Mike Kueber's Blog

May 24, 2013

More on San Antonio’s proposed anti-bias ordinance

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 1:40 am
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A couple of days ago I blogged about San Antonio’s proposed anti-bias ordinance, and a discerning reader noticed that I neglected to address a threshold issue (i.e., is any discrimination against the LGBT community tolerable), and instead I jumped directly to the issue that I wanted to discuss (i.e., which types of discrimination against the LGBT community are tolerable).  I responded directly to the reader, but for the record, I am taking this opportunity to elaborate on my response.

The reader asked, if any discrimination based on race or religion is prohibited, then why should any discrimination against LGBT be tolerated.  My response was as follows:

  • You accurately point out a flaw to my post that I noticed yesterday – i.e., it failed to distinguish between LGBT discrimination and racial/religious discrimination. The distinction is that the vast majority of Americans believes it is sinful to discriminate on the basis of race or religion. That is why America won’t tolerate any such discrimination. But Americans are still divided on whether discrimination against LGBT is sinful or, ironically, whether it is sinful to be LGBT. I agree that Americans are evolving, with same-sex marriage being a leading indicator, but I also think it is a reasonable compromise for now to allow people who think homosexuality is sinful to be able to decline to rent their house to or to decline to hire a person who is a homosexual.”

The reader subsequently followed up by stating that America would not allow racial discrimination even if a person’s religious believe approved it or slavery.  I responded that I was not aware of any significant religion that approved discrimination against blacks or approved slavery and if there were, America would not tolerate such beliefs.  This would be akin to America’s insistence that Utah and the Mormon Church repudiate bigamy.

My closing comment to the reader remains appropriate:

  • A representative democracy shouldn’t get too far in front of its people.”

May 23, 2013

What is diversity in San Antonio?

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:04 pm
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Diversity is a term that is much bandied about today, with dramatically different meanings depending on whether you live in the academic world or the real world.  In the academic world, it is defined as follows:

  • The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.” 

In the real world, however, people know that the term diversity was created to replace the politically-incorrect term affirmative action, which was created to replace the even more politically-incorrect terms of quotas and reverse discrimination.  In the real world, a person who refers to diversity is not talking about recognizing individuals as unique, but rather is talking about expanded  minority (and possibly gender) involvement. 

I recently encountered the term diversity when I was studying SA2020, which is Mayor Castro’s 11-part vision for creating a better San Antonio.  The part in SA2020 that I was interested in – Civic Engagement – established two goals: (1) increase voter participation by 2% every two years from its baseline of 34% in 2010, and (2) increase the activity level and diversity level of city boards.  Unfortunately, the SA2020 goal for diversity is TBD – to be determined. 

This undetermined goal for San Antonio creates an interesting question.  San Antonio, according to the 2010 census, is 63% Hispanic, 27% Anglo, 7% African-American, and 3% Asian/Pacific.  So, in a city that is almost 75% minority – what is diversity?  Should an ideally diverse board or commission have percentages the same as SA’s population or should it have 25% for each of the four major groupings?  Or is there some other sort of objective? 

On one hand, most proponents of diversity, with their mindset mired in a world of quotas, probably crave percentages that mirror the population.  One of their favorite expressions is that every collection of representations needs to “look like” those they represent.  For these people, an ideal San Antonio commission or board would have six Hispanics, three Anglos, and one African-Asian American.

On the other hand, one of my campaign opponents, Ron Nirenberg, delighted in telling candidate forums that District 8 was the most diverse in town, with 43% Hispanic, 42% Anglo, 8% African-American, and 5% Asian/Pacific.  Because our district is significantly under-represented in Hispanics compared to the rest of SA, he seems to be taking the position that the ideal diversity would be 25% of each.    

Implicit, perhaps, in all of these formulations, is the consensus that there are too many Anglos in positions of power, but that is certainly false with respect to the City Council.  There are currently eleven politicians on the Council, with eight Hispanics, two Anglos, one African-American, and 1 Asian.  Thus, every ethnic group is over-represented except for the Anglos, and depending on the results of the District 8 runoff, there will be one more Hispanic or Asian, and certainly one less Anglo. 

The City Council’s minority-dominated composition explains why SA2020’s quest for diversity is limited to boards and commissions and fails to mention the most powerful political body in town, the City Council.  Although these facts reveal a blatant inconsistency, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”        

Incidentally, the minority-dominated City Council recently initiated a program to give scoring preferences to minorities bidding on city contracts.  According to the Council’s rationale, too many contracts were going to Anglos and not enough to minorities.  And if the scoring preferences didn’t sufficiently “move the needle,” the next step was going to be quotas.

What world are these people living in?  They are living in a world where quotas and affirmative action were honorable objectives smeared by hegemonic Anglos.         

After several phone calls and emails to the SA2020 bureaucracy about their TBD goals on diversity, I was informed by an email from the Chief of Engagement:

  • In response to the above question, I just wanted to let you know that we were, in fact, able to baseline the information. We will be releasing a complete data report on June 4 and are currently finalizing all indicators.”

I can’t wait.

May 21, 2013

San Antonio’s proposed anti-bias ordinance

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:51 pm
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This past Sunday, I had a wide-ranging conversation with City Council candidate Ron Nirenberg.  During that conversation, I suggested to Ron that the most likely partisan issue in the next two years is likely to be Mayor Castro’s ongoing effort to incentivize the movement of people and offices to the Downtown.  That effort, in my opinion, is not supported by the majority of people who live near Loop 1604 because (a) they don’t want to subsidize people who prefer living Downtown, and (b) they don’t want to commute downtown for their job.   

The Decade of Downtown may be a bigger long-term partisan issue, but Ryan Loyd of Texas Public Radio reported today on a short-term partisan issue that appears to be quickly headed for the City Council’s front-burner.  According to an article by Loyd, Councilman Diego Bernal from District 1 is pushing an anti-bias ordinance that is surely going to create a partisan divide on the Council. 

Anti-bias laws are becoming common throughout America in liberal jurisdictions, much like laws that enable same-sex marriage.  Traditionally, all jurisdictions in America prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, and religion, and anti-bias laws extend the protection to members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) communities. 

Incidentally, Councilman Bernal appears to be attempting a cynical, crass strategy in San Antonio by including expanded protection for members of the military and veterans.  Huh?  Vets need protection?  Members of the military and vets, if subject to any discrimination, benefit from favorable discrimination.  There are a plethora of programs and benefits that are available only to military people and vets.  President Obama just had a national conference with business leaders who were going to make an effort to hire more vets.  When I wrote to reporter Loyd and questioned Bernal’s strategy, Loyd responded that even the San Antonio City Attorney did not know if there was currently a problem for vets.  Why not then, if we are addressing non-problems, add “mothers” and “orphans” to the list.  And policemen and firemen? 

Loyd agrees that the real issue is protection for LGBT individuals and that will be controversial.  Same-sex marriage may be the direction of the country, but it will take time for it to get everywhere.  Further, an anti-bias ordinance is not as simple as same-sex marriage because they are several sub-issues that must be decided.

Councilman Bernal seems to be focusing on applying the ordinance to city contractors and sub-contractors, and he mentions the possible application to housing and transportation.  When I was campaigning for the Council, I received a questionnaire from the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, and they wanted to know if I favored an anti-bias ordinance that extended to a broader list, including the following:

  • City employment;
  • Benefits to city employees, including FMLA;
  • Appointment to Boards and Commissions;
  • Public accommodations;
  • City Contractors, and benefits to employees of city contractors;
  • Housing; and
  • Any non-city employment in San Antonio.

The consideration of each of these areas requires a balancing of the governmental interest in protecting individuals in the LGBT communities while recognizing the right of others to not associate with individuals in the LGBT communities.  Four of the seven areas are easily disposed of.  Clearly, the City of San Antonio has the right to hire the employees it wishes and provide employee benefits that it wishes (subject to the Abbott constitutional matter) without infringing on the rights of anyone else.  The city also can control the composition of its Boards and Commission.  And most people who provide public accommodations understand that their business is subject to reasonable regulation of this type.

The more problematic areas are city contractors, housing, and any non-city employment in San Antonio.  Of these, the city contractors have the closest relationship with the City and thus are susceptible to more regulation by the City.  Thus, I am inclined to say that extending an anti-bias ordinance to city contractors is reasonable, even though this is being quite pro-active and is a close call that would benefit from constituent input.  As a practical matter, enforcement against small contractors would be difficult. 

Housing and non-city employment do not have close relationships with the city, and some rental owners or employers may not want to have a business relationship with members of the LGBT communities.  I think they should have that right.   

That’s my two cents on the subject.

May 20, 2013

HemisFair Park in San Antonio

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:35 pm
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There has been a lot of controversy recently about legislation in Austin concerning the redevelopment of HemisFair Park.  Apparently, a private developer, Zachry Corp., wants to build a big hotel there, while the government developer, State Rep. Mike Villarreal, wants to build offices and apartments there. 

As with most controversies, the framing of the issue can be critical.  When I first read about this controversy in the Express-News, I was informed that Villarreal wanted 80% of the development to go to San Antonio’s residents and 20% to tourists.  This allocation of the parkland confused me because I thought HemisFair Park was for tourists, not San Antonio residents. 

An editorial in today’s Express-News, however, removed that confusion by explaining that the Villarreal allocation applies to building construction on the park land – i.e., hotels vs. offices/apartments. 

Of course, the obvious threshold question is why are we constructing buildings on park land, but we are apparently already past that question and are now focused on what kind of buildings should be constructed.

From my perspective, characterizing offices and apartments as benefits to the residents of San Antonio is totally misleading.  Obviously, the vast majority of us will never set foot in those buildings.  By contrast, we are more likely to take advantage of a hotel, with its restaurants and meeting rooms.

Restaurants and meeting rooms are apparently the crux of the current controversy.  Zachry wanted restaurants and meeting rooms in the hotel to count as part of the 80% instead of the 20%.  Villarreal insists that restaurants and meeting rooms count as part of the 20% even though this could prove to be a poison pill for any future hotel construction there.

The bigger point is that Mayor Castro and his Decade of Downtown want to starve the lifeblood of downtown – tourism – and subsidize the part of downtown that they prefer – offices and apartments.

What’s that line from Ronald Reagan about government? 

  • If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

The downtown crowd often complains about hotels driving up the cost of land downtown.  Well, that’s the way capitalism works – i.e., land is applied to its most valuable use.  San Antonio’s public servants need to encourage progress that makes economic sense, not obstruct it.

Why Texas voters need the power of referendum

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:33 am
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An article in today’s San Antonio’s Express-News provided an object lesson in why Texas voters need to have the power of referendum – i.e., the practice of referring measures passed by a legislative body to the vote of the electorate for approval.  The article reported that the Texas legislature has approved a law that increases the legislators’ already extravagant pension to further heights.   

  • “According to the TRS, a teacher with 16 to 20 years of service retires, on average, at a salary of $42,813 and receives a monthly retirement benefit of $1,292. The annual contribution to the retirement system is $2,740. That would rise to $3,296 under the budget proposal.”
  • “Meanwhile, a legislator with 20 years of service can retire with a monthly benefit of $4,791. Under the legislation heading for final approval, that check would swell to $5,366.”
  • “Of course, lawmakers did not vote outright to increase their own pensions. It happens automatically under state law when they raise judicial salaries. Under budget agreements tentatively approved, the state pay of a district judge, not including local supplements, will rise from $125,000 to $140,000.”
  • “Legislators earn the notoriously low salary of $600 per month, but in 1975, a creative House member amended a bill concerning the Texas Employees Retirement System to increase lawmaker pensions every time state judges get a pay raise. Lawmakers also earn $150 per diem for every day of their biennial 140-day session, or $21,000 every other year.”

Teachers currently contribute 6.4% of their pay to help fund their pensions, and their contribution will now go up to 7.7%. By contrast, state legislators will continued contributing 8% of their $600 salary, while collecting on the basis of a $140,000 salary.

This sort of self-serving conduct is why voters hate politicians.

Sunday Book Review #101 – Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right by Erica Grieder

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:15 am
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This book about Texas might not have made it to my reading queue except the author is the daughter of a friend’s co-worker and my friend offered the inscribed book to me.  (For reading, not to keep.)  Big, hot, cheap, and right are apt descriptors of Texas, but as usual the subtitle tells what the book is really about – i.e., “What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas.” 

The Rivard Report did a brief pre-view of the book about a month ago, and also included an interesting interview of the author, who was in town for a book festival.   From the Rivard interview, I learned that, although Grieder spent some time in San Antonio as a child, she was really a military brat who had lived everywhere.  But her parents retired to San Antonio, and that probably explains why the book avoided the tendency in Texas to focus on Dallas and Houston and instead it talks more about San Antonio and Austin (where Grieder currently works for Texas Monthly magazine).  The book was also favorably reviewed in the NY Times. 

It is impossible to provide anything comprehensive in 234 pages, but Grieder does an amazing job of giving non-Texans a primer on Texas history and modern-day politics.  Just about every insightful Texas anecdote that I have ever heard is included, plus references to Lonesome Dove and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

I just completed a political campaign where the candidates are supposed to be nonpartisan, and in the process I have become a bit sensitive about partisanship.  Grieder is clearly a partisan lover of Texas, but she seems to be both fair and objective in discussing the conservatives and progressives in Texas. 

Of course, since I am a conservative, that probably means that she is one, too.  And that explains why I enjoyed the book so much. 


p.s., Grieder has a blog

p.s., while writing in 2011 for New Republic, Grieder made a prediction about Presidential candidate Rick Perry that I’m sure she wants to bury:

  • A not insignificant portion of the national political establishment—consisting of panicky Democrats and Republicans alike—is hoping that Rick Perry’s commanding lead in recent Republican primary polls will wither under the lights of this month’s multiple presidential debates, beginning with tonight’s event at the Ronald Reagan Library in California. The governor of Texas may be a formidable retail politician, they reason, but as soon as he’s facing sustained, aggressive questioning, and is forced to speak off the cuff about policy, he’ll be exposed for what he truly is: A good ol’ boy who doesn’t have the brains or the manners to earn the public’s trust.
  • This is, to put it mildly, wishful thinking. Anyone who’s counting on Perry showing up this evening and tripping over himself, in the style of George W. Bush, is in for an unpleasant surprise. Perry has occasionally been a lazy debater and he is sometimes lackadaisical about keeping informed, but he has cultivated a number of rhetorical strengths.

Karl Rove, she ain’t. 




Saturday Night at the Movies #72 – Lincoln, Atlas Shrugged Part II, The Winds of War, and North and South

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:09 am
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Lincoln is a dramatization of Lincoln’s successful effort in 1865 to secure the passage of the 13th amendment, which eliminated slavery in America.  Although slavery was partially eliminated in the South with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Lincoln and legal experts were concerned that, because the Emancipation was based on Lincoln’s war powers, the effect of the Proclamation might be rescinded once the war was over. 

The drama in the movie focuses on securing the votes necessary for narrow passage of the Amendment, and as with most legislation, securing the votes depends more on crass politics than lofty idealism, with many of the decisive votes being bought through offers of patronage.  This is clearly an example of the ends justifying the means, at least according to Lincoln. 

Irrelevant side stories that appear intended to humanize Lincoln concern his erratic wife, Mary Todd, and his earnest son Robert, who wants to leave Harvard Law to join the military. 

I suspected the Rotten Tomato critics would like Lincoln more than the audience did, and I was right – 89% to 84% – but I also suspect the audience rated the movie as high as it did out of respect for the man.  The story as a movie simply wasn’t as good as advertised.  The acting and casting are fine with Oscar winning Daniel Day-Lewis (whose reedy voice reminded me of John Voight), Tommy Lee Jones, and Sally Fields, but the movie could have done without TV actors James Spader and S. Epatha Merkerson.  And the audience certainly could have done without Hal Holbrook in another Civil War drama.  I give it a mere two stars. 

Atlas Shrugged – Part II is the middle part of Ayn Rand’s classic novel Atlas Shrugged and is utterly disappointing.  It was bad enough that the sexy Taylor Schilling was replaced as Dagny Taggard by the unsexy Samantha Mathis, but the story is totally lacking the three-act format.  Instead Part II serves merely as a filler between an already-excellent Part I and a hoped-for excellent Part III.  No drama and no romance.  Its only saving grace is its educational value in showing us what America will look like after a few more years of Obama.  The Rotten Tomato critics (all 21 of them) give it a score of only 5%, but its 10,587 conservative viewers-cum-critics are more generous in scoring it at 71%.  The viewers are too generous and I score it at only 1 star.

The Winds of War and North and South were television miniseries in the 80s that chronicled America’s two greatest wars – the Civil War and World War II.

The Winds of War, which came first, in 1983, told the story of America’s involvement in WWII through the family of Victor “Pug” Henry.  The miniseries was incredibly popular, and is the fourth most popular miniseries of all-time.  North and South followed shortly thereafter in 1985 and told the story of the Civil War through the Hazard and Main families.  It was so popular that it is the fifth most popular miniseries of all-time.  (Roots, Jesus of Nazareth, and Band of Brothers are #1, #2, and #3.)

The immense popularity of these miniseries led to sequels.  The Winds of War was followed by War and Remembrance and North and South was followed by North and South Book II and Heaven and Hell: North and South Book III.

The Winds of War was great when it focused on the May-December romance between Pug Henry (Robert Mitchum and Victoria Tennant.  The sequel spent way too much time portraying the difficulties of Henry’s Jewish daughter-in-law, who was caught in a Nazi web in Europe.  I recommend the former and not the latter.  I give The Winds of War three and a half stars out of four, but War and Remembrance only gets one and a half stars.

North and South is a great mini-series because there are no many characters to care about, especially the stars southerner Patrick Swayze and northerner James Read, who meet in 1842 at West Point and remain good friends up to the Civil War.  Part II goes through the Civil War and is just as good.  I didn’t watch Part III because it received poor ratings and apparently Patrick Swayze is not a significant player.  North and South gets three and a half stars as does Part II.

May 16, 2013

District 8 run-off

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:17 pm
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Although I only collected 382 votes (5.3%) in my City Council race, those votes were enough to prevent either of the other two candidates from obtaining a majority – 49% and 45%.  Without a majority, the other candidates must participate in a run-off election on June 15th, which is five weeks after the initial election on May 11th.

Although I would have loved to have been in the run-off, I don’t envy the additional effort that Rolando Briones and Ron Nirenberg will have to put into their campaigns.  They have already been running aggressively for a year or so and must be exhausted.  Now they have to persuade their exhausted voters to go to the polls once more.

Actually, there are two ways for one of the candidates to prevail in the run-off: (1) get more of his voters back to polls, or (2) get more of my voters to switch to him.  The conventional wisdom is that older, conservative voters are more reliable, and that would portend well for Rolando Briones, who is more conservative than Ron Nirenberg.  Plus, Rolando has more campaign money left over, but he also has to make up for a deficit in excess of 300 votes.

With respect to the direction my 382 voters will take, I initially thought they would migrate to Rolando because he and I tended toward conservative positions and were fighting for the same conservative voters.  Upon further reflection, however, I now believe that they will gravitate toward Ron Nirenberg because that is what happened to me. 

Earlier this week, after discussing a possible endorsement with Rolando, I sent the following email to Ron’s campaign: 

  • “I have decided to vote for Ron Nirenberg in the District 8 run-off because of his campaign’s focus on transparency and ethics.  Although I believe the Express-News coverage of Rolando’s Briones’s campaign has been grossly unfair, that factual basis for the coverage has not been refuted.  Ron Nirenberg appears to be the right person to minimize the influence of special interests and restore confidence in the City Council, and he will have my vote.”  

June 15th will be an interesting night.

May 12, 2013

What is the difference between progressive and liberal?

Filed under: Issues,Philosophy,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:19 pm
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The San Antonio City Council elections are non-partisan affairs.  That means the candidates don’t run as Republicans or Democrats or any other political party.  Rather, they run as individuals.  This unaffiliated status, however, perplexes many voters, who are accustomed to voting for an “R” or a “D.”  Showing typical Yankee ingenuity, the voters have developed a proxy by asking candidates to characterize their political philosophy as conservative or liberal.  Sometimes, the question comes in two parts – fiscal vs. social. 

Earlier this year at the first District 8 candidate forum , we candidates were given the two-part variation of the question.  Rolando Briones said he was a fiscal conservative and a social conservative and I said I was a fiscal conservative and a social liberal.  Ron Nirenberg, however, did not like the choices and instead said he was a fiscal conservative and a social progressive.

My reaction to that liberal vs. progressive distinction was the same as expressed in a column by Huffington Post writer, David Sirota:

  • I often get asked what the difference between a “liberal” and a “progressive” is. The questions from the media on this subject are always something like, “Isn’t ‘progressive’ just another name for ‘liberal’ that people want to use because ‘liberal’ has become a bad word?”

Sirota went on in his column to suggest that there is a fundamental difference between a liberal and a progressive.  In Sirota’s mind, a liberal wants government to redistribute wealth more equitably, but retains a strong preference for the private sector over the public sector.  By contrast, a progressive wants government to impose its power over the private sector by using comprehensive regulations. 

In a similar column five years later, Sirota elaborated:

  • Without progressivism, liberalism turns the Treasury into an unlimited gift card for whichever private interests are being sponsored.  As a progressive, I’m often asked if there is a real difference between progressivism and liberalism, or if progressivism is merely a nicer-sounding term for the less popular L-word. It’s a fair question, considering that Democratic politicians regularly substitute “progressive” for “liberal” in news releases and speeches. Predictably, Republicans call their opponents’ linguistic shift a craven branding maneuver, and frankly, they’re right: Most Democrats make no distinction between the two words.
  • Economic liberalism has typically focused on using the government’s treasury as a means to ends, whether those ends are better healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid), stronger job growth (tax credits) or more robust export businesses (corporate subsidies). The idea is that taxpayer dollars can help individuals afford bare necessities and entice institutions to support the common good.
  • Economic progressivism, by contrast, has historically trumpeted the government fiat as the best instrument of social change — think food safety, minimum wage and labor laws, and also post-Depression financial rules and enforcement agencies. Progressivism’s central theory is that government, as the nation’s supreme authority, can set parameters channeling capitalism’s profit motive into societal priorities — and preventing that profit motive from spinning out of control.   

In reading other on-line postings, I have seen basic agreement with Sirota’s position.  Classic liberalism has historically supported a free market not burdened by excessive regulations, so when Reagan launched an attack on excessive regulations, it was only natural that his opponents attempt to differentiate themselves from classic liberalism and instead adopt a term that reflects their support for excessive regulations.  The term “progressive” eventually gained solid footing during the Clinton/Gingrich times.    

Getting back to the questions posed at my first candidate forum, it’s interesting that all three candidates claimed to be fiscal conservatives.  That reminds me of the Chuck Yeager saying that there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots – i.e., no candidate in District 8 can survive as a fiscal liberal/progressive.  

In subsequent forums, however, I argued that it was impossible for Ron Nirenberg to be a fiscal conservative and a social progressive because progressives want a bigger government and a redistribution of wealth and both of those are anathema to true fiscal conservatives.  Such an argument might win debating points, but he won the most votes in the election.

p.s., in subsequent debates/forums, I converted from being a social liberal to a social libertarian, and explained that a social liberal suggested too much government involvement in private lives (i.e., the nanny state) and the term libertarian was better focused on keeping the government role as small as possible.

May 10, 2013

Doing something about voter apathy

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:13 pm
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Gilbert Garcia penned a column today in the San Antonio Express-News suggesting that, because of the abysmal turnout in recent municipal elections, it is “Time to shake up S.A.’s municipal election system.”   

Because increasing voter participation was an important component in Mayor Castro’s visionary SA 2020 program, you might think Garcia’s first point of inquiry would be to ask Hizzoner about this failure and what he proposes to do in the future.  But you would be wrong.  The media in San Antonio is just as infatuated with Mayor Castro as is the mainstream media in D.C. with President Obama, and thus discussing Castro failures is considered unseemly and excessively partisan.

Instead of posing any questions to Mayor Castro, columnist Garcia makes several sundry points:

  1. Increased voter apathy is not isolated to San Antonio; Austin is afflicted, too. [Your point?]
  2. Increasing pay for serving on the Council might enrich the field of candidates.  [This suggestion is belied by the well-paid county commissioners.]
  3. Redistricting should be better communicated.  [So?  This has nothing to do with the declining number of voters.]
  4. Lengthening term limits seems to have reduced community interest instead of raising it.  [Which sane person would have thought that lengthening term limits would raise community interest?]

Garcia’s solutions are as follows:

  • Copy the city of Austin and move elections to November.
  • Copy Joaquin Castro and Rey Saldana by putting more effort into reaching voters who don’t historically vote.

Although I appreciate Garcia’s attempt to examine this problem, I don’t think he did a very good job of executing, so I provided him with the following on-line comment:

  • Gilbert, you may be aware that The Rivard Report addressed this issue a few days ago.  According to Rivard, the problem is due to apathy or disillusionment, and he suggests that we increase turnout by making voting more convenient – i.e., on mobile devices.  Your suggestion – i.e., November voting – could also be characterized as a convenience strategy.  Both suggestions are superficial and don’t address the underlying problems of apathy and disillusionment.  Although Rey Saldana’s strategy for pursuing low-interest voters is substantive instead of superficial (I think you previously commended Joaquin Castro for deploying the same strategy), it is a luxury that only candidates in dominant positions are likely to use.
  • Another of your suggestions is to enrich the field of candidates by paying members of the City Council a living wage.  That is inconsistent with a previous finding by your editorial board that the low pay for the City Council has not prevented it from having representatives who are at least as capable as the well-paid county commissioners.  Instead of spending money on Council pay, I suggest using the same amount of money to provide for public financing of Council campaigns.  That not only would enrich the field of with candidates who are averse to begging for campaign money, but also would decrease voter cynicism because they wouldn’t be forced to vote for candidates who have already sold out to the establishment and special interests.
  • Another suggestion – the media has done a pretty good job of shaming the residents of San Antonio for not voting.  After the election this year, it might be a good idea to do some positive reinforcement by commending those precincts, Districts, and demographic groups that performed their civic duty.  Such publicity can result in increased peer pressure, both positive and negative, and that can be a force for good.

As you may recall, I have blogged in the past few days ago about public financing of political campaigns and voter apathy.

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