Perhaps it was naiveté, or my fond memories of great journalists from the late 70’s through much of the 80’s and early 90’s.
I gave up any illusions of this fairy tale long ago.
That’s not to say there aren’t great journalists out there…they’re just fewer and farther between…and they’re trapped in a business environment where quantity, punch, and social media ‘engagement’ trumps a balanced account of the news.
Such is the case with this truly ignorant report from WREG that aired in July.
The web story is pretty benign, but the report that actually aired takes a Gary Vosot approach to reporting that demands you turn every fallen acorn into a “sky is falling” event.
The news item I’m referencing involves a little known report called the “Participating Voter List”, aka PVL.
The PVL is exactly what it sounds like. Its a list of people who have participated in an election. It includes your name and address, precinct information, and in primary elections, which primary ballot you chose to vote on.
Independent observers, political consultants, and campaigns use the PVL to see who’s voted, which areas are turning out more than others, and to tailor their communications to people who haven’t voted by purging the names of people who have voted from their direct communication list (mail, phone, and canvassing).
If you don’t want annoying calls, knocks, or mail, vote early and all that will stop…if the campaign is managed effectively.
Aside from primary ballot information, there is no information in the PVL that’s any more dangerous to your privacy than the information from an old school phone book, or white pages dot com.
But reporter Michael Quander’s piece makes it sound as if the very act of voting could endanger your privacy in some way.
That’s simply not the case. There are far easier and more informative ways and places to get that information than the Election Commission…though you’d never know it from his actual report.
Because of Quander’s report, the Election Commission now only sends the PVL out by request, instead of publishing it in the deep dark recesses of the Election Commission website where only people who know where it is can find it.
The PVL is important because it is a way to, in nearly real time, see what’s going on with an election.
The PVL was how Joe Weinberg and I found the redistricting errors that resulted in over 3000 voters receiving the wrong ballot in the August 2012 election.
At that time, the PVL was posted directly on the Election Commission’s website daily. Because of this, we were able to run our tests promptly and without waiting for a gatekeeper to open the gate for us (other than waiting for the report to be posted). This allowed both of us the ability to work, as volunteers…using our own time and getting paid nothing for our efforts, to expose one of the greatest election screw-ups in recent memory.
Had the PVL’s only been available by request, it may have taken several more days to complete our tests, causing a greater delay in resolving the problem, and potentially disenfranchising thousands of more voters in the process.
There is a small, tightly knit group of mostly volunteers, on both sides of the aisle, who pay very close attention to this report. Any delay is a huge setback because we are working on our own time, and of our own initiative.
Thanks to another barrier being placed due to unnecessary fear drummed up by this report, the next election disaster, should it occur, will take days longer to identify.
Way to go Channel 3.
But what is perhaps most perversely ironic is that the PVL is more safe than many of the methods WREG, and other commercial websites use to make money off of you.
Have you ever noticed that things you’ve browsed on Amazon or other online retailers regularly show up on ads at completely unrelated websites?
In doing so, they’re taking advantage of your ignorance of potential privacy concerns far more than the Election Commission or any other government agency that is required by law to publish or make available information about you and yours.
Aside from the report being…just dumb…the Election Commission’s decision to no longer post the PVL is also a blow to reporters who know what to do with the report…other than stir up unnecessary FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in the minds of viewers.
In years past, experienced reporters and election observers have used the report to do good journalism in the public interest. I remember the first time I started seeing reports like this, but in particular, the work of Commercial Appeal reporter Zack McMillian back in 2010 when he was on the political beat.
He used the information in a way that challenged me to dig even deeper into the report…which ultimately led to the discoveries Dr. Weinberg and I made going public.
Journalism is supposed to both inform people, and make those who engage in it, either by profession or by hobby, better. Quander’s report doesn’t do that. It preys on the uninformed fears of people, who are already scared of the very big data his company makes money off of.
So way to go Michael Quander, and the Producers, News Directors, and other influential decision-makers at WREG Channel 3. You’ve just made it harder for people just like you to do their job. I know you’re proud.
After 5 years together, my beloved Ellyn and I got hitched back on October 11th. Needless to say, the wedding plans took a lot of time to put together.
But now that the wedding is over, and so is the planning, I’ve got a little more time to think about the upcoming election…and especially the amendments.
They’re not that complicated, but they’re also not as easy to sift through as you might think.
With that in mind, I’m going to touch on the amendments in this post. I may write about the state and federal races later, and I’m working on a post about the City’s “Civil Service” referendum as we speak.
For a constitutional amendment to pass in Tennessee, two things must happen:
1. The “yes” votes for the amendment must make up the majority.
2. Those “yes” votes must be greater than 50% of all the votes cast for Governor.
So, if you want something to pass, vote for someone on the ballot (write-ins don’t count) in the gubernatorial election.
And, if you want something to fail, you sure as hell better raise that bar a little higher by voting in the Governor’s race (again, write-ins don’t count).
I fully expect a TV station or two somewhere in the state will declare something having passed when it hasn’t crossed these two thresholds, but I’ll wait until election night to mock them for that.
Without further ado, here’s the breakdown.
Some people call Amendment 1 “The Abortion Amendment”, and if you just read the caption on the ballot, you might think you’re right.
But since the US Supreme Court ruled on Roe vs. Wade in 1973, the issue of government intervention in difficult health decisions been about privacy.
I’ve written about this extensively in the past.
The caption for Amendment 1 says:
Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.
But the idea of the right to privacy in health decisions, and abortion, which is a medical procedure, are inextricably linked.
That’s what the TNSCOTUS ruled in 2000.
So, to make a medical procedure potentially “illegal”, which is what the majority of the TN legislature wants, is to take away the privacy in medical decisions away from patients.The Legislature can’t do this on their own…they need you, the voter, to eschew the additional privacy protections inherent in the Tennessee Constitution, so they can then further limit your choices on your medical decisions.
If you think this will stop at abortion, you’re sadly mistaken. The legislature could use this amendment to regulate any number of widely accepted medical procedures under the guise that they have effectively restricted privacy with this amendment.
Its ironic really. The political right consistently rails against government intervention in personal decisions…until it comes to medical decisions, then they don’t think you’re qualified to do it on your own.
If one were to be consistent, they would strike down this amendment with an overwhelming majority…because none of us want Ron Ramsey, or Brian Kelsey making medical decisions for us.
They’ve already proven time and time again they don’t have our best interests at heart.
I urge you to vote NO on Amendment 1.
Judicial retention (for Appellate and Supreme Court justices) has been a big topic in State politics for a while now. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s effort to remove TN SCOTUS judges in the August election was just the start of a fight that’s been boiling over since Ramsey took the top spot in the State Senate.
Amendment 2 seeks to clarify it all…and enshrine a system similar to the current system in the State Constitution. However, the differences have many folks up at arms.
Currently, a nominating commission makes recommendations to the Governor, who then selects from a paired down field of candidates. That Commission expired in 2013, and wasn’t renewed.
Under the amendment, there would be no mandated commission (though Haslam has said he approves of the commission), and the General Assembly would have veto power over the selection by the Governor. In a state where a simple majority can overturn the Governor already, that’s a lot of political power over the judiciary from the legislative branch.
Opponents of the amendment say to vote no, because the current system, without the added step of the legislature approving of the nominations works, and we shouldn’t bend to the legislature just because they scare the be-jesus out of us.
Supporters I’ve heard from don’t really seem to support the amendment, per se, but say its better than direct election of Appellate judges (which would be a disaster by any measure). They fear that could happen if the Constitutional Amendment isn’t passed.
Opponents counter that even the most radical on both sides of the aisle don’t want that, and bills seeking to make that the law of the land consistently fail in committee.
To be honest with you, I’m still torn. But as a person who: a. doesn’t take kindly to bullies, and b. is ready to take out my policy brass knuckles at the drop of a hat to beat down really dumb ideas from Nashville (there is an ample supply), I’m inclined to vote No.
When someone’s being a bully you don’t bend to them, you turn around and kick their ass so they’ll leave you alone. That’s what needs to happen here.
Unlike Amendment 2, Amendment 3 is simple. If you want your sales tax to start bumping up to 14%…vote for it.
If you don’t, vote against it.
Tennessee already has one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation.
The Legislature, with the help of the Haslam administration, has been cutting taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy. As things get more expensive, and we keep underfunding every damn thing we have to fund…that revenue will have to be replaced somewhere…and the sales tax is the only place to go.
Sponsors of this Amendment, like Brian Kelsey of Germantown will say this saves the state from the tax hell of having an income tax…and by virtue, stops taxes from increasing.
But as anyone with half a brain in their head knows, the absence of a kind of tax doesn’t stop taxes in general from increasing. Come on dude…really?
Vote NO on Amendment 3.
Amendment 4 is an effort to include Veteran’s organizations in the “games of chance” carveout that was enshrined in the lottery.
Currently, many not-for-profit organizations can hold fundraisers that involve games of chance (gambling, cakewalks, etc. but not bingo)…but Veteran’s groups can’t.
The reason goes back to a scandal in the 1980’s.
The amendment lays out some high hurdles for Veteran’s groups to be able to do this…and that’s actually my problem with the Constitutional amendment.
If the amendment just said the Constitution allows this type of organization to do this and the “how” may be regulated by the state, I’d probably be for it. But this amendment sets forth a specific policy prescription and safeguards, which, if they don’t work, will take years to change because they’ll require another constitutional amendment!
So while I certainly think Veteran’s groups do good work…and far too often they do work the state itself should be doing, I can’t support this amendment because it reads too much like a bill and not enough like a constitutional amendment…if that makes any sense.
So, I say vote No on Amendment 4.
So there ya go. Take it for what its worth. But most importantly, go vote.
See, back in 2007 and 2009 the County Commission passed two ordinances that established a prevailing wage and a living wage for workers who work for County contractors.
The idea behind the ordinances is simple: If the County is going to pay a company to do a job, that company should pay their workers either a living wage, or the “prevailing wage” i.e. the wage paid to the majority of workers working in a specific field…rather than lowballing workers in a tough economy at a time when unemployment was high.
It should come as no surprise that the Tennessee Legislature…led by Ron Ramsey, Brian Kelsey, Glen Casada and Beth Harwell just plain hated the idea that people should get paid enough to live on…or at least in line with market prices for labor of a specific type. So, they passed a law outlawing these kinds of ordinances.
That was in March of 2013.
Fast forward to today…18 months after the fact…Commissioner Roland has sponsored two ordinances that would overturn the County’s living and prevailing wage ordinances…because they’re against the law.
Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but both ordinances stand as a statement against the kind of interference from Nashville that has been the hallmark of the Ramsey/Harwell era.
Roland wants to overturn this because he says it puts the County at risk of a lawsuit. But the County has been abiding by state law since it was enacted…because state law has supremacy over local ordinances and all that stuff you learn in a basic Civics class.
By the way, County Attorney Marcy Ingram says changing the ordinances is necessary. But if you look at her track record of “opinion” you should find yourself questioning her legal judgement. If someone tried to sue the county for not complying with state law simply for having an ordinance on the books, that suit would be thrown out immediately, because, in fact, the County is complying. That the County has a law on the books that has been superseded by state law is unremarkable.
Now, you might ask yourself, why keep this on the books since its no longer relevant.
The answer is simple, because the people of Shelby County, through their elected leaders, passed these ordinances long before the State decided to intervene. In fact, there was an election between the passage of these ordinances and the passage of the new state law, and everyone who voted for the ordinances, including the author, was overwhelmingly re-elected…enshrining public opinion in favor of the ordinances. And in doing so, we made a statement about our collective values. For all we know, the state may decide one day to change their law, which would mean our ordinances…still being on the books, would be back…in full effect.
Terry Roland wants to make sure this never happens.
I hope the County Commission will take this opportunity to take a stand against the state’s interference, and reject Roland’s proposed ordinances and stand for fair wages for workers, even if the state’s GOP legislative leaders don’t give a damn about them (because that much is abundantly clear).
If you want to read the ordinances proposed by Commissioner Roland, you can find them here.
On the face of it, this all sounds simple enough, but State Law has complicated the issue, as it is known to do, and that’s causing a bit of controversy surrounding the process of selecting a Democratic nominee to replace the Senator.
See, most people who didn’t know any better would think there’d just be another primary election (possibly on the date of the State/National general election in November), followed by the general election (sometime thereafter), but that’s not the case.
Because of the timing of Senator Kyle’s as yet unannounced resignation, select members of the Shelby County Democratic and Republican Executive Committees will have to select a nominee to the November General election.
How you get to that point, depends on how you read the law.
Late Sunday night, the County Party sent members of the Executive Committee an advisory on who should be a part of the Caucus. The release, which is covered here, calls for a meeting of the Executive Committee on August 21st to determine the process, then the beginning of nominations on August 28th.
Now, setting the process early isn’t a bad thing. And there’s nothing that prohibits the Party from doing so before there’s actually a vacancy. But setting the beginning of the nominating process for any time before there is a vacancy is problematic.
In legaleese, the issue isn’t ripe (or ready for action).
Until Sen. Kyle submits his resignation to Gov. Haslam (as prescribed in TCA §§ 8-48-104) and the Governor issues a writ of election, there is no vacancy to fill.
So beginning any process to fill an unrealized vacancy is jumping the gun.
What if Sen. Kyle suddenly decides he likes the State Senate and doesn’t want to resign (unlikely, but possible)?
Truth be told, Sen. Kyle is in the driver’s seat, until the very moment he transmits his resignation to the Governor (sometime before he is sworn in as Chancellor). At that point, its up to the Governor to issue a writ. When that happens, then and only then is the process in the hands of the County Party.
So, to recap: Setting up a process before the a vacancy has occurred isn’t entirely bad, but starting the actual call for candidates before the vacancy occurs is problematic.
But that’s not the only problem with the party’s plan for filling the, as yet, non-existent vacancy.
In the Draft release sent to the Executive Committee, the state process quotes Tennessee law.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-14-202 is the relevant section of code for this circumstance. But what the code means is another thing entirely…and especially here in Shelby County, where, by virtue of our size, and the bang-up job the Tennessee General Assembly did on gerrymandering the heck out of the House Districts, it gets complicated.
Here’s the relevant section that everyone’s quoting:
(d)(3) If a vacancy as described in subdivision (d)(1) occurs after the sixth Thursday before the primary election, the members of the county executive committees who represent the precincts composing such senate district may nominate a candidate to appear on the November election ballot by any method authorized under the rules of the party.
“represent” is bolded for emphasis
Now, this all sounds easy enough, except, the County party isn’t organized by precincts or State Senate Districts, we’re organized by House districts. And those House Districts are all over the place when it comes to crossing with Senate District 30.Here’s an idea of what that looks like.
As you can see from the image on the right, there are a lot of House Districts that intersect with Senate Dist. 30, and none of them are completely inside the district.
In all, there are 8 of Shelby County’s 14 House Districts that intersect at some point with Senate District 30. They are House Districts: 83, 85, 86, 88, 90, 93, 97, and 98.
If you’re an Executive Committee member representing one of those districts, you represent every precinct in that district
And that’s where the TNDP’s plan fails or the County Party misinterpreted the statute.
Here’s the email sent out to Executive Committee members announcing the Special Called Meeting. You’ll note that the final paragraph says this in part:
Per State Statue, Executive Committee members who reside in Senate District 30 and House District Chairs representing Districts that overlap with District 30 will make up the Caucus that will be responsible for electing a person to fill the Senate District 30 vacancy.
again, bolded for emphasis
Now, go back to the statute I quoted above. Nowhere does it say the people who “represent precincts” in the Senate District must also “reside” in the district.
We are a representative body, elected by people in all of the precincts of our district, as set forth by our bylaws which are approved by the State Party.
Excluding anyone who represents anyone in District 30, no matter how small of an area, is effectively creating a class of plaintiffs that could sue, effectively tying the outcome of the process up for a very long time. I don’t think anyone wants that. I certainly don’t.
Sure, that will mean there will be more than 40 people (more than half of the Executive Committee) participating in the process, but the people who chose to participate in the Ward and Precinct Caucus last year, as well as the Convention, selected people to represent them in matters of this nature.
Doing anything (purposefully or inadvertently) to ignore that process effectively disenfranchises them and ultimately makes them a part of any lawsuit class that might arise from getting it wrong.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-14-202 (d)(3) mentions “party rules” near the end of the quoted statute. It should be noted, that means how the winner is named, and nothing else…ie: majority of the vote or a plurality.
The party can set the rules in that manner, but the statute is clear on who is a qualified elector…and the Party can’t change that.
As for the method, that may be less clear. But it bears noting that in primary elections, a majority, as prescribed by the State party’s plan, is not the method normally used. Here’s the portion of TCA §§ 2-8-113 that applies.
(a) On the fourth Thursday after a primary election, the state coordinator of elections shall publicly calculate and compare the votes received by each person and declare who has been nominated for office in the primary or elected to the state executive committee. The candidates who receive the highest number of votes shall be declared elected or nominated;
bolded for emphasis
As we’ve seen in nominating procedures in the County Commission…voting until there’s a majority can yield unexpected and bizarre results. It can also lengthen the nominating time a great deal.
I can find nothing in state law that would mandate either a “most votes/plurality” position, nor a “majority” position for a caucus, but I would submit that the plurality will cause the process to run more smoothly, with less possibility of confusion.
Everyone understands the concept that the person with the most votes wins.
In the wake of some of the less pleasant things that have occurred in both State and County politics of late, the last thing either group wants to see happen is controversy arise in the act of fulfilling a fundamental process of these entities.
We have a full month before this has to be decided. Heck, we have nearly 10 days before Senator Kyle must resign to be sworn in as Chancellor.
Its critical we get this right.
For that reason, I hope both the Shelby County Democratic Party, and the Tennessee Democratic Party will take a step back and reconsider the process they’ve laid out thus far.
That may mean voting on the process issue closer to the Sept. 4th meeting (which would give the potential electors time to review any new process that arises). But voting on a potentially flawed process now only means more confusion in the end.
We can make this clean, clear, and completely right with the law if we keep ourselves from rushing through the process.
I hope we’ll take a step back and make sure we get it right.
When they break, rather than trying to put Humpty back together again, you just discard it.
Wine glasses are the weakest link in our home. Hell, probably every home.
They’re not really that expensive (if you keep getting the cheap ones) and when they break you don’t even consider fixing them because…well that’s just too OCD.
Chances are, the thing wouldn’t hold anyway, or would leak like a sieve.
But there are other things that aren’t disposable. When they’re broken, battered or bruised, you need to try and help fix them.
There are lots of both constructive and less-than constructive ways to do that…but we need to understand that just like no two people put a puzzle together exactly the same way…there is also no one set way to fix something you care about.
No matter what, If you value something, you should be willing to be a part of fixing it.
Over the 4th of July weekend, I was at a cookout with some friends. Most of the people I know are on the “more active” side of the political activity scale. Since early voting was just a few days away, the conversation turned to the election.
As it happens, July 4th was just two days after Judge Joe Brown voiced allegations about DA Amy Weirich’s sexual orientation. Needless to say, due to the freshness of the topic, this was at the top of the conversation list.
There was universal agreement that the attack was out of line. Just two years before the County Party had taken a stand in favor of equality for the LGBT community. It seemed wildly discordant that one of the party’s candidates would then turn around and try to use sexual orientation as a line of attack.
Then came the question, “Why is the SCDP such a bunch of clowns?”.
That got my attention.
The speaker went on to air a long list of grievances, many relevant, some less relevant.
I listened intently. We talked back and forth about some of the challenges. After hearing, yet another declaration of the party’s ineptitude I smiled and said, “You have the power to help change that. When’s the last time you came to a party re-organizing convention?”
The answer was either never, or so long ago its not relevant.
We talked about that. Eventually we agreed to disagree as to whether that kind of participation would do any good. Fatalism is a common refrain in Democratic politics, it seems.
This person is a good strong Democrat. Someone we should want working with us. But they don’t feel like its worth their time to fix it. Its not that the party is disposable to them, its that their so frustrated, they don’t know what to do, and they don’t feel like anyone else is doing anything (or knows what to do) either.
The party is factionalized, regionalized, and its members are often suspicious of each other…concerned about some grand conspiracy to somehow take what little power they feel they have away by empowering some other faction or another.
Its tragically comedic, but it goes back to old fights…some decades old, and grudges that have outlived the patrons.
I’m not going to pretend the body has a long history of being truly effective. In talking to folks who were involved in the 80’s and 90’s, it seems clear that the party has long been more focused on the minutiae and turf wars than on the kind of “global” goals that would bring about success in those Countywide contests that have been so fleeting.
There’s been an internal struggle over the “power of the party” which at the same time has rendered the party largely impotent. And truth be told, there are some elected officials who have benefitted by that impotence…though most of them, at this point, are either long gone, or are halfway out the door.
Putting Humpty together again means getting past some of these old fights. In the 2011-12 cycle, it looked like we were getting there. But much of the progress of that term was lost too easily, as new leadership came in, and much of the party’s institutional memory shifted out.
That’s not to blame Chairman Carson, or the new Executive Committee…because these things happen with leadership change.
But while the leadership at the top of the County Party structure may have been in flux, leadership in terms of elected officials within Shelby County…Mayors, City Council Members, Commissioners, State House and Senate members, and all the way up to Congress, has been largely stable, and completely disengaged.
When your elected Democrats aren’t engaged in the party, there’s no way to get around the leadership struggles…and lose a big part of the organization’s institutional memory in the process.
There’s an interesting dynamic between the County Party and elected Democratic officials in Shelby County…the lack of a working relationship of any kind.
Most elected officials have been able to stay in office just fine without the help of the County Party, so its reasonable to understand why they might not see the value in to having an effective organization…until things go wrong.
Then, just like disengaged “rank-and-file” Democrats out there who loudly complain about the party’s failures, so do the party’s electeds.
The most visible example of this is the statement made by Congressman Cohen on election night, which I quoted in this post.
I’m not saying Congressman Cohen is wrong, because he isn’t…but just like the conversation with my friend, its a bit hypocritical to criticize the County Party when you’ve not really been engaged in it.
Cohen has built a powerful campaign operation every cycle since 2006. His campaign has very strong fundamentals…and that’s a big reason why he wins consistently.
But as soon as the campaign season is over, that operation goes dark. The operators, by and large, go their separate ways, until the next time they need to assemble to defend the Congressman against a challenger.
That level of expertise is direly needed in the County party. And while some members of the Cohen team have engaged the party, and been largely flummoxed by the goings on, the Congressman hasn’t taken the opportunity to mentor and nurture party leadership outside his organization.
Its not my purpose to beat up on Congressman Cohen. He’s just one example of this scenario.
Truth is Mayor Wharton (the Democratic County Mayor from 2002 to 2009), amassed an impressive campaign structure in his own right in 2011 only to dismantle it and disengage. He’s just as guilty of doing this, as is every other elected Democrat in Shelby County…current or former.
Leaders don’t get to complain that something’s broken, then not try to be a part of working to fix it…especially when they’re associated with it (via party designation).
But lets be clear here. I’m not calling on electeds to set up another kind of ‘boss’ structure. Competing bosses…even long after they’re relevant, and the unproductive fights they engage in, are a big part of what brought us to where we are today.
I’m saying they should lend their expertise, and mentor up and coming leaders who can help the party become more effective.
The effectiveness vacuum we’re going through now is not for the lack of bosses, but because of bosses…and damage caused by them that no one has been able to repair.
I would hope our elected leaders would take part in helping repair that damage…without remaining part of the problem through neglect…or becoming part of a bigger problem through the strong-arm tactics of past bosses.
The local party has had structural problems for a long time.
What has happened this cycle is just a more extreme example of what happened in 2010, and nearly on par with the shenanigans of 2008…minus the success.
Lets get one thing clear: the party isn’t a sentient being. It takes a coalition of people working together to keep going. It takes a great deal of expertise, time and care to have a healthy party.
If the coalition that makes up the Executive Committee puts self-interest, or apathy, or any other negative thing ahead of the building, we find ourselves back at square one wondering, “what now”?
Maybe that’s where we start…with “What can I do to help” rather than just stating the obvious…that its broken.
If we don’t, we’ll find ourselves right back, in this same place in four years time…wondering how to put Humpty back together again…or if its even worth the effort to try.