Mike Kueber's Blog

May 10, 2013

Obama, his legacy, and excessive partisanship

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:05 pm
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George Will penned an interesting column in the Washington Post this week about President Obama and his legacy.   According to Will, the president’s only chance for a strong legacy is for the Democratic Party to hold control of the Senate in 2014 and take control of the House.  Otherwise, the Republican Party will stymie his overarching objectives of an expanded government and redistributed wealth.  Assuming that all presidents are driven to create a legacy, Will deducts that that President Obama will work this year’s two big issues – guns and immigration – not on their merits, but rather on their effect on the 2014 congressional election. 

Furthermore, according to Will, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander – i.e., if President Obama can have an objective of defeating the Republican Congress in the 2014 elections, why was is improper for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to express his fervent objective in 2010 of making President Obama a one-term president?  Will might have added the analogous comment by talk-show maestro Russ Limbaugh wishing for President Obama to fail. 

Let me suggest to George why that is wrong.  It is wrong because Americans don’t want their politicians positioning themselves for elections unless it is impossible to resolve the disputes through reasonable compromise.  The refusal to make reasonable compromises is a major reason why both the TEA Party and the Republican Party lost their 2010 momentum and suffered their 2012 electoral losses.

There is an old saying about a belief being so stupid that it could belong only to an academic or intellectual, someone without a lick of common sense.  Ironically, Will declares that McConnell’s statement was “common-sensical.”  That is ridiculous.  People in this country want effective policies and functional politicians, and they don’t want partisan posturing until Labor Day.   




May 4, 2013

My last campaign forum – the Homeowners-Taxpayers Association and the Stonewall Democrats

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:44 pm
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Earlier this morning, I attended my last candidate forum.  The downtown event was put on by the iconic Homeowners-Taxpayers Association of Bexar County, which was founded 30 years ago by the legendary C.A. Stubbs and is currently headed by the estimable Bob Martin. 

As suggested by the organization’s name, the HTA is in favor of smaller government and lower taxes.  On its website (HTASA.org) it claims credit for defeating tax increases, winning tax decreases, preserving term limits, and preventing a pay increase for City Council members.  These people are obviously kindred spirits to me.

Surprisingly, my campaign opponents failed to show up for the event.  Although the event was not specific to District 8, there was an excellent crowd of 60 intensely motivated fiscal conservatives, something my opponents each claim to be.  The strongest fiscal conservative on the current City Council, Carlton Soules, found time to attend, but Ron Nirenberg and Rolando Briones didn’t. 

Each candidate was given three minutes to give a stump speech and then take a question or two.  As I recently blogged, the stump-speech part of my campaign is getting much better.  Almost like the experience of a stand-up comic, I have gradually been able to sense those passages (sound bites) that resonate and those that don’t.  Of course, talking to these kindred spirits is like preaching to the choir.  For the first time, my spiel was interrupted by applause. 

One item that disappointed me was that there was a strong social-conservative current within the HTA.  As a social libertarian, I oppose moral dictates from either the Religious Right or Secular Left and was hopeful that the HTA followed TEA Party principles by focusing on fiscal issues and not getting distracted with a social/moral agenda.  But there was clearly a large contingent of advocates for the Religious Right as evidenced by an HTA Candidate Guide that revealed which candidates had sought the endorsement of the Stonewall Democrats, an organization of gay advocates in San Antonio.  When one mayoral candidate denied that he had sought the Stonewall endorsement, a lady responded that they had photos proving that the scarlet-letter candidates had actually attended the Stonewall endorsement forum. 

I previously blogged about my decision against seeking the Stonewall endorsement:       

  • I am probably going to decline an invitation from the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio (SDSA) to complete their questionnaire and attend their Candidate Forum this weekend on the 17th.  Based on their questionnaire, the SDSA wants a candidate who will support new ordinances relating to discrimination based on “real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” in public accommodations, housing, and city contracting.  In another question, they want such an ordinance directed at all employers doing business in San Antonio.  And of course, they want to know if I support the Council’s recent action to extend employees benefits to same-sex couples.  While I am in favor of same-sex marriage, Texas doesn’t allow it and the Texas constitution might preclude the city from granting employee benefits to same-sex couples.  Plus they want the City to create a Human Rights Commission and provide LGBT training to all city employees.  Most of their positions are problematic, and it is probably not efficient for me at this time to determine if there are any that I can support, but I could decide to attend solely to learn more about their issues.  I will be interested to see if my liberal opponent Ron Nirenberg chooses to pursue the SDSA endorsement.

Coincidentally, I had a conversation yesterday with my son Tommy about my failure to seek the Stonewall endorsement.  Tommy has a co-worker friend who is active with the Stonewall group, and when Tommy told him that he should be supporting me for the Council, his friend responded that he wasn’t because I had blown off the Stonewall group by failing to respond to their questionnaire or attend their endorsing forum.  I explained to Tommy why I hadn’t responded, but I started feeling guilty about my inaction.  I now wish I had responded, but part of that thinking is based on having more time to think about the questions.  At the time, many of these questions were new to me, and I needed time for the answers to percolate. 

Two comments about my blog posting:

  1. I was prescient about the legality of same-sex employee benefits because recently the state’s Attorney General declared that cities granting such benefits violated the state’s constitution.  Mayor Castro and the City Attorney are currently deciding what the city’s options are.
  2. When the Stonewall Democrats failed to endorse any candidate for District 8, I assumed that meant that Ron Nirenberg had decided to stay away, too, but the flyer distributed at the HTA forum today indicated that Nirenberg had unsuccessfully sought the endorsement.  There must be more to that story.

May 1, 2013

A big day on the campaign trail

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:50 am
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Today was a big day for my campaign.  It started with an 8 am forum put on by the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and immediately afterwards Eileen Gonzales of KSAT 12 interviewed the candidates.  Then this evening, I attended an Oak Meadow HOA forum with a full-house of constituents, plus reporter Baugh and columnist Chasnoff from the Express-News. 

Both forums went exceptionally well.  I think I’m finally finding my voice and, more importantly, am developing an appreciation of how the resident’s questions fit with my solutions.  There is an old saying about the failure to see the forest for the trees, and in earlier forums I would get a question and only see a tree.  Now I can see most questions as part of the forest and am able to respond to the question in that context. 

The morning forum was formatted like most forums, with a short one-minute intro followed by several questions before concluding with a short closing.  This format is typical and requires some skill to incorporate my talking points while still responding in the context of the question.

In the evening forum, I didn’t much need context because we were given 5-10 minutes for a combination speech and follow-up Q&A’s, and I used almost the entire 10 minutes to give my full stump speech – i.e., a short bio followed by my three distinctive traits (experience, political philosophy, and absence of money in my campaign) – before concluding with my two big issues (police/fire pension and illegal zoning of District 8).  The speech took so long that there was only enough time for a single follow-up question, which flowed naturally from my speech.

After my speech, I was pleased to visit with three different individuals who grew up in North Dakota, including one from my county seat of Lakota.  And a little, old lady came up to me and said she was definitely going to vote for me, but was concerned that she had never heard of me before tonight, even though she read the Express-News religiously.  Why hadn’t I sent her any flyers, she asked.  I responded that I wasn’t collecting or spending any money.  She was happy about that, but she was concerned that she hadn’t heard of me.          

The resulting article from the Express-News reporter, however, on the evening forum was very disappointing because it reported nothing of substance and instead focused exclusively on the feud.  He must not have been impressed with my stump speech because my name wasn’t mentioned in the article.  I noted the following on my campaign’s Facebook page: 

  • Although much of the Express-News reporting on Rolando Briones has been informative and relevant to the voters, this article seems to reveal Express-News bias because it ignores Nirenberg’s problematic conduct in building a website based on his opponent’s domain name.

When the little, old lady reads her paper tomorrow morning, she will probably realize why she had never heard of me.   

There is another forum Saturday morning, this one with the city-wide Homeowners-Taxpayers Association.  I’ll probably attend, but it doesn’t sound like the other guys will be there.  Although I prefer talking without them around, I suspect the listeners will be disappointed because Nirenberg and Briones are becoming minor celebrities due to all of the media coverage of them.

April 29, 2013

Reed Williams enters the fray

Filed under: Culture,Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:55 pm
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The District 8 race for the City Council was turned upside down this weekend, with Rolando Briones initially being hit by a broadside attack on Page One of the San Antonio Express-News.  Later in the day, however, Briones received the endorsement of perhaps the most influential politician in District 8, the incumbent Reed Williams.

According to an article published on-line by Texas Public Radio, Williams endorsed Briones because a negative mailer by Nirenberg unfairly maligned the integrity of the San Antonio City Council:

  • Mr. Nirenberg believes that our political personnel, political bodies, can be bought off for $6,500, and that’s just not acceptable,” he said.

Count me with Nirenberg on this one.  Whenever I’ve heard a politician or businessman say that they can’t be bought for a free Spurs ticket or a round of golf, I ask them why they thought the other person was giving them the freebie.  I would assure them that the freebies would disappear as soon as their position of influence was gone.

Furthermore, I am surprised that Williams would get so upset about Nirenberg’s ethical sensitivities because I thought Williams shared those sensitivities.  A few months ago I visited with Williams’s chief of staff, who incidentally is now a paid staffer for Briones, and she told me that whenever Williams had substantive meetings with a city supplicant, he made sure, in advance, to return any political contribution the supplicant had previously made. 

Why wouldn’t Williams’s care to avoid an appearance of impropriety cause him to be troubled by the intersection of Briones’s contributions and winning government business?

April 26, 2013

Cybersquatting in San Antonio

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:09 pm
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About a month ago, one of my City Council opponents, Ron Nirenberg, earned some well-deserved notoriety because of his purchase of another candidate’s domain name – rolandobriones.com.  According to local columnist Brian Chasnoff:

  • The website that Nirenberg created “tars Briones as an unethical liar….  By hitting the ‘low road’ with such verve, Nirenberg’s actions certainly stray from his rhetoric [against taking the low road].”   

My reaction to this campaign development was that it hurt both Briones and Nirenberg.  About Briones, it confirmed that he was a prolific campaign contributor to Democrats prior to his City Council campaign and to Republicans after he initiated his campaign.  About Nirenberg, it revealed that despite his high-minded Good Government, anti-politics sales pitch, he is not above sleazy politics.  

Surprisingly, Chasnoff concluded his column by suggesting that Briones was partially to blame for this incident – “Not registering his name online definitely was a mistake.”  I responded on-line to the column by challenging Chasnoff’s suggestion:

  • “I don’t understand why Kelton Morgan and Ron Nirenberg would think that an unused domain name presents such an irresistible opportunity. Or why Brian Chasnoff would affirm that same position by suggesting that Rolando Briones was careless in not preempting the Nirenberg purchase. I think Kelton, Ron, and Brian need a reality check. Any politician who thinks it is a good idea to buy an opponent’s domain name would fit in well at the Nixon White House.”

This morning’s Express-New brought another example of domain-name mischief.  According to a Gilbert Garcia column titled “The Castro Internet takedown,” some unknown entity has purchased the domain name of JulianCastro.org. and has published unflattering stuff on the website.  Athough Garcia characterizes the stuff as “a brutal (albeit professionally designed) cybersquatting parade of attacks on Julián Castro… extremely slanted takedown,” he eventually concedes that it is “scrupulously sourced” and “backed by statistics.”  He concludes the column by saying:

  • While the info presented on the site is technically accurate, it also left me thinking about the deficiencies of facts when they’re presented without nuance, balance, or context. As Bob Dylan once put it: ‘All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.’”

All of which brings us to the issue of cybersquatting.  Yesterday, while watching a Nirenberg interview on-line, I heard him respond to a charge that he might be guilty of cybersquatting.  According to Nirenberg, he was not guilty of cybersquatting because he actually built a website instead of simply buying the domain name and then trying to sell it the person who by right should have access to it.  Because I was only vaguely familiar with the term cybersquatting, I decided to dig a little deeper to learn if there were cybersquatting issues with RolandoBriones.com or JulianCastro.org.

According to my Bible, a/k/a Wikipedia:

  • The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d), is an American law enacted in 1999 and that established a cause of action for registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name confusingly similar to, or dilutive of, a trademark or personal name.  The law was designed to thwart “cybersquatters” who register Internet domain names containing trademarks with no intention of creating a legitimate web site, but instead plan to sell the domain name to the trademark owner or a third party…..  Under the ACPA, a trademark owner may bring a cause of action against a domain name registrant who (1) has a bad faith intent to profit from the mark and (2) registers, traffics in, or uses a domain name that is (a) identical or confusingly similar to a distinctive mark.

Thus, although there appear to be a plethora of technical legal issues associated with trademarks, the spirit of the law appears directed toward “a bad faith intent to profit from the mark.”  In that sense, the JulianCastro.org conduct does not seem to violate the spirit of the law because the owner is not trying to profit from using Castro’s name.  If the site started advertising, however, that would change things.

But the case of the RolandoBriones.com site is more problematic.  Nirenberg is not only using the site to publicize his campaign, but he is also using his ownership of the site as leverage to force Briones to take specific actions – specifically, when asked on Talk Now SA whether he would be willing to sell the site for-cost to Briones, Nirenberg said he would do that only if Briones agreed to answer specific questions about his campaign contributions.

That sounds a lot like “bad faith intent to profit.”

April 20, 2013

Candidate questionnaire from KSAT

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:21 pm
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Yesterday, I received a candidate questionnaire from KSAT TV 12, which they are using “to profile candidates on air and on our website.”  This is just another example of how some in the media are trying to do the right, civic-minded thing.  In my opinion, this questionnaire is exceptionally well designed, and I found it challenging to complete.  My completed response is as follows:

KSAT questionnaire

Mike Kueber

Age: 59

Occupation: Insurance-compliance lawyer who retired from USAA in 2009

Education: Law degree from the University of Texas and B.A. in political science from the University of North Dakota

Family: father of four sons, all graduates of Clark HS – my oldest graduated from UTSA and is a captain in the Army in San Antonio, my second graduated from UT and St. Louis U Med School and is an E.R. doctor at the Mayo Clinic in MN, my third graduated from UTSA and works in acquisitions for Blackbrush Oil in San Antonio, and my baby is a student at Franciscan University in Ohio.

Why are you running for the city council?  Because I have the time, energy, finances, and inclination to serve and because my background, critical-thinking skills, and governing values (a fiscal conservative who will not mortgage this position to special interests) will enable me to effectively represent the residents of District 8.

Have you run for the City Council before?  No

What previous leadership experience do you have?  During my last five years at USAA, I was in its Executive Management Group.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected to the City Council?  Famed investor Warren Buffett once said, “Our experience has been that the manager of an already high-cost operation frequently is uncommonly resourceful in finding new ways to add overhead, while the manager of a tightly run operation usually continues to find additional methods to curtail costs, even when his costs are already well below those of his competitors.”  My view is that San Antonio government is a high-cost operation and my hope is help transform it into a tightly-run operation.

What are the most difficult challenges facing the city of San Antonio?  The City Council’s most difficult challenge will be converting the police-fire pensions from defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans; the city of San Antonio’s most difficult challenge will be to enable socio-economic mobility for disadvantaged kids.

What are the biggest obstacles facing economic growth in San Antonio?  Adequate supply of water is a concern, but the biggest obstacle is an overweening city government that gets in the way of our vital, robust private sector.  If the city persists in using a heavy hand to direct private sector growth toward its southern districts, the private sector is likely to be less robust or it will migrate north of the San Antonio city limits (as this trend was recently reported in the Express-News).  

What can the city council do to help spur economic growth?  Aside from getting out of the way of our private sector and keeping taxes as low as possible, the City Council needs to ensure that San Antonio remains a destination of choice for people and businesses by providing a world-class infrastructure.  Out-of-town businesses should be solicited with incentives that are cost-effective to San Antonio.

Are there any decisions the current city council has made that you strongly disagree with?  (1) The redistricting of City Council districts violated the City Charter and was grossly inequitable; (2) The elimination of race-neutral contracting and implementation of race-based contracting was unjustified and inequitable; and (3) although I support a path to citizenship, San Antonio should not be a sanctuary city and the City Council should not have criticized Arizona for its actions to address illegal immigration.  

What items/programs would you cut from the current city budget?  The city should not be spending tax dollars on culture/arts. 

How did you vote on Pre-K 4 SA?  Although I am concerned with the diminished socio-economic mobility in America, I voted against Pre-K 4 SA because (1) local education policy should be left to our experts in the local school district, and (2) a recent study of the largest and oldest pre-k program (Head Start) revealed that all gains achieved by its students disappeared by the 3rd grade.  Instead of using the sales-tax money to create a 17th school district, I would have distributed it to the already-existing school districts in the form of a pre-k block grant.    

What more should the city do to lower gang activity and crime in San Antonio?  From a macro level, I believe that crime and gang activity are a reflection of declining morals in America and much of this is due to the growing culture of dependency on government and the resulting cycle of poverty.  Our challenge is to retain our safety net while breaking up the culture of dependency.  From a micro level, I as a City Councilperson will rely on the Chief of Police to develop initiatives that can lower gang activity and crime.  

Are there any major infrastructure improvements you would like to see the city undertake?  The city needs to direct additional resources to roads that are already needed instead of to street cars and light rail that are being proposed for the benefit of downtown developers.

April 19, 2013

Campaign update

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:56 pm
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The past week has been challenging.  There were two candidate forums on Tuesday, with the first sponsored by a group of real estate professional at the Sonterra Country Club and the second by a Dominion civic-awareness group.  On Thursday, there was another forum put on by the residents of Precinct 3074 (Woods of Shavano).  And between these events, I went downtown on Wednesday and recorded an interview with an on-line talk show titled “Talk Now SA” with Chris Duel.  The 20-minute segment was supposed to go on-line today, but for some reason it was not.  Chris mentioned that he will try to have a 3-person debate before the election. 

The forums are still a little stressful because we usually get unexpected questions about which I know nothing, but at least now I am developing some responses to deal with them.  At Sonterra, a realtor wanted to know what we could do about the conflict between gated communities and the realtors who want unlimited access.  Huh?  At the Dominion, someone wanted to know what we would do about Reed William’s broken promise to get a road-improvement done.  Huh?

I so much prefer knowing what the questions are in advance, which was the format in some of the early forums.  I doubt this is much value in being able to immediately articulate a response to a totally unexpected question.  And this is especially problematic to me because there are many areas of city policy that I am unfamiliar with, but can easily develop a position with a little research.  Of course, over time the questions become more predictable and my areas of ignorance become smaller.  But learning lessons in front of a crowd is stressful.

I’m getting much more comfortable with my stump speech.  Essentially, I suggest three factors that the voters use to distinguish the candidates:

  1. Experience.  We each claim that our experience qualifies us to serve, but mine is more substantive.  I have 22 years as a lawyer with USAA, getting promoted through the ranks, and ending with 5 years in USAA’s executive management group and being the lead attorney responsible for auto-insurance compliance. 
  2. Political philosophy.  We each claim to be fiscal conservatives, but if you drill down, you will find dramatically different fiscal philosophies.  Ron claims to be a fiscal conservative simply because he will carefully scrutinize the budget to eliminate waste.  How does this distinguish himself from anyone?  Rolando takes police, fire, and roads off the budget-cutting table.  With those off the table, there’s nothing left.  By contrast, I think a fiscal conservative wants to reduce the size of government and taxes, and that is what my mindset will be.  
  3. Money in politics.  My two opponents have raised obscene amounts of money (more than all the other candidates in the other nine district combined), and that money is bound to compromise their ability to make decisions based exclusively on the best interests of the District.  By accepting money, my opponents will be beholden to special interests.  Ron says his “special interests” are neighbors, but his latest financial filing indicates he has a lot of neighbors in 78209 (Alamo Heights) and 78205 (downtown business district).  Plus he has accepted $500 contributions (the maximum legally allowed) from three government-lobbying law firms.  By contrast I have accepted no contributions and this will allow me to make decisions based solely on the interests of our District.

As we head into the homestretch, the choice is getting clearer, at least to me.


April 11, 2013

Melissa Harris-Perry on parenting

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Media,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:06 pm
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The last few days, I have been so preoccupied with watching the Jack Bauer TV show “24” that I have seen almost nothing on FOX news.  But, unless I were living under a rock, there is no way that I would have missed the firestorm that Melissa Harris-Perry started with her comments on parenting.  

Harris-Perry has a week-end talk show on MSNBC, and I often see her on my gym TV, but rarely listen to her.  The few times I have listened to her, she seemed to be indistinguishable from MSNBC’s uber-progressive Rachel Maddow. 

MSNBC has a tradition of promoting its talk-show hosts by having them read a lengthy conversational speech describing their progressive philosophy.  Although I rarely watch MSNBC, I recall seeing this type of ad by Lawrence O’Donnell, Ed Schultz, and Rachel Maddow.

The Harris-Perry ad that stirred everything up argued as follows on parenting:

  • We’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours, and your responsibility.  We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘These are our children.’ So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that ‘kids belong to their parents’ or ‘kids belong to their families,’ and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

Not surprisingly, conservatives such as Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are apoplectic about Harris-Perry’s argument.  Palin tweeted, “Unflippingbelievable,” and Limbaugh talked about the nuclear family being under assault again from the communists and leftists. 

Because I consider myself tolerant and socially liberal, I often part company with the Palins and Limbaughs of the world on social issues, but not in this case.  I have for many years felt that the government interfered too frequently and too easily with the rights of the parents. 

Yes, government has a duty to protect children from abusive parents and it has interest in promoting opportunity for disadvantaged kids, but from a philosophical perspective, I think the world works better if parents, not government, feels responsible and accountable for taking care of kids. 

As I ponder how this issue fits into the philosophical spectrum, I suspect that my self-description as a social liberal might more accurately be called social libertarian.  It will be interesting to see if Democrats support Harris-Perry and her big-government, communal philosophy.  I suspect they will support her because that would be consistent with the Dem’s big spending on social programs and the safety net.  But from a political perspective, this defining issue is a huge danger to the Democrats.

April 3, 2013

Questionnaire from Current

Filed under: Media,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:32 pm
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I recently responded to a candidate questionnaire submitted to me by San Antonio’s Current, an alternative newsweekly.  The questions are significantly different (more liberal) than those in the Express-News questionnaire.  In fact, the Current questions remind me of those posed at the UTSA forum, while the Express-News questions are more like those posed by a political group.  Here, at least, I had time to think about the appropriate response, but at UTSA I didn’t.  UTSA was tough.

The Current promised that candidates’ answers will appear in an online voter guide and potentially in print in their April 17 issue.


Name as it will appear on ballot:  Mike Kueber

Current employment (if retired, please describe your previous career):  A lawyer who took early retirement in 2009 after almost 22 years with USAA.  As an executive attorney, I was responsible for ensuring that Auto Insurance operations (Claims, Underwriting, and Actuary) complied with ever-changing statutes, regulations, and caselaw in 50 states.  For the past three years, I have been an amateur current-affairs blogger at “Mike Kueber’s Blog.”

50-word (max) bio:  Grew up on a farm in North Dakota and obtained a political science degree from UND and a law degree from UT-Austin; lived and worked in District 8 for 25 years; put four boys through Northside schools, including Clark High School; ran for Congress in 2010.

50-word (max) reason for becoming a candidate in this election:  Because I have the time, energy, finances, and inclination to serve and because my background, critical-thinking skills, and governing values (fiscal conservative and equal-opportunity advocate) will enable me to effectively represent the residents of District 8. 


1)         Could the City’s recent ethics reforms be better enforced? Should there be more of a focus on potential conflicts of interest among City Council members as well as City staff?  Enforcement has been weak and should be strengthened.  And City Councilmen should be subject to stringent conflict-of-interest standards.

2)         What’s your opinion on encouraging economic development and cultural/nature programming via public/private partnerships, especially where public land, such as Hemisfair Park, is concerned?  Public/private partnerships should be utilized when available to accomplish important governmental objectives, but should not be used to effect private-sector objectives.

3)         Should the city establish an independent police monitor to better oversee the San Antonio Police Department? Why or why not?  The City has a Police Chief, and if the Council doesn’t have confidence that he can effectively monitor the police department, he should be replaced.

4)         Do you support the way the health department currently regulates food trucks? If not, how could the regulations be changed to better serve San Antonians?  I am not familiar with the program and am not aware of any deficiencies. 

5)         How can the City support sustainable transportation options?  I don’t see an important role for the City in developing sustainable transportation options, but would be amenable to cost-effective proposals.  Of course, VIA does have an important role.

6)         What value do you think the arts (visual, performing, literary, etc…) bring to San Antonio? In what ways can the City support local arts organizations and individual artists?  A thriving, vibrant arts community is important to San Antonio, but does not require taxpayer support.  Creating a culture of dependency on government is as corrosive to artists as it is to the poor

7)         Is it important for the City to strengthen its non-discrimination ordinances to protect LGBT citizens? Why or why not?  Yes, I support non-discrimination against LGBT citizens, but would need to analyze the language of any proposed ordinance.

8)         Is Animal Care Services doing enough to increase its live-release rate? Is ACS’ public-private partnership model is working? If not, what else could be done?  No, the ACS is not doing enough, and it can be more successful with more effective management.

9)         What would you do to address the high vacancy rate in downtown buildings?  As a District 8 Councilman, my major focus will be on the development of District 8, not the downtown vacancy rate.  Of course, the entire City has an interest in downtown San Antonio remaining Texas’s premier tourist attraction.

10)       Is the City’s million-dollar incentive for the creation of a downtown grocery store appropriate? Why or why not? Is there a better way to bring a grocery store downtown?  No, the incentive is not appropriate.  The location of grocery stores is something for the private sector to determine.  The downtown will have a grocery store as soon as there are enough residents/consumers downtown to cost-justify it.  And it is not the city’s job to produce those residents/consumers.

11)       How can San Antonio balance economic development with historic preservation?  Historic preservation is an important objective, provided it can be accomplished without causing San Antonio to be economically uncompetitive. 

12)       Do you support union organizers’ push for a Tip Integrity Act for the downtown hotel and restaurant industry?  I support the push in principle, but would need to see the language of any proposed ordinance

13)       What is the City’s role in making consumer solar power affordable for residents as well as local businesses?  I don’t see a significant role for the city, but would be amenable to cost-effective proposals.

14)       Is there more the City could do to protect the Edwards Aquifer in terms of building restrictions, funding conservation easements, or other means?  Building restrictions and conservation easements are promising, but would be much more effective if San Antonio didn’t have to act unilaterally.  Joint actions should be developed, either through cooperation with other jurisdictions or state legislation

15)       What are the most critical components to implementing Pre-K 4 SA? Are there any other opportunities for the City to support education?  This question reveals what is fundamentally wrong with Pre-K 4 SA.  A Councilperson should not be expected to become an expert on how to implement a “high quality” pre-K program.  After almost 50 years of trying, Head Start is still trying to figure it out, and San Antonio has 16 different school districts trying to figure it out.  The City should support pre-school education for all of its kids, not just disadvantaged kids, by supporting the efforts of the local school districts.  The Pre-K 4 SA money should have gone to those districts as block grants.         

Additional issues

  • Correcting the travesty committed by the 2012 re-districting.  The City Council violated the City Charter by approving districts with unequal populations.  While progressives become apoplectic about one elderly lady in a rural area who might have difficulty securing a photo ID, they are cavalier about packing an additional 55,000 people in Districts 6-10 as compared to Districts 1-5. 
  • Reforming the employee pensions.  Most of America has transitioned from defined-benefit pensions to defined-contribution pensions.  The American military is even in the process of doing this.  The city of San Antonio needs to move in that direction, too.
  • Eliminating the city’s affirmative action in contracting program.  Earlier this year, the City made a mistake in eliminating its race-neutral practice of awarding contracts and instead instituting a program for racial preferences.  Racial preferences, which rarely make sense, are especially inappropriate for a city government firmly controlled by minorities.
  • Stopping San Antonio’s status as a sanctuary city.  Immigration reform is needed, but in the meantime San Antonio should not be a scofflaw Sanctuary City.
  • Employer incentives.  Employer incentives should be utilized, provided their cost-effectiveness can be shown.  Although this is not a traditional governmental activity, it is now, ironically, a part of the free market and something that the City of San Antonio needs to do to compete with other cities.  But I reject Mayor Castro’s position that it is appropriate for the City to provide more generous abatements/incentives for Southside locations, which he admitted doing a few months ago with Nexolon.    
  • Professional politicians.  Professional politicians have no place on the City Council.  The voters want citizen volunteers.  Yet my opponents have not only compromised themselves by collecting tens of thousands of dollars from special interests, they have gone on record as supporting full-time pay for the Council.  I am not collecting any money from special interests and will oppose full-time pay for the Council.  
  • Experience.  Life experience is an important issue because it is the best way to develop the most important trait of a councilperson – good judgment – and the candidates in District 8 have starkly different life experiences.  My life experience includes raising four sons (three college grads and one in college) and having a high-responsibility career in law and insurance.  High-responsibility and its associated decision-making are essential to honing your good judgment, and in my career I made thousands of decisions affecting thousands of employees, and I never stopped learning from the decisions that turned out right and especially those that turned out wrong.  

April 2, 2013

Compton, California – a cautionary tale for San Antonio

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:04 pm
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Compton, California has been making news as the largest city in America (almost 300,000 people) to receive bankruptcy protection.  According to most reports, the bankruptcy was caused by a combination of extravagant pensions for city employees and declining tax revenues.  On Monday, a California judge held that the city would receive bankruptcy protection, but he deferred deciding whether the city would be allowed to continue paying 100% of its obligations to the state pension fund while forcing all other creditors to accept pennies-on-the-dollar.

From a practical state-wide and nation-wide perspective, this is an important issue because if the city is allowed to cut its payments to the state pension fund, that fund will be put in jeopardy.

From an individual pensioner’s perspective, this issue has reduced importance because most individual pension benefits are guaranteed by state and federal governments.

And finally, from San Antonio’s perspective, Stockton’s predicament is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a city is too generous in providing extravagant pensions. 

How much is extravagant?  Across California, as reported by Bloomberg News last year, cities were providing pensions that paid 90% of public-safety employees’ top salary after working 30 years, so they could retire and take jobs elsewhere while still in their 50s.   

San Antonio wouldn’t be so profligate, would it?  Yes, it would.  According to a city website:

  • The SA Fund‘s defined benefit structure provides benefits based upon the member’s earning history and length of service to the City of San Antonio. Current pension law indicates officers will be paid according to the following schedule:

                        Years of Service                      Percentage of Total Average Salary

                        20                                            45%

                        23                                            60%

                        25                                            70%

                        27                                            80%

                        30                                            86%

  • Keep in mind pension benefits are available regardless of age. A 21 year old can retire at 51 with 30 years of service and receive an 86 percent pension for the rest of his or her life.

How does this affect the City’s finances?  According to Sam Dawson, San Antonio’s 2011 Chamber of Commerce chairman, in a 2012 op-ed piece in the Express-News:

  • At present, police and fire personnel make up approximately 38 percent of our city’s workforce, but consume nearly 62 percent of its general fund. The average annual pension cost per civilian employee is approximately $6,800. The average annual pension cost per uniformed city employee is approximately $18,300. Health care costs and benefits are similarly disproportionate. Additionally, in 2012, the city will pay approximately $25 million toward the civilian pension plan for 6,000 employees and $65 million for 3,800 public safety employees. If these costs are not addressed sooner, rather than later, the end result will be less money to hire future qualified police officers and firefighters, fewer city services and a city that suffers economically. 

My sentiments exactly.

During my interview with the Express-News last week, I strongly expressed my position in favor of transitioning the City from defined-benefits pensions to defined-contribution pensions, which most of the City’s residents feel lucky to have.  As support for that position, I indicated that even the American military is in the process of shifting to a defined-contribution pension. 

When the Express-News asked my District 8 opponent Ron Nirenberg about my position, he lamely responded that the idea was worth exploring, but that it should not be discussed in the campaign because would politicize the subject.  Instead, he would consider quietly exploring the idea with a task force or study after the election.  

Nirenberg’s position reveals a lot about his political philosophy.  He thinks “politics” means something corrupted by special interests and that all disagreements will disappear if elected officials are transparent, accountable, and fair and they do their homework. 

By contrast, I think that conflicts are inevitable, even among elected officials who are acting with utmost honesty and integrity.  Principled differences can’t be resolved by task forces and doing your homework.  Instead, they need to be resolved by the ballot box.  That is what real transparency means.

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