Archives for November 28, 2012

If Charlie Dent’s a Moderate, Why Hasn’t He Denounced the No Tax Pledge Yet?

If it were true that Charlie Dent is on the left of the Republican caucus, you’d think he’d have been one of the first out the gate to denounce the Grover Norquist No Tax Pledge, before other more conservative House members. But he hasn’t.

Why Does the Peak Pittsburgh Labor Force Keep Not Being News?

I really do not understand. It’s not like people aren’t interested in the issue of jobs and how to make more of them. It’s not like politicians and advocacy organizations aren’t interested in these issues. It’s not like the news media isn’t interested in them.

So why is it that the boomingest most impressive labor market in the state doesn’t get any attention when we talk about why doesn’t Pennsylvania have more jobs?

Why aren’t politicians and political activists on both sides pointing at Pittsburgh and saying “Hey! maybe we should try to do what they’re doing” or “Hey! maybe our state jobs strategy should be picking up people in areas with no jobs, and dropping them into Pittsburgh?” It really is a mystery…

No, Bethlehem Does Not Have a “Participatory Democracy”

This was a mighty strange comment from Al Wirth:

“We’ve had a 50 percent attrition rate [since the start of the meeting] and I don’t think that’s a good model for participatory democracy,” said Al Wirth, a Lehigh University politics professor and a member of the Sierra Club who said he opposed single hauler for environmental reasons.

I suppose that wouldn’t be so good for a participatory democracy, but that’s fine because Bethlehem doesn’t have a participatory democracy, it has a representative democracy.

If people think Bethlehem’s city charter should be changed to remake local government institutions for participatory democracy, they can try to build support for that idea, but that is not the system of government that exists now. It’s weird that Al Wirth wants to hold the city to the standards of a political system that the city does not have, and does not claim to have.

In a representative democracy, voters elect representatives whose values they share, those representatives do their best to become experts on the issues, and then they vote based on their expert knowledge of the issues. Voters are free to try to persuade the representatives to adopt their views, but the key feature of representative democracy is that the only direct channel for voter participation is elections. On the days that are not Election Day, voters only have indirect tools like persuasion.

That’s all just a long-winded way of saying that people should disabuse themselves of the expectation that just because people bring 100 partisans out to a meeting, that participatory democracy standards should kick in and politicians have to vote for what the 100 partisans want. Expecting to impose the preferences of 100 people on 76,000 people is also a terrible approximation of participatory democracy standards, but it doesn’t matter because that’s not the form of government Bethlehem has.

What the Bethlehem Trash Hauler Poll Matters For

Issue polls are useful for two main reasons.

One reason is that they give politicians information about how much political space they have to support a bill. If people are lopsidedly against a proposal, then there’s a risk that your opponent in the next election will use that issue as a weapon against you. A politician who ran for office to pass what he thinks are good policies wouldn’t necessarily care about that, but a politician who ran with the goal of keeping the seat as long as possible has a reason to hew close to the polls. That’s your typical career politician – somebody who doesn’t really care about anything and just does whatever it takes to keep getting elected.

The other reason issue polls matter is that they are a tool for advocates to use to counter a lame Constituent Defense from a politician.

For example – Eric Evans and Bob Donchez would probably like to gesture to the 100 people who showed up to oppose the single hauler trash plan last night and say “See? My constituents clearly oppose this plan, so I can’t vote for it.”

The poll is useful because it shows that’s wrong, and actually a much larger random sample of over 1500 of their constituents is lopsidedly in support of the plan.

Eric Evans and Bob Donchez cannot point at the 100 people and claim that the politics says they can’t vote for single hauler. We have heard from many many more people than that, and the group that turned out is actually not representative of what most people want.

Single Hauler is the First Test of Mayor Bob Donchez

The fact that Bob Donchez is supposedly leaning against the single hauler trash proposal in spite of the obvious economic benefits is just the latest evidence that he’ll be the kind of pushover Mayor who does whatever the loudest group at a meeting tells him to do. I hope he proves me wrong, but that seems to be the governing philosophy of several Bethlehem council members. The squeaky wheel gets my vote. Somebody better has got to get in that primary.