Mark Curtis's blog

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- June 8, 2014

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – Happy 3rd Birthday to “The Sunday Political Brunch!” This has been my weekly venue to talk about national politics, especially in the critical two-year election cycle; while I also have my day-job covering state and local politics in New England. Pretty soon I will start making my quadrennial ventures to New Hampshire to start talking about the 2016 Presidential campaign. But first we need to get through the 2014 midterm elections and what a ride that will be. Election Day is now just five months away!

“What’s at Stake?” – The big prize this year will be control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans are likely to maintain strong control of the U.S. House and the majority of Governorships. But the main battle is for control of the U.S. Senate where Democrats hold a 55 to 45 advantage over Republicans, since two independents caucus with the Democrats. While a ten-seat lead looks impressive, Democrats are defending far more seats this year. All the GOP has to do is turn six seats, and it will have a 51 – 49 majority.

“Four Square” – The most hotly contested races are in four states where Democrats currently hold the Senate seats: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina. Polls indicate all are toss-ups right now. Even if Republicans will all four, they must find two other seats elsewhere. Those two seats are likely in South Dakota and Montana, where Republicans are favored to replace two retiring Democrats.

“The Spoilers” – Don’t count Democrats out just yet. They are going be to competitive to two solid red states - Georgia and Kentucky. In Georgia, former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn’s daughter has a real shot at winning a Republican seat that has opened due to retirement. And perhaps the marquee race in the nation is in Kentucky, where Democrats have a competitive shot at ousting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. If Democrats win just one of these seats, they are likely staying in power.

“The Outliers” – Sometimes an unforeseen issue pops ups from out of the blue and creates an unexpected advantage for one side. Such may be the case with President Obama’s controversial trade of five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo, for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan. Many in Congress – including a lot of Democrats – are angry at the President. As Democrats, they are forced to run on his record, not just their own. As one longtime Democratic Congressman told me during the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998, “I’ve got to defend this? [the Lewinsky scandal]. It’s not my problem; it’s not my fault; it’s so unfair,” he said. Just ask all the Republican Members of Congress who lost their seats after Watergate! The bottom line – the President may have created a big political problem for his own party. It’s called the “reverse coattail effect.”

“Here Comes the Gov!” – My two favorite Governor’s races – and I think the two to watch – are in my former home states of Wisconsin and Florida. In Wisconsin controversial Republican Governor Scott Walker is seeking a second term, after beating back a recall effort two years ago. If Walker wins, he immediately becomes a mid-tier GOP Presidential hopeful. If he loses, his political career is likely over. In Florida, it’s more of a curiosity. Can Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist regain the job he gave up to run for U.S. Senate? And can a Democrat win a Senate seat if a Florida Republican is the Presidential nominee? (meaning Former Governor Jeb Bush or Senator Marco Rubio). Again the Cheese State and the Sunshine State are the ones to watch!

“ZZZZZzzzzzzzz” – The U.S. House may be just plain dull this year. University of Virginia Political Scientist Larry Sabato is charting just nine House races (out of 435) as “toss ups” this year. He ranks another 33 as either “leans Democrat” or “leans Republican.” The bottom line, without a significant number of competitive races this year, the Democrats have little, if any, chance at winning back the House or even closing the GOP majority by much.

“The Ones to Watch” – As always, some people with famous family names are running this year. Democrat Gwen Graham – daughter of former U.S Senator and Governor Bob Graham (D-FL) - is running for a Congressional seat from Tallahassee. In Georgia, Jason Carter – grandson of President Jimmy Carter – is running for Governor against incumbent Republican Nathan Deal. Even another Bush is on the ballot as George P. Bush – Jeb’s son – is running for Texas Land Commissioner. If nothing else, politicians make for fun people watching!

What’s the hot race in your state? Just drop me a line by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: ABCNews.com

“The Sunday Political Brunch” – June 1, 2014

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – The resignation of Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki did not come as a big surprise on Friday. Over 100 Members of Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – had called for him to step down, and when you get squeezed by both parties, it’s usually time to go. It made me think about Cabinet resignations of the past – some with scandal; some not – so General Shinseki is hardly breaking new ground here. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“On the Road Again” – The Veterans Administration is a mess; a disgrace of backlogged medical appointments for those who served this country bravely and bear the physical and mental consequences. To portray Shinseki as anti-Veteran is foolish. He was a decorated and wounded combat veteran and Four-Star General who served three Presidents – Clinton, Bush II and Obama. But being a General is one thing; having to serve as a politically charged Cabinet Secretary is quite another. Yes, the problems pre-dated him, but they weren’t getting them fixed under his tenure either. Success in politics (and public policy) – like many endeavors – is about results.

“The Butz of Many Jokes” – Perhaps the most infamous Cabinet resignation was that of Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz who served in the Nixon and Ford Administrations (photo above). Butz had a habit of putting his foot in his mouth. In 1976 Butz was on a flight to the Republican National Convention when he made a joke about – and I am heavily censoring here – various anatomical attributes of African-Americans. Butz had previously mocked the Pope’s position on birth control with a faux Italian accent saying, "He no playa the game, he no maka the rules." Between the two outbursts, his resignation was a fate acompli.

“Watt Did he Say?” – You’d think maybe the Republicans would have learned a lesson from Earl Butz – don’t make off color jokes within earshot of others – especially reporters. But just seven years after the Butz scandal, Interior Secretary James Watt said of an environmental committee he had assembled, "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent." His resignation came a short time later. Watt had previous criticized the Fourth of July concert performers on the National Mall – the Beach Boys and the Grass Roots – for “attracting the wrong element” with drugs and alcohol. Whoops – the Beach Boys were friends of President Reagan and Vice President Bush. Watt was out!

“Oh, Doctor!” – Technically speaking, the U.S. Surgeon General is not a Cabinet post, but given its prominence in controversial public health debates; it might as well be. The job and the doctor are usually big headline makers, given the stature and respect of Drs. Luther Terry and C. Everett Koop. In December 1994 Dr. Jocelyn Elders suggested that – and I will put this gingerly – self-stimulation might be a good form of birth control, saying, "I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught." President Bill Clinton had been a longtime friend and ally of Dr Elders, since his days of supporting her as Arkansas Director of Health. But, his patience ran out. Her resignation was swift and certain.

“Life or Death!” – Sometimes it’s a social controversy that ensnares a Cabinet member; other times it is a grave public policy decision. In 1980 President Carter authorized an attempted rescue mission of the hostages in Iran. The plan failed badly when a military helicopter crashed in the desert and eight were killed. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance – who strongly questioned the rescue mission -- abruptly resigned. That kind of headline doesn’t help an incumbent in an election year. Six months later, President Carter was voted out of office in a one of the worst landslide defeats in American history.

“Why All This Matters?” – Being a Cabinet Secretary is a huge honor, and a huge responsibility. Sometimes it is largely symbolic – with underlings doing all the work – while the Secretary is there for political loyalty. But, there is a Golden Rule of the Presidential Cabinet – never make the boss look bad. Look, Eric Shinseki is an American war hero and a decorated solider (not to mention degrees from West Point and Duke). Earl Butz – despite his tasteless jokes – was considered one of the foremost authorities on American agriculture (with a degree from Purdue). But the sun shines only on one person (or the black cloud hovers above him), and that person is the President. If you make him look bad, chances are you’re gone!

What do you think? Do you have a favorite story about a failed Cabinet member? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtuisMedia.com.

© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: White House Archives

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