Off to the Races in Arizona

Conventional wisdom says that Arizona is a red state that does not elect Democrats. Results from past elections indicate that Senator John McCain is unbeatable in this state where he has never lost an election, always winning by 20% more than his opponent. Common sense says that nobody with ambition would sacrifice their career to run against this titan of the Senate.

And yet, Representative Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01) is putting her political career on the line in an attempt to win what is shaping up to be the dark horse election of the year. Although some may see it as a commendable but quixotic quest to win as a Democrat in Arizona, others say that there is an incoming storm that may sweep her into office.

(Photo Credit: ABC News)

Ann Kirkpatrick is a top tier candidate for this race. She is a moderate Democrat that won reelection in a Republican district during the 2014 Republican wave, she has successfully secured federal money for building projects for her booming state, and she currently sits on the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs. All of these things play well in a red state like Arizona.

Representing a district in Arizona that is geographically larger than Pennsylvania, Kirkpatrick has had to forge relationships with people across the state. From rural towns to the urban area of Flagstaff, Kirkpatrick’s experience with such a variety of communities has prepared well her for a statewide run.

Notably, Kirkpatrick has maintained a warm relationship with the American Indians of her district. The Navajo Nation and Apache Reservation lie within her district, making it the most heavily American Indian district in the country. Although statewide they make up only 4.6% of the population, having a small but significant base of support should serve her well in the election.

However strong of a candidate she is, Kirkpatrick stills faces the fact that Arizona is typically a red state and has only voted for a Democrat for president (Bill Clinton, 1996) once since 1948. Yet a combination of demographic shifts within the state and the current political headwinds have colored Arizona purple, at least for this election.

Nationwide, Latinos have been voting for Democrats with increasing frequency. Republican opposition to issues important to Latinos such as universal healthcare, education reform, and immigration reform have made Latinos a more Democratic constituency. Additionally, Latinos are growing faster demographically than any other group or ethnicity.

Arizona is feeling this effect more prominently than other states. Making up over 30% of the state’s population, Latinos could potentially hold more political power in Arizona than almost anywhere else. However, the state’s Latinos typically vote at rates much lower than the general population at only 17% of the state’s voters.

It should not be a surprise to hear that during this election Latinos are projected to turn out in higher levels, thanks to their fervent resentment of Donald Trump’s controversial comments. The projected surge in Latino voting could couple with the general ‘blue-ing’ of the increasingly urban population of cities like Phoenix to give candidates like Kirkpatrick the boost she needs to win in November.

The problem for past challengers to John McCain is that despite the gradual changes in demographics, he has managed to stay strong in the state. His reputation as a moderate and his appeal to Latino voters have kept him strong in Arizona. However, both of those traditional strengths are eroding during this election cycle.

When John McCain ran for president in 2008, he ran as the “maverick.” He ran as the person willing to compromise and make deals in Congress so that he could accomplish important tasks. His record of bipartisanship supported his claim. In Arizona, this has made him attractive enough to moderate and liberal voters that he has traditionally won in landslides.

This election cycle is different. His meek response to Trump’s assertions that he, McCain, is not a true war hero, and then his later support of Trump for president has lost McCain bipartisan credibility among many. Additionally, his controversial comments on how Obama is responsible for terrorist attacks such as the Orlando shooting while the nation was in mourning have not won him many fans.

Although John McCain’s support for immigration reform has given him a good relationship with the state’s Latinos, that too has changed. The Latino electorate is younger than in past elections. They are less likely to remember McCain as the man who co-sponsored multiple immigration reform bills than the older generations of Latinos who supported McCain in the past.

When Ann Kirkpatrick first announced her bid for the US Senate, many felt that she was a qualified candidate, but that Arizona was too red of a state and McCain too strong of an incumbent for her to win. In the time since, she has shown us that due to her own strength as a candidate, the ‘purpling’ of Arizona, and the weaknesses of John McCain, her race is winnable.

Many still consider Kirkpatrick’s bid for office a longshot and that it would take a wave election to see her win. They are not wrong. Her limited statewide recognition, McCain’s strengths as an incumbent, and Arizona’s Republican tendencies are still formidable obstacles to overcome.

But Democrats need to invest in races such as Kirkpatrick’s. If Hillary wins Arizona, it could be seen purely as a reaction to Trump. A Kirkpatrick victory would open the door to making Arizona more competitive in the future. When the Senate map looks unfavorable to Democrats as it is and with Republicans dominating local politics nationwide, Democrats need to start turning more states blue. They cannot simply wait for the predicted long-term demographic changes to favor them. They need to be aggressive, they need to have clear vision, and they need to support candidates in non-traditional Democratic states. In 2016, that means fighting their hearts out to see good candidates like Kirkpatrick win.

Unite behind Hillary or Say Hello to President Trump

Most people assume I support Bernie Sanders because I am a college student; they are incorrect. Sanders has made flashy, impractical promises of free tuition, single-payer health care, and dismantling Wall Street’s power structure. Frustrated white voters flock to him, nostalgic of a time when industry and unions were booming. Nevertheless, it’s practically impossible for him to win at this point, as it would take an unprecedented flip in delegates and Superdelegates. The delegate math clearly indicates Hillary will be the nominee. Some make the argument that Superdelegates should flip to Bernie if he won their statewide popular vote, but most usually support the candidate who wins the national popular vote, which would be Hillary in this case. Furthermore, Superdelegates are prominent party figures who are unlikely to vote for Bernie because he’s not an established party member, and he tends to give off the impression that he thinks he is above the rest of Congress. He also only became a member of the Democratic Party this year so that he could have the chance to be a major presidential candidate. Many members of the House and Senate have also noted he is not easy to work with, not to mention his lack of foreign policy interest or experience.

So then why do many Bernie supporters refuse to let go? Bernie wanted a political revolution, but he failed to stir enough of a revolution to win enough votes. He lost, and not because the mainstream media ‘stole’ it from him or because Hillary is ‘corrupt’, but because he did not receive enough votes and therefore delegates. Yet for some reason there are thousands of Bernie supporters who still refuse to accept Hillary as the nominee.  It would still be awful if John McCain or Mitt Romney were the presumptive GOP nominee, but it’s now downright atrocious because our country faces the possibility of electing the most fear-mongering, bigoted, racist demagogue it has seen in recent times. Any hope of Bernie’s ‘political revolution’ dies when Donald Trump stands on Capitol Hill on January 20, 2017. Bernie has claimed he wants to stop Trump, but there is only one way to do so. If we agree we need to stop Trump, we need to unite behind a single candidate.

Why unite behind Hillary? It’s simple: she’s winning the primary, and she is incredibly experienced. She’s winning by more than Obama was ahead of her in 2008. She is under no obligation to drop out and hand the nomination to the man who is losing. It’s ridiculous that people even suggest it. Some also cite polls that predict Bernie would perform better against Trump, but Bernie can help Hillary perform better by actively supporting her and convincing his supporters to do the same. He has the power to unify the party, but it is selfish that he refuses to use it. Nonetheless, Bernie has done an incredible job at pulling Hillary further left, and for that I would like to thank him.

We have a candidate who advocates for women’s health. A candidate who will help the poor and middle class instead of the rich. A candidate who will continue to make healthcare affordable and available. A candidate who will help students afford to go to college. A candidate who actually has serious, implementable plans for U.S. foreign policy. A candidate with comprehensive immigration reform. Now all we have to do is elect her. Using the hashtag #NeverHillary is a vote for a President Trump. It is time for the Democratic Party and other sensible people of this nation to band together and stand behind Hillary.

Hillary has been tried and tested. She has withstood intense attacks from the GOP, which is something to which Bernie Sanders cannot attest. If we stand together behind Hillary, the rightful winner of the Democratic nomination, we can defeat Trump.

Rauner Vs. Madigan: The Perpetual Budget Battle

Rauner (R) and Madigan (D), pictured respectively. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune; Seth Perlman / AP)

Illinois is facing a political and economic crisis, and the state’s political leaders, specifically Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, remain locked in a battle over the state budget that continues to paralyze Illinois and hurt their constituents. The situation in Illinois has deteriorated to the point that it has become comedic, as demonstrated by Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show in a piece poking fun at the state for it being temporarily forced to distribute IOUs to its lottery winners after the lack of a state budget froze funding for a wide variety of state services. While the lottery winners were perhaps the most visible victims of an impotent state government’s inability to pass a state budget, vital law enforcement and firefighting services, pension funds, and veterans homes have also languished.

The Chicago Tribune characterized the “impasse” as “a monumental state budget standoff that’s rooted in sharp ideological and political differences and aggravated by nostril-flaring contempt between Republican Rauner and Democratic critics, who view each other as not just wrong, but reckless.”

On one side of the conflict is Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, who has been a titan of Illinois politics for decades. He has served as Speaker of the House every year since 1983, with the exception of 1995-96, and has served as a State Representative since 1970. To some, Madigan represents the epitome of the status quo—a “corrupt” Democratic machine politician. He is backed by still-influential Illinois labor unions, a relatively united state-level Democratic Party with majorities in both houses, and by a populace prone to low expectations. On the other side of the conflict is first term Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, a millionaire businessman whose savvy campaign and promise of disrupting business as usual in the state capital launched him to a victory over the incumbent Pat Quinn in 2015.

(Joe Darrow, Chicago Magazine)

(Joe Darrow, Chicago Magazine)

Lying at the heart of the issue is a state pension fund crisis. In years past, politicians have chosen to forgo paying into the state pension funds in favor of spending on other programs, and have even borrowed from the funds themselves. The state of Illinois owes about $111 billion to its pensioners, but does not have the funds to pay them. The current state constitution prevents legislators from cutting the benefits owed to the pensioners, which complicates things considerably. For example, a potential pension bailout plan was passed under the previous administration, but it was knocked down by the State Supreme Court on constitutional grounds.

The situation has become a crisis because Rauner refuses to discuss tax increases until some of his proposed reforms are agreed to by the Democratically controlled General Assembly, and Democrats led by Madigan refuse to back down from the policies outlined in a budget that Rauner vetoed last year.

The United Way of Illinois released a budget impact survey on January 26, 2016 that gives an idea of how harmful the standoff has been for residents. Social services have been cut across the board in the effort to balance the state budget. According to a United Way survey, “85% of responding agencies statewide have cut the number of clients they serve.” The mentally ill and disabled have received the “deepest cuts,” and “cuts to programs serving seniors, children and adults seeking education or jobs have more than tripled since…July 2015.” School funding on all levels, from elementary schools to state universities, has fallen. In Chicago, the failure of state funds to assist an already deeply indebted school system has caused schools to cut programs, lay off teachers, and threatens to cause much more pain unless the crisis can be resolved quickly. Clearly, not only is the problem one of scope, but one that disproportionately harms the most vulnerable Illinoisans.

This is a conflict that transcends party, and cannot be blamed on a single individual: both men are complicit in a petty struggle of political will. Compromise, the obvious route towards a budget and functioning state government, has eluded the two men, and their actions have not suggested any interest in capitulation. Rich Miller of Crain’s Chicago Business characterized the battle in a November article as “the politics of win-at-all-costs,” and later as “the politics of ‘They’re the worst’”. The degree of blatant antagonism, lack of cooperation, and the length of the standoff has frustrated Illinoisans’ hopes for reform to a state that ranks 48th out of 50 states in the union on unfunded debt, via Truth In Accounting’s “State Data Lab” website.

In her article titled,  “Illinois budget impasse creates a pipeline to deeper poverty,” Dahleen Glanton expresses much of the populace’s frustration with a political process that has devolved into personal attacks and lack of accountability for those involved.

“Many of us have reached the point where we don’t care which team wins; we just want the game to be over. Of course, neither Rauner nor Madigan will budge…In order to qualify for such a sadistic competition, both challengers had to possess unabashed stubbornness, a trait that renders one insensitive to the well-being of his constituents,” she writes.
It seems to many Illinoisans that what began as a political battle has devolved into a personal one, a dangerous “game” that hurts constituents. An October poll had Rauner’s approval below 35%, Madigan’s below 20%, and the General Assembly below 10%. It couldn’t be clearer that Illinoisans want and need these men to set aside their pride and compromise before the budget deadline of May 31. But perhaps finally we have an answer to what happens when an unstoppable force and an immovable object meet: the bystanders suffer.

When Can We Have an Honest Conversation About Mental Health?

As a nation, we don’t have the will to openly address mental health. Attention is fleeting at best and nonexistent the remainder of the time. The stigma associated with the mentally ill is not just shameful, but it’s also harmful.

Mental HealthIf you have listened to pundits or politicians discussing mental health at the national policy level, it is most likely been in the aftermath of a mass shooting. As the go-to scapegoat for mass shootings, a conversation about mental health is a convenient change of topic. However, as John Oliver pointed out in his insightful piece on mental health in relation to gun violence, “…the aftermath of a mass shooting might actually be the worst time to talk about mental health, because for the record the vast majority of mentally ill people are non-violent, and the vast majority of gun violence is committed by non-mentally ill people.” Even though that momentary attention does a disservice to mental health issues, at least it is being briefly recognized. Too often, mention of mental illness is the end of the conversation, not the beginning, because people have neither the understanding nor the inclination to have a meaningful discussion of the issue.

The public’s attitude towards mental illness has a tortured history in this country. In the early stages of American history, it was considered “a moral or spiritual failing” that was often punished with jailing or shaming. In the early 1840s, Dorothea Dix reported to the state legislature of Massachusetts to “…call [their] attention to the present state of Insane Persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience.” Today, medical science and treatment have progressed massively, but social conceptions of mental illness are still far too antiquated. That is how politicians are able to use mental illness as punctuation to end the gun control debate, rather than as a launching point for meaningful reform to either gun rights or its intersection with mental illness.

Perhaps it’s convenient to ignore the effect of mental health issues because as Americans our inclination is to believe that every person, regardless of where they start in life, has the agency to shape their own path to success. This view falls short of reality: when brain chemistry is altered by illness, the ways in which people experience the world can be dramatically different and have far reaching consequences. Addressing the circumstance is uncomfortable because it is contrary to the simplifying and incorrect assumption that everyone experiences reality in essentially the same way.

It cannot be denied that mental health is an uncomfortable topic at both the personal level for an overwhelming proportion of Americans, and at the national-political level. The shortage of Americans who truly understand the complex nature is cause for concern, but what is more worrisome is the lack of desire to be educated among the portion of the population that is not directly affected by mental health related issues. This disinterest must be addressed. Until a basic understanding of mental illness develops in this country, it’s hard to imagine real political change.

There are a wide range of mental illnesses with varying severities. Some who experience them are almost wholly incapacitated, while others have more subtle negative effects on day to day activities. The most important message I would like to impart to any reader who knows someone or may someday know someone who struggles with mental health is to shut up and listen. Much harm is done by those who presume, for example, that because they have experienced sadness they understand depression, or, because they have experienced being overwhelmed, they understand anxiety. As college students, the symptoms of these conditions are all around us, and the best way to be a resource to your friends is by educating yourself while simultaneously presuming your ignorance.