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Based on a career (mis)spent in American politics, I debunk politicos, pundits and spinners, usually with a dose of humor to make it fun.

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October 27, 2011

Approve of Occupy Oakland? Don't Approve? Either Way, Jean Quan F*cked Up

Whether you support Occupy Oakland or if you think they should not be at Ogawa Plaza at night, there's one thing everyone can agree on: "Mayor" Jean Quan is a complete f*ck up. Her lack of leadership, lack of accountability, and past failures regarding public safety came to a head and the result is that now people worldwide know just how much Oakland sucks.

Listening to Jean Quan's babbling at the press conference, it was clear she was in way over her head, and resorted to invoking Bil Keane's "Not Me" as often as she could. Apparently Ms. Quan (the same "Mayor" who can't be bothered to maintain her home) had plenty of excuses, but never once said "the buck stops here" the way a real leader would.

Quan has never had a strong record on public safety to begin with, firing lots of Oakland police officers (only to have to re hire many once the crime rate soared) and the epidemic of violence plaguing the city, particularly African American citizens, has never been a priority for Quan to begin with. Heck one of her top advisors is a pro-criminal attorney (who, in an ironic twist, will represent protestors from Occupy Oakland).

Now, she's found a new way to piss off everyone. For those who wanted the protestors out of the plaza at night, as per "the rules" she has failed miserably. The heavy handed response (which included critical wounding of an Iraq war vet) was way out of proportion, and inflamed the situation. Now, we have more people in the park, tensions are higher, and in response, last night Quan decided to let the protestors stay.

In other words, she was for beating them down before being against it. One day it's a threat to the Republic if the protestors stay past 10pm, the next it's peachy keen. What the f*ck? No matter which side you're on, we can all agree that this isn't how to run a city.

Quan's non-management had an impact far beyond Oakland, however. Any plans by the SFPD to clear out the encampment at Justin Herman Plaza went out the window, because the last thing Temporary Mayor Lee's political advisors were going to do was allow him to pour more gas on Quan's flames. More importatnly, the images of Oakland went worldwide, and today we have people marching all over the world, protesting Quan's incomptence and mishandling of a delicate situation.

Finally, a word about the ranked choice system that gave us Jean Quan in the Mayor's office: it sucks. She never had much support, her election was due to a flawed system, and now, thanks to that, we have a so-called "mayor" who isn't up to the job, and has no support.

One wonders what will happen on Election Day in SF as voters are subjected to this bullshit system and who might end up as Mayor. No matter what happens in November, I predict we in SF will show once again why we're better than Oakland, and send RCV to the dustbin of history so we avoid the potential of a Jean Quan in office here at home.

UPDATE: Now Ms. Quan has completely capitulated to OccupyOakland. So basically all the violence and cracking veteran's skulls were totally unecessary. She's now pissed off everyone at City Hall and everyone at OccupyOakland because, well, she has no idea what the f*ck she's doing. Time to resign, Jean, you're just not up to the job.

Also, if you'd like to help out Scott Olsen, the vet critically injured by Quan's indecisive "leadership, here's a link to some resources so you can get involved.

November 16, 2010

Are You Kidding Me? RCV/IRV/WTF Won't Make Things Nicer. It Hasn't So Far.

It never ceases to amaze me how blatant political spin can be passed off as "information," if you just make sure to quote spinners on all sides. That doesn't make what they're saying any more true - it just makes it seem that way.

Today, the Chronicle had yet another Ranked Choice Voting/Instant Runoff Voting* post-mortem, this time once again repeating the mantra of "RCV Will Make Candidates Nice and Coalition Blah Blah BLAH" all over again. In particular we hear how this is somehow making campaigns play nicer, and encourage "coalition building" amongst candidates, whatever THAT means.

Now, we've had this magical system for 6 years in San Francisco. Looking back at all the contested supervisorial races, could anyone argue that they got less hit mail from candidates and independent expenditures in the last six years? No. How about candidates doing the "buddy buddy system" to get elected? Well the only time we had that was in 2004 in District 5, and every single candidate that tried the buddy system got their asses kicked pretty seriously by the top two vote getters. The gimmicky joint mailers and so on didn't work.

Did we get more "liberals" elected in San Francisco? Did we have any sure losers somehow magically make their way to the top? Not really - most citywide elections since RCV have been uncontested, or in the case of Newsom's re-election, it was Newsom up against a pack of no-names that weren't serious about winning.

Turnout hasn't changed because of RCV either - it's driven primarily by what kind of elections are on the ballot. People turned out in higher numbers in 2008 to vote in the presidential election - not to vote for City Supervisor. Get Real.

The one thing that has changed is that at least at a district level, candidates should have a strategy to ID their supporters and get them to the polls, but they also need to look at the ones not ID'd as supporters and somehow convince them to mark them in the #2 spot when they vote. This is not an easy thing to explain to people, and there's no way to really track it either, but it's a nice safety net. Other than that, campaigns will have to fight a lot harder, a lot faster, because there is no more runoff to shake out the detritus - it's all or nothing on Election Day.

Whereas in the past, a runoff meant that the final two would have to formally ask for support from losing candidates, be held responsible for whatever stunts they pulled in the general election, and would have a one-on-one debate with their opponent (vs. the cast of 1000s we got in some districts), giving the public a chance to get a better look. True, turnout in a December election wasn't great, but they could have just as easily had the election just a few weeks later.

By the way, that old saw about "saving money" is pure bullshit, because the people who push this kind of thing also push for huge increases in government spending in other areas. Also, I don't like the idea of "democracy on the cheap" - we don't skimp when we're doing elections in Iraq - why should we here?

I'll be writing more as I interview more people and try and come up with something that's a bit more than just refuting the ping pong reporting that is considered "analysis" in San Francisco.

November 4, 2010

Is This The Election That Ends IRV in San Francisco?

The election results are in and the winners are.....well we don't know yet. We may not know for several weeks as mail ballots are counted and the tedious so-called Instant Runoff Voting process begins. But we do know this - there are many close elections, but due to the fact we're not having a runoff, and we're using IRV, some weird things are happening.

In District 10, we have a situation where the top vote getter on election day got 1200 or so votes and may be on the way to the Board of Supervisors, out of only 10,000 votes cast. (Hey wait, wasn't IRV supposed to increase turnout?). That's rather scary - when you consider that others had to get many more votes than that to also serve. We'll do the IRV counts going through the many, many loser candidates who got a handful of votes, and of course this all assumes people voted "1 2 3" (which they didn't), and in the end, God knows what the result will be. After a campaign that had a mob of candidates making 1 minute statements into a microphone, the voters really don't know who or what they're ending up with.

In District 8, we had higher turnout and a spirited contest between several well-funded campaigns. However, we also had some of the most negative and deceptive campaigning mailers produced (hey wait, wasn't IRV supposed to make this more "positive?") and we won't have a traditional runoff where candidates running such shamelessly negative campaigns would have been held accountable - and we'd have a clear choice and better debates.

And so on. The endless mess in District 6, which featured some of the nastiest campaigning, the shady "independent expenditures" and a distinct lack of disclosure on the part of certain candidates has led to a situation where any candidate elected in the IRV debacle is not going to have a clear mandate, or again, be held accountable to their statements.

Traditional runoff campaigns would provide voters a chance to make their choices clearly and force candidates to be more accountable for their general election campaigns. Also, voters would have had more time to focus on the local elections, free of the distractions of eMeg and Uncle Jerry and the endless list of stupid ballot measures that clutter the ballot in November. Plus, after a Giants season like this, voters would be more likely to pay attention than they could when having Giants Fever in October.

The promises of IRV have not materialized. They have not saved money. They have not rigged the elections for progressives. They have not made the campaigns "more positive." They have not resulted in more cooperation amongst the candidates. The second and third place endorsements are wankery for political hacks. And more money was spent on elections locally than ever before.

Time to hit the reset button, and take this out-of-town sponsored lab experiment and dump it in the recycle bin of history, kids.

October 29, 2009

Just In Case You Were Wondering....Some Ideas on How To Vote on 11/3...

So there's an election going on next Tuesday, but I think this off-year must have set a record for Most Boring Election Ever. Aside from some mail I've received about Prop. D, and a mailer from the local Democratic Party, this election has been a snoozefest. That may be a good thing since next year you're going to see elections from Governor on down to Supervisor that will more resemble something out of Braveheart.

Most of the measures are of the "And WHY do I have to vote for this?" variety. It never ceases to amaze me how I can vote for gay marriage rights, arcane changes to the City Charter, President, judges, and how the Board of Supervisors conducts its internal affairs, but I (and all SF citizens) are deemed intellectually unable to vote directly for anyone who runs Muni. Hmm.

Whatever. So here's a few recommendations, as well as some ways to have some fun with your ballot....

Prop. A - Some Thing About a 2 Year Budget Cycle - If you really want to change how the Board and the Mayor do the budget, elect better people to office, instead of relying on "Name ID" and a pile of junk mail to tell you how to vote. I've seen nothing out there that explains how we're going to get Budget Nirvana by passing this, so I voted "no" just to send it back to the kitchen for a re-do.

Prop. B - Some Thing About How Many People Can Work For a Supervisor - Again, why do we have to vote for this? Does the Mayor have ballot measures determining how many people he gets to hire? No. I actually voted "yes" but only because I seriously doubt, in these crap-tacular budget times, you'll suddenly see Supervisors with a legion of "aides" running around City Hall. But who knows? I think I voted yes for the "WTF" factor.

Prop. C - Some Thing About Candlestick - I'm not sure the 49ers give a hoot about San Francisco, and I don't know that a mere 700k is going to change their minds if we get some company (hey what about Depends?) to rename the stadium. Sure, "Depends Stadium" sounds really cool repeated about a million times, but the other wrinkle is that the city's take on the money goes exclusively to...park directors.

Wait WHAT? These "one thing has nothing to do with the other" measures are lame. I voted "no."

Prop. D- Some Thing About Billboards Saving The City - This is the only thing that I've seen any mail for - about a million pieces saying "yes" and one saying "no" (with the most irritating disclaimer I've ever seen). These kinds of measures usually devolve into two arguments - Passing "D" will turn around the crappy part of Market Street into a mega Nirvana, because all you need are big light up signs to change a street that's spent decades falling apart. The other side argues that passing "D" means you ensure a total destruction of the city and our way of life. Neither side is particularly credible.

I honestly don't see how, in an economic depression where ad spending is way way down, slapping up a few light up billboards are going to make the pee and the dilapidated theaters and porn shops go away. That said, no one else is doing anything to improve a really crappy part of San Francisco either. I might have accidentally voted "yes" for this (I really don't remember) in the spirit of "hey it couldn't hurt." So vote as you see fit.

Prop. E - Some Thing About City Buildings and Billboards - I suppose we're supposed to hate all ads or something, since this is a theme this year. There's just one problem with this measure - in an attempt to keep ads off the City Hall dome, there's an interpretation that could end up wiping out all the Muni bus shelters.

Right now the entire cost and maitnenance is covered by the contractor who is required to build and maintain them. They pay for them with advertising. I'm sure if this were passed, some person with the money and/or time to persue it , could find a way to kill the contract. Then you'd have cash strapped Muni in charge of the bus shelters. Rather than risk waiting for the N in the rain sans shelter, I voted "no."

Fun with the Waste of Time That Is IRV This Year

Remember how we were told that voting for so-called "instant runoff voting" was going to usher in this big future where under-funded candidates could be freer to challenge The System and all that?

Yeah, I know. Worked out well so far, right (insert sarcasm tag here).

The problem this year is that we have two incumbents, each running unopposed this year. This is nothing new - three years ago I wrote about this very same phenomenon and offered up then what I'm offering now - Fun With IRV Ballots.

I mean, the city went to all the trouble to print "IRV style" ballots, the least we can do is use them. So, while we all like ya, Mr. Herrera and Mr. Cisneros, and you did get my vote, I decided to enter in a few names for 1st and 2nd who will most assuredly lose. This year I used the names of favorite TV characters:

For City Attorney:

1. Don Draper
2. Bert Cooper
3. Dennis Herrera (Winner!)

For Treasurer

1. Hank Moody
2. Greg House
3. Jose Cisneros (Winner!)

Fill out your ballot with your own favorite characters. If all of this seems silly, well it is. So is the fact that all the promises made about IRV never came true. We're left with paying for an expensive system that hasn't lived up to its promises. If someone is a lame nobody running for office, they still lose. Just because we played games to fit the needs of a handful of ideologues whose true agenda has yet to be revealed, doesn't mean anything is different.

Incumbents are always re-elected, and the candidates who have the most support always win. It's even easier when no one bothers to run against them! So have fun. Besides, Don Draper is cool.

June 9, 2008

IRV/RCV Backers Bash Me at the LA Times! Woo Hoo!

When I compare the pageview statistics for this site vs. The N Judah Chronicles, or even Adama for President, I more or less figure that this site is read by me, my friends, and the occaisional person who googles something or sees a link at someone else's site, and that's it.

Thus, it was hilarious to read the LA times Blog today and see not one, but two random commenters bashing me because I don't worship at the altar of "Ranked Choice Voting" (or "Instant Runoff Voting") without question. Um, what?

You really can't have a reality-based discussion on this issue - the people pushing it are so jihad-like in their fervor, they can't accept any opposing views (or even suggestions to make it better). They don't like questions being asked, or suggestions that it isn't the Only Way To Make Elections Work. All they know is attack attack attack. You wonder if these people ever achieved real power if we wouldn't have "Thought Police" to knock down your door if you don't adhere to the Party Line. Ah well.

They certainly don't like the fact that RCV/IRV had no real impact in most recent elections, and instead spend their time calling me names (kinda like a 9-year old might in the schoolyard), or distorting things I've said to suit their needs. Who knew my little political blog had so much influence I still get hate mail from these children? The mind reels at the kind of power I could be wielding with this thing (even if most people would rather talk MUNI or Adama).

Which is fine. You can read everything I've written about gimmicky "reforms" for yourself and decide on your own what to think. Personally I'm glad the hatahs are linking back to the site - more ad revenue and more pageviews for the site. Thanks guys!

PS: This just reaffirms once again why people don't like leftists, or frankly any ideological extremists. They're so intent on demanding absolute loyalty, without any hint of dissent, they become really nasty people to be around. News flash, people: being jerks doesn't help your cause - try being a little nicer and people respond in kind. It seems to work for Obama and even McCain, you can have your principles and brown rice, and still be cool.

November 28, 2007

When "Progressive" Political Analysis Becomes "Junkie Logic" AKA Disinfo Rehab Time!

The election is barely past us, and already everyone's trying to spin the results to suit Their Side. It's been particularly amusing to watch the "progressives" try and spin this latest election as anything but a disaster. It's a form of "junkie logic," the same kind a drug addict uses to try and con you into loaning money, only this time the con is on the voter and anyone with common sense.

The usual people are spinning their best (instead of reporting, oddly enough) and predictably, some elected officials are upset too and are trying to contort what happened in November into some sort of a victory.

Heck you can hear it straight from the professional blog-commenters and Greens (yes, sigh, a few of them are still around..) at some event, but frankly, why bother? Junkie Logic is never much fun to listen to, neither is parroting or rubber-stamping the latest from the Politburo.

Ok, enough picking on the "progressive" kids. Let's just look at some facts, and since I'm not in the business of defending one side or another, try and see if we can cut the nonsense one by one :

"Ranked Choice Voting will increase turnout, and be more inclusive than runoffs. It will save money and more people will participate."

Oh really. Now let's take a look at the numbers from our last big runoff, in 2003, supposedly evil because "less people" vote in runoffs (and yet in a twist of Junkie Logic, are the numbers now used by those who promoted RCV/IRV/WTF to say that Mayor Newsom "didn't win"):

PRECINCTS COUNTED (OF 562). . . . . 562 (100%)
REGISTERED VOTERS - TOTAL . . . . . 466,127
BALLOTS CAST - TOTAL. . . . . . . 253,872
VOTER TURNOUT - TOTAL . . . . . . 54.46

Wow, 54%! Now lets look at how we did under the Magical Perfect RCV/IRV/WTF system the "progressives" prommised us would increase voter turnout (and cut costs!)


PRECINCTS COUNTED (OF 580). . . . . 580 (100%)
REGISTERED VOTERS - TOTAL . . . . . 419,598
BALLOTS CAST - TOTAL. . . . . . . . . 149,424
BALLOTS CAST - TOTAL CARD 1 . . . . 149,424
BALLOTS CAST - TOTAL CARD 2 . . . . 150,098
VOTER TURNOUT - TOTAL . . . . . . 35.61
VOTER TURNOUT - TOTAL CARD 1 . . . . 35.61
VOTER TURNOUT - TOTAL CARD 2 . . . . 35.77

That sound you here is the Junkie Intervention phone ringing, but no one is answering because they don't want to hear the news - under the Magical RCV/IRV/WTF system, turnout was dismal, a mere 35% of voters turning out (100,000 fewer than in evil 2003!). But we were promised by radical advocates for the system that if we adopted it, more people would vote and the final vote would be a "true reflection of the people's will." (And whatever you do, do not note that there are actually about 40-50,000 fewer registered voters in San Francisco than there were in 2003! That'll throw the junkie logic off even more!)

Suddnely, now that the vote result is not what some people wanted, that's not the case, at least according to the Bay Guardian and assorted so-called "progressives." Junkie Logic to the extreme.

Oh and that claim that this system would "save money" has been pretty much put to rest since we had to hand count, hand rewrite and handle ballots by hand because the voting machines weren't, um, legal. The spectacle of radical so-called "elections reform" folks like Steven Hill actaully advocating for illegal machines just beacuse it made their phony RCV/IRV/WTF "reform" look bad was, well, crazy, to say the least.

Now, if that Junkie Logic were not enough, let's take a look at the second big "Progressive" talking point, that of Mayor Newsom's vote total:

Continue reading "When "Progressive" Political Analysis Becomes "Junkie Logic" AKA Disinfo Rehab Time!" »

May 1, 2007

Case Study: How The Gaming of the Electoral Process Doesn't Work AKA Why Gavin's Smiling Despite, Well, You Know...

It's May 1st, also known as May Day. For some this means a celebration of spring - to some self-styled urban revolutionaires it means a Day To Pretend We're In Solidarity With The Workers Who Make Our T Shirts. I thought it a perfect day to mark something else - the total failure of a small group of people to "game" the electoral system to change the results in San Francisco.

We've had to endure endless caterwauling about all sorts of gimmicks that were promised to "change" the results and thus make them more "fair." Let's go down the list, shall we?

Continue reading "Case Study: How The Gaming of the Electoral Process Doesn't Work AKA Why Gavin's Smiling Despite, Well, You Know..." »

October 18, 2006

Wasting Time With IRV on the San Francisco Ballot

I got my mail ballot last week and sat down to slog through pages and pages of voter guides, local ballot measures, state ballot measures, and candidates. Voting this season is less about voting for people you'd actually want to serve in office, and more about keeping really bad eggs off the shelf. Same goes for the initatives.

The funniest part of my ballot, however, was San Francisco's allegedly fair and democratic "Instant Runoff System" in action. Candidates for San Francisco College Board and School Board, all of whom run city-wide, are still elected under a "vote for 3 candidates out of a list" system that according to self-appointed reformers is the result of Satan's handiwork.

Do remember under the Satan system, if you really want someone to win, you can cast one vote for one candidate and leave off the other two choices - it has the effect of helping them out more. So if you really like someone such as Jane Kim, you could cast one vote for her, and forget the rest. It's weird how it works, but it does - hence the term "bullet voting."

"Bullet voting" aside, unless you're living somewhere with a competitive Supervisorial race, your only chance to use the magical unicorns and fairies super happy Instant Runoff Voting promises you is in the race for Assessor, or the race for Public Defender.

Here's where it gets fun. At significant expense, the city printed up special little ballots so you can mark your "first second and third choices" for these offices. Problem is, both candidates are running unopposed. And yet, there are three choices for me to fill out, and feel like the Magical Man from Happyland.

So, to make everyone feel good, I wrote in all sorts of great choices for my special one and only IRV election. Here's how it went:

For Assessor:

1. Gaius Baltar
2. Laura Roslin
3. Phil Ting

For Public Defender

1. Sharon Agathon
2. Kara Thrace
3. Jeff Adachi

I have no doubt the incumbents will win, despite my efforts. But, they seem like good guys, so I'm sure their political careers aren't ruined based on my use of magical IRV. I don't feel the good vibes or see the point in all of it, but I guess the secrets as to why some people push this thing are to be learned later, when an election of importance gets stolen with this system.

Yeah, those are pretty nerdy choices. So what? Isn't that the point of IRV? So that every crank can use the public's bucks to make their point?

May 3, 2005

Straight Talk On So-Called "Instant Runoff Voting" or Why the "Cure" Is as Deadly as the "Disease"

Apparently someone at the LA Times Blog linked to this 3-year old article. You can see my response to the shenanigans here. For the record, in 2005 people were often using the terms "IRV" and "RCV" interchangeably, I guess since then people have settled on RCV. Whatever.

If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium, and if it's runoff season, then it must be  time for Self Appointed Prophet Steven Hill of the "Center for Voting and Democracy" to be pimping the reform du jour of so-called "progressives" to "fix" our "elections" - the so-called "reform" of Instant Runoff Voting.

You can read his latest sales pitch in the Los Angeles Times for the most recent iteration of the ongoing drive to push "IRV." (or whatever it is they want to call it these days).


Just don't expect much debate - most people aren't interested in a real discussion of the issue. Proponents have a Stalin-like objection to any discussion that does not sing the system's hosannas in high tones, whereas opponents frankly don't care, since they consider it something that belongs in the "tin hat crowd" file at the newspaper.

Having actually worked on a campaign in 2004 in San Francisco under said voting system, I'm taking a moment to write a column that I should have written in 2004, that gives you, the citizen, some straight talk on this issue.

I'm not ideologically invested in IRV one way or the other - instead I'm just someone who saw the real-world effects of a change to the election process. So, let's take some of the basic assumptions of Prophet of Truth Hill's piece and put them to the test.

We start with an oh-so-typical whining about the State of Affairs Our Election is In, the kind I took to task last week. It's a great segue into the sales pitch. But it also misses a lot about the specific political history of Los Angeles as well. Perhaps such subtleties are worth papering over in pursuit of The One True Way.

Now, let's pick apart the arguments and find a little truth, shall we?

Myth: San Francisco has an Instant Runoff System in Place

Put away that pillow, this isn't devolving into BuzzwordSpeak just yet. Really.


Mr. Hill makes the argument that San Francisco has an Instant Runoff System. In fact it does not. They had to change the name to "Ranked Choice Voting" because, in the rush to implement the law, regardless of things like, oh I don't know, the Constitution, they couldn't implement a true IRV system. What's the difference?

Well it's simple. In a true "Instant Runoff Voting" system, you'd have a list of all the candidates for a particular office, and you'd rank each one according to preference. If there were, say, 15 candidates, you'd rank each candidate from 1 (the one you like, and want to win) to 15 (the one you like the least). Kind of like rating a song or something on the radio.

They count all the ballots, and if no one gets 50% +1, they cull out the lowest vote getter, look at the 2nd place votes those voters placed ,and keep counting until they get a winner.

The Big Idea is that if you voted for a dud, you still can have a voice in the outcome, since your 2nd, 3rd, or 11th choice could get counted. Blah blah blah. (For more detailed discussion of the system, read some of the articles I wrote last year during the election).

San Francisco does not do this. Instead, you only get to pick a "top three" - you pick the one you like best, your "2nd choice" and your "3rd choice." If there's 3 candidates , you rank all three (if you want). If there's 20 (like there were in the race I worked on) you rank....3.


This is a critical difference, one that bears some examination. The article in the L.A. Times states that San Francisco has an IRV system, when it doesn't. There's a big difference in the effect it has on how people vote, and on the results therein. So when we read a piece in the L.A. Times  that asserts something that simply isn't the case, it's time to turn on our BS Microscope on said editorial.

Myth: Elections are too expensive. We need IRV to "save money" and avoid these runoff elections

This is possibly the most cynical, and the most dangerous argument I have heard for any election system, IRV or not. To me, a sound, safe, fair, and honest election system is the bedrock of any democracy. To try and do it "on the cheap" just because some limousine liberals (or whoever) have somehow deemed elections are "expensive" is bogus.


I don't care if it costs the US Government a bazillion dollars to ensure our votes are fairly counted and administered. We spent a ton of money to ensure Iraqis have democracy - why the hell should we be pinching pennies here at home? People fought and died for our freedom in wars - why would we dishonor them by saying that we need to cut a few pennies off the voting process so we can fund more tax breaks for corporations, or other special interest groups?

I don't think that the Republic is doomed, financially by having runoff elections. And let's face facts - when have you ever heard a liberal make an argument about saving money? Rarely. So this is a red herring that I discard almost immediately. People paid for democracy for their lives - it's priceless, and to try and play penny-pinching with our voting is just plain wrong.

Myth: People will run positive campaigns, because if they run campaigns that say bad things about their opponents, the supporters of Said Opponents will retaliate by not voting for them

The biggest lie in the IRV sales pitch. While it is true that this was an assumption many people chose to live by during the 2004 elections, it was based entirely on supposition and belief, not on the political culture and tradition most people make their decisions on.

In fact, all the candidates who engaged in all sorts of cutsey "buddy buddy" election gimmicks, such as holding joint fundraisers for the same office, or putting out mail pieces jointly paid for by more than one candidate, all got their asses kicked (my client included).


There is absolutely no empirical evidence at all that voters who support one particular fringe candidate, upon seeing a negative attack on said candidate by another, all as a block say "Oh, goodness I shan't vote for that candidate who made such a naughty attack mailer!".

In fact, most people don't think or vote that way at all. More importantly, unless candidates specifically tell in their literature who they believe should be people's 2nd and 3rd (or however many) choices on the ballot, most people fill the ballot out at random, or base it on criterion that have nothing to do with how the election was conducted.

More to the point, it's wishful thinking on the part of lesser candidates to think they'll have any real impact on the election if they don't somehow quantify how they are "helping" front runners.

During the 2004 election, I discovered that San Francisco election law had a peculiarly foolish hole that forbade candidates from saying whom they supported for those 2nd and 3rd choice spots in paid media, yet did not do so when they spoke in person. I fought the Ethics Commission to develop new rules that would allow for us to do so on the campaign I worked on.

Now, you'd think that for doing so I'd get a big "thank you" from the Prophet of Truth who came up with this great idea. Instead, I was subjected to a screaming attack over the phone from Steven Hill for my efforts, followed by slanderous comments from him to my client. Class act, these ideologues. Watch how fast I rush to defend this system in the future.


More to the point, the eventual winner in all the races was the person who got the most votes on Election Day and all the bullshit scenarios whittled by consultants and others who somehow thought they could run a half-assed campaign and still win were out the door.

We all learned that night that if you want to win under IRV you need to kick ass and take names early and often - and endorsing groups figured that out too.

They didn't bother with 2nd or 3rd place endorsements - they pushed aside such thoughts and went for the people with...the most money, the most endorsements, and the most volunteers earlier than usual, and stuck with them.

In our race, now-Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi was so far ahead of 2nd place finisher Robert Haaland, there was no way in Hell Robert was going to catch up to Ross, even if by some act of (God, Buddha, SpongeBob, whatever) every single 2nd and 3rd place pick of folks went to him (which it did not).


So after all the hassle, the talk, and the screaming matches on the phone, San Francisco saw results no different than if they'd' just done things the Same Old Way.

Wait. That's not true. In San Francisco's 7th District, a weak appointed incumbent saw a better than expected challenger in candidate Christine Linnenbach.

Had they both gone to a one-on-one runoff, it is likely Linnenbach might have won. But under IRV, we never got the chance for a face-off that would have offered voters a clear choice, instead of one muddled by fringe candidates.

Other than that election, nothing changed. The one race where IRV "helped" end an "expensive" runoff and we ended up with a status quo appointed incumbent who outspent his rival 7-1. Whee! Can I sign up for this in my neighborhood?

Not a great endorsement of the system, which is always pitched to people who ca'nt win under our current system (usually "progressives") as a cure, even though there's no evidence it would do anything but strengthen the hand of strong candidates.

There is a legitimate discussion that should be held to figure out ways to ensure that all voices are accounted for and that our nation leads the way in providing citizens ways to express themselves in the electoral process. If we are to truly be in the vanguard of freedom, stifiling such a discussion at home when we amplifiy it abroad is hypocritical.


That said, we should also be wary of "solutions" that are packaged as the One True Answer to our problems, without putting said "solutions" through the intellectual wringer.

That may not fit the grand designes of Self Appointed Prophets. But we as citizens have not lost our right to speak out just yet, and should do so to ensure an honest discussion of many ways of voting, not just the ones that are designed to help one  side vs. another.

In the meantime, spare me the "IRV me ASAP" rhetoric. And pass me a Schlitz.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

October 17, 2004

Quick Hit- We Made the New York Times

Loyal readers will recall a mini-crusade started earlier this month, when I noticed many of San Francisco's elections laws had not caught up to the realities of Ranked Choice Voting this year.

Not only is the Ethics Commission meeting on October 18th to discuss the issue, we made the New York Times today as well.

Onward and upward!

UPDATE: Apparently the San Francisco Ethics and Elections Commission has sent me a letter in response to my query, in advance of their meeting on Monday. However, a careful check of my mailbox indicates I have not received it yet (although if they sent it via First Class Mail it will most likely arrive tomorrow).


This is sizing up to be a slightly bigger drama than I'd anticipated. Still, no one seems to have gotten the joke I inserted in my hypothetical situation which I wanted a ruling on. Can you find it?

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

September 28, 2004

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 www.schadelmann.com

August 21, 2004

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 www.schadelmann.com

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