Looking out on the floor of the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland, you'd never think that the 2010 elections have been an utterly catastrophic disaster for the Democratic party. As I'm typing this, there's a conga-line—or something close to it—forming on the floor below the stage, and a dozen or so couples are cutting a rug to the swing band up above. Occasionally, the crowd will get restless, and a chant of "Jer-ry! Jer-ry!" will begin, and then sputter out after a few short bursts. They're all here for Jerry Brown, the state's once-and-future governor (and secretary of state, and attorney general, and mayor of Oakland), who's just defeated Meg Whitman and is expected to address supporters here later tonight.
California might be the one state in the union tonight where Democrats can feel legitimately good (if still a little confused) about the way things turned out. Sure, they'll lose a few House seats, but Barbara Boxer held onto her senate seat, and Brown, despite a $141 million-challenge from former eBay CEO Whitman, returned the governor's mansion to the Democrats for the first time in seven years. Proposition 23, the ballot provision that would have reversed the state's progressive climate change law, went down to defeat. All is well for Golden State Democrats. Or at least as well as you'd hope, given the circumstances.
"I don't care what's going on in the rest of the country," says Marianne Kearney-Brown of Napa. "Because we're gonna have Jer-ry Brown!”
Really, the only real setback was the defeat of Prop 19, which would have legalized marijuana. But to the provision's supporters, who assembled just down the street from Brown's victory party, in the parking lot of the pot-centric Oaksterdam University, losing was hardly the end of the world.
As Nela Mendoza of Oakland explained to me, "If it passes, well, fuck, we'll burn, dude! And if it doesn't pass...we'll burn anyway." Word.
Photo: Tim MurphyThe most dedicated progressive activist of the 2010 election cycle might be a 63-year-old hippie from Dayton named "Ganja Santa." Ganja (needless to say, a stage name), spent Saturday's Sanity Rally in San Francisco alternatively posing for pictures in a pot-green Santa suit, and riding around Civic Center Plaza on a beer cooler that's been retrofitted with handlebars and four wheels (a nifty contraption he calls "the cruiser cooler").
He moved to California earlier this year solely to help rally support for Proposition 19, the California ballot provision that would legalize Marijuana. "I was in Dayton, and I just thought, 'Man, if I'm sittin' here and Prop 19 fails, I'll never forgive myself," he said. On Wednesday, win or lose, Ganja Santa will pack up his belongings and return to Ohio.
It's the kind of commitment, if not necessarily the kind of outfit, Democratic campaigns wish they had more of in 2010. By now, you've probably read about yesterday's big Comedy Central rally on the Mall (or as MoJo's Suzy Khimm put it, "Ironypalooza"). Like any half-decent Tea Party-spinoff, though, the DC rally was only a part of the story; statellite viewing parties sprang up in dozens of cities, from the usual suspects (Seattle, Chicago) to the less so (Rapid City, South Dakota, home of the world's most sinister Richard Nixon statue).
In San Francisco, the crowd of about 700 that showed up to watch the main event on the big screen left as soon as it ended, opting not to stick around in the drizzle for the scheduled stand-up comedians, mime troupe, costume contest, and lecture on the virtues of "non-violent communication."
Some of you may remember Texas state senator/shock-jock Dan Patrick as the man who once proposed curtailing abortion by encouraging women to sell their babies giving $500 tax credits to women who choose adoption instead. Yesterday, Patrick announced the formation of the state senate's Tea Party Caucus, a sort of Lone Star State answer to the group Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann formed in July.
It's more or less what you'd expect: Caucus members are required to sign the "Pledge With Texans" (pdf), a Contract with America-style agreement that blends the impossible, the absurd, and the absurd once more: Balance the budget...while cutting taxes; selectively assert Texas' 10th Amendment rights; fight voter fraud by making it harder to vote. All well and good—up until the last plank: "I pledge to advance, support, and vote for legislation that lawfully protects Texas and Texans from the fiscal and social costs of illegal immigration."
That's really what this is about. Conservatives are going to win a lot of seats in a lot of different places this year by making promises—like repealing the Affordable Care Act and slashing the deficit—that they simply won't be able to make good on, either because it'd be extraordinarily unpopular, or because it's just bad for business. Immigration, as Texas Monthly's Nate Blakeslee explains quite well (subscription), is the fight Texas Republicans really don't want. Or rather, it's the fight the party's ultra-influential donors, like homebuilder and Swift Boater Bob Perry, really, really don't want. But Patrick and his frustrated allies are crashing toward a confrontation with his party's establishment. From Blakeslee:
[Top lobbyist] Bill Miller said the party's big moneymen were watching closely, however quiet they may seem. "If they see this thing getting any traction," he said, "they'll pick up the phone and they'll make it unmistakable where they're coming from on this issue, which is, Are you guys out of your mind?"
In case you missed it, Bob Smietana at the Tennessean has a must-read investigation following the money behind the self-styled "Anti-Jihad" activists fueling the backlash against a planned mosque in Murfreesboro. Conclusion: It's kind of a racket:
Former Tennessee State University physics professor Bill French runs the Nashville-based, for-profit Center for the Study of Political Islam. He spoke recently to a group of opponents of the Murfreesboro mosque gathered at a house in Murfreesboro...
"This offends Allah," said French, pointing to the flag on the wall. "You offend Allah."
French, who has no formal education in religion, believes Islam is not a religion. Instead, he sees Islam and its doctrine and rules—known as Shariah law—as a totalitarian ideology.
"Center for the Study of Political Islam" sounds harmless, right? It gets worse, though. Last year, Steven Emerson, founder of the totally innocuous-sounding Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation, funneled $3.4 million from IPTF (a tax-exempt non-profit) to a for-profit company he also founded, SAE Productions. The two organizations share the same address in Washington, DC, and in both cases, he's the only executive.
Last week I told you about "Miss Liberty America," the beauty pageant that, among other things, will evaluate contestants based on marksmanship (rifles and pistols only), CPR, fitness, and knowledge of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. I referred to it, somewhat in jest, as "the first-ever Tea Party beauty pageant." This morning I received a message from Alicia Hayes-Roberts, sister of Tea Party presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, and founder of the pageant. Her concern? Being tagged as a Tea Party operation might be bad for business.
"We don't want to be associated with that," Hayes-Roberts told me. "We're a corporation, we are a for-profit operation, and I can't have that."
For one thing, she explained, Miss Liberty America is hoping to promote diversity (the judging panel "will consist equally of African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian judges to more closely represent America"), and Hayes-Roberts is concerned that the Tea Party tag might complicate matters. For another, she just doesn't consider the event's core message to be anything out of the mainstream. "This fringe
you've got fringe on the left, fringe on the right. I want to be associated with what the meat of America is."
"I'm trying to bring people together, not separate people. And there are some organizations that do nothing but segregate people."
So let me clarify: Miss Liberty America is not a Tea Party pageant; it's just a beauty pageant that awards a lifetime NRA membership to the winner, has a goal of "restoring Liberty to the United States" and promotes "personal responsibility," employs a North American Union-fearing presidential candidate as its Chief Financial Officer, and quizzes its contestants on the founding documents. For the record.