DC special election redux: Part 2
Yesterday, the Washington Post had a couple pieces, the blog entry "Patrick Mara campaign suffered 'total collapse,' D.C. GOP chair says," and the article "D.C. Republicans debate local party’s future after Patrick Mara’s loss in special election," on the lament of the Republican Party's lack of success in the at-large election.
This had been the best chance in a long time to win a seat on City Council, since their drastically miscalculated decision to defeat the only sitting Republican Counclmember, Carol Schwartz in the 2006 primary because she wasn't Republican enough--Patrick Mara, the so-called progressive Republican, was the key element of this stratagem (and therefore, hardly progressive).
My response in an email is that if you want to be taken seriously as a second party, you must develop the infrastructure and a sustained effort more generally. By putting all the focus on Patrick Mara and not really developing a platform, and face it, their agenda wasn't an enlightened Republican perspective on urban issues as much as it was "the DC government is anti-business," they have no legs.
This is what I wrote:
Just being a different party label isn't enough, necessarily, to get people to vote for you.
Umm, no coherent platform on local issues... no real party website. They started their "resurgence" pre-Tea Party by going "Tea Party" conservative-"er" in the primary on Carol Schwartz because she was too liberal. Patrick was a key element of that.
Instead, they should have built outward, based on the foundation of Carol Schwartz. They tried a form of that, post-Schwartz, in a single election cycle in 2008, when they ran candidates for ward seats in W3 and W5.
But rather than continue to build on that, they did it just the one time. They stopped once they failed.
And the Post editorial page didn't help, by endorsing Mara without prodding him or the Republicans to develop a substantive alternative, a platform, a "sustained effort." E.g., in my writings about the urban regime theory I quote from political scientist Clarence Stone, who makes the point that governance is about sustained efforts. So is party politics...
I'd add that they need a face-to-face get out the vote effort too--knock on doors, have meetings, etc., to develop a presence.
The Post also ran an editorial yesterday, "District should adopt instant-runoff elections," supporting instant runoff voting, which if such a voting system were in place in DC, would have definitely resulted in Anita Bonds not being elected, because the votes redistributed from other candidates--Matthew Frumin, Perry Redd, Paul Zuckerburg--would have resulted in all likelihood in the election of Elissa Silverman, who otherwise came in second, with 28% of the vote.
My response would be that IRV should be but one element of a set of significant changes to the city's overall political and election structures--which is in order, given that it has been 40 years since the passage of the DC Home Rule Act.
I outlined a pretty thorough set of recommended changes, which I outlined in this entry, "Continued musing on restructuring DC's City Council (mostly)."
- add a Councilmember to each ward (to create intra-ward competition and a brake on intra-ward machining)
- consider creating more wards
- concomitantly add a few more at-large Councilmembers
These changes would make the City Council more of a Legislature, commensurate with the desires to be a State, but would also make it harder to pass legislation, because a larger majority would be required.
- cut the position to part-time and cut the salary
- change the primary to July or August, providing 3-4 months of electioneering time
- instant runoff or ranked choice voting
- term limits
This would provide for more competition within the voting system and less protection of incumbents.
- get rid of the Inspector General and DC Auditor positions and replace them with an elected Office of the Public Advocate and independent ethical and auditing-inspectoring function
This would provide a more independent and rigorous system of oversight and checks on the legislative and executive branches.
(This didn't discuss the elected Attorney General position, which I support, and have written about quite a bit.)
Yesterday's Examiner column by Harry Jaffe blamed Anita Bonds' win on voter apathy ("Apathy and race lift Bonds to D.C. Council win"). I think that's an overstatement. By definition, special elections (and primaries) tend to draw only the most committed.
Because usually "most committed" is defined as having particularly narrow interests which can be at odds with the broader electorate, primaries and special elections are tough opportunities for real change.
But at the same time, we can blame people for being disconnected, or we can address the systems and structures that "produce" disconnection, and recognize that with new people coming to the city, we need to reach out to new residents, not just expect the new residents to figure out how to get engaged.
I would argue that elected officials build "constituent service" systems to support them and their re-election, rather than focusing on building support systems for participation and civic involvement and democracy independent of electioneering.
The blog entry cited above also had a section on building civic infrastructure (and bringing back an elected school board). This is the section on civic capacity:
Currently, DC doesn't have an "Office of Neighborhoods," unlike many other cities. Typically such an agency provides technical assistance and training to citizens and civic organizations.
City Council’s Outreach Unit, Run by Quinn, Also Benefits Her Campaign" from the New York Times.)
That needs to change.
These blog entries discuss my thoughts about this more specifically.
Points include building a training infrastructure, leveraging the network of ANCs and community organizations, building systems to support local groups (like friends of parks or libraries) without having to build unwieldy administrative structures for each group), and creating an "Urban Information Center" comparable to that provided by the Dallas Public Library.
Another element to this would be to have the city's grantmaking infrastructure, for both the Executive and Legislative Branches, to be reorganized on the principles of Participatory Budgeting, where citizens working together end up coming to consensus on what to fund. And all the resources of the Asset Based Community Development Institute, etc.