February 9, 2008

A "Balanced" VP

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said a couple days ago that the doesn't think regional balanced is an issue anymore in choosing a vice presidential candidate to complete his ticket. Sen. McCain claimed that the wildly successful Clinton-Gore, Arkansas-Tennessee ticket did away with that convention for good. According to the article I looked at, it was the first complete "son of the South" ticket in U.S. history, which is hard to believe. I guess technically the country's first presidents, all from Virginia, did not run as a "ticket" until the 12th Amendment passed.

I came across a news clip the other day that said in the moments after Election Day 1970, while Lawton Chiles was still basking in the glow of victory, rumors had already fired up that he might join the presidential ticket of Sen. Ed Muskie, D-Maine, in 1972, against President Nixon. Back then, "balance" was all the rage, and Muskie-Chiles sure would have done the job.

February 7, 2008

Zora Neale Hurston: Revisited

I finished Their Eyes Were Watching God last week. In the critical essays I read afterward it seemed like relationships and feminism are the main themes in the book that have pushed Hurston back into focus in the academic world these days.

But the parts I like best actually are the regional descriptions and the way folks talk in 1930s Eatonville and Belle Glade. In the current draft of the "Walk Chapter," I excerpted from one of Hurston's lush portraits of work in the sugarcane and bean fields lining Lake Okeechobee.

It doesn't take much, but there are so many towns that Chiles visited, from Century to Madison to Starke to La Belle, that a one-paragraph snapshot with some poetry in it can make a big difference.

Government in the Sunshine: Revisited

I've said it before and I'll say it again, press coverage of Senate careers isn't much to yap about--compared to gubernatorial coverage. I scoured the Washington Post for even the thinnest articles on the Chiles years (1970-1988). I came up with very little for his first term. I still have some archival research to do, but the events leading up to passage of the Government in the Sunshine Act in 1975 will need to be fleshed out with interviews mostly I think.

Tomorrow, I'll go through my entire binder of first term news clips, pull quotes, start a new Word document called "Government in the Sunshine Draft 3," and build on the six pages I already have down. That's the routine.

February 6, 2008

"Bleeding Kansas"

On the subject of Kansas, Obama, and Sebelius, it's useful to look at some maps. Early on in the blog, I mentioned how map-making is the first step to studying Florida politics. To look at the entire South, as I'm doing now in the introduction to the chapter on Chiles' first term in the US Senate, you've really gotta spend some time looking at old maps.

This map dates to 1865. The index for colors is missing but you get the idea of what is Union and Confederate when you think, "red states, blue states." Then there are those pesky yellow border states that are unpredictable. The Civil War tore Kansas apart; headlines read "Bleeding Kansas." Before the pundits enshrined it as forever "red," it produced some of the most radical-minded politicians of the 20th century. Thomas Frank discusses this in What's the Matter with Kansas?

A lot of people forget that West Virginia came into existence when the Civil War split greater Virginia in half; the mountain folk supported the Union. Even today, you find a political divide in the Appalachian states between the mountain populist tradition and the plantation conservatives. Gradually, the post-industrial economy is doing away with this. Asheville, North Carolina comes to mind first as a high-altitude political oasis in the South. I'm also reminded of U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D), who discusses mountain populism in his 2004 book on Scots-Irish politics in America: Born Fighting.


Since What's the Matter With Kansas? came out a couple years ago, scholars and political pundits have enjoyed slicing and dicing--as Obama might say--the state into statistical bits and cranking out models that explain why low-income, low-education voters consistently vote against their economic interests and elect firebrand Republicans to Senate and state house.

Soon, though, we might be singing another tune. If Obama's momentum continues and he clinches the nomination, I can easily see Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D), a "Yes We Can" fellow traveler, joining the ticket as VP candidate. Gov. Sebelius boasts several assets, in addition to sharing Kansas heritage with Obama's mother:

1) popular red-state politician despite liberal positions, ex. opposition to capital punishment, pro-choice

2) one and a half terms of executive experience

3) good campaigner for the woman vote

4) record turning around a difficult budget impasse

5) Her father used to be governor of Ohio, a key swing state in the general election

I'm sure there are other assets I'm neglecting. I don't claim that Obama could win Kansas in the general election, but the heartland ticket could play tough for Missouri's votes. If Obama can carry Missouri he can wrap up the country.

Gov. Sebelius' official bio is found here.

February 5, 2008

Master of the Senate

I'm reading bits and pieces of Robert Caro's Pulitzer-prize winning, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate. More than just a Johnson book, it's got great background on what the Senate chamber looks like, the history of debate, rules, and traditions.

February 4, 2008

From 115 to 33

I finished a much tighter draft of the "Walk across Florida" chapter last week. With all the interviews, articles, and book excerpts stacked up and ready to be summarized, it started out at about 115 pages. Over a couple months I condensed that to 33 pages. Over time I'll cut it further and add some good details. One big thing that needs development: Farris Bryant. He's gotta be a Goliath.