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Once Around

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

State election laws don’t always make it easy for candidates, particularly challengers. Many of these laws are unduly restrictive, especially regarding ballot access.

But some “restrictions” are just what the people want.

Just ask Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Paul seems to have his sights set on the White House. But he’s a sitting senator, and 2016, the next presidential election outing, is when he would normally run for re-election. So he’s made it clear that he’d like to retain his spot in the Senate as well as run for the Top Banana position.

But there’s this snag. Kentucky (like some other states) does not allow for one person’s name to appear twice on the same ballot.

Is that a good law? I think so. It breaks up some of the power of incumbency.

And it seems a wrong that the election of a U.S. Senator could be moot and a new election be held when far fewer voters are likely to cast ballots.

Given that it is the voters who have most to lose, in a sense, you can see why Kentuckians like their law. According to a new poll, 54 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents, and 78 percent of Democrats oppose changing the law to allow for Rand Paul to run for both. A retired farmer seems to speak for a lot of Kentuckians: “I can see the dilemma,” the man is quoted in the Courier-Journal. “If you’re going to do it, go all the way.”

Of course, Sen. Paul will still be able to test the presidential waters before deciding to bite the bullet. But a time for choosing will come.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Getting to Ballot in Illinois

Monday, September 1st, 2014

My business is citizen initiatives. So I notice when courts — at the behest of corrupt politicians like hyper-incumbent Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan — block a popular initiative to limit the power of corrupt politicians.

Politicians like, say, Mike Madigan.

The initiative would have forced state lawmakers to step down after eight years in the legislature. Although the petition to post the question earned way more than enough valid signatures, a judge kicked the question off the ballot. Then an appeals court refused to reverse; and, finally, the state supreme court let a ballot deadline pass without reviewing the case. All this obstructionism was rationalized by a derelict misreading of the state constitution and motivated by a desire to preserve and protect Illinois’s political class, which is as bankrupt morally as the state is fiscally.

Another attempt at ballot-blocking proved less successful. It seems that “private detectives” (or maybe just thugs) hired by somebody in Illinois’s GOP establishment tried to intimidate signatories of petitions to get the Libertarian candidate for governor on the ballot. These visibly-armed creeps pushed signers to disavow their signatures in hopes of keeping the LP candidate off the ballot. So far it hasn’t worked, and the Illinois Libertarian Party has filed criminal complaints in the matter.

From these cases I conclude that things are pretty rotten with respect to the state of representative government in the state of Illinois.

Thankfully, voters there want a change. They just have to keep pushing for it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Logic of the Instant Runoff

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Reid Wilson, at the Washington Post, regales us with seven U.S. senatorial races where Libertarian Party candidates could swing elections, and thus control of the Senate. Last weekend at Townhall, I exhorted readers to work for transpartisan reforms “like term limits . . . and other measures aimed at greater representation, [such as] establishing ranked choice voting.”

The two articles are not unrelated.

Conservatives and libertarians are often united in wanting to replace progressive Democrats with small-government contenders. But they are not united in how to do this. Many libertarians balk at voting for hardline social conservative candidates like Rick Santorum and middle-of-the-road statists like John McCain.

So the Libertarian Party runs candidates that have in recent elections gained traction with voters — enough to pull independent voters away from Republicans and sometimes enabling Democrats to win.

Republican entreaties to libertarians (“you’re killing us out here!”) appear to be no more effective than libertarian entreaties to Republicans (“want our support? try taking your limited government stances seriously!”).

What to do? Republican partisans should support Instant Runoff Voting, which would

  1. Allow people to rank their choices for office, and
  2. Instruct vote-counters to take the votes of those who selected a No. 1 pick of, say, a Libertarian who garnered the smallest number of votes,  and add those ballots’ second ranked vote (either for a D or an R) as the vote to count in the “instant runoff.”

This would allow for better expression of voter preference, solving the “wasted vote” problem and ceasing to make the “best the enemy of the good.”

Alternately, Republicans could continue their course, trying to limit ballot access, thereby alienating more of the electorate and ensuring that Libertarian votes can’t also be Republican votes.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Politicians Need Petition Experience

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the 49-year, 25-term congressman representing bankrupt Detroit, made big news. According to the Wayne County clerk, Conyers failed to gather enough voter signatures to earn a spot on the Democratic Party Primary ballot this Fifth of August.John Conyers

Still, I stand by my Townhall column’s prediction: the congressman will be on that ballot. Conyers ran afoul of a law requiring petition passers to be registered voters. It is unconstitutional. The ACLU filed suit on Monday to overturn it.

Conyers only had to manage a mere one thousand signatures, which hardly seems too tough for a seasoned incumbent. Conversely, Michiganders petitioning for a statewide ballot measure must secure 258,087 voter signatures — 322,609 for a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment.

Conyers isn’t alone in flunking Petition Drive 101. Two years ago, Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter resigned after several staff members falsified signatures on his petition.

Michigan’s policy, making major-party politicians gather a small number of voter signatures to obtain ballot status — independent and minor party candidates must often collect much larger numbers — is not a mere useless hurdle. If adopted universally, it could provide a large number of examples that our powerful politicians actually have surprisingly weak support.

Moreover, making politicians petition might stir their sympathy for the struggles citizens face in gathering signatures. Working my day job with Citizens in Charge, I witness constant attacks on the initiative petition process from legislators, who claim it’s “too easy” to put issues on the ballot.

Which, of course, means that those politicians haven’t ever tried.

Politicians often tell us how important “experience” is.

Give them some.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

King Kevin and Company

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Oh, how the other half lives!

And lies.

By “other half,” I don’t mean “the wealthy.” They’re as honest as any other group. No, I’m talking about those with their hands on the levers of government power . . . along with their subsidy-seeking cronies.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, an all-star in the National Basketball Association before becoming a politician, is splurging nearly $300 million tax dollars — roughly the city’s entire yearly budget — to build the owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings a brand new arena.

People objected, with 23,000 citizens signing petitions to put this lavish subsidy to a vote. Yesterday, a judge ruled that the measure would be kept off the ballot: errors in the wording of the petition “disqualified” it.

In a prepared sore-winner statement, Mayor Johnson called the petitioners “outsiders” who “have tried to undermine the right of Sacramento to control the destiny of our Kings, our downtown and our future.”

Johnson doesn’t mean the right “of the people” to control. He means his right to dictate for Sacramento even against the will of the majority.

The leader of one group working against a public vote on the arena giveaway attacked local businessman Chris Rufer, charging that “Rufer’s funding . . . is supporting STOP’s effort to steal 4,000 jobs, steal a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform downtown and makes him an accomplice in Seattle’s attempt to steal the Kings.”

Who’s stealing? Those spending their own money so people can vote? Or those blocking a vote so they can spend other people’s money?

“I’m against subsidy, period. It’s simply a moral argument,” Rufer explains. “If it was a subsidy for a fish pond, I’d be against it.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Too Sneaky by Half

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A funny thing happened on the way to reform.

The freshly minted Republican-dominated Arksansas State Assumbly put up three constitutional amendments for next November’s ballot. Secretly, they are likely proudest of one of them, “The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Act.” For, snuck into the amendment, is a gutting of term limits.

The voters long ago enacted six-year House limits, not the 16 years proposed now by legislators. The voters limit state senators to two four-year terms, while legislators are trying to double their ride on the gravy train.

A number of legislators now claim even they didn’t know the term limits provision was in the legislation. Others explain that their “aye” vote was cast mistakenly on their behalf after they had left the building.

But all that’s nothing compared to this wrinkle, which I wrote about on Townhall this weekend. Hidden in a separate piece of legislation passed last year was a strange provision dealing with setting ballot language for measures referred by the legislature. Legislators took the power to write a ballot measure’s “Popular Name” — the so-called short title — away from the Attorney General, who previously enjoyed that statutory role, and gave it to themselves.

However, after legally stripping any other elected official of that same power, the plotters neglected to do one teensy-weensy thing: provide that language for their new term extension.

The upshot? The sneaky, dishonest anti-term limits amendment may not appear on the ballot.

Hoisted on their own petard, the whole elaborate scheme threatens to blow up in their own dear faces.

Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Illustration by ocularinvasion used under a Creative Commons license.

NOT on Townhall: In Defense of “Spoilers”

Friday, December 13th, 2013

The place of minor parties — challenger parties — in American politics needs to be rethought.

Last weekend I wrote one of my regular columns for I considered what the Libertarian Party challenge means to limited-government folks in the Republican Party. Unfortunately, while I was told they would be publishing that column, it has still not been. 

That’s a first. I’ve been writing a regular column, finalizing it every Saturday (minus one or two vacations) since late 2003. And even when I’ve criticized conservatives, the good folks at Townhall have been kind enough published my words. This time, well, maybe it’s a horrible column. You tell me. Click on over to the column at my archive on this Common Sense site, and then come back here and give me your opinion.

Now, I understand that this is a somewhat controversial issue.

Voting, after all, is a tricky business, with one’s choices very limited. Voting for the lesser of evils might (a) prevent an awful lot of extra evil, or (b) endorse, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, an outcome that guarantees (at least some degree of) malevolence.

Since I believe most of us when we cast our ballot are making the best choices we can to protect ourselves from an oppressive government, I’m not quick to find fault — either with those voting against the worst evil or those opting for the candidate best representing their principles, regardless of the chance to win.

But I do find fault in the attitude that says folks are foolish if they don’t vote for a candidate with whom they have major disagreements, your preferred candidate, instead of a candidate they enthusiastically endorse, because they should despise the other guy even more. If Republicans want Libertarian, or small-l libertarian votes, they’ll have to actually earn them.

“I get that libertarianism is not Republicanism,” writes Carrie Sheffield at Forbes. “But in a two-party, winner-take-all system (for better or worse, that’s just the reality), it begs the question why someone committed to a small-government philosophy would knowingly generate a big-government winner.”

But aren’t those who nominate a Republican candidate unable to win the libertarian votes needed to prevail in the election just as culpable in generating “a big-government winner” as the libertarians who decline to vote for that GOP candidate?

And certainly my suggestion, late in my column, shows a way around the problem. The problem, as it is right now, is that “the best” (the Libertarian Party? — yes, for some of us) serves as the enemy of the “good” (or at least “better than the Democrat”). By altering the manner in which we cast and count ballots — whether IRV or proportional representation, or something similar — the best will not work against the “good enough.”

It seems like an idea whose time has come.

This is especially droll since the mathematician who first spotted the problem, French philosopher Condorcet, did so before the drawing up of the Constitution of the United States. Perhaps its time for a revolution in our heads, or a new rethink of democracy. You know, to make it more, not less democratic; more, not less, republican.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

And these links provide some additional food for thought: