Thursday, May 01, 2008

Process: Parental Leave & Project Vote Smart

May 1, 2008, 12:15 p.m.; May 3, 2008, 8:00 p.m. (electoral vote update)

What Do Parental Leave, Project Vote Smart,
and the Electoral College Have in Common?

Click to go directly to:
Electoral College
Project Vote Smart
Parental Leave
Electoral College. In Nicholas Johnson, "It's the Electoral College, Stupid!" April 22, 2008, I wrote,

"In point of fact, none of this [Senators Clinton's and Obama's shares of elected and super delegates, popular votes, or states "won"] matters.

What matters are electoral votes. Just as the delegate count is how the Democratic Party's rules provide for the nomination of a presidential candidate (though there is some remaining argument about the appropriate degree of independence super-delegates can properly exercise), so do the electoral college votes determine who gets elected president.

In short, the question is not how Clinton and Obama do when running against each other, the question -- for those who put "winning" first in their selection of a nominee -- is how each will do running against Senator McCain in November.
Since then, using the latest polling data from each state, I've put together my own spreadsheet of states, their electoral votes, and in match ups between Obama-McCain and Clinton-McCain who gets a given state's electoral votes.

As you might suspect, there are some states that will be won by either Clinton or Obama -- or lost to McCain -- regardless of who the Democrats' nominee may be, and some where the nominee makes a difference. Other states are too close to call -- for either Obama or Clinton, or for both.

Obviously, what folks say to pollsters in February, March and April is of only limited predictive value in guessing what they'll do in casting a secret ballot in November. But it's of some use, especially if you toss out (as I have) those instances in which the polls indicate it's pretty close. (There are many sources of this data; the one I relied on mostly is

Anyhow, at this point in time (May 1):

(1) All the states have 540 electoral votes; so it takes 270 (or 271) to win.

(2) Deleting the results in states too close to call, or won by McCain, Senator Obama is now leading in states with 213 electoral votes and Senator Clinton in states with 194.

(3) Senator McCain wins states with 172 electoral votes running against Obama, and wins 268 electoral votes running against Clinton.

May 3 Update: Incorporating the data from Rasmussen Reports into the spreadsheet of what I already had from the match-ups now indicate Senator Obama would have 229 to McCain's 196, and Senator Clinton would have 181 to his 322.

Again, to remind, in addition to polls' weaknesses as predictors of future events, they also change over time; a couple weeks from now we'll have some new and different numbers. Moreover, we still have more primaries to go -- most immediately, Indiana and North Carolina next Tuesday, May 6.

Project Vote Smart. In a 2004 Des Moines Register op ed I wrote,

Some candidates complain about the media's focus on elections as a horse race. They're right -- there isn't much issues coverage. But when candidates are invited by Project Vote Smart to disclose their positions on issues via the Internet, it might surprise you to find out who refuses.
Nicholas Johnson, "Election as a Civics Class," Des Moines Register, November 6, 2004.

In 2006 I blogged,

Taking a stand.

The Gazette editorialized the other day about Project Vote Smart's National Political Awareness Test. It's a non-partisan, "good government" effort to provide voters information about the positions of their candidates for public office. (The organization's page for Iowans is here.) Editorial, "Voters Want to Know," The Gazette, August 31, 2006.

The Gazette reports that "Both major political parties are advising candidates not to take the test. Party officials say the candidates will lose control of their campaign messages and they will be exposed to opposition research." That's one awful commentary about our major political parties -- both of them. What's worse, for a Democrat, is who did, and who did not, take "the test."

The Republican candidate for Iowa governor, Congressman Jim Nussle, did. The Democratic candidate, Secretary of State Chet Culver, did not. Moreover, apparently he has always refused to take it even as Secretary of State.

Republican incumbent Congressman Jim Leach not only takes the test, he was actually one of the founding board members for the organization. His Democratic Party challenger, Dave Loebsack, has so far refused to take it. [Note: (May 1) He subsequently responded to the criticism and took the test.]
Nicholas Johnson, "Taking a Stand" in "It's Getting Harder to be a Democrat," September 1, 2006.

This morning The Gazette is back on the topic again:

[S]adly, the number of state legislative and congressional candidates who took the Iowa version of the national survey, carefully composed by the respected Project Vote Smart organization, has dropped steadily over the past decade. In 1996, 40 percent of Iowa’s candidates for state legislative offices took the survey. In 2006, a paltry 7 percent did so. As for congressional candidates, two-thirds responded in 1996 but just one-third . . . did in 2006. The response rates from Iowa candidates are among the nation’s lowest. . . .

[W]hy do the vast majority of candidates refuse to participate?

Most cite pressure from their political parties and professional advisers, who tell candidates not to answer questions about positions on issues because opponents may use the information against them.

Oh. ... Then it seems they’re telling us that running for office is only about winning — that taking a position on major issues affecting their constituents isn’t important to the campaign process.

Not much courage in that.
Editorial, "The Courage to Take a Position," The Gazette, May 1, 2008, p. A4.

I wish The Gazette, I, and the many others including the Project Vote Smart folks who are trying to do something about all this could have a greater impact, rather than having to raise the issue every two years.

I'll have some suggestions at the end of this section, but as for this morning I'm feeling pretty much the same way I did when I wrote,

"Ya don't play-a da game . . . ya don't make-a da rules"

That was the reaction the Des Moines Register's beloved humor columnist Donald Kaul once offered to those religious leaders who practice celibacy but want to regulate the sexual behavior of everyone else. (Kaul's still writing; see Minuteman Media.) . . .

I've expressed in this blog my disappointment with Democrats (and Republicans) who refuse to disclose their positions on the issues to Project Vote Smart and others. See, "Taking a Stand" in Nicholas Johnson, "It's Getting Harder to Be a Democrat," September 1, 2006.

Elections are an opportunity for "continuing education" on the public policy choices confronting our country. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Election as a Civics Class," Des Moines Register, November 6, 2004. Project Vote Smart exists to encourage that education and public dialog. See, Project Vote Smart.

President Clinton said something to the effect that "we have more problems than we deserve, and more solutions than we've ever tried." However important you may think the issues of "God, guns and gays," or the "war on terrorism" (and Iraq), may be, there is a lot more we need to talk about.

There's no room to list everything, but universal health care (and basic public health measures), reversing the ever-increasing multi-trillion-dollar debt and adverse balance of trade, energy policy (including global warming), and attempting to rebuild positive international relations come immediately to mind as examples.

When candidates deliberately try to avoid the "teachable moments" provided by the campaign season, when they demonstrate their willingness to put their own election or re-election above the interests of the nation (or state), they are doing all of us a grave injustice -- if not, indeed, demonstrating their lack of qualifications to hold office.

At a minimum, when they refuse to participate in Project Vote Smart they should at least have the decency not to attempt to use to their partisan advantage the positions of their opponents who have participated.

"Ya don't play-a da game, ya don't make-a da rules."
Nicholas Johnson, "Ya don't play-a da game . . . ya don't make-a da rules," September 6, 2006.

So what can we do?

We can write letters to the editor of our local papers, urging them to use their much longer and stronger levers of power to pry participation out of our local candidates.

We can write the candidates themselves, and ask them in open meetings why they haven't participated.

We can help support the work of Project Vote Smart.

And given The Gazette's commendable focus on this issue over time, I'd like to politely suggest that it might want to turn some reporters' resources, and space in the paper, to reporting -- by name -- which candidates are refusing to participate, along with the positions on the issues of those who do.

Parental Leave. The University of Iowa has created (or expanded) its leave-with-pay policies for new parents. It's not necessary for me to get into the details for purposes of this commentary (which is fortunate, since I don't claim to understand them). State29, "Be Bold," May 1, 2008, does that -- and suggests the policy should be extended from the first six months of life to the first 18 years.

Intuitively it strikes me as, at worst, an acceptable idea. UI professors will still do some research and writing from home (which is supposed to be roughly half of what they're getting paid for anyway); it will help retain faculty; and it's undoubtedly good for the kids. On the other hand, someone will have to be hired to teach their classes, and there are some equity issues if the perk is not given to all UI employees.

No, the aspect of this I want to address is "governance," the relationship between the Regents and the UI administration, the "process."

Once the new members of the Board of Regents had been installed, and the disastrous year of searching for a new UI president was rapidly coming to any end, I wrote them an "open letter" with some suggestions about "governance." Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance'" in "UI Held Hostage Day 451 - Open Letter to Regents," April 17, 2007.

The way this faculty leave issue has been handled indicates to me that it may well be possible that there's still a little more work to be done by both sides with regard to their "governance model."

Former Regents' President Michael Gartner is reported to have sent an email to the current President, David Miles, indicating that Gartner first learned of this decision from the newspapers and that, in his opinion, it should have been discussed and approved by the Regents before being implemented: "I would like to raise the issue of process: Should a far-reaching policy such as this first be approved . . . by the Board of Regents?" Brian Morelli, "Regent Questions New UI Leave Policy for Parents; Raises Concerns About Whether It Sets Bad Precedent," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 1, 2008, p. A1.

UI President Sally Mason took a different view of the process:

[She] said the policy codified what has existed in the operations manual at UI for the past eight years. Some departments have been allowing the modified duties already, and staff and 12-month tenure-track faculty already have reaped the benefits as well, she said. The new policy only applies to nine-month time tenure-track faculty, she said.

Mason said she didn't mind if the regents wanted to discuss the policy or have it explained to them, but she did not expect them to intervene.

"It would be interesting, perhaps precedent-setting, if they get involved at this level. It would be a little curious," Mason said.
Brian Morelli, "Regent Questions New UI Leave Policy for Parents; Raises Concerns About Whether It Sets Bad Precedent," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 1, 2008, p. A1, A6.

The Gazette reports, "Regarding that policy, UI officials said it was their understanding the change needed only internal administrative approval at the university. Mason said UI officials checked with the regents’ office about the policy before moving forward with it." Diane Heldt, "New UI Policy Prompts Broader Benefit Questions," May 1, 2008, p. B3.


"Susan Johnson, the U of I's associate provost, told the Register that she did not think the university's policy change required the regents' approval.

"For many years, university policy has authorized modifications of employee work schedules and duties to help reduce conflict with parental obligations," Johnson said.
Lisa Rossi, "Regent suggests that U of I acted too quickly," Des Moines Register, May 1, 2008.

So now let's see what we have here. A Regent would like to have the policy discussed and approved by the Regents. An associate provost "did not think" the policy required Regents' approval. Unnamed "UI officials said it was their understanding the change needed only internal administrative approval." Apparently the UI President felt the governance relationship with the Regents was such that it was necessary that "officials checked with the regents’ office about the policy before moving forward with it" and that, having done so, "she did not expect them to intervene." She also thought relevant the fact that related policies had been a part of UI regulations for eight years.

Now there are many approaches to governance besides that of John Carver -- though his is widely used and is very good in my experience. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice," with links to full text of some of John Carver's writing. It's probably not so important which governance model is used by a board-CEO as that the matter of governance has been thought through and some model established.

Carver talks in terms of "ends policies;" what most of us would call "measurable goals." Figuring out what those should be for a university, not to mention a statewide system of universities, is not easy; it's the kind of thing that makes your head hurt if you do it right. We're not talking about vague, general "strategic plans" or "mission statements." If you're interested in what we are talking about read Carver.

Carver says most boards (and he's worked with everything from NGOs to Fortune 500 corporate boards to school boards) are somewhere along a continuum from "micro-managing" to "rubber-stamping" when, in his view, there's no proper place along that continuum
for them to be. Much of the literature, in his view, just explains to boards -- which he calls "incompetent groups of competent people" -- how to do the wrong things better.

It's tough to summarize more than one book in less than one paragraph. But I'll try anyway. A major part of his model is that it is the board's responsibility to come up with the "ends policies" (measurable goals) and then the CEO's responsibility to figure out how to achieve them. Those ends policies are both the CEO's job description and the standards by which her or his annual performance is evaluated.

Otherwise expressed, this creates a relationship in which the board says to the CEO, "go until we say stop," instead of "stop until we say go." There are "executive limitations" established by the board. But so long as the ends are attained, and the limitations are not violated, it's totally up to the CEO to choose the means.

How would such an approach have applied in this instance?

I think Gartner was right to "spot the issue" -- the governance ambiguity. But, without knowing more, my instinct would be to have ends policies such that the details of faculty leave policies would probably be considered "means" for a CEO (i.e., in this instance the UI president) rather than something for the Regents to address in an ends policy.

Were the ends policies clearly laid out, a Regent would know that this is not a matter with which Regents need concern themselves. An associate provost would not have to think, she would know that the administration did, or did not, have authority to move ahead. Officials would not be acting merely on their understanding. The President would not need to have an aide contact the Regents before implementing the new policy, nor think that because the university had already done something similar that therefore this variation need not come from the Regents.

So let me repeat, I do not think the policy is substantively flawed, nor that the Regents should have discussed and approved it before it was implemented. That's not what I'm writing about -- one way or the other.

All I'm suggesting is that it would be smoother and more efficient and effective for everyone involved if a governance policy had been clearly and precisely thought through, articulated, put to paper, and followed.

This faculty leave policy change just seemed to me a useful case study of that "process," of governance models (and their absence) -- not because it was an example of the results of necessarily erroneous administrative decisions.

Process. So today's theme is "process." Process in evaluating the progress of primaries and elections, process in making it possible for voters to know something of their candidates' positions, and process in board-CEO relationships.

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