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

A most peculiar turn

What are we to make of the mayoral candidacy of Rev. Robert Dean?

One one hand, it represents the most peculiar of alliances, between old school African American politics, the more sharply radicalized left of Jose Flores, and fiscal austerity package — Tea Party in all but name — of Rina Baker and our raft of comptrollers. What each has in common is a sense of distance, even alienation from the present downtown initiatives. As a potential vehicle for outside grievances, the Dean candidacy could be useful. After all, with all the building downtown, the  city’s population still struggles, particularly in the African American community. And one might ask if the downtown emphasis also helps the Hispanic communities. Are they prospering? Or only providing the low-wage service support to keep the new buildings gleaming?

And as irascible as Baker and her compatriot Betty Burke are, they function as an outside populist counter to the young and downtown crowd.

But…

Instead of raising the issues of neighborhoods, the campaign has instead chosen to focus on the subject of debt. In the literature from Dean, it is a billion dollar cliff. But as the reactions in Wednesday’s debate reveal, it is a most peculiar cliff. If it is as dire as made out, then one must focus on cutting it — this is the basic argument. How odd, then, when asked about current surpluses, the response?

“Why not return (the voter-approved rate increase) back to the voters?”

Well that’s an answer, but it just doesn’t match with the threat. Giving back revenue only increases the obligation, scarcely the thing one wants to do. And in this response, Dean basically gives away the game.

No, there is not cliff. The earlier respect for the City’s budget by Comptroller Sara VanderWerf is correct.

Picking up Fleas.

Sadly, Rev. Dean appears to have picked up some of the worst habits of the fiscal hawks. He touts a billion dollar debt, but a debt only if one lumps all types of debt together, including that that is covered by other revenue streams. While such an approach has a kitchen table, monetarist appeal, it mistakes the problem of debt, viz. that of cash flow. The question with any obligation is one’s ability to meet the demands.

However the question of debt is not simply that of what Grand Rapids is doing, it is part of the fiscal hawk narrative generally: the city’s debt is a stand in for the perceived national debt.

Here, Dean’s advocacy of this narrative does a genuine disservice to those who have backed him. The implicit solution from the fiscal hawks is not more taxes, but more cuts. Assume that the problem is as dire as Dean says, the actual City response would then be more cuts to personnel and programs. It’s fewer police and closed parks. Lying down with the fiscal hawks, these are the fleas one eventually picks up.

Or the Reverend may want to remember Scripture: Bad company ruins good morals (1 Cor 15:33).

Filed under: Politics, , , , , ,

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, , , , , , ,

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