Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fundamental Change

I've said quite often to "newbies" in politics that there is a startling difference between the acts of running for office and actually governing. If a new office holder has even a modicum of self-awareness then they are usually struck hard by this distinction. Once this stark difference hits you, it becomes imcumbent upon you to re-evaluate your goals.

It has been a lot of years since I last engaged in public service and I have been through this business of holding public office often enough where I knew the drill and thought I was completely prepared for the transition from candidate to office holder....but it still took me by surprise.

As I observed the actions of our governing body on Public Access TV and later, live, in-person, I thought that holding local office was about two things:

First, Ask the Right Questions. I always felt that the legislative body was off-topic; almost as if their questions on any particular topic were non-sequitors to the topic at hand.

Second, Hold the Executive Branch accountable. The executive brance has been, and continues to, get away with gross incompetence and nobody in the Legislative branch either knew or cared.

Those two issues became the basis for my "platform" upon which I sought office.

Once elected I found out the startling truth. The two planks of my platform are endemic to the system. The entire culture of our local government is based on something OTHER THAN WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE CITY. It's all about the City Government perpetuating itself and its system. My very first venture into challenging this system resulted in being treated like I was from another planet.

Fundamental Change is needed.

And that will become the goal of my office-holding matter how short or how long.... forget the subject matter....forget the issues....those will be only the vehicles for effecting change.....

Now....just how do we fit those pieces together to make this work the way it's supposed to?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Need to retrain myself

I think if I've ever had an "over-riding" fault* in politics it has to be my tendency to go off on "Crusades". That is, to stand obstinately behind a principle even if it means certain political defeat or damage.

(*just to be clear here, I have more than "one fault" but I'm talking about a specific theme here...not to imply that I'm arrogant enough to think I'm that close to perfection -hizzhoner)

The reason I mention it now is because upon diving back in to public office again after a long (too long) hiatus, I find one issue after another coming up which violate some of my core beliefs and principles of government. As always, my first instinct is to "man the barricades" or dig in my heels to fight for those principles. But the interesting thing is, my fellow elected officials don't see the issues as ones of "principle", they see them as small, minute even, little issues that should be disposed of in the quickest possible manner. Or, more likely, they see them as "budget-cutting", "cost-saving" or "frugal" measures. I still can't bring myself to look at these issues in that way because they speak directly to the question of "what is government supposed to be funding?".

I think I'm going to have to learn to pick my battles. Save what little political capital I have, (being a "newbie" they have shuffled me off to dust bins...I have to build seniority and power) for the really big battles. Right now, the only power I really have is my ability to speak forcefully and articulately and the ability to do my homework. Strangely enough, I have more power on the council floor than anywhere else.

We'll see if I can reform myself...or is that "restrain" myself?


Monday, April 17, 2006

Primary or No Primary

I'm told one of the first big issues that we will be deciding is whether to put in place and ordinance that mandates a primary election whenever there are more than two candidates for a public office. This is, of course, as opposed to having the Council decide independently each time there are more than two candidates for office.

On the surface, at least, this appears to be a no-brainer.......and come to think of it, it IS A NO BRAINER!

Think about it for a minute. Under the present system, the mere act of deciding to hold or not hold a primary is manipulation of the election results. If the Council "likes" the incumbent Mayor, they naturally want to have as many challengers as possible to run against him to split the vote that wants a change in leadership. Conversely, they can choose to hold a primary if they don't like the incumbent and want to give the challenger(s) every reasonable opportunity to defeat the incumbent.

In a sense, the Council, or at least a majority of the Council, can hold the proverbial "Sword of Damocles" over the head of the Mayor not only during the duration of his/her term, but especially during election season

In addition, there is a distinct possibility that the successful Mayoral candidate could be elected (in a three-way race) with as little as 34% of the vote. That may be a very, very small number of actual votes. Do the math...

Say 4000 people vote (about 35% of the electorate)
Say there are three candidates and the it goes, 34% to 33% to 33%

So the winner (at 34%) got:

.34 X 4,000 =1360 votes....

that's 1360 votes out of an ELIGIBLE VOTER LIST OF 11,400



50.1% of all eligible voters would be 5711 votes.

So what I propose is making the mayor get a Majority of the votes AND remove the sword of Damocles from the hand of the council as it pertains to the Mayor.

I am not "moved" by the argument that a primary election is "expensive" and that not holding a primary is a "cost savings" measure. This is the argument I've heard over and over again on the floor and consider it to be a subterfuge for another agenda.

I'm looking forward to the fight really.

could be a good one!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Solemn Moment really

In a few days I'll once again take an oath of office and be seated as an elected official again.

I've been through it enough times now where I'm over the initial shock that all elected officials go through the first time the words of the oath sink in. When you realize what you've just done, what responsibilities you've taken on, it's a little intimidating. I approach it with more solemnity now than I did in the past because, as I'm growing older, the consequences of holding public office seem more......more....Profound.

Let me share a few thoughts with you.

Almost any public office you can think of involves making decisions which could some day, somehow become a life or death decision for somebody, somewhere, somehow. When you're voting on the annual City Budget for instance, you've got to understand that some of the "cost saving measures" you're voting for could eventually result in placing a life at risk. I'm not talking about cutting the Park and Recreation budget. Or maybe even the Library budget. But when you're dealing with Police, Fire, Ambulance and even Public Works, make no mistake about it, you're gambling with human life. You will (if you are a person of conscious) at least once in your career, go to bed asking yourself if the $40,000 you cut from the Police/Fire/Ambulance Budget is worth the loss of a single human life. You'll wonder. And worry.

Contrary to popular, cynical logic, WHO you elect DOES make a difference. The philosophy and character of persons running for office should be scrutinized very carefully. A tough-talking, red-meat-eating politician may amuse and entertain but do you really want that kind of person deciding how often the garbage gets picked up? Or, if the roof will be repaired on your kids school?

My patience has grown thin with the "fast burners" in local government. You know who I'm talking about, don't you. We've all seen the bright young person (there are as many Woman fast burners as men these days) who has the endorsement of the local Rotary/Lions/Kiwanis/Chamber of Commerce, dresses immaculately for each meeting and feels the need to speak to each and every issue on the agenda. These people are likely to jump out of their seats in order to "Move" a motion or even "Second" a motion for the sole purpose of making sure their name appears in the newspaper, or, at the very least, in the meeting minutes. They all harbor a common dream: that this seat is a stepping-stone to a higher public office. When I see them on the street these days, I'm amused because I picture that commercial of a man walking down the street who is being followed by another man holding a "boombox" which is playing the first man's "own theme song". I'm certain, in their minds these folks hear their own theme song. They add nothing to the debate except sound-bites and I think we more than enough of them these days.

In my younger days I complained bitterly about the "idiots" serving on the City Councils where I worked. I complained that we were dealing with "garbage can government" in that the people serving on the council were there because nobody else wanted to be there. Today, I think those people were geniuses. Let me give you an example:

One of my old nemesis' used to infuriate me by quoting Abraham Lincoln and then "zinging" me with a swift and well-placed parliamentary maneuver. I came to learn that whenever he asked to be recognized and then started quoting Lincoln, I was in for a long, long night. A goodly number of public office-holders I've talked to recently have ZERO, ZIP, NADA knowledge of Parliamentary Procedure, much less any appreciable knowledge of Abraham Lincoln.

I've rambled on enough, I think so let me leave you with this thought.

I'm growing older now and I've have a couple of recent encounters with my own mortality. The age and the experiences have taught me to appreciate and honor the position I am holding and treat it with reverence. I hope others do also.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Trying to get back in the swing of things

Last week was momentous in a couple of ways.

The death and subesquent funeral of my Mother-in-law took up most of my attention from March 30 through April 4. This is as it should be. We were fortunate enough to be joined by Sylvia's brothers and one Nephew (who we haven't seen in 18 years.) and I think that was wonderful. Despite the fact that the family had reconciled itself to Mom's death for over 14 years (that's how long she was in a nursing home) there was a lot more grief and sense of loss than anybody had imagined. The funeral was a chance for all of them to come to grips with the whole ordeal of Alzheimer's Disease. The fact that they were all gathered at our house was also a chance for them to share stories of their youth and their time with their mother...actually a chance to literally celebrate their life with their mother...and then to say good-bye. It was good. And then, on Tuesday Morning, one-by-one, the whole family left and normal life, the new normal life, began.

But Tuesday was election day for local offices in Wisconsin and I was on the ballot. I had almost completely forgotten that little fact for the last five days before the election...good thing I was running unopposed....

After that, it's been a whirlwind.

...the bizarre ending to the Mayor's race
...the flood of phone calls on various issues
...decisions to be made about committee assignments
...several issues within the party to deal with...


Welcome to the "new normal"...

I think I'm in for quite a ride.