Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Unnecessary Democracy

When is it okay for an activist wholly dedicated to democracy to say "enough's enough?"

When the people have already spoken at the ballot box, and a run-off election is merely a waste of taxpayer dollars. That's exactly what's happening in Austin right now, in our City Council Place 3 race (all registered Austin voters weigh in on this race as we still have an antiquated at-large system - more on that later). If we had implemented instant run-off voting long ago, we'd have already cast that second vote at the same time we cast our first, and not even be in this mess...but that too, is another story for later.

Randi Shade, the incumbent, fielded 3 tenacious challengers in Kathie Tovo, Max Nofziger and Kris Bailey in the first round. Tovo came up through the City Planning Commission and more recently, received significant community praise as an Austin ISD task force member who challenged the District's plan for cutting the budget. Nofziger is a former councilperson with a populist bent and significant grassroots support and Bailey is a young up-and-comer libertarian who garnered the coveted Willie Nelson endorsement for his pro-legalization stance which he successfully packaged as re-routing local police resources.

All this to say the challengers' collective take in the general election was as much in support of them as it was for unseating the incumbent for her consistent votes in favor of big-monied interests and against the community. That total exceeded 67%, so a plurality of voters said "we won't be needing your services any longer, thankyouverymuch."

None of those votes will go to Shade as the challengers all very much ran against her platform, and their supporters were rabid anti-Shade. I'll concede there is a small handful of Nofziger supporters that are purely anti-rail that may be bent more Shade than Tovo, but Shade's not really committed one way or the other on rail - and we're only talking about a 100 or so voters that may not be motivated to show up again anyway.

All logical predictions were that Tovo would be the runner-up and that we'd surely see a run-off, but no one predicted Tovo would actually come out ahead - and by 14 points at that: 47% to 33%. The voters CLEARLY don't want Shade in office, and clearly favored Tovo as the best person to replace her. Most political gurus say, too, that going into a run-off more than 5 points behind is insurmountable.

Based on voting and election result patterns - and on who did and who didn't concede a run-off in the past, most thought Shade would concede. I, myself, predicted as much, providing examples of why that would make sense.

She didn't (in time for the withdrawal deadline). Which shows precisely why she's such a bad representative of the people.

So we traipse on, committed to spending $528,400 to determine a pre-determined outcome. Is it the heavy-handed monied interests that believe she still owes them on deliveries or pure ego? I, myself, have a hard time understanding that her large ego would allow for such smashing humiliation to befall her, so it must be the muscle behind our police union and chamber folks.

On top of trying to keep her base and re-energize them to vote again, she will have to get 1000s of new voters to the polls just to vote for her AND seek to prevent the wholly-dedicated Tovo supporters from showing up again (unlikely as Tovo's ground game is tops). Meanwhile the indications are that more people who didn't vote prior may show up this time, but to vote against Shade for the mere fact that she's wasting our money.

I predict a 75-25 outcome/70-30 at worst, but I'm alone in that steep of a prediction. Morrison, in 08, with the same base as Tovo, beat a formidable opponent in the run-off with the same politics as Shade, 65-35. He wasn't a despised incumbent (it was an open seat) so he wasn't additionally getting punished for costing us a half million dollars, and with the almost-guaranteed plurality of Tovo as a starting point, she should exceed 70%, in my mind. We shall see.

In Shade's first week of the run-off campaign, as in her general election campaign, every trick she tried blew up in her face and set her back even more. She got caught removing parody signs from the polls ("Shady the Clown" - I understand they are gaining even more traction now by her bringing attention to them!) and failed in her ethics complaint against Tovo.

Stay tuned...the election is June 18.