Political Fix (15 December, 2016)

Love in the Times of Politics

A few shock waves rippled through the Valley when the Tulare County Registrar of Voters released its final results on December 5. Nationally the election was a wild, emotional ride. Locally, there were Election Day irregularities resulting in long waits, ballots running out, and a huge delay in releasing preliminary numbers.

After the dust settled, Donald Trump broke down the “Blue Wall” and emerged as president-elect. Tulare County saw incumbents fall and witnessed almost statistically impossible anomalies in the vote count.

Election Day in our house started by my opening up the Visalia Times-Delta (VTD) to see my daughter, Mercedes, and her boyfriend, Brendon, featured on the front page. VTD reporter Eric Woomer couldn’t wrap his head around how a Democrat and Republican could be in a relationship during such a nasty election so he wrote an article about it. I thought the title should have been “Love Trumps Hate” but Mr. Woomer obviously thought it too trite.

On election night, the Valley Voice staff divvied up parties and Brendon, Mercedes and I left around 8pm for Congressman David Valadao and Congressman Devin Nunes’ event in Hanford. It was around that time the mood started shifting nationally. By 7pm results started painting a surprisingly grim picture for Hillary Clinton that even shocked Trump supporters.

As the hours went by, Mr. Trump’s numbers kept looking better but local results for Tulare County were nowhere to be found. Staff for Rep. Nunes and Rep. Valadao sat at their work table lined with laptops shaking their heads as their screens flashed an error message when they tried to log onto the Tulare County Registrar of Voters website. Little did they know at the time that voters were still waiting in line at 10pm to cast their ballots in Lindsay and parts of Visalia.

Because Kings County voting results were on time, Rep. Valadao was able to give a victory speech by 9:30pm. But Rep. Nunes was with his three young girls and gave up and went home. In fact, candidates all over Tulare County had to leave their parties and victory cakes behind not knowing what the results would be until the next day.

Even though the food was really good, we gave up too and went home hoping to at least see some results in time to write an article. On the car ride back to Visalia, Brendon followed the presidential election results on his phone and gave us updates. As Elton John sang on the radio “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” Brendon announced that Pennsylvania was just called for Mr. Trump. Mercedes asked me what that meant, and I said that means Mr. Trump just won the election. Mr. Woomer texted Brendon asking how Mercedes was taking the news and she started to cry.

The national election was over by 11pm, but for some Tulare County candidates the local election had just begun.

The first election results came in around 11:30pm and it was clear that some incumbents were too far behind to keep their seats. In Kings County, Hanford City Council incumbent Gary Pannett was about seven points behind Martin Devine on election night and he never recovered. For Kaweah Delta Health Care District, Nevin House kept a continual lead over incumbent Teresa Ramos and won. Both incumbent candidates for Tulare Regional Health Care District lost badly after a very contentious tenure for both.

The one election that everyone watched as the Tulare County Registrar of Voters updated its results throughout November was the Tulare County Supervisor race for District 1. On election night Dennis Smith was leading by 200 votes. But for each update his lead shrank until Kuyler Crocker took over the lead and won by 295 votes.

Though Mr. Smith did not win, he gets the Florence Malloch Doe honorary Scotsman award. From my calculations Mr. Crocker spent $8 per vote while Mr. Smith came out of nowhere to almost pull off a victory by only spending a $1.50 a vote.

The other closely watched race was for Tulare City Council District 5 between developer Greg Nunley and three-term Tulare City Councilmember Craig Vejvoda.

On election night Mr. Vejvoda was up by 44 votes or 1.6%. By the November 18 update his lead had grown. Then, boom, the final results stated that Mr. Vejvoda lost by 16 votes. Mr. Vejvoda’s wife and former California State Assembly Woman, Connie Conway, said his loss is the equivalent of one-third of one percent.

Mr. Vejvoda was of two minds about calling for a recount. Because of the many irregularities in the way Tulare County Registrar of Voters handled the election several of his good friends encouraged him to do it. Mr. Vejvoda ended up deciding against the recount, the main reason being the cost.

“It’s expensive,” he said. “It’s $2000 a day and they want four days up front.”

Ms. Conway felt that, despite the cost, a recount would lend integrity to the election and renew voter confidence whether her husband won or not. “It’s a real statistical anomaly for a candidate to be ahead for every update and then end up losing the election.”

Ms. Conway had her own story to tell about Election Day. Arriving at her polling place at 6pm, she did not leave until 8:30. That would be awesome if we lived in Florida, but there is normally no line at polling places in Tulare County. She reported that by the time she got to her polling place they had run out of ballots. She was then offered a ballot in Spanish but saw that it did not have the hospital district race or the Tulare City Council race on it. Then she tried using the voting machines but they had run out of paper.

I never did find out how Ms. Conway finally cast her ballot, but she did say that many people left the polling place not voting for the hospital district or the city council race. She said she heard, and her husband was told later, that many people got tired and went home without voting at all.

In the end the local and national winners of the election made history. The City of Tulare installed its first Black mayor, first Hispanic vice mayor and elected its first Hispanic to the city council. (The vice mayor was appointed.) For President of the United States we elected the oldest, richest and least experienced renowned philanderer to the highest office in our land. Don’t tell the Dow Jones though, it’s booming.

Maybe the local results would have been different if the polling places didn’t run out of ballots and people didn’t have to wait so long. Then Mr. Vejvoda might have retained his seat. And maybe the national results would have been different if FBI Director James Comey and Russia hadn’t interfered with the presidential election. Then maybe we would have had the country’s first woman president.

Mr. Woomer ultimately titled his VTD Election Day article “Love in the Time of Politics,” and whereas Brendon and Mercedes might not make it for four years because they are young, Tulare County and the Country will because we are not.

The Spy who Loved Us

Remember when presidential nominee Mitt Romney said during his 2012 campaign that Russia was our greatest threat? Then everyone kind of snickered?

Who is snickering now? It seems every few months something Mr. Romney stated during his campaign, especially about Russia, is reaffirmed.

The Washington Post and the New York Times now have both reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has confirmed that Russia took covert action to interfere with the United States’ Presidential Election. Russia’s goal was not to just undermine confidence in our electoral system but to help elect Mr. Trump.

Germany, Sweden and England are raising similar warning flags about Russian attempts at electoral influence. “The risks are profound. … They should be a concern to all those who share democratic values,” said Alex Younger to the Washington Post, head of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service.

So does that make Russia a threat?

According to Quartz news agency, Russia is a serious threat. “Putin seeks to weaken the US, the EU, and NATO to the degree that they can no longer presume to call the shots without his agreement in international affairs. Since western governments are not ordinarily prepared for such stout challenges to their democracies, they are vulnerable to the weapons of doubt he (Mr. Putin) is employing…… Since trust is the bedrock of democracy, this threatens social stability across the West.”

Most legislators in Washington are my age or older, and for us the real boogie man growing up was the Soviet Union. The 1970’s and 80’s were a time of the Warsaw Pact, nuclear arms race, Solidarnost, Soviet Spies, and Agent 007 facing off with the KGB. I don’t know how, when, or why attitudes changed about our old Cold War foe. The Soviet Union broke apart in 1989 and shrunk back to its original borders of Russia. But what they lost in size they made up for in anger, resentment and Russian nationalism.

Republican hawks on Russia are starting to worry. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he strongly condemned any foreign interference with U.S. elections and announced that the Senate intelligence panel will investigate Russia’s suspected election interference. House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “under President Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests.” Senator John McCain’s reaction was, “there’s no doubt about the hacking — let’s establish that.”

What did our president-elect have to say?

“Ridiculous,” and, “I don’t believe it.”

The question is: is Donald Trump’s response in reaction to, or because of, the cabinet picks and closest advisors with which he surrounds himself?

Besides having many complimentary things to say about President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, vacations with Mr. Putin’s mistress, and close Trump associates Carter Page, Paul Manafort, General Michael Flynn and now Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tellerson, all have close ties with Mr. Putin.

As of press time Mr. Trump’s top pick for the Secretary of State seat seems to be Mr. Tellerson.

What qualifies Mr. Tillerson to be America’s top diplomat besides his impressive bank account? The only thing that qualifies him, as he has only ever worked for Exxon his entire life, is his relationship with Mr. Putin. Other than that he is a complete novice.

Could Mr. Putin see the sanctions lifted on Russia, western trade agreements disintegrate, and NATO become impotent under a Trump presidency?

Just the possibility makes one think that Mr. Putin got his money’s worth for whatever he paid those hackers.

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