party has been leading in the polls, presumably has more to lose than the embattled prime minister.

No one seems to have considered the impact of the party that is currently the third largest in the House of Commons, the Liberal Democrats, being put on equal footing with their larger rivals. Nick Clegg, who has led the Liberal Democrats since 2007, participated in the debate against Cameron and Brown. There seems to be a consensus that Clegg "won" the debate.

Today, the BBC News website has posted poll results showing a major bounce for the Liberal Democrats. The BBC has average out the results of several polls, and shows the Conservatives in first place with 33%, and Labour and the Liberal Democrats tied for second at 29%. Normally, the Liberal Democrats are well down into third place, somewhere around 20%. In the 2005 general election, they got 22.1% of the vote, 13 percentage points behind Labour.

From the 1850s to the 1920s, the Liberal Party was one of the two major parties in Britain's two-party system, opposing the Conservatives. Liberal support collapsed in the general election of 1924. They continued on, as a minor party, for several decades. Labour replaced them as the Conservatives' main opposition. The Liberals won as few as six seats in the House of Commons in some 20th-century elections.

Their fortunes changed during the 1980s. In 1981, a centrist faction left Labour to form the Social Democratic Party. In 1988, that group merged with the Liberals, and the combined party is now called the Liberal Democratic Party. They were still the third party, but won 62 seats in 2005, more than they held at any time between 1924 and 1983.

In the runup to the current campaign, there was much speculation about the Liberal Democrats' potential role as a coalition partner to either Labour or the Conservatives in the event of a hung Parliament. If the current poll results prove to be more than a fluke, the question will become whether the Liberal Democrats can emerge as the largest party.

The next debate will be Thursday, April 22. We'll see what effect that has on this unexpected story line.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

30 Years Ago 13: Playoffs

What I've been calling the greatest hockey season in history, that of 1979-80, did not end with the American victory at the Winter Olympics, which I described here. The professional season continued, and culminated in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Montreal Canadiens have historically been the most dominant franchise in the National Hockey League (NHL). And the late 1970s constituted one of their most dominant periods. At the end of the 1978-9 season the Habs (Les Habitants is a rough translation of their name into the official language of their province) won the Stanley Cup (the NHL's championship trophy) for the fourth consecutive year. Their won-loss record was 16-3 in those four best-of-seven final series.

20 years earlier, Montreal had won the cup five years in a row. Would they repeat that feat, by winning it in 1980?

In order to accomplish that, they would need to win four rounds of playoffs. The Habs took the first step on April 11, 1980, when they completed a three-game sweep of the Hartford Whalers. Their next opponent: the Minnesota North Stars.

The North Stars had already established themselves as giant-killers, as I described here. But now they had to travel to the most storied venue in their sport, the Montreal Forum, to take on the defending champions.

Undaunted, the Minnesota team won game one of the best-of-seven series, by a score of 3-0, on April 16. Then, 30 years ago today, the North Stars continued their stunning road success, by winning game two with four goals to one for the Canadiens.

Home ice advantage was now with the North Stars, as the teams prepared for games three and four at Met Center, in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington. A comeback after losing the first two games of a playoff series at home is one of the most difficult feats in sports. Could even the legendary Montreal club perform such a miracle?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Republicans and Democrats are gearing up for a fight over President Obama's as-yet-unannounced next Supreme Court nominee. We can, of course, expect strong disagreements about the fitness of any Obama appointee. But the fact that the two sides can't even agree on the history of Supreme Court nominations over the past few decades gives some indication of how stormy the debate might become.

This article in Politico quotes some Senate Democrats as saying that Obama shouldn't even attempt to garner bipartisan support for any nominee:

“I think we need to push someone who would be on the liberal side, on the progressive side, just as Roberts and Alito are on that side,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), referring to Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who were both confirmed in George W. Bush’s administration. “Why do conservatives always get the conservatives, but we don’t get to get liberals? What the hell is that all about?”

Not everyone agrees with Harkin's historical analysis.

On the Power Line blog, Scott Johnson quotes from an article by Stuart Taylor, about why conservatives hardly ever get the conservatives:

One reason why so many Republican appointees have turned out to be more liberal than the presidents who picked them has been the difficulty of getting nominees with conservative paper trails through the Senate.

The point is that many justices who were appointed by Republican presidents have ended up at various places on the spectrum between left-wing and center-right, such as Earl Warren, William Brennan, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. But what about Democratic nominees?

Democrats Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman totally remade the Court during their combined 20 years in the White House. But, since then, Republicans have appointed 17 justices, to only seven for the Democrats.

Justices such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, the two who were appointed by Bill Clinton, have been reliably liberal on issues such as affirmative action, LGBT rights, and the status of enemy combatants. However, there are legal theories that are more radical than the positions taken by Ginsburg and Breyer and, presumably, those are the ideas backed by Senator Harkin and likeminded colleagues.

As usual, I believe that the truth lies somewhere between these polarized viewpoints.

On the strategic question regarding the upcoming nominee, the Democrats appear to believe that the Republicans cannot hold all 41 of their senators together to sustain a filibuster against Obama's choice. Unless that person is particularly a lightning rod (a sort of leftist version of Robert Bork), they're probably correct.

Friday, April 9, 2010

John Paul Stevens

For only the second time since 1939, the Supreme Court seat held by Associate Justice John Paul Stevens is coming open. Stevens announced today that he plans to retire at the end of the Court's current term. He had telegraphed his intention well in advance, so no one is surprised by his retirement.

Stevens, 89, was nearing records for being both the oldest and the longest-serving Supreme Court justice in history. He has made clear that his longevity on the Court has not been based on an ambition to break those records.

The oldest justice was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who was 90 years old when he retired in 1932. Stevens would have surpassed that mark, had he stayed on the Court into the early months of 2011.

The longest-serving justice was William O. Douglas, Stevens's predecessor, who was appointed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, and retired in 1975. That was when President Gerald Ford appointed Stevens as an associate justice. Stevens would have broken that record in 2012.

For the second consecutive year, President Obama will appoint an associate justice. As was the case with David Souter's 2009 retirement, the atmosphere in Washington will be slightly less heated than it might otherwise be, because Stevens, although he was appointed by a Republican president, is classified as being part of the Court's liberal wing. Therefore an Obama nominee will not be expected to change the ideological balance among the justices.

However, as we saw with the nomination and confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year, there is no longer any such thing as a non-controversial Supreme Court appointment. I doubt that the Senate's unanimous confirmation of Stevens's appointment will be repeated for his successor.