Mike Kueber's Blog

May 10, 2013

Doing something about voter apathy

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:13 pm
Tags: , ,

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.

January 30, 2013

Modern campaigning

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:06 pm
Tags: , ,

Since deciding to run for the San Antonio City Council, I have been forced to consider two presumed truisms in modern campaigning, as articulated recently by columnists for the local daily newspaper:

  • Money in politics.  Columnist Gilbert Garcia recounted the story of a candidate being asked who was running her campaign:
    • When Marisa Perez appeared before the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board last September, she was asked who was running her campaign.  It’s usually not viewed as a gotcha question. If you’re putting yourself out there in a political race, it’s a given that you’ll have to reveal how much your campaign is raising and spending, what you do for a living and who is working to get you elected.
  • Intensive work.  Columnist Brian Chasnoff described a project to reach citizens unlikely to vote: 
    • The premise is simple: Every reliable voter has a constellation of friends and relatives who don’t vote, and “we can leverage our personal relationships to encourage people to do things,” Castro says.  “It’s very intensive work.  There’s a lot of follow-through and a lot of handholding because you’ve got to help people craft the message.”

The two truisms are obviously related.  With the first truism, the media wants to know how much money you are going to spend because that indicates whether you are likely to be a serious candidate.  Although democratic idealists may object based on the principle that money is not the same thing as votes, the second truism reminds that it takes money to do the intensive work required to earn votes.

When I went to Ohio a few months ago to volunteer for Romney, I saw first-hand the immense effort expended to persuade a few undecided or, more likely, unreliable voters to go to the polls.  Campaign computers have mined the available voter data, and sliced and diced it in ways that inform all future contacts – who, how, what, when.  Of course, these swing voters become even more important when national campaigns focus on only a handful of swing states.

When I ran for Congress in 2010, I spent $15,000.  Most of the money went toward a mass-mailing of my campaign brochure to voters in the previous primary.  The remaining money went to pay for (a) the 5,000 brochures that I handed out when block-walking and (b) an ad in the Express-News, which was designed to refer voters to my website.  I did no TV or radio ads (too expensive) and no signs (non-informative), and unfortunately there was almost no free media coverage of the campaign.  My guiding principle was to get the most information to the most voters.  Obviously, the experts and professionals have decided that is inefficient and ineffective.  And probably naïve. 

I wish more voters took their vote seriously by proactively studying the candidates and didn’t need to be persuaded by emotional, superficial, non-informational appeals.  And I wish voters refused to vote for candidates who have already mortgaged their future votes by accepting large sums of money from contributors.     



January 4, 2013

Gilbert Garcia and campaign reporting

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:39 pm
Tags: ,

The past couple of weeks, I have been thinking more seriously about running this spring for the San Antonio City Council.  Last week, I talked to a friend about setting up a campaign website.  The guy is an entrepreneur with a passing interest in politics, and he had talked on his Facebook book wall about setting up political websites in the past.  Based on my frugality, I figured getting the help of a friend was a better deal than hiring an off-shore Indian vendor, like I did with my congressional race in 2010.

Boy, was I surprised to learn that my friend had more than a passing interest in politics.  He told me that he had managed campaigns for several years and was recently hired to help pass San Antonio’s Pre-K 4 SA.  He wasn’t sure how much an effective campaign would cost (mostly signs and direct mail), but promised to do some background work and get back with me.  (Incidentally, he also told me that the popular campaign consultants in San Antonio are not really hired for their knowledge of either campaign policy or campaign spending, but rather for their ability to call on contributors with deep pockets.  Interesting.)         

I told my friend that, although I had spent $15,000 of my own money running for Congress, I didn’t know whether I wanted to spend any money running for City Council, which is, after all, essentially a volunteer position.  In contrast, the two already-declared candidates for District 8 – Rolando Briones and Ron Nirenberg – had already raised $100k and $30k by July of last year. 

Obviously, I won’t be able to compete with these guys on signs or direct mailings, and I’m not sure that I can compete with them on energy/motivation.  Briones recently noted on his campaign website that he had already knocked on 3,500 doors.  This guy apparently has a thriving engineering business (near Alamo Heights and in other cities) and a young family, with an election four months away, and yet he is motivated to wage this sort of battle over 5,000 votes for a volunteer position.  The other guy, Nirenberg, works for the Trinity University radio station and has almost a decade of experience in developing public policy while at an Ivy League university.  Their biggest weakness is that their connection to District 8 is tenuous – i.e., they happen to live in District 8 now, but they don’t work there and probably relate better to the Downtown crowd.     

A column in today’s Express-News by Gilbert Garcia provides a good example of the role that campaign money plays in a local political campaign.  Garcia talks about a campaign for the State Board of Education, but he could as easily have been talking about a campaign for the City Council when he said:

  • It’s usually not viewed as a gotcha question.  If you’re putting yourself out there in a political race, it’s a given that you’ll have to reveal how much your campaign is raising and spending, what you do for a living and who is working to get you elected.”

Briones and Nirenberg will be prepared when asked that question.  They will have thousands of dollars to spend on signs and direct mail.  The Briones campaign is being managed by former District #8 Councilman Art Hall and has been endorsed by County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, while the Nirenberg campaign is being managed by former District #8 Councilwoman Bonnie Connor and has been endorsed by former Mayors Phil Hardberger, Bill Thornton, and Howard Peak.

Although I’m tempted to criticize these candidates (especially Briones) for trying to buy the election, I have previously declared, semi-seriously, that my life would not be greatly different if I won the lottery except that in my next political campaign I would provide significantly more self-funding. 

So, if I had the money, I would probably spend it on my campaign, too.  If I don’t have the money, I will probably see if social media can level the playing field.  That is a principle worth getting excited about.  Anything that makes for a smarter voter.