Monday, April 29, 2013

In Absence Of Leverage, Be Pragmatic

It's been a long time since I understood what "progressive" meant in the context of local politics. In the 1990s there seemed to be a rock-solid coalition of ideological lefties, environmentalists, labor and students. But about a decade ago the broadly defined left of center started splintering in different directions along different fault lines over any number of local issues.

Public power split lefties from labor. 21 bar split public health do-gooders and an aging left from young people. Newport Road split different wings of environmentalist. The 2012 primary had that split plus personal and loyalty questions, and again saw an age split. And with each election, combined with the instant rant reality of social media, the interpersonal meanness factor seemed to grow. At least a few lifelong friendships ended, and if you know where to look you can see those subtexts.

Now and probably most of all, the justice center election, with its coalitions of broad center vs. left and right wings, has split progressives. It's a classic realist vs. idealist dilemma.

In her council days in the 1990s Karen Kubby was considered the gold standard of progressivism. Thus her No endorsement Saturday still carries some weight. But in it, she concedes major point to the Yes supporters:
I support those incarcerated having greater physical access to their families, attorneys and a variety of services that the jail provides and could provide in the future. I support having more courtrooms so that those in jail while awaiting trial will have quicker access to the justice system. I support a safer environment for prisoners, courthouse staff, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, students and the general public.

At a hearing of an anti-abortion protester who wanted the state to execute me as a murderer, I had to share a table with him because there was not a larger courtroom available. Through this experience, I acquired a visceral understanding of the need for larger courtrooms and enhanced security in our courthouse.
So why the No? Kubby explictly admits in the comments it's a protest vote.
I am suggesting a strategic political move that will force our community to confront a difficult set of issues that are systemic and personal... the Justice Center is the chit to bring about the next layer of this conversation. What push/pressure for change on these issues do we have if not the Justice Center?
I understand this view very well -- because it was my view for many years until I concluded that the need outweigh the leverage. And my personal respect for Karen transcends disagreement on one issue.

I'd like to see the county push back harder, too. But as we've seen with multiple fights on multiple issues (SEATS, TIFs, etc) the City Council doesn't care what county officials have to say.

And the city frankly doesn't care if the justice center passes or not. Some council members have lent their names, but it's people associated with the county and the bar that are doing the heavy lifting for Yes.

The city council care about what the typical Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students city election voter thinks, and those folks are more or less content with the ICPD and its current tactics. Thus the most effective way to change CITY police behavior is to change the people in CITY office by changing the shape of the city council electorate, rather than throwing a protest vote at the COUNTY which is stuck cleaning up the city's -- and, don't forget,  University's -- mess.

As I see it, in the absence of leverage on these other issues, the decision needs to be made on the pragmatics that Kubby spells out well. Meanwhile, the city council elections are only about six months away, and the challengers haven't showed their faces yet.

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