Thursday, November 08, 2007

Election Returns

November 8, 2007, 9:00 a.m.

City Votes FOR 10:00 p.m. Drinking Break

90% of Residential Precincts Favor Ordinance!

Don't get me wrong. Having fought to get the right for 18-year-olds to vote, and having been so often disappointed at their low turnout, however disappointed I may be at their choice of issue I can't help but be pleased at their organizational skill and level of participation in the referendum vote.

(I'm reminded of the Cheerios commercial. The young child, anxious to help the father deal with elevated cholesterol, brings a bowl of Cheerios and milk to the father's bedside and wakens him. The father says, "That was very thoughtful. Very early, but very thoughtful." That's kind of my reaction to the students turnout -- "That was very energized, participatory and well organized. Very wrongheaded, but very energized, participatory and well organized.")

But I certainly remain disappointed in the University and our City Council.

The University is going to appoint a Task Force??!! You're going to have conversations with students and bar owners??!! You've got to be kidding -- except by now it's so damn obvious what you're doing that you're no longer kidding anyone. This University has gone through hundreds of thousands of dollars from foundations and others for its "Stepping Up" project with no discernible impact whatsoever -- except an increase in the number of students "Stepping Up" to the bar, binge drinking, and then staggering out (or passing out).

Our ever-more-obvious reputation as one of the binge drinking capitals of the nation may help increase our enrollment and income from ever-increasing tuition, but I can't think of any other benefit. And continuing to talk about the problem as if we care, when we obviously don't based on our refusal to do anything, only increases the stench of hypocrisy that hovers over Iowa City like a hog lot's aroma.

There is no shortage of proposals for dealing with alcohol abuse. It's been studied to death -- including the deaths of many students. And educational institutions, and cities, with common sense and a genuine caring for their students and citizens have long since put those proposals in place. What we lack is not proposals. What we lack is the sense of responsibility that would motivate us to implement them.

Meanwhile, the City Council members are in agreement with our University leaders and still backing their friends, the profiteering bar owners. We can offer cheers to Connie Champion, but even she wants to wait a year before "maybe" trying for another ordinance. (And she's the best we've got!)

But while the Council members continue to do this, while they continue to think that TIFs floating on a sea of alcohol is our voyage through economic development to the promised land, they would do well to look at the numbers from this election.

I have enormous respect and admiration for Matt Hayek, his experience, obvious intellectual ability, willingness to serve, and I congratulate him on his coronation. But I think he's dead wrong on this one.

The Press-Citizen quotes him as saying,

It looks like if you factor out the early voting, there was still a split in the community on this issue. Many that voted the day of [the election], voted against the referendum. I think there was not a consensus about how to address binge drinking."
[Brian Morelli, "Non-Student Voters Were Divided on Issue," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 8, 2007, p. A3.] Were there votes against the ordinance? Absolutely. Was there a split? Yes.

But it's also the case that the support FOR the ordinance among the city's permanent residents was overwhelming by most political standards. There was "a consensus about how to address binge drinking" -- at least a consensus that enforcing the law between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. would be a constructive -- even if extraordinarily tiny -- step in the right direction.

There are 25 precincts in Iowa City. (Based on location, and vote split, 5 of those 25 would appear to be predominantly student precincts.) Of those 25, 8 -- roughly one-third (or 40% of the 20) -- voted 60% or more in favor! Of the 25, 18 -- close to two-thirds (or 90% of the 20) -- voted in favor of the proposal by 50% or more!

Overall, the split on election day for the 25 precincts was 56.9% Yes, and 43.1% No. For the 20 precincts it's nearly 60% Yes -- 58.9% Yes, and 41.1% No.

Are the bar owners, and the multi-thousand-dollar campaign they waged with students, entitled to be heard? Of course. But City Council members should remember that there are permanent residents among their constituents as well, and that we are going to be here long after those students -- and perhaps a goodly number of those Council members -- are gone. We, too, deserve to be heard.

Finley Peter Dunne's "Mr. Dooley," one of the first syndicated newspaper columns, offered the country his famous quote, "No matter whether the Constitution follows the flag or not, the Supreme Court follows the election returns." (This was, of course, long before the Supreme Court actually determined the election returns.)

If only we could get our bar-owner-loving City Council members to do as much.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it's a bit patronizing and undemocratic to suggest that because the referendum had majority support among the "permanent residents" of Iowa City that the council should just pass a 21-Only ordinance anyway. Students are citizens and their votes count too. In any event, because the referendum was defeated I believe the council must wait at least two years before it could pass a 21-Only ordinance on its own, even if it wanted to. At least I've read quotes to that effect from people who purport to know.