The Nacilbupera Guzzle

Whoever examines with attention the history of the dearths and famines … will find, I believe, that a dearth never has arisen from any combination among the inland dealers in corn, nor from any other cause but a real scarcity, occasioned sometimes perhaps, and in some particular places, by the waste of war, but in by far the greatest number of cases by the fault of the seasons; and that a famine has never arisen from any other cause but the violence of government attempting, by improper means, to remedy the inconveniences of a dearth. (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations IV.5.44)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Help On The Way In Curbing Future Utah Tax Increases, But Too Late To Stop Provo's Prop 1

Last week in Provo a small group of citizens quietly raised everyone's property taxes for the next 20 years for the purpose of a recreation center or Prop 1 which passed 60%-40%. In a more telling perspective, fewer than 9,000 voters turned out to vote in favor of raising taxes on the remaining 51,000 registered voters. In percentage terms, less than 15% of registered Provo voters were able to vote tax increases on 100% of the property owners in the city. Is this really a fair way to approve tax increases?

Those in favor of Prop 1 were organized and had political mailings, a website, endorsements, and yard signs; those wanting to keep their own money were clearly not organized. We must remedy this as voters and hold accountable officials who publicly signed their names as citizens supporting unnecessary tax increases. We must be ready to organize better to stop future attempts from our city council and to be ready to change city council members.

But for those of us feeling that something more than a simple 50% majority should be required to approve tax increases (which coincidentally includes many people who did favor Prop 1), help is on the way in the form of a proposed Constitutional Amendment. Rep. Carl Wimmer (R-Herriman) announced a proposed Constitutional amendment to "require that any tax or fee increase on the state, city or county level would require two thirds majority vote in order to pass." (ABC4)

The proposed amendment will need to pass a 2/3rds vote through the legislature next year and then require voter approval as amendments A, B, C, and D did this past election.

This is a much-needed amendment, case in point: had this amendment been in place, Prop 1 would have fallen considerably short of the votes it needed and I wouldn't be forced to choke up $80 a year for the next 20 years. Provoans could have then sought a more fiscally responsible way to pay for their want. Those who wanted a rec center could have donated the money they used to fund their taxation efforts into a voluntary citizen donation fund to accrue money over time towards a day when we could build a rec center without raising taxes or forcing citizens to pay for services they do not need or want.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Utah's 2011 Reapportionment

Perhaps the single most important issue impacting our state legislature for 2011 is reapportionment, or redrawing the lines which separate us all into Federal Congressional Districts as well as State House and Senate Districts due to changes in our population noted in the results of this past summer's decennial census. Republicans were in the saddle last time ten years ago and will be again in 2011. Justified criticism--yes the "g" word as in gerrymandering--was leveled at the GOP after reapportionment in 2001 and Republicans suffered a backlash from the voters. This is my attempt as a Republican to offer both some hindsight of where we as Republicans went wrong and some guidelines on our upcoming reapportionment.

Utah to (finally!) get its 4th Federal Congressional District!

Ten years ago, we counted just 800 persons shy of getting a fourth seat for Utah in Congress; that seat went to North Carolina instead. A major court battle ensued because Utah wasn't allowed to factor in religious missionaries serving missions abroad whereas North Carolina was able to count its military and civil servants living abroad. This was obviously wrong, but Utah wasn't able to persuade the courts. The entire Utah Delegation wanted then to alter the Constitution by giving Washington, D.C. a Representative coupled with a 4th for Utah. Fortunately, this horrible idea (see 2006 wonderful DN opinion by former Rep. Jim Hansen) went nowhere and instead the 800 persons short has rectified itself by Utah's continued population explosion. Because of the addition of this fourth seat, Utahns can expect some significant boundary changes when we next vote in Federal elections in 2012.

Criticism of the 2000 Reapportionment

Utah's 3 Congressional Districts changed dramatically in 2001 and resulted in a fair amount of criticism. (See BYU Universe article for before and after maps.) Noble-thinking Republicans thought that it would be good to have all of Utah's Reps co-responsible for Utah's vast land and resource areas; partisan-thinking Republicans were hoping to create a district so Republican we would be able to rid ourselves of Matheson (actually getting rid of Matheson could be considered noble as well, but not to those who don't study Matheson sly votes). Whatever the motives were, the redistricting backfired.

The first way the 2001 Reapportionment backfired for the GOP is that liberal Matheson has successfully held the seat through the 5 Federal election cycles since reapportionment. Second, it has spawned an organization called Fair Boundaries which seeks to implement a non-elected oligarchy of 11 persons to manage reapportionment. This idea is yet another way of taking power out of the hands of We the People and our elected representatives; the promoted "cure" is worse than the problem. Third, Republicans lost the media war: an example of this is a 2001 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "The Gerrymander Scandal" applying the word "scam" to Utah.
Witness the scam Republicans pulled off this year in Utah to defeat the state's Democratic Congressman, Jim Matheson. The state's GOP legislature carved up his urban Salt Lake City district and mixed city neighborhoods with 14 rural counties. The GOP plan moved 684,000 people from one district to another, while competing plans moved fewer than one-tenth as many.

Defense of the 2001 Reapportionment: Bad locally, not atypical nationally

Not that the WSJ is the conservative paper many perceive it to be--indeed it's widely-considered the most liberal--but Republicans were unable to come up with an effective counterargument making redistricting look like a gerrymandered attempt to remove Matheson (despite some in the legislature who I believe had good intentions.) Furthermore even the WSJ editorial admitted Utah's Congressional Districts were "not the worst." To name but a few of the numerous worse examples consider the likes of: Arizona 2nd California 23rd California 38th California 39th Florida 22nd Florida 23rd Illinois 17th Maryland 2nd Maryland 3rd Massachusetts 2nd North Carolina 12th New York 22nd New York 28th Tennessee 3rd Texas 19th Washington 1st and my all-time favorite: Illinois 4th. New Jersey is perhaps the worst overall gerrymandered state: not only do all 13 districts look like a bad jigsaw puzzle, but this gerrymandered outcome was a result of one of these "bipartisan districting commissions" (similar to the Utah Fair Boundaries proposal) put into the New Jersey State Constitution by voters in 1995 (see Rutgers 2010 redistricting study).

I guess one could argue that Republicans did the same thing in a red state that Democrats did in blue states. This attitude was summarized by John Swallow who after participating in redistricting as a Utah State Legislator in 2001, then turned to make runs against Matheson in 2002 and 2004:
"People need to understand it's a political process that happens every ten years, and that in Utah, just like in Washington, majority rules." (BYU Universe)
Recently-defeated Matheson opponent Morgan Philpot also voted for the redistricting in 2001 and came up with this ultra-partisan defense:

"[Democrat Minority Leader Ralph Becker's] appeal to fairness is nonsense. The fact of the matter is that's the nature of the game. Let's wake up." Philpot added that by their nature political parties "cannot seek fairness." (Ogden Standard-Examiner, October 2, 2001; emphases mine)

Although the 2001 redistricting wasn't an issue in the 2010 midterms, hopefully Philpot will use his political clout to retract this statement and support a fair redistricting by noble-minded elected Republicans in 2011. Calling fair reapportionment "nonsense" and "a game" is exactly the kind of partisanship that will turn people away from the Republican party. While I truely believe that Swallow or Philpot would have hands down done a much better job than Matheson has, perhaps bad karma struck thrice (twice Swallow, once Philpot) as voters with sufficient memories held out this against the GOP.

2001 State Reapportionment--particularly the House--a gerrymandered mess

While I consider the Federal reapportionment to be lightly gerrymandered, the state's alignment into State House Districts and State Senate Districts was awful. To this I defer to valid points raised by Fair Boundaries organization coupled with my own observations.

  • House District 69: Grand County--population 8,000 was split in half down Main Street of Moab while carving up 4 other counties
  • House Districts 67, 70: The confluence of slices of rural counties
  • House District 8: Herniated into Ogden after squeezing through a 5-block gap
  • House Districts 53: Even though Summit County was right at the 30K population mark needed for its own rep, liberal Park City was deemed by the Republican legislature to have to be cut in half. Some of 53 protruded into Wasatch county.
  • House District 25: Combines Federal Heights area with a piece of Park City. Road travel between the two areas is impossible without crossing House District 28. Although connected by land, the two areas are essentially non-contiguous
  • Senate District 24: Tooele County got split into 4 Senate Districts while not boasting enough population to justify even one.
  • Senate Districts 13/27: Utah County took away land Tooele county when it had plenty of population with its own borders. Instead, SE Utah County got lumped into District 27 which extends clear the the SE corner of the state.

How to Conduct a Fair Reapportionment

While Utahns don't want a silly commission, we do want fair reapportionment. We don't want reapportionment to be based on racial profiling, incumbency, or political parties. We want to be grouped into logical, compact groups. We have a wonderful state division unit which divides us called the "county." County boundaries should be the foremost consideration when dividing any redistricting line. I suggest the following rules for Utah be adhered to (specifically written for divison of the four Federal Congressional Districts, but mostly applicable to any redistricting):

  1. Strike balance between keeping districts segregated (into urban and rural; more a Democratic tenant) and desegregated (all districts have both urban and rural; more a Republican tenant)
  2. If a county has reached the population threshold for representation (for Utah abt 2.8M divided into 4 districts or 700,000), that county merits strong consideration for a representative whose district lies completely within the county
  3. As much as possible, keep the full county intact as a voting unit.
  4. Keep county breakups to a minimum: that is, break into twos is better than breaking into threes.
  5. Don't string counties along like Texas 19th, keep county groups compact.
If we had followed these basic five rules, I think most of our gerrymandering problems would resolve themselves.

What the 2011 Federal Redistricting of Utah Map Should Look Like

I'm not here to draw maps, but here's an outline a basic idea from the application of these five rules to a Utah with 4 districts:
  • Salt Lake County (SLC), with over 1M in population would have its own representative; it would also be the only county with its own representative confined within county lines.

  • "Boomtown" Utah County with population currently (est) 560,000 will be on the verge of meriting its own representative by 2020 with a population of 727,000 (see 2008 Baseline Projections Summary, Utah Gov Office Plan & Projections). Of course, by 2020 it could be Utah at 3.6M in population is looking for a 5th Congressional District anyways. Thus for 2010, Utah County could prepare for 2020 by taking some of the population from the south end of SLC and be a compact district of its own without having to string or divide other counties.

  • There would both northern and Dixie districts, considerably rural, to help balance out the two urban districts. The division between north and south would help keep the geography workable for a single representative.

  • There would still be population in SLC to be absorbed by either the northern or Dixie district depending on exactly how the counties are allocated and how the SLC seat is drawn.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Bright Senate Forecast for 2012

This election spotlighted the overwhelming amount of House seats gained (over 60, the biggest GOP gain since the Great Depression) and a net gain of 7 governorships in critical presidential election states including Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Mexico.

While the GOP gained six seats in the Senate and lost none, there were also seven close races we lost: Buck in Colorado, Rossi in Washington, Angle in Nevada, Fiorina in California, McMahon in Connecticut, and Raese in West Virginia. Had we won these six races, the Senate would be in GOP hands. But good news lies just around the corner.

In 2012, 21 Democrats and the 2 Independents who caucus Democrat are up for reelection while only 10 Republicans are up. Presuming all 10 Republicans are holds like 2010, this gives us a chance to focus on the 23. Keep in mind all 23 voted for Obamacare, the failed stimulus, the 2000+ page Dodd Frank financial mess bill, and to confirm Elena Kagan to the SCOTUS1. Their records are all far-left liberal.

Below I offer my own independent opinion on how things are shaping up for 2012 divided into three sections of vulnerability with the incumbent listed. If we could pick up the 7 vulnerables, the GOP would easily win Senate control at 47+7=54 seats. Now here's the exciting part: there are 11 other seats in play to various degrees which if we won them all (a long shot, but possible) would give the GOP a supermajority of 65 seats, just 2 shy of being able to override a presidential veto.

Vulnerable (+7 GOP pickups):
These 7 states have converted over to the red column and show no signs of going back to purple.
NEBRASKA: Ben Nelson ("cornhusker kickback")
MISSOURI: Claire McCaskill (won less than 50% of vote last election)
FLORIDA: Bill Nelson (Last month PPP had Nelson at 42% against a hypothetical Congressman Mack)
MONTANA: Jon Tester (won less than 50% of the vote last election)
OHIO: Sherrod Brown (June PPP has Brown's approval rating at just 38%)
VIRGINIA: Jim Webb (won less than 50% of vote last election)
NORTH DAKOTA: Kent Conrad (possible retirement?)

In Play (Up to 11 GOP pickups):
CONNECTICUT: Joe Lieberman (a strong GOP could win in a possible 3-way contest)
PENNSYLVANIA: Bob Casey, Jr. (could another Republican follow in Toomey's steps?)
MICHIGAN: Debbie Stabenow (a poll earlier this year had Gov Engler up 1% over Stabenow)
WISCONSIN: Herb Kohl (possible retirement)
NEW MEXICO: Jeff Bingaman (GOP Susana Martinez won decisively the governorship; is NM ready to go further red?)
WEST VIRGINIA: Joe Manchin (this race sure to be nationalized as a carryover from 2010)MINNESOTA: Amy Klobuchar (GOP picked up a seat in 2010 and almost won Gov. First Senate election since Democrat Franken stole election)
WASHINGTON: Maria Cantwell (WA was in play in 2010; will be again in 2012)
NEW JERSEY: Bob Menendez (NJ GOP picked up a congressional seat; Christie won statewide in 2009; can't rule out anything.)
HAWAII: Daniel Akaka (would theoretically reach 94 in office if re-elected--presuming he lives that long; Gov Lingle rumored to be mulling a run)
DELAWARE: Tom Carper (possible retirement: could Castle or O'Donnell get a second chance?)

Probably Not In Play (5):
CALIFORNIA: Dianne Feinstein
NEW YORK: Kirsten Gillibrand
RHODE ISLAND: Sheldon Whitehouse
MARYLAND: Ben Cardin
VERMONT: Bernie Sanders

1 Klobuchar didn't cast a vote but pushed for the nomination: "It's hard for me to understand how anyone could oppose her."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Utah's biggest election-night loser: Dan Jones

Typically, people who tell you "the polls are wrong" are usually wrong themselves. In Utah however we have statewide Dan Jones polling which has become so unreliable as to be ridiculous.

On their last poll for the 2nd District--released a day before early voting began--Dan Jones found with a 6% error margin Matheson to be beating Philpot by an astonishing 26 points! Yet Philpot ran a very close race tonight coming within 5 points of defeating Democrat Matheson. Keep in mind Philpot's narrow loss reversed increasing election victories including a Matheson's last 28 point victory in 2008. So how did Philpot move up 21 points in a single day before early voting? He didn't. Dan Jones was simply embarrassingly off.

And it isn't just this race Dan Jones got way off either: in Utah's other major race in the primary between Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater they showed Bridgewater with an 8 point lead with a margin of error of 4% just before voting. Lee won by 2 points.

With a track record like this, I really don't want to waste another minute reading another Dan Jones poll in my life.

Which brings me to Utah's biggest hero: the supporters of Morgan Philpot. From Alice Baker to people whose names you and I will never know--people stepped up to support a genuine patriot running in his first federal election. Morgan proved that Matheson is vulnerable and that while Morgan is a wonderful candidate, he isn't uniquely qualified to take down Matheson. Folks, we're just 24 short months away from getting rid of phantom Matheson and the lies he has used to get reelected.

So until victory in 2012, I took this snapshot earlier tonight on the New York Times election returns website with 65% reporting and Philpot in the lead to remind us all that together we can turn the 2nd District red.