About Me

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.

Email me with news tips, comments, and ideas for disinfo rehab any time!

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March 15, 2012

An Amended Modest Proposal: Reform "Public Financing" of Campaigns The Easy Way

There's a whole cottage industry revolving around "campaign reform," and for the most part it's produced a lot of nonsense, locally and nationally. However, I am daring to get in the game and make a few modest proposals of my own, not for the sake of helping one partisan side over the other, but instead to give voters a clear choice and to be able to understand for whom or what they are voting for.

Earlier this year, I proposed that anyone running for office in San Francisco in 2012 be asked to sign a pledge saying simply that if they won election (or re-election) to the office they campaigned for, they'd actually serve the full four year term they asked voters for.

This may sound a bit nitpicky, but look at what happened in 2008 - we had several people run for Supervisor who asked the voters to send them to serve as Supervisor. Halfway through their terms, these newcomers then decided they'd had enough, and ran for Mayor. So did a lot of other elected officials.

Not only did they spend a lot of their time away from their six-figure salaried jobs, they asked for taxpayer money to finance piles of junk mail. In fact, we had so many people last year running for Another Office, things pretty much shut down at City Hall, all at a time when we needed people on the job. Add to the fact that taxpayers subsidized most of the Mayoral races (and yet the guy with the Super PACs funded by the 1% won anyway) and it's clear something is wrong here.

Today I amend my suggestion that candidates running in 2012 sign a pledge to serve out their full terms in office and not run for another during said term with this:

Any candidate that takes taxpayer money in 2012 to run for office in San Francisco should serve out their full term. If they do not, they should be forced to return the tax money they used in 2012 to run for office if they decide to run for another job (Assembly, State Senate, Dogcatcher, Sheriff, etc.)

I don't think this is an unreasonable request. I'm sure the politicians will ignore it, as they do anything that demands accountability or gets in the way of taxpayer dollars to finance their career advancement. It'd be interesting to see who, if anyone makes such a pledge. San Francisco voters would certainly be the beneficiaries though, since now they at least can figure out who's telling the truth when they say "vote for me in 2012" and who is not.

February 4, 2010

Some Relevant Facts on "District Elections" to Consider....

This morning there's word some folks downtown are trying to change how we elect the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco (again). This time, there's a proposal to elect some via district and some city-wide. As with any "reform" in San Francisco, this is less about making government work better for all, and is instead another attempt to game the system for one side over another.

That's not to say that the current system, implemented in 2000, didn't do the same thing. However, I'd suggest that the problem isn't with district elections as a concept (even in a smaller city like San Francisco) - instead it's been the inability of certain factions to adapt and overcome the new terrain. Put simply, if you are faced with district elections, you need to find good people that you can work with to go forth and run who are actually, well, you know, known in the neighborhoods they'll be representing.

This is basic campaign strategy 101, and yet for almost 10 years, this concept seems to have been lost on some, who seem to want to only support candidates who merely take orders, like a waiter or a waitress in a diner. There are at least two Supervisors elected in 2008 who could have been defeated, had perhaps one side used some tactics not involving the political equivalent of a sledgehammer, but didn't, and well, they lost.

However, there's one thing lost in all the discussions about "district elections" that people have generally missed as they blabber on SFGate comments about "the system"- prior to 2000 it was literally impossible to run against a single incumbent Supervisor. Yes, you read that right. If you didn't like what Supervisor John Doe was doing, and you wanted to run against him and give voters that choice, it couldn't happen. (Yes, we did have district elections for a short time, which elected Sup. Milk, among others, but it was repealed soon after the assassinations in 1979.)

That's because of the peculiar way Supervisors were elected prior to 2000. Basically you had many candidates run en masse for Supervisor for a few open spots. The top vote getters would get the seats on the Board, and everyone else would lose.

If we were using this system today, we'd have five spots for people to run for. Every single candidate from the serious to the goofball, would all be on the ballot. This, being SF, you'd have literally a bajillion names to choose from. You, the voter would pick 5, and the top vote getters would be elected, and the rest would lose. You can see how this protects incumbents, who'd have the most money available and "name ID" (which you San Francisco voters really get off on), and how difficult it would be to target a poor performing incumbent who has a lot of cash.

It's fairly stupid, and between this, and the fact that in the 1990s at one point the Mayor at the time appointed most of the Supervisors anyway, you can see why people rebelled and sent a very loud, very pointed "FU" to Mayor Willie Brown and his appointed princes and princesses.

The only problem with district elections in San Francisco, frankly, is the size of the districts. They're so small, and often so oddly drawn, they lead to some strange stuff. For example, I used to live on one side of Judah Street and was in Sup. Elsbernd's district. I moved a block away, and suddenly was in Sup. Mirkarimi's district. WTF?

There is one idea, however, that might have been worth considering, but I think back in those hyper partisan days when it was the downtown folks sticking it to everyone the way the progressives do now, no one was interested. In many cities (such as Seattle, where I lived for 7 years), they elect candidates citywide, but each position is "numbered."

This way, each council seat has its own list of candidates to choose from. If there's an incumbent people can run against them, and if there isn't, then the seat is open. It creates some accountability with incumbents, but doesn't have the limits of a district based system, which was a concern amongst some in Seattle. (Oh and in the Irony Department, it was I who first suggested district elections for Seattle based on experiences in the runoff of 2000. Ha!)

The point is simply this - we have been trying to game the system for one side or another with lots and lots of laws and rules, many of which contradict each other. We tried to punish "big time consultants" with a special tax and filing - we ended up punishing the low-paid campaign manager of the struggling citizen campaign. We passed IRV/RCV/WTF and it has been nothing but an expensive pain in the ass that hasn't delivered on its promises, or gamed the system well (ironically since IRV it is protecting incumbents and "moderate" candidates for citywide office have been unopposed!). District elections have benefits, but there's nothing suggesting that City Hall is any more responsive to the citizen on Real Issues (Muni, anyone?) than it was before.

San Francisco citizens deserve a process that allows them to choose who they want to represent them at city hall that's free of too many corrupting influences, while also being compliant with the Constitution. We do not need the government to game the system to help one faction or another, and we do not need a system so complex, only the wealthy can run.

I can't imagine how it is that a city with so many smart people has to make things slow, stupid, and difficult, and I've got to believe there's enough Smart People out there who can press the reset button and end the howler monkey nonsense that passes for political debate about issues like this. People have had it with a City That Doesn't Know How, and would like to get their money's worth when they pay for a multi billion dollar City/County system that could be doing a lot better.

January 24, 2010

Why the SCOTUS Decision on Corporate Political Spending May Not Be As Big A Deal As You Think

Whenever I wonder if it was a good idea to quit my job, and finally leave the sordid business of political "consulting," I read the tweets and postings about things like this business about the Supreme Court's ruling on corporate donations and am glad I don't have to worry about such things anymore. It's way more fun (not to mention easier) to throw tomatoes from the cheap seats than have to actually deal with this crap.

If you're a legal type, you should read Rick Hasen's excellent blog about election law for links and details about the legalities. There's already a lot o' hollering on the center and the left about the evilness of said ruling, and others who think it's a blow for Lady Liberty's torch. I, on the other hand, am not really sure a lot will really change.

However, several reasonable folks suggest otherwise, pointing out that most corporate money in politics is already there in some convoluted form, and that for the most part, while politicians of all stripes can do dumb things, or make decisions we don't like, the actual cases of "corporate influence" aren't as common as we might think.

News flash: some corporations give money to anti-tax, anti-regulation politicians because, well.....that would be of benefit to them. It's not like people are born believing in some one true ideology, and they ONLY believe otherwise because someone made a donation they can't spend on themselves or their family to their campaign fund. To think so is arrogant.

Plus, we've had endless jurisdictions attempt all sorts of complex regulations to try and force an outcome of the electoral process, usually to favor one side or another. And yet, you can go to F*cking Liberal San Francisco, and guess what? Despite endless gimmicks, the leftists couldn't even put up a candidate for Mayor in the alleged bastion of The Left against a "corporate sponsored Mayor" who had real problems. More to the point - when was it the job of the Constitution (or the City Charter) to ensure only one side wins?

Plus, in the end, you find it's the little campaigns, who don't have the money to hire lawyers and accountants to comply with complex laws having the screws put to them, while the big campaigns who have the support of established interests can weather whatever legalisms the hippies come up with. Ironic, eh?

Finally, if you've ever worked for a big company, you know that big companies and corporations are very bureaucratic, risk-averse to a fault, and do everything in committee. They're not really eager to have to put their name on some politician's campaign, and deal with the fallout if said person loses, or have to deal with an endless line of politicos asking for money from them, with the threat they'll get hurt if they don't.

Here's a simple solution that would adjust to the new reality, and bring back a little sanity to the process. Let's get rid of complex accounting rules for campaigns and come up with a simple system that requires them to publish online within 24 hours what they took in, what they spent it on (or who they spent it on), and make sure that's super easy for anyone to understand. No silly games, no hiding sh*t, just be honest. If people comply, they're cool. If they don't, they have to return the day's cash, no bullsh*t.

If an ad is put out by a candidate (web, TV, mail, whatever) they have to post a URL linking back to said disclosure. If an ad is produced by some group of people (any kind), they have to say who they are, and post their money and spending just like everyone else. No more games, no more silly stories about quarterly reports, no more accounting gimmicks where campaigns hold off paying staff so they can say "lookit how much cash I have on hand" (when they really don't), and if someone is actually dumb enough to take a big bag of loot and change their vote on the eve of some Big Issue, well, we'll all know and it'll be up to the voters to make that decision.

It's times like these I'm glad I no longer have to worry about all of this, and instead will watch a short term burst of cash line the pockets of the people who get paid to produce all of this stuff. Ultimately, no matter who wins on election day, the folks who print the brochures and produce the TV ads get paid anyway, so yay for them.

There are plenty of worse ways to make a living, and for those who enjoy it, at least they don't have to be producing ads for tooth deoderizer.

August 28, 2008

The City's Voting Machines STILL Uncertified? Yes We Can!

One of the bigger lies that was told during the campaign to force IRV/RCV/WTF down everyone's throats was that the system would "save money," because it would mean no runoff election.

Well, once again, that absurd little promise is proving once again to be false. Last year we had to hand count and re-do people's ballots for them, all by hand, because of problems with our voting systems. Now, the ugly little problem no one wants to talk about rears its head again, as it's been revealed NONE of the City's voting machines are certified for use. Yes, really.

There's a hearing, of course, but it is scheduled 6 weeks before the election. There is a good chance that the vendor in question might not make the cut - meaning that in an election with a huge turnout, a ton of things on the ballot, and yes, IRV/RCV/WTF, we will be hand counting at tremendous expense, for weeks.

Last year we saw the specter of IRV/RCV/WTF advocates actually attacking Secretary of State Bowen for doing her job to maintain the integrity of the election system - because they wanted to defend their ideological vies, voter rights be damned. Look for a repeat performance this year.

IRV/RCV/WTF's many promises have mostly been proven false as the system has been implemented. Campaigns are NOT nicer, the top vote getter on Election night wins anyway, incumbents are ensured re-election (thus essentially giving all elected officials 8 year terms) and the crowded podium at debates and in news coverage ensures that the discussion of complex city policy is reduced to 15 and 30 second soundbites at endless "debates" that tell you nothing about what these people plan to do. That is, when we even bother to have people run against each other.

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.

February 26, 2008

Give to Barry Obama, Get An Awesome Limited Edition Shirt!

I wish I hadn't given to Barack Obama's campaign last night - I wish I'd done so today instead. That's because you'll get a limited edition T Shirt that celebrates the fact that they are just a few thousand folks away from having ONE MILLION donors to the campaign.

One million people giving everything from a dollar to 2,300. That's stunning.

It's not just about the money, either - people who give once to a campaign will inevitably give again, and they're more likely to come out and volunteer as well.

Obama didn't need government cheese for his campaign (like McCain took) and he didn't need fancy gimmicks to compete against Bill and Hillary's made-for-the-90s political machine. Instead he's built what people are calling the first successful viral-marketing political campaign, which combines grass-roots organizing with the technology to easily activate and inform a huge base of support.

Meanwhile, the best Hillary Clinton can do is an angry, whining, negative campaign, all the while she continues to slip in the polls. I don't know that is going to be particularly successful - after all, people are kind of tired of the ephemeral bullsh*t in American politics we've grown accustomed to over the past 10 years. But who knows? Maybe if she screams and yells and kicks and claws and attacks and gets as shrill as possible, she'll win.

Whatever. Obama's got a million folks watching his back, and they're not going to be swayed by 1990s style attack ads. After all, they gave some of their hard earned money to the campaign, and they're gonna see it through to the end.

PS: For some added fun, check out this story that details HOW the campaigns are spending their money. It's pretty dramatic...if you give to Hillary Clinton, it's most likely your money will go to well paid staff and consultants (including one that's business partners with...McCain's manager!) and overhead. Obama's campaign puts more of its money into, um, campaigning, and has way more cash on hand for emergencies. KTHXBAI.

February 10, 2008

Record Voter Turnout in Presidential Primaries Has Some Lessons for Local Politickers

The LA Times has an interesting report on the record voter turnout we're seeing in primaries, and in particular the lopsided increase in turnout on the Democratic side.

The article has some interesting facts and figures, but it pretty much bears out what I said last week - that if you have good candidates who aggressively campaign on issues and ideals that people actually care about, people vote. Who told?

(Oh, and I find it equally amazing that Sen. Obama has been able to run an incredibly close race fueled mostly by small to mid-sized donations...while lefty champions are once again left in the dust.)

It's a stark contrast to the mind numbingly stupid elections we had in Supposedly Liberal Brainiac San Francisco, where "progressives" had a FAIL so complete and total, turnout was in the toilet. And now, of course, the progressives are crying about the Mayor's shenanigans, not realizing that if they'd just bothered to run a real candidate, the election might have had a different outcome. Boo hoo for them.

Most importantly, these record turnouts of voters are coming out without any of the lefty electoral gimmicks out-of-state reformers are trying to peddle across the country as ways to "increase turnout."

It's really simple, people. If you run a good campaign, you win the election. If you inspire people to action, they act. If you listen to people and talk about the issues they actually care about, they get excited and feel like politics is an opportunity for change - not just a tired exercise that people don't feel matters to them.

There's a chance that local "progressives" might take a lesson from all of this in the upcoming elections in November, and perhaps try strategies that don't involved running around in circles, gossiping like junior high girls in gym class, and whining.

News flash, progressives: THIS DOESN'T F*CKING WORK. Stop trying to game the electorate with phony reform bullsh*t. Run on a vision and an agenda that works for the citizens who actually vote in elections, and you might win. If nothing else, it would be an improvement over last year's "act like gossiping dorks" strategy.

The real winner will be the voters of San Francisco, if they're given an honest race between various factions who all strive to offer a cohesive vision of policy and politics for the next four years. We'll see what happens.

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!" »

October 11, 2007

A Question For Mayor Newsom At Tonight's Debate: Which Campaign Finance "Reform" Do You Support?

As most people don't know, there's the one and only "debate" between the Mayor and his Baker's Dozen of no-names. No one is really covering it, and the TV cameras won't be there, so you probably won't see much of it. But, if you have nothing better to do and get a chance to ask Mr. Mayor just what is his position these days on "public financing" of campaigns.

Now don't get me wrong - there's no question that the term "campaign finance reform" is a loaded term designed to help one side over the other. Fine. But here's where I get confused when it comes to Mr. Mayor's position on the allegedly important issue of taxpayer financed elections (which have done so well here in San Francisco).

I got some plea for money from the from the so-called "Californians for Clean Money" campaign, and as you can see in the accompanying image, I was asked to "join Mayor Newsom" who apparently endorsed the effort at some meeting at some new office in Our City.

Now, let's put aside the many failed predictions made when the proponents got this thing passed, since that's obvious. Instead, let's look at the record of Our Mayor on this supposedly important issue, and wonder if perhaps the folks at the "California Clean Money" campaign might need to do a little more homework before putting press releases out for their cure-all.

Even a cursory glance at the archives of the Voice of the West, little blogs and the Bay Guardian reveal the fact that the mayor has proposed cutting matching funds for the next election cycle, all under the guise of "thinking about the children."

Continue reading "A Question For Mayor Newsom At Tonight's Debate: Which Campaign Finance "Reform" Do You Support?" »

July 31, 2007

Time for A Laugh, at the Progressives' Expense - Gonzalez Really Ain't Running!

So, finally, the Messiah has spoken, and it turns out Golden Boy Matt Gonzalez really isn't running for mayor. All the pitiful jabbering and gossiping and puttering on the left about What Will Matt Do was for naught. Now, I predicted this some time ago, but you know what?

Who cares?

And that goes for any more chatter about this joke of a Mayor's race we have now. Seriously.

Right now I'm just thinking of Eric Cartman and Nelson Muntz getting together, pointing fingers at San Francisco (especially the left) and laughing in their trademarked ways.

What's funnier is that Mayor Newsom (who throughout his term could not pass a ballot measure or elect a new ally to the board that wasn't appointed) is Mr. Invicible, and can literally do anything he wants, without any consequences. And yet, he's still so scared of wealthy interests, he's going to try and torpedo a MUNI reform measure.

Now who's laughing?

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?

September 20, 2006

Case Study: Campaign "Reform" and Unintended Consequences in San Francisco's District 6

For those of you just joining us, there's a rather contentious battle in San Francisco's Supervisorial District 6, where incumbent Supervisor Daly is running for re-election. The campaign is already getting quite heated, as some people in Our Fair City are not fans of Mr. Daly and his effectiveness as a legislator getting laws passed based on the platform he clearly enuniciated as a candidate (with 83% of the vote) in 2000. Ultimately, it will be the voters who will decide if Mr. Daly should continue to serve in office.

The race also offers a case study in the Law of Unintended Consequences with regards to "political reform" that is peddled by incumbents and assorted hangers-on who try to "game" the system to get the results they like - and how such "gaming" ends up causing more problems for candidates and the voters who are being asked to decide who should represent them in office.

It was laughable to see the Bay Guardian's complaint-atorial today, bemoaning the rise of independent expenditure committees which are being funded to oppose Mr. Daly's re-election, citing in particular the fact he is limited by law to spending only $83,000 on his own race, while a host of independent committees (all of whom have the same name but are numbered 1-6 to maximize their effect) can spend what they like.

Why the comedy? Because it was the Bay Guardian that unequivocally supported the limits and laws that are now limiting Mr. Daly's ability to respond to campaign attacks!

That's the funny part. The not-so-funny part is when the Guardian asks the Board of Supervisors to immediately amend the law so that this "can't happen." Now it's time to take a large Wait A Minute and Think pill, before more new laws (and more unintended consequences) result.

That's because the folks who are opposing Mr. Daly aren't really doing anything wrong per se. Super-nasty campaigns are never pleasant to watch, and to be sure, the folks who oppose Mr. Daly would seem to have a visceral hatred for the man, almost more than the leftiest lefty who hates Our President. That said, these folks took a look at the laws "as is" and have a smart attorney who found perfectly legal ways to operate within the system to do what it is they feel they need to do to get their message out.

Continue reading "Case Study: Campaign "Reform" and Unintended Consequences in San Francisco's District 6" »

July 19, 2006

Yes on Proposition 89 A.K.A. The Political Hack Full Employment Act of 2006

Everyone's been asking me if I'm supporting the so-called Clean Money Proposition 89 given my past views on political reform, and experience in campaign finance. I always say, without skipping a beat, that I support this proposition with no reservations at all.

Now that's the "loud: part. The "quiet" part is "But not for the reasons the authors and supporters intend, since I just want a full employment act for political hacks." Waitaminit! Did I say the loud part quiet and the quiet part loud? D'oh!

No really, listen! Now, of course the inevitable fight between Sort Of Funded Good People and the representatives of the Forces of Doom With More Money will wage some sort of battle. The state's Big Important Paper will weigh in, as will its fine columnists on the relative merits. And they'll all be as fun to read about as that whole debate over the Paint Drying On A Hot Day initiative.

That is, if the public is even reading. (No one seems to realize Stargate SG-1 is back on the air, and Lost and Battlestar Galactica and a ton of movies are coming out this fall. Do Cylons dream of electric political reform bills?)

Whee! Now, the funny thing about these kinds of initiatives is that they're taking a hybrid idea from other states (Maine, Arizona, Massachusetts) and declaring that Their Way Is The Only Way to "clean up" politics. As I've said time and again, these reform efforts usually have more to do with gutting The Other Guys' say in politics, coupled with a naive hope that the outcome of the people's votes can be gamed to favor Their Guys. (IRV Minions, I'm looking at you....)

But let's put aside the many Unintended Consequences we'll be paving the Road to Hell with, and find out why I'm supporting this wild proposition. It's simple - any time you have a system of matching funds, public funding, whatever, you change the marketplace for political products. Instead of lopsided spending by The Guy With All The Support and The Guy With No Money or Hope In Hell, thus creating a single marketplace in a given district for product, suddenly we'll have more customers for the same products!

Think about it. Every robocall vendor, every direct mail vendor, heck every button-maker and tchotchke maker from Yreka to the Mexican Border will suddenly have lots of new people to sell stuff too. Every political hack that wants to avoid law school for another year can instead take a year off and work on the campaign of any Joe Sixpack or Sally Hempcoat running for office anywhere in the state - no matter how hopeless it is for a hippie socialist to win in "The OC" or a right wing neo-fascist to win in Berkeley, CA!

JobCorps, SchmobCorps, if politicians want to create more jobs right away, they'll jump on board. It's easy, and the taxpayers foot the bill!

Sure, there's that whole issue with that pesky Constitution of the United States, and sure there's also no guarantee that experienced people who do things as they're done now will suddenly lose and give way to the wide-eyed hopeful dreamers who want to pass that whole "No Kitten Left Behind" bill that gets stalled in committee by the special interests, but I say, who cares?

There are a lot of robocalls and brochures I need to sell if I'm ever going to get enough money to go into real estate or the olive oil business. So quit your bitchin' and say "Yes" to Proposition 89. I am sure my future kids will thank you when they're getting braces, iPods, and Harvard educations. I know I will!

Pardon the gap in postings. Unlike professional bloggers who sideline as consultants, I, as a consultant who sidelines as a blogger, sometimes have to do real work during an election! More fun is coming soon though. Really!

June 14, 2006

California Primary 2006: The Death Rattle of So-Called "Reform"

Wasn't that just a wonderful primary election?

We had the a record low voter turnout statewide, and we had a record number of mail ballots that were held until the last minute, simply because people either didn't know who to vote for, or who to vote against. We had some of the nastiest campaigns, funded by all sorts of well funded interests, and Democrats in particular are left with a slate of candidates most people still don't know a lot about, at a time when we're facing Real Problems.

Whose fault is it? Oh, it depends on who you ask. It's the Democrats' fault. It's the Republicans' fault. It's the consultants' fault. It's the special interest groups' fault. It's the fault of people who wear those rectangle glasses. It's the fault of someone's husband. It's the "progressives'" fault. It's the "conservatives'" fault. It's the know-it-all bloggers' fault. It's the fault of Someone Else.

Oh, and don't forget it's Money's Fault. Bet you didn't know inanimate representations of currency could be at fault. But to some it is.

"So," you ask, "whose fault is it really?" you ask. Good question - thanks for asking!

It would be easy for me to take the Official Snarky Knowitall Position that it's everyone I just mentioned's fault but that would be a bit too easy, and a bit overdone. Instead I'm going to suggest another idea: that we in California had a Perfect Storm of Unintended Consequences, from all the so-called "reforms" that self-styled "reformers" have pushed on us for the last several decades.

Continue reading "California Primary 2006: The Death Rattle of So-Called "Reform"" »

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

February 12, 2005

Random Weekend Thoughts on "Messaging" and Alternative Views on Redistricting

Well, it looks like barring some strange alignment of the planets. Dr. Howard Dean will take over as chair of the Democratic National Committee. The highest profile camapign for a job most people have no idea even exists, much less know what it does, has ended.

It should make for an interesting time - now that the talking's done, it's time to start doing something. Fast. Laundry lists of promises are fine, but it's action that wins elections.

There's lots of talk about "messaging." A lot of talk. During the race for DNC chair, I think I lost count of how many times I heard "messaging." Personally I hate it when nouns are verbified like this, butchering the language. Remember when the Boomers started calling it "parenting"? Does this mean by using the word one negates the meaning itself> Oh, I digress.

Much chatter was started when Washington Monthly posted a copy of the Labour Party's new platform, which fits neatly on a nice little card you can see here:

It's a point well taken, and hey - printing up about a zillion of these things would be easy and be a money maker for sure.  But aside from all of the chatter and noise about The Best Strategy To Win, and endless patter about "messaging," one wonders if perhaps all the discussions and arguments and blogging, and meeting is missing a bigger point.

That is, part of the problem Democratic political fortunes face is the fact that, as a party that's been out of power for a good long time now (ten years out of Congress, even longer in the judiciary), "messaging" problems pale in comparison to "governing" problems. And "power" problems.

We are facing the formation of a one-party state in this country, with the full force of the three branches of government to support and develop that one party. Clever phrases turned at a debate, or neat looking mailers, are only a part of the problem. The bigger one is the fact that as changes in the budget process move on, Democratic elected officials simply aren't involved at the centers of power in Washington.

Too many aging politicians who still get re-elected due to "name i.d." and their little piece of the money flowing around still act and react as if they are in charge of something. They're not.

Because they don't realize it, they react with horror at the idea of a Dr. Howard Dean, or a Gen. Wesley Clark, because it's someone that they don't "own" a piece of, and scares them. Never mind the fact that they haven't been able to return to power, elite consultants and insider politicians and all.

When Republicans were out of power in Congress, they realized it, and acted as such until they were. Precious few of our elected leaders seem to realize this reality. Sen. Barbara Boxer is one who does. She realizes the only way she's going to try and stop some of the insanity is to do what folks like Newt Gingrich and his allies did for years - toss political dynamite into the mix, and damn the torpedoes full speed ahead.

Anyway, something for the Doc and the New Kids On the Block (Committee?) to think about.

PS: Unlike some blogs around town, who can't stand to have any dissenting views on their site, I'm posting a link to consider another side to the issue of gerrymandering and redistricting. As I've said before, many times these districts are drawn to benefit a particular single individual already in office, regardless of party, and that tends to dampen enthusiasm, or interest in the election.

We will see something on the ballot, maybe several "somethings" by the time the army of signature gatherers get through with us. Recently the San Francisco Chronicle posted an op-ed piece on the issue that brought up something I'd not really considered before - that in some cases, trying to draw a district as a "swing district" may be physically impossible, given the way population and demographics have changed in the past twenty years.

Thus, a proposal that tries to legislate political outcomes is almost worse than what we have now. As we've seen before, when The People Who Know Best are running things, usually they're paid for by a large donation from corporate coffers. Caveat Emptor, gang.

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

October 19, 2004

Crusader Update: No Final Ruling from the Ethics Commission

Loyal readers will recall that a mini-crusade started by me earlier this month began to take a life of its own when the New York Times picked up on the story, a tale of rules, ethics, and common sense in a time of change.

Savannah Blackwell's latest column has an update including coverage of the Ethics Commission meeting last night, which gave us no final ruling on the issue at hand - that rules governing campaign conduct haven't been updated to account for the new realities of Ranked Choice Voting.

Until then, we're going forth with our campaign, determined to strike a blow for freedom of speech and cooperative campaigning. We probably won't get a final ruling anytime soon - stay tuned!

© 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

October 5, 2004

Paving the Road to Hell in Baghdad by the Bay

UPDATE: Read coverage at Savannah Blackwell's column online which has new information from the SF Department of Elections regarding this issue. Looks like we may have made a difference on this one, gang!

The Road to Hell is not the only road paved with Good Intentions. The crazy-quilt of contradictory rules and regulations known as election "law" is paved with it too. How else to describe, or explain, how so many of these laws don't make sense, or why every attempt to make things "better" ends up benefitting those with money and power, and disempowering anyone not on the inside.

There are many examples, big and small. Today, however, I'm going to share with you a medium-sized example that I've decided to take some direct action on in the hopes of illuminating the hazards of change when we don't think it through. In this case, it's the laws regulating campaign activity in San Francisco.

As I've indicated before, San Francisco is beginning a bold experiment in local elections using Ranked Choice Voting. (For a detailed explanation of the process, check out this excellent resource online).

More than one media report has commented on the new cooperative style of campaigning such a system allows. It's definitely an interesting situation, one which no one really knows what the final outcome will be. We can make educated guesses, but that's about it.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle reports that many voters are still having a hard time adjusting to the new system, and realizing that they no longer just have one choice (i.e. who to vote for) but they now have the opportunity to indicate a "second" and "third" choice.

The city has spent a small amount of money doing some educational outreach, but it is becoming more and more clear it's not enough. If this system is going to work, people need to know how to use it. Otherwise the point of spending the time and money to create and administer such a system will be wasted.

And now, the Road to Hell Paving Crew makes its appearance!

How so? Because no one thought to update election laws to accommodate the new system, specifically for the changes that have come about in how candidates are conducting themselves in their races for Supervisor, creating a situation that doesn't allow candidates to fully engage the electorate under the new rules.

Whereas in the past, such elections were money-fueled death matches, with campaign conduct more like Mortal Kombat than anything resembling a civilized debate, now candidates are realizing that, if properly used, a ranked-choice voting system doesn't reward such behavior.

Instead candidates are telling voters to not only support them for office, but to also support other candidates for the second and third spots on the ballot for the same office. Candidates are free to do so in public, when talking to a voter, and when speaking to the press or at a public debate.

The Paving Crew gets involved when a candidate tries to tell anyone that same information in a printed piece, a television ad, a radio ad, or a prepaid phone call. Currently, San Francisco law seems to indicate that such activity would be deemed "illegal" under current statute.

This makes no sense. Why would doing something be legal in once context, and totally illegal in another? More to the point, given that voters are clearly having trouble figuring out how to mark their ballots under the new system, why is the City preventing candidates from explaining the system and how to mark their ballots?

It didn't make any sense to me, so I decided to take some action. While this would benefit the candidate I've been working with, progressive activist and leader Susan King, ultimately this isn't about just helping "my" candidate or "my" side - it is about what makes the process fair to all, and about common sense.

I spoke with Mabel Ng, the director of San Francisco's Ethics Commission and asked if it would be possible to indicate a candidate's choice for second and third spot on the ballot in printed materials. Her answer, (which, as oral advice can't be used as a shield should a campaign get into trouble), was "no". However, she indicated that I should ask for a formal written ruling to best clarify the issue.

Today I sent off this letter to the Ethics Commission requesting a formal opinion on this issue. I'm hoping that by bringing this issue to the attention of the Ethics Commission, the City Attorney, and the District Attorney of San Francisco, that if nothing else, someone will acknowledge that we've got a situation where the rules regulating campaign conduct once again haven't been updated to accommodate the new system voters approved in 2002.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not the biggest issue facing voters, elected officials and city bureaucrats. But it is important that the City at least acknowledge that it had two years to plan for this election and somehow managed to forget to take a look at existing election law and realize that some of those laws may not make as much sense as they do now.

In this case, not only is this restricting the First Amendment rights of candidates to indicate how they would want people to vote under this new system - it also denies them a chance to effectively explain to voters how this new system works. Given that there seems to be enough people confused by the system currently, why deny those putting themselves up for office a chance to help explain this to the voters on the candidate's dime?

It's time for those who call themselves "reformers" to spend the nickel, hire the Smart People, and start making laws that make sense for everybody. Right now no one's interests are being served - except for the expensive lawyers and accountants one has to hire to avoid going to jail for elections law violations. It may be great for them - but ultimately it's the public that loses in the end.

© 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

April 12, 2004

"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 www.schadelmann.com

September 18, 2003

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 www.schadelmann.com

September 16, 2003

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 www.schadelmann.com

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