New Year's Post #1: Defining mediocrity up and the 2014 elections in DC
Population gains at near-historic lows," Washington Post); crime isn't such a big problem; the real estate market is reasonably strong although not perfect because of a diminishing role in the federal government's place in the market; and the city is in a pretty good place financially, although most of its loan capacity has been encumbered--it helps that DC is the only city in the US that collects and keeps 100% of the "state" income tax.
That being said, DC is no city on a hill. Plenty of politicians have been brought down by corruption over the past few years and DC doesn't really stand out as a special example for other cities to emulate, with an exception or two on particular programs (like bikeshare).
When everyone's party affiliation is Democrat, there is no platform or party discipline. I read an article about Massachusetts after Scott Brown was elected to the Senate that made the point that because the state is dominated by Democrats, everyone who wants to win runs for elective office as a Democrat, but the reality is that the issue positions are all over the map and encompass for some people what would be Republican positions, although my lesson from the story is more about the dearth of a basic position or platform.
DC has the same problem. It's a city-state even though it isn't recognized legally as a state. For the most part, DC can do what it wants, with some limited oversight from and restrictions by the federal government, which waxes or wanes depending on which party is in office--generally the Republicans like to use DC for political points so that's why we have such a strong charter school movement here (put in place as a deal between the Newt Gingrich Congress and President Clinton), Sen. Shelby put a death penalty sentencing proposal on the local ballot, etc.
But at the local level, it means that because of the dominance of liberal sentiment, as expressed by affiliation with the Democratic Party, there is no "party discipline" and no real platform.
Candidates for office running as Democrats are more about creating and maintaining personal fealty than they are developing an overall platform and a progressive agenda, as opposed to a putting together a variety of incremental positions. Basically they produce a grab bag o' stuff as opposed to a platform.
Image from Unpunk.
So suffice it to say that I am bored by the 2014 election. It could get shaken up some by a strong independent run for Mayor to challenge the Democratic winner from the way too early primary in April, but I am not holding my breath.
I have a couple of pieces from the last two years which are evergreen when it comes to the topic of improving DC governance and politics.
1. "Continued musing on restructuring DC's City Council (mostly)," discusses a broad number of systemic changes that I propose to increase democracy and openness in local government. As Matthew Frumin said in the special election campaign last year, the Home Rule Charter is going on 40 years old and it's time to review where we are and where we've been.
1. Increase the number of wards.
2. Increase the number of councilmembers
3. Move the legislature to part-time service and reduced pay
4. Reduce the size of councilmember staff
5. Increase the research capacity of local government
6. Institute term limits for elected officials.
7. Change the date of the primary election to extend the electioneering period.
8. Institute ranked choice voting for local elected officials.
9. Institute additional campaign finance limits for local elections.
10. Create an elected public advocate/ombudsperson.
11. Reconstitute a school board with oversight over pre-K to 12 public education, traditional and charter schools.
12. Build civic capacity and infrastructure.
Since the City Council voted to move the popularly elected Attorney General election to 2018 ("D.C. Council votes to delay first election of an attorney general," Post), counter to what citizens voted for, we need to add this to the list as well. There is a move to put it back on the 2014 ballot ("DC Council needs to get the DC attorney general election right," and "Delaying election of attorney general makes a mockery of democracy," Post--note that the Post editorial page has continually espoused the wrong position on this issue) although I would be content to put it on the 2016 ballot, which is what I had proposed years ago, that the AG be elected in the non-Mayoral election cycle.
Note that an alternative to ranked choice voting would be runoff elections and non-party segregated primaries. The way it works in Seattle, local elections are non-partisan, and the top two vote getters for Council races continue on to the general election ballot.
2. Given the so-called rise of progressivism at the city level, given the election of Bill de Blasio as Mayor of New York City and maybe even the election of Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative candidate, to the Seattle City Council ("Kshama Sawant's Brash Style Catapulted Her to Victory: Will It Also Be Her Demise?," Stranger), etc., I find the agenda-less local Democratic Party to be a big problem and a lost opportunity--in other words, if DC wants to become a legally recognized state, we should start acting like one, and function at a high level both in terms of governance and the general political structure.
This 2012 post, "Repositioning cities (at least on the coasts) for greater political prominence, and a city-first agenda," discusses local parties in Vancouver, BC and Montreal, and their respective platforms. Similarly, in 2013, most candidates for Mayor and Borough Chair in New York City had defined platforms rather than a grab bag o' stuff that we content ourselves with in DC.
-- Bill de Blasio, campaign website issues section
-- Julie Menin, candidate for Manhattan Borough Chair
-- Anthony Weiner, Mayoral candidate, "Keys to the City" plan (actual documents no longer online, but ideas, 121 in total, accessible through the webpage for specific issue areas)
The "defining mediocrity up" point has to do with how I think of DC, because it is the national capital, defines anything it does, regardless of true worthiness, as "world class." It's a corollary to Daniel Patrick Moynihan's writings about "defining deviance down."
Note that the Tommy Wells website is decent on issue positions. Muriel Bowser's website is not. Jack Evans doesn't list new issue positions, but lists his involvements and initiatives in terms of legislation and programs for 13 different issue areas. The website for the Vince Gray re-election campaign has no content.
Interestingly in a first, at least that I can recall, there is an anti-Vincent Orange website, excoriating his positions and way of participating in politics. He still doesn't seem to have a website up.
3. I don't think having an agenda would be enough for a second party, either the Statehood-Green Party or the Republican Party, to break through and become a credible alternative, unless the legislature expanded, through a doubling of the representatives in each ward (one elected every two years for a four-year term), an increase in the number of wards, and limits on campaign spending.