Sunday, August 28, 2011

And now for something completely local - 16 Candidates

As a direct consequence of our new public financing rules for the mayoral race in San Francisco, we now have a cavalry charge of 16 candidates running for mayor. C.W. Nevius explains:
"It would be safe to say that many San Franciscans don't understand public financing...

Raise $25,000 and you get $50,000. Scare up $100,000 and you get a 4 to 1 match for $400,000. No wonder there are 16 candidates for mayor. It's political happy hour... this is a poor use of public funds. This is the first mayoral race with public financing and voters are learning that it allows candidates to get easy money and, in some cases, to waste it.

The weird catch-22 of San Francisco's system is that once the money is spent, a candidate can't drop out of the race unless he or she pays it back. The problem is that a 2007 change in the law made it possible to start pulling in the money nine months before the election. By the time August rolls around, candidates may be hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole and can't afford to quit."
So we have candidates who are only in the race because we the citizens of SF are paying them to run for mayor with our money. And the peculiarities of our public finance rules mandate they stay in the race in order to continue to suckle at The City's bountiful teat. But this is all fine because - you know - we in SF have a lot of extra money lying around to finance any candidate who wants to run for mayor. Why would we not want to spend $9 million of our tax dollars for the privilege of sorting through sixteen mayoral candidates? I sure can't think of anything better to do with that money.

As Ron Popeil might say - "But that's not all!" At no extra charge we will now throw all sixteen candidates into the mix-master of our first ranked voting / instant runoff election for mayor. On November 8th, all San Francisco voters will cast three votes for mayor in rank order of preference. "Rank" being the operative word in that sentence. Rich Deleon ruminates about the election and The City's progressive future in Sunday's SF Chronicle Insight:

Monday, August 22, 2011

When Bipartisanship Happens to Good Partisans
A meditation on debt ceilings and deficit reduction.

In the dark days before the debt ceiling compromise vote, with the doomsday "debtapocalyspe" countdown dominating the media, several polls struck a common theme: The public demands bipartisan compromise! Taegon Goddard's Wire summarized the gestalt of the moment:

"A new Pew Research poll finds 68% of Americans say that lawmakers should compromise on the debt ceiling debate, even it means striking a deal they disagree with. Just 23% say lawmakers who share their views should stand by their principles, even if that leads to default."
So it follows that when our representatives and leaders in Washington D.C finally got together and crafted a truly bipartisan deal, the country cheered wildly. Or not:
"A majority of Americans disapprove of the deal struck Sunday by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders that will raise the country's legal borrowing limit, and three out of four believe elected officials have acted like "spoiled children."
Since that legislation was signed, nothing but cries, lamentations and the rending of garments has been heard across the land. The animus from the right, left and center for the debt ceiling compromise is quite extraordinary. Q&O had a good survey of the early reaction and little in the popular assessment has changed in the weeks since.

Congressional and presidential approval levels plunged to new lows. When describing the debt ceiling deal and the process and the process to get there, the pejorative of choice is : Our government is... OMG ! DYSFUNCTIONAL! And it must be true. I mean ~750,000 Google search hits on "debt ceiling dysfunctional" can't be wrong. Who am I to argue with that? But maybe, just maybe - dare I say it? Our government is working exactly as it was designed to work, and our representatives are doing exactly what we, the voters, sent them to Washington to do.
For all of the lip service paid to the virtues of bipartisan compromise from pundits and bloggers across the political spectrum, there appears to be very little support for a picture perfect example of a bipartisan centrist compromise when Congress does enact one.

Consider the actual vote for the debt ceiling legislation:
Senate Vote: 74 For 26 Against
Republicans: 28 For 19 Against
Democrats: 46 For 7 Against
House Vote: 269 For 161 Against
Republicans: 174 For 66 Against
Democrats: 95 For 95 Against
There is simply no way to characterize this vote except as an overwhelming bipartisan compromise victory. Moreover, to the extent that “Centrist” actually means anything in concrete policy terms, this was a purely Centrist piece of legislation. The extremes of both parties voted against it. It required a bipartisan coalition of more moderate, centrist, practical Democrats and Republicans to pass this legislation. Liberal votes were not needed. Tea Party votes were not needed. It passed overwhelmingly. It is exactly this model that future deficit reduction legislation will follow.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Hypothetically speaking - "Americans Elect" could disenfranchise New York State (or any other state) in the 2012 presidential election.

Americans Elect (AE) is an organization that intends to qualify for the 2012 presidential ballot in all 50 states, then field a presidential slate through an open nomination process on the internet.

The Dividist took note of the organization when they received favorable coverage after "de-cloaking" a few weeks ago. Realistically, we can expect "Americans Elect" to have as much impact on the 2012 election as their predecessor organization "Unity08" had on the 2008 election. Which is to say - none. They can probably be safely ignored until such time as they show some real traction.

Still, this is an organization that proposes to dramatically change the way we select our President and they appear to have the financial support and the legal wherewithal to succeed with their ballot initiative. As such, it is prudent to take a deep dive into Americans Elect representations and bylaws, ask questions, and look for unintended consequences. Some are already working this beat.

Jim Cook of Irregular Times is skeptical and has been frustrated getting his questions answered. Sol Kleinsmith of Rise of The Center is more favorably inclined, has been promised an interview, and is soliciting his readers for questions to ask the organization. It should be an interesting interview.

Out of the subsequent discussion at RoTC an interesting artifact of the America's Elect proposed process for nominating and electing our president emerged. The Dividist considers the scenario intriguing enough that it deserves a post of it's own.

Here is the scenario. Let's say American's Elect has successfully obtained ballot status and fielded a credible presidential candidate in 2012. They lose the election but win a plurality in one or more states and consequently neither the Republican or Democratic candidate have a majority of electoral votes. This is a plausible scenario (unlike actually winning the presidency for an AE candidate – which has a zero possibility). While there is no history of third party candidates winning the presidency, they have on occasion won the electoral votes for one or more states. One could easily envision an AE candidate with a strong geographic appeal winning a plurality in a state and secure their electoral votes as a favorite son. In those circumstances AE would broker the decision between the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates for the entire country.

Americans Elect anticipated this scenario in their bylaws:
9.4.2. Coalition Agreement.
The Americans Elect ticket receives fewer popular votes nationally than the ticket of at least one of the major political parties and the Americans Elect Delegates have convened in convention after the popular vote but before the Electoral College vote and endorsed a candidate of either major political party on such terms and conditions as may be reflected in the vote of endorsement, in which case the person serving as Elector shall vote solely in the affirmative for the endorsed candidate and for no other candidate.
This says Americans Elect intends to reconvene an on-line convention and through a vote of their delegates (theoretically any registered voter who opts-in - The Dividist being one) decide whether the Republican or Democratic candidate will be our president. Specific details of how this AE re-convention would take place are sparse, but lets just take AE's representations at face value and look at this through the prism of a hypothetical scenario:

It is November 7, 2012. A plurality of the people of New York state have voted to put their confidence in AE candidate Michael Bloomberg. In a close election, neither Democratic candidate Barack Obama or Republican candidate Mitt Romney have secured a majority of electoral votes. New York's 31 electoral votes will now determine who will be president.

All of the registered voters of New York are not AE delegates. They voted in a general election for a candidate – Michael Bloomberg. Yet by AE bylaws, Michael Bloomberg is now sidelined and will not decide how to cast the New York electoral votes on behalf of the people of New York. Instead, Americans Elect delegates will decide whether Obama or Romney receive New York's 31 electoral votes and the presidency. As a practical matter, the people of the state of New York will be completely disenfranchised in the 2012 electoral college vote. How do you think they will feel about Texans, Floridians and Californians deciding whether their 31 electoral votes will be cast to make either Obama or Romney president? If clearly understood, would any New York voter to take that risk?

These are rhetorical questions. The answer is obvious.

The Dividist thinks that in their haste to put together bylaws for their ballot initiative, AE did not think through the political ramifications of this provision. Assuming they get on all 50 state ballots and come up with a credible candidate, they can easily be undone by this provision alone. It is just too easy to run against. If an AE candidate shows any strength in any state, the consequences of an AE win in that state will be shouted from the rooftops by competing campaigns, bloggers, pundits, partisan of both parties, and the mainstream media. The message is simple and easy to communicate: The state will be disenfranchised in the Electoral College if the AE candidate wins that state.

From a tactical political campaign perspective, this is the equivalent of leading with your chin in a boxing match. The Dividist suspects that AE has a glass jaw and it would not take much of an uppercut to put them on the canvas. One has to believe that once Americans Elect realizes this problem, they will change these bylaws if they can.

If nothing else, this is a cautionary tale on the importance of transparency and the need for a deep dive when vetting those advocating new ways to elect our president. If the top gun political public relations professionals that run AE missed something like this, you've got to wonder what else they missed. The Devil is in details. The details need to be out in the open where we can look for the bugger.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.