Looking at the Democratic presidential primary now and where it might leave the New York primary

We have arrived at the first rest stop on the road to the presidential election 2020. With Iowa* and New Hampshire in the rearview mirror, we can all catch a collective breath before the next event, the Nevada caucuses on February 22nd.  (BTW, don’t look for a footnote at the bottom of the page connected to that asterisk after Iowa*.  It just seems fitting that Iowa*’s 2020 Democratic caucuses deserve a permanent asterisk, like the one given to Roger Maris when he hit 61 home runs in 1961, beating Babe Ruth’s record.  But I digress.)

The whole Iowa* event is a travesty, but nonetheless actual Democratic Convention delegates were selected in that state. Pete Buttigieg received the most, and given the way that Iowa* has treated their results in the past, that is the criterion of the winner.  Bernie Sanders supposedly ran ahead of the pack in the first round of go-stand-in-the-corner-and-raise-your-hand “voting,” so he is claiming victory too.  But how do we know that people were actually voting for a candidate or just wanting to ask a question or wanting to use the restroom?

New Hampshire actually counted their votes last week and the results were known at the end of the evening. We know that Sanders eked out a small victory over Buttigieg, with Amy Klobuchar close in third place and Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden far behind.

So two states are done with the delegate selection process and 1.6 percent of the national delegates have been selected as follows:

  • Buttigieg     23
  • Sanders     21
  • Warren         8
  • Klobuchar     7
  • Biden             6

So where does all this leave things?

Well, for openers, the field of candidates got smaller.  Michael Bennet, Andrew Yang and Deval Patrick dropped out last week.

Bernie Sanders appears to be the frontrunner at this point with his two or perhaps one-and-a-half wins so far. He has a loyal base, but it doesn’t look like it is growing.  You could argue that it is shrinking.  Where is the revolutionary army he is supposed to be leading?

His New Hampshire vote was less than half of what he received in 2016. He defeated Buttigieg by about 1.3 percent compared to his 22 percent victory margin over Hillary Clinton, receiving half the number of votes he collected in 2016.  Polling nationally and in certain upcoming states seems to indicate that he may be plateauing at around 25 percent of the Democratic electorate.

Buttigieg has made substantial progress with his one contested win and a second place finish. Second place finishes will not win him the nomination.  The question is what states can he win, and what will his delegate hauls be?

Klobuchar’s strong New Hampshire debate performance and primary vote have given her a significant boost. But like Buttigieg, the question with her is where, other than in Minnesota, can she win? She has the same issue Mayor Pete has concerning the lack of support among people of color.

Elizabeth Warren did poorly in the first two states, and the fourth place finish in New Hampshire particularly hurts since she represents a neighboring state in Congress. She has plans for everything, but the most important one at the moment is the one labelled “getting back into the race.”

Joe Biden’s campaign is spinning every which way, but the bottom line is that they are in trouble. South Carolina has long been described as Biden’s “firewall,” and indeed it could be, but polls show a tightening race there, where he was once assumed to be invincible.  A loss in South Carolina could be fatal to the former Vice President.

My thoughts go back to Republican primary in South Carolina in 2016. I traveled the state that year to observe the goings on, but one of my most vivid memories was the sight of the Bush campaign bus heading south toward Florida the morning after Bush lost and he pulled out of the race.  Bush, of course, was the perceived frontrunner when that year began.  Just ask Chris Collins.

The question for all of the above candidates, except perhaps Sanders, is whether they can raise the money they will need to compete in the remaining 48 states?

And then, of course, there is Michael Bloomberg, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to raise his standing in the polls. He is now taking heavy incoming from the other campaigns.  He has yet to be tested by voters on the national stage.  How they will vote is more important than if they have heard his name.  The former Mayor of New York can undoubtedly take inspiration from other former Big Apple mayors – President John Lindsay, President Rudy Giuliani and President Bill DeBlasio.

With the large number of candidates still in the running, and with one-third of the Convention delegates likely to be divided up multiple ways on Super Tuesday, March 3rd, it looks more and more like we could have a contested Democratic convention for the first time in nearly 70 years.

The New York primary on April 28th

All the above factors will add interest in the New York Democratic primary on April 28th.

The State Board of Elections describes the process as follows:

The Democratic Presidential Primary is really a “dual primary.” Candidates for president run against each other in a statewide primary, and delegates run in each congressional district and are allocated based on the performance of the presidential candidates within the congressional district. Delegates are either committed to a particular presidential candidate or uncommitted.

Besides the 184 delegates chosen in congressional districts, the State BOE goes on to explain:

Additional pledged, pledged-at-large and unpledged delegates and alternates will be selected as outlined below:

  • the 23 members of the Democratic National Committee from New York, and 21 Democratic Members of U.S. Congress, one Democratic Governor and one Distinguished Party Leaders shall be automatic unpledged delegates (46);
  • the state convention shall elect 29 pledged delegates who qualify as party leaders or elected officials;
  • the state convention shall elect 61 pledged-at-large delegates and 24 pledged alternate delegates.

 In the Presidential candidate contest, a Presidential candidate must receive a threshold percentage of at least fifteen (15%) of the votes cast for all Presidential candidates according to the vote they receive in a Congressional District. If only one Presidential candidate reaches the threshold percent in a Congressional District, then that candidate shall be entitled to all district delegates in the Congressional District.

 And then there is this: If a candidate for president withdraws or elects not to have his or her name appear next to any delegate, the delegates pledged to that candidate will not appear on the ballot.

 Eleven candidates originally filed statewide petitions, but since February 6th three of the candidates have dropped out, leaving:

    • Joe Biden
    • Michael Bloomberg
    • Pete Buttigieg
    • Tulsi Gabbard
    • Amy Klobuchar
    • Bernie Sanders
    • Tom Steyer
    • Elizabeth Warren

It is quite possible after the Nevada caucuses, the South Carolina primary, and the 14-state Super Tuesday contests that additional candidates will drop out, thus removing themselves from the New York ballot. March 4th is the last day for the State BOE to notify party committees of candidates who will appear on the ballot, which will then be certified on March 6th.

Drilling down further, delegate candidate petitions have been filed in Western New York’s 26th and 27th congressional districts for Biden, Buttigieg (only in the 26th district), Sanders, Warren and Yang.

Yang has dropped out and his delegate candidates will not appear on the ballot. Might the same fate await the Biden and/or Warren delegates? The next month will tell the tale.

Some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets

We are finally getting into the real part of the presidential campaign where people actually get to cast a vote, as opposed to standing in a corner of a gymnasium raising their hands. Were they really voting for Sanders or did they just need to use the restroom?

Anyway, speaking as a long-term political junkie, I’m still wondering, why, oh why do campaigns have to go on so long? Here are some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets:

  • We should be getting some final, final Iowa Caucus numbers any day now depending on whether or not there is a recount. In the meantime, who cares?
  • Iowa should go last, which they won’t, or other states should amend their election calendars to say that their presidential primaries will occur on whatever day Iowa sets for their caucuses.
  • You know that this is really crazy when you see old fuddy-duddy Republican Senator Chuck Grassley defending the Caucuses.
  • We all sometimes send out emails or texts that we wish we could have back, so I’d give Erie County Democratic Chairman and Board of Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner a mulligan for sending out this tweet shortly after 8 pm on February 3rd, the night of the Iowa caucus: “The Iowa Democratic Party is the only source for caucus results. Visit thecaucuses.org to view the results.”
  • I did that a number of times that evening. It reminded me of results-posting snafus of the Erie County Board of Elections in recent years, but it can be confirmed that the Board staff had nothing to do with counting the Iowa results.
  • It would be nice to fast forward to March 3rd, Super Tuesday, when about one-third of all the delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be chosen, but alas, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina beckon.
  • Petitions for delegates to the Democratic National Convention were filed with the New York State Board of Elections on February 6th for:
    • Michael Bennet
    • Joe Biden
    • Michael Bloomberg
    • Pete Buttigieg
    • Tulsi Gabbard
    • Amy Klobuchar
    • Deval Patrick
    • Bernie Sanders
    • Tom Steyer
    • Elizabeth Warren
    • Andrew Yang
  • Delegates will be elected on a congressional district basis and there will also be delegates selected by the state committee.   Delegate candidates supporting presidential contenders who drop out will not be listed on the ballot on April 28th.
  • Members of the National Committee, members of Congress, and the Governor will be delegates, but will only vote if the Convention goes beyond one ballot.
  • In the 26th and 27th Congressional Districts, petitions for delegate candidates have been filed in support of Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang.  Notable delegate candidates include:
    • Supporting Biden:  Tim Kennedy, Jennifer Hibit, Demone Smith, Gayle Syposs, Len Lenihan, Margaret Murphy, Craig Bucki
    • Supporting Bernie Sanders:  Brian Nowak, Betty Jean Grant
    • Supporting Warren:  Mark Poloncarz, Mitch Nowakowski, Jerome Schad, Patrick Burke, Luke Wochensky
  • We may be heading to an actual contested convention with delegate counts split up among several candidates after Super Tuesday with no one holding a commanding lead. I for one think that would be a good thing, given the nature of politics in 2020. It would require compromise.
  • The Republican system of delegate selection in New York has been set up to basically shut off any opposition to fearless leader Donald Trump.
  • The United States Senate last week, by a vote of 52 to 48, determined that interference in American elections by foreign adversaries is okay with the Constitution, and the Constitution says that the President cannot do anything wrong – but maybe it wasn’t the American Constitution they were working from.
  • Meanwhile, things have crystalized in the special election for Congress in NY27. Democrats selected Nate McMurray, the Republicans chose Chris Jacobs, and the Conservatives have said “pass.”
  • That means that the Conservatives believe Chris Jacobs is not conservative enough for their politics but they are afraid to put up a real conservative in the race less that hurts the chances of electing a Republican (Jacobs) in the special election. If, however, Jacobs defeats Parlato in the June Republican primary, the Conservatives will nominate Parlato for State Supreme Court in the Bronx or Manhattan, substitute Jacobs as their congressional candidate, and then declare Jacobs to be a great conservative.
  • Federal campaign financials for NY27 were filed at the end of January. They show that:
    • Jacobs raised $1,064,269 since April 2019, which included a personal loan of $446,000. He spent $276,305 and had cash on hand of $787,964.
    • Beth Parlato had receipts of $373,582, disbursements of $39,698, and cash on hand of $333,884.
    • Robert Ortt collected $210,565 since July 2019, including a personal loan of $55,000. He spent $40,155 and had $170,410 on hand at the end of January.
    • Stefan Mychajliw raised nothing and spent nothing from a federal campaign account; his federal committee was only created on January 22nd. As noted in a previous post, however, he spent tens of thousands of dollars out of his state-filed campaign account during the past year for activities that appear related to a congressional campaign. That is generally considered illegal.
    • The White House staff guy who suddenly appeared from out-of-the-blue and said he wanted to be the member of Congress from NY27 did not have a federal committee formed as of the end of January.
    • McMurray raised $334,654 since January 2019, spent $129,624, and had $217,109 in the bank as of January 31.
    • Brian Higgins had $1,194,502 cash on hand at the end of January, having raised $671,811 since January 2019. He spent $340,220 during the past year. Higgins has no declared opponent.
  • Petitions go out for federal and state party nominations on February 25th.
  • There will be a barnburner of a Republican primary in NY27 between Jacobs and Parlato but at the moment it appears that the only possible primaries for state legislative seats might be for the 140th District seat of retiring Assemblyman Robin Schimminger and the 61st Senate District seat of retiring Senator Michael Ranzenhofer.
  • Mayor Byron Brown was supposed to be happy that Barbara Miller-Williams would be the new Buffalo City Comptroller, given their long-time political association. But it seems that alliance is fraying as the Brown administration refuses to discuss a plan for re-building the City’s totally depleted reserve fund. Without a reserve fund City government is walking on a high wire without a net, which is only fine if you are Nick Wallenda.

Medicaid becomes a big issue

Its budget season in New York, and the Governor and legislators are faced with some serious problems – problems mainly of their own creation. It looks like they will be handling it the way Albany usually deals with such things – confusion, short timetables and some passing of the buck.

The issue at the moment is how the state will deal with a six billion dollar budget shortfall for the new fiscal year that begins on April 1. About two-thirds of that hole relates to the state’s Medicaid program.  Medicaid provides health care for nearly one of every three New Yorkers.

Medicaid was created by the federal government in the 1960’s to assist the poor with their medical needs, about the same time that Medicare was set up to assist those 65 or older with health insurance. New York State got into the Medicaid business in 1966 during the Rockefeller administration.  Medicaid was created to assist people with limited financial resources to receive health care, something most other major nations provided long ago.

Like every major government social program, there are two main elements to Medicaid: what it does, or is supposed to do; and how it pays for the administration of the program and the services rendered.

The federal government mandates 15 different medical-related services that must be offered under Medicaid. They also permit an additional 28 services related to various medical needs.  The states choose the optional ones that will be made available for their residents.  Some states choose just a few of the possible options for assistance.  New York State chooses to offer many additional non-federally mandated services, some of which require small co-pays.

The federal government has historically funded 50 percent of the costs, although some poorer states receive up to 77 percent reimbursement for services those states offer. The Trump administration is currently attempting through a block grant arrangement to reduce the open-ended availability of some of the federal reimbursements.

States cover the remainder of costs in various ways, with most states picking up the entire non-federal share. New York State, however, requires New York City and the other 57 counties to pick up a portion of the costs.

The cost sharing is a one-sided arrangement. The state government has total control over what Medicaid options to cover.  They set the terms for who qualifies for the coverage.  And then they require county governments pay for a large portion of the bill.

Over the years that one-sided arrangement has caused serious problems. For most of the time Medicaid has been available in New York State the counties had an open-ended requirement to cover approximately one-quarter of total costs in the respective counties.  That put a major strain on property taxes, which are usually counties’ main source of revenues.  Erie County has experienced major budget upheavals more than once over the past fifty years when the economy soured, Medicaid usage expanded, and county budgets were strained.

There have been efforts over the years to mitigate the financial impact on counties by limiting their exposures to rising costs. Early in the Cuomo administration the Governor pushed through a major change in the program’s cost sharing by capping Medicaid costs to the counties.

That move provided a breather for the counties. If the Governor’s proposed 2020-2021 budget is approved, however, counties and their taxpayers may again be exposed to substantial cost increases that they have no control over.

Cuomo has complained about a “blank check syndrome,” suggesting that counties and New York City had run up the costs of Medicaid while doing nothing about controlling expenses, ignoring the fact that those local governments had nothing to do with what the program requires or how it is administered. He recommended that the counties be held responsible for any increases in Medicaid costs that are greater than three percent over the previous year’s spending.

Albany budget folks are holding their cards close to the vest as to how much the change in policy might costs the counties. New York City government, the local agent for Medicaid, says their costs could go up more than one billion dollars a year; state officials claim that the increased costs for New York City would be in the $200 million range.

Mark Poloncarz has indicated that Erie County’s costs would have been $7.5 – 8 million higher in the two most recently completed state Medicaid years if the governor’s plan was in effect then. It is difficult to project increases going forward because of the overlapping fiscal years of counties, the state and the federal government.

Buried in the state budget is an estimate of $150 million that the state expects to collect from the counties resulting from the change in funding.

Part of the reason Albany is now in trouble is that they provided funds to increase wages of people working in nursing homes and agreed to cover the extra costs. That is certainly a nice thing to do, but when you act like a big shot you should be ready to put your money where your mouth is.  Didn’t the administration or Legislature figure out such things before they increased Medicaid spending?

While all of this is going on, the Trump administration is proposing a change in federal management of part of the Medicaid program to provide block grants of funds to state for certain services, allowing the states to choose whether or not to provide all the services that the current Medicaid legislation requires under a “state waiver” from existing federal rules. The New York Times reports that “a state would use a formula to determine ahead of time how much it will spend on its adult Medicaid population in a given year, then get a fixed federal share in either a lump sum or a per-person amount. Critics said this could be devastating if more people became eligible for Medicaid because of a recession, or if costs went up because a lot of enrollees needed an expensive new medicine.”

Meanwhile the Governor has appointed a “Medicaid Redesign Team,” so far consisting of just two members, who are being charged with proposing changes in the state’s Medicaid program to reduce costs. The MRT is expected to report next month and approval of the new state budget is required by April 1.  Don’t expect transparency and well-thought out results from anything occurring in such a compressed timeframe.

The folks who decide such things in Albany are not usually inclined to reduce services. If that is a correct assumption this year, then the State Legislature needs to find a way to pay for the increased costs of Medicaid.   They can choose to cut Medicaid services, cut something else or to deal with the consequences of raising taxes.  Or there might be some fiscal gimmicky involved by just deferring some required state payment obligations into the next fiscal year.  It’s Albany.  Anything is possible.

Out of the darkness emerges the Republican candidate in NY27

Considering the star-crossed history of former Republican candidates for Congress in what is now New York’s 27th District, it should come as no surprise that the 2020 version should emerge from a secret hiding place somewhere in Western New York.  Okay, it was actually a golf club in Varysburg – no press admitted.  The Party leadership’s decision to hide their deliberations suggests that they are defensive about what they are doing. Continue reading

What’s happening at ECC?

Over the nearly five years that Politics and Other Stuff has been published there has been a post or two or twenty about the life and times of Erie Community College, aka SUNY Erie.  The College is an important educational institution, but over the past several years, like other colleges in Western New York, it has struggled with declining enrollment and increasingly difficult financial problems.  More recently there have been concerns about the leadership of the school, as this blog reported on January 7th. Continue reading