Thursday, July 19, 2007

Self-Defeating Hostility Toward Third Parties

July 19, 2007, 6:30, 7:25, 9:30 a.m.

[Below: Third Parties; Wellmark/Pomerantz; UI Grants; Road to Nowhere]

Opposition to Third Parties and Electoral Reforms

The Third Party “Threat”

While the bickering regarding Wellmark's effort to buy a University of Iowa college continues (see links below), the biggest news this morning involves a baby step away from Iowa's reputation as one of the most third-party-hostile states in the nation. Jason Clayworth, "Iowa Voter Registration Forms to Include Third Party Groups," Des Moines Register, July 19, 2007. Editorial, "Letting Us Register for Small Parties Good for Democracy," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 19, 2007, p. A9. The State had to be sued to finally agree to do the decent thing, but at least the case is now behind us.

Professions of support for "democracy" to the contrary notwithstanding, the two major parties have historically opposed voting -- even for their own candidates -- especially by the poor.

True democracy has almost always been resisted by those in power. Most of those said to be the fathers of our democratic system, those who drafted the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, agreed with John Jay that, “Those who own the country, should run it.”

It is a view still widely held today by those in power.

Recall that at the beginning of our nation women could not vote. African-Americans could not vote. White males who did not own land could not vote. And no one aged 18, 19 or 20 could vote.

When I was going to college in the South in the 1950s voters were taxed. We had to pay to go to the polls. It was called a “poll tax.” Many community and business leaders profited politically and economically by discouraging the poor and working poor from voting.

None of the expansions of the franchise was freely given. Each had to be fought for with grassroots people’s movements – from marching in the streets to, in one case, a civil war. For one description of the price paid by some of the women requesting women's right to vote, see Connie, Schultz, "A Short History Lesson on the Privilege of Voting; And You Think It's a Pain to Vote," Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 19, 2004.

But ultimately these expansions of our democracy were won. We’ve yet to go so far as Australia and other countries to encourage voting by taxing those who don’t vote, but at least we no longer tax those who do.

As a result of this expanding electorate, today’s establishment has to be much more inventive in devising ways of holding on to power, including coming up with innovative ways of discouraging the poor from voting.

There isn’t much one can say in favor of the poll tax except for its almost total absence of hypocrisy. It made clear upon its face that its purpose was to significantly discourage, if not prevent, voting by those for whom the expenditure of a dollar or two was a matter calling for some considerable deliberation. Since poverty was disproportionately the lot of southern African-Americans the racist motives of poll tax enthusiasts was also not hidden from view.

Since the repeal of the poll tax, “those who own the country,” to quote John Jay once again, have become somewhat less honest in their efforts to limit the franchise to themselves. They simply oppose any and all proposals that might make it easier for the poor and working class to register and vote: leaving the polls open for 24 hours, in fact any effort to extend the hours for voting; a guaranteed right of leave with pay for purposes of voting, or declaring election day a national holiday; making it possible for any citizen to register new voters and help them to vote absentee; more clerks for shorter voter registration lines; early voting at satellite polls in supermarkets and malls; and registration where drivers licenses are issued (“motor voting”).

Discouraging voters from participating in the affairs of the two major parties is one thing. But it is the prevention of the rise of third parties that is an even more serious matter.

As the 19th Century New York City political Boss William Tweed is credited with having said, “I don’t care who does the electing just so long as I do the nominating.”

So long as there are only two political parties those who control those parties’ purse strings can maintain their control of the nation by continuing to do the nominating.

The opposition to third parties by “those who own the country” is understandable. For it is third parties that have brought the American people most of the political and social progress we enjoy today – much of which has come at the expense of the wealthy. That kind of progress was fought at every turn by those controlling the two major parties, often with the aid of local police and national guard in ways that left demonstrators dead, injured and bleeding.

Ultimately one or the other of the two parties would adopt the proposal of a third party as its own, but only at the eleventh hour when its failure to do so would have seriously harmed the party’s political power and influence.

Third parties are a proud tradition in America -- and, ironically, especially in Iowa's early history.

After the Civil War the Democratic Party came to be controlled by big business and the wealthy. It didn't do much for poor farmers. Disenchanted Democrats organized the People's Party.

By 1912 many Republicans were disgusted with big business control of their party. Those dissidents formed the Progressive Party.

James B. Weaver of Iowa was a third party nominee for president in 1892.

It turns out that most of the progress in this country has been opposed by both of the major parties. It has come about only when third parties have pushed the agenda and picked up enough popular support that they could no longer be ignored.

That's how we got regulation of banks and railroads, a progressive income tax, the eight-hour workday, direct popular election of U.S. senators, workers' compensation, and limitations on child labor. Yes, it is third parties we must thank for the women’s right to vote, antitrust controls over the worst of corporate abuses, the minimum wage, the fact that we’re not all working weekends, safety in the workplace, workers’ right to organize and bargain with employers, safe foods and medicines, social security, civil rights – the list goes on. (See, e.g., the outline notes of Professor Donald R. Shaffer, University of Northern Colorado.)

So you can see why “those who own the country,” and today control both major political parties, would want to do all they can to prevent this kind of agitation and progress.

Opposition to Third Party Electoral Reforms

Both parties, and those who fund them, oppose at every turn any and all reforms that would permit more third party participation. The so-called Presidential Debates Commission is in fact an exclusive club for Democrats and Republicans, who have for the most part successfully prevented the American people from ever seeing third party alternatives to their nominees. They even oppose proposals that would eliminate the threat to them of what they persist in calling “spoilers.”

(Both parties, with their sense of entitlement to exclude all others from the political process, have the chutzpah to characterize anyone with the nerve to think they can also run for public office -- without the major parties’ permission -- as a “spoiler.”)

“Fusion,” “proportional representation,” and “instant runoff” are just some of those proposals for electoral reform.

Fusion is a system that permits a third party to endorse, as its candidate, the nominee of another party, usually one of the two major parties. New York has this system. Without it President Reagan would not have beaten Jimmy Carter in New York. Carter, as a Democrat, had more votes than Reagan got as a Republican. So how did Reagan carry the state? The Conservative Party in New York had also nominated Reagan. And the votes of the Conservative Party members, when added to the votes of the Republicans, gave Reagan New York.

(Why would a third party want to do this? Because in some states in order to retain legal status as a “party,” with a right to appear on election ballots, it is necessary to receive a certain number, or percentage, of votes in the last election. (This is what the morning news reports has been changed in Iowa. Of course it took a long-dragged-out lawsuit against the State of Iowa by the ACLU to get it -- little as it is.) By nominating the major party candidate that comes closest to the positions of the third party’s members it can attract more votes for “its” candidate than by nominating an (often unknown) member of their own party.)

Proportional representation can take many forms in this country and around the world. But, as the name suggests, it gets rid of the “winner takes all” system. It insures that some proportion of, say, the members of a legislative body will represent minority parties.

With instant runoff the Democrats would have carried Florida in 2000.

Assume it is true, as diehard Democrats contend, that all of Ralph Nader’s voters would have, but for his candidacy, voted for Al Gore. Under the present system they had to choose. Given only one choice, their choice was Nader. With instant runoff they could have voted for both; Ralph Nader as their first choice, and Al Gore as their second choice. When their first choice didn’t win their Nader votes would have been recalculated, using their second choice votes. Al Gore would have won.

For more on democratic, innovative, alternative voting systems see, e.g., the resources of the Center for Voting and Democracy.

(In fact, Florida exit polls indicated that 25% of Nader’s supporters were Republicans, and 37% said that, but for his being on the ballot they wouldn’t have voted at all. Over 250,000 Florida Democrats voted for Bush, multiples more than the 37,000 Democrats (38% of 97,000 total Nader votes) who voted for Nader. Had the corporate-oriented Democratic Leadership Council and its candidate appealed to, and been able to hold, its own party members Gore would have won in a walk. These numbers square with CNN’s exit polling that Nader’s voters included 2% of those registered as Democrats, 1% of those registered as Republicans, and 6% of those designating themselves as independents. But I don't rely on these numbers for a description of "instant runoff" because taking the Democrats false assertions as fact makes a stronger case for the procedure. Whichever numbers are used, there is simply no rational reason for the Democratic party to fight these third party proposals since, often as not, they would enable the Party to win elections it would otherwise lose. Notwithstanding that reality, it opposes them anyway -- on principle, I guess.)

So what’s a voter to do? One of the things you can do is to work for innovative, more democratic, voting systems that increase the choices of voters, enable third parties, and often as not help the major parties as well.

Iowa has now -- though it had to be sued to do it -- taken one small baby step in that direction. Hopefully, it is but the beginning of a walk across the state to a third-party-friendly, innovative, approach to politics and elections of which all Iowans could be proud.

# # #

"And the beating goes on . . ."

Erin Jordan, "Oust Dean for Rejection of Gift Pomerantz Says,"
Des Moines Register, July 19, 2007.

It's sad.

Marvin Pomerantz, a former President of the Iowa Board of Regents, influential businessman, and exceedingly generous benefactor of the University of Iowa as well as many other Iowa institutions, is continuing to behave in ways that are eroding the good name he has built up over the years.

* He was a major player in the idea of naming the UI College of Public Health the "Blue Cross Blue Shield Wellmark College of Public Health" in exchange for a take-it-or-leave-it purchase price of $15 million. (Naming colleges for corporations is virtually unprecedented at American universities, and certainly at the University of Iowa.)

* The "wink-and-nod" procedure in which he was involved was so lacking in transparency and participation by the College's -- and University's and Regents' and Iowa's -- stakeholders as to produce a lengthy analysis of its impropriety by the Governor's chief lawyer.

* When the College's faculty wished to discuss alternatives -- even some that would have involved including "Wellmark" in the College's name -- Pomerantz (and Wellmark CEO Forsyth) in a revealing display of petulance and sense of entitlement said "our way or the highway" and insisted the "gift" was withdrawn.

* When negotiations seemed to open up the possibility of reconsideration after the arrival of the new UI President, Sally Mason, some 10 days from now on August 1, Pomerantz said the University couldn't have that much time. As Erin Jordan reports this morning, "Pomerantz said the gift offer may expire before the semester begins. 'I don't think it will be out there until the fall,' he said Wednesday." (I believe he earlier insisted it should be resolved before President Mason arrives.)
Now his most recent petulant outburst involves a series of ad hominem attacks on the College's Dean Jim Merchant:

"We need to pay him off and get him out of there," Pomerantz said of Jim Merchant, . . ..

"I think the new president will take care of the dean. He needs to go," Pomerantz said Wednesday.

. . .

"He's saying all kinds of crazy things," Pomerantz said Wednesday "It simply isn't true."
Not only is Pomerantz' behavior unseemly and unbecoming someone of his stature, in this case he's really picked the wrong guy for an ad hominem attack. Erin Jordan's story continues,
Faculty members said his record as dean of the fledgling college speaks for itself.

"In a few short years, he's taken a department in the College of Medicine and made it into a college," said Charles Lynch, a U of I epidemiology professor and director of the State Health Registry of Iowa. "He's gotten full accreditation, and he's increased the number of faculty."

The College of Public Health's faculty, staff and graduate students generated $39.7 million in grants and contracts in the fiscal year that ended June 30, which is about 10 percent of the U of I's total $382.2 million in external funding.

John Finnegan Jr., dean of the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, said Pomerantz's comments about Merchant are "over the top."

"Mr. Pomerantz can disagree with Dr. Merchant all he wants, but trashing Dean Merchant is just ridiculous," Finnegan said Wednesday.

Merchant "is one of the most respected deans of the 40 schools of public health in this country."
Moreover, I wasn't there but based on my past experiences with Jim Merchant it would be my guess that, ironically, he was probably one of the coolest heads caught in the middle of all this, trying to work out something to Pomerantz' satisfaction.

For Marvin Pomerantz' own sake -- not to mention that of the University -- someone close enough to him to "speak truth to power" should let him know the harm he is doing to himself.

# # #

Meanwhile . . .

Erin Jordan, "Grants to U of I, UNI increase from 2006; The USDA's withdrawal of several grant proposals from bills hurt Iowa State," Des Moines Register, July 19, 2007.

# # #

Iowa's "Road to Nowhere"

In an effort to outdo the State of Alaska -- which boasts its "bridge to nowhere" -- the Iowa Transportation Commission has set aside $3 million for an Iowa "road to nowhere" -- namely the indoor rain forest that doesn't exist, in Pella or anywhere else.

So Iowans will be able to drive there, even though "there is no there there" at the nonexistent "Earthpark." (Don't you miss State29? I do. Try to imagine what he would have done with this one.)

Darwin Danielson, "DOT Allocates Money for Roads to 'Earthpark,'"
Radio Iowa, July 18, 2007.

# # #


Bob Richard said...

A really good commentary on the importance of creating a multiparty system. Thanks.

You mention both proportional representation and instant runoff voting (IRV). IRV is for single winner elections like mayor, governor and president. For electing legislative bodies, the first and most important choice you have to make is between our existing winner-take-all single member districts, and proportional representation methods, all of which involve multi-member districts. These methods (the multi-seat sibling of IRV is a very good one) insure that every segment of the community gets represented in proportion to its numbers.

You can use IRV in single-seat districts. It would be a big improvement, but would not -- at least not by itself -- improve the chances of electing small party candidates. But it would allow their voices to be heard more frequently.

Anonymous said...

Re: Earthpork Clarification

The RISE program is still a good one and helps many more worth development projects which add jobs and tax base. RISE funds are grant funding, so if Earthpork gets the grant, it will be that much less in grant funding some other project gets. It will not take away from regular spending on highways or funds sent to local governments.

Unknown said...

Thought you'd be interested in checking out

Glad to see the victory for minor parties in Iowa, but majority of indies don't like partisanism at all and do not affiliate themselves with any party.