May 26 2016

On #RecallKemp

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, City of Memphis, elections

Kemp Conrad

Kemp Conrad

Last week the Commercial Appeal reported on an effort to recall City Council Chairman, Kemp Conrad.

The announcement of the petition, which can be found here, lists some of the dismissive things Chairman Conrad has said about activists seeking to protect the Greensward in Overton Park.

As a general statement, I’m supportive o citizen led efforts to make change in our city, no matter how large or small. Unfortunately, this effort may not be the best use of people’s time, when time is of the essence.

It’ll all be over in 2 years

As the CA article notes, any effort to recall a sitting City Council member can’t be brought until two years into their term, which would be 2018. By the time the recall petition came to a vote in November of 2018, not only will the issue most likely have been decided: either by mediation or Council action, but Conrad’s term will be nearly over (13 months and change remaining).

Since Conrad is term limited, he won’t be a part of the Council when a new group is sworn in on January 1st of 2020.

While I understand people’s anger with Conrad’s words, tone and sentiment, going after him in this way is a waste of time. A recall effort at this point is a flight of fancy and won’t really solve anything since there’s still a chance that he wouldn’t actually be removed from office by a vote.

Remember, they tried this in Wisconsin with Scott Walker, and he came out of the experience stronger than ever.

Get to 7

As someone who routinely bugs the shit out of me, City Council Attorney Alan Wade, likes to say, “7 votes carries the day”.

So if you’re going to do politics…do it. Get 7 votes against Conrad’s ordinance.

That may sound hard, but its a helluva lot easier than trying to recall him when this whole thing is irrelevant.

Chances are there are 7 votes to get on the Council, but you have to be smart about it. Anger isn’t persuasive for most people. Anger leads to a hardening of the attitudes.

So Rule #1: Don’t be a dick.

Rule #2: Don’t threaten or get heated (see Rule #1).

Rule #3: Appeal to most people’s sense of ‘calmer heads prevailing’

If you present your case like this: “We want the Overton Park Conservancy to have a voice, and we support the ongoing mediation efforts. We’re not asking you to vote against the zoo, we’re asking you to vote against this ordinance at this time to give the mediation a chance to work.”

Does that get you what you want? NO

But its a way to keep you from getting what you absolutely don’t want…Conrad’s ordinance.

In those conversations, whether they be in person, on the phone, via email, or by mail, you may get some feedback indicating the Council member’s inclination. Start Counting

There are some other things you can do with 7 votes that I won’t get into. Get the 7 first, then give me a call.

Now, you may have tried this on some level, but what I’ve observed of City Council meetings, this hasn’t been presented to the Council this way. I’ve heard a lot of anger, and finger pointing, but not a lot of solutions. Choose any speakers wisely. Project calm. Project that you’re the more reasonable party than Conrad and his hastily written ordinance.

Conrad’s already taken some of that away from you by holding fire on the Second reading. Praise him for that.

The ordinance is the stick. Mediation is the carrot. Take the carrot and be happy, or get 7 votes and kill the ordinance.

Thinking Long-Term

While mounting a recall of a sitting Council member may be a waste of time, mounting an effort to change the way the City Council is elected may not be.

Right now there are 7 single member districts and 2 “Super Districts” with 3 members each.

How we got to this is a long and storied tale, but basically it came about as a result of an agreement between a Federal Court and the City Council way back in 1996.

If you want all the gory details, you can find a post I wrote about it in 2011 here.

Here’s what’s important. There are 7 districts with between 89,000 and 95,000 people in them, and 2 districts with over 323,000 people in them. What this does is makes everyone in the city have 4 City Councilmen, which is fine in theory, but as we’ve seen in the two decades since this arrangement has been in effect, has led to less diversity and more groupthink.

By pushing for a change in the way the district system works from the current arrangement to 13 single member districts, the districts get much smaller…just under 50,000 people per district.

What this would mean is it would take less money to get elected (especially compared to the Super Districts) and some areas of town that have never been home to a representative on the City Council since this arrangement was conceived would suddenly have more of a voice.

It puts the elected leaders on the Council closer to the people and thereby, more directly responsible to the people.

Would such a system prevent someone like your least favorite member of the Council (whomever that is) from getting elected? That would be more up to you than its ever been. And that’s the point.

The City Council doesn’t redistrict until before the 2023 election, but it will take a lot of pressure, and probably a Federal Court ruling approving of the new system to put it into effect. And it will meet some stiff resistance because some very powerful people will suddenly be less powerful and have to deal with people they’ve never had to deal with before, ever.

Just something to think about….but for now, start building bridges and rallying the votes to get 7 in the City Council. Because that’s how you get what you want… or at least keep from getting what you don’t want in a representative democracy.

Mar 09 2014

Democratic Candidates Speak at DWSC

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County

Saturday, the three candidates for the Democratic nomination for Mayor spoke and answered questions at the monthly Democratic Women of Shelby County meeting.

Below is video of their comments.

The Primary for County Election is on May 6th.

Mar 21 2013

This Week in Bad Ideas – 3/21/13 #TNLEG #ShelbyCo

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County, State Politics

via @gochristhomas on Twitter

When people think of the “silly season”, they typically think of political campaign time. These days, campaigning is a 24/7/365 affair. Think I’m wrong? Consider this photo of County Commissioner Steve Basar, taken by Commissioner Chris Thomas, who I ran against in the 2012 August election…at his first fundraiser of the season…last night (3/20/13).

Any Democrat thinking about challenging Basar might want to start getting their ducks in a row now. He’s a nice guy (that I happen to like personally) and pretty popular in many circles…but that doesn’t mean he should go unchallenged.

I don’t live in his new district, and don’t have any plans of running in 2014. Basar clearly does. If you’re not sure that you’re in his district, you can go here. He’ll be running in District 13.

If you are in his district and interested in running, drop me a line. I have some insights that might help you.

Basar’s decision to seek re-election isn’t the worst idea to befall Shelby Co. or Tennessee. Here are some of them, from the past three days. This sample is just the tip of the iceberg…

John DeBerry support “for profit” Charter Schools

The Tennessean reports that Democratic State Rep. John DeBerry is supporting a bill that would allow “for profit” charter schools in Tennessee.

DeBerry received $100,000 from the pro-charter, pro-voucher group Students First founded by former DC Superintendent and “education reformer” Michelle Rhee in his primary contest against former Rep. Jeanne Richardson last year.

Apparently, that was an investment well spent for the group.

State Run Inspections only for Memphians, Thanks to Mark Luttrell

Apparently, Shelby Co. Mayor Mark Luttrell doesn’t feel like he needs support from Memphians. In a Commerical Appeal article the inspections stations, mandated by an EPA agreement, and recently abandoned by the City of Memphis, will be taken over by the state rather than the County…even though the EPA now classifies the entirety of Shelby Co. a pollution problem.

The agreement with the State of Tennessee would exempt the 1/3 of Shelby Countians who live outside of Memphis from vehicle inspections for up to 6 years. Folks who live in Memphis will not only still be subject to inspections, but will also have to pay for them.

Way to take care of your largest constituency group.

Scenic Vistas Bill Dies in Committee

Yesterday, in the State Senate, the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act died in committee thanks to no members making a motion to hear the bill. Two Democratic Senators, Ophelia Ford and Charlotte Burks were noticeably absent when the bill came up.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Minority Caucus Chair, Lowe Finney (D-Jackson), who I have a separate beef with, is a necessary reform if we want to keep the mountains that are a signature of our Eastern Division. Kudos to Finney for carrying the bill, even if he couldn’t muster a motion.

Video of the entire debate on the bill is included below. See also: King Coal Recasts Itself as Friend of Earth After Stomping Environmentalists in Senate

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Pure Idiocy

State Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah) thinks he has a way to stop the scourge of Obamacare in Tennessee.

Jeff Woods of The Nashville Scene eviscerates him, with an assist from J.R. Lind at Post Politics.

Sit down sir. The moving of your mouth is exposing your ignorance.

Ignoring the best advice in favor of a witch hunt

As bad as the electoral problems have been in Shelby Co., at least we don’t have a witch hunt going on over our voting rolls (at least not on this scale).

Davidson Co. Election Commissioner Steve Abernathy has taken it upon himself to investigate the citizenship of voters in the state’s second largest county against legal advice.

He says he wants to “Save America”. From what? No reporter had the stones to ask, but one might surmise from his rhetoric he wants to “Save” it from voters who don’t vote like him.

Brilliant! /sarcasm

Good Reads

Newscoma has a great post about local control that explores just how deep the State Legislature is willing to wrest control of local issues from local government.

A new tumblr account has popped up called iDemocrat that is collecting people’s stories about why they are a Democrat. You can submit your story here.

I’m not sure if I’ll make this a regular series, but if you want to know what’s going on in the state on a daily basis, Subscribe to the Daily Buzz. News from around the state, in your inbox every morning.

Jan 05 2012

Drawing Lines – State House and Senate Redistricting Released

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

State Maps are all Style with no substance

Yesterday the State House and Senate released their proposed maps for the decennial redistricting that comes right after the decennial census. You can view the State Senate Maps here and the State House Maps here.

There have been numerous reports about what’s going to happen to various locales. News outlets in Memphis have focused on the loss of two House seats and one Senate seat…something I wrote was probably going to happen back in 2009.

So while our standing in the State Legislative bodies may have been diminished, as has our percentage of the population, none of this should surprise anyone.

It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are a couple of Shelby Co. legislators drawn together in districts. That’s what happens when an area loses a seat or two. It is inevitable. I sympathize with those who are upset at this reality, but honestly, there’s little that can be done outside of court.

I’m not going to opine as to whether or not the districts are fair or not. Certainly, over the years since Baker v. Carr, the court case that made the state start districting based on population rather than land, there have been plenty of examples of bizarrely drawn districts passing muster. A quick look at the current maps in Shelby Co., particularly Dist. 90 as well as Dist. 83, 84, 95, 91, and 92, which run horizontally and whip and curl around in some cases, shows that shapes just don’t matter that much to the courts.

Of course, the old plan just had 6 of 16 districts in Shelby County shaped like a drawing from a blindfolded child. The proposed map has 8 of 14 districts that take a great deal of creativity to explain (84, 85, 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, & 97). That’s not to say the districts are unfair, but to say, at first glance, which is all we have, its very difficult to determine which district you might be in based on the information provided.

Maps Don’t Tell Me Anything

While its fun to look at these pretty pictures provided by the House and Senate leadership, they really don’t tell me much…except that a lot of precincts were split in the production of these maps. Anyone with an internet connection and Silverlight can draw a map if they so choose. It’s not that difficult. Translating a map from a drawing on the other hand is very difficult.

Since neither the House nor Senate saw fit to release the precinct information of the districts, all one can do is make a best guess as to what will happen should these districts be adopted. Putting out pretty maps with not so much as population data by district, tells the end user absolutely nothing except the color choices of the person drawing the map and some general ideas.

Sure, in the more rural areas its easier to determine what’s going on. Districts that include two or three counties to get to (or near) their magic number are pretty easy to analyze. Urban areas, where there are any number of existing and new lines possible (including Municipal boundaries, Precincts, Census blocks, Zip codes, etc.) are more difficult. 35 of the 99 members of the House hail from the top four largest counties in the state (Shelby, Davidson, Knox, and Hamilton). Throw in Rutherford, Williamson and Sullivan Counties and that number jumps to 44. But even those last 9 are relatively easy to determine.

Still, let’s not pretend this is transparency. It’s feigned transparency. Until some lists are released, none of this means anything. In fact, its probably more about cutting the wind out of the sails of last minute fundraisers than anything else.

Brazenly Jerkish

There are some things that irritate me about the maps, but that’s to be expected. Lumping Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart into the same district in Nashville only to create an open seat is one of them. This isn’t unfair from a legal point of view, just dickish. I’m sure we’ve done the same thing to folks in the past. This action follows the Republican strategy of attacking the oppositions strengths and turning them into a weakness, a strategy that perhaps we might want to think about.

The same can be said of what they did in Shelby. Three of the four Representatives in Shelby Co. that were lumped together in two districts are relatively new to the body. One has been there forever. But these new folks are also pretty strong voices, whether you like them or not. There are a lot of reasons they were targeted, and one of those reasons is that they are perceived as a threat.

Its interesting to me that the Republicans in the State Senate chose to undercut their youth factor. Kerry Roberts, who worked really hard to win last year, is lumped in with Jim Summerville. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of those two men have an exit strategy. Look for an appointment announcement sometime after session.

Here in Shelby Co., Minority Leader Jim Kyle and Serial Bacon Mailer Brian Kelsey are paired up. This will leave Kyle out in the cold for at least 2 years, while we wait for the term of Kelsey to expire in 2014. I’m not sure how this impacts the “even/odd” set up of the senate districts in the future, but at the very least Senate Republicans did what they wanted to do…screw over the Minority Leader.

Its an open question as to whether or not Kyle will challenge Kelsey in 2014. Since we don’t have any real data on the makeup of the district other than a visual representation, I can only guess about the partisan makeup of the district. Pretty sure its not pretty for Kyle.

One mildly humorous thing I saw in the Senate Districts, is what I call the “visual representation of what Senate Leadership is doing to Democrats”. Its made up of Districts 19 and 21. I don’t think I need to expound on that at all but I bet some State Senators are still laughing about that one.

What Does All This Mean?

Most people don’t think twice about this stuff. I’ve said it over and over again. I’ve experienced it as I wrote about City redistricting, and as I’ve observed the County process. Most folks just don’t think about how they end up in the districts they end up in, they think about who they want to represent them from the available choices, and may bemoan those choices from time to time.

Also, because redistricting comes only once every 10 years, its easy for people to forget, or even just ignore it. For the most part, only the most politically engaged geeks even care about it. Most folks feel it doesn’t impact them, but it does. It can absolutely impact those available choices so many bemoan every two or four years.

Now that the TNGOP has had their hand at this process, there’s little doubt that they’ll do everything possible to keep it. In fact, the very act of redistricting itself probably ensures they’ll stay in power for a while…and because political considerations aren’t covered in Federal law, outside of a few exceptions, I expect the maps to stand and generally agree that most people won’t see the problems.

The big takeaway from this is that other than some maps, we really don’t know all that much more than we did before, and won’t know that much more until the thing is passed and real maps and precinct lists hit the streets. Then we’ll have a better idea of where we stand as a state.

Even without more detail, Democrats know something. They know they’ve got an uphill battle. They know that its going to stink. They also know that Republicans came into power under maps drawn by Democrats, and that all is not lost if we get our game together.

There are a lot of ideas about what that means, but I’ll save that for another post.

See also:

Blue TN
Aunt B
Braisted, 2, 3, 4
Pith 2, 3, 4, 5

There are probably more, but that’s a start…

Jul 19 2011

This Isn’t Going to Stop Fraud

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

If the GOP was really interested in stopping fraud, they'd stop delaying TVCA

No matter what, there’s always going to be someone that tries to game the system. That’s just the way it is. And to the extent that it’s a problem, there should be some effort to keep people from gaming the system, in this case, the system we have in place to protect the vote.

For as long as I can remember Republicans have been crying about voter fraud. Truth of the matter is, it’s not voter fraud when Republicans win, it’s only fraud when they lose because, you know, they’re not supposed to lose with all that unaccountable, unregulated corporate money flowing into the coffers of their private expenditure groups. I mean, it flies in the face of the very tenets of capitalism in their minds.

So when Republicans say we have to up the ID requirements to ensure folks like immigrants or *insert the name of group to demonize of the day* whatever aren’t voting illegally I ask what the cost is to our Republic. See, I’ve been using my photo ID for two decades to vote, so it’s no skin off my nose and it keeps me from having to carry around a voter registration card. But I recognize that I’m not like everyone else, and just because I do it, doesn’t mean that everyone else should have to.

Also, if the intent is to ensure that non-citizens don’t vote, perhaps they should check the regulations. There are all kinds of immigration documents that pass for primary identification in the process of getting an ID. All this law requires is a way to check identity, not citizenship status, voting location or anything else. So for the vast majority of folks who have an appropriate ID of any kind, this isn’t going to be that big of a deal.

But the system of laws we have aren’t set up just to protect the majority. There are laws in place, though many Republicans are loathe to admit it, to ensure minorities don’t get kicked around too bad in the legal process. In fact, those laws served Republicans well in the 100+ years that they were relegated to the minority party in this state. Kinda funny what people conveniently forget when they get just a little bit of power.

Anyway, Republicans have been beating this drum since before the 2000 election debacle that gave us 8 years of stupid. During that 8 years the Bush Administration pushed prosecutors to look for voter fraud. They didn’t find much. In fact, what they found was not some kind of big conspiracy, but mostly local yokels buying votes which one would think would fall right in to the Republicans idea of markets regulating themselves, right?

Nope, over and over again reports find that fraud committed by voters is rare. Some have even called this Republican fascination with fraud a hoax. But the real thing that just pisses them off, more than anything else is not the potential of fraud, but who is both gathering and registering to vote.

See, they know that if there are more people voting and jazzed about voting, their block will lose power at the polls. By making it harder for some to vote, like poor people, they can fight a war on two fronts: by working to get people elected that want to dismantle the social safety net, and working to ensure those who benefit from any part of that social safety net have a hard time voting. That’s also what vote caging, purges and other tactics to limit a person’s ability to vote are ultimately all about.

So yeah, there’s a pattern here, don’t get it switched.

In yesterday’s CA, Brent Leatherwood, the flack for the House GOP leadership said

“The only individuals this bill will disenfranchise are dead people whose votes should never count in elections,” he said.

That’s a good sound bite Brent, but it’s just wrong.

Did you know, the new law allows people over 65 to vote absentee without proving their identity? Yep. If you’re over 65 and you’ve got it together enough to request an absentee ballot you can have it delivered to your door, vote, and move on with your life.

Now I love this for folks over 65. In fact, I think this might be a gateway to voting by mail, which I also think is pretty awesome. However, what would stop someone from ordering an absentee ballot for someone who’s no longer alive? How does this stop dead people from voting? If anything, it makes it easier for dead people to vote…absentee anyway.

If the intent is to stop dead people from voting, perhaps Republicans in the state legislature should focus their efforts on removing dead people from the rolls. There are public records you know.

Another thing this bill doesn’t do is stop people who have moved to a neighboring county or state from voting if they’re still registered in Tennessee. Tennessee has weird laws about this. If you live somewhere else, but call Tennessee you home you can vote here. So say I moved to Olive Branch, MS, but still wanted to vote in Memphis. As long as I called Memphis home, I could do it, which means even though I’m not contributing to the tax base in Memphis in any real way I somehow can still have a say in what goes down here. Same is true if I moved t Tipton, Fayette, or any other place. The ID bill is there to verify identity, not residence.

Nope, this bill isn’t about stopping fraud, it’s about voter suppression. It’s about making sure the “right” people vote by erecting barriers to “other” people exercising their right to vote, in this case, mostly poor people.

If the Republicans who just love this bill really want to stop fraud, they should look at FINALLY implementing TVCA and real live paper ballots. But they’re not really concerned about election fraud, they’re concerned about voter fraud.

This isn’t going to stop fraud, it is a well orchestrated attempt to stop some people from voting. That’s it. Claims to the contrary don’t hold any water.