Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Iowa City to Students: Drop Dead (Part 2)

I'm supposed to be a happy little Democrat tonight with the Liz Mathis blowout. But I'm not. I'm miserable. Some wins and losses you feel more than others, and as you could tell from reading these past couple weeks, I was deeply committed politically and emotionally to Raj Patel. This one hurts.

Patel's loss proves beyond all doubt that under the present Iowa City political and electoral structure, it is impossible to elect a student to the city council. The only way to achieve a representative democracy in my city is with a rewritten city charter.

There's plenty of blame to go around for Patel's loss, but little of it goes to the candidate himself. He was the best prepared, best funded - yes, from his pocket - hardest working young candidate I've seen in two decades in town. He knocked on more than 5000 doors in every part of the city. He did what he needed to do.

So what went wrong in tonight's results?

1. Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students. All that the voters on the east side needed to know about Raj was that he was 20 years old. The 50 and 60 and 70 somethings won't vote for a young person any more than white people will vote for a black governor of Mississippi, and old school "progressives" have aged to the point that they no longer identify with students like they used to.

2. Pink Signs. All Manville Heights, ironically one of the more pro-public power parts of town six years ago, cared to know about Michelle Payne was that she was female. They felt "progressive" supporting her. So now there's a Republican MidAmerican employee on the council. Given how lame Mike Wright turned out, why didn't we just save time four years ago and elect Terry Smith?

3. Lack of support from the Daily Iowan. The headline every day for the last four weeks should have been "Chance To Elect Student, Vote Now!" Instead they quibbled about Patel's enrollment status, overstressed Payne's, and didn't emphasize the very likely UI administration pressure on Patel. The front page was All Occupy All Month. They offered a weak, and counterproductive, co-endorsement of Patel and Payne just Tuesday morning.

4. Vote Only For Jarrett Mitchell. Told ya so. The Chicken Man was, as I predicted with great evidence and accuracy, a distant fourth, 1000 votes behind Patel. Patel was just 232 votes behind Payne. Lefties (sic) were lulled by Mitchell's buzzwords and persona. Those bullets for the pullets could have elected Patel, but instead we have Payne. Bullet voting on all sides was rampant this election; average voter cast just 1.57 votes at large meaning (roughly) 43% left one blank.

5. The students themselves. Turnout was low; Payne goes to the council with the lowest vote total of any winner in decades (Randy Larson in 1987, when the city population was much smaller). Brandon Ross in 2003 got damn near as many votes as Payne did today. John Robertson got more in 2001 in fourth place. Despite massive efforts from Team Patel, 700+ absentees never came back. (Consolation prize: Patel probably won the mental votes of a plurality of those who attempted, however incompletely, to vote.)

6. Structural barriers. I'm not just talking about the normal confusion of young people learning to vote for the first time. I'm saying that if you make the rules of the game, you determine the outcome. We elect the city council in off years, when participation and interest are lower. We have lengthy four year terms, as long as many young people are here. Raj at least could commit to staying in town because he has work waiting for him at graduation; how many students have that? And worst of all, you cannot get elected without winning city-wide.

25,000 students. 32 years. Zero representation. But it's not taxation without representation because, as Payne's supporters will tell you, "students don't pay taxes."

So here's my charter plan:

  • True districts where only the people who live in them run. If you have seven or nine or eleven, you get a district that's downtown dominated and winnable for a young person. I say more districts and a bigger body; 25 would be wonderful and give you precinct-size districts.

  • Two year terms. That's a more reasonable time commitment to ask of a young person.

  • Elections in even numbered years, on the general election ballot. That's when the most people vote, and more voters means more representative democracy. I'd make it partisan, too, but I could settle for non.

    But till then, we have another polarized result. The people who want to scrub and sanitize and neuter Iowa City have won another round, and we will have to look at Rick Dobyns sitting in smug self-righteousness for the next four years of council meetings.

    We'll just have to settle for voting down the jail next year. I know that's punishing the county, when it's the city and the University who are most at fault for the anti-student attitude. But as long as law enforcement's student harassing behavior doesn't change, and as long as students still have no seat at the table, the jail is the only place we get to say no.

    On to our other cities. University Heights is sitting at a one vote margin for the fifth seat, with seven absentees out. That's not over yet. Jim Fausett hangs on narrowly in Coralville, Mitch Gross is a consensus, and congrats to Jill Dodds. North Liberty says no to wards and Solon says Hell No to new city building. In Tiffin, mayor Royce Phillips is out. Blowout of the night goes to Tim Kemp, new Hills mayor, winning 137 to 9; Steve Cook gets less votes than he had nomination signatures.

    Adam B Sullivan said...

    I'm tickled you think we carry enough weight to potentially sway a city council election, but we wrote more than twice as many stories about Patel as any other candidate, because he was a student (and because he was hosting twice as many media events as anyone else). When he was no longer a student, we cooled our coverage. I don't think that's quibbling.


    Tom C said...

    As the Al Gore Presidency still sits on unreviewed ballots moldering in a musty vault in Tallahassee, so does Raj Patel's City Council seat sit in 700 unreturned absentee ballots on desks, in piles of unsorted mail, in garbage cans, and other places lost envelopes end up in dorm rooms and apartments across Iowa City.

    The bullet votes for Mitchell I think were minimal--maybe 100. He did not advertise or publicize it very far.

    The real margin of defeat lies in those 700 unreturned ballots. Patel won the early vote over Payne by a good margin. You have to believe those 700 ballots would hold a significant margin for Patel--200 to 300--enough to bring victory.

    I don't defend Mitchell's bullet voting tactic, but I do think it's effect was minimal. I voted for both Mitchell and Payne. Believe me, I am not happy about feeling the "payne" for four years. Leaving votes on the table is about the toughest way to lose an election.

    Tom Carsner

    John said...

    Interesting, Carsner. Why Payne?

    Tom C said...

    I meant Mitchell and PATEL. Where is my editor?

    John said...

    THAT's better.

    Jacob Ridler said...

    15-25 districts and keeping a non-partisan election both sound good to me.

    Pushing for on-cycle year elections would be the most important part though.

    Would you advocate for a popularly-elected mayor? (I would.)