We’re less than eight weeks past Election Day, that increasingly fuzzy temporal landmark, and I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think the 2022 election is finally over.
Georgia’s routine, belated runoff is history. Counties and states with more or less functional election apparatus have long since released their official numbers. And in the last few days three more things happened. Pennsylvania finally certified its results, the final tally in the State of Washington gave one US House seat to the Democrat candidate who had trailed earlier, and, though an appeal is pending, an Arizona judge rejected Kari Lake’s challenge to that state’s gubernatorial results.
I waited to finish and post this commentary until after my own county in Utah, aptly named Utah County, certified its results — on schedule — just before Thanksgiving, because my friend and neighbor Sarah Beeson was in an Alpine School Board race so close that we didn’t know the outcome before then. She won by 60 votes or 0.28%.
After that, I waited for Georgia and some non-electoral things. I don’t do this for a living, you see. And who wants to pore over politics at Christmas? But Christmas is now 364 weeks away. Let’s get this behind us while it’s still 2022, shall we?
The official turnout in Utah County was 61.6%, which is good but not stellar for a midterm election. In 2018 it was 68.2%. However, when you consider that our voter registration rolls are bloated with people who have moved and/or died, there’s room to suspect that 70-80% of the people who could legally vote in my county did so.
Statewide turnout was even higher, 64.2% — or a better than that, if we allow for the aforementioned bloat.
Anyone who cares about the results of particular races probably already knows them, so I won’t clutter your time and mine with a full report — not even of the races on my ballot, on which I commented before Election Day, here and here. I will only note what I find (ahem) noteworthy, and I’ll add some thoughts on races beyond my ballot, plus a few words about 2024. One theme that will loom large here is the expected Republican tsunami which, at the national level, turned out to be barely a ripple.
(Disclosure: I am not a Republican, though I was for the first 32 years of my voting life. However, if you gave me a choice between Republicans and Democrats generally at the national level, I still wouldn’t choose Democrats.)
Two of the most interesting contests on my ballot were local.
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Alpine School District Bond Issue and Proposed Split
Alpine School District bond issue proposals usually pass, even in years when other local bond proposals go down hard. This was an unusual year with an unusual result: the ASD bond proposal lost by about 5.5% or 7,000 votes. More on this in a moment.
To Secede or Not To Secede? That Was the Question.
Another well-publicized measure was on voters’ ballots in Orem: leaving the Alpine School District and forming their own district. I can’t define with confidence or precision how this affected the bond vote, but the two are obviously related.
Alpine is the state’s largest school district, and Orem, Utah, is the largest municipality in it. Orem voters chose overwhelmingly, about 71% to 29%, not to secede.
There were reasonable arguments on both sides: economies of scale and a history of sound management against the considerable virtues of smaller, more localized government entities and the especially worthy cause of more local control of education. I cannot say to what degree any specific argument prevailed or how large a role inertia played. There might be some polling somewhere, but I haven’t seen it.
I suspect the proposal will reappear in coming years, probably more than once. It will likely gain some momentum when it does. But unless things go badly and persistently wrong at the Alpine School District, the idea of breaking it up will probably not gain enough momentum to succeed.
Other People’s Kids
One argument I heard for the split may — may — have been less honorable that the others, but it was still understandable. Most of the rapid growth in the district, both present and foreseeeable, is outside Orem. It is principally in the western and northern parts of the district, including Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs, and Lehi. Why should Orem residents have to pay the high costs of building schools for students in other cities?
One might argue in response that residents of other cities around the district have funded expensive new schools in Orem within recent memory, when the growth was there, and it’s not particularly admirable for Orem to refuse to reciprocate. However, the rapid growth itself presents a counter-argument of sorts: Many residents of current high-growth areas weren’t around to help pay for Orem’s growth, because they came more recently, as part of the growth.
Did This Affect the Bond Vote?
I wondered how a reluctance to pay for growth in other areas of the district might have affected the bond issue vote in communities with less growth. Granted, some growth continues everywhere — but the rapid growth is localized.
Here’s what I see in the numbers (the raw data is here [CSV]):
- As I noted, overall the bond issue proposal failed by about 5.5%.
- Orem voters defeated it by 17%. Other more established, lower-growth communities voted against it too: Alpine (-21%), Lindon (-14%), Highland (-13%), Pleasant Grove (-8%), Cedar Hills (-7%), American Fork (-4%).
- Where growth is badly straining existing schools, voters wanted the bond, mostly by large margins: Eagle Mountain (+10%), Saratoga Springs (+8%), Lehi (+3%).
- The narrow margin of victory in Lehi masks the same pattern. Five Lehi precincts voted against the bond by a margin of at least 10%; these precincts comprise most of the older, low-growth part of Lehi — where, to put it bluntly, they already have their schools.
- Vineyard may be a bit of an outlier (-4%, despite rapid growth), but I sense — without firm data — that the demographics are different there, with smaller households, fewer schoolchildren, and less of an immediate need for new schools.
Make of the numbers what you will. I don’t want to go as far as to accuse those more established communities of collective selfishness, especially in difficult economic times. However, it’s clear that people who live with the major educational challenges of rapid growth were more inclined to address it by voting for the bond issue. On the out of sight, out of mind principle, it’s easy to see why voters elsewhere might not fully appreciate the urgency.
I live in American Fork, where student population growth has slowed considerably, and where for years, through multiple bond proposals, District officials promised us — off the record — a new high school auditorium in “the next bond,” if we’d just support “this bond.” Morever, my last child is a high school senior this year. So I might have voted against the bond issue — but I voted for it anyway. My reasons include the following:
- Current and projected growth puts a long-term, enormous strain on educational resources and infrastructure in the Alpine School District and statewide. It is inevitable — and the more widely we can disperse the fiscal burden, the better.
- You cannot simply put off the education of children for a few years, until you’re more inclined to fund it. If we short-change some students now, we cannot make it up to those same students later.
- The Alpine School District is perennially well managed.
- Some funding will have to come from somewhere. The alternative to a bond issue is often one or more tax increases. (In the meantime, watch for school boundary changes, which are rarely popular.)
- If I insist that any given bond issue include something substantial for my community — our “fair share,” if you will — regardless of the uneven geographic distribution of current needs, I invite the same sort of pork barrel politics I deplore in Washington, DC.
Meanwhile, for what it’s worth, a proportionally similar bond issue passed by about 14% in the Davis School District, another very large district, a few dozen miles further north in Interstate 15. There was no ballot measure there asking about splitting that district.
Republican incumbent Mike Lee defeated independent/Democrat candidate Evan McMullin by — for me — a satisfying margin of more than 10 percent.
On one hand, the Utah Democrats who declined to nominate one of their own and threw their support to McMullin may find encouragement in the fact that the margin wasn’t 30 percent. This is Utah.
On the other hand, Utah’s junior senator, (unofficially former) Republican Mitt Romney, is no less a Democrat than Evan McMullin. Yet he has a lot of support in Utah — so perhaps, by comparison, the McMullin experiment didn’t go so well after all.
A lot of things I hoped would happen in this election didn’t, but I’m pleased and relieved at Mike Lee’s reelection. Here’s one glimpse of why: When Senator Romney says the Respect for Marriage Act contains sufficient protections for religious freedom, I still doubt that it does. When Senator Lee says it doesn’t, I know it doesn’t.
For a longer discussion of Mike Lee’s virtues in my view, see my pre-election commentary.
One sign that the anticipated red tsunami didn’t arrive is that the US Senate will remain under Democrat control. The Democrats even picked up a seat, which means blocking certain Democratic efforts to dismantle the republic will require not just Joe Manchin, but also (probably) Kristin Sinema to vote against their own party’s machinations. (Those which involve legislation can also be blocked by a new Republican majority in the House.)
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or even a political scientist (which is a lot different) to look at results in US Senate races overall and see a problem. Even with two years of severe inflation, a Democrat president whose popularity is unusually low, a grisly failure in Afghanistan, delayed but emerging evidence of historic levels of corruption, persistent cabinet-level absenteeism and incompetence, and the horrors COVID revealed about Democrats’ autocratic tendencies, the Republican Party still has to field excellent candidates to win — and in key races they didn’t.
Not every Republican can be Ron DeSantis, but seriously. Herschel Walker? Dr. Oz? It’s not the ambassadorship to Equatorial Guinea or Belize. These are contested races against Democrats backed by Big Tech, Big Media, Big Labor, and (when opportunities present themselves) Big Government. Granted, the Democrats pumped mountains of money into key Republican primary campaigns, supporting the most beatable candidates. But it was largely the Republicans’ collective choice in the primaries to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s also probably not a coincidence that some of the worst Republican candidates had former President Trump’s endorsement.
I’m not just speculating. Post-election polling has shown that many voters who elected or reelected Democrats in several swing states actually favored a Republican takeover of both houses of Congress. They didn’t vote that way because they couldn’t stomach the Republican candidates on their ballots.
The GOP has to be smarter than this — both the leadership and the voters, and the lessons are there for them to learn. But I won’t hold my breath.
US House of Representatives
Incumbent Republican John Curtis won the House race on my ballot with more than 64 percent of the vote. The outcome was never in doubt, and I don’t just mean on Election Night.
Republicans won Utah’s other three House districts too. A year ago there was some thought that Congressman Burgess Owens might be vulnerable — but, come November, his margin of victory was more than 28%.
Because every House seat is up for election every two years, in some ways the House results are more illustrative than the Senate of … whatever is going on in the country.
After being narrowly in the minority for two terms, the Republicans begin in January 2023 with a ten-seat majority. (In February a special election will fill a seat vacated after the election by Virginia incumbent Donald McEachin, who passed away.) This is not the red tsunami some predicted either. It’s barely a wave. But it will help. The GOP will control House committees and the House agenda, and if they can stick together when it matters, they can defeat unwise legislation issuing from the Democrat-controlled Senate — even when Senators Manchin, Sinema, and/or Romney go squishy.
Around the nation, the GOP
- picked up 2 seats in Arizona;
- picked up 4 seats in Florida (leaving the Democrats only 8 of 28);
- picked up 10 seats in New York, for 10 of 26;
- picked up 1 seat in Iowa, for 4 of 4; and
- won in the heavily Hispanic, traditionally strongly Democratic Texas District 15, where Monica De La Cruz, a Hispanic, conservative, female Republican won in a border district by almost 10 percent of the vote. She’ll be the first Republican ever to represent that district, and, assuming she completes her term, the first Republican to represent any South Texas district for a full term.
It’s still not a wave — or it’s a very slow wave — but it’s something.
In New York and some other blue states, Democratic gubernatorial candidates — notably including incumbents — won by much smaller margins than usual. This doesn’t exclude the possibility of a slow red wave, but it doesn’t prove it either.
To me one of the most disappointing outcomes was Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer‘s reelection. She was one of the most tyrannical state leaders during the pandemic, and her public embarrassments rivaled those of California Governor Gavin Newsom, a fellow Democrat who survived a recall election last year. Whitmer’s opponent was Trump-endorsed Republican Tudor Dixon, and it wasn’t even close; the margin exceeded 10%.
It should have been a winnable race for the Republicans, again a vulnerable governor in a bluish state. But Dixon was a weak, extreme candidate. There were other issues, but Dixon’s extreme, outrageously impolitic view on abortion cannot have helped, especially with abortion rights on the Michigan ballot too. It came out during the race that she would deny abortion even to a 14-year-old rape victim.
There was one aspect of this election which we could call a red wave. Numerous city and county councils and local school boards flipped from left to right. This is less a Republican achievement than a consequence of the fact that liberals are not leftists. More specifically, liberal parents are not leftists, and they still think they should be more responsible for their children than the government is. Leftist incumbents fared poorly in these local races.
Abortion was on the ballot in some states, and the results by and large did not please my mostly-pro-life sentiments. Yet I feel some satisfaction that it was on the ballot at all. In our Republic, the people should make law, either directly or through our elected representatives. Judges should not make law. It’s messy, but by tossing out Roe and Casey, the US Supreme Court opened the way for us to work out a complex, difficult issue in the American way.
The 2022 election cycle exposed (again) a serious deficiency among Republicans: the chronic inability to conquer a false narrative. In the aggregate, nationwide, the abortion issue probably served the Democrats in this election. It could have served the Republicans or at least been neutral, had voters engaged the candidates’ real views, not the inflammatory fake version Democrats substituted nationwide. No significant percentage of Republicans or anyone else would punish women for having miscarriages or deny them a doctor’s care for ectopic pregnancies (which are life-threatening). Yet the Democrat narrative painted exactly that unbelievable, impossible, inhuman picture, and polls showed that the deception was effective.
Republicans were unable to defeat a ridiculous, wholly implausible narrative. We could blame that on the voters, and I do, to a degree — but the GOP has to do its job better than that.
Democrat efforts in Congress to “codify Roe v. Wade” were similarly deceptive; the actually legislation proposed went far beyond Roe and Casey, which a majority of Americans probably would want to codify. The actual legislation sneaked into radical territory where few voters would follow, if they paid attention. (It failed, but it will come up again in Congress and in some states.)
The Appearance of Fraud
Let’s pick on Arizona for a minute. We’ll stipulate for the sake of argument that there was not sufficient fraud in that state’s gubernatorial election to sway the outcome. If there was — <cough> if there were — that would be a serious problem.
There’s a serious problem anyway. A lot Arizona voters (among others) are convinced that there was sufficient fraud or incompetence to change the outcome. This includes some pretty smart people I know who voted for Kari Lake. Even if they’re wrong — we’re stipulating that they are wrong — Arizona (for example) desperately needs to clean up its electoral act. The goal is for even losers in an election to see that the results were fair, timely, and competently and accurately transmitted, tabulated, and reported.
If we’re serious about elections, we need to keep both sides from cheating and do everything we can to make it unreasonable for either side to believe the other is cheating. (That second one only works reliably if we achieve the first one.)
Unless you’re trying to cheat (some are) or trying to destroy public confidence in elections generally (some are), it’s in both parties’ interest to run elections competently, transparently, and efficiently. It’s time every voter questioned the motives of people and factions who resist such efforts, no matter how loudly the latter may cry racism or proclaim elections perfectly secure already.
Remember “Jim Crow 2.0”? Those election reforms in Georgia — which left the Peach State’s voting laws less strict than in President Biden’s Delaware and several other blue states — somehow didn’t prevent record turnouts in every major election they’ve had since then. It wasn’t just white voters.
If we can’t get more honesty in political rhetoric and journalism, we need smarter voters. We need tens of millions of them, and we need them now. We need voters who care year-round, who pay attention, and who can hack their way — in search of truth and wisdeom — through the narratives which are crafted and maintained to deflect and manipulate them.
I think there is hope. Polls show that consistently large majorities American voters — and of black voters specifically — favor voter ID laws, for example. Now we need officials with spines and the will to do what the voters already want overwhelmingly.
It’s Almost 2024
I don’t want Donald Trump to run for President again. If he runs, I want the Republican primaries to send him packing — so convincingly that he doesn’t come back. That said, I don’t want him attacked without justice or proportion by a highly politicized, weaponized US Department of Justice.
I think Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would make an excellent president. That’s probably as good a reason as any to expect his early exit from the Republican primaries, but a guy can dream. DeSantis has the decent, timely principles Trump displayed (when he displayed them between ego spasms) and many more, without all the toxic, narcissistic baggage. He’s done well in Florida, in policy and in pushing back against Big Media, Big Government, and the rest.
Until the past couple of weeks, I’ve been telling people I’d like to see a Ron DeSantis–Kristi Noem ticket, but some of what Governor Noem has said lately hasn’t pleased me at all. We’ll see how that goes.
I’ve also fantasized about highly improbably ticket which I think could win a 45-state landslide in 2024: Ron DeSantis and former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who recently left the Democratic Party. She has a strong sense of what a nation is and should be, and she has the courage to stand up publicly against falsehood, nonsense, and tyranny. She is a liberal but not a leftist. For example, she advocates free speech as opposed to “moderated” (censored) speech.
Sometime soon, a lot of traditional Democrat voters need to decide whether freedom and other liberal values matters, or whether they’re willing, election after election, to put up with leftists who belong to the same party but have (forgive the term) radically different values.
Here in Utah there’s chatter about Mitt Romney: will he run for reelection or not? He would be lucky to get 20% of the vote in the state Republican convention, but he could petition his way into a Republican primary. He might still stand a chance there, despite voting more like a Democrat on numerous important occasions.
Perhaps he should run as a Democrat or an independent. He has no less substance than Evan McMullin, far better real-world credentials, far better name recognition, and the advantage of incumbency. He might pull it off. (I won’t vote for him again unless every other viable candidate is worse, but we can discuss that more later.)
If I took up the question, will President Biden run for reelection, I’d take us to a very dark place, and I don’t want to do that right now. So let’s leave that topic for later too.
By my lights, the 2022 election could have gone a lot better, and it could have gone a lot worse.
Most days, I would prefer simply to ignore politics and do (and write) other, more enjoyable things. But I have to say that our involvement, yours and mine, is not yet pointless. We need to pay attention. This includes frequent attention to voices outside the bubble. We need to keep our heads screwed on and our words and emotions tempered, and we need to be willing to get our hands dirty.
There is good to be done. The United States of America, the world’s premier constitutional republic, is still the last, best hope of the world — as Republicans Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and Democrats Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama (!) declared it to be. Seen against the backdrop of world history and the world as it now is, Americans generally are still nearer to freedom than to slavery. That’s pretty good for a 234-year-old republic (measured back to 1789, when the new government under the new US Constitution began).
Long may it wave.
Image credit: Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash and Jason Jarrach on Unsplash.
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