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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Wisconsin and Minnesota: A One-Sided Political Competition

03/05/15 01:59PM

Wisconsin and Minnesota have long made fascinating bookends. As longtime readers may recall, the two neighboring states have similar sizes, similar populations, similar demographics, and even similar climates. But they don't necessarily have similar politics, at least not lately.
In the 2010 elections, the Badger State elected Scott Walker (R) governor and gave control of the legislature to Republicans, while the Gopher State made Mark Dayton (D) governor and elected a Democratic legislature. The former got to work targeting collective bargaining and approving tax cuts, while the latter raised taxes on the wealthy and boosted in-state investments.
Nearly five years later, one of these two states is doing quite well. Policy.mic had an interesting report this week.
Since 2011, Minnesota has been doing quite well for itself. The state has created more than 170,000 jobs, according to the Huffington Post. Its unemployment rate stands at 3.6% -- the fifth-lowest in the country, and far below the nationwide rate of 5.7% -- and the state government boasts a budget surplus of $1 billion. Forbes considers Minnesota one of the top 10 in the country for business.
As Patrick Caldwell recently explained very well, Minnesota's gains come on the heels of tax increases on Minnesota's top 2% and higher corporate taxes, both of which state Republicans said would crush Minnesota's economy. As for their neighbors to the east:
By a number of measures, Wisconsin hasn't fared as well as Minnesota. As the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal reports, Wisconsin's job growth has been among the worst in the region, and income growth is one of the worst in the country. It has a higher unemployment rate than Minnesota. And the budget is in bad shape.
Back in January, the editorial board of LaCrosse Tribune wrote, "The governors of Wisconsin and Minnesota each presented their versions of new year's resolutions in various media interviews last week....Which approach is better? As we enter the new year, Minnesota is clearly winning by a long shot."
Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. (Photo by Reuters)

War-weariness fades; most Americans support ISIS ground war

03/05/15 12:40PM

ISIS leaders have made no secret of their hopes for a ground war against U.S. military forces. It's unexpected, but most Americans apparently want the same thing.
American voters support 62 - 30 percent sending U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, with strong support across all party, gender and age groups, according to a Quinnipiac University National poll released today. [...]
A total of 69 percent of American voters are "very confident" or "somewhat confident" that the U.S. and its allies will defeat ISIS. Only 39 percent of voters are concerned that U.S. military action will go "too far" in getting involved in the situation, while 53 percent are more concerned the U.S. military "will not go far enough in stopping ISIS."
The results were surprisingly one-sided. Support for sending U.S. ground troops spans gender, age, and even partisan lines.
This is obviously just one survey, but a CBS News poll released a few weeks ago pointed to very similar results, suggesting this is a pretty accurate reflection of public attitudes.
It wasn't long ago that much of the political establishment described the American mainstream as "war weary" following tragedies in Iraq and Afghanistan. As surprising as it may be, it seems that weariness had faded.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.5.15

03/05/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* Hillary Clinton commented on her email controversy for the first time last night. "I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them," she said via Twitter. "They said they will review them for release as soon as possible."
* Jeb Bush has been on the offensive over the email story, but he's run into complications: "[Bush] owns the server that runs, the personal email account he used as governor to conduct official, political and personal business. Asked who controls the server that operates that email address, Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell responded: 'He owns it.'"
* In a new national Quinnipiac poll, Scott Walker leads the Republican presidential field with 18%, followed closely by Jeb Bush with 16%. Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee are tied for third with 8% each, followed by Ben Carson with 7% and Rand Paul with 6%.
* In the same poll, Clinton leads each of likely Republican rivals in hypothetical match-ups, leading Bush by three, Marco Rubio by five, Walker by nine, and Cruz by double digits.
* To the surprise of no one, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a leading House Dem, announced yesterday that he will run for Sen. Barbara Mikulski's (D) seat next year in Maryland. He'll almost certainly face a crowded Democratic primary.
* In North Carolina, PPP's latest survey shows Gov. Pat McCrory (R) narrowly leading state A.G. Roy Cooper (D) in next year's gubernatorial race, 43% to 41%.
Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback speaks to supporters in Topeka, Kansas, on Nov. 4, 2014. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Faced with a crisis, Brownback reconsiders 'Obamacare'

03/05/15 11:20AM

Plenty of Republican governors, including a few White House hopefuls, are facing alarming budget shortfalls right now, but no one's in worse shape than Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R). The far-right former senator imposed an "experiment" on his state, and it's failed spectacularly.
Massive tax breaks Kansas couldn't afford have led to debt downgrades, weak growth, and state finances in shambles. Making matters worse, confronted with weak statewide job growth and a deepening budget shortfall, a judicial panel recently ruled that Kansas has been "inadequately funding K-12 education." Brownback, not surprisingly, can't afford the fix.
How dire have things gotten for the beleaguered Republican governor? The Lawrence Journal-World in Kansas reports that Brownback is starting to reconsider his contempt for the Affordable Care Act (via Daniel Strauss).
Gov. Sam Brownback suggested Wednesday that he might consider proposals to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, provided the Legislature can identify a way to pay for it.
"I've been pushing that anything we do on Medicaid expansion has to be 100-percent paid for," Brownback said during impromptu remarks to the Kansas Association of Insurance Agents, who met at the Statehouse on Wednesday.... Brownback's comments, which came in response to a question from one of the insurance agents, stood in stark contrast to his remarks on the campaign trail last year when he said he strongly opposed the federal health care law, also known as Obamacare, and criticized his Democratic opponent Paul Davis for supporting it.
To be sure, the governor isn't officially on board, at least not yet. But Brownback was willing to say yesterday, "I haven't said we'll take it. I haven't said we wouldn't." In this case, "it" is Medicaid expansion through the ACA.
And as you'd probably guess, the Kansas Republican has never said anything close to this before.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.

Mitch McConnell's message to states: ignore the EPA

03/05/15 10:40AM

One of the top political headlines in the New York Times this morning reads, "McConnell Urges States to Defy U.S. Plan to Cut Greenhouse Gas." If that sounds a little drastic, it is, but more importantly, the headline happens to be true.
President Obama unveiled an ambitious agenda last summer to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. The goal was specific and important -- a 30% cut in emissions by 2030 -- though the administration told states it would have some flexibility in how it reaches the target.
This week, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote a piece for the Lexington Herald-Leader in which the Republican lawmaker had a very different message for states weighing how best to proceed.
Don't be complicit in the administration's attack on the middle class. Think twice before submitting a state plan -- which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits -- when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won't be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism.
Refusing to go along at this time with such an extreme proposed regulation would give the courts time to figure out if it is even legal, and it would give Congress more time to fight back. We're devising strategies now to do just that.
So for now, hold back on the costly process of complying. A better outcome may yet be possible.
It's pretty bold advice. The Senate Majority Leader is effectively telling state officials to not only ignore the climate crisis, but also to ignore the EPA and federal regulations. How? By waiting to see if judges derail the administration's policy.
In effect, McConnell wants states to gamble: defy federal policy, refuse to submit plans, and hope the courts rule against the White House.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (L) holds a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) on the second straight day of talks over Tehran's nuclear program in Vienna, on July 14, 2014.

New group shows how not to debate U.S. policy in Iran

03/05/15 10:00AM

International talks with Iran over nuclear policy are still ongoing, and the status of the diplomacy seems to shift by the day. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told NBC News yesterday, "We believe we are very close, very close, but we could be very far."
But given the relative progress, it's not too soon for policymakers around the world to start evaluating the prospect of an agreement. The potential for a historic breakthrough is real, and if a deal comes together, it should be the subject of a spirited debate.
That debate, however, should be mature and reasonable -- which means it should be the opposite of the intended direction of the American Security Initiative.
Three former senators have launched a new 501(c)(4) -- the American Security Initiative -- to pressure policymakers to address the "potential threat posed to America by Iranian nuclear proliferation" -- and their first public foray is a chilling one.
The group, headed by former Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn) is going up [Wednesday] with a $500,000 ad buy insinuating America could be the target of a nuclear attack.
If the ad-makers were aiming for "brazen demagoguery," they succeeded. The 30-second spot shows a terrorist driving a van into parking garage in an urban building -- and then exploding. A narrator tells viewers. "Tell Washington: No Iran nuclear deal without Congressional approval,"
Seriously, Evan Bayh? You chose to be associated with this on purpose?
The ridiculous ad will reportedly air in D.C., Lexington, Ky. and Springfield, Ill., apparently in the hopes of pressuring Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
And if there's any justice, both the lawmakers and their constituents will ignore such brazen nonsense. It's the laziest and most offensive way to debate national security: do what I say or terrorists will kill us all.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address, Jan. 13, 2015, in Trenton, NJ. (Photo by Julio Cortez/AP)

Christie's office guided controversial Exxon settlement

03/05/15 09:10AM

We've been keeping a close eye on a controversy out of New Jersey, which continues to get more interesting by the day. To briefly recap, after Exxon damaged more than 1,500 acres of wetlands in northern New Jersey, the state filed an $8.9 billion lawsuit. The case progressed in the state's favor -- Exxon's culpability was effectively already decided. The only remaining question was how much the oil giant would pay in damages.
Last week, however, New Jersey settled the case. After seeking $8.9 billion -- $2.6 billion for environmental restoration and $6.3 billion in compensatory damages -- the state agreed to accept just $250 million. That's roughly 3% of the original target, and most of that total would go towards closing the governor's budget shortfall, rather than environmental repair.
On the show last night, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D) told Rachel, "We want to find out who engineered this. Was it the attorney general's office? Was it [the state's Department of Environmental Protection] or was it maybe someone in the governor's office?"
The latest New York Times report seeks to answer that question.
For more than a decade, the New Jersey attorney general's office conducted a hard-fought legal battle to hold Exxon Mobil Corporation responsible for decades of environmental contamination in northern New Jersey.
But when the news came that the state had reached a deal to settle its $8.9 billion claim for about $250 million, the driving force behind the settlement was not the attorney general's office -- it was Gov. Chris Christie's chief counsel, Christopher S. Porrino, two people familiar with the negotiations said.
Bradley Campbell, the commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection when the lawsuit was first filed, argues today that Christie's chief counsel "inserted himself into the case, elbowed aside the attorney general and career employees who had developed and prosecuted the litigation, and cut the deal favorable to Exxon."

Jobless claims climb to 10-month high

03/05/15 08:40AM

With new monthly job numbers just a day away, the latest news on initial unemployment claims isn't what we were hoping to see.
The number of Americans seeking first-time unemployment benefits rose last week, but the number is still consistent with an economy that is adding jobs.
Initial jobless claims increased by 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 320,000 in the week ended Feb. 28, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 296,000 new claims.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 19 of the last 25 weeks. On the other hand, we've been above 300,000 five of the last eight weeks.
Dr. Ben Carson speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, March 8, 2014.

Ben Carson trips over 'gay issues'

03/05/15 08:00AM

Ordinarily, when a political figure makes the transition from credible, mainstream voice to cover-your-eyes crank, the shift is gradual and takes years (cough, Rudy Giuliani, cough). But in the case of right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the shift was much quicker.
In fact, it happened quite suddenly two years ago, when Carson compared gay people to "NAMBLA [and] people who believe in bestiality." After initially flubbing an apology and blaming critics for quoting him accurately, the Republican personality eventually walked back his comments. Carson's reputation hasn't been the same since.
Two years later, his anti-gay attitudes are still tripping him up. CNN aired an interview with Carson yesterday in which he said homosexuality is "absolutely" a choice. As proof, the likely Republican presidential candidate added, "A lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight -- and when they come out, they're gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question."
After initially telling Sean Hannity that his comments were CNN's fault, Carson eventually apologized via Facebook.
"In a recent interview on CNN, I realized that my choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues," the statement begins, continuing, "I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended." [...]
"No excuses. I deeply regret my statement and I promise you, on this journey, I may err again, but unlike politicians when I make an error I will take full responsibility and never hide or parse words."
This attempt at taking responsibility would have been more compelling if (a) Carson didn't have an ugly track record on LGBT issues; and (b) hadn't tried to blame CNN a few hours earlier.
But taking one step further, I'm curious about a related angle: how does Carson decide which of his outrageous comments warrant an apology?

The Christie connection and other headlines

03/05/15 07:44AM

Christie's office drove Exxon settlement, ex official says. (New York Times)

Hillary Clinton urges State Dept. to make her emails public. (AP)

Democrats fret as Loretta Lynch's nomination languishes. (New York Times)

No clear way forward for Authorization for Use of Military Force against ISIS. (Politico)

Rep. Chris Van Hollen to run for Sen. Barbara Mikulski's seat. (AP)

David Koch backs gay marriage at the Supreme Court. (Washington Free Beacon)

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea doing 'well' after attack. (BBC)

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