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Bailing Out Topeka

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Back in August, the city council in Topeka, Kansas, voted to expand a redevelopment district and purchase Heartland Park Topeka, a “multi-purpose motorsports facility” featuring drag racing, dirt racing and more.

Chris Imming wasn’t keen on the notion. He put together an initiative petition calling for a public vote. Topeka townspeople eagerly signed it.

Taking this as a cue, did the city officialdom welcome this vibrant exercise of basic American democracy? Did they ready themselves for that election?

Afraid not.

Instead, the city sued to block a vote on the issue.

A local judge sided with the insiders, ruling in the city’s favor. The development decision was administrative in nature, the Robed One determined, not legislative. That made it beyond reach of the citizen initiative process.

Both the judge’s designation of “administrative”  and his rationale for exemption from a citizens’ veto seem more than dubious. Clearly, “the people” should be able to overrule any decision made by the city council, which is established for the express purpose of representing the views of “the people.”

Kudos to Mr. Imming for appealing that lower court decision. Thank goodness for folks like him, folks who stand up against the powerful public and private forces always looking for a bailout or a subsidy.

“We’re bailing out the city,” argues Doug Gerber, Topeka’s administrative and financial director. He cites the city’s previous redevelopment district, which annually costs a cool million dollars in bond service, while bringing in only a fifth of that in sales tax revenue.

So politicians want to double down, to cover their past rotten wheeling and dealing by . . . expanding it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Video: Not Up for Vote in Ventura

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

Hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded pensions. The full story from Reason TV:

Instead of Spoilers

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Last night on Stossel, the show’s eponymous host reminded his panel that Ann Coulter wanted to drown folks who vote for Libertarian candidates in close races where the Republican victory could be hurt. Deroy Murdock came down on Coulter’s side, saying that Libertarian votes did sometimes harm Republican candidates, as just happened, he said, in Virginia.

Stossel wonders if that’s true; there are reasons to suspect that Libertarian “third party” candidates draw also from Democrats and mostly from independent voters — and that many of the latter wouldn’t have voted at all.

But Stossel and his panelists did not bring up a simple solution to the whole problem, something I wrote about last year in my column “In Defense of Spoilers.” The Libertarian Party seems here to stay. And if Republicans want to do something about it, they could “open up the electoral system”:

They should work with open-minded, fair-play Democrats and end first-past-the-post elections in the United States. There are several ways to go: ranked voting methods, from Instant Runoff Voting to proportional representation, ending the election of Representatives from gerrymandered districts, electing them, instead, “at large.”

Ranked Choice Voting, especially, has advantages. We vote our preferences, and our preferences are counted.

If you prefer the Libertarian over the Republican, and the Republican over the Democrat, you vote that way, and your preference for “best” doesn’t destroy your support for “the good” or the possibly “good enough.”

Democracy doesn’t need to rest on the insane rubric of “the best is the enemy of the good.”

So, Republican majority, change it. And stop complaining.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

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.