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Marco Rubio seems to be gunning for the young people in 2016 with this student loan debt bill, right?

We all know Marco Rubio is a potential 2016 Presidential contender on the Republican side, with the whole “water gaffe” thing put aside. The GOP field is odd / interesting / weak — which maybe describes the entire party right now — and Rubio could emerge from it as the front-runner, to potentially be smote by Hilary Clinton or run kinda-tight with Elizabeth Warren / Joe Biden (or none of the above). Regardless, he made a play for that brass ring recently by leaping into the student-loan discussion:

Payments would be based on a percentage of an individual’s annual income in excess of $10,000. Borrowers could prepay any time without penalty.

Loans of less than $57,500 would be forgiven after 20 years, while loans in excess of that amount would be forgiven after 30 years.

The measure would apply to all new loans, and existing borrowers would be eligible to convert their loans into the new system.

“Our current loan repayment system often turns what should be reasonable debts into crippling payments,” Rubio and Warner said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “Some graduates find they are forced to work multiple jobs, often in fields they didn’t train for, simply to avoid defaulting on student loans.”

And from the same article:

Still, the issue may give Rubio, 43, a toehold with college-age voters and recent graduates, a segment of the electorate that overwhelmingly backed Obama in 2008 and 2012. Escalating student-loan debt, now at $1.2 trillion, is of growing importance to younger voters and a subject that’s also gotten attention from Democrat Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor whom some Republicans have encouraged to consider a presidential run.

Yep. You win with youth — we saw that in 2008 and 2012, right? And Republicans typically don’t get that youth turnout, but by targeting a key issue for them — everyone hates debt, especially when the job market also sucks — Rubio could position himself nicely. Plus, at 45 when he ran, he’d be about 20 years younger than Clinton, who’d be a grandmother to boot! The age dynamic could be shifting … but the Electoral College still isn’t very favorable to Republicans in its current iteration.

Slate also points this out:

Here’s the good news: A bipartisan bill has been introduced into the Senate that might just solve the single most pressing problem with student debt.

Now the bad news: One of the sponsors is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. And as Jonathan Chait once so succinctly put it, “Everything Rubio touches has turned to shit.”

Should be noted that for some people, this is only the second-most relevant thing Rubio did this week. Earlier in the week, he lobbed a grenade at LeBron James, speaking for Miami (I don’t think most Miami residents want him doing that, actually) by saying that MIA “has moved on.”

Rubio previously dipped into poverty as an issue, and part of his current strategy involves releasing a number of “white papers” on different topics over the next year, all towards shaping the future of America. Interesting: this is the first Presidential run-up where the idea of content marketing has caught on for the GOP side. Will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

Brief thought exercise: has modern politics mostly become about Big Data and targeting?

Famous narrative of Obama winning in 2008 (and again in 2012) was that the Democratic machine had better data, analysis, and targeting methods. This has been discussed for years. The Republicans have a good deal of problems at the national level right now, not the least of which is their Electoral College situation, but they clearly need more of a focus on field data and analytics — in sum, BIG DATA — and less on large TV ad buys, etc. But an elderly white GOP member, Thad Cochran, did get a big win last night in Mississippi — a state where you’d never assume African-American Democrats would turn out for a white, long-term Republican Senator — and it harkens the question: is most politics now just about the data and the analysis? For years — decades, even — politics was akin to sports in the popular culture theater. You could endlessly debate and argue about it: why do people get elected? What about partisan shifts? Blue states? Red states? Open primaries? Moderates? Excessive liberalization? Southern Strategy? There were talking points galore. Those haven’t necessarily gone away, but in the modern world they seem to mean less. Rather, what seems to mean more is simply being better at targeting and analyzing. You want data scientists and marketing gurus, not passionate storytellers. This rolls up with the broader narrative that, as society has become more automatic, some of the charm of days of yore has been replaced. Miranda Lambert, ever the soulful poet, speaks to this in a recent hit.

Remember, FiveThirtyEight is a whole thing now; 15-20 years ago, would it have been?

What do you think: has the passion been replaced by the micro-targeting in politics?

Let’s hold off on writing Kay Hagan’s political obituary until after May 6, alright?

Here’s the basic math on the 2014 Senate elections: Republicans need a net gain of six to take control of the upper chamber. Tim Johnson (a Democrat) from South Dakota is out, and his seat will almost assuredly flip. That takes the number down to five needed, net-gain wise. There are various theories on who the most in-trouble Democrats are — Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is often near the top of these lists, and we’ve talked about Pryor vs. Cotton in Arkansas — and in all this, one name you hear a lot is Kay Hagan (North Carolina), who beat Elizabeth Dole back in 2008 (the first Obama win) but now is dealing with the reality of a state that’s becoming more Republican (I’d link to a few things here, but politically, the blue — > red shift of NC has been detailed almost everywhere).

Conventional wisdom says Hagan is doomed, but that might be entirely incorrect. The Republican primary is on May 6 (a week from this Tuesday). Thom Tillis has a 3-to-1 fundraising edge over other GOP candidates, so presumably he’s going to emerge as the challenger to Hagan. He’s tied to the Koch Brothers and “dark money,” which should terrify people. Problem is, even with all his money flowing in, Tillis can’t separate from the pack: look at these aggregate numbers. In many ways, he’s running about even with “Undecided,” which doesn’t seem to be the safest place. If he can’t clear the majority, there’s a second run-off in mid-July, which would mean the state GOP would need to spend another two months battling each other as opposed to targeting Hagan. That’s an advantage for Hagan. Another advantage? If Greg Brannon — the Tea Party candidate in the primaries — manages to break through into the general election. Hagan is running at 42-40 (her advantage) vs. Tillis right now, a gap that would increase if he needs to spend an additional 60 days trying to fend off the Tea Party. The numbers are relatively similar vs. Brannon.

2014 is going to be a weird mid-term in historical context: anti-incumbent attitudes are at a record high, but not a ton of seats are likely to actually flip. (I could be massively wrong about that.) Regardless of what happens, though, the time for Kay Hagan’s professional obituary has not dawned yet.

Urban sprawl and politics: Republicans tend to live in sprawling metros, and Democrats tend to live in compact ones

Here’s a new report (PDF) from Smart Growth America on the portions of America with the largest (and smallest) amount of sprawl. I’ll break it down for you quickly. The three parts of America with the most sprawl are:

1. Hickory/Lenoir/Morganton (NC)

2. Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Marietta (GA)

3. Clarksville (TN/KY)

The three areas with the least sprawl are:

1. New York City

2. San Francisco

3. Atlantic City

See a pattern here? Of course you do. It’s also outlined here:

The connection between sprawl and conservatism comes through loud and clear in our analysis of more than 200 of America’s metro areas. Our correlations suggest that sprawled America is Red America, while Blue America takes on a much more compact geography. The Sprawl Index was negatively associated with the share of voters in a metro who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 (with a correlation of -.44); and it was positively associated with the percentage who voted for Barack Obama (.43). These were among the strongest correlations in our analysis.

And here:

“There are certain things in which the physical nature of a city, the fact the people are piled on top of each other, requires some notion of the public good,” says Kruse. “Conservative ideology works beautifully in the suburbs, because it makes sense spatially.”

So there you have it, demographically speaking: the most conservative of us are moving to the areas with the most sprawl, and the most liberal of us are moving to cities. This also helps explain Electoral College shifts in favor of the Democrats when you consider that more people now are living in cities.

There are arguments for both sides, of course — where you want to live depends on your specific situation — in that “sprawling” areas tend to give you larger amounts of land/potentially cheaper home prices relative to space, whereas “compact” areas tend to give you a deeper feeling of community and more available without using a car, etc. There’s also a much broader trend line here about GOP candidates not embracing cities during elections, but much has been written about that by people smarter than I, so I’ll mostly skate around that issue.

Hickory, by the way — the No. 1 for sprawl — is also in one of the most conservative Congressional districts in America.

My friend told me a couple of weeks ago that he thinks America is now pretty much just city hubs (i.e. over a million and/or places with a serviceable airport) and exurbs. That’s it. I’m not sure it’s exactly that yet — parts of the Carolinas and the Pacific Northwest still have an “original” feeling to them, as well as the Rockies — but it’s definitely becoming that. It has broad implications for elections, economics, the sociology of families, and much more. For now, take this from The Atlantic Cities: 

And perhaps most importantly for those who argue that the benefits of sprawl – including large home sizes and big swathes of land for each family – outweigh the costs, we found a positive association (.21) between compactness and the happiness and well-being of residents. This reinforces the findings of the Smart Growth America report, which found that residents of compact metros tended to live longer, perform better on a number of health and obesity metrics, and have a better chance at true economic mobility. In contrast, those living in sprawling metros tended to spend more on transportation and housing, exercise less, and experience far less social capital in their communities.

Intriguing. Also should be noted that most of the top finishers in the “sprawl” category were in the American Southeast, which is also the worst place for social mobility right now.




What’s the best city council in America? Austin, TX? Irvine, CA? Seattle, WA?

There are countless lists ranking the best Presidents ever, the best Governors currently, the best-run states in America, and tons of other political stuff. There’s a popular show about local/city government (Parks and Recreation), but broadly, we don’t speak about it that much. This makes sense, of course: there are thousands of cities/towns in America, and a good percentage of them use a Mayor-Council format. How could we possibly know what the real differences between Jacksonville and Topeka are, for example, without having lived and been embedded in both places for a period of time? And while a President is a national figure, and a Governor is a state figure, a city council is relevant to residents of that city – and not even all the time, depending on (a) the power they can have and (b) how the city is drawn up from a legal + political perspective.

Still, I was interested to try and figure out if there’s a best City Council in America, and I discovered a couple of things: (1), no, there’s not and (2) there’s not even much consensus out there on what would make any given City Council be considered good.

Let’s start with that second part. Here’s a primer from Alaska on what makes a good City Council member (“upholding the public interest”), and here’s a bit more from a personal blog:

What makes a good council member?  A good council member (CM) works hard with their constituents by listening, recommending, empathizing, and ensuring they are truly “hearing” and understanding what the current opinions and issues are out there.    They then take those opinions to Town Hall and use those opinions to shape their own when a decision needs to be made.   The good CM recognizes that he or she serves as a voice of the people, and adequately represents those voices at the table.

Basic political stuff: listening, constituents, voice of the people. Indeed. This may be even more true at the City Council level, though — that’s nearly the closest elected office in terms of direct ties back to those who voted you in. Here’s some more, from Havre de Grace, Maryland: 

  • Earn trust by being authentic.

  • Speak calmly and courteously at council meetings to one another and to the public. Everyone deserves respect.

  • As the voice of the people, be well informed. Do not use hearsay as testimony. Be a fact checker.

  • Give room to one another to disagree, knowing that all council members intend the best for the greater good.

  • Ask for help.

  • Be a team player.

  • Be willing to admit a mistake.

  • Accept your public services as a privilege.

Cool. All of that makes sense too. This guy in Tulsa also wrote a blog post about it:

The Council performs three crucial functions that no other body can perform: representation, legislation, and oversight. If it fails to fill these roles adequately, Tulsa loses.

Alright. Now … if we have a general idea of what would make a City Council effective, do we have any way to actually measure a City Council as opposed to other ones? Not really, just because the make-up of the cities involved — and their charters, their Mayor-Council relationships, and their borders — are different. Still, we have some metrics we can turn to. 24/7 Wall Street has been releasing data on “the best-run cities” in America for years; here’s the January 2014 report. The No. 1 city for that report was Irvine, CA, with this blurb:

Irvine has a very well-educated population. Last year, 97% of Irvine adults had at least a high school diploma, and more than two-thirds had at least a bachelor’s degree. The city is home of the University of California, Irvine, which is the top local employer. The heavy concentration of well-educated adults has also led to higher incomes. Irvine’s median household income was around $96,000 last year, exceeding that of nearly every other large city. The typical Irvine home cost about $630,400 last year, more than any other large U.S. city except San Francisco. The city was also one of the safest in the nation, with only 51 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

So see, this is a bit more based on straight demographic data — education, home values, crime — then on the quality of the City Council, but there’s still a small tie therein. Here’s the Irvine City Council; notice it’s fairly lean in terms of bureaucracy. That has to help, no? The worst-managed city on that 24/7 Wall Street research was San Bernardino, CA; they have a fairly lean City Council too, although their website definitely looks a bit old and outdated.

That was another thing I thought might tie back into this: quality of city websites/City Council websites. Government websites are notorious for not having easy access to the information you’re looking for when you arrive. Smart Cities Council — which has an interesting site itself — actually has rankings for this, and Austin, TX won out for 2013. Austin’s city website is here, and it is pretty good — direct links to find members, to submit ideas, to connect via social, or to see upcoming meetings. I liiiiike. Tampa, which I wouldn’t have thought was a “smart city,” came in fourth on the website front; here’s the Tampa website.  It’s actually organized pretty well, and I just found out about a Mayor’s “Mac and Cheese Throwdown” on May 10, so there’s that.

Seattle’s City Council gets praised around the web too — their website looks a bit old, but does have necessary intel — and they got some buzz this year when they elected an avowed socialist.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors actually has a best practices database on their website for managing a city (and working with your Council), so that’s helpful. There’s also this list about the top 30 cities for using green power — which is an important thing that any and all City Councils should be looking into — and surprisingly, Houston tops that list (I would hope it tops it because everyone drives everywhere otherwise there).

The Smart Cities Readiness Guide, a kind of blueprint for mapping out civic relationships and development into the next decade, was in beta-test last summer; that could lead us somewhere on this front, or we could all follow Pittsburgh’s model, I ‘spose.



How about Brian Sandoval as a 2016 political force, either against Harry Reid or in a dark-horse run at the Presidency?

I initially wanted to write a post about Gary Herbert, the Governor of Utah — by some measures, he’s the most popular Governor in America. Problem is, he’s a Republican, and Utah is a pretty red state — obviously it went big for Romney in 2012, as he has some roots there (72.6%), but it also went big for McCain in 2008 (62%) and Bush in 2004 (71.5%) — so the popularity aspect may be a bit skewed, for sure. There’s another popular Governor in the American West of interest, though: Brian Sandoval, the current Governor of Nevada. He’s only 50, he’s the first Hispanic elected state-wide in Nevada basically ever, and he’s fairly popular: no one is expected to essentially run against him this year. His approval ratings are in the 60s on average, and this is in a state trending purple/blue: Obama won 52 percent in Nevada in 2012. Sandoval won’t even be 55 in 2016 — and he can’t run for Governor again after 2018, per term limits. So what’s his plan?

Most people think he’s headed straight at Harry Reid’s Senate seat, and that seems the most likely: nationally, his profile can’t possibly be that large, especially in the I-95 money corridor. That said, the favorite for the 2016 GOP Convention is Las Vegas, and if Chris Christie is out, Jeb Bush is out, and (perhaps most importantly) Marco Rubio is out (since Sandoval and Rubio would have similar national narratives), maybe there’s a spot for Sandoval. After all, there’s been a big theme around the Republican party across the past few years of “changing the culture” and “pushing the leadership of tomorrow out there now” — running a 52-year old Hispanic who remains popular in a state becoming more and more Democratic could be a good story to roll out there. (It could also massively backfire, especially against Hilary Clinton, who would wake up on Election Day with a massive lead already given the current layout of the Electoral College.)

Another problem: he’s fiscally conservative but socially moderate, and he … ahem … leans pro-choice. His voting record overall leans liberal. (Again, this might be exactly what the GOP needs.)

He’s also not the most charismatic public speaker, as you can see a little in this clip:

A national run? Doubtful. A major U.S. Senate campaign vs. the face of the Senate Democrats for the past decade? Quite possibly. But never discount anything in politics; if Obama 2008 taught us anything, sometimes people go when they think they’re ready — and it ends up working out.

Political trend line: young white millennials are basically libertarians. Can they save the GOP?

The electoral map isn’t very favorable to the GOP, and their strategy/culture isn’t either, and while they may do OK in the midterms — midterms typically favor the non-Presidential party anyway — their 2016 prospects look dim at present. But ah ha! Just like the conventional narratives of “future voters we need to sway” has included “minorities” and “Hispanics” and “spiritual but not religious,” there’s a new group now too: young white millennials who are essentially libertarians. Could they save the GOP’s national hopes? After all, if young liberals truly own the future of electoral politics, then the GOP needs to do something to adapt, right? Cue Salon:

Frank Luntz is probably studying all of these people right now, because this is your future Republican Party base! The idea horrifies many contemporary movement conservatives — this generation has absolutely no interest in your Tough, Muscular Foreign Policy, sorry Bill Kristol — but the Kochs of the world will be fine. Millennials aren’t even much more liberal than older votes on gun control and abortion. That’s like half the GOP platform, right? They’ll barely have to change a word.

(*Laugh track*) But seriously, this is interesting. There seems to be no path to 270 for a 2016 Republican. But what if Rand Paul, off the 2014 CPAC straw poll win, was the guy? Could that capture the hearts and minds of young libertarians living in their childhood bedroom since their college graduation of 2011? Mayhaps. Trend lines are indeed developing.


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