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The Top Ten Political Stories of 2018 - Sunday Political Brunch December 30, 2018

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Spending the final week of 2018 in the sun and the sand of Florida is my way to end a year. The Sunshine State has been my “second home” since 1984, when I moved here for graduate school, and to work many years in radio and television. It remains one of the top-three most critical states in the nation when it comes to political ebbs and flows. With that in mind, here is my “Top Ten” list of political stories of 2018.

1) “Cabinet Upheaval” – The big story towards the end of 2018 was the resignation – then dismissal – of Defense Secretary General James Mattis. At the same time, the White House Chief of Staff’s position was vacant, as was the Secretary of the Interior, and Attorney General (though acting secretaries were serving). U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley departed as well. In all, seven of Trump’s original Cabinet of 16 have departed, and of the eight positions deemed Cabinet-level, four have also changed hands. Of the 12 presidents in my lifetime, there has never been such turmoil and turnover, not even in the upheaval of the Nixon administration during Watergate.

2) “November Split Decision” – The November election was a mixed bag, ending with divided government. Republicans still hold the White House and control of the Senate, but Democrats made huge gains sweeping into the majority in the House. There are two paths here: cooperation and compromise on issues and legislation; or gridlock and dysfunction. I predict you’ll see a bit of both, although 2018 hardly ended that way! Hey, there’s even a Trump coin you can buy!

3) “Market and Economic Ups and Downs” – It’s been a year of highs and lows and roller-coaster-like ups and downs in the markets. Spurred on by the Trump tax cuts (really born from the GOP Congress long before he came around, but nonetheless significant); the full-employment picture; and, with annualized economic growth at 4-percent for much of the year, the economy and markets were really cooking. Much of that didn’t last. The plunging markets and rising interest rates at the end of the year are raising big concerns for 2019, and even Trump’s political future. Keep an eye on this as the top trending story of 2019.

4) “More Women in Congress” – The number of women serving in Congress will increase from its previous historic level. As of 2018 there were 87 women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, and 23 in the U.S. Senate. In the new Congress, that will be sworn in on January 3, 2019, there will be 127 women in total, a net gain of 17. A record of 102 women will serve in the House, and a record 25 will be in the Senate. The majority of seats are Democrats, but the Republicans hold a significant number. When both parties are in play, that equals leverage.

5) “Supreme Beings” – Whether you supported Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or not - and there were plenty of both - his ascent to the U.S. Supreme Court is significant. No matter how the Trump Presidency shakes out, he has already made two high court appointments and may have a third. Don’t forget, all sorts of District and Appeals Court judges have also been appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate. No matter how good or bad or significant a president might be, their most lasting, enduring imprint is on how their philosophy shapes the courts.

6) “As Florida Goes, So Goes the Nation!” – That old saying used to apply to Maine, and still certainly applies to Ohio, but more and more it applies to the Sunshine State. When Donald Trump won Florida in 2016 early in the evening, a lot of people (and pundits like me) said, “Oh my God, he may really have a chance to win the whole thing!” In the last 15 presidential elections, Florida picked the winner 13 times. Only Kennedy in 1960, and Clinton in 1992 won the White House without Florida. The ascent of Gov. Rick Scott (R) Florida to the U.S. Senate in 2018, and the rise of Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) Florida, to the governor’s mansion could be an indicator of how critical Florida will be in 2020.

7) “The Deaths of President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush” – The Bush family, now in its fourth generation of American politics, has had a profound impact on this nation. Despite the glowing funeral coverage for both, it is important to remember there were moments of great controversy and conflict regarding this family’s politics and policies. But, at the end of the day (a phrase way overused in politics to the point of cliché), you’d be hard -pressed to find two more kind and gentle people to live in the White House. Their enduring legacy? Perhaps something as simple and genuine as stressing the importance of family, and service above self.

8) “The Thawing of the North Korean Chill” – Yes, it is still a work in progress, but the fact that Trump is the first president in a long, long time to meet with a communist North Korean leader speaks volumes. Hopefully, it will lead to a nuclear deal, and reduce or eliminate the threat from the North, and better protect our allies in South Korea. It’s not Nixon going to China and Russia, but it’s right up there for its boldness. We’ll see if it bears fruit in 2019.

9) “Investigate-gate!” – Just a hunch, but I think we will see multiple investigations of President Trump in the House this year, now that Democrats have taken over. Some may have merit; others may not. But Washington, D.C. is a “get even” town, where both sides keep score. Despite all the new faces, there are plenty of Democrats still bruising for a fight over President Clinton’s impeachment from 20 years ago. Yes, to many, it’s unseemly, but that’s how they play ball on Capitol Hill.

10) “West Virginia Teachers Strike” – Sure, it was a local event, but it quickly turned into a national movement. In late February, thousands of teachers walked off the job in West Virginia’s 55 counties, and headed straight for the capitol to protest. They spent nine days shouting in the halls between the House and the Senate – about a 200+ yard stretch on marble floor – and the sound was deafening. They won a 5-percent pay raise for all state employees and a promise to fix their health insurance. Soon after, teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, and elsewhere were either walking out on strike, or threatening to do so. It was a powerful movement that promises to carry into 2019, and it started here in the Mountain State.

What are your political predictions for 2019? Just click the comment button on this article or the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and its five surrounding states.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo Courtesy: Mark Curtis Media

Last Minute Political Shopping Sunday Political Brunch December 23, 2018

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SAVANNAH, Ga. – We're on the road again this week. Many of us are doing our last-minute Christmas shopping this weekend, but the politicians are at it, too, with a lot of last-minute picking and choosing on some key issues and now political races. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Government Shutdown” – Well, it’s here. Congress could not come to an agreement with President Trump to keep the government open, while also providing $5 billion for the border wall. The House approved the deal, but the Senate did not have enough “yes” votes. This may be more smoke than fire. That’s because 75-percent of the government is already funded until October 1, 2019. Also, many government employees affected are off for the holidays and on vacation. Others who serve law enforcement functions, such as the TSA at the airport, will be on the job. A lot of the shutdown will be invisible to the public, unlike the 1995 and 96 shutdowns that closed just about everything. It’s not “Chaos in the Nation’s Capital” as some describe!

“Winners and Losers” – In the short term, this is a win for President Trump. He was elected on promises of increasing border security and building a wall. In this case, he held his ground and did not back down. House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi said he did not have the votes to pass it in the House, but he did! On the other hand, any perceived bounce the president gets will be short-lived. On January 3, the new Congress will be sworn in and Democrats will take control of the House. The bill will get a re-vote, and this time it will lose. Of the current shutdown, Trump said, “I hope we don’t, but we’re totally prepared for a very long shutdown.” My gut says the longer it lasts, the more it may hurt him, especially if financial markets continue to tank.

“Tennessee Waltz” – Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) Tennessee is the first incumbent to announce he will not be running for reelection in 2020. The three-term U.S. Senator also served two terms as Governor of Tennessee, and was Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush. He twice sought the GOP nomination for president. Alexander’s retirement is not a surprise, as he is age 78 with a long, distinguished political career. But he’s a safe incumbent, and now the open seat could be a toss-up in 2020. Republicans lost the House in 2018, because of so many similar retirements. It will only take flipping three or four seats for Democrats to take the Senate in 2020.

“Arizona Wants Me” -- The old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” may hold true in Arizona. Rep. Martha McSally lost one of the closest U.S. Senate races of 2018 to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) Arizona. But Sen. John Kyl (R) Arizona, who was a placeholder after the death of Sen. John McCain (R) Arizona, announced he will be resigning at year’s end. Not to worry, the Republican Governor appointed McSally to fill out the remainder of the McCain/Kyl term until a special election can he held in 2020. So, in the end, both 2018 candidates, Sinema and McSally, win seats in the U.S. Senate. Arizona now joins California, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Washington as the only states where both Senators are women. Maine and Kansas also had that distinction a few years back.

“Mad Dog’s Mad!” – Perhaps the biggest surprise of the week was the sudden resignation of Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis. A retired Marine Corps General, Mattis had a 44-year military career. His departure was simple. He disagreed with President Trump pulling U.S. Troops out of Syria (and likely Afghanistan too). In his resignation letter Mattis said, “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.” Without naming specifics, it was clear Mattis and Trump were not on the same page regarding troop drawdowns.

“The Fallout” – The Mattis departure could be a serious blow to Trump’s presidency. Mattis was widely respected by both parties in Congress, and more than that, he was widely respected by our NATO allies as a reasoned, secure, and stabilizing force in what is not a highly-regarded administration on the international stage. He gave Trump solid backup, and in many cases, stability. We don’t yet know who his replacement will be – and there are great, talented candidates out there - but in the short-term this is a real blow to Trump.

“Market Jitters” – Well it’s no secret the financial markets are tanking, having their worst week in ten years. The Dow Jones was down 7 percent, just from declines in the past week. The robust economy was one of President Trump’s strong suits, but now things are in doubt. Yes, tax cuts stimulated the economy, and unemployment is at a 50-year low, but lots of people are now concerned about their retirement accounts. The bulk of the baby boom generation is about to hit retirement age. As I always say in this column, the two biggest assets for any politician or political party in power are how people feel about their wallets and their security. The economy is the top issue to watch as we head into the next election cycle. A downturn could put Democrats in control of the White House and Senate and continued gains in the House in 2020.

What are your thoughts on the last-minute politics of 2018. Just click the comment button on this page or hit the comments button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and the five surrounding states.

© 2018, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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