Mike Kueber's Blog

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 8, 2013

Public financing of City Council campaigns

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:11 am
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A posting in local blog Concerned Citizens recently analyzed the District 8 race and endorsed Ron Nirenberg.    The posting elicited comments from several readers, including the following one from Alone Star that seemed especially perspicacious:   

  • Ron Nirenberg knocked on my door one Saturday in February and made a strong first impression with his claim of not being a politician and saying what I wanted to hear about focusing on basic city services. Unfortunately everything I’ve seen him do since then has been the epitome of a politician…the polished web site and videos, heavy hitting endorsements, disingenuous e-mail surveys, etc. He turned me off pretty quick.
  • Rolando Briones has all the baggage already cited, so I don’t consider him credible either.
  • That leaves Mike Kueber, who I will vote for. I wish he was putting more effort into his campaign. All he is doing is Facebook, his blog, and sending in candidate questionnaires. I didn’t even know he was running until I answered a phone survey and they gave me a choice of “other” besides Briones and Nirenberg. Sadly, most of the electorate will base their vote solely on name recognition. Without a single sign up anywhere in the district and his resolve to not raise or spend any money, Mike’s campaign is bypassing an opportunity to make a real difference in this race.

Alone Star not only correctly perceived that Nirenberg’s kumbaya campaign of transparency and accountability (a resident at the Oak Meadow HOA forum called it a campaign in favor of Mom and apple pie) was nothing more than a superficial marketing ploy, but also correctly noted that my campaign had resolved not to raise or spend money.  As I have previously blogged, my three-pronged campaign theme has been (1) experience (a private sector job with lots of responsibility), (2) political philosophy (a genuine fiscal conservative and a social libertarian), and finally (3) the absence of campaign money.    

But, as Alone Star points outs, the consequence of not spending money is that a lot of voters don’t know you exist.  When this campaign started, I was hopeful that the small number of voters in a City Council race (5,000 or about 7% of the city’s eligible voters) were high-information voters who did not need to be hand-fed information.  These voters would base their vote not on street signs, hijacked websites, or negative flyers, but rather on information from websites and the nonpartisan free media.        

There is, however, an option to relying on civic-minded people who are interested enough to do their own research on candidates, and that is public financing of political campaigns.  Despite being a fiscal conservative, I supported public financing in my blog almost three years ago in a post titled, “Is San Antonio Ready for Public Financing of Political Campaigns.”  The post was prompted by an Express-News editorial endorsing a bill that provided for public financing of congressional campaigns.  In the post, I said, I agreed wholeheartedly with the premise of the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA) – i.e., that the corrupting influence of money in politics will be reduced by public financing of campaigns. 

  • The issue of public financing of campaigns was fading from my radar until I saw an article in the NYTimes about NYC’s Campaign Finance Program.  The article prompted an obvious question – why not adopt public financing of campaigns for local elections in San Antonio?  Voters in San Antonio are so cynical about corruption in city government that they have adopted a draconian term-limits ordinance.  Although this has helped some, there is still a prevailing view that people with money have too much influence in San Antonio government.  Public financing of political campaigns would potentially minimize that influence.”

At that time, I recall contacting my Councilman Reed Williams about this subject.  As is his wont, Reed expressed general agreement with the concept, but indicated there would not be any broad support by the Council. 

Since that post, I haven’t heard a lot about public financing of political campaigns.  To the contrary, a year and a half ago I blogged about the tendency of the media to elevate candidates who could raise a lot of money: 

  • Earlier this week an article in Politico.com reported on the crop of promising political stars who were looking to make a big move up in the next election.  What were the criteria for earning a place in this prestigious grouping?  Actually there was only one criterion – how much money the candidate had been able obtain raise in the past few months.  Thus, Politico could have labeled this group as the greatest money grubbers, but instead it generously adorned them as promising stars.”

Last week, the NY Times reminded its readers of a proposal in New York state for the public financing of political campaigns.  The NY proposal calls for the state to multiply private contributions by 6 x 1.  By contrast, most of the existing state and local laws provide for public financing to be based on $5 contributions from individuals. 

According to various websites, the FENA was reintroduced in 2013, but there does not seem to be any reason that fiscal conservatives will accept this sort of spending.  Based on my experience in running for the San Antonio City Council, public financing seems like an excellent means of reducing the influence of moneyed special interests and leveling the playing field for those candidates who are not a part of the establishment.

April 30, 2013

What are “special interests”?

Yesterday, while participating in a campaign forum on Texas Public Radio’s The Source, I charged that my two opponents were being compromised by campaign contributions from special interests.  The moderator David Martin Davies followed up by asking me to define what I meant by special interests.   

My opponent Ron Nirenberg typically tries to stave off my charge by claiming that his “special interests” are his neighbors, even though many of his contributions come from 78209 (Alamo Heights), 78205 (downtown business), and lobbying law firms, so I gave Davies a definition to block Nirenberg’s evasive tactic – i.e., I said that special interests are people and businesses outside of District 8.  To which Nirenberg responded by saying that, based on my definition, his dad would be a special interest because he lives in Austin.  And Moderator Davies piled on by concluding the forum by saying to Ron, “You’re not just representing the District; you are a powerful voice for the city.”     

Immediately after we went off the air, I jokingly chided Davies for rebuffing my argument without giving me a chance to respond.  Davies acted a little surprised, as if he had said something that incontrovertible. 

Truth be told, though, I was probably lucky that Davies had run out of show-time because this is an issue that I had not previously thought through completely, and therefore it would have been dangerous to go through the mental gymnastics for the first time on live radio.  My blog is a much safer place to explore this issue.

As I indicated in my blog yesterday, I have never been receptive to the argument that small gifts will not affect a person of normal integrity.  Small gifts affect me and most of the people I have known in my life.  I still remember receiving (and appreciating) the bottles of booze I received as a State Farm adjuster at Christmas time from Minot body shops.  Of course, I don’t hang around with fat cats and moneyed people.  Reed Williams lives out at the Dominion and perhaps it is no big thing for him to receive some Spurs tickets or a free round of golf, but most normal people don’t live in that sort of environment. 

This topic was discussed in some detail at this morning’s Chamber of Commerce forum, and afterwards a former Councilperson came up to me and expressed broad agreement with my positions except for the issue of campaign contributions.  His tack was almost the same as Reed’s – i.e., $1,000 won’t buy or even influence him. 

I recognize that I am cheaper than the average Joe, but I think most voters would tell aspiring politicians that, even though you may not feel you can be bought for a couple of Spurs tickets, as long as you are representing us, we will insist that you indulge us by restraining your lax gifting habits until you no longer work for us.

Getting back to David Martin Davies original question – what is a special interest? – I suggest that there is a spectrum of answers.  The broadest definition would be anyone who gives you money in return for access or influence.  If the person or business is outside your district, the contribution is more suspect.  And the most suspicious of all is money that comes from a PAC or lobbyist, whose raison d’être is access and influence.

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 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 5, 2013

Getting to a lean, tightly-run city

Last week, I went to the downtown library to attend a VIA presentation on the status of its streetcar project.  While waiting for the presentation to begin, I decided to peruse the library’s New Book section.  That is where I encountered a new category called Express Collection for the most popular new books.  Each book in the Express Collection was stickered, “7 day checkout; no renewals or holds.”

Checking out a popular new book from the San Antonio library often requires placing a hold on the book and then waiting several weeks.  With this new category, I found many desirable new books just waiting to be grabbed. 

With the excitement of finding something free, I grabbed three even though there was no way I would be able to read them in seven days.  They were:

  1. The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver
  2. Tap Dancing to Work by Carol J. Loomis
  3. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

Nate Silver is famous for his NT Times political column titled FiveThirtyEight (the number of people in Congress), but his signal skill is prognosticating.  In his book, Silver applies this skill to sports, poker, the financial world, weather, earthquakes, and global warming.  I just scratched the surface of the book during the seven-day checkout period, but Silver’s thinking, especially as related to poker, seems both brilliant and common-sensical.

Which is a perfect segue to Loomis’s book.  Her book is mostly a compilation of Fortune magazine articles on the most brilliant, common-sensical man, Warren Buffett.  Although Buffet is a veritable font of wisdom, something he said about running a lean operation seems expecially appropriate to my race for the San Antonio City Council:

  • 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.”

One of my Council opponents, Ron Nirenberg, reminds me of the high-cost operator.  In his campaign brochure, he says:

  • Emergency services are the single largest investment of our tax dollars, and we need to make sure that we don’t cut them in an effort to “get lean” during the budget process….  Police and fire should be our top budget priority even in lean years.

Does that sound like someone who will continually strive for a tightly run operation?  No, it sounds like someone who considers “getting lean” to be something of a last resort.  And that is not what San Antonio needs.

February 13, 2013

Ron Nirenberg – a fiscal conservative?

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:31 am

I’ve blogged previously about Rolando Briones, the reputed frontrunner in the District 8 City Council race.  In the past few weeks, a series of articles in the San Antonio Express-News has revealed that Briones as a government employee and vendor has a fundamental belief in the mixture of money and politics.  Because I believe that the mixture of money and politics is one of the fundamental evils in America, he is not my idea of a sound councilperson.  Today, the Express-News reported on a debate between Briones and another District 8 candidate, Ron Nirenberg, and that article reveals why Nirenberg is fundamentally flawed also. 

During the debate, Nirenberg claimed to be a fiscal conservative, and this is consistent with his website claim that he believes in limited government.  But when the debate turned from generalities to specifics, Nirenberg sang a different tune.  When asked to defend San Antonio’s arts budget, he declared that it was too small to make a difference.  When asked to defend San Antonio’s Pre-K 4 SA education spending, he said he’d rather invest in education that builds jobs than pay for welfare programs down the road. 

These responses are liberal boilerplate for nonessential government largesse.  These responses are exactly the opposite of what a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government would say.  A fiscal conservative does not continue spending merely because it is such a small amount that savings would not be significant.  As Everett Dirksen said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.”  With respect to San Antonio’s Pre-K 4 SA spending, this program is something that someone who believes in limited government would recognize as a responsibility of our local school district, not the City Council.    

Nirenberg’s one sound position relates to the ethics of mixing money and politics:

  • We really do need to close the revolving door between people in city government and the people who make a living off your taxes.”

Although this comment was obviously a potshot at his debating opponent Rolando Briones, who makes a living as an engineer sucking on the government teat, the comment is dead-on.

The Express-News article noted that the Nirenberg campaign had produced a glossy 26-page position paper on various issues.  After an extensive search, I finally got my hands on the position paper.  It contained the following interesting revelations about Nirenberg:

  • Community organizer.  “Ron Nirenberg is a community leader, an entrepreneur, a family man and a public servant. As the Associate General Manager of Trinity University’s noncommercial KRTU-FM, he leads a public media operation that serves both a community focused higher education mission and a burgeoning arts audience in South Texas.  Prior to joining KRTU, Ron worked for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, developing and directing award-winning civic engagement programs in cities across the United States, including San Antonio.”  I find these statements interesting, not only because Nirenberg’s prior job sounds a lot like Barack Obama’s job as a community organizer, but also because his current job seems to create a conflict on interests with the issue of city support for the arts.
  • Public safety.  “To keep you and your property safe, we must ensure that department resources match the rate of growth in the city.  Police and fire should be our top budget priority even in lean years….  Emergency services are the single largest investment of our tax dollars, and we need to make sure that we don’t cut them in an effort to ‘get lean’ during the budget process.”  This is an obvious play to secure the vote of the police and fire membership.  A genuine fiscal conservative would want to get lean at all times, but especially at during lean years.
  • Education.  “Gaps in education achievement continue to reveal weaknesses in our workforce development, which is a key factor for economic competitiveness coming out of the national recession. We must work to end political in-fighting in area school districts while supporting proven workforce readiness programs.”  Along with Nirenberg’s previously declared support for more spending on education, this statement indicates that Nirenberg endorses Mayor Castro’s forays into local school-district elections.   This reveals, not a believer in limited government, but rather an arrogant individual who believes he can do anyone’s job better than they can.
  • Arts & Culture.  “I am a firm believer that arts, history, culture and a sense of inclusion make up San Antonio’s’ very soul and separates us from every other city in the world. To nourish this soul, we must expand patronage of the arts in our own District 8 while encouraging the institutions that do well for the entire city. We must continue to improve our community centers and make them work more efficiently by creating sustainable partnerships with the private sector. Let’s always remember that community and culture are critical parts of our development boom.  This paragraph belies Nirenberg’s claim during the debate that spending on the arts is insignificant.  If Nirenberg has his way, we can expect San Antonio’s arts spending to explode

Since President Obama’s inaugural address, there has been talk that big-government liberals are becoming less afraid to come out of the closet and declare their status.  Nirenberg’s claim to being a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government shows that being a liberal is not yet viable in San Antonio. 

If I had been in the debate with Nirenberg, I would have been tempted to ask him distinguish himself from a fiscal liberal.  If Nirenberg isn’t a liberal, I don’t know who is.