Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Some ideas for the Constitution of New Columbia

The District of Columbia is stepping up its attempt to become a state, again.
Bowser is calling for a constitutional convention in June, and statehood on the ballot in November, petitioning the next U.S. president and Congress to declare D.C. the 51st state, even though current congressional Republicans have indicated their disinterest in the issue. Under the draft constitution announced last week, Bowser would become governor of the new state, and the city’s 13 council members would become representatives in a new state House of Delegates. 

As noted one step of that effort is writing a new state constitution, but DC is apparently just rolling the old government into a new one.

Instead, leaders should view the Constitution of the State of New Columbia as an opportunity to solve some of the problems that have been identified with the way we elect the current District Council. The current system was not one that the residents of DC chose for themselves, it was foisted upon us by Congress. Let's not behave like a colony that, having thrown off it's colonizer goes on to behave exactly like them and adopt all of their practices. Let's make our own government. So here are a few proposals to create a better legislature.

First of all, at 13 members, the legislature might be too small. Nebraska has the smallest legislature of any state with 49 members. A larger legislature would allow each member to remain closer to the people they represent and to be more focused on a smaller set of issues. To some extent, the workload of a legislature is per capita and goes down with lower population, but some work doesn't really scale down, so a larger legislature would likely be more effective.

Second, New Columbia could benefit from an upper house, or a modification of the two ways members are elected. The current method for electing legislators, first-past-the-post for single-member districts determined by geography and first-past-the-post for at-large members has resulted in a 13 member Council in which 100% of the members are in effect, if not legally, from the same party. But only 76% of District voters are members of that party. While it is certainly nice for the majority party to have complete control (and as a Democrat myself I enjoy single-party rule), there are voices that are left out of the government. Republicans, Greens, Libertarians and others deserve a proportional, but real, voice in DC government. In the current system they likely feel marginalized or ignored since the real election occurs in the primary, which they are not allowed to vote in.

When the United States constitution was written, the concept behind two houses was that they would represent different groups. The lower house would represent the people, and the upper house the states. That was abandoned with the seventeenth amendment, but the idea of two houses representing different constituencies is not without merit. Instead of the design of the US Constitution as originally written, I propose two houses that represent people grouped in different ways.

Two people might share common political interests because they live near one another, or they may share common interests based on their political philosophy. Two houses would allow these people to vote in both of these ways. By creating a lower house in which members are elected first-past-the-post by geography, and an upper house elected at-large under a proportional representation system we would give a voice to those marginalize voices. An upper house based on a proportional representation system would allow for a more diverse set of voices to be represented in the state's government. Such a system would be fairer, stimulate greater voter participation and be less captive to the effects of gerrymandering. People living in countries utilizing proportional representation express greater satisfaction with democracy, and we should want a fairer, more satisfying democracy, even if it means sharing power with people we disagree with. 

Third, New Columbia should devise a better way to fill vacancies than special elections. Special elections are costly. Furthermore, because they have the same cost to voters as general elections (in time and travel), but with less reward (since they can only vote for one office, not several as is true in a general election) they have low voter turnout, undermining the voice of those to be represented. In addition, vacancies in at-large members are temporarily filled by the central committee of the political party of the member who previously filled the office. Giving such weight to party insiders of just one party is inherently less democratic and representative than elections carried out by the general public regardles! s of party.

A better option would be to have clear lines of succession and alternates. A take-it-or-leave succession, wherein vacated offices are filled by individuals elected by the same electorate, would solve all of these problems. When an office is vacated, that office is offered to the next person in line who may either accept or decline it (within a reasonable amount of time before they decline by default). Should they accept, their office is filled in the same way. Should they decline, the vacancy is offered to the next person on the list. At the end of the list are alternates who must either accept or resign. Alternates would be elected in general elections based either on geography identical to the legislative districts or at-large. Alternates would be unpaid, without staffs, offices or even titles. They're sole responsibility would be to fill vacancies and they would have no power. But as elected office-holders, elected in a general election by the people they would represent, they would carry all the legitimacy of the person they would replace.

If the District is going to ask for greater representation on the grounds that disenfranchisement is inherently wrong and counter to the ideals of American democracy, that case becomes stronger if we aspire to create the fairest, most democratic system in the country. Comments on the draft constitution are currently being accepted at this site where you can also download the draft.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Designing the Presidential primary system to pick winners

If you live in Washington, DC (like me) and are registered as a Democrat (like most people in DC) you won't get to vote for delegates to the Presidential election until June 14th - dead last. By that time it is likely that both nominees will be known and the primaries will basically be over.

On the other hand if you lived in Iowa, you got to vote first and, if you went to the caucus, you got to  play a large role in shaping the election. This is unfair for sure, but unless all primaries and caucuses are held on the same day, someone has to go first. But it doesn't have to be Iowa and New Hampshire every year, it is less fair that it is (as opposed to rotating) and it is not in the best interest of the parties to continue to place them first.

There is nothing magical about Iowa, despite what Shoeless Joe Jackson says. They aren't first for any "reason" that someone thought up. They go first as the result of a fluke of history and the whole primary system is a modern development with the schedule developing somewhat organically. Going first gives Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states an outsized voice in choosing the next president (a long with several economic benefits) and with their highly-white electorate, it could be argued that it further disenfranchises people of color. It would be more fair to rotate the order.

Rotating the order could be done randomly, with each state taking a turn going first as part of a 230-year cycle (if we count territories and DC).  This would be fairer, but it would it be smarter? No, it would still be just as organic and devoid of thought as the current system.

If I were running one of the two political parties I'd want a system that was designed to choose someone who would win in November and then pursue the policies of my party. So, I'd make three big changes.

Get rid of caucuses - Like the standard schedule, caucuses are also unfair, but that isn't the concern here. The real issue is that they don't mimic what will happen in November the way primaries do, and the skills needed to win the caucus may not match up with the skills needed to win the general election. It's like using a basketball game to choose your quarterback. Sure, there are some elements of athleticism, confidence and drive that transfer from one sport to the other; but it would be far better to pick your starting quarterback based on how well they actually play quarterback. So, not only would I get rid of all caucuses and replace them with primaries, but I'd also try to force all primaries to be open primaries. Let's get the voice of the undecideds and cross-overs from other parties and choose someone who is palatable to the voting public and swing voters (as long as they skew in my party's direction).

Front-load the schedule with the "most important" states - Instead of starting with  Iowa and New Hampshire, states which were closer than most in the last election but are pretty small, start with a state that was even closer - the swingiest of swing states - and is larger. Start with Florida. Florida is the most important state to win. Each party should want someone who can win Florida, so make Florida primary voters your most powerful (at least in 2016).

But it doesn't always need to be Florida. What I did was to take each state's electors and divide them by the absolute value of the margin of victory from 2012, and then I arranged the schedule from that - placing all the territories last since they don't have electors. So instead of starting with Iowa and New Hampshire, we start with Florida and North Carolina - two general election battleground states. If you want a candidate who can win those states, then make them the most important test. It also allows your candidate to spend months in Florida meeting voters, instead of Iowa.

It will also, because of the bias towards bigger states, mean that the race will likely be over sooner, but give the largest number of people the opportunity to vote in meaningful primaries.

This still means that highly partisan and very small Washington, DC votes last (not counting the territories) but at least there's a good reason for it.

Spread the contests out - No more "Super Tuesdays". Make a regulated schedule that at least gives candidates some time to focus on each state. This is especially important in the beginning when candidates are visiting battleground states where they'll need to put in time in October. I arranged a schedule with two contests every week, one on Tuesday and one on Friday - giving candidates 3 days per contest minus Sundays when they hit talk shows and people are in church etc...this goes on for the first 2 and a half months, and then it goes to four contests per week. In this way the primaries can start at the beginning of February and end in mid-June just as they do now. If this were the schedule now, we'd be through only 12 states, but since they're bigger it would be more delegates.

Organizing the election in this way gives the following schedule:

Florida 2-Feb-16
North Carolina 5-Feb-16
Ohio 9-Feb-16
Pennsylvania 12-Feb-16
Virginia 16-Feb-16
Texas 19-Feb-16
California 23-Feb-16
Georgia 26-Feb-16
Michigan 1-Mar-16
Colorado 4-Mar-16
Wisconsin 8-Mar-16
Minnesota 11-Mar-16
Arizona 15-Mar-16
Illinois 18-Mar-16
Indiana 22-Mar-16
Missouri 25-Mar-16
Iowa 29-Mar-16
New York 1-Apr-16
Nevada 5-Apr-16
South Carolina 8-Apr-16
Washington 12-Apr-16
New Jersey 12-Apr-16
New Hampshire 15-Apr-16
Oregon 15-Apr-16
Tennessee 19-Apr-16
Mississippi 19-Apr-16
New Mexico 22-Apr-16
Massachusetts 22-Apr-16
Louisiana 26-Apr-16
Alabama 26-Apr-16
Connecticut 29-Apr-16
Maryland 29-Apr-16
Kentucky 3-May-16
Kansas 3-May-16
Arkansas 6-May-16
Montana 6-May-16
Alaska 10-May-16
Oklahoma 10-May-16
West Virginia 13-May-16
South Dakota 13-May-16
Delaware 17-May-16
North Dakota 17-May-16
Rhode Island 20-May-16
Maine 20-May-16
Idaho 24-May-16
Utah 24-May-16
Hawaii 27-May-16
Nebraska 27-May-16
Vermont 31-May-16
Wyoming 31-May-16
D.C. 3-Jun-16
Puerto Rico 3-Jun-16
Guam 7-Jun-16
Virgin Islands 7-Jun-16
American Samoa 10-Jun-16
NMI 10-Jun-16

Monday, March 7, 2016

Speaker Paul Ryan: Ranking the success of failed Vice-Presidential nominees

When Paul Ryan was elected speaker in October, he became one of the few people to be nominated for Vice-President, lose and then go on to significantly higher office. He's the most successful failed VP nominee since Bob Dole, who after losing in 1976 went on to be Senate Majority Leader and his party's 1996 nominee for President.

But just how impressive is this? The only way to know is to rank the post-nomination career of the failed VP nominees, which I have inexplicably done below.

A few caveats:
  • The rankings consider their post-nomination career when compared to their pre-nomination career and a lot of it depends on when they peaked - not what that peak was necessarily - so going from un-elected to the House is better than remaining in the Senate.
  • It also considers what they think of as success. If they're Governor and run for the Senate - that's a step up. If they're a Senator and run for Governor - that is also a step up.
  • I'm not including people who were Vice-President but ran again and lost, because being Vice-President would carry more cache than not. But the post-failed re-election careers of those former VPs can be ranked (1) Walter Mondale, (2) Charles Curtis, (3) Charles Fairbanks, (4) Dan Quayle and (5) Adlai Stevenson I.
  • The list also doesn't include the following: Albert Gallatin and Thomas Eagleton, because they withdrew from the race after being nominated but before the election; John Edgar Howard, who was never nominated and never ran - despite which he did quite well; James S. Sherman who died between his nomination and the election; Benjamin Gratz Brown, who died between the election and the Electoral College vote; or Murray Butler who replaced Sherman, but was never really the nominee.
Continued to seek office, but failed and/or reputation diminished



#61 John Edwards (2004) - John Edwards was riding high in 2004. He'd gone from a little-known 1-term Senator to runner-up in the 2004 Democratic Primary and was the party's nominee for Vice-President. But then came 2008. He entered the race as one of the top candidates on the Democratic side, but never caught fire. That year, he won fewer states, got fewer votes and fewer delegates and ended his campaign a month earlier than in 2004. Still, he reportedly made the short of list of VP nominees for Obama. Then he was rocked by scandal. Reports of an extramarital affair had started in late 2007 and by the summer of 2008 they had reached a head.  This eliminated him from consideration for any roll in the Obama campaign or cabinet. He had cheated on his sick wife, fathered a child, and clumsily attempted to cover it up. Furthermore he was accused of using more than $1 million of campaign funds to cover up his affair. He was indicted on six felony charges and forced to pay $2.1 million back to the FEC. He was found not guilty on one charge, while the jury failed to reach a verdict on the others. The case was dropped and Edwards returned to life as a lawyer - though now a politically toxic one. Scandalized, sanctioned, reviled and indicted - it's had to see anyone taking the bottom spot from him without actually being convicted of a crime.

#60 Curtis LeMay (1968) - The former Air Force general left the Republican party to support George Wallace and was subsequently named his running mate. After the election, his political career (he had earlier been approached by Republicans as a possible Senate candidate) was over and his public reputation was significantly diminished. Though he did not share Wallace's pro-segregation positions, running with him left LeMay forever attached to them and LeMay was often assumed to have shared his racist views, despite the evidence to the contrary.

#59 Andrew Jackson Donelson (1856)  The former ambassador was Fillmore's running mate on the American Party ticket. Afterwards he was involved in the Constitutional Union party and went to their nominating convention in 1860. But after the Civil Was he was distrusted by the south because of his opposition to secession and the north because of his support of the war. During the war, he was briefly arrested by the Confederates, though the charges were deemed frivolous and he was released.

#58 Joseph Lane (1860) An Oregonian who ran on the pro-slavery Southern Democrat ticket with John Breckenridge, Lane returned to the Senate where he espoused pro-secession positions. As these ideas were unpopular in Oregon, his political career was over and he retired from the Senate in 1861. He retired to his ranch in Oregon where some think he kept a slave until the late 1870's.

#57 Geraldine Ferraro (1984) The first woman ever nominated on a major party ticket, Geraldine Ferraro - unlike Paul Ryan - had to give up her House seat in order to make her run for Vice-President in 1984. Despite being relatively young at the time and with continued political ambitions, it would be the last time she would hold elective office. She made two failed runs for the senate, failing to win the primary both times.  She did serve three years as a member of the United States delegation to United Nations Commission on Human Rights, making her an ambassador and she spent time as a political commentator, but her promising career never really got back on track.

#56 Amos Ellsmaker (1832) Pennsylvania's former Attorney General who turned down an offer to be James Monroe's Secretary of War was on the losing ticket of the Anti-Masonic party in 1832. Two years later he ran for the Senate and lost to James Buchanan, after which he retired from politics.

#55 Sargent Shriver (1972) Shriver served as the replacement VP candidate, after Thomas Eagleton resigned, on the 1972 Democratic ticket with George McGovern. By then, the high points of his political career (ambassador, Peace Corps Director, OEO Director) were behind him. He made a run for the presidency in 1976, but he finished far back in the pack, placing in the top 2 in only the Vermont primary. He then retired from politics. Though his post-nomination political career was a bust, his long service as President and then Chairman of the Board of the Special Olympics likely enhanced his reputation.

Retired from Public Life


#54 Allen G. Thurman (1888) - Grover Cleveland ran for president three times, with three different running mates. His running mate during his second, and only losing, run was the retired Senator Allen G. Thurman. After the election, Thurman went back into retirement, and was notably was not chosen to be Cleveland's running mate in 1892, which is why he ranks slightly below the rest in this category.

#48-53 (tie) Richard Stockton (1820), William H. English (1880), James G. Field (1892),  Henry G. Davis (1904), William E. Miller (1964), James Stockdale (1992) - For each of these men, the campaign for Vice-President marked the end of their political career. They either retired, returned to retirement or returned to their previous professions, apparently by choice.  [Stockton, interestingly, ran without a running mate, as the Federalist Party did not have a nominee for president in 1820] Miller perhaps stands out because after his run he was featured in one of the first "Do you know me?" commercials for American Express.

#47 William O. Butler (1848) - Butler went in to retirement following his loss, but was offered the office of Governor of Nebraska in 1855, a job he turned down. He also attended the 1861 Peace Conference in Washington.

Career high came prior to nomination


#46 Edward Everett (1860) - The Constitutional Union Party nominee for Vice-President in 1860, Everett's career high point came at the end of Millard Fillmore's presidency when he replaced the recently deceased Daniel Webster as Secretary of State. After 1860, Everett remained in a state of semi-retirement working to avoid the Civil War via the Crittenden Compromise and then supporting the Union War effort. Most famously, he gave the featured speech at Gettysburg, which was followed by a much shorter and famous speech by Abraham Lincoln.

#45 Jack Kemp (1996) - After losing the 1996 election, the Republican nominee and former HUD Secretary served on numerous boards and commissions including the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on Russia and also considered a run for president in 2000.

#44 Theodore Frelinghuysen (1844) - Henry Clay's 1844 running mate, the former Senator Frelingjuysen returned to his job as President of NYU after defeat and later became President of Rutgers.

#43 Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr (1960) - Nixon's first running mate, the former Senator and U.N. ambassador served the next three presidents as an ambassador to South Vietnam, West Germany, at-large and to the Holy See. He also came in 4th place in the 1964 Republican presidential primaries, winning three states as a write-in candidate, without entering the race or campaigning.

#42 Richard Rush (1828) Richard Rush, had been Secretary of the Treasury under John Q. Adams and he became Adams' running mate because Adams' vice-president John C. Calhoun chose to run with Adams' opponent Andrew Jackson (in 1824, Calhoun had been the running mate for both candidates). After the election, he spent time as a low-level diplomat before serving as Polk's Minister to France.

#41 William L. Dayton (1856) The Republican Party's 1st Vice-Presidential nominee, Dayton had been a Senator but after his 1856 loss with Fremont, he was the Attorney General of New Jersey and then Lincoln's Minister to France.

#40 William A. Graham (1852) Winfield Scott's running mate on the 1852 Whig ticket, Graham had been a Senator, Governor and Secretary of the Navy. After the 1852 election he returned to the State Senate in North Carolina and was later elected to the Confederate Senate at the end of the Confederacy. In 1866 he was re-elected to the United States Senate but, because North Caroline had not been readmitted, he was never seated. Remained active in national matters until his death.

#39 Herschel Johnson (1860) Stephen Douglas' running mate for the northern wing of the Democratic Party, Johnson had been both a Governor of and Senator from Georgia. After the 1860 election, he became a Senator in the Confederacy, despite opposing secession and then a US Senator, though, like Graham he was never seated. He then served as a circuit court judge until his death.

#38 Nathaniel Macon (1824) Macon was a replacement candidate for Vice-President when William Campbell withdrew. He had been Speaker of the House 15 years earlier, but had later moved to the Senate where he would remain after his failed run for the VP seat. He was later President pro tempore of the Senate.

Nomination was during career high point




#37 Fielding L. Wright (1948) Strom Thurmond's States Rights Party running mate in 1948, Fielding Wright returned to his office as Governor of Mississippi until he was term-limited out of office. He returned to the practice of law in 1952 and made another run for Governor, but finished third in the 1955 Democratic primary, thus missing the runoff. He died the next spring.

#36 Charles W. Bryan (1924) The brother of William Jennings Bryan (making them the only brothers to be nominated for President and Vice-President), Bryan was the running mate of John W. Davis on the 1924 Democratic ticket. In order to run for VP, Bryan did not run for re-election as Governor of Nebraska. He did run, unsuccessfully, in 1826 and 1828 and then won and retained the office in 1830 and 1832. He then served as Mayor of Lincoln, a job he'd held previously in 1915-17 and made one last, unsuccessful, run for Governor in 1838.

#35 John W. Bricker (1944) Dewey's first running mate, Bricker was unable to run for Governor at the same time, but two years later he was elected to the Senate where he served for 12 years before losing the seat to Stephen Young in 1958.

#34 Burton K. Wheeler (1924) Democrat Wheeler was the running mate of Republican Robert La Follette, Sr. on the Progressive Party ticket.  He returned to the senate where he served another 24 years before losing the 1946 primary to Leif Erikson (the less famous one).

#33 Joe Lieberman (2000) After missing the vice-presidency by only a few hundred votes in Florida, Lieberman remained in the Senate. He sought the Democratic Party nomination in 2004, but after starting out well in the polls, failed to win any delegates, mustering only a single 2nd place finish.. In 2006, he lost the Democratic primary to retain his Senate seat, but was able to run as an independent and keep it. He was reportedly John McCain's first choice for Vice-President on the 2008 Republican ticket, but was passed over for Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. He chose not to run for his senate seat in 2012 and retired from politics.

#32  Jared Ingersoll (1812) - Ingersoll was DeWitt Clinton's running mate on the 1812 Democratic-Republican ticket (though in many ways it was really the Federalist ticket. It's complicated). He spent a decade as Pennsylvania's Attorney General before the nomination and another four years in that job afterward. He spent the last year of his life as the presiding judge on Philadelphia's district court.

#31 Whitelaw Reid (1892) Benjamin Harrison's 2nd VP nominee Reid had been his ambassador to France. 13 years later he became Teddy Roosevelt's ambassador to the UK and continued in that role under Taft until his death in 1912.

#30 Henry Lee (1832) Lee, an economist who never held office, was John Floyd's running mate on the Independent Democrat ticket in 1832. They won only 1 state, Floyd's home state of South Carolina. Following the election, Lee returned to his prior career as a writer and merchant.

#29 Arthur Sewell (1896) One of William Jennings Bryan's running mates in Bryan's first run, Sewell was a wealthy shipbuilder who went back to shipbuilding and being wealthy after his loss and then died a few years later. Often considered one of the worst nominees in history.

#28 John A. Logan (1884) - After losing the 1884 election with his running mate James G. Blaine by a little more than 1000 votes, Logan returned to the Senate where he served 2 more years before dying in his home in Columbia Heights in Washington, DC. Nearby Logan Circle is named for him.

#27 Charles L. McNary (1940) - At the time of his nomination he was Senate Minority Leader, a job he held until his death almost four year later in February 1944. Like Logan, had he been elected he would not have lived to serve out his term. His running mate Wendell Wilkie also would have died in office (Oct 1944), meaning that if they had beaten Roosevelt and Wallace, Sam Rayburn would have become President of the United States, though only for 3 months.

#26 George Washington Julian (1852, 1878) The Free Soil Party's vice-presidential candidate in 1852, Julian was a political newcomer at the time. He'd spent just four years in the Indiana state legislature as a Whig and a single term as a US Representative. He earned no electoral college votes in 1852, but makes this list because of 1878. After his loss in 1852, he joined the Republican Party and in 1860 he was returned to the House of Representatives where he served for 10 years before losing renomination. In 1872, now with the Liberal Republican party, he received 5 electoral votes for Vice-President when the party's presidential nominee Horace Greeley died between the election and the electoral college vote.  He finished his public career, now as a Democrat, by serving for four years as the surveyor general of New Mexico.

#25 Nathan Sanford (1824) Sanford, the former NY Senator and current Chancellor of New York was re-elected to the Senate 2 years after his loss in 1824. He served six more years in the Senate before retiring from politics.

#24 Estes Kefauver (1956) After having in the 1952 Presidential nomination taken from him and finishing 2nd in 1956, Kefauver beat out John F. Kennedy for the vice-presidential nomination, but the ticket lost to Eisenhower/ Nixon. Though early polling showed him the favorite for the 1960 Democratic nomination for President, Kefauver chose not to run for a 3rd time. He spent the last 7 years of his life in the Senate.

#23 John Sparkman (1952) Adlai Stevenson's running mate in 1952, he was not chosen for the 1956 ballot, in part because he signed the "Southern Manifesto" and Tennessee's Senators Estes Kefauver and Albert Gore, Sr. had not. Sparkmand nonetheless served another 26 years in the Senate, chairing 3 committees, before retiring in 1979 as the longest serving senator in Alabama history.

#22  John Sargeant (1832) Henry Clay's Republican running mate in 1832, Sargeant had twice been voted out of Congress and was out of office when nominated. He returned to the practice of law, but 4 years later was returned to Congress for a 3rd time. He was president of the Pennsylvania constitutional convention in 1838 and then resigned from Congress in 1841. He turned down cabinet and diplomatic positions and  was nearly nominated to be Clay's running mate again in 1844.

Career Peaked after Nomination

#21 Francis Granger (1836) Granger was in the house when he was named the nominee of the northern part of the Whig Party in 1836. He had to give up his house seat to run in that election. He came in 2nd in the Electoral College, but since Virginia's electors refused to vote for Richard Johnson, the race had to be decided in the country's only contingent election for Vice-President, which he lost. Later, he was reelected to the House two more times before serving for 6 months as Postmaster General (a job his father held for a longer time than anyone else in U.S. history). He was then elected to congress again in a special election before leaving elected office to become a party leader.

#20 Rufus King (1804 and 1808) The only two-time loser of the Vice-Presidency on this list,  King went on from being the bottom half of the losing Federalist ticket with Pinkney to being the top half in 1816 (and 1812, though he was never officially the party's nominee, which had none that year). In doing so he became the only person to run on four major party tickets without winning once. He later returned to the Senate and was again made Minister to Great Britain - jobs he'd held prior to 1804.

#19 Charles Coatsworth Pinkney (1800) The first of five people to lose the election for Vice-President and then go on to win their party's nomination for President, Pinkney was the Federalist party's nominee in 1804 and 1808 (losing both times).

#18 Charles Francis Adams (1848) The son and grandson of presidents, Charles Francis Adams was practically royalty when he ran for vice-president on the Free Soil ticket in 1848, but his political experience was limited to the Massachusetts state legislature. 10 years after his failed run for VP, Adams was elected to the US House from his father's  district. After being re-elected, he resigned to serve as Minister to the United Kingdom for 7 years and was later the U.S. arbiter of the "Alabama claims."

#17 Joseph Taylor Robinson (1928) At the time of his nomination, Robinson was Senate Minority leader, but in 1933, following his loss, he was elevated to Majority Leader when the Democrats took control of the Senate. Together with FDR he led in the creation of  much of the New Deal, until he was found dead in 1937 in his apartment across the street from the Senate.

#16 Sarah Palin (2008) Sure to be a controversial choice, but it's hard not to view Palin's career as having gone up after her nomination. Not long after losing, she resigned as the Governor of Alaska and became a media personality with numerous public speaking, on-air pundit and reality TV show opportunities which have paid her quite well. Though she has had much success as endorser of candidates, most notably of 2010 tea party candidates, and teased a White House run in 2012, she has not sought office again. But, she remains a popular figure and could still move up this list. In a Trump presidency is a cabinet appointment so unlikely?

#15 Thomas E. Watson (1896) Watson was William Jennings Bryan's running mate on the Populist ticket in 1896 (Sewall (#29) was his nominee on the Democratic ticket). Watson became the Populist party candidate for president in 1904, and then in 1920, after rejoining the Democratic Party, was elected to the Senate where he served until his death 2 years later.

#14 Francis P. Blair, Jr. (1868) Blair was a former Republican congressman and Union General when he was chosen as the Democratic nominee for Vice-President. Blair is the odd vice-presidential candidate believed to have cost his party the election, in his case because of the stark racist nature of his campaign speeches. Nonetheless, two years after that loss, he was elected to the United States Senate to fill a seat made empty via resignation. Less than 2 years later he was paralyzed by a stroke and as a result lost election to a full term in 1873. As an act of charity, he was appointed state superintendent of insurance to provide him with an income, and then died in 1875.

#13 Hiram Johnson (1912) Teddy Roosevelt's running mate on the Progressive Party ticket, Johnson remained the Governor of California until the end of his term. He was re-elected in 1914 and then ran successfully for the Senate in 1916 where he would remain until his death in 1945. He switched to the Republican Party and in 1920 sought the party's nomination for President, finishing third at the Convention (and 6th for Vice-President). He finished 3rd again in 1924. In the Senate he was an influential leader who crossed party lines to help FDR pass much of the New Deal.

#12 Edmund Muskie (1968) Senator Muskie emerged from the losing 1968 campaign in which he was the Democrats Vice-Presidential nominee as a popular politician and the leading candidate for the party's nomination. He won both the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries (in the newly formed primary system) but as a result of letter, later discovered to be a forgery created by the Nixon campaign, in which Muskie was accused of making disparaging remarks about French-Canadians and of the press conference in which it appeared to some in the press that Muskie had shed a tear (he claimed it was melting snow since it was held outside in a snow storm), his presidential campaign collapsed. In 1980 he became Secretary of State, and filled that role until the end of President Carter's term in 1981.

#11  Lloyd Bentson (1988) The Texas Senator lost the Vice-Presidency in 1988, but - due to Texas law - was able to run for, and keep, his Senate seat. Four years later he was tapped by Bill Clinton as the Secretary of the Treasury where he served for nearly two years before retiring. 

#10 George J. Pendleton (1864)  Rep. Pendleton had a bad year in 1864. He was on the bottom half of the losing presidential ticket and he lost his house seat too. He then proceeded to lose a race for his old house seat in 1866, his party's presidential nomination in 1868 (after leading for the first 15 ballots), and governor of Ohio in 1869.  In 1878, after 14 years out of office, he was elected to the United States Senate, where he led passage of the Pendleton Act that ended the spoils system. This law was unpopular among members of his party and cost him re-election but he was appointed Envoy to Germany when his term was completed, a job he served in until shortly before his death.

#9 John W. Kern (1908) At the time of his nomination for VP in 1908, he was a lawyer who'd previously spent several years as Indianapolis' City Solicitor and made two failed runs for Governor. He was elected to the Senate 2 years leader and became the equivalent of the Senate Majority Leader (though that term was not in use at the time). He served only 1 term and retired due to poor health. He died 5 months after leaving office.

#8 Frank Knox (1936) One of Teddy Roosevelt's former Rough Riders, Knox had never held office when he became Alf Landon's running mate in 1936. As an internationalist and a supporter of a strong military, Franklin Roosevelt tapped him to be Secretary of the Navy in 1940 as he tried to build a bi-partisan coalition in preparation for war. Knox served through most of the war - until his death in April 1944.

#7  Aaron Burr (1796) Technically, Burr was a candidate for President in 1796 as there were no tickets or running mates, but it was the intention of the Democratic-Republican party that all but one elector would cast their votes for Jefferson and Burr. The other elector would vote for Jefferson and someone other than Burr, thus making Jefferson president and Burr vice-president. Both parties meant to use this strategy but it failed, resulting in the President and Vice-President being from opposite parties and it failed again in 1800 resulting in a tie between Jefferson and Burr. Nonetheless, after Burr lost in 1796 he continued his political career serving 2 years in the New York state assembly. In 1800 he was elected Vice-President, becoming one of only three people to win the Vice-Presidency on the 2nd try. And probably the only person to ever go from the state legislature to Vice-President. He was nearly elected president since he and Jefferson tied in the electoral college, forcing a Contingency Election, one of only two ever for the Presidency. This was "Peak Burr" on a rapid and tragic collapse. He quickly fell out of favor with President Jefferson and, when it was clear he would not be on the ballot, he ran for governor of New York in 1804, while still Vice-President, and lost. As a direct result of this loss he dueled and killed Alexander Hamilton and was charged with murder in both New Jersey and New York (though he was never tried). While still Vice-President mind you, he went into hiding. Things just kept getting worse, as he was charged and tried (wrongly, most people agree) with treason after leaving office. Found not guilty, he then had to flee the country for four years to avoid his creditors. Finally he was kicked out of England and returned to New York. At this point, his life turned around somewhat. He returned to the practice of law, found a second family, adopted two boys (one possibly his own), and at the age of 77 he remarried. This time to a wealthy widow 19 years younger than him (though they were separated only a few months later).

#6 Paul Ryan (2012) Mitt Romney's running mate and the first house member nominated since Ferraro, Ryan didn't have to risk his house seat to run. Three years after failing to become President of the Senate, he became Speaker of the House - the only failed VP to do so. In addition, he's likely to make the Presidential and Vice-Presidential short lists for years to come, so he has time to move up this list.

#5 Thomas A. Hendricks (1876) Hendricks was the Democratic Party's losing nominee in the controversial election of 1876. He left office as Governor of Indiana the following January and went into a state of semi-retirement. In 1880, the Democrats wanted to nominate him for vice-president again, but he declined for health reasons (he suffered a stroke and lost the use of one foot as a result. By 1882 he could no longer stand).  In 1884, as a salute to the ticket of 1876 and to unify the party, he was again the party's nominee for vice-president, and this time he won. He is the last person to win the vice-presidency on the 2nd try. Unfortunately, he died in office only 8 months later and his death is often one reason attributed to Cleveland's loss in the 1888 contest.  In that race, Cleveleand won more votes than his opponent, but lost the electoral college in part because he couldn't carry Hendrick's home state of Indiana.  Cleveland lost Indiana by only ~2,400 votes.

#4 Bob Dole (1976) The losing half of the Ford-Dole ticket, Dole would go on to serve in the Senate for nearly 20 more years - and seek the Presidency in every open election for the rest of that time. He more success in the former than he did the latter.  He became Senate Minority Leader in 1987 and Majority Leader in 1995. After finishing last (11th) among all declared candidates in the 1980 Republican Presidential Primary, he was the runner-up in 1988 and finally the party nominee in 1996. He resigned his seat in the Senate to run and though he was the last nominee to have served in World War II but he lost the race and went into retirement. He is the last failed VP to later be nominated for President.

#3 Earl Warren (1948) Warren was the Republican candidate for VP in 1948 as the  bottom half of the "Dewey Defeats Truman" ticket. He remained governor of California and four years later made a run at the GOP presidential nomination coming in 3rd. In Eisenhower's first year, Chief Justice Fred Vinson died and Warren was tapped as his replacement. He's the only failed VP to serve on the Supreme Court. He as Chief Justice for 16 years and died five years after retiring.

#2 John Tyler (1836) In 1836, the newly-formed Whig Party was not organized enough to have a convention and settle on one ticket. Instead they ran at least five tickets with Tyler as VP on three of them. Nonetheless he only "won" three states. No candidate for VP won a majority that year and the VP had to be decided in a contingent election, but Tyler only finished 3rd and thus missed it. But in 1840, Tyler came back to fill in the bottom half of the "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" ticket that was swept into office, making Tyler the 2nd person to win the Vice-Presidency on his 2nd Try and the first since the Twelfth Amendment. His running mate Harrison was much older. Shortly after taking office he died of illness (though not from a cold caught during his inauguration as is so often stated) and Tyler became President. After leaving office he returned to public life as sponsor and chairman of the Virginia Peace Convention in Washington, DC that was called in an effort to avoid the Civil War. When War broke out anyway. Tyler served on the convention between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Confederate States of America that allowed Virginia to join, signed the Ordinance of Seccession and was chosen as a delegate to the Provisional Confederate Conference, serving for five months before his death in 1862. He was also elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, but died a few weeks before it's first session.


The Greatest Of All Time


#1 Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1920) FDR was by far the most successful failed VP ever, and there is hardly reason to believe he would be. At that point he'd won exactly one race, for the New York State Senate and served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I. A year after his loss he was stricken with polio. But in 1928 he was elected to the first of two terms as Governor of New York, a feat which on its own would place him around #7 on this list. Then, in 1932 he became the only failed VP to ever be elected President (Tyler ascended). And just to pile on, he did it 3 more times and is now ranked among the greatest American presidents. Of failed VPs, he is truly the GOAT.

*********

It's hard to imagine how someone could unseat Roosevelt. Even if someone did the unprecedented and served 6 years as VP and 10 as President, that might not be enough. It would probably take a combination of 2 terms as President and many years as Speaker, Majority Leader or Justice. Perhaps Pope or Secretary-General might suffice. Maybe 5 Super Bowl wins. Maybe.

Of the living failed veeps, Ryan is young and still highly-regarded. He could move up this list. Palin still has a chance too - though less likely. I see no comeback for Edwards and both Dole and Lieberman are done. And then, we'll have a new failed VP in 8 months.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Better College Football Playoff system

Last year, college football fans finally get something they've long wanted - a college playoff, and while it should prevent some problems, such as Auburn's fate in 2004, it won't solve all the problems that have come up under the BCS and it certainly won't end controversy.

Under the current playoff system, four teams are selected by a committee to play in a three-game playoff. The main difference between the playoff and the BCS is that it will involve twice as many teams, which is why I used to say the BCS was a two-team, one-game playoff. But many of the BCS controversies will still be possible in the new playoff.

There will still likely be undefeated teams who don't get to play for the championship. After all, there were 5 undefeated teams at the end of the 2004 season. And even when there are fewer than that, it's not unreasonable to think that an undefeated American Athletic school might miss out to let a 1-loss SEC champion in. College football remains the only sport where this is possible.

There will still be controversies over which 1-loss teams get in and which do not. There are likely to be times that teams lose their last game, but still get in; or that teams who don't win their conference, get into the playoffs, while their conference champs do not.

One way to fix this is to create a basketball-style "December Madness" playoff involving all of the conference champions and some number of at-large teams. While March Madness works for basketball, college football is different. What makes college football so special, IMO, is that every game all season matters. One loss, to a good team, can knock you out of it.

In trying to balance the historical importance of the regular season (it wasn't so long ago that the "post-season" didn't even count) with the need to create a real and fair playoff system, I long ago came up with the following proposal.

The general idea is to steal from the way that golf tournaments fill their slots, with everyone who accomplishes some indisputable metric getting in. As such, there is no set number of teams to get into the playoffs, all the team who qualify get in, except there has to be at least four teams (back-testing several years shows no time in the last 20 when less then four teams qualify). While this makes scheduling more complicated, it solves the problem caused by a set number, namely that you often wind up distinguishing between teams who are basically equal - such as the way Baylor was left out last year.

Think of it as being more like a teacher. They don't (normally) give out a certain number of A's, but rather everyone who earns an A gets an A.

The full rules are below, but simplified it works like this: Go undefeated and you're in. Lose a game and win your conference and you're in. Otherwise, pray.

If this had been used for the last two years, the playoffs would have looked like this (using the BCS Poll to rank and assuming higher seed wins in cases where the teams didn't actually play):

2013

Quarterfinals (Dec 23)
#5 Louisville at #4 Utah
#6 Boise State at #3 Auburn

Semi-finals
#4 Utah vs #1 USC at the Rose Bowl
#3 Auburn vs #2 Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl

Finals

#2 Oklahoma vs #1 USC at The Super Dome

2014

Quarterfinal (Dec 24)
#5 Baylor at #4 Ohio State

Semi-finals
#4 Ohio State vs #1 Alabama at the Sugar Bowl
#3 Florida State vs #2 Oregon at the Rose Bowl

Finals

#4 Ohio State vs #2 Oregon at AT&T Stadium

And then this year, the playoffs would look very similar to how they look now, but would include 12-1 Houston

2015

Quarterfinal (Dec 24)
#5 Houston at #4 Oklahoma

Semi-fnals
#4 Oklahoma at #1 Clemson at the Orange Bowl
#3 Michigan State at #2 Alabama at the Cotton Bowl

This would usually result in more games, and more Cinderella teams with less controversy. The only issue now is that #18 Houston "jumped" more than a dozen teams to get in. But those teams did not win their conference or they last more than 1 game. If strength of schedule becomes an issue, as teams try to game the system, then the only solution would be hand over some of the scheduling to an overview body (such as the NCAA) to create more balanced schedules.

Rules

Section 1: The following teams qualify for the playoffs.

1. Teams that are undefeated
2. Teams that have only one loss and win their conference championship outright
3. Teams that have only one loss and win a share of their conference championship if
     a. The team or teams they share with lost more than one game or
     b. The team or teams they share with have a worse record if all overtime games are eliminated or
     c. The team or teams they share with lost only one game, cannot be distinguished by (b) above and lost in a head-to-head match or
     d. (a)-(c) can not distinguish a team, but the team wins a conference-determined tie-breaker
4. An independent team with only one loss if no independent team qualified under rule 1
5. If less than four teams qualify under rules 1 through 4 then use the qualifiers below, in order, until at least four teams qualify, once 4 teams qualify move on to Section 2
a. All one loss conference co-champions
b. All team with one loss, if the loss came in overtime
c. Teams that have two losses and win their conference championship outright, if one loss came in overtime
d. Teams that have two losses and win a share of their conference championship, if one loss came in overtime
e. An independent team with two losses if no independent team has qualified yet and one loss came in overtime
f. All teams with one loss
g. Conference champions ranked by records, until four teams are qualified

Section 2: Seeding Teams and Playoffs

1. A committee of experts will seed qualifying teams.
2. If more than 8 teams qualify, first round games will be played at least 2 weeks before the New Year's Day game to eliminate extra teams
3. If more than four teams qualify, quarterfinal games will be played at least one week before New Year's Day to eliminate extra teams
4. The four teams remaining after seeding or other games will meet in two neutral-site New Year's Day games.
5. If the number of qualifying teams is not a factor of 2, then top teams will receive byes as necessary.
6. First round and quarterfinal games will be played at the home field of the higher seeded team.
7. The two winners of the New Year's Day games will play in a neutral site championship game.

Monday, November 30, 2015

It doesn't really matter who's winning now

If you like politics, then it's fun/interesting to watch the horse race in the Republican primary (the Democratic primary lacks the same drama and has played out as predicted so far). But, if recent history is any guide, I wouldn't give the current polls a lot of value if you're trying to figure out who the 2016 nominee is going to be.

Looking at the last four contested primaries, the eventual nominee hadn't moved to the top of the national polls until January or February.

In 2004, eventual Democratic nominee John Kerry was behind in the polls until late January, 2004 - several days after the Iowa primary.
In fact, at this point in the year, and after this point in relation to the Iowa caucus, Kerry was in 4th place.

In 2008 the polling was similar on the Republican side. Two months before the Iowa caucus, McCain was in third place, and with less than a month to go, he would drop to 5th. Here again, he wouldn't become the front runner until a week after Iowa, and 3 days after New Hampshire.


The 2008 Democratic primary polling looked somewhat similar to the way it looks this year, with Hillary Clinton sitting comfortably ahead of the field, but then at around this point (two months prior to the Iowa caucus) Obama began to move up steadily in the polls. He didn't become the front runner in National polls until mid February, nearly 6 weeks after Iowa.


And of course, much has been made about the difficulty Romney had in 2012 consolidating the support of Republicans. After leading for much of the early part of the campaign, Romney lost the lead 5 times between June 2011 and March 2012 to 4 different opponents. He did lock down a lead in the national polling until the last day of  February, nearly two months after Iowa.

The 1992 Democratic primary was also late to develop. Back in 1992, Clinton didn't finally take the lead until early March (a few weeks after Iowa), and the person he was behind prior to that wasn't even in the race.


Of course, this is all in contrast to 2000 a year with no incumbent candidate and a year when both eventual nominees were front runners before they entered the race, and remained front runners to the end. Which is how the Democratic nomination is looking this year.

Similarly, in 1996 Dole led the Republican primary polling from early November, when he regained the lead from Colin Powell after Powell announced he would not run, until the end.
Will Trump or Clinton in 2015 be more like Dole, Bush or Gore in 1996 and 2000, or more like Giuliani and Clinton in 2008? At this point the only thing we can say is that the polling up to now doesn't really mean much.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

We really could all die

Clearing out the old blog post ideas here. Back in 2013 (I know, I know) Ezra Klein had a story on global pandemics that oddly didn't mention the worst disease to come along in modern times, by which I mean AIDS. It's odd, because HIV in many ways contradicts one of the key ideas in the article.
Diseases face a choice between spreading easily and being severe. If a disease is too hard on its host, killing quickly, it can’t spread. If it’s too easy on its host, it doesn’t much matter if it spreads. 
But HIV spreads pretty easily and is (or at least was until the "cocktail" for treatment was developed) as severe as can be imagined. If you were designing a disease to wipe out a large portion of the population, HIV would provide a pretty good model for two key reasons.

The first is that victims don't actually die of HIV. They die from something else because their immune system is so weakened that an opportunistic infection (like thrush and Kaposi's sarcoma) can spread and eventually cause death. This enabled HIV to hide for several decades as patients were assumed to have died from the other infections. Even after HIV made it to the United States, it took a decade to detect it.

The second reason is that it has a long incubation period. Klein was right that a disease that kills too quickly can't spread, but one that kills nearly 100% of the time can still spread - as long as it does so slowly. And the median incubation period for HIV is 10 years. The saving grace, if you wish to call it that, of HIV was that it was an STD, which significantly slowed down the rate at which it could be spread.

But imagine if HIV was a vector-spread disease like malaria, or could be transmitted via droplet spread or what if it had been airborne. In other words, if HIV had a Basic Reproductive Number that was closer to that of measles or whooping cough it would have spread very far and infected many many people before we even knew there was a new disease on the loose. And it took us nearly 15 years from HIV identification to effective treatment, during which time the disease continued to spread.

Another thing to consider is a disease that alters the hosts behavior like toxoplasmosis does. The life cycle of Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, requires the disease to be passed between rodents and cats. Rodents infected with the disease will have their behavior modified so that they are less fearful of cats and so that they behave in ways that are unsafe, thereby increasing the chances that they will be eaten by a cat and continue the cycle. Even humans infected by the disease have been shown to be involved in a higher rate of car crashes and other risk-taking related deaths, indicating that their behavior has been changed as well.

Imagine an HIV that changes peoples behavior, making them engage in more sex and/or riskier sex. Such behavior could increase the transmission rate considerably over what was observed. Or imagine a flu-like disease that makes someone become more gregarious and outgoing during their peak contagious period, allowing them to come into contact with more people and spreading the disease more quickly.

It is unlikely, but a disease really could cause a world-wide pandemic that threatens human civilization. What would such a disease look like? It would be a disease, like HIV, with a long incubation period and low survivability rate, and one that masks it impact and is hard to understand, but with a higher transmission rate more like the measles. Such a disease could very well create a movie-like disease-based pandemic that would infect and kill 5% or 10% or 20% of the world's population. And how large an infection would it take to strain the civilization that we have now? Probably lower than 20%. Like I said, it's unlikely, but then so was HIV.

The scary thought is not that something like the AIDS crisis could happen again, but that perhaps, as bad as it was, we got lucky.

Friday, April 17, 2015

You could be living next door to one of the Oklahoma City bombing conspirators, and have no way of knowing.

(This was supposed to publish some time ago. Whoops)

It's the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. For me it was one of those "I remember exactly where I was at the time" moments. I was driving to the dentist in Austin to have X-rays taken as part of my Peace Corps enrollment process. Later that week I found out that an acquaintance of mine had a cousin who was one of the victims and for some reason it became much more tangible to me at that moment, and I remember that it was then that I got emotional about it and feeling odd that my response was triggered by such a convoluted connection.

It's always been odd to me that, in light of the white supremacist motivation of the perpetrators, that we never talked about white supremacists in the same way we do "radical Islamic terrorists" despite the frequency of domestic terrorist plans and acts by white supremacists.

Anyway, there were three main conspirators in the case of which two are in custody or dead. Timothy McVeigh, of course, who was the mastermind of the whole thing. He was executed for his crimes on June 11, 2001. Terry Nichols who helped acquire the bomb materials, hide the get away car and provided other material support. He's in prison in Colorado serving 161 consecutive life sentences (just a little more than 160 to go!)

The third accomplice was Michael Fortier. He knew of the plan and helped scout the building and his wife laminated McVeigh's fake ID. Fortier agreed to testify against the others and was convicted with a reduced sentence. He was released from prison in 2006, and placed in the witness protection program. Which means he could be living literally anywhere.