Sunday, December 03, 2017

Predictions: 2018 Gubernatorial elections

In 2018, thirty-six states will hold an election for chief executive. Only nine of these offices are held by Democratic incumbents, as the blue team got clobbered in 2014. The Democrats would especially like to grab the top office in swing states like Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin that are currently dominated by Republicans. Why? Because winning in 2018 means having more say in the decennial redistricting of congressional and state legislative seats in 2021. You see the only reason that Republicans control the US House is because they were able to gerrymander so many states in the last congressional redistricting in 2011. Michigan, for example, elected 9 Republicans and only 5 Democrats to the House in 2012 despite the fact that President Obama beat Mitt Romney there by almost 10%.

The races are categorized as (1.) those that are competitive or at risk of being won by the party out of power (this includes all open-seat races), and (2.) those unlikely to become competitive. This post will be updated continuously until election day.

Competitive/at-risk races:

Alaska
Rating: Toss up
Independent: Bill Walker (incumbent)
Republican: Former state Speaker of the House Mike Chenault or former state Senator President Charlie Huggins?
Overview: In 2014's weirdest election, Republican Bill Walker declared an independent candidacy, formed a "unity" ticket with Democrat Byron Mallot, and narrowly defeated the Republican nominee (with some help from the Constitution and Libertarian candidates, who ate some of the Republicans' lunch). The Walker/Mallot ticket is running again in 2018, but it faces an uphill battle as Walker is unpopular.

Arizona
Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: Doug Ducey (incumbent)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Incumbent Doug Ducey is not popular, but top-tier Democrats have so far shown more interest in Arizona's open Senate race.

California
Rating: Guaranteed Democratic hold
Democrat: Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (incumbent Jerry Brown term-limited)
Republican: ?
Overview: This contest is listed as competitive only because it's an open-seat race. The Brown administration has been very successful and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom comes into this election with a lot of wind at his back. Barring a political earthquake, he'll win.

Colorado
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: ? (incumbent John Hickenlooper term-limited)
Republican: ?
Overview: Everybody wants to be Governor of Colorado: The Democratic primary already has six announced candidates, and the Republicans have seven. Given that the Democrats managed to win this office in the nightmare year of 2014, they have the inside track in 2018 no matter who the candidates are.


Connecticut
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Middletown Mayor Dan Drew? (incumbent Dan Malloy term-limited)
Republican: ?
Overview: Dan Malloy has the distinction of being America's least-popular Governor. In a different year, that might be enough to flip this office to Republicans, but the Connecticut GOP has been on life support for a long time.

Florida
Rating: Toss up
Republican: State Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam? (incumbent Rick Scott term-limited)
Democrat: Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham?
Overview: The last two gubernatorial elections in Florida were very close, and I expect this one to be no different.

Georgia
Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: Lt. Governor Casey Cagle (likely) (incumbent Nathan Deal term-limited)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Republican Casey Cagle is a known quantity, and as no prominent Democrats appear to be looking at this open-seat race, this one is probably over before it begins.

Illinois
Rating: Likely Democratic pickup
Republican: Bruce Rauner (incumbent)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Unlike several other Republican Governors who managed to win election in blue states in 2014, Bruce Rauner has made no effort to create compromise or govern from the center. His term in office has been a total disaster, and polls show him losing to "generic Democrat" by as much as 15 points. Good riddance.

Kansas
Rating: Likely Republican hold
Republican: Lt. Governor Jeff Coyler? (incumbent Sam Brownback may resign)
Democrat: ?
Overview: It would be difficult to overstate just what a complete wreck Governor Sam Brownback has made of Kansas. Now Brownback is apparently resigning for some phony-baloney job in the Trump administration, meaning Lt. Governor Jeff Coyler will run as an incumbent in 2018. And since it's apparently impossible for the Republicans to lose in Kansas, there you go.

Maine
Rating: Leans Democratic pickup
Republican: ? (incumbent Paul LePage)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Republican Paul LePage is a walking garbage can of racist craziness. The only reason why he was twice able to win election was due to two ill-advised independent candidacies by attorney Eliot Cutler that split the Democratic vote. While this will probably be a close race, the eventual Democratic nominee will have the inside track.

Maryland
Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: Larry Hogan (incumbent)
Democrat: ?
Overview: One month before the 2014 Maryland gubernatorial election, Democratic nominee Anthony Brown lead Republican Larry Hogan by 17 points in the CBS/NY Times poll. Hogan won any way. Hogan's approval ratings are sky-high. He's one of several Republican Governors in eastern blue states who are curiously popular, and he's a good bet for reelection.

Massachusetts
Rating: Likely Republican hold
Republican: Businessman Charlie Baker (incumbent)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Massachusetts has a long tradition of electing moderate Republican Governors to create a balance of power with the Democrats who control everything else. Baker is very popular, and should cruise to reelection.

Michigan
Rating: Toss up
Republican: Attorney General Bill Schuette (likely) (incumbent Rick Snyder term-limited)
Democrat: Former state Senator Gretchen Witmer (likely)
Overview: The Republicans have a top-tier recruit in Attorney General Bill Schuette, but Schuette comes with the baggage of being part of the scandal-plagued and deeply unpopular Snider administration. Democrats desperately want to win this one, and I like their chances.

Minnesota
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: ? incumbent (Mark Dayton retiring)
Republican: ?
Overview: Republicans captured the Minnesota House and Senate in 2016, and Trump narrowly missed pulling off a shock victory there as well. Democrats wants to reverse the situation before the state goes red like Iowa and Wisconsin. Several top-tier Democrats have announced for this race, whereas the Republican candidates are more second-tier. There's a good chance the blue team can win this race and recapture both houses of the legislature.

Nevada
Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: Attorney General Adam Laxalt (incumbent Brian Sandoval term-limited)
Democrat: Country Commissioner Steve Sisolak
Overview: Laxalt is a great recruit for the GOP, and I think this race will be his to lose. Trump is not popular in Nevada, but he isn't showing the kind of unpopularity there that would suggest a huge wave for Democrats.

New Hampshire
Rating: Toss up
Republican: Chris Sununu (incumbent)
Democrat: Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand (likely)
Overview: There's no polling for this race, but it will likely turn on the size of the Democratic wave: a small wave means Sununu gets another term, a big one sweeps him out.

New Mexico
Rating: Leans Democratic pickup
Republican: Congressman Steve Pearce (likely) (incumbent Susana Martinez term-limited)
Democrat: Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (likely)
Overview: Outgoing Governor Martinez is deeply unpopular, and although both parties should have top-tier nominees, the prevailing winds favor a Democratic pickup in New Mexico.

Ohio
Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: State Attorney General Mike DeWine (likely) (incumbent John Kasich term-limited)
Democrat: Former Congresswoman Betty Sutton
Overview: Mike DeWine is a political heavyweight. There's nothing wrong with a candidate like Former Congresswoman Betty Sutton as the Democratic nominee, but I suspect nothing less than a Democratic tidal wave can keep the Republicans from winning this race.

Oregon
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Kate Brown (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Democrat Kate Brown's polling numbers could be better, but so far no big-name Republican has declared for this race, and as this is deep-blue Oregon I expect Brown to be reelected.

Pennsylvania
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Tom Wolf (incumbent)
Republican: State Senator Scott Wagner
Overview: One of the only bright spots on election night 2014 was Tom Wolf's narrow pickup of Pennsylvania for the blue team. PA is one of the most gerrymandered states at both the federal and state level, and Democrats very much want to be holding on to this office the next time legislative districts are drawn in 2021. Wolf's approval ratings aren't great, but his chances for reelection are solid.

Wisconsin
Rating: Toss up
Republican: Scott Walker (incumbent)
Democrat: ?

Overview: It's chilling to think of Republican Scott Walker actually being elected to a third term in what's expected to be a big year for Democrats, yet the big-name pundits are currently calling this race "lean" or "likely" Republican. Walker currently trails a generic Democratic in polls, and given that his two terms in office have been a total disaster for Wisconsin's economy, its workers, its environment for civil rights and pretty much everything else, you'd think he wouldn't have a prayer of winning another election. Yet when I look at the group of second-tier names seeking the Democratic nomination, I can see Walker winning another term. 


Races unlikely to become competitive:
AlabamaArkansasIdaho, Iowa, Nebraska, OklahomaSouth CarolinaSouth Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming have incumbent Republican Governors who are likely to win reelection in 2018.

Hawai'i, New York, and Rhode Island have incumbent Democratic Governors who are likely to win reelection in 2018.



Monday, September 04, 2017

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths Part Fourteen: Electric Cars

Is there anything that can't be turned into a red-state versus blue-state conflict? As we saw in the last entry in this series, red-state folks think renewable energy is a fraud being perpetrated against the fossil fuel industry. We shouldn't be surprised then that electric cars are considered an extension of that fraud.

Myth: "The carbon emissions generated by the electricity required for electric vehicles are greater than those saved by cutting out direct vehicle emissions." - 2017 equities study by Morgan Stanley
Fact: "By the end of their lives, gas-powered cars spew out almost twice as much global warming pollution than the equivalent electric car. Disposing of both types of vehicles (excluding reusing or recycling their batteries) produces less than a ton each." "Electric vehicles already result in far less climate pollution than their gas-powered counterparts, and they’re getting cleaner. Optimizing EV production and the disposal or reuse of batteries could further increase their environmental benefits. And as electricity becomes cleaner (which it is), the difference between electric cars and gasoline cars will only grow—cementing the role of electric vehicles in halving U.S. oil use and cutting global warming emissions." - The Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015 Report

The above myth been around for years - that the pollution savings generated by electric cars is more than offset by the pollution generated in manufacturing and disposing of car batteries combined with the fact that much of the electricity the cars use is generated by fossil fuels. As far back as 2009, columnist (and climate change denier) George Will suggested that, "perhaps it is environmentally responsible," to buy one of General Motors' enormous Hummer vehicles, "and squash a Prius with it." That was after a shady "marketing group" called CNW Market Research published a "study" that suggested that the Toyota Prius hybrid was actually more damaging to the environment that GM's Hummer. The "study" in question was based on false science and fraudulent statistics.

Myth: Electric car batteries require a lot of "rare earth" minerals. These are limited in supply, and, "They are mined in conditions that are not optimal, and their demand hurts the environment." - autoevolution.com
Fact: "Around 2010, some articles and commentators warned that shortages of rare earths, or China's near-monopoly on them, could choke off the West's shift to renewable energy and other clean technologies. This was never true—but the myth persists." "Some hybrid cars, like (the) 2001 Honda Insight, used nickel-metal-hydride batteries containing lanthanum, but those are now largely replaced by lighter lithium batteries, which typically use no lanthanum. (Both kinds of batteries are also recyclable, and infrastructure for recycling is emerging.) Tesla’s market-leading lithium batteries, like its motors, use no rare earths at all. Non-lithium batteries and potent potential substitutes for batteries (notably graphene ultracapacitors) are also emerging." - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

In 2012, Jocelyn Fong and Shauna Theel of ThinkProgress.com wrote Myths and Facts About Electric Cars. Five years later, it's still a good guide to myths about electric cars. To summarize:
Myth: Americans don't want electric cars.
Fact: They're becoming more popular all the time.

Myth: Electric cars have inadequate range.
Fact: The Chevy Bolt has a range of 238 miles; improving technology has made range-anxiety a non-issue.

Myth: Electric car batteries are unsafe.
Fact: They're just as safe as conventional cars.

Myth: Old electrical batteries are an environmental hazard.
Fact: Car batteries are less toxic than other batteries and can be recycled.

Myth: Taxpayer subsidies to electric cars only benefit the wealthy.
Fact: Years ago, electric cars were mostly something for high-income Americans, however, that's no longer the case. Tax incentives of upwards of $10K in California look pretty good when considering for example the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which has a list price of less than $24K. And let's not forget the benefits to every taxpayer of a cleaner environment. Electric vehicles improve air quality, and, it cannot be said too many times, it benefits everyone to combat climate change.

Finally, a couple of myths about Tesla, America's largest electric car company:
Myth: Tesla will be buying cobalt for batteries from African mines where children are employed in hellish conditions.
Fact: Tesla does not use African cobalt, and plans to source all its materials from the United States.

Myth: Tesla must be a fraud, as it has never been profitable.
Fact: Note that the above article talks only about car sales. Tesla is making enormous investments in solar power and other businesses; those investments are currently outpacing revenues. Tesla suggested in 2015 that it would not be profitable until 2020, but now says it could be turning a profit next year.

Recommended: "The end of the age of the internal combustion engine is in sight." - from an editorial in The Guardian

Friday, April 07, 2017

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths Part Thirteen: Renewable Energy

"A lot of coal miners are going back to work." - Donald Trump, March 28, 2017

"Kentucky Coal Museum Goes Solar"  - ecowatch.com, April 7, 2016

How can the President claim that more Americans are going to be mining coal, if even the Kentucky Coal Museum is switching to renewable energy? The answer is simple: Donald Trump is, as usual, not telling the truth.

The Trump administration believes that switching from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy is a hoax, just as they believe that the climate change caused by fossil fuels is itself a hoax. A number of the myths regarding renewable energy were summarized last month by Trump Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke last week in an interview with Fox News. From Kiley Kroh of Think Progress:

"In a statement lauding the president’s order to reverse the halt on new coal leases on federal land, Zinke said, "We can’t power the country on pixie dust and hope."

"Zinke praised President Donald Trump’s sweeping order to roll back Obama-era policies designed to mitigate and prepare for climate change and defended his agency’s move to lift the temporary halt on new coal leases on federal lands — a reversal that will come at a significant cost to taxpayers — by claiming "there’s no such thing as clean energy.""

"I understand you are today rescinding a ban on coal leasing on federal lands… are you hurting the environment to help jobs?" the host asked.

"We’re not hurting the environment," Zinke replied. "If you look at — is there such thing as clean coal? Well there’s no such thing as clean energy — even wind comes at a cost if you want to talk about migratory birds and cutting through."

There's a lot to untangle here, so let's get to it.

Part Thirteen: Renewable Energy

Myth:
Using coal as energy does not hurt the environment.
Fact: It would be difficult to overstate the negative impact to the environment and to human health of the mining and burning of coal. A partial list of the consequences includes:
* Coal-fired power plants are responsible for one-third of America’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, making coal a huge contributor to global warming.
* Air pollution from coal-fired power plants includes sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (PM), and heavy metals, leading to smog, acid rain, toxins in the environment, and numerous respiratory, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular effects.
* Waste products from coal mines contaminate rivers and streams.

Myth: Clean coal technology eliminates the environmental and health concerns associated with mining and burning coal.
Fact: "Clean coal" simply does not exist. From Phil Plait of Slate.com:

"Coal has a lot of other things in it besides carbon, including mercury, sulfur, and more. These pollutants get into the air and cause a lot of problems, including thousands of premature deaths every year. Scrubbing these toxins out of the coal is costly and very difficult, though new power plants do a better job at this than old ones.
But the elephant in the room is that carbon... Because this is heating the Earth up and changing the climate, it’s important to figure out a way to capture the carbon and somehow store it to prevent it from getting into the air. This is called "carbon capture and sequestration," or CCS.

The problem? The technology to do this doesn’t exist. Not in any real sense of the word, that is. There have been some pilot projects done, but they’ve managed only to scratch the surface in the vast amount of CO2 released."

Myth: Trump will bring back jobs to the coal industry through his executive orders resuming the sale of coal from federal land, lifting carbon dioxide limits on power plants, lifting restrictions on coal companies dumping mining waste in streams, and ending Obama-era mandates that agencies consider global warming in a broad range of decisions.
Fact: From Brad Plumer of vox.com:

"The reasons for coal’s long-term job losses are complex, but analysts typically point to three big factors: 1) mining has become increasingly automated, meaning fewer jobs per ton of coal produced; 2) a glut of cheap natural gas from fracking has cut into coal’s market share, leading to a sharp drop in US coal production since 2008; 3) various Obama-era environmental rules have made it more costly to operate coal plants, which has pushed many utilities to switch to natural gas or renewables.

Trump has promised to attack No. 3 and repeal some Obama-era environmental rules. But he has nothing to say about Nos. 1 and 2. (On the contrary, he’s promised to expand US fracking, which would further hurt coal.) So anyone hoping Trump is "going to bring those miners back," as he’s pledged, and restore the coal industry to its glory days is in for disappointment."

 Myth: Renewable energy sources lack the capacity and affordability needed to replace fossil fuels.
Fact: Secretary of the Interior Zinke dismisses renewables as, "pixie dust and hope." Trump has said of windmills, "I don’t think they work at all without subsidy," which is an interesting remark considering that the fossil fuel industry was subsidized by more than half a trillion dollars between 1950 and 2010 in 2010 dollars.

Renewable energy already has the capacity to replace fossil fuels in the production of electricity. Germany already receives virtually of its power from wind and solar. In California, power from renewable sources has reached 56% of demand.

To give you an idea of where the renewable energy industry currently stands in America, from the Think Progress article linked above:

"Clean energy... continues to be a rapidly growing sector, with wind and solar jobs growing 12 times as fast as the rest of the U.S. economy. Nearly every state has more jobs in clean energy than fossil fuels, according to a recent analysis by the Sierra Club, with clean energy jobs outnumbering fossil fuel jobs by more than 2.5 to 1 and outnumbering coal and gas jobs specifically by a magnitude of 5 to 1."

To put it another way, Trump is obsessed with revitalizing an industry that employees fewer people than Arby's. The Washington Post notes that the coal industry employees only 76,000 employees, and that includes not only miners but administrative staff.

As for the cost of renewables versus fossil fuels, let's return to the fact that even the Kentucky Coal Museum is installing solar power to save money. From Tom Randall of bloomberg.com:

"While two years of crashing prices for oil, natural gas, and coal triggered dramatic downsizing in those industries, renewables have been thriving. Clean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels."

"Government subsidies have helped wind and solar get a foothold in global power markets, but economies of scale are the true driver of falling prices: The cost of solar power has fallen to 1/150th of its level in the 1970s, while the total amount of installed solar has soared 115,000-fold."

"Just since 2000, the amount of global electricity produced by solar power has doubled seven times over. Even wind power, which was already established, doubled four times over the same period. For the first time, the two forms of renewable energy are beginning to compete head-to-head on price and annual investment."

Myth: America can create coal jobs by increasing exports of low-sulphur coal to China.
Fact: First of all, even if this were true, it would benefit the mining industry in Wyoming, not in West Virginia, where Trump is promising to create mining jobs. But it isn't true any way. Rob Godby of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy notes, "China and its neighbors have a lot of coal available in the region, and getting Wyoming coal over there, given the low margins of potential profit, is way too cost-prohibitive. Plus, Washington and Oregon have made it clear they don't want to be pass-throughs for coal."

Myth: Wind turbines devastate bird populations.
Fact: Let's get back to the other half of that Zinke quote. It's really wind power we should be afraid of, because coal is clean, while wind turbines are killing all the birds, right? Trump has also suggested, "The windmills kill birds," as one of the reasons whey we don't want wind power. From windpowermonthly.com: "Wind turbines kill fewer birds than do cats, buildings or the fossil fuel industry. Current mean estimates of wind turbine deaths vary widely and one reputable source says that US turbines kill 20,000 to 573,000 birds yearly, compared with the oil industry’s 500,000 to one million, and cats’ 1.3–4.0 billion."
Myth:Variability dooms renewable energy; when we have too many calm, cloudy days wind and solar power will not be adequate.
Fact: Keith Johnson of the Wall Street Journal notes that renewable power systems are overcoming these concerns:

"System operators have gotten better at using forecasting and integrating wind power. Investment in new transmission lines has also picked up pace, enabling wind farms in isolated locations to offer power more readily to a wider area.

That is the key to overcoming the natural variability of renewables such as wind and solar power. Individual wind farms may be very volatile. But scores of wind farms over thousands of square miles show less volatility—the wind is always blowing somewhere. As grid operators have added more wind in more locations to their systems, as well as the lines to carry that wind, integrating wind power into the electricity system has become easier."

Myth: Donald Trump doesn't care for windmills, because, "We don’t make the windmills in the United States."
Fact: "Few wind turbines are shipped globally because they are so bulky. More than than 21,000 US factory workers make a majority of US wind farm content domestically."  - windpowermonthly.com
Myth: Windmills are, "made out of massive amounts of steel, which goes into the atmosphere, whether it’s in our country or not, it goes into the atmosphere."  - Donald Trump
Fact"Steel is not emitted into the atmosphere during component manufacture or by wind projects. There are the usual emissions associated with any heavy manufacturing process, but making wind turbine components is not especially dirty. Trump's apparent concern for emissions from wind turbine manufacture is impossible to reconcile with his enthusiasm for the coal industry and his disdain for climate change science." - windpowermonthly.com

I'll close with some thoughts from Paul Krugman, from a New York Times article entitled Coal Country is a State of Mind:

"Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West Virginia retain such a hold on the region’s imagination, and lead its residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?"

"Going backward on the environment will sicken and kill thousands in the near future; over the longer term, failing to act on climate change could, all too plausibly, lead to civilizational collapse.


So it’s incredible, and terrifying, to think that we may really be about to do all of that because Donald Trump successfully pandered to cultural nostalgia, to a longing for a vanished past when men were men and miners dug deep."