Category Archives: Politics of Political Reform

Of Democracy and Grunge Rock- An Evening with Krist Novoselic and the Center for Voting and Democracy

This past Thursday I had a chance to hear Krist Novoselic, former bassist for the band Nirvana discuss his new book, Of Grunge & Government: Let’s Fix This Broken Democracy! at the offices of the Foundation for a Feminist Majority in Beverly Hills.
Mr. Novoselic was accompanied by Rob Ritchie fo the Center for Voting and Democracy. Both discussed the perils and promise of meaningful electoral reform and managed to make a potentially dull topic quite interesting.
Novoselic’s book is part personal memoir, and part political polemic with some interesting suggestions to make our electoral system more competitive and more representative of the public at large. He is a big supporter of San Francisco’s experiment with Instant Runoff Voting and has made his own proposal to make the Washington State Legislature more representative of the voting public up there.
Novoselic’s proposal for Washington is actually quite simple. Rather than have 98 legislators elected in 49 districts (often times gerrymandered to favor one party over another), Novoselic proposes 9 “super districts” each electing a slate of 11 legislators, selected through a system of proportional representation. Thus each “super district’s” 11 legislators would be divided up amongst the parties based on the percentage of the vote received, and there would be no way to gerrymander seats for individual incumbent legislators.
Thus, you could have a district where 30% of the voters pull the lever for the Republican Party, 30% for the Democratic Party, 20% for the Green Party and 10% for the American Heritage Party. The seats would then be assigned to each party for their candidates, with each party getting a number of seats based on the percentage of the vote cast.
More people would have a chance to have their voice heard, and there’d be a chance for all parties to compete with their ideas and candidates on a level playing field – and the results would more accurately reflect what the public wants. Why not have a four party system that allows the electorate to tilt in whatever way it likes, and change its mind later on? What’s wrong with a little drama, and a little competition at the polls?
To be sure, there are several kinks to be worked out, but the concept is inherently a fair one. Why should a voter be reduced to voting in an effective one-party state because one party has gerrymandered that voter’s district, making other parties not even bother to compete? Novoselic decried the lack of competitiveness in legislative and Congressional seats as a big reason why people get so turned off of voting. “Competition makes our economy stronger – surely competition can make our democracy stronger too,” he commented.
It’s nice to see a celebrity get involved in politics that shuns the limelight in favor of the hard work and careful study needed to be truly effective in politics, and I certainly hope one day Washington voters will get a chance to vote on his proposals, if not for Novoselic himself, someday.
There was talk that he was thinking of running for Lieutenant Governor of Washington State, but he decided to focus his attention on issues instead of his own political ambitions. In the Age of Governor Doofinator, that’s something to be admired as well.
The group also heard from Roy Ulrich of California Common Cause speak briefly about the ill-conceived Proposition 62 which would limit the choices voters would have on their ballot through the introduction of a new “primary” system in California.
I’ve often said that this proposed law is the wrong cure for the wrong disease – it’s like trying to cure a stomach ulcer with Tabasco sauce. The only result we’re going to get with this is a big mess – just as you would if you drank a bottle of Tabasco after getting an ulcer.
In other words, it makes no sense. Plus when you read who’s spending the big money to support this initiative, it reads like a “Who’s Who” of special interests who have never show any interest in real reform – they just want the government to give them more goodies – and make you pay for the privilege.
All in all, an interesting evening for sure. I urge everyone to take a look at Krist’s book the next time you’re at the bookstore – it’s a fun read and worth your while.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

Reality Vs. Reality TV or “IRV me ASAP!”

“Truth is stranger than fiction” or so goes the old saying. In today’s world a new corollary follows that “reality is stranger than reality television.” Nowhere is this more apparent than with a comparison of Showtime’s reality TV series American Candidate and the the campaign season in San Francisco this year.
First, for those of you not familiar with American Candidate a brief summary: the program is a simulated presidential election, with candidates selected by the shows producers to go through a series of trials typical to a political campaign, with one contestant “voted off” each week.
Originally conceived as a political version of American Idol, the program is now more like “Survivor.” The winner of the program receives $200,000 and a chance to “address the American people” later this summer.
Overall it’s somewhat fun to watch, if only because I happen to know two of the participants, candidate Lisa Witter and campaign manager Dean Nielsen, who give the other candidates a real run for their money. Both are longtime professionals in politics and public affairs, and it’s interesting to see them apply real-world solutions to the many challenges created by the shows producers to simulate real-world elections.
Reality, however, is providing a tale of campaign challenges and intricate interaction between candidates far more complicated than a reality TV show could produce – San Francisco’s experiment with “instant runoff voting” in a myriad of open races for city office this fall.
No less than 100 candidates are running for a handful of offices this year, and the changes created by the new voting system have yet to be fully understood or absorbed by the city’s electorate or candidates. As such, the machinations and intensity usually associated with San Francisco’s unique brand of politics just got a lot more intense, with the results in November difficult to predict.
For those of you not familiar with Instant Runoff Voting, the Los Angeles Times featured an article recently that provided a general overview of the process and its implications for the election. A more comprehensive overview can be found at SFRCV.COM goes into far more detail (but be forewarned – it’s not a speedy read and those averse to long, detailed mathematical analyses and whatnot might want to stick with the Times article.
Suffice to say, it’s a different way of voting, one that attempts to do away with costly runoff races, and allows voters to note a “second” and “third” choice for a specific office, should their preferred candidate not get enough votes to win.
I’ve been in San Francisco all week meeting with various politicos and candidates and it has become apparent that the “reality” of city elections in San Francisco provides a far more interesting tale of alliances, plots, challenges, and good old fashioned politics in an era of “ranked voting.”
Because the system allows people to make more than one choice for the job in each election, there’s a new dynamic amongst “top tier” candidates for office – rather than ignore completely the more “longshot” candidates for office, there is an incentive to be the “second choice” of supporters of these smaller campaigns to build the majority they’ll need once the process goes through. And what a process it is.
Sound complex? It is. Sound like a recipe for intrigue and drama? Hell, yes! Let the games begin!
Let’s take a look at one of the most interesting races in the city – the race for County Supervisor in District 5. Encompassing neighborhoods such as the Haight-Ashbury, and probably one of the most liberal voting districts on Earth, no less than 22 candidates are running to replace retiring Green Party incumbent Matt Gonzalez. Making this battle royale more interesting is the fact that IRV has introduced a new dynamic in the race – a spirit of cooperation between competing candidates of different ideologies.
Yes, you read that right. An example: many candidates for the same office meet weekly to discuss issues amongst themselves and interested members of the public at a “Candidate’s Collaborative.” I had the opportunity to attend one earlier this week, and it was an interesting situation to observe.
In all the years I’ve worked in politics I’ve never been to an event where people who are competing against each other spend time helping each other out, sharing information about public events, and discussing issues and the campaign season so openly. More recently, two candidates for office took this a step further and held a fundraising event to benefit both their respective campaigns for the same office. I challenge anyone to show me when that’s occurred anywhere else in the United States.
How long this spirit of cooperation will last, and how this new order will affect candidates and their behavior when the race comes down to the wire, and the urge to win kicks in, remains to be seen. It will also be interesting to see how the voters react to the new system – will they fully embrace the opportunities it presents, or will the difficulty in explaining the system make it fall by the wayside? I am keeping close tabs on this race and will post additional columns as they warrant.
Documentary film company, American Beat is covering the campaign as it unfolds, attending events and following candidates around the city in this new political order, often unimpeded by PR people and candidate staff (as in the case of the “Candidate Collaborative” meeting earlier this week).
Although the task of covering so many candidates running at once is a challenge, they aim to document as best as they can the unique drama and interaction real life provides. Needless to say, I’ll be looking for the DVD of this film once it comes out, sometime in 2005, as an interesting contrast of real-world politics to reality TV. This election will be fun to follow, as the national elections degenerate into the ugly rumor mongering and vitriol that I’m beginning to get tired of. Stay tuned.
P.S.: While this article focused on the colorful candidacies and the impact of Instant Runoff Voting in ultra-liberal District 5, I want to take a moment to highlight another candidate in San Francisco’s more independent/conservative District 7 who deserves some special recognition.
Christine Linnenbach, an attorney and crusader for honest government, has been on the front lines challenging corruption and back-room deals at City Hall, in particular regarding the safety of Sutro Tower in San Francisco. Named a “Local Hero” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, she would bring an intelligent and thoughtful voice to the Board of Supervisors.
Even for those of you who don’t live in San Francisco should consider sending her some support, as we need more people who are willing to stand up against civic corruption and be a voice for the people, not well-connected special interests. Go Christine!

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

“The People Who Know Best” Are At It Again – Stop them Now!

Once again, the People Who Know Best are concocting yet another foolish ballot initiative in California. This group in many ways is worse than the Usual Bunch of Crazies or the Well Meaning Underfunded Liberals (or Conservatives, pick one) who are the normal pushers of ill-thought out ideas that might become a (bad) law.
That’s because the People Who Know Best usually get a free pass from the news media to push whatever genius idea they come up with – which is unfortunate since usually the brilliant ideas are worse than what the Usual Bunch of Crazies push at election time.
The measure in question is an attempt to radically alter California’s primary election system. A group of People Who Know Best What’s Right For You, including former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and State Controller Steve “Boy Wonder” Westly, have come up with the latest solution in search of a problem.
In this case, self-styled “reformers” have decided that you, the California voter, aren’t voting for the right people these days, so in order to make sure you are saved from yourself, they want to eliminate party primaries and replace them with a “Top Two” system. Instead of having one candidate from each party compete in their own primary, then go head to head in the general, we’ll have just the two top voter getters regardless of party affiliation to the general election.
The promise is that we’ll have more “moderate” candidates, who might otherwise not get elected, into the state Assembly, Senate, and other offices, and these like-thinking “moderates” will bring forth a new era of decency and goodwill to office. And I believe there’s a provision somewhere in there about free ice cream for good voters who vote the way they “should,” but I can’t verify that at press time.
It all sounds wonderful – until you take a few moments to think about how patently condescending this type of “reform” really is, and also take note of the abysmal record of self-styled “moderates” and their clumsy political shenanigans that make a race for fourth-grade class president look sophisticated by comparison.
Then you realize that this has nothing to do with real “reform” – it’s about rigging the system so that real debate is squelched, and we don’t address the real reasons we have problems in California – we instead monkey around with the mechanics of elections to get results we can’t get in a fair fight. This kind of tinkering has been tried before, most recently in San Francisco by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who spent literally years re-writing election laws to benefit his eventual run for Mayor – and we all know how successful that was.
As I’ve stated before people should be offended on general principal that somehow the People Who Know Best would presume to decide what kinds of people should and should not serve in office. It’s at best a Stalinist/Statist view that the government should be in the business of running “fixed” elections (instead of “fair” elections) which ensure that nothing “bad” happens. The loaded terminology in a debate like this alone should tick off any sane or rational voter.
The idea that people in say, Orange County, who might have decided to send a more conservative member to the state Senate or Assembly are somehow the “problem,” and that their choice should be rigged out of existence for the sake of “moderates” (whatever the hell that is!) is patently wrong. Period. Why does everyone have to vote for someone the “moderates” put their stamp of approval on?
If people in a certain area really believe in such a candidate’s platform and elect them in a fair election, that person should serve and the people’s views represented. If said elected official does not do a good job, the people can vote for someone else. Swap out “Orange County” and “conservative” for “Bay Area” and “liberal” and the same argument applies. This is “equal opportunity” interference for good people in all jurisidictions.
A joker like Steve Westly has no business telling anyone what is “right” and “wrong” about anything – he’s a pompous political hack who had to spend millions to barely even win his own election in 2002 – this despite his “moderate” background. Why, oh, why, couldn’t Tom McClintock have won that race and put Westly back in some corporate boardroom where he belongs?
There is a legitimate gripe that many state Legislative districts are drawn to benefit the people who sit in the Legislature at the time they are drawn up. There are in fact many districts where one party has such a lopsided advantage, the “election” in an open seat is decided in the primary of the dominant party – not exactly an open system to be sure. However, the cure for gerrymandering is not this initiative – it’s like saying the cure for, say, colon cancer is to take the flu vaccine – it’s the wrong medicine for the wrong ailment.
There have been proposals to de-politicize this process but none have yet passed constitutional tests. Surely the People Who Know Best could hire some bright and talented folks to do this. It would be boring as hell, and no great headlines with grinning guys like Steve Westly touting them as the next Governor/Savior of California. Ah, well.
One other point – in all the discussion about this initiative, it’s a good bet you won’t read much about the abysmal record of “moderates” and their ability (or more accurately, their total inability) to organize politically in this state. I’ve had first-hand experience with these folks recently, and from what I’ve been told by colleagues in the GOP, some of their self-styled moderates end up doing the same stuff. (If I’m wrong, just tell me, since I haven’t worked on any moderate GOP campaigns in a long time).
Readers will recall that I worked for a “moderate” candidate in the primary election in California’s 21st Assembly District. What I say now are my opinions alone, and not his in any way shape or form – my interpretation of events should not be confused in any way shape or form as comments or opinions of a former client.
Besides, once you start reading you’ll know it’s me, and not a distinguished professor and businessman doing the talking. In other words, if you want to complain to someone, come to me, not him.
“Moderates” had a real chance to back a winning candidate in this race. Polls indicated that he was the frontrunner for several months. Now you’d think that someone who had many prominent endorsements, who was able to block a pre-primary endorsement at the Democratic Convention, and who had real experience leading one of the last non-dysfunctional school districts in the state would get some real hard-core, pull-out-the-stops support from these guys. He didn’t.
To be sure, there were some notable exceptions, and that’s duly noted, but for the most part, I have never worked with such an ineffective, and out of touch bunch of people than these folks. They never seemed to grasp basic concepts, such as campaign deadlines and timelines, which are important when you have a limited number of days to win an election.
Many of the groups and associations who will be supporting this bizarre initiative this fall (as well as many others) did nothing to help out our great candidate, despite all the work on his part to convince them otherwise, as well as the #*&@#! aforementioned polls which showed this to be a sure win.
Frankly, if the People Who Know Better want more “moderates” in office they need to stop tinkering with the elections system and go back to the basics of winning campaigns. That means supporting winners, not sitting idly by and complaining about how your side is having trouble getting folks elected. In other words, participating effectively in a democracy takes some work.
That may mean confronting some ugly truths once in a while, as I’ve done here, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that if one keeps doing what they are doing, they keep getting what they’ve got. Right now, they don’t “got” much.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

The Road to Hell ( and “campaign finance reform”) are paved with…

The Road to Hell, they say is paved with Good Intentions. So is the path to “Campaign Finance Reform” – and both paths end up in the same place.
In fact the term “Campaign Finance Reform” has no intrinsic meaning after decades of use, abuse and misuse by political pundits, the courts, politicians and self-anointed Good People who’ve been part of the Good Intentions Road Paving Crew.
Why do I say this? Simply ask any of the aforementioned folks what that phrase means and you’ll see – you will get about a dozen, or more different responses. Most of which will conflict with each other. None of which mean anything, except a Rube Goldberg like device of laws which don’t work, and make our political system even more difficult to navigate or participate in.
I’ve had the opportunity (some might argue misfortune) of working in political campaigns for the past ten years. I’ve worked on everything from multi-million dollar US Senate and Governor’s races around the country, to smaller state and US House races, and even down to pint-sized campaigns for State House and City Council.
In every single one of these I’ve had to navigate laws that make no sense, certainly don’t “reform” politics, and make things more and more difficult for first-time politicos – and easier for well funded incumbents.
The most recent incarnation of “Campaign Finance Reform” is the McCain Feingold bill, possibly one of the most inept pieces of legislations to come out of Congress. (and to continue expressing my displeasure with the misuse of these irritating buzzwords I’m going to put it and other words devoid of meaning in quotes to make this easier to understand..)
To read of just one of many unintended consequences (and there are a LOT) of this law, check out this article from the San Francisco Chronicle’s opinion section which shows just one of the law’s most ridiculous unintended outcomes. I challenge either Sens. McCain or Feingold to explain this little bizarre Hell Road Paving away.
The problem with every attempt to “reform” the “system” is that no one can really agree on what the “problem” needing “reform” is. Ask any partisan what the problem is and what they’ll end up telling you is that “reform” usually means find a way to Screw The Other Side. It’s not about creating a system that preserves Democracy it’s all about getting the other guys so your guys can stay in power.
Examples: Liberals are offended that very rich people don’t give to their campaigns – so they try to pass laws to keep them out of the system. Conservatives are aghast that scores of like-minded liberals might get together to work for some issue they’re against so they oppose THEM out of the system.
Fringe elements are so pissed that no one reads their macramé-woven brochures at the co-op they want to find some way to obligate the state to subsidize their way to the ballot box.
And so on and so on. When the laws get proposed, each side winds up its own home-grown shouting machine. Conservatives have talk radio, Liberals get the Internet, unions and groups, and the fringers, well they have a sit in or something. Posturing and foolishness, along with a press that doesn’t cover issues in any depth (preferring instead to rehash the template in their word processor condemning all politics as evil!) end up with another rack of bad laws (oops I mean “reform”)
All we end up with as citizens are more screwball laws that end up being used not to clean up politics but instead for devious hacks (i.e. me) to use to dig up charges on The Other Guy (or Gal).
The press will cover “scandal” when the charges are leveled, but since almost any Public Disclosure Agency is overworked and overwhelmed they won’t get to investigating the charges for months, even YEARS later.
Meanwhile the campaigns get their “hit” in the papers, the press congratulates itself for being “tough” and we later find out years later the charges were BOGUS.
Head spinning now? Yes, mine too. Now do you see why I’m tired of working in campaign fundraising? You’re just reading about it – I’ve had to live it and it ain’t no fun.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

The 9th and I agree on something – should I be worried?

Ah the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has done it again – today they ruled that Washington State’s “blanket primary” – a system where people can vote in any or all parties’ primaries at once – is unconstitutional. Read all about it at The Seattle Times.
I had to chuckle a little when I read the news. Especially when I read self-righteous “shock and horror” howling by provincial-minded politicos who keep on defending a system that denies the basic Constitutional rights for citizens and parties to organize and participate in civic life.
They keep on squawking and posturing and spending lots of taxpayer dollars to pander to what they perceive to be what people want – instead of using their position to explain the Constitution (which they did swear to uphold and defend!) and the ruling.
Readers acquatined with the minutiae and dementia that is Washington State politics, may possibly recall that I wrote about this topic in the Seattle PI in 2000 and warned of the consequences of self righteous howling when the state was confronted with this reality 3 years and millions of taxpayer dollars ago. They had a chance then to comply with the law, which by now would have cost much much less than doing so now after spending so much to defend it in court.
(If you do not recall, do not feel bad – it probably means you have something, ANYTHING, more important to store in your memory cells besides Seattle PI Rant Trac-oops I mean Op-Ed pieces)
For those of you not blessed (or perhaps cursed) with firsthand knowledge of Washington’s wacky primary system, a quick primer:
In most states where candidates for office are selected to run by their parties, voters participate in a primary election. For example, in California one can register Republican, and vote for the Republican candidates in the primary to select who will be the standard bearer in the fall general election.
Most imporatantly though, ONLY Republicans (or Democrats, or Greens, or Silly Party members, or whoever) can pick their nominee. You can’t have a pack of wild-eyed hippies trying to screw up the Republican Party by, say, putting a porn star on the ballot and voting for them to be the GOP nominee for State Comptroller.
Washington, however had an “open” primary. This meant that voters could vote in any primary they wanted. Thus Democrats could decide not to vote in a Democratic primary election – they could instead vote in another party (Green, Republican, World Federalist, etc.) primary instead for each individual office. You can see where this is going.
Basically Washington’s system allowed anyone to vote in any primary, even mixing up their ballot with all sorts of votes – one could presumably vote in a different party’s primary for each one of the constitutional officers for example.
It’s a bogus system designed to damage political organization, and collective action by people through a party.  It’s unfair to the voters in general election because it denies them a chance to have a real contest between the various parties in the general election who are true standard bearers of the various parties.
The fact is if Republicans want to have a vote on who their nominee for State Treasurer, Dog Catcher, or Water Commissioner, they have the right to do so and not have to contend with non-Republicans trying to screw it all up.
They have a constitutionally protected right of free speech and assembly that is being violated when they’re forced to allow people who don’t share their party’s affiliation to participate. Change “Republicans” to “Democrats”, “Greens”, “Reform Party”, or “Silly Party” or whatever party you prefer and the same rule applies.
There are all sorts of “defenses” of the system as is, but the fact is those defenses are irrelevant. The most irritating to me is the one put out by so many of Washington’s alleged “leaders” that somehow this system produces more “moderate” candidates and thus there’s a public interest in creating an electoral system that marginalizes all but the most bland of voices.
The state should not be in the business of deciding what brand of ideology gets to be presented to voters – and deciding which ones do not.  To do so is to make the state in charge of deciding What’s Best For You – instead of you deciding it yourself. That’s Stalinist, at worst, Leninist or Fascist at best.
If the candidates elected as nominees for the general election are too extreme, voters can make another choice and vote for an Independent candidate (who can be truly independent). If a party ends up nominating leftist (or rightist) wackos, that party WILL lose elections and they will have NO ONE but their own party members to blame.
Well the courts have spoken. I’m sure Attorney General (and candidate for Governor) Christine Gregoire will litigate this all the way to the Supreme Court in hopes of at least looking like she’s Standing Up For the People. Never mind that it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars, the Supreme Court will rule (in a rare moment ) with the 9th Circuit, and the whole process is a taxpayer paid sham.
Then again, as a former aide to GOP Sen. Slade Gorton, perhaps she’s hoping for some GOP votes in next year’s primary. Could help in a close race with Democrats such as Ron Sims or Phil Talmadge.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at