I particularly enjoyed the comment Len Raphael a while back on my post about term limits, so much so, that with his permission, I’m republishing it here as a post of its own.
I wouldn’t necessarily endorse every single thing he suggests, but overall, he successfully pinpoints what the most serious barriers for challengers in our municipal elections are and proposes measures that would ameliorate some of the problems. If people are serious about local electoral reform, these are the sort of things you need to be talking about. Such reforms would do a hell of a lot more to help people outside of the local political establishment than term limits. Enjoy:
Term limits aren’t the answer. As Pat McCullough’s treasurer (ret.), it’s very tempting to support term limits but nope, don’t think it solves the problem of incompetent elected city council members beholden to labor unions, developers, and various non profit orgs.
The crux of the problem are the financial barriers to grass roots challengers, and the abysmal level of media coverage of Oakland municipal government.
Start by treating union in kind contributions of free labor, office space, phones to staff phone banks, stuff envelopes, and go door to door to report the same as monetary contributions, by imputing the average hourly pay of those members to the work performed. If it bothers you that union members time should have an imputed monetary value, but not non union member residents of the district, maybe restrict union in kind 0 valued labor donations to those of members who live in oakland, and only impute monetary value to members who live outside oakland.
At a bare minimum, require unions to report the imputed value of their in kind contributions just like any monetary contributions would be reported.
Next, lower the threshold of Oakland matching funding for district races from $3,000 to $1,000. Raise the maximum matchable contributions to $300 per couple; per business, and $150 per person from the current $100 per person. 3,000 seems like small change, but for a grassroots challenger, raising 3,000 only from oakland sources at a max of 100/donor when many donors only give 25 to 50 bucks, can take several weeks, so that by the time you’ve raised the money for matching, the absentee ballots have been received and probably mostly mailed in.
Yes, I’d say raise the 600$ max limits to 1,200 per individual but that’s a federal or state limit. That limit wasn’t a problem for Obamba, but for grassroots challengers those limits have the opposite effect of their stated purpose: they make it near impossible for a challenger who is not well to do to raise enough money to get her or his message out to enough supporters to raise enough money to challenge an incumbent who every union and developer is scared of pissing off because the incumbent approves their contracts and zoning challenges, subsidies etc.
Other item: delay the release of absentee ballots to two weeks before the general election. In a perfect world, internet voting would be secure enough so that one could vote two months ahead of time, but change one’s vote right up to election day. Because ill funded challengers can’t afford the same multiple mailers, don’t have incumbents name recognition, office perks etc., they need as much time as possible to get their message to the voters.
(A kludge would be to require all voters to give a validated email address combined with the right to opt of getting printed election material. that would significantly lower the cost of educating voters. might even give people the right to opt out of robo calls)
That leaves the basic underlying problem in Oakland that there is no way that a typical underfunded challenger can bring a voter up to date on the last 4 or 8 years of Oakland municipal affairs in a few months and say $20,000 worth of emails and mailers and door to doors. It frustrated the heck out of me, when we’d go door to door and tell voters almost word for word the same thing Russo said in his chronicle op ed piece about the insanity of having more cops investigating cops than there are cops investigating murderers and rapists, but if I were an Oakland voter, I’d think to myself that couldn’t be possible, if it were true I’m sure I’d have read about it in the chronicle or the trib or it would have made the tv coverage, so it must be election bs.
you’d explain to potential supporters when standing on their door step that their city council incumbents had actually voted to freeze police hiring. You’d see the skeptical look on their faces, how of course you could’nt expect me to believe that.
god forbid, you’d even attempt to explain how their council had ok’d contracts granting medical retirement benefits that weren’t counted in public financial reports but could lead to massive cutbacks in city services if not dealt with soon.
I have not the slightest idea how to solve that problem. If ANG or the Chron thought Oakland govt coverage would sell papers, I’m sure they would do it.
The unintended consequences of term limits, in addition to the one about getting council members who know less about policy than the bureaucrats, unions, developers and non profit special interest groups (which i think is more of an issue at the state and federal level where the issues and legislative options are much more complex, and campaigns much more expensive/time consuming) is that you force candidates to become partisan professional pols who always have to be planning for thelr run at higher office after they term out, or try to line up a revolving door lobbyist or lawyer thing. That in turn drives the candidates into kissing the butts of the chieftans of each of the oakland political fiefdoms right from the get go, because you can’t expect to win higher office without the backing of one of the kingpins.
Alternatively we won’t get younger people who want to serve the public as council members but don’t want to run for higher office. You can’t expect a younger person to devote say 8 years to city council during their prime career building life period.
He asked me to add that “the blight ordinance should be changed to allow political signage on specified public areas eg. median strips, for a specified number of time before an election, with a requirement backed by a fee for removal afterwards.”