Friday, October 25, 2013

Down to the Wire -- What a Difference a Year Makes

We are just under two weeks away from Election Day, with state legislative and gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia and some big mayoral races in Boston, Detroit, New York and others.

One year ago, I thought the gubernatorial races could be interesting and closely contested.  At least I was right about interesting part.

A year ago New Jersey was about to get hit by Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the Jersey coastline. To make matters worse an early snow storm (and Congress) delayed recovery efforts.  A year ago, Newark Mayor Corey Booker was still considering challenging Governor Christie, in what would have been an epic battle of political heavy weights.

Hurricane Sandy allowed Governor Christie to demonstrate strong leadership in a crisis, which allowed the governor to begin to move ahead of any potential Democratic challengers.  It didn't hurt that he was able to embrace President Obama for the president's leadership before, during and after the storm.  It didn't hurt that Christie called out Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans for holding up Sandy Relief funds in a game of political chicken.  It didn't hurt that Mayor Booker opted for a Senate run, rather than face the popular governor.  And it didn't hurt that Governor Christie was able to keep Mayor Booker off the November ballot by holding a special election for an open Senate seat in October.  All of that has Governor Christie coasting to an apparent victory.

So instead of an close and interesting race, we are left wondering what might have been.  And wondering how much does Christie have to win by to be considered a credible candidate for president in 2016.

A year ago Virginia was looking at an ugly gubernatorial race involving two very polarizing candidates - former DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.  No two candidates were as hated by the base of their opponents as these two candidates.

A year seems like a very long time ago for Virginia Republicans.  In February this year, Governor Bob McDonnell's (R) crowning legislative achievement, a much-needed transportation bill, passed after being embraced by the Demcorcatic candidate and denounced by the Republican one.  Over the summer, Governor McDonnell became engulfed in a scandal regarding his relationship with Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams.  The scandal also threatened to derail the Attorney General's campaign for governor.  To further add to Cuccinelli's problems, Virginia Republicans nominated a little-known, far-right candidate for Lt. Governor.  The surprise nomination of E.W. Jackson forced Cuccinelli, a very conservative Tea Party favorite himself, to cancel post-convention press events.  Even Northern Virginia Republican icon, former Delegate Vince Callahan endorsed the former DNC chair.

So we are instead of a close race, we are left wondering if we can read anything into the Clintons stumping for their old friend in the final weeks of the election.  What does a big McAuliffe win mean for Secretary Clinton and her decision to run again in 2016?

A lot of political pundits are saying these elections could be a bellwether for 2014's midterms, when 36 states (and three territories) will hold gubernatorial and legislative elections and when Congress (most likely just the Senate) could be up for grabs.  Some are even saying these 2013 elections will have an impact on early front-runners for 2016.

As of right now, 2014 should be interesting with many closely-contested races.  There are some very vulnerable governors out there - Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy (D), Florida Governor Rick Scott (R), Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R).  And a few interesting open races -- Maryland, Massachusetts and Texas are shaping up as interesting primaries and possibly interesting general elections.

I am looking forward to an politically interesting 2014.  Will 2013 be a bellwether?  All I can say is, what a difference a year makes.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Yes, There Is An App For That, My favorite new civic-engagement startups for 2013

I recently attended #govfest, an event put on by Fosterly and I was amazed by the number of startups working in the public sphere.  I know it has been a growing trend for a while now, but seems to have exploded recently (in what feels like the last few days).

When I started working in state and local government relations there were few choices for vendors of any kind.  Most of us were doing bill tracking by hand and few were lucky enough to hire one of two or three big multi-state lobbying firms.  I am not sure if all the state legislatures were even on line when I did my first nation-wide tracking project - looking for and tracking bills related to disparities in healthcare and other issues.  You get the picture.

Then I discovered Capwiz and fell in love with the idea of e-advocacy (not sure if that is an official term).  I was an early adopter and was constantly amazed by the new tools and services they kept rolling out.  There were a few others advocacy platforms that took off about that same time, but to me Capwiz was the far and away best in its class.  

Outside of Capwiz, there seemed to be a lull.  Maybe not really a lull, more accurately I was just uninspired.  I know it wasn't a complete lull because one day I was listening to a speaker talk about the future of grassroots advocacy and they said that it was not going to be long before we would be asking, "What is our FaceBook strategy?" (maybe they actually said MySpace, which could explain the lack of inspiration) when planning grassroots campaigns.  And then came Foursquare.  And Twitter.  It seemed like every year something new would come out that was considered a "game changer" that I never believed would really catch on for advocacy.

One day someone told me about POPVOX.  Right away I knew they were different.  POPVOX seemed to be ground breaking.  No longer would we send emails or faxes or letters to the hill, but real data.  And I got my first smartphone.  And open government started to happen.  Mayor Bloomberg's right hand man Kevin Sheekey launched BGov.  And Mayor Corey Booker became a superhero on Twitter.

That brings me to where I am today, which is again "all in" on tech and startups, and especially tech startups, for government relations, civic engagement and advocacy.  These startups are everywhere.  There are some great new grassroots platforms - VoterVoice (not really new, but recently launched their DC office) and Votility.  New state legislative and regulatory tracking services like my favorite startup - BillTrack50 (which was recently named one of Denver's Hottest Startups).  And apps for EVERYTHING!  State and local governments have their own apps for news and information (Delaware has a great app), to legislatures (I really like Ohio and Utah), to procurement sites (Virginia's eVA is a great example) and everything in between.

Here are a few of my favorites that I have been introduced to this year (most in the last couple of months) ...
  • TrendPo - Not really an advocacy tool, but a great way for elected officials and candidates to see how well they are connecting with the public - in case the single digit approval ratings weren't enough of a clue.  JD Chang and his team are going get famous calling races based on social media scores.
  • Capitol Bells - A new all-mobile app for grassroots advocacy.  Let's you vote right along with your Member of Congress.  It is unique in that the data goes right to the Member, because your Congressman downloaded the app to keep track of votes.  They have some kinks to work out, but I think they are onto something.
  • FiscalNote - These guys are brand new, I haven't even seen their beta yet.  However, I get intrigued when one startup comes up in conversations five or six times in one night and each time by a different person.  I get really intrigued when the founder tells me he can tell if a bill is going to pass or not by the second reading. 
  • CitySourced - I recently tweeted that if Mayor Booker were an app, he would be CitySourced. Citizens report problems to local governments, they get properly routed and fixed.  I just hope that when responders email their responses to citizen activists they simply use the immortal words of Mayor Booker, "I got this!"
  • PollVault - Also, brand new. An election information site that matches the views from groups you trust to the best candidate for you to vote for.  Just in time for the big New York City mayoral race and gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia. 
So there are five very different startups but all doing great things in the public/civic sphere.  I am excited to see what is coming next!