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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

On Natural Experiments

As with all victors, there’s always something more. For Rina Baker, that means those “stealthy” elections like the roads tax. MLive explains:

So what’s next on Baker’s to-do list?

She wants to end “stealth” elections and require that city votes take place in November of even-numbered years, when gubernatorial and presidential races are on the ballot. Last May’s vote on a city streets tax – which passed with abysmal voter turnout – partly motivated Baker’s campaign for term limits.

Baker’s complaint is that fewer people voting is tantamount to reduced democracy. Perhaps hidden in all this is the question of neighborhoods; her concern is not enough of her people are voting. This is not a generalized concern as to why few people vote in some parts of the city than others, reasons often overlapped with issues of poverty and inescapably, with race. No. That is not the concern. “Democracy” does not mean getting more people generally to vote, but getting more of your team out.

Politically, that is easily understood. Although, given the margin that these poor neighborhoods turned in for term-limits, you would think that maybe Baker actually should pay more attention (but this is not the point).

In the last election, we already have a natural experiment about voting down ticket on November elections. it’s the school board.

Few people actually voted that far down the ticket. Where on term limits perhaps ten percent did not vote, on the school board races the number is closer to half if not more. (Mathematically, the top vote getter in a precinct was approximately one third of total registered votes). This behavior is not surprising, non-partisan issues and candidates typically fare far worse than the top of the ticket candidates. The difficulty here may not simply be forgetfulness, but the reality of electioneering itself. To get a vote, one must be visible. And in highly competitive election environment that ability to get heard is substantially restricted.

Take the school board race: the incumbents win, and the new comer is a long-time civic activist, Jose Flores. In a dense environment, the most visible win. It is similar to the issue proposals: those well-known get the votes. But becoming well-known? That’s another matter.

In economic terms, we would call this a high barrier to entry.

The advantage of the odd-year election or off-season election is that it is easier to be heard and seen. It opens up the process to other participants. If anything this is the real argument for term limits: opening up the field means more, perhaps not as well-known individuals can step up. Of course if the context is that of a general November election — the school board provides the natural experiment. The unknown voice is far less likely to be heard. Ask Milinda Ysasi or Jamie Scripps.

Baker in effect, wants it both ways: more voice but then a mechanism that cuts that voice. It is a contradiction that at the least suggest that there are other ideologies or commitments at play.

Filed under: Community, Elections, , , , , , ,

The Silent Campaign

Fallen_Tree_Background_by_mysticmorningThat would be the race for the fourth and fifth school board position.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) Grand Rapids residents will elect five members to the school board from list of seven. Four are incumbents: Tony Baker, Wendy Falb, John Matias, and Maureen Slade; the other three are Jose Flores, Jamie Scripps, and Milinda Ysasi.

Without an angry or anxious community, school board races can be dull. For now, the drama has left the stage. At present the school board and the GRPS administration are enjoying success: the most recent teacher contract, powered by far better than expected First Friday numbers makes an upbeat mood; new programs are being launched and civic stakeholders are smiling; and the superintendent is recognized among the best in Michigan.

Of course, there’s work to be done, but it is of the more policy-oriented sort: how does the district begin to get traction on student achievement; how do we raise up students in the face of financial headwinds from Lansing, and the continuing impact of poverty in our community?

When the conversation turns to policy, the challenger’s road becomes steeper, still it’s not as if the candidates have been helping themselves.

Some campaigns have risen to the challenge: Baker and Falb have the strongest public identity, and are closely identified with the current state of success. Matias, too, has some visibility, and enjoys the non-endorsement from the GREA — for the conservatives in the city, this is about as a good a sign as any.

Maureen Slade’s campaign is far more low key. For an incumbent, her vision for GRPS remains remarkably under-developed. One may fairly ask if, at 71, she wants a four-year term. Among the challengers, one can pose a similar question to Flores. This is another campaign by a seasoned school administrator that nonetheless has little in the way of actual visibility. As valuable as he could be as to input, there is little evidence that this campaign is serious.

Two other campaigns are definitely serious, though with weaknesses.

Jamie Scripps brings a strong policy focus, and has won endorsements from some progressive organizations. Still, she  has struggled on the basics of campaigning. Hers has been a puzzling low key race, in part one suspects, because of her “outsider” status.

If Scripps struggles with the outsider status, Milinda Ysasi is the opposite: her ability to solicit endorsements is impressive, speaking well of her relationship building and of her progressive creds.  Of course, unless one were on her Facebook page, one would never know. What is also clear from the Facebook postings is how her campaign has only recently gotten its act together.

The relative silence of Scripps and Ysasi is a shame. Both deserve far more public recognition. As it is, in the mid-term election, the Scripps name may have the advantage if only because it will seem more familiar (i.e. Anglo-Saxon) to the electorate.

Filed under: Community, Elections, , , , , , ,

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