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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 Townhall.com. 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:

Mandela’s PR

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Few have known the political prestige and power held personally by Nelson Mandela, who passed away yesterday in his 96th year.

Mandela’s behavior as the first black president of a multi-racial South African electorate (1994–1999) reminds me of George Washington’s approach to power. Washington showed restraint in stepping down from his position after two terms, steering clear of any sort of pseudo-monarchy.

In terms of uniting a disparate population, Nelson had a much tougher task than George. Mandela met the task by promoting an election system called proportional representation — PR, for short.

During Apartheid, elections for the whites-only legislature had been winner take all. Mandela and the ANC knew (upon his release from 27 years of imprisonment) that with voting rights for the large black majority they would win big. Less than one percent of the country’s 700 districts contained white majorities.

So Mandela opted for a PR election system where even a tiny segment of the vote could gain representation in the National Assembly.

At GlobalAdvocacy.com, Andrew Reynolds emphasizes

the importance of South Africa’s choice of a List PR system for these first elections. Many observers claimed that a PR system, as an integral part of other power-sharing mechanisms in the new constitution, was crucial to creating the atmosphere of inclusiveness and reconciliation which has so far encouraged the decline of the worst political violence, and made post-apartheid South Africa a beacon of hope and stability to the rest of troubled Africa.

A group I work with, the Center for Voting and Democracy — or FairVote, for short — works on election reforms we in the USA could use to create greater participation and competition and, ultimately, better representation. In honor of Nelson Mandela, I’m going to make a contribution today.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Hobbling Challenger Parties

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Incumbents write the laws — sometimes to rig the game in their favor.

Everybody knows about the conflict-of-interest iniquities of gerrymandering; increasing numbers of people are learning that “campaign finance reform” also increases incumbent advantages.

But one of the most obvious ways incumbents can limit challengers is to limit challenger parties. That’s on the agenda of the Republican-controlled Ohio Legislature. The Senate just passed SB 193, a bill that rewrites the rules for “minor parties.” The House now considers.

Ohio’s law governing minor parties does need re-tooling, arguably, having been struck down as unconstitutional . . . way back in 2006. The Green Party and Libertarian Party were qualified parties then and, with legislators busy causing trouble elsewhere, they have remained on the ballot since.

“Obviously, if you are in one of those minor parties,” Republican Senator Bill Seitz said, “you probably would like that current, lawless state of affairs to continue because you get to stay on the ballot without demonstrating any modicum of support.”

Probably. Most folks do like to have the candidates they want to vote for listed right there on the official ballot. Why shouldn’t they?

Last election for governor, four percent of the people voted for the Green (1.5) and Libertarian (2.4) candidates.

I say, “Protect the Four Percent!”

As far as modicums go, how about a modicum of justice?

The ACLU testified that the new rules are onerous, draconian. Even worse, throwing people off the ballot at this stage in an election cycle and requiring 56,000 petition signatures to get back on is not fair or right or legal — a violation of due process.

Are Republicans really so afraid of an alternative to Governor Kasich next year?

I can’t imagine why.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Railroading Vancouver

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Vancouver, Washington, Mayor Tim Leavitt enthusiastically supports a bridge project that would carry light rail trains from Portland, Oregon, into his town. “There is no more important opportunity for our city and our region than completion of the Columbia River Crossing,” he intones.

Transportation activist Margaret Tweet is more cautious. “Precious little discussion is held on the true transportation needs of our region by the government agencies that propose costly solutions,” she writes.

Back in 1995, Clark County — which includes the city of Vancouver — held a vote on a measure to fund the extension of Portland’s light rail to Vancouver. It was defeated. As if fearing repetition of this, today’s city “leaders” chose not to risk a similar negative vote. According to them, they alone should decide this expensive, controversial public works project.

So a group of citizens led by Larry Patella filed an initiative petition to gain a vote to forbid the city from spending any money to facilitate the Columbia River Crossing project. But their petition fell 32 signatures short of qualifying.

Then it was discovered that 606 people had signed the petition more than once. By state law, the county threw all the duplicates out.

So, seventy-five plaintiffs, including 44 folks who mistakenly signed the petition twice, sued to have their signatures count . . . just once. And last week a judge overturned the rule on duplicate signatures.

Is the initiative a go? Maybe not. Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe has issued a legal opinion saying the citizen-initiated ordinance is outside the power and scope of the initiative process. The city council seems poised to use the attorney’s opinion as an excuse to again block a vote of the people they serve.

Allegedly serve.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Running the Asylum

Friday, March 15th, 2013

After an election in Idaho wherein legislators saw three of their laws rejected by citizen-initiated referendums, Senate Bill 1108 passed the senate and headed its way to the House. It would impose draconian new requirements to qualify a referendum or citizen initiative.

“There’s a perception that this relates to Props 1, 2 and 3,” explained the bill’s author, Sen. Curtis McKenzie (R-Nampa). “This doesn’t have anything to do with that.”

Voters in Maryland approved the three legislative enactments petitioned to statewide referendum votes last November. But why risk a veto from the people, eh? Legislation has been introduced to dramatically increase signature requirements, restrict pay for petition circulators, and block websites from providing online help to those wishing to sign referendum petitions.

Sadly, the federal government’s executive branch seems no fonder of citizen input than do state legislators. The White House petition website recently hiked the signature requirement up four-fold to get an official response — from 25,000 people to 100,000 folks.

“Raising the threshold so steeply and so suddenly,” Rachael Larimore wrote in Slate, “sends the message that maybe the White House doesn’t really want to be bothered with the problems of the people.”

Obviously, the White Houses isn’t alone among political power centers in opposing citizen involvement. To keep track of assaults on the initiative, referendum and recall, please consult Citizens in Charge’s 2013 Legislative Tracker.

I’ll keep it updated; you keep your local “representatives” checked.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.