When I Met Beau Biden

For those of you not from Delaware, or who don’t follow the news, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, who had the same name but was called “Beau” to distinguish himself from his father, passed away yesterday at the age of 46.

Whereas his father is known for being bombastic and outspoken, Beau was more reserved and cordial. I actually met Beau, and given who he was and how he affected my job responsibilities, I want to use my blog to share a few thoughts about him.

As Delaware’s Attorney General, he made government accountability a staple of his administration. As Caesar Rodney Institute is, at its core, a government accountability and transparency advocate, it was important to us to use Delaware’s FOIA laws to access information. In news which will not shock the world, some of Delaware’s state agencies made turning over information at our request tedious and painful, or cited reasons they weren’t going to. Beau, however, affirmed CRI’s right to obtain the information we requested, and in the years before I came to CRI, helped us get the information we wanted, with a phone call from his office to the agency in question.

In 2011, Beau made it clear to CRI the AG’s office would support CRI in our public records request if any state agency tried to prevent the release of any information we requested under our rights under Delaware’s FOIA law. This support helped me personally, because I utilized Delaware’s FOIA law several times while Beau was in the AG’s office.

Knowing that Beau would side with CRI over state agencies when it came to the majority of open records requests made my job easier and on one occasion I did call his office to report an issue and someone (not him, but in his office) spoke to the agency in question’s representatives and reminded them of his support for our rights. This came despite us generally being at political odds with one another. I sincerely mean it when I say that knowing we had Beau’s support for these public records made doing my job easier.  I felt confident during the roughly two and a half years he was AG that I was able to submit FOIA request and have his office on speed-dial (not literally, but you get the idea) should any agency give me an unnecessarily hard time. This kind of respect for the public’s right to know is important for government accountability.

The first time, and the only time, I actually spoke to him was in 2013 when my then-boss sent me on a mission to the University and Whist Club in Wilmington where he was speaking at a public event about, fittingly, Freedom of Information Act requests. Some Delaware-based reporters and nonprofits were unhappy by how certain agencies were moving in responding to these requests, and Beau had a roughly 40 minute Q&A presentation about how he respected journalism and organizations like CRI (He did not mention us by name) who are involved in holding government accountable to the public, and he said he wanted to be that bridge between the government agencies and the people they serve. I filmed him from the side of the room, and one several occasions he looked like he was afraid of ruining my shot even though it was he I was filming.

After he was done talking and the room broke out into multitudes of conversations, he came by to ask who I was and where I was from. Knowing him only by reputation, I introduced myself, wondering if Beau, upon hearing the name of the Caesar Rodney Institute (which liberals generally do not like), would awkwardly shake my hand and hastily move on. Instead, he shook my hand with confidence, and we talked for maybe half a minute about what I was doing and I told him I appreciated his office’s efforts to support FOIA requests. He thanked me for my words and said he was happy to help any organization which was just “trying to do your jobs serving the public”. Yes, I know it was not some epic words we said to each other, but it still was cool for the younger me to be able to talk to a high-ranked elected official, and the son of a Vice President, at a public forum where he was relatively unprotected and was candid about walking around and speaking to people.

I will conclude by saying I actually liked Beau, to the extent I knew him or dealt with his office. He was taken from the world tragically too soon, and at this time I offer my condolences to the Biden family and wish them well.

Why Understanding Web Traffic is Important to your Website Profile

I want to start off 2015 with a miniseries of articles on data analytics. The reason is because as the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Communications Director I have spent a lot of time going through data analytics for our websites and social media pages (social media analytics will come in a future blogpost). Seeing the data is one thing; knowing how it can benefit your company or personal website is another. All you aspiring authors and personal profile builders out there, you might want to take a few notes. Knowing ways to build your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can mean the difference between being discovered and going “viral” and being stuck in the bog of roughly 644 million websites worldwide.

For this post I’ll focus on Google Analytics (GA) and the book “Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, 3rd edition” by Brian Clifton (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012). Brian is the former head of web analytics for Google Europe, Middle East, and Africa, and I combine his lessons with my own experiences. Most of the newer editors are just slightly updated versions of previous editions, but if you have the chance to pick up a copy I’d recommend it. (author note: I do not benefit in any way from endorsing this book)

The first step in learning to use data analytics is to know why it’s so important for your website profile. Unfortunately many people just see a bunch of numbers and some pie charts and then don’t compare data from past months or try to dig into the data to spot useful trends. GA has over 100 different reports available for downloading and this is a daunting number for the new user.

Not all data points in GA are as useful as others; for example I discovered that, for CRI, measuring the average page visit was not very valuable. Part of this reason is because there is no perfect way to measure exactly how long someone really stays on your page- ever opened a new website in your browser, then gone off to do something else? At some point the website has to cut off your site visit time. Some sites cut it off after 30 minutes of inactivity, some 10.

Some useful data points which can be tracked:

  • Your daily visitor total
  • average conversion rate (if you sell things on your site)
  • top-visited pages
  • where people are searching from (location)
  • where people are searching from (web browser)
  • Your “page stickiness” (how many pages are viewed before a visitor leaves)
  • keywords being used in search engines to find you.

All of this data, and more, help you identify your Key Performance Indicators (KPI). For example, a review of CRI data shows about 1/3 of people who find us via search engine are doing so by looking for us by keywords like “prevailing wage Delaware” or “Delaware government accountability” rather than by our name, which is an indication that there is interest in our policy issues but a lot of those people didn’t know we existed prior to entering those keywords.

Having this information available allows you or your team to figure out what is working and what isn’t working with your pages and make adjustments. So for us, for example, we discovered that we had an increase in total visits in November but a lot of those views were from November 1-20. By being able to break down the month into thirds to view our total page views, we could see that November 21-30 accounted for only 26% of our visits, which we attributed to the Thanksgiving holiday. Knowing the specific cause of the late November drop into early December prevented us from being overly concerned about the drop and then making an irrational decision regarding our online presence.

In the next post I’ll talk about some of the inaccuracies in GA and some ways you can prevent these inaccuracies from adversely affecting your data points. Please feel free to comment below on ways you use data analytics for yourself or your company.

Vote today! Midterm election projections

Unless you’re coming back from Burning man or living in a cave with Crocodile Dundee you know it’s election day in the US of A. The question is, who wins and who loses? I offer a few brief thoughts of my own on key races across the country. Apologies in advance for spelling mistakes in this post. I’m multitasking right now.

Incumbent candidate or party listed first.

New Hampshire: Scott Brown vs. Jeanne Shaheen:

Alaska: Mark Begich vs. Dan Sullivan- As you will see today, the midterm election is being shaped as a referendum on President Obama, and a lot of Democrats are defending seats where Obama is not well-liked. Alaska is one of these. Begich has baggage for supporting ACA (“Obamacare”) and he will lose. Winner: SULLIVAN

Arkansas: Mark Pryor vs. Tom Cotton- Cotton is a US Army veteran, having served inboth Iraw and Afghanistan. This plays very well in the deeply conservative Arkansas. Pryor is not a bad candidate, but Cotton’s campaign has been very succesful at tying him to Obama. Close race but decided early in the night. Winner: COTTON

Louisiana: Mary Landrieu vs. Bill Cassidy: Landrieu is from a Lousiana political dynasty. She has tried to make herself appeal as a somewhat conservative Democrat in the conservative state. Unfortunately for her, see Arkansas and Alaska above. Winner: CASSIDY in a runoff against Landrieu.

North Carolina: Kay Hagan vs. Thom Tillis and Sean Haugh (libertarian)- third party candidates are often blamed for taking votes away from D’s or R’s, and Haugh will be no exception. But who loses more votes? My guess the winner will be just a shde under 50%. Hagan has run a very good campaign and Tillis is not the most liked guy around. Winner: HAGAN

Colorado: Mark Udall vs. Cory Gardner: Udall ran on ONE issue: women’s rights, meaning abortion/birth control, etc. This strategy was so bad even the Denver Post, no lover of Republicans, endorsed Garder just to spite Udall. Gardner is a strong candidate, Udall less so. Very close race, decision early morning hours. Winner: GARDNER

Iowa: Burce Braley vs. Joni Ernst: Neither is an incumbent, they are trying to win the seat beign vacated by Democrat Tom Harkin. Braley has been shooting himself in the foot, first disparaging Iowan farmers over the summer and then Harkin made a comment about Ernst’s looks no Republican could ever get away with without being called “sexist.” Add this to the fact that Ernst is a military mom (and grandmom!), and this is one of the big upsets of the year. Winner: ERNST.

Kansas: Patr Roberts vs. Greg Orman (Independent) and Randall Batson (libertarian)- Orman is the fill-in for the Democrats who did not run anyone against Roberts. He is a centrist businessman and a good candidate. Roberts, like the Kansas governor Sam Brownback, is not very popular. BUT- Kansas is a deeply conservative state. Expect multiple recounts over the coming weeks but I will stick with the incumbent by less than 0.5%. Winner: ROBERTS

Georgia: David Perdue vs. Michelle Nunn and Amanda Swafford (libertarian): For a while Democrats were excited about taking this seat from the GOP vacated by Saxby Chambliss. Despite two women running to become Georgia’s first-ever elected female senator, Obama is very unpopular here and Nunn has not run the best of campaigns. A chance to pick off a seat from a not-very-likeable corporate businessman seems to have gone by the wayside. Swafford won’t play a factor. Winner: PERDUE, no runoff

Delaware: Chris Coons vs. Kevin Wade A shout-out to my home state. Coons is up for re-election, having finished Joe Biden’s term when Biden left to become Vice President. Wade is an interesting candidate but he doesn’t really have a chance. He’ll be lucky to crack 40. Winner: COONS

Kentucky: Mitch McConnell vs. Alison Grimes- Democrats were dreaming they’d tae down the Senate Minority Leader, who is seen as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) but a lot of Kentuckians. But, a) Obama is despised because of the war on coal b)Grimes ran a terrible campaign and c) by old white guy standards, McConnell is actually well-liked. Winner: MCCONNELL

Michigan: Gary Peters vs. Terri Lynn Land and three third-party candidates with no shot: Land is the former Secretary of State for Michigan. She doesn’t appear to have much traction and has made some bizarre remarks (and lack of them-check her ‘War on Women’ ad on Youtube) and while Peters isn’t the most charismatic guy, he’s going to win. Big. Winner: PETERS

Mississippi: Thad Cochran vs. Travis Childers: There has been speculation that Cochran might have lost this race because of spiteful Republicans bitter about his campaign’s under-handed tactics to defeat Chris McDaniel. However, I think the prospect of Harry Reid staying on as Senate Majority Leader is too much even for the R’s who hate Cochran. A  very close race. Winner: COCHRAN

Montana: Amanda Curtis vs. Steve Daines and Roger Roots. This is an open seat vacated by Max Baucus. That’s the only reason I bothered to list this race: Because the Republicans are going to take it. Curtis is a bad candidate, filling in after the previous front-runner was caught in a plagiarism scandal. She has no chance unless aliens invade. Winner: DAINES

South Dakota: Rick Weiland vs. Mike Rounds, Larry Pressler (Ind) and Gordon Howie (Ind.), Seat vacated by Democrat Tim Johnson. Some think this might be close with the third-party candidates, but South Dakota is a conservative state and Weiland isn’t very good at convincing people he’s conservative enough. Also, Obama is not well like here. Winner: ROUNDS

Virginia: Mark Warner vs. Ed Gillespie: Gillespie is a former GOP Chairman. Warner is the incumbent. Warner was leading for a while, but a late surge by Gillespie has made this race close. Again, Obama is hurting Warner because of how close his voting record is to the President. But, with northern Virginia now more like San Francisco than Virginia, that won’t hurt Warner like it will other Dems. Winner: WARNER, but closer than expected.

West Virginia: Natalie Tennant vs. Shelly Moore Capito: we conclude our key Senate races with…two women! That’s right, West Virginia will decide which woman will represent them in the Senate. Ironically, there are three independent candidates, but they’re all men. So which woman will win the seat? West Virginia is actualyl a Democrat-party leaning state. But: Obama is viscerally hated in this state. As in, he’s about as popular as Ebola, mainly because of his war on coal. Winner: CAPITO

Key Governor’s races:

Colorado: John Hickenlooper vs. Bob Beauprez: this is one of the closest to call. Hickenlooper is a slight favorite but he might get dragged down by lack of enthusiasm for Udall. Beauprez, like Gardner, is done well courting the Hispanic vote. This is an absolute toss-up, but I’ll give it to the challenger for one reason: Hickenlooper’s support for gun control in a state where guns are more popular than you-know-you. Winner: BEAUPREZ

Connecticut: Dan Malloy vs. Tom Foley: Foley is a moderate Republican businessman. Malloy is a dishonest politician (surprise!) who raised taxes on the middle class after saying he wouldn’t do that. In a state so Democratic like Connecticut, the fact that Foley is within the margin of error in polling is an embarrassment. Still, this state is blue. Winner: MALLOY, with at least one recount.

Florida: Rick Scott vs. Charlie Crist. This is one of the suckiest races to vote for. Both are dislike able, Crist is a shapeshifer who “goes with the flow” while Scott comes across as insensitive and too business-like instead of diplomatic. I think, because Scott went back on his word after suring the Feds over Obamacare, the good-will vote goes to the former governor. Winner: CRIST.

Georgia: Nathan Deal vs. Jason Carter- Jimmy Carter’s 39 year old grandson wants to be governor. Some polls have this as a possible Democrat upset. I say: see Obama, above. Winner: DEAL

Illinois: Pat Quinn vs. Bruce Rauner. Quinn is, like Scott and PA governor Corbett, among the most disliked governors. He is an embarrassment to the state and even Democrats know this. Given Illinois’ blue advantage and the fact that Rauner is a super wealthy developer/stock market guy, he shouldn’t be well received here, except that under Quinn’s “leadership” Illinois’ bond and credit ratings have taken a hit. The dead vote in Chicago will decide the winner of this one. Winner: QUINN

Kansas: Sam Brownback vs. Paul Davis: Whereas most GOP governors maintained or managed to somewhat improve their state’s economic climate (at least enough for re-election), Brownback cost Kansas their top credit rating. Plus, he broke one too many pledges here.  This is one, like the Senate race, going to multiple recounts. Winner: DAVIS

Maine: Paul LePage vs. Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler (Ind): Cutler and Michaud are solid liberals. LePage is actually Tea Party more than Republican. If Cutler wasn’t running the Democrats would have won this seat. But Cutler IS running, and he will take votes away from Michaud. LePage will win with less than 50%…just like he did in 2010. Winner: LEPAGE

Maryland: Anthony Brown vs. Larry Hogan: Brown is Martin O’Malley’s Lieutenant Governor, and this state at this point is solid Dem. Oabam got 62% here in 2012. So why is Hogan close? Brown is a weak candidate, O’Malleable imposed a “rain tax” (if it rains on your property and runs off into the street you pay a tax on that) and MD’s running of the Obamacare website totally stunk, and I think this might be the upset of the night. Winner: HOGAN by less than 1.5%.

Massachusetts: Martha Coakley vs. Charlie Baker: Coakley lost in solid D Mass 5 years ago to Scott Brown because she didn’t bother campaigning. She evidently hasn’t learned her lesson. Plus, she is a weak candidate with few views on anything of note. Baker has taken the lead and it looks like the Republicans are picking this race up, Winner: BAKER

Michigan: Rick Snyder vs Mark Schauer: Snyder isn’t super well liked either, and Land will probably hurt him. This is one of those races where Snyder benefits from being the incumbent and just competent enough, especially with the Detroit turnaround. Winner: SNYDER

New Hampshire: Maggie Hassan vs. Walt Havenstein- I think all the female governor candidates up for re-election are up this year. Hassan is up narrowly in the polls and New Hampshire seems to have turned somewhat blue. It may be that the Brown-Shaheen race decides this one. Winner: HASSAN

Texas: Wendy Davis vs. Greg Abbott: I only threw this one in because of all the noise made about Wendy Davis “Standing up for abortion rights”. This is going to be a Texas-sized massacre. Winner: ABBOTT

Wisconsin: Scott Walker vs. Mary Burke. Walker is running for the third time in four years, and Burke is a succesful businesswoman. Walker has the momentum and he’s looking at a presidential bid for 2016. Walker will hold Burke off by abour 4-5%. Winner: WALKER

Ballot initiatives:

Marijuana decriminalization is on the ballot in: Alaska, Florida, and Oregon. AK and OR will have weed, Florida will vote against it because of the large number of religious people in the state.

Minimum wage hike is on the ballot in: Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, South Dakota. This is an issue D’s are hoping drives people to the polls. IL and AR will vote yes, the other states no.

Your thoughts? Who do you think will win tonight?