Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Voter's Guide For The Perplexed

67 Minnesota school districts have referendums on their ballots this November, raising money. (Disclaimer: Our son, Sam, went to private grade schools, and spent his high school years self-schooling. I don’t think this disqualifies me for commenting on public education. For quotidian and logistical reasons, and because society needs informed, thoughful citizens, we need to support public education.) The impulse to say no to a referendum in a shrinking economy is strong, but a household’s added expense is marginal, and family wealth stays the same, relative to other residents of the district.

Next Tuesday is Election Day. I live in Minneapolis’ Ninth Ward, and will be choosing the next mayor, Ward 9’s City Councilperson, two at-large members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, three at-large Park Board members and my district’s Park Board Commissioner. Minneapolis is also deciding whether or not to change the Board of Estimate and Taxation so that the Board members are no longer independently elected, but rather members of the City Council, “with the actions of the board subject to the power and duties of the mayor.” Interestingly, this will be Minneapolitans’ first experience of “ranked choice” or instant runoff” voting. Ballots will have us pick and rank our top three choices for an office.

Who and what are on the ballot?

(For non-Minnesotans, DFL=Democrat. The two extra letters stand for “Farmer Labor.” The Farmer Labor Party was a regional socialist-populist party founded in 1918, and merged with Minnesota’s Democratic party in 1944. The significance of Minnesota Democrats’ being called “DFLers” is merely historical. The Republicans used to be called "Independent Republicans," but I haven’t heard that for a while. When I go to my DFL precinct caucus, I peek into the Republican caucuses. There’s never more than a couple of guys, going, “I dunno. Whadda you wanna do, Marty.”)

For mayor, DFL incumbent, R. T. Rybak is running for a third term. You can also bet that he wants to be Minnesota’s next governor. He has brought in balanced budgets in the last four years, and has overseen the development of an office and small-retail mall in an abandoned Sears building. Crime is down in Minneapolis, and we have acquired a light-rail line, with one between Minneapolis and St. Paul in the works. We see him frequently at the Midtown Farmers’ Market. He was also on board for the construction of the new Twins Stadium, built with public funds, in spite of the city’s having voted down the referendum to fund it. Rybak says, “We will make it known that Minneapolis is ‘open for business’ and will do what it takes to put people to work and make businesses succeed.” Rybak will be re-elected. This is a DFL town, and he’s a popular incumbent.

There are two other DFLers running for mayor. Al Flowers is an entrepreneur and activist. He is a member of the NAACP and the Police Community Relations Committee, and organization that tries to mediate between neighborhoods and police. He’s concerned about foreclosures and unemployment and wants to bring small businesses back into troubled neighborhoods. Dick Franson is a retired alderman (council member). He is the most specific of the candidates about what his program will include. He’s also specific that all incumbent council members should be defeated, as should “milquetoast” Mayor Rybak. I like him, but he could use a new webmaster with better proofreading skills.

Rybak’s least mostly-harmless rival is Papa John Kolstad (the “Papa” part of his name is on the ballot.) I once told Papa John Kolstad that he played a mean guitar, and he answered that it was a sweet-tempered guitar. He’s a business owner who has put together an interesting coalition of support that includes the Green, Republican, and Independence parties. He’s running to end wasteful spending, build a better small-business climate, and find alternatives to regressive property taxes.

Christopher Clark is the Libertarian candidate. He wants to restore fiscal discipline. I budgeted five minutes on the web for each candidate, and that’s all I found. Running for office must be a moral dilemma for a libertarian.

John Charles Wilson is the Edgertonite candidate. “The Edgertonite Party exists to secure political independence for the people of the Midwestern United States and a homeland for the Lauraist religion.” “Laurist religion” means, worshiping Laura Ingalls Wilder. Wilson wants to encourage the use of public transportation by make public transportation a better experience, lower property taxes by engaging the City in profitable enterprises such as a municipally-owned electrical utility, repeal age-discriminatory ordinances against our young people, such as the curfew, repeal ordinances against things which harm no one, such as drinking in public, sleeping on public benches, or parking in front of your own house longer than 72 hours, defend the independence of the Park Board and the Board of Estimate and Taxation, give the Civilian Review Authority subpoena power and power to fire, require individual liability insurance for police officers, and get code inspectors off homeowners’ backs.

Joey Lombard “Is Awesome.” 22-year old self promoter, with a some good ideas: "Monday evening meetings to chat with Joey about what's important to you; Introduce smaller trash cans to promote bigger recycling; 10-year plan to convert from halogen to LED street lights; Work with the school board to implement community service requirements into the Minneapolis Public School high school diploma requirements; Wild Card! Changes weekly but guaranteed to improve the awesomeness of the city. Email Joey for this week's fifth issue.”

James R. Everett, Social Entrepreneurship. This one timed out, as well.

Bob Carney Jr., Moderate Progressive Censored. I think this one is a technological optimist. You go to his website, and it’s hard to see what he wants to do. He has some transit scheme, called High-Bi, but you have to scroll through a lot of stuff to learn that much, and figuring out how it works didn’t seem worth it. He feuds, too. Proof that Mensa membership doesn’t qualify you to hold office.

Bill Mc Gaughey (pronounced mc goy), New Dignity Party. McGaughey has run for office in Minnesota and Louisiana. He has affiliated with the Independence, Reform, and Green parties, proposing a 32-hour workweek, and “employer-specific tariffs” to keep jobs. The New Dignity Party is real new, July new. It recognizes the dignity of people of all races, but doesn’t talk about inherited economics. It’s the kind of scheme three guys would come up with over beers on Saturday night.

Tom Fiske, SWP. Another candidate timing out. It’s surprising, though. The Socialist Workers Party has a weekly tabloid, so why not take the next step, and buy your guy some bandwidth?

Gary Schiff is the sitting, DFL, Ninth Ward council member. He is very attentive to his constituency, and alert about issues like crime, vandalism, and prostitution. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, too. We have a Gary Schiff sign on our lawn.

Dave Bicking, of the Green Party, may rack up a significant number of votes. Beaucoup lawn signs. He’s an engineer, was active in opposing taxpayer funding for the Twins Stadium, spearheaded the effort that kept a biomass-burning power plant out of the neighborhood, and has a daughter who was preemptively arrested for crimes against the Republican National Convention. He’s also a member of the Police Civilian Review Board. The dillemma for the Green Party is that it needs to be built from the precincts up, but that’s where you’re likely to run up against people who are on your side. (Sports stadiums don’t yield economic benefits; they are transfers of wealth up the food chain; they price fans out of the bleachers. Here’s the pro-subsidy argument. The wood burner was an inside deal, with disagreements about the amount of pollution it would yield, and it was sure to dig into my source of free wood chips. Cops aren’t assholes; some assholes are cops. I’ve driven buses in union shops, and supervised in one: there are rude, dishonest drivers, and they’re hard to get rid of. Same for thug cops. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.)

Todd Eberhardy, Independent. Eberhardy is a business owner whose shop is in a third-ring suburb. He wants to improve Minneapolis’ climate for small business.

Minneapolis needs to elect two at-large members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation. We also need to decide whether we will continue to have a Board of Estimate and Taxation. The BET holds hearings and consults with the mayor and city council to set tax levies. Voter will decide on Charter Amendment number 168, which will make it part of the City Council. The council is unanimously in favor. The proponents say the BET is a dinosaur and not transparent. The real issue is probably the Park Board, because it is separate from the Council, and has a large budget. The Council is paid and full time, while BET members and the Park Board are volunteers, with benefits. If the BET a Council function, they would control the Parks’ budget. Minneapolis’ parks are a system, a whole that’s taught in architecture school. All the Council Members have substantial developer backing. As we move further into a seller’s market fuel economy, the Council’s temptation will be to substitute pieces of Minneapolis’ patrimony for imagination and guts.

David Wheeler is a former Duluth City Council member. He will vote against CA#168, but doesn’t believe the world will end if it passes. He says, “More important is that the city's governing bodies work together and figure out a solution to getting through the recession. It's concerning how much property taxes have continued to go up,

R. Michael Martens has been an auditor, and believes that citizens deserve a return on investment, and deserve to know what it is. He’s very plausible, but his website is all You Tube interviews with him, one of which happened at a Ron Paul-Michelle Bachman rally. Bachman is Minnesota’s Sixth District Congressional Representative, and a key player in the lunatic fringe.

Phil Wilkie is a community activist, working with charities. He’s been a campaign staffer and vice-chair of the Hennepin Conservation District. He believes the BET is essential.

DeWayne Townsend is a PhD in biochemistry, but has a financial background with civic organizations. He wants to keep the current board structure.

Carol Becker is the finance director for the Humphrey Institute, an instructor at Hamline and St. Thomas Universities. She’s the only incumbent running and a “tax geek.” She wants to keep the board as it is.

James Elliot Smartwood is one of the founders of the New Dignity Party (see mayoral candidate, Bill McGaughey). He publishes a free newspaper called the Watchdog, and would try to keep property taxes low.

I live in Park Board District 6. I choose between two candidates to be my representative on the Board.

Scott Vreeland is the incumbent. He’s an activist and environmentalist who serves as a commissioner of the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, Co-chair of the Minneapolis Riverfront Corporation, and serves on the Neighborhood Revitalization Board. I talked to him when he was canvassing people leaving the grocery store. He’s a nice guy, and gave me an intelligent response to my question about the BET.

Mike Wendorf is vice president of the Sherman Group, which renovates historic downtown buildings. Fox in the sugarbowl, baby.

I also need to choose three at-large commissioners from a field of eight.

Tom Nordyke is an incumbent and current Board president. He makes his living as a real estate consultant for non-profits, and wants to make the Board financially solvent and repair relationships with the Council. Hmmm. I haven’t been reading the newspaper.

Mary Merrill Anderson is also incumbent, with park-staff experience going back to 1972. She’s been energetic in the movement to make the Board independent. She’s current vice president.

Annie Young is also incumbent, having served five terms on the Board. Annie is a local activism celebrity. She founded the Green Institute, which was an ingenious solution to a local instance of environmental racism. The city wanted to add a garbage-transfer station to an already polluted and burdened neighborhood. Annie followed Buckminster Fuller’s injunction to make an objectionable thing obsolete rather fight it. She proposed and built a business incubator in a state-of-the-art green building where the transfer station would have been.

Bob Fine is currently commissioner from District 6. He is running for an at-large seat because the Board’s independence is a citywide issue. He’s a lawyer who has served three terms on the Board, once as an at-large commissioner.

Nancy Bernard is a challenger. She’s an Alzheimer’s nurse with the mission of getting people to use the parks more.

John Butler, a challenger, is a 68-year old roller-blading Guardian Angel. He enjoys the parks and wants more programs for seniors, presumably the kind of seniors who don’t own roller blades or go crime busting in red berets.

John Erwin teaches horticulture, and wants to improve relations with the Council. He’s a former, but not incumbent, at-large commissioner, who’d like to expand park services and plant trees. He has endorsements from the mayor and several Council members.

David Wahlstedt, another challenger, is an engineer who owns a bed and breakfast. He wants to finance the parks from revenue, and to generate a lot of ideas, out of which will come a few gems. He’s opposed to changing the BET.

You know, you could get addicted to watching politics. Here we have this little odd-year municipal election, using a quirky experimental ballot, in an ostensibly one-party town. There’s a cast of characters that includes geniuses, nuts, cranks, well-meaning bumblers, activists at the extreme ends of the right-left spectrum, hard working people you agree with and ones you wish would find some other occupation, and nice folks who look like they stepped into the wrong conversation and got interested. They’re all orbiting this obscure puzzle about financing part of the city’s operation. What’s just? What’s effective? How do you work with people you’re sure are thieves or suckers? We don’t know what the world is going to look like in three years, but we know it won’t look the way it does now.

Here are some ideas you can take to the bank. Capital is less than a zero-sum game. Organisms, including people, plant themselves where the nutrients, including dollars, are. That’s what government has done. Fuel will keep costing more. Foreign lenders and owners of concners here will be less indulgent of our follies. Extinctions happen because organisms adapt to things’ being a certain way, and can’t survive when they change. That’s about to happen to us, but we’re humans. We can adapt to the change.

My plan? An emphatic “No” on 168. Vreeland for District 3 Park Board Commissioner. Nordyke, Anderson, and Fine for the at-large seats. Becker, Townsend, and Wheeler, in that order, for Board of Estimate and Taxation (there are only two seats, but I get to vote for three). Ranked voting gets interesting in the City Council and Mayoral races. I’m content with Schiff and Rybak, although Rybak’s gubernatorial ambition pisses me off (he’s got history sussed wrong, so what business does he have expanding his reach). On the other hand, they’re dinosaurs munching the wrong grass. They’re not seriously threatened by the dumber dinosaurs; they’re going to win. So why not shake them up a little. Make them second choices (the theory is that the first choice is your throw-away vote). Bicking then Schiff for Council, with no third choice. Kolstad, Rybak, then Lombard for mayor. Why not give the 22-year old a thrill.

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