I appreciate all the kind comments and constructive feedback on my first addition to this series. I do, though, intend to make one change, which will become more relevant later on in this post. For Texas Governor, I’m going to save William McRaven for later, and suggest…

Mark Cuban: Being filthy rich is no impediment in Texas politics, where populism isn’t quite so…populist. So, why not pick Mark Cuban to run against Tea Party darling Greg Abbott in 2018? Cuban has been expertly trolling Donald Trump, brought an NBA championship to Dallas, and can frame himself as a job creator. Sure, Cuban’s a jackass, but given that we’ve entered the age of inexperienced billionaires with reality shows being viable candidates, for better or worse- let’s roll with it. I’m more comfortable putting him in Texas’s historically not very powerful governorship, and he can open the door for future Democratic wins and carve out a path to victory in a tough state.

So…with that change, let’s move to the Senate in 2018. It sucks. Because Democrats did well in the 2000, 2006, and 2012 elections for this batch of seats, there aren’t very many truly competitive opportunities to flip red seats blue. To the contrary, the Democrats are mostly playing defense, with tough races in states that went to Donald Trump by wide margins: Indiana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, and other unfriendly territories- on top of races in shaky states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I repeat- this set of races sucks. Team Blue will be lucky if they can cut down the net losses to maybe two or three.

I’m also proceeding with the assumption that there will be some retirements. I tentatively project that Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Tom Carper of Delaware, possibly Bill Nelson of Florida, and Orrin Hatch of Utah will forgo another run. (All but Hatch are Democrats.) I will therefore treat these as open seats.

There’s no need to cover the Democrats seeking re-election in any depth: they simply need to win. Given the benefits of incumbency, the probable unpopularity of Donald Trump, and the usual midterm doldrums for the party in the White House, I’m not terribly worried. Barring unforeseen developments, things cautiously look good for:

  • Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota- and someone who should be on any short list for vice-president in 2020)
  • Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)
  • Maria Cantwell (Washington)
  • Martin Heinrich (New Mexico)
  • Bob Casey, Jr. (Pennsylvania)
  • Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin)
  • Sherrod Brown (Ohio- and just the kind of populist that can win Ohio)
  • Debbie Stabenow (Michigan)
  • Tim Kaine (Virginia- oh, what a great V.P. he would have made…)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island)
  • Mazie Hirono (Hawaii)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand (my fantastic senator and possibly presidential timber…)

In the “danger zone”- states that went for Trump by more than ten points- we have:

  • Jon Tester (Montana)- a great, gruff candidate that’s true to his roots. I think he’ll win a third term, but he’s smart enough to not take it for granted.
  • Joe Manchin (West Virginia)- he’s already hedging his bets by voting for some Trump nominees. But Manchin’s already figured out how to win handily in a state that’s trended red at supersonic speed. I think he’s fine too.
  • Joe Donnelly (Indiana)- he got lucky by drawing a ridiculous Tea Party opponent Eric “even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen” Mourdouck. The fact that Evan Bayh lost a race here in 2016 should worry him deeply.
  • Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota)- the only Democrat holding statewide office in the Peace Garden State, Heitkamp’s in a tough spot. A decade ago, North Dakota’s entire congressional delegation was moderate, bet-hedging Democrats like her. But the oil boom- and the inevitable oil bust that followed- changed the calculus drastically.  As Alaska, Oklahoma, and Texas can tell you, nothing kills progressivism quite as quickly as oil.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the projected open seats currently held by Democrats. Here are my endorsements:

California: Dianne Feinstein will be 85 when the 2018 midterms roll around, putting her in Strom Thurmond territory for legislative geriatrics. She’s had a long, and mostly praiseworthy, career; as President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, she told the world about Harvey Milk’s assassination, and was vetted as a running mate by Walter Mondale back in 1984. California has a long bench of politicians hungry for one of the state’s rare openings for higher office. My hope is that it will go to Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. Garcetti’s done a great job in L.A. and was reportedly one of the people Hillary Clinton looked at as a potential running mate. He’s helped make L.A. more environmentally friendly for bikers and commuters, nurtured a construction boom, and has a Cory Booker-ish adeptness at using social media.

Connecticut: Now, of course, this is only in the scenario that I’m imagining on this blog. You may remember that last time, I suggested that Chris Murphy run for governor in 2012 to clear out the stank of Dan Malloy’s unpopular administration. If that somehow happens, and this seat becomes open, I would happily endorse Carolyn Miles. Miles is the CEO of Fairfield-based Save the Children, one of the world’s most important charities. She’s helped get nutritious food, education, and medical care to countless children both at home and abroad.Recently, People magazine named her among the 25 Women Changing the World.

Delaware: Tom Carper just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who deserves a fourth-term- a moderate-ish corporate-friendly Democrat from a safe blue state. Assuming Carper, who will be 71, calls it quits, his replacement already represents Delaware in the Congress. I’m talking about Lisa Blunt Rochester, recently elected to Delaware’s at-large district. She is resolute in her support of refugees and a staunch critic of Donald Trump’s treatment of women. If elected, she would be only the third African-American woman to serve in the Senate.

Florida: Bill Nelson may very well run for re-election, but he’s now well into his seventies, and the astronaut-turned-senator may avoid another race that always seems close and contested. If that’s what happens, I’d suggest Stephanie Murphy, who was just elected to Florida’s Orlando-based 7th district. She took out an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district, no small accomplishment in 2016, when Trump carried Florida. Murphy has a fascinating biography, including a harrowing childhood escape from Vietnam and rescue by the U.S. Navy. A national security specialist, she’d be a great addition to the Senate.

Maryland: Cardin will be 75 when this midterms roll around, and after two terms in the Senate, he may want to hang it up. Although an institution in Chesapeake politics, his vote against the Iran deal will not endear him to a party base mobilized by the 2016 primaries and a hotly contested Senate primary race. Maryland has become one of the most Democratic states in the country over the last few decades, and it’s probable that whoever gets nominated by that party will succeed Cardin. It’s only fair that it should go to Donna Edwards, who lost said Senate primary to Chris Van Hollen last year. If elected, Edwards will join the ranks of the Senate’s most redoubtable progressives. She brings grassroots chops as a community activist and is strongly against the Citizens United decision.

Missouri: I love Claire McCaskill- feisty, forthright, and sensible. But with her health scare last year, she may want to avoid a third term in the Senate, and pass things off to a Democratic successor in a year with favorable tailwinds. That being the case, Jason Kander surely deserves another shot at the Senate. Kander ran 15 points ahead of Hillary Clinton in Missouri, losing to powerful incumbent Roy Blunt by only 3 points. The Secretary of State of Missouri- who assembled and dissembled a rifle during one television ad- had a bright future and can help rebuild the Show-Me State’s moribund Democratic Party.

New Jersey: Bob Menendez is a crook. Even if he does run for the Senate again ,he deserves a hearty primary challenge. Either way you slice it, I strongly recommend Steve Fulop. He’ll be only 41 when 2018 runs around, and he’s already carved out a terrific career as Jersey City’s mayor. Under his leadership, he’s revived the city’s parks, bolstered it’s artistic community, and oversaw a $15 minimum wage for all city employees- in addition to his masterful handling of Hurricane Sandy.

Vermont: Bernie is showing no signs of slowing down, but he will be 77 in 2018, and might want to oversee his revolution in a different capacity. His approval rating is one of the highest in the country, and no doubt, he’ll want to hand off his seat to someone of a similar disposition to himself. I’d recommend his chief of staff, Michaeleen Crowell. Her public visibility has only increased during a primary campaign that exceeded everyone’s expectations- and even played Hillary during Bernie’s debate prep. She shares much of her boss’s commitment to social democracy while being much more of a serious policy wonk. Although it’s one of the most leftist states in the country, Vermont has never been represented by a woman in Congress- Crowell would be the first.

What about playing offense then- seats that are currently played by Republicans? Unfortunately, only one and a half- Nevada and Arizona- look even remotely realistic. But I think every seat should be in play, so here are my picks.

Arizona: Flecks of reasonableness and a certain anti-Trump demeanor have characterized Jeff Flake’s first term in the Senate. But Arizona is slowly tilting blue- Romney won the state by 9 points, while Trump won by only 3.5. In such an environment, we need a heavy hitter, and I strongly recommend that Democrats recruit Mark Kelly. Kelly has been an astronaut, and has been in the news recently as scientists compare his body’s readings with his twin brother’s, who recently spent an entire year in space. Of course, he was most visible as the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who survived a near-fatal assassination attempt. Since then, Kelly has surfaced as her caretaker, an author, a public speaker, and a strong advocate for sensible gun laws- while still owning firearms himself. He’d be a terrific candidate and a good way to inaugurate a more Democratic era in Arizona.

Mississippi: “Hey, you for eight years, ran the naaaaavy, so here’s my number, so call me Mabus.” Roger Wicker has this seat more or less locked up, but Ray Mabus would be a very formidable candidate in bad circumstances. He was the last Democratic governor of Mississippi, spent eight years as Secretary of the Navy, and was Ambassador to Saudi Arabia for part of the Clinton administration. But he’s in a tough spot, given that 1) Mississippi has virtually no white Democrats outside of the Ole Miss campus, and 2) Nostradamus actually made some prophecies about a mysterious guy named Mabus. Eerie.

Nebraska: When this batch of seats was up in 2012, Nebraska was the only one that switched from blue to red, when Deb Fischer beat out former senator Bob Kerrey for Ben Nelson’s open seat. Nobody knows yet whether Fischer is running, and whether or not she does, this will be a tough race for Democrats. Nevertheless, Kate Sullivan would be my pick. She’s one of the only Democrats in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature to not hail from either Omaha or Lincoln, and it’s crucial that the party expand beyond the state’s only two real metros.

Nevada: This is the only ostensibly solid pickup opportunity for Democrats on the map, and even that is far from a sure thing. Republican Dean Heller won a close race against a flawed Democratic candidate in 2012. In 2018, he will have all the benefits of incumbency, but his profile isn’t high enough to render him unbeatable. Ruben Kihuen would be a formidable opponent, however. He won Nevada’s swing-y 4th district in 2016- and was one of the few congressional candidates to successfully take out an incumbent that year. That augers well for Kihuen, and at 36, he has a long career ahead of him.

Tennessee: Bob Corker is up for re-election, and he’s likely to cruise into another term. Tennessee is, of course, solidly Republican, and Corker is the chair of the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee. But what happens if, say, Rex Tillerson’s conflicts of interest with Russia become burdensome and Corker replaces him as Secretary of State? Then the seat could potentially become competitive. In that case, Megan Barry, the first female mayor of Nashville, could make a serious run. She’s an enthusiastic booster for her city and her state, and is pointedly good at criticizing Trump while remaining authentically Tennessean. Even in the best of circumstances, this is a long shot, but Barry is the best choice.

Texas: The last thing Ted Cruz expects is a serious challenge for re-election in 2018. I’d love for the aforementioned William McRaven to take him on. Cruz’s irresponsibility and callousness need to face their consequences. He nearly sent us off the fiscal cliff, and endorsed Donald Trump after he threatened to reveal incriminating information about his wife and implied that his father took part in the JFK assassination. Compare Cruz’s sanctimonious and joyless strict constitutionalism with McRaven’s real sense of accomplishment and sacrifice- as you may know from the last installment, McRaven was the admiral who oversaw Operation Neptune Spear that took out Osama bin Laden. Even in Texas, this race shouldn’t be close.

Utah: Is Orrin Hatch running for an 8th term? Or isn’t he? Either way, this seat probably won’t be competitive. The only question will be whether someone reasonable like Jon Huntsman runs or someone unreasonable like Jason Chaffetz. The best we can do, I think, is former congressman Jim Matheson– for years, the only Democrat to represent Utah in Washington. Realistically, Utah’s fourth congressional district race ought to be more competitive.

Wyoming: Another long shot among long shots. John Barrasso is running for another term, and there really is no bench to challenge him. Pete Gossar would probably be the best choice. He is a former University of Wyoming football hero and currently the head of the state’s board of education. Incidentally, his brother is an arch-conservative congressman from Arizona who boycotted Pope Francis’s address to Congress because he was afraid he might talk about climate change.

And that’s where we are. Again, the 2018 midterms look like a dumpster fire for Democrats in 2018, even if everything goes their way. They are simply defending too many competitive seats, and there aren’t many pickup opportunities to be had. But I think these choices, if nominated, could cut down on losses, make gains where possible, embolden a grassroots army, and lay the groundwork for an effective challenge to President Trump. For my next post, I intend to look at candidates for the House in 2018, exploring swing districts in four regions: the Northeast, the Midwest and Prairie, the South, and the West.

While it is certainly possible that I may have the odd conservative reader on my blog from time to time, I am a proud and unrepentant progressive, and I suspect that many of my regular readers are the same. To be sure, their ~brand~ of progressivism can vary from all-out Bernie Bros to old-fashioned trade unionists, to kickass feminists, to ravaged veterans of the Christian Left such as myself. For many of us, the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 have been disheartening times. We lost the presidency, most obviously, but we also failed to retake the Senate, lost winnable governors’ races in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Missouri, and continued to hemorrhage seats in state senates and assemblies.

Encouraged by yesterday’s marches across the United States, I have decided to take part in the conversations that will hopefully establish a sustainable, fair, equitable, and sustainable future for all Americans. And we can start by fielding the best candidates we can for office. There are two governors’ spots being vacated in the off-off-year of 2017 (New Jersey and Virginia), and thirty-six that are up for election in 2018- only nine (nine!!) of which are presently held by Democrats.

So for the first time ever, the Northumbrian Countdown is going to wade into the Democratic primaries and endorse some candidates, in many cases before the candidates themselves have declared that they will run for office. 2018 is a ripe pick-up opportunity for many reasons. For one, the opposition party almost always does better in off-year elections. 2010 and 2014 are recent examples, but the one I want you to keep in mind is 2002. Even only one year after 9-11, with President Bush enjoying widespread popularity at the time, the Republicans took a beating in statewide offices. That year, Democrats won the governor’s mansion in Wyoming, Kansas, Iowa, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and other unfriendly territories. Given that Donald Trump already has an underwater approval rating during his supposed “honeymoon” with the public, I can’t imagine an outcome that looks good for the GOP in 2018, assuming we still have a functional democracy by then.

Here, then, is my list of candidates. Given that we are seeing what my friend Donnie calls a “Cards Against Humanity” cabinet, the need to put qualified, experienced men and women who see holding office as a true public service and a sacrifice of their time and talents is paramount. But I also looked for candidates who were inspiring, eloquent, and progressive in ways that wouldn’t alienate moderate voters. I was especially hesitant to choose candidates who were too urban- Democrats need to work hard to win back suburbs and lower the gap in rural areas. We have to make it possible for a roofing contractor in Altoona without a college diploma to vote for this party again. When I could, I tried to choose younger candidates in order to build up the Democratic bench and cultivate future presidential, vice-presidential, and cabinet timber. Finally, I tried to pick candidates who could benefit from strong grassroots support, avoiding milquetoast consensus candidates. These factors weren’t always easy to square, but I did the best I could.

2017 Governors’ Elections:

New Jersey: The Garden State’s blue tilt and growing religious and racial diversity would make this a challenge for Republicans even if Jerseyans didn’t basically view Chris Christie as the devil incarnate by now. Having lived in Jersey City during the first summer of my marriage to Heather, I love what Steve Fulop is doing, but I want to save him for a future chapter- holding the line in the Senate. Instead, the Northumbrian Countdown endorses John Wisnewski of New Jersey’s General Assembly. He led the investigations into Bridgegate against Governor Christie that led to his descent from Republican frontrunner to tragicomic Trump lapdog. As the chair of Bernie Sanders’ Jersey campaign, he can count on the significant grassroots momentum that comes with it.

Virginia: This state, home to many of our founding fathers, still has an unusual law on the books that prevents governors from serving more than one term in a row. This eliminates Terry MacAuliffe, who wasn’t an especially strong candidate anyway, and whose demeanor reminded many of Clinton-era cronyism. Instead- and this is one of my favorite people on the list- I’m delighted to endorse Tom Perriello. Perriello was briefly a congressman from the state’s largely rural 9th district before a disheartening loss in 2010 and was one of President Obama’s favorite congressmen. Both before and after his time in Congress, Perriello has been on the forefront of global human rights. He helped prosecute for crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone, Darfur, and Afghanistan, served as a special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa, and has worked for the International Center for Transitional Justice and the National Council of Churches. He is a man of deep thought and rare conviction, and can help Democrats reclaim the conversation on religion, morality, and ethics in government.

2018 Governors’ Elections:

Alabama: This is a tough election, one that’s probably impossible to put in the Democratic column. I considered Jim Folsom, Jr., longtime Alabama lieutenant governor who barely missed out on holding higher offices about a half-dozen times. Instead, I went with my conscience and picked civil rights legend Gwendolyn Webb. She marched in Birmingham, ran afoul of Bull Connor, and spent some nights in jail. After that, she chose to reform the system from within, becoming the first black woman to serve in an Alabama police department. Given that there’s an decent chance that the Republican nominee will be loony “Ten Commandments Judge” Roy Moore, this election needs to be Alabama’s opportunity to take a moral inventory of themselves. Webb’s candidacy can provide that opportunity.

Alaska: This is another very tough race, and this one has an interesting twist. Alaska’s current governor is a reasonably competent Independent, Bill Walker, in a state with a high number of independent voters. But if the Independent and the Republican cancel each other out or draw votes away from one another, that creates a window of opportunity, one that could be filled by Mark Begich. Begich won a close Senate race in 2008 against beleaguered incumbent Ted Stevens- and this was with Sarah Palin on the national ticket! He lost his re-election in 2014, but only by 2% in a deep-red state in an extraordinarily bad year for Democrats. All of this suggests that he’s by far the best candidate on very unfriendly terrain. The former Anchorage mayor is only 54 today and did a good job of representing Alaskan interests in the Senate, departing from his party on energy and gun issues.

Arizona: When I cover the Arizona Senate race in 2018, I have a choice that will blow. your. mind. For now, I’m getting behind Kyrsten Sinema, who represents the swing district that consists largely of Phoenix suburbs. In a state whose demographics are trending blue but with agonizing slowness, Sinema is the most likely candidate to cut the gordian knot that keeps Democrats from breaking through. Sinema can also benefit from large amounts of grassroots activism in Arizona, whose forces recently celebrated a key victory in 2016 by toppling longtime bigoted sheriff Joe Arapio. She’s a moderate “blue dog”, but still holds orthodox progressive views on reproductive choice, immigration, and gun rights, and is skilled at framing her positions for middle-of-the-road voters.

Arkansas: How far Democrats have fallen in this state. In the last 8 years, they’ve managed to lose the governorship, both Senate seats, and every congressional office. In a state that made Bill Clinton, the Democrats’ lack of appeal among rural, Southern, undereducated and religious white voters has become shockingly manifest. The only chance is to try and let lightning strike again; hearty populists do well in Arkansas- from Dale Bumpers to Bill Clinton to Mike Huckabee- and the present group of Republicans holding office are no populists. My pick, therefore, is Bill Halter. The former lieutenant governor came shockingly close to primarying Blanche Lambert-Lincoln in 2010, and knows full well that a message that is friendly to the everyman plays well in Arkansas, and can make clean energy and affordable health care sell down there.

California: Jerry Brown’s two terms are up, and he has overseen a revival in California in terms of economic prowess, clean energy, and fairer taxation in a notoriously anti-tax state. But Brown, Feinstein, and Boxer’s longevity have led to a massive backlog of worthy Democrats in our country’s most populous state. Xavier Beccara, Eric Garcetti, and Antonio Villaraigosa are all worthy candidates, although I suspect that the Democratic governor’s race will be won by Gavin Newsom. He’ll probably be fine, but his closeness with Silicon Valley tech giants, and his blatant disregard for the law (even a very bad law like Prop. 8) makes me worried. Instead, I’m supporting Delaine Eastin, one of our country’s very best education reformers. In an era where Betty DeVos may well become our next Secretary of Education, Eastin has worked hard to strengthen public education in the Golden State. As California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction she slashed class sizes and revamped curriculum standards. She’s still not satisfied, though: she aims to increase California’s chronically low per-student spending and implement universal pre-K and full-day Kindergarten. I’m forfeiting youth- Eastin will be over 70 when 2018 rolls around- but I honestly believe she’s the best choice.

Colorado: This mountainous state has officially joined the ranks of blue-leaning swing states, capped off by three consecutive victories for governor. I hope we can keep the streak going, and Mike Johnston may be the man to do it. Long considered an up-and-comer in the Aspen Festival circuit, he is- like Senator Michael Bennet- an education specialist; he once served in rural Mississippi for Teach for America. He’s an ambitious legislator, with some worthwhile concepts for making sure every Coloradan can achieve a debt-free higher education experience.

Connecticut: While Connecticut is a reasonably blue state, Democrats’ gubernatorial prospects are imperiled by the stank of Dan Malloy’s unpopular administration. Given that someone directly associated with his administration would be likely to be dragged down, I happily endorse Carolyn Miles. Miles is the CEO of Fairfield-based Save the Children, one of the world’s most important charities. She’s helped get nutritious food, education, and medical care to countless children both at home and abroad.Recently, Peoplemagazine named her among the 25 Women Changing the World.

Florida: For the last three races, Democrats have secured can’t-lose nominees that still, remarkably, found a way to lose: Jim Davis, Alex Sink, Charlie Crist- you name it, they lost it. The key is to be unconventional, and I think I found a candidate in Grant Hill. This longtime Democrat was, of course, an NBA legend. And given the success of Kevin Johnson, Bill Bradley, and Mo Udall, basketball players have a great track record. Soft-spoken, friendly, contemplative, and ethical, Hill won the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award three times. With deep pockets, business savvy, and an appreciation for teamwork, it would be great to see what Hill could accomplish on this stage.

Georgia: Like Arizona, Georgia is a state that is trending blue, but at a glacial pace. Statewide office holders who could appeal to the wide public are scarce, but I think a second chance should be given to Jason Carter. In a very red year with terrible turnout, in a blue-trending red state, Carter took on an incumbent governor and still kept the loss within double digits. And he’s no mere legacy pick- he is a state senator, a prominent ethics reformer, and like his great-grandmother Miss Lillian, served in the Peace Corps. In a more favorable climate, where he won’t be facing turn-limited Nathan Deal, Carter has a real chance.

Hawaii: This one is easy, since the islands already have a Democratic governor who has only served one term. David Ige for re-election it is!

Idaho: This is another potential hopeless cause. Although Idaho once elected Democratic governors readily- remember Cecil Andrus and John Evans- those days are long over. The best I can do is Dave Bieter, the mayor of Boise. Read his courageous statement defending refugees and immigrants in defiance of President Trump. If every state is on the table in 2018, Bieter is a Basque-speaking, take-no-shit champion of his city, battling chronic homelessness and showing what someone in a minority party can do in a blood-red environment.

Illinois: This is a state that sometimes makes me ashamed to be a Democrat. Bruce Rauner won a squeaker of an election in 2014, and his approval rating has been underwater for most of his term as Illinois lurches from financial crisis to financial crisis. The smart money is on someone like Lisa Madigan or a Friend of Obama like Penny Pritzker or Valerie Jarrett or Arne Duncan. I would make bold to look in a different direction, someone who can rehabilitate the depressing, moribund state of Illinois politics-Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein. Think it’s crazy? Think again. Epstein has a genius for the deal, an ability to ferret out underrated talent, and took the basement-dwelling Chicago Cubs, who hadn’t won a pennant since Theodore Roosevelt was president, into World Series champions. He’d be the perfect choice to shake up Illinois politics for the better.

Iowa: Few states turned blue to red so alarmingly quickly as Iowa, with lots of rural, evangelical voters. If current governor Terry Branstad is confirmed as Ambassador to China, the Democrat will have a strong new incumbent in the form of Kim Reynolds, presently the lieutenant governor. I endorse Rob Hogg. He not only has the perfect name for Iowa, he’s a 40-something state senator and climate change expert. Although he lost the Senate primary to Patty Judge, his earnest, grassroots style and wonkish demeanor has drawn comparisons to Paul Wellstone.

Kansas: Kansas is a damn mess and a clinic in Republican mismanagement. Governor Sam Brownback defied expectations and got re-elected in 2014, but since then, budget crises, cutbacks of essential services, and general dissatisfaction imperil Republicans in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since the New Deal. Although Paul Davis did an admirable job in the 2014 race, this blog endorses Mark Parkinson, who served briefly as governor of Kansas when Kathleen Sebelius was appointed the HHS secretary. On the “who were you better off with?” question, Parkinson wins considerably, and as a former Republican, he is well poised to understand the average Kansan’s frustration and frame the race in a non-partisan way. As president of the American Health Care Association, he would be capable of offering solutions if the health care system is thrown into turmoil with Obamacare’s repeal.

Maine: As with Iowa, Democrats should be concerned about their poor performance in rural blue states. Trump carried Maine’s forested 2nd district and almost carried Vacationland wholesale. However, Maine has also had one of the worst governors in the nation, Paul LePage, a cranky Nixonian misanthrope  who twice failed to break 50% of the popular vote due to independent candidate Eliot Cutler. Maine’s Democratic bench is uninspiring, unfortunately, making me look elsewhere. I therefore endorse Yellow Light Breen (yes. that’s his real name.) Having grown up in rural Maine, he went on to become an executive in Bangor Savings Bank and found the Maine Development Foundation, determined to bring sustainable growth to the state. He’s a great public speaker in the TED-talk style, a staunch education advocate, and a strong tonic for people sick of politics as usual.

Maryland: In this dark blue state, the Democrats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in 2014, as businessman Larry Hogan beat lieutenant governor Anthony Brown. Hogan has proved fairly popular since then, and has thankfully survived a cancer scare. But if the Democrats want a chance to win, they need to bring out the big guns. Enter Tom Perez. He may very well be voted DNC chair next month, but failing that, he would be a strong choice for governor. He was, after all, President Obama’s last Labor Secretary, and reportedly one of the finalists for Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential search. He’s a cautious results-oriented man who nonetheless has a command of detail and is as strong an ally of Black Lives Matter as one will find in the highest echelons of government.

Massachusetts: Another heartbreaking loss in 2014. Charlie Baker is now the incumbent, and one of the more popular governors in the country. But if 2018 is a wave year, then the governor’s race in one of the most Democratic states in the country should most certainly be on the table. My pick is state attorney general Maura Healey. Don’t confuse her with Martha Coakley, the previous attorney general, who botched both the 2014 race against Baker and the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat. Coakley is a much more natural politician and has a fascinating biography that includes captaining the Harvard women’s basketball team. She’s technically declined to enter the race, but the day is still young.

Michigan: The Wolverine State shocked the world by going for Donald Trump by a sliver of a percentage last November. It’s a warning sign that Michigan, long a Democratic bedrock, is now a legit swing state, one that cannot be taken for granted. But tailwinds favor them in the 2018 midterms in Michigan. Unpopular governor Rick Snyder, he of the Flint water crisis and kneecapping labor laws (in Michigan!) is retiring. Gretchen Whitmer has already thrown her hat in the ring, and I heartily endorse her. She’s a fiery orator, a staunch critic of right-to-work, and is young (45) and photogenic. Whitmer’s a winner and a great choice to help Michigan regain its progressive mojo.

Minnesota: Mark Dayton’s successful two terms as a governor will come to an end, and it’s as yet unclear as to who his successor will be. My endorsement goes to the state’s attorney general Lori Swanson. Swanson has been elected and re-elected easily into statewide office, and has gotten behind a number of key issues that enjoy widespread agreement. Her investigations into price-fixing for generic drugs and medications met with great approval, and her lawsuits against for-profit universities make her a great foil in the era of Trump University.

Nebraska: Whoever gets the Democratic nomination for this spot faces a herculean task- facing an incumbent governor in a ruby-red state. In fact, Nebraska’s third district, which covers most of the state outside Lincoln and Omaha, is one of the most Republican in the country. Still, Nebraska is a weird state. Members of its unicameral legislature are technically nonpartisan, and it recently ended the death penalty through an unlikely alliance of conservative Christians and urban liberals. Nebraska had no problem electing Democrats to the Senate and the governor’s mansion in the 1980s and 1990s, and it’s trends- including two big urban centers and some high college graduation rates- make it more likely than its prairie neighbors to swing Democratic. I’d like to see Howard Warren Buffett– yes, the 33-year-old grandson of the Sage of Omaha. He’s already a noted philanthropist, and worked in the Department of Defense to help restore Iraq and Afghanistan’s agriculture sectors. He owns a farm in Nebraska and is also an alternative energy guru. We are the same age, and I’m embarrassed at how little I’ve accomplished in comparison!

Nevada: Despite trending blue and staying blue in 2016, Nevada has a strong tendency to elect Republican governors. Its current one, Brian Sandoval, is by far the most able Republican governor in the country. Sandoval, however, is term-limited, and in this heavily Hispanic state, an unpopular Trump will cause tremors in statewide elections. In such an environment, my endorsement goes to Ross Miller. At the age of only 30, he was elected Secretary of State of Nevada, and lost the attorney general race by only one percentage point against a well-funded opponent, Adam Laxalt. He’s tough, has a tendency to delve into mixed-martial arts, and has a reputation for being non-partisan.

New Hampshire: New Hampshire and Vermont are the only two states to vote for their governor every two years- which actually used to be how most states did it around the turn of the last century. Despite leading in the polling for the last few weeks, Chris Van Ostern lost by 2%. New Hampshire usually doesn’t toss out incumbent governors, but Van Ostern is still our best choice for a rematch against Chris Sununu in 2018. Methodical and strategic (and plenty youthful at 37), he’s a steady choice, as steady as New Hampshire granite.

New Mexico: No state has transitioned from swing state to blue state quite so hard as New Mexico, thanks partly to major demographic changes that have made it majority-minority. Susanna Martinez, a Hispanic Republican, has served as governor for the last eight years. Her popularity has waned and waxed, but New Mexico may be tiring of her acerbic style. Hector Balderas, long considered one of the nation’s best up-and-coming politicians, is the prohibitive favorite. In fact, he may already be in Huey Long’s “dead woman or live boy” territory. He’s served as the state’s attorney general and its auditor, gaining a reputation as a champion of special-needs children (his daughter has Down’s Syndrome.)

New York: Some people think that Andrew Cuomo is entrenched in corrupt Albany politics, and they aren’t entirely wrong. But when I was 26, I was trying to get off of my COBRA’d health insurance when I rejoined my grad school full-time after a year of field research. No matter what happened, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get my insurance company to remove me and kept getting costly COBRA bills. Unsure of what else to do, I wrote to my governor. Within 72 hours of my sending the letter, I got a hasty, panicked, apologetic call from my health insurance provider. That’s the sort of thing that wins a man’s loyalty.

Ohio: Long considered the consummate swing state, Republicans won decisive victories here in the 2014 gubernatorial election and in the 2016 presidential election.  Economic populism sells here, and with John Kasich retiring, opportunity knocks for Tim Ryan. Rumor has it that he was on the longform list of Hillary’s veep prospects. He unsuccessfully ran against Nancy Pelosi- an empty gesture- but one that decisively marks out his dissent from coastal liberalism. Representing Youngstown and Akron, he’s from the buckle of the Rust Belt and has called for tariffs against countries like China that manipulate their currency. I’m not totally convinced that he isn’t more show-horse than work-horse, but we need to do better in the Great Lakes states, and Ryan is our best shot.

Oklahoma: Remember, Democrats won the governorship of this state in 2002 and again in 2006. It’s not impossible, especially with flagging Mary Fallin coming to the end of her two terms. Scott Inman is, like Brad Henry before him, the kind of guy who could win if conditions are right. He’s spent four terms as the Democrats’ leader in the Oklahoma House- and he’s only 38.

Oregon: The last time a Republican won the governor’s race in Oregon was in 1982, the year before I was born. Now, that trend has to come to an end eventually, but I don’t think it will be in 2018. Kate Brown, the nation’s first openly LGBT person elected governor (Brown identifies as bisexual), won a special election after the resignation of John Kitzhaber in the light of his wife’s illegal activity. Brown earned high marks for her treatment of the “Yee-hawd” conducted by Bundy and other activists in seizing a wildlife refuge. With both chambers of the state legislature run by Democrats, Brown has the opportunity to consolidate gains in the state and continue making Oregon an attractive place for young people.

Pennsylvania: This is one of the rare swing states that Democrats presently hold. Tom Wolf beat out the incredibly unpopular Tom Corbett in the party’s only gubernatorial pickup in 2014. Wolf has butted heads with Republicans, who control both branches of the state legislature, and Pennsylvanians- who voted for Trump by a small margin- may get tired of the gridlock. But an important historical trend helps him: Corbett is the only incumbent governor in a century to have lost re-election in the Keystone State.

Rhode Island: This is another state that gives me fits. The last two elections have seen mediocre talent carrying the day: independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee (yes, the guy who tanked so memorably in the first Democratic debate) and now Gina Raimondo. Raimondo has marketed herself as a financially savvy reformer but to little avail. She might not run, but if she does, I would support a primary challenge from Angel Taveras. Taveras was the first Hispanic mayor in Rhode Island’s history, and helped Providence avoid bankruptcy in the wake of a massive deficit he inherited. Proudly Latino and a real success story (“from Head Start to Harvard”) he could be the face of one of the nation’s most rapidly changing states.

South Carolina: Elizabeth Colbert Busch gets my endorsement. Although she lost a congressional race to adulterous ex-governor Mark Sanford, Busch has many of the requisite tools for success. Aside from her famous late-night host brother, she’s worked for Charleston’s Chamber of Commerce and has helped turn Clemson into a center of energy research. She’s just the ticket to help South Carolina slowly break out of stereotypes and join its neighbors as a reasonable, far-sighted east-coast state.

South Dakota: This is also going to be a very tough one; Republicans have held the governorship since the 1970s. Nevertheless, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is the best choice out there. She has won statewide office four times before as South Dakota’s at-large congresswoman and has made choices friendly to her region, coming down more moderately on gun rights and voting against the ACA. It’s likely that she will face Kristi Noem, the woman who bested her in the 2010 election.

Tennessee: The Volunteer State had a Democratic governor from 2003 to 2011, so it can be done. I have selected Fort Knox mayor Madeline Rogero as the Northumbrian candidate in this election. She’s a strong union advocate, having worked with Cesar Chavez, and has plenty of community development accolades as head of the Dollywood Foundation and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise organization. This is a woman who knows nonprofit work, grassroots momentum, and municipal services through and through. Maybe a 60-something Catholic woman might not seem like the best candidate for hill country, but a tough race can sometimes call for an unconventional candidate. And don’t forget– the outgoing governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, was also mayor of Fort Knox in his time.

Texas: In 2014, Lone Star Democrats ran Wendy Davis, a brave woman who famously stood up for reproductive rights in pink sneakers in a long filibuster, and was nevertheless a terrible choice to win in Texas. Team Blue hasn’t won a statewide office in two decades now, so a change in strategy is called for. As much as I like former HUD secretary and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, I don’t think he’s going to win either. So, I’d like to suggest an unconventional choice: William McRaven. Yes, that’s right. The man who commanded the SEAL operation that killed Osama bin Laden. A man with wide respect from soldiers who served under him. The current chancellor of the University of Texas system. Assuming we could get him to run as a Democrat, how does this guy lose? You need a candidate that, for better or worse, a white, male Texan in a ten-gallon hat can vote for, and McRaven’s the man.

Vermont: Unbelievably, the Democrats lost the governor’s race in Vermont in 2016. Republican victor Phil Scott doesn’t appear to be a bad fellow at all, but in a state where a socialist senator has a 70% approval rating, his position cannot be considered very secure. Like New Hampshire, Vermont holds gubernatorial elections every two years, an enduring vestige of the New England town hall tradition. My choice to challenge Scott in 2018 is Chris Louras– in fact, the only Republican on this list. Louras ought to challenge Scott in the primaries or run as an independent. This Rutland mayor is a very brave man who put his career on the line to settle a hundred Syrian refugees in his city while continuing to make Rutland a center of tourism and commerce.

Wisconsin: Democrats are licking their chops for a chance to take down Scott Walker, who looks for all the world like he’s running for a third term. After heartbreaking losses in the recall election and in 2014, there’s never been a better time to kick out archconservative Walker. Wisconsinites won’t forget that he basically moved to Iowa for his forgettable candidacy for president. But right now, Wisconsin is heavily divided between liberal Milwaukee and Madison and basically everywhere else. In fact, in terms of geographical segregation- persons of color in cities, whites in the suburbs and exurbs- Wisconsin is the worst in the nation. So while I’d love to support someone like Jennifer Shilling, I somewhat reluctantly endorse Ron Kind. He handily wins election year after year in Wisconsin’s sprawling third congressional district, which is 97% white.  I think he was wrong on his opposition to refugee resettlement, but this is an office that has to be taken back.

Wyoming: Our final governor’s race is in America’s least populous state, and one of its most Republican. Although Wyoming elected Democrat Dave Freudenthal as governor in 2002 and 2006, this is a remarkably tall order; Republicans outnumber Democrats in every single county in the state. But a strong candidate should be run nonetheless, and I choose Chris Rothfuss. He’s one of just 3 Democrats in the Wyoming state senate, holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, and teaches at the University of Wyoming. His boyish appearance and infectious enthusiasm belie a serious policy wonk-mentality and a refreshing change if Wyoming decides to buck it’s deep Republicanism in 2018.

So…those are my endorsements- and this is, at 5,000 words, the longest post I’ve ever done on this blog. In future installments, I’ll hopefully get to the Senate, House and 2020 presidential race. What are your thoughts? Do you have other candidates in mind? Let’s work together in solidarity to make America live up to its promise and stand up to bigotry, callousness, and cruelty- especially in our public officials.

I think I’ll start a mini-countdown to commemorate the end of a project that took me over a year: watching every Star Trek: The Next Generation episode in sequence. That’s right, we went from the rough, badly-written first season to some of the finest Sci-Fi ever made in seasons 4 and 5, to the iffy conclusions of season 7.

Watching these episodes made me realize what a salutary show this has been. It was encouraging in difficult times to see the principal characters collaborate, devise creative solutions, and active work to better not just humanity but all the species they encountered. It also made me aware of a number of its flaws. The show was famously preachy and kneecapped itself by not allowing meaningful conflict between the characters. The female characters- not just Troi and Crusher, but also Yar, Pulaski, Ro, Guinan, were seldom written well and it’s astonishing how often a show this progressive fails the Bechdel test. Troi, especially, is rarely given much to do. She’s often absent when a counselor would be most useful, rarely gives good advice, and doesn’t evince much intelligence or sharpness of mind until she starts wearing a uniform mid-season 6 that covers Sirtis’s cleavage.

But gosh, when this show was good, it was really, really good. Here’s the bottom half of my top 20- I’ll continue with the top 10 later, and conclude with a survey of the bottom twenty episodes.

20. “Parallels” (Season 7, Episode 11): It’s the best episode in a very inconsistent final season, aside from the show’s sterling finale. It’s a great parallel universe story, but rather than taking the easy way out and redoing “Mirror Mirror” it has Worf flit in and out between universes, often realizing only belatedly that the change has taken place. It has Dorn’s best acting in the series; having such an straight-arrow, easily flustered character like Worf at the center of this madness was an inspired choice. Additionally, unlike “Mirror Mirror” it has a strong emotional core, as Worf learns that he is wed to Troi in some of the parallel universes and their relationship advances through the dimensions. I especially love the little underplayed differences in each universe, ranging from a Ferengi bridge officer to a blue-eyed Data.

19. “Relics” (Season 6, Episode 4): Ironically, Scotty gets more to do here than he ever did in the original series. (I don’t mean to bash TOS so often, but it’s weaknesses- particularly its parochialism, it’s grating masculinity, and it’s neglect of the supporting cast- turn me off big time.) Using a convenient plot twist to allow the miracle-working engineer to appear in an episode set 70 years after his last canonical appearance, it ruminates on the need of the old to feel useful and needed. The scene where Scotty conjures the original Enterprise bridge on the Holodeck and commiserates with Picard is one of my favorites in the series. It’s a great love letter to the original series and boasts strong sci-fi credentials with the appearance of a Dyson sphere.

18. “Data’s Day” (Season 4, Episode 11): Brent Spiner’s Data is delightfully curious and childlike in this episode where he records his observations during a 24-hour period that sees a Roman espionage plot, a childbirth, and Miles O’Brien’s wedding. This novel approach gives meat to the android’s series-long arc of becoming more human. Like “Relics” it has an iconic scene that rates among TNG’s best as Dr. Crusher teaches Data to tap dance (for which a pregnant McFadden did her own choreography). It’s Spiner’s best performance as Data that doesn’t involve him acting out of character or playing multiple personas.

17. “Unification, Part 1” (Season 5, Episode 7): As great as it is to see Spock in the second part of this story, I always felt it was a wasted opportunity centered around obvious betrayal and a weak villain in Sela. Part 1 though, is pure magic, as Les Landau gives it a cinematic scope. Mark Lenard gives his final performance as Sarek, giving the stentorian Vulcan a heartbreaking farewell. And for all the show’s pathos, it plays off its humor well, particularly as Picard endures an uncomfortable Klingon ship and its begrudging commander, and Riker and crew track down a Romulan plot with the help of a dour alien bureaucrat. It gives us some of our best looks yet into the Vulcan and Romulan psyches.

16. “Deja Q” (Season 3, Episode 13): One of the sharpest-written episodes that uses comic effect very well indeed. Q is kicked out of the continuum and is forced to seek refuge on the Enterprise. It’s a great premise, but made better by Guinan’s total lack of sympathy, some great deadpan one-liners from Worf, and Data’s attempt to inculcate the defrocked immortal into the ways of humanity.

15. “The Wounded” (Season 4, Episode 12): The Cardassians are introduced in this tightly-written episode that finds Picard and crew tracking down a rogue captain violently pursuing his own agenda. Given his later role on DS9, we forget how bold and trusting it was to give Colm Meany the lead in this episode as he struggles through his loyalties between his former and present commanders, while combatting his own prejudices. Between Bob Gunton as the tortured Captain Maxwell and Marc Alaimo as proto-Dukat Gul Macet, the guest acting is some of the series’ strongest as it explores the deep damage war exacts on those who survive.

14. “Q Who” (Season 2, Episode 16): Another key villain is introduced in this episode, the Borg in this case. Q decides to teach the crew a lesson and sends them to the farthest reaches of space. I love that, because it refutes Picard’s humanism in a subtle way, as the captain himself notes at the end of the episode: the Borg encounter, which exacts the highest number of crew deaths we’ve seen on the series so far, is needed to kick the Federation out of its smugness and complacency. The most dramatic scene, where a desperate Picard has to admit that he is out of his league and beg for help, is profound, and Riker, Worf, and Data’s exploration of the Borg Cube is pure sci-fi greatness as we learn about this hive species.

13 and 12. “Best of Both Worlds, Part 1 and 2” (Season 3, Episode 26; Season 4, Episode 1): This is often considered the high point of the series. It’s a smart two-parter that takes big risks that mostly pay off, but I can’t rank it that high for a few reasons. Part 1 is bogged down by a deeply uninteresting storyline about Riker’s promotion and his sense of competition with Commander Shelby. While it does have a rewarding climax, as Riker makes a truly command-level decision by firing a potentially lethal weapon at a ship holding an assimilated Picard, much of the build-up is shrill, obvious, and botched. Part II is a bit better, and succeeds because of a greater sense of its own bigness; it freely throws out phrases like “Wolf 356” as if it knows that they will become ensconced in Trek lore, and we can feel the palpable desperation of the crew through strong acting from the supporting cast, dramatic pacing, and an intense score.

11. “Cause and Effect” (Season 5, Episode 18): This episode could have been a disaster, as the crew is stuck in a time loop, and relives the same few days over and over again. Branon Braga writes his first of many mind blowing, reality-distorting episodes, using some clever conceits- a glass broken by Crusher, a card game that evinces a sense of deja vu. Frakes, too, does the right thing by shooting each round through the time loop differently, as slowly, the crew becomes aware of their dilemma and is able to communicate a message to their future selves. There’s a great payoff at the end too, as we see Frasier Crane arrive from the Original Series movie-era as a time-displaced Starfleet captain.

What do you think so far? I’ll reveal my top 10 soon, but to list my five honorable mentions of episodes that barely missed the top 20: “Lower Decks,” “Frame of Mind,” “Loud as a Whisper,” “The Emissary,” and “The First Duty.”

It’s way too early, but since others are posting their lists of possible Class of 2018 nominees, here’s mine. I proceeded on a perhaps-mistaken assumption: if you look closely at this year’s ballot, there were no acts that had been nominated in both of the previous two years, except for the perennial Chic. Nine Inch Nails? Absent. The Spinners? Gone. The Smiths? AWOL. I think they will follow that trajectory again, with the important exception of Janet, who becomes the new Chic. So, lots of worthy acts that were nominated the last two times out- The Cars, Chaka Khan- are going to be passed over, if that’s true. I assumed- maybe wrongly- that there would again be 19 acts on the ballot, with a great deal of chronological and stylistic breadth. I do think, though, that the Hall will back a bit away from70s/80s  classic-rock dominated ballots after the last two years. You can still get good ratings and still generate strong classes by incorporating other genres.

1. Radiohead: A near-undeniable first-ballot nominee

2. Beck: Lots of critical love, lots of longevity, ticks the country box  (FRL noted that Beck may not be eligible until the ballot for 2019. If that’s the case, cue Rage Against the Machine.)

3. Janet Jackson: a new baby, a big name, the strongest netroots Rock Hall campaign ever, and a matriarch of modern R&B. She’ll be back.

4. LL Cool J: There’s going to be a rap artist on every ballot from now til kingdom come. With NWA and Tupac in, the first great solo rapper returns to the ballot and becomes the man to beat.

5. A Tribe Called Quest: Of course, there might be two rap acts…

6. Nina Simone: I’m still shocked this has never happened given the recent documentary. She becomes the Baez/MC5 super-political pick.

7. War: Curiously, War gets nominated every time the ceremony is in Cleveland, and in three year intervals…

8. J. Geils Band : Our requisite critics’ pet blues act.

9. Eurythmics: The Rock Hall loves soulful singers. With my “two noms and a bye-week” trend in play, The Cars sit out and Annie Lennox makes her first appearance on the ballot.

10. Nine Inch Nails: With a ceremony in Cleveland, expect Trent Reznor to come roaring back on the ballot.

11. Moody Blues: Given the last two classes, the Nom Com must surely realize that classic rock bands have a significant leg up- 7 out of the last 11 artists fell clearly into that category. I’d expect the Hall to pull back in favor of other eras and genres, but give that crowd an important sop: a long-overdue nom for The Moody Blues. Our fan ballot winner.

12. Kraftwerk: A progenitor of modern electronica, and in my opinion, the most important act not in the Hall. Thankfully, lots of people at the Hall realize this as well.

13. The Cure: Unlike fellow 80s alternative act The Smiths, The Cure is actually likely to show up for a ceremony reasonably intact. Jane’s Addiction and Depeche Mode were the closest acts in their M.O. last time, but we’ll probably see the return of teen angst.

14. Motörhead: I think this will be who Dave Grohl will champion. With Deep Purple in, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and solo Ozzy seem next in line, and it’s anybody’s guess which of them they will nominate.

15. Big Star: Holly Robinson is an underrated influence on the committee, and she recently wrote a book on Alex Chilton. If Steppenwolf and MC5 can show up on a ballot, is Big Star really that great a stretch?

16. The Spinners: They were absent last time around, but Dave Marsh and Cliff Burnstein want them in.

17. New York Dolls: Last nominated way back in 2001, The New York Dolls’ mixture of early glam and punk are too influential to be ignored.

18. Devo: Another important new wave-ish, electronica-based act, and it’s strong connections to Ohio give them an advantage this year. (Two of its members were at Kent State when the infamous shootings happened, leading them to believe in humanity’s DE-eVOlution.)

19. Link Wray: I’ve got to believe there is still a critical mass of aficionados of early rock and roll on the committee. Maybe Wray’s coverage in the recent Sundance film will help him return to the ballot for the first time since the Class of 2014.


Obviously, these aren’t my ~official~ predictions, just my attempt to figure out the front-runners in this new year. If I had to guess who would get in out of this lot, I’d say Moody Blues, Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Nine Inch Nails, Nina Simone, and maybe Eurythmics or LL Cool J if there’s six. What do you think?

At 8:00 on Tuesday morning, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced their Class of 2017, which will be formally inducted in a ceremony in Brooklyn in April. The ballot for this class was immensely competitive and stylistically diverse, ranging from punk, alternative, disco, and electronic. In the end, however, the class was:

  • Pearl Jam
  • 2pac
  • Electric Light Orchestra
  • Joan Baez
  • Journey
  • Yes
  • Nile Rodgers (Musical Excellence Award)

What do I think? It’s a very good, but not quite great, class. It avoided being all-male–barely. And it avoided being all-white:–again, barely. There’s greater stylistic breadth than last time, and all six performer inductees are more than deserving. Pearl Jam and 2pac are both iconic 90s artists and profoundly influential in ways that reached beyond their genres. The other four artists were all easily in the top 50 of my 100 Greatest Rock Prospects project from earlier this year. Yes was highest at #10, then Journey at #14, Baez at #29, and ELO at #46. (Pearl Jam and 2pac weren’t eligible at the time I made my list, but if they were, they probably would have been somewhere in the top 15.)  Yes scratches the Prog Rock itch, Journey and ELO are fun, populist guilty pleasures only a curmudgeon could object to, and Baez was a critical part of introducing social consciousness into midcentury popular music. The massive and financially lucrative classic rocker crowd will be pleased, while critics can delight in the sustained artistic excellence of the others.

But lots of great artists on the ballot didn’t make it. My four-year trend of having my favorite artist on the ballot inducted ended when The Zombies fell short. Kraftwerk and Janet Jackson are respectively my 2nd and 3rd greatest Rock Hall Prospects, and neither made it. And there was an absence of a truly surprising inductee, like Miller or Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Many Rock Hall watchers-myself included- got four or five of their predictions correct. (I got all five right, but flubbed my “if there’s six” pick, eschewing Yes for alternately Janet and Chic.) As usual, out-of-mainstream acts like MC5, Bad Brains, and even Jane’s Addiction were left out in the cold.

But by far the most controversial news bite was inducting Rodgers under Musical Excellence without the rest of Chic. Now, I’ve advocated for this in the past- so I’m hardly blameless- but now that it’s happened, it’s disappointing, especially now that I’ve come to better appreciate the band’s ensemble sound. It was clear by now, however, that the voters just weren’t going to bite, no matter how many times Chic was nominated. Rodgers, in an interview with Rolling Stone, is trying to be gracious, but I can’t imagine how hurt he must feel to see his bandmates- most of whom he’s outlived- passed over. I guess it’s better than having nobody from Chic in, but there’s no doubt that the 900+ members of the voting committee collectively screwed up. Again.

Which brings me to my larger gripe about what is, I reiterate, a pretty good class. By this, I mean the lack of R&B. Let’s put it this way: the last four classes had exactly one black R&B artist inducted: Bill Withers. And the last four classes had upwards of a dozen 70s/80s classic rockers, depending on the breadth of your definition of classic rock. Certainly Chicago, KISS, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Steve Miller, Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Yes, Journey, and ELO, but maybe Cat, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Linda Ronstadt, and Stevie Ray as well. And that’s fine- pound for pound, every one of those artists deserves to be enshrined. Yet, we’re exhausting the list of 70s classic rockers who really need to be there. After The Moodies, Dire Straits, The Cars, and a few others, we are close to exhausting that decade’s B-list and moving into the C-list.

But in those same four years, voters have passed over Chic, The Spinners, Joe Tex, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, War, The JBs, and The Meters. Worse, this contributes to what some have already identified as a self-perpetuating problem: baby boomers inclined toward the 60s and 70s inducting bands from that era who in turn become voting members, who in turn become inclined toward their fellow 60s and 70s acts. Only two black men- ‘Pac and Nile Rodgers- got in this year, and the former is in no condition to vote!

Even worse, we haven’t had a woman of color get in during the last three classes (Ronstadt- the last such person in ’13- is partly Hispanic), and no living black woman all the way since Claudette Rogers Robinson got in with the other Miracles in 2012. So- again- this is a good class; every inductee deserves to be there. But the Hall needs to find a way to get over its lack of stylistic diversity as of late.  And not just R&B: we need more alternative, EDM, country-rock, punk, and other genres too. The Hall seems to have added many more critics to the voting rolls this year,- including the great Chris Molanphy- but it doesn’t seem to have affected the results all that much. Perhaps adding still more younger voters to a group whose average age rivals that of the College of Cardinals would be a good idea. (By the way, Cleveland- I’m 33, the third-best Rock Hall blogger out there, and a historian of the 1970s. Just sayin’.)

Okay! Having said that, let’s speculate on who will be chosen to induct these artists in April:

  • Pearl Jam: Some early buzz circulates around Neil Young. I see the appeal- he was a hero to the grunge movement- but go replay his awful induction speech for McCartney in ’99. Pearl Jam deserves better. Others have suggested David Grohl, and I agree– it would be a fine way to put to rest the bizarre feud between Nirvana and Pearl Jam, a key component of Steven Hyden’s recent book, Your Favorite Band is Killing Me.
  • 2Pac: The instinct here is to get a rapper- either the obvious Dr. Dre or someone like Nas. One site has a great suggestion- Janet Jackson. It’s counterintuitive, but remember, Jackson starred in Poetic Justice together. It’s rare that a nominee who wasn’t inducted makes a speech for someone who was, but I think Janet is classy enough to do it. And if she does it well, she might grease the skids for her own induction next time around.
  • Yes- I agree with the consensus- get Rush’s Geddy Lee to fill in for the late Chris Squire on bass.
  • Journey- I have an unusual suggestion: Carlos Santana. He would be a great tribute to the more arty early days of Journey, particularly since a couple founding members such as Gregg Rollie were also inducted as part of Santana many years prior.
  • ELO: Tom Petty is a good choice but too obvious. I propose a cross-generational induction: Duane Eddy, who has worked with Jeff Lynne before and connects ELO to rock’s pioneer generation, and Dhani Harrison, who will be returning the favor after Lynne inducted his father.
  • Joan Baez: Everybody wants Bob Dylan to do it, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. If Dylan can’t be guaranteed to show up for his own Nobel Prize ceremony, and was AWOL from other major accolades of Baez’s career, he’s not going to go out of his way to participate in a corporate music awards show. He don’t work on Wenner’s farm no more. Instead, they might choose fellow Greenwich Village folkie Peter Yarrow, or even better, The Indigo Girls. They recently toured with Baez, and are her most obvious heirs in terms of merging folk-rock with political advocacy.
  • Nile Rodgers: There’s no shortage of great artists that Rodgers has worked with over the years, but I suspect they’ll want at least one current hitmaker, so I’d predict Pharrell Williams.

I’m starting to like this. Imagine a jam with Santana, Nile Rodgers, Steve Howe, Eddy, and, um…Eddie trading guitar licks; Pharrell, Janet, Joan, and Steve Perry on vocals; Jeff Lynne and Rick Wakeman on keyboards; Geddy Lee on bass and Alan White on drums. They might do “Don’t Stop Believing,” followed by “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Little Red Corvette” in tribute to Prince, and closing with an a cappella “We Shall Overcome” led by Baez. Are you feeling chills?

And just for the hell of it, my first-take predictions for #RockHall2018, to be discarded later: Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Beck, Janet Jackson, LL Cool J, New York Dolls, Motorhead, The Spinners, Nine Inch Nails, War, The Cure, Kraftwerk, The Shangri-Las, Nina Simone, Moody Blues, Eurythmics, A Tribe Called Quest, Big Star, and J. Geils Band.

As we await the announcement for the Rock Hall’s Class of 2017, I’m going to spend some time looking at the most suspect inductions in the Rock Hall’s history. My friend Darin said that this wasn’t the kind of post that could end well, and he’s probably right. Everybody has their own ideas about who shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame- and many of them are genre-based. Some believe that pure pop acts, like Madonna or ABBA shouldn’t be in- that rock and roll is primarily guitar based. Others see rap, disco, country, and other genres as out of place in a pantheon commemorating the great rock and rollers. A study of rock’s history challenges all that, and none of my choices for the “least deserving” are premised on their not being “rock” enough. In fact, I think everybody in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame qualifies as being broadly in the rock and roll family tree- maybe with the exception of Miles Davis, but I’m willing to let that one go. I believe in a generous orthodoxy, to quote theologian Brian McLaren.

So here’s my picks for the ten least deserving. I realize, of course, that not everyone may agree, and some of these picks are provocative. In general, I looked at the quality of their body of work, and their ability to move the rock and roll narrative forward in some way. I also considered the “value over replacement player” theory from baseball stats- if someone got in when a better artist in their genre is not, I counted that against them. Also, please realize that, with maybe the exception of #10, these aren’t bad artists; they don’t “suck”- many of them had fine careers. But for me, they don’t pass the gossamer threshold of Hall of Fame greatness.

10. Sex Pistols: Okay, this one is going to generate some hate mail. I know how influential the Sex Pistols are. I understand their significance in the punk pantheon. I get how they were an act of dissent against pretentious and unaccessible rock musicianship during the age of prog. Nevertheless, I stand by this choice for the following reasons. 1) They didn’t want to be inducted, and if they are really so set against it, let’s kick ’em out and make room for someone who sees being in the Rock Hall as an honor. 2) An absurdly short lifespan 3) Poor musicianship- in fact arguably the worst musicianship of any Rock Hall inductee. I realize that was the point to a certain extent, but if we take rock and roll partly as an art form, it’s hard to imagine an act less interested in doing it well. 4) There is a certain Monkees-esque fakery to their act, and I am inclined toward the school of rock history that views the Sex Pistols as Malcolm McLaren’s band of little prefabricated dissidents. That’s especially problematic for punk, a movement based first and foremost on authenticity.

9. Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Make no mistake: this is a super-competent, extremely good blues act. The musicianship is top notch, but 1) unlike someone like Stevie Ray, it’s hard to see what they did that is particularly original; they were Chicago blues and that was that; 2) the lack of commercial success, although to an extent, that’s not the point of a blues band. I just don’t think they did enough for a hall of fame C.V. I can see why they might be a tempting choice- they were at Woodstock, and the legendary concert when Dylan went electric. But like some other artists I might name, if one or two prominent figures in the Rock Hall didn’t love them, they’d never get in. They are certainly a group every rock aficionado should be aware of, but they just don’t pass the “Hall of Fame” threshold for me.

8. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: Another problematic pick from the Class of 2015. Longtime readers will know I’m a bleeding heart for more women in the Rock Hall. Joan Jett was a rockist’s idea of a “rock and roll woman:” she played guitar, she sneered, she wrecked hotels, and didn’t give a damn what anybody thought. Peel back that image, and there isn’t a whole lot of substance: the covers, the lackluster guitar work, the fairly limited body of work. Yet, because she stood at the nexus of rock and femininity, she was quickly given the fast track into the hall, especially after performing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with the Nirvana rhythm section. (Replay that video; Jett’s vocals are iffy and she’s clearly having trouble with the lyrics.) Given the better, more substantive female rock acts out there, it’s hard to see Jett as essential. Pat Benatar, Cyndi Lauper, The Go-Gos, even her old band The Runaways have more going for them.

7. The Faces/Small Faces: Three years ago, I asked maybe half a dozen Rock Hall watchers which, say, 200 acts belonged in hall. Only three artists who were actually inducted appeared on zero lists. Two of them are at the end of this list. The third was The Faces/Small Faces. Even the tentative manner in which they framed this band, consisting of two distinct eras with two distinct lineups, signals the committee’s confusion on this artist. It seemed more like a cheap (and only half-successful) ploy to get Rod Stewart and Ron Wood to show up to a ceremony. I applaud picking a group that was more popular in England than in the USA- the Rock Hall almost never does that- but the Faces lack a signature hit that more casual listeners will remember, and if you think they should be in on the grounds of influence, why them and not Kraftwerk? Something doesn’t add up.

6. Del Shannon: Tom Lane and I had a short twitter discussion about this choice. He made the best possible case for Del Shannon, but ultimately I need to include him here. He isn’t without merit- his minor key ballads of longing presaged the way for groups like The Zombies. In the end, though, I need a canon of great material. While there are treasures to be mined in Shannon’s catalog (listen to “Keep Searchin'”), we’re talking about a guy whose third best song is called “Hats Off to Larry.”

5. The Dells: Two of my blog’s most loyal followers, Tom L. and Philip, are going to be irritated by this pick. Nevertheless, out of all the four or five 50s vocal groups who are borderline Rock Hall cases, The Dells have the least going for them. I honestly can’t tell what made them stand out from their peers, or what their distinctive calling card might have been. “Oh, What a Night” (not the December, 1963 one) isn’t iconic enough for the “they had lots of memorable songs that form our public consciousness card” that Bill Withers or someone can play. Again- not a bad group, and they had a long and successful touring career they can be proud of. But if they were never inducted, nobody would have noticed their absence.

4. George Harrison: Look, I love The Beatles. My high school graduation speech was about life lessons gleaned from their catalog. George’s death in 2001 was a traumatizing moment during my first semester of college. Nevertheless, the Nom Com got carried away in nominating him for his solo career as a posthumous gesture. Go back into George’s solo career, and you’ll find that a lot of it just isn’t very good. One struggles in vain to look for a Harrison effort that isn’t at least partly tedious, preachy (“The Lord Loves the One Who Loves the Lord,” “Try Some Buy Some”), and overly amused with itself (“Crackerbox Palace,” “This Song.”) Consider Harrison’s languid cover of “Bye Bye Love” with new lyrics to reflect his wife leaving him for Eric Clapton. Even supposed masterpieces like All Things Must Pass are overlong, drenched in echo, and unpleasant to listen to- worse, Harrison just wasn’t committed to being a good artist. He toured twice in 31 years, he failed to improve much as a musician, and when he recorded, it was just an excuse to fart around with his friends in the studio. Harrison’s contributions to The Beatles are deeply underrated, and his work from ’65-’68 to fuse Indian music with the Western Top 40 is maybe the single most interesting facet of The Beatles’ canon during those years for me. But his solo career was a long, dreary, retread of his finest work. I’m not sure how anyone could make Hindu spirituality sound tedious and puritanical, but George found a way.

3. Gene Pitney: As with choice #6, we’re dealing with rock and roll’s supposed “Dark Age” between Buddy Holly’s death and the British Invasion. And with #6, we’re dealing with someone most famous for torch songs about teen angst. Someone had to save us from the “Theme from a Summer Place” and “Pink Shoe Laces,” but Pitney just wasn’t up the task. His songs are a cut above some of the dreadful top 40 material of those years, and “It Hurts To Be in Love” has real promise. I’m fine with more obscure artists getting into the Hall, but Pitney is still a baffling choice given that some real innovators of that era- Dick Dale anyone?- are still waiting for a nomination. Nevertheless, the Nom Com put him on the ballot a Chic-esque 8 times (!) before he finally got through in 2002.

2. Laura Nyro: Many Rock Hall watchers love ragging on the Nom Com. I’m no different, although as the years have passed, I’ve given them a growing benefit of the doubt. This pick, though, is about as clear a case of Nom Com favoritism that you can find. Nyro has historically been a “critic’s pet” and is well-liked by some committee fixtures such as Holly Robinson. It took three nominations, but they finally got Nyro in for the Class of 2012. To put this in perspective, Nyro somehow got more votes that year than Heart, Donna Summer, The Spinners, War, AND The Cure. W.T.F.? To be sure, New York Tendaberry is a great early example of where singer-songwriters were heading in the 1970s, but Nyro was nearly hitless for  her own career. The fact that many of her songs- “Eli’s Coming,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “And When I Die”- delivered for other people underscores how misplaced she was. I’d have had no problem with Nyro inducted as a non-performer/songwriter. But for her to get in as an artist when Carole King, Carly Simon, Nina Simone, and Emmylou Harris are not is a crying shame.

1. Percy Sledge: If there’s one thing that most Rock Hall specialists agree on, it’s that Sledge is the single fishiest Rock Hall inductee. It’s a classic mixture of 1) favoritism- Little Stevie Van Zandt had Sledge perform “When a Man Loves a Woman” at his wedding and wanted to do him a solid. Dave Marsh is also a huge fan.  2) insider clubbiness- during those years, Ahmet Ertegum was still on the Nom Com, and Sledge recorded for Atlantic Records. And so, a guy with one top ten hit- a guy whose other material is forgettable to everyone except hardcore record collectors- a guy who wasn’t even an especially great performer- a guy whose only hit has an inexplicably out-of-tune horn section- got in on his first nomination.

Other artists I considered were: Brenda Lee, Clyde McPhatter, The Moonglows, Buffalo Springfield, Lavern Baker, Little Willie John, Richie Valens, Traffic, KISS (they’re a QVC broadcast more than a functioning band) and the Dave Clark Five.

What do you think? Is Alex Voltaire off his rocker? Let me know (gently, I would prefer) in the comments below.

Last week, I gave a cursory overview of our slate of nominees for next year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. There was a lot of ground to cover, especially with nineteen nominees, the most since the Rock Hall’s infancy, and a lot of my thoughts were simple reactions to some startling choices made by the Nom Com. This time around, I hope to examine the nominees in some greater depth. Before we dive in, lots of other Rock Hall monitors have written great takes worth a look, including Philip, Michelle, Donnie, Eric, and Tom.

For me, I’m listing the 19 nominees alphabetically, with three rankings: 1) their Worthiness of being inducted into the Rock Hall on the grounds of influence, excellence, and role in rock’s unfolding history, 2) their Likelihood of actually being inducted, and 3) how they measure in the purely subjective measure of Preference, or how much I like them.

Bad Brains (Worthiness: 16, Likelihood: 18, Preference: 19): For many, this was the biggest surprise on the ballot, given the Hall’s reticence toward punk. In some ways, nominating this hardcore D.C. area band, whose influence in straight-edge culture is very palpable, almost seems like a warning shot to naysayers demanding greater populism and the HBO executives demanding marketable acts. The low marks in all three categories might mistakenly give the impression that I don’t like Bad Brains. Honestly? If and when I revisit my top 100 Rock Hall prospects, it’s more likely than not that Bad Brains will have earned a berth. It’s a solid nomination with ties to a number of Cleveland-neglected genres, and it sends a message.

The Cars (Worthiness: 8, Likelihood: 7, Preference: 3): The Cars are back after a surprise nomination last year. While their fellow classic rockers on last year’s ballot beat them to the punch, The Cars look like they are in pretty good shape. They straddle the line between commercial success and critical acclaim as well as anybody on this list, and what’s more, my appreciation for them has only grown in the last year. At the time of this writing, they are seated comfortably at #3 on the fan ballot. While that counts for very little, it does signal a clamoring for The Cars among the wider public. They are among my top 20 biggest snubs, and I’d love to see them get in. Unfortunately, with classic rock having been overdone last time, a couple populist favorites on the list, and a couple no-brainer first-time nominees, The Cars may find themselves stuck in neutral this year.

Chaka Khan (Worthiness: 15, Likelihood: 13, Preference: 13): Last year, Khan earned a solo nomination, and once again, she’s up against two competitors with whom she does not compare favorably: Chic from her Rufus days and Janet Jackson from her 80s solo career. When you add her troubles with drug addiction that sent her to rehab this spring, the prospects aren’t looking good for Chaka Khan. She’s a singer of singular talent, but if it took Donna Summer five nominations and an untimely death, there’s little chance that Chaka Khan is going to make it on her third try.

Chic (Worthiness: 6, Likelihood: 11, Preference: 9): At this point, we’ve run out of metaphors and cliches to describe Chic’s predicament- seriously, at this point, Susan Lucci should start demanding royalties every time a music writer weighs in on them. If Chic couldn’t get in during the Class of 2014 with Niles Rodgers-produced “Get Lucky” riding high in the charts, there’s very little this year that makes their “plausible but unlikely” chances any better. Hope springs eternal, and it’s unlikely that the Nom Com would keep nominating if they kept tanking in votes every year. Yet there’s no reason to think this year’s outcome will be different from any other.

Depeche Mode (Worthiness: 11, Likelihood: 15, Preference: 15): It was a pleasant surprise to see Depeche Mode show up, given the Nom Com’s reluctance to give the late 80s/early 90s B-list their due, while chipping away at the 1960s and 1970s C-list. It’s unfortunate that they are up against Kraftwerk; Depeche Mode took many of their ideas and made them palatable to the general public. When facing one another, it becomes a tricky choice between influence and success. This is a worthy selection, and an interesting substitute for Nine Inch Nails this year, but their prospects are still unlikely.

Electric Light Orchestra (Worthiness: 12, Likelihood: 3, Preference: 5): Reflective of the Rock Hall’s populist turn these last few years, ELO fits in with the current zeitgeist. Vintage 1970s bands have done very well the last few years, between KISS, Chicago, Hall & Oates, Cheap Trick, Steve Miller (Band) and others. ELO enjoys the added bonus of having frontman Jeff Lynne work with many inductees over the years, so if Tom Petty, Duane Eddy, Paul & Ringo, and any number of other artists still fill out their ballots, there’s a good chance that they can find room for the Electric Light Orchestra. Rabid fans of their classical-infused rock music have got to be pleased about their chances- in some ways, they are this year’s Chicago.

J. Geils Band (Worthiness: 18, Likelihood: 12, Preference: 14): Kind of like Los Lobos last year, J. Geils Band is one of those outfits that has my respect, but isn’t quite Rock Hall-worthy. Their live stuff is pretty fun, and their proficiency in the blues during the 1970s is quite impressive, if at odds with “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold.” Clearly, some people on the Nom Com love them, and they have returned for their fourth nomination. While they are among the least deserving, in my opinion, I’m hesitant to write off their chances. Blues acts have had lots of luck in the last five years, with Albert King, Stevie Ray, and Paul Butterfield Blues Band all getting in. Even Steve Miller arguably got a boost from being the closest thing to a blues artist on last year’s ballot. While I don’t think J. Geils Band will have similar luck, especially if the Hall keeps their promise of five nominees, I wouldn’t count them out.

Jane’s Addiction (Worthiness: 13, Likelihood: 14, Preference: 10): And here we have our 1980s/1990s early alternative slot given to these Lollapalooza legends who ranked an even #50 on my list of Rock Hall prospects. I’d love to see more bands like this get in, but it’s a little ridiculous that they might outpace The Smiths, The Cure, The Replacements, and Sonic Youth in doing so. Nevertheless, it would be a real public relations coup to get that crowd to harbor a less cynical attitude toward the Hall. But unless Cleveland bestowed voting rights to a critical mass of Gen X’ers, expect Jane’s Addiction to have a lengthy wait.

Janet Jackson (Worthiness: 3, Likelihood: 6, Preference: 8): It was downright shocking that Janet didn’t get in last year. Even with a stacked ballot of other long-neglected acts, I expected her to sail right through. With a bit of classic rock fatigue from last year, though, Janet’s chances are still very good- although I’m not taking anything for granted. If she does get in, expect a monumental comeback performance after what I hope will be the delivery of a healthy baby. A Janet induction would be a triumph, and then maybe we can move toward Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, and a pet project of mine, TLC.

Joan Baez (Worthiness: 10, Likelihood: 5, Preference: 2): In hindsight, a Baez induction should have been obvious. With an entire exhibit on rock and politics on display in Cleveland during the RNC, someone like Joan was hiding in plain sight. Although she is important on her own merits, the recent attention given to Bob Dylan with his Nobel Laureate can’t hurt. Moreover, the Hall loves singer-songwriters and they usually cruise right in: Bill Withers, Cat Stevens, Donovan, and I suppose Steve Miller all had fairly painless induction processes. And none of those can match the historicity of Baez, someone who actually opened for Martin Luther King at the March on Washington. (I hasten to add, though, that Baez didn’t always write her own songs. She came from an age where folk singers appropriated, re-arranged, and re-wrote existing songs, or “messing with tradition” as Dan Berggren puts it.) I’m sure of only two things for Rock Hall 2017: Pearl Jam is getting in, and there will be at least one female performer after last year’s sausage-fest fiasco. Whether that’s Janet or Joan- hopefully both- remains to be seen.

Joe Tex (Worthiness: 17, Likelihood: 17, Preference: 16): Now here was a surprise. Most Rock Hall watchers thought Joe Tex’s days on the ballot were over, and that he had been passed by in favor of more marquee names like Withers, The Spinners, or even the yet-to-be nominated Commodores. Well, someone on the committee thought otherwise, and this year’s 60s’ soul and 70’s funk slot goes to Tex for nomination #5. Tom Lane likes him, but I don’t quite share the love- while a good artist, Tex just didn’t excel at any one thing, always seeming to be outpaced by someone like James Brown or the Isley Brothers. He’s one of the least likely to get in- if The Spinners couldn’t do it on a weaker ballot, Tex doesn’t have a prayer. But for those who hope the Rock Hall will push the casual music listener against his instincts and force him to learn his history, the Joe Tex nomination is encouraging.

Journey (Worthiness: 7, Likelihood: 4, Preference: 6): And right on schedule, here’s our uber-populist pick this year. Right now, Journey is running away with the fan poll, with a potent combination of classic rock fans and a demographic I like to call “50-year-old women named Tammy.” And I don’t begrudge them that success; they have a boatload of Top 20 hits, the most downloaded song of all time in “Don’t Stop Believing,” and for ordinary Americans, Journey is a key part of their milieu. If you wonder how they will pick off a key section of actual Rock Hall voters, remember: three years ago, we weren’t aware of a single person who disclosed their ballot that was voting for KISS, a band with similar, even greater, critical hatred. KISS still got in, and so will Journey unless I miss my guess.

Kraftwerk (Worthiness: 2, Likelihood: 16, Preference: 7): It’s great to see Kraftwerk back. They are the highest-ranked artist from my 100 Rock Hall Prospects (and were only edged in worthiness by newcomer Pearl Jam.) Unfortunately, a German band that made 10-minute long electronic tracks is a tall order in any year, let alone a 19-act ballot this strong. I love you, Kraftwerk, but with another electronic act in Depeche Mode, and another nominally cerebral act in Yes, you don’t have a prayer.

MC5 (Worthiness: 14, Likelihood: 19, Preference: 17): Speaking of politics and rock, MC5 is back, probably at Tom Morello’s behest. While Baez preached a nonviolent message palatable to 60s peacefests, MC5 was a radical New Left group that wanted an honest to god revolution. Despite their lack of chart success, they were important to the development of punk in articulating their dissent with mainstream society. Their surviving members are still somewhat high-profile, if eccentric, but they won’t be getting that call to play in Cleveland. Again, history is instructive: if it took The Stooges, an act on Rolling Stone‘s list of 100 immortals, 8 tries to get in, MC5 isn’t going to make it on their second nomination.

Pearl Jam (Worthiness: 1, Likelihood: 1, Preference: 11): For years, 2017 has been blocked out as “the year Pearl Jam gets in.” Well, it’s finally here, and like everyone expected, they got nominated. They were one of the most important acts from the 1990s, almost as innovative as Nirvana but with longevity, and virtually every male rock singer for the rest of that decade tried to sound like Eddie Vedder. Their only danger is that too many people will think they are a sure thing, and spread their votes elsewhere.

Steppenwolf (Worthiness: 19, Likelihood: 10, Preference: 12): It is a credit to the Nom Com that this is their only truly indefensible pick this year. This isn’t going to be popular with some of my readers, but– seriously, Steppenwolf? Somewhere in Manitoba, Randy Bachman is sullen and disgusted, and is cracking open yet another Labatt Blue. They had two big hits that are well remembered, and while hardcore record collectors insist on “The Pusher” and other later-day tracks as genius, I don’t buy it. They failed to produce a single good album, and yet as classic rockers from the right era, they have as good a chance as anyone. Every year, an act I either detest or think is wholly undeserving gets in (NWA, KISS, Lou Reed, Rush), and I’m afraid that this year, it may be Steppenwolf.

Tupac Shakur (Worthiness: 4, Likelihood: 2, Preference: 18): Tupac is loved by all the right people. Rolling Stone, which is probably the single biggest institutional influence on the voting committee, helped make 2Pac a modern-day legend, the object of reverence and devotion like an inner-city semiotic cross between Bob Marley and Che Guevara. He’s every bit as relevant and revolutionary as NWA, but somehow never caught the stigma of violence and misogyny that followed them to ignominy (although his own personal life was also problematic in those regards.) Anyway, I’m calling it- Tupac is getting in, and as the most important eligible rapper, I have no objections, despite my mixed feelings toward the genre.

Yes (Worthiness: 5, Likelihood: 8, Preference: 4): Poor Yes- prog rockers have been clamoring for their induction for years, and even on some strong ballots, it seemed like Yes had a good shot. Last year, they had to watch on HBO as fellow classic rockers Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, and Steve Miller took to the podium in the Barclays Center. If Yes didn’t have what it took last year, it’s hard to see a different outcome this time, although one could have said the same thing about Deep Purple last year. Oh well. Should Yes get inducted, proggers can then commence complaining about King Crimson and ELP.

The Zombies (Worthiness: 9, Likelihood: 9, Preference: 1): I. Love. The Zombies. Rod Argent is probably my favorite rock keyboard player. Odessey and Oracle is in my top five favorite albums- all time. I am completely and totally in the tank for them. And yet, I’m still worried about their chances- I thought they would pull through when they were first nominated for the Class of 2014, but were somehow eclipsed by the likes of KISS and Hall & Oates. Well, one meaningless trend will help them this year- my favorite act on the ballot has made it in the last three years (Linda Ronstadt, Bill Withers, and Chicago, in case you were wondering). More seriously, I can see them pulling together an upset with a winning coalition. Surviving Dave Clark Fivers and other British Invasion vets will probably have their backs, and as one of the most soulful acts in that genre, it’s hard to see the odd Miracle or Vandella denying them a vote. If you add their sterling reputation in Indie circles, it’s not that hard to see The Zombies pull this off. I sure hope they do.

And there we stand. After last year, I think the Rock Hall will do anything in its power to get a more diverse class than last time- even if it involves some Class of 2007-style “creative arithmetic.” Expect at least one woman- probably Janet Jackson or Joan Baez- possibly both. If we go by likelihood, that means a class of Pearl Jam, Tupac, ELO, Journey, and Joan Baez if they stick with five, adding Janet Jackson if they go for six (they should), and The Cars if we get a supersized class of seven.

Who will I vote for in the Rock Hall’s fan ballot? Well, as I said before, Pearl Jam is massively influential and successful; although I don’t especially care for them, I have to vote for them. Because of her very real merits and my abiding respect for #InductJanet, Janet Jackson gets my vote too. They won’t get in, but as my 2nd most worthy Rock Hall prospect, Kraftwerk deserves it. We’re still seeing their massive influence play out today. I love The Zombies so much that I’ll overlook their somewhat brief heyday. And my inner McGovernite and my love of good folk music makes me pick Joan Baez to round out the list. But good lord! It’s kind of crazy that the Rock Hall cooked up a ballot so strong that I don’t have room for Yes, The Cars, Journey, ELO, 2Pac, or luckless Chic.

So- what do you think? Remember, these rankings are just one guy’s (hopefully informed) opinion. I’d love to hear who you think deserves induction in the comments below.