Friday, September 09, 2005

My First Date With the Republicans

Earlier tonight I had the privilege of being the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Humboldt County Republican Party. Their meetings are held in a private room at OH's Town House in Eureka. People gathered gradually between 6-7pm, during which time salad and then a main course were served. I got the impression it was $20 per head but I'm not sure, partly because Chairwoman Lori Metheny had made a point of inviting me to join them for dinner. She specifically said that their speakers get to eat for free. Choices for entree included several kinds of steak, chicken cordon bleu, and a (chicken?) ceaser salad.

I arrived promptly at 6pm, mindful of the cliche about no such thing as a free meal, totally ready for my full-on Republican experience. Many people told me I was being brave. Pity I didn't experience it that way. Now I don't exactly light up a room and there was some time when I was poring over their agenda and a news article that had been left at my seat. But it wasn't awkward and I remember being conscious of smiling and making eye contact. There was some small talk, none of which was contentious in the least. Prior to being there I had given thought to what this would be like. In my idealized notion I managed to warm it up a bit. I didn't achieve that but I certainly wasn't failing.

During the latter part of the dinner hour Kay Backer gave a PowerPoint presentation about HELP, Humboldt Economic and Land Plan group. The Eureka Reporter quoted Kay in this article from last week. Coincidentally, Kay referenced Reagan's quote "Trust, but verify." I have been using that a lot lately in introducing the lack of verifiable voting.

After Kay's talk, Lori called the meeting to order. After an invocation and "The Pledge," there was a roll call, previous minutes were amended and adopted, and other routine things occurred. Before I knew it Lori was calling me to the podium.

I thanked them for having me and told them it was an honor. I mentioned that lots of people have reacted with shock and awe that I might actually do this. But it is important that it be done, I said, in light of the events of the last two weeks, I want more than ever to know that I can work with others in my community. I told them I wanted to have a dialog with them and work on building a bridge together.

As an example, I spoke about how doing follow up phone calls after the town hall forum on preferential voting led me to connect with Kevin Matlock, a man they all know as a former Executive Director of their group (he was current ED when we met). I repeated a challenge I had made to Kevin: the Republican Party of Humboldt County could widen its appeal if it would commit to the same principle as the Voter Confidence Committee, namely, systemic election reforms that benefit all voters equally.

At this point I called back to the Reagan quote and asked how "verify" should be defined in the context of elections. Several people commented about absentee ballots, particularly in Arcata and in houses where multiple students live. There was also support for requiring ID to vote. It is interesting to notice the common perspective focuses on who gets to vote as opposed to making sure votes are counted and counted accurately.

I don't recall exactly what caused the topic to really open up but there seemed to be consensus that I should read the eight reforms in the Voter Confidence Resolution adopted by Arcata. I did not discuss the Consent of the Governed aspect of the VCR, instead conveying the idea that these are systemic reforms that will benefit all voters equally, and that together, these changes are designed to ensure conclusive election results that will make sure we have unanimous agreement about who won. I mentioned that we are promoting the resolution to other communities with the idea that they should determine their own list of reforms capable of generating conclusive results and a basis for confidence. I didn't mention framing but clearly I was consciously promoting our frame by talking about promoting our frame.

The focus stayed primarily on preferential voting and proportional representation after that. One woman spoke of the Federalist Papers and the origins of the electoral college. She credited America's Founders with being far more steeped in and knowledgeable about history. Their wisdom was greater than us, she seemed to say, and we should leave it alone. In explaining how the electoral college is supposed to work, I pointed out, she had explained that the intention was to have proportional representation. Yet it is precisely because of this antiquated vestige of government that we do not have proportional representation. She disagreed, alleging that the Electoral College is working as intended.

An Arcata resident expressed her frustration at not having any hope of seeing a Republican on the City Council. This person would benefit most from proportional representation. I quickly pointed out that with five seats she would have to help a Republican candidate get just 20% to win a seat and get the representation she lacks. She waved me off and mumbled something about still not being able to win.

I don't remember exactly where some of these next things fit in but I recall mentioning the Utah Republican Party for its use of ranked choice voting. I also referred to Cambridge, MA where a Republican minority has long favored choice voting and its resultant proportional representation. I picked up on a comment about majority rule to connect to Eureka Mayor LaVallee being elected with 38%, an impossibility with the majority mandate of instant runoff voting.

There was also a gentleman who spoke about how Eureka's voting has changed in the past. He said we should go back to primaries and runoffs and that plurality is not good. Well if we don't have plurality we have to have majority and why should we pay extra money for a second election with historically lower turnout when we can get to the same place in a single ranked choice ballot? The response was a sincere but misguided pitch for the merits of the two party system. Another time and place and I would have demonstrated how the two party system perpetuates the myth of democracy.

I really could have done this for as long as they liked but I could see Lori indicating my time was nearly up. To bring it all together I mentioned that the VCC has been working with Registrar of Voting Carolyn Crnich on creating an Election Advisory Committee. I reminded them that I came to start building a bridge and this Advisory Committee is going to be a chance for us to continue working together. I announced that I had a sign up list for anyone interested in updates from the VCC. Nobody took me up on that. However, several people asked for copies of the Voter Confidence Resolution. I also presented Lori with one copy of Mythbreakers and one of the Conyers report on Ohio last November in hopes she'll let them be resources in their headquarters (I hope it isn't a tragic waste of paper).

Before I left, Lori thanked me for coming and praised my bravery. She sort of apologized if it felt rough at all but I sort of didn't let her apologize since I hadn't been ruffled at all. She then said (something like) "the 20 bucks to get you here was so worth it to see some of those guys have their thoughts challenged." There may be more than one way to read that but I heard it in a way that was a great compliment.

It is really unfortunate that there is no video of this event. Other than that, I can't really think of other negatives about this experience. I didn't get any of the tangible things I might have known better than to dream of, but I did raise awareness and get respect and hopefully set a good example. It is not a cliche or a talking point. We have to do this bridge building like society depends on it.

We must unite our communities if we are to protect ourselves from a federal government that provides no assistance to its people other than to aid and abet the deaths of thousands of poor people in a disaster area. Katrina changed everything. It wasn't just lack of assistance, it was denial of help and resources. The media is now being prevented from showing dead bodies. There are evacuee camps where media are forbidden and conditions resemble martial law. The Denver Post called one such location a concentration camp. If it seems like I've gone astray from my topic, remember that I'm trying to build a bridge and show you how important it is that you do the same.



About the Hurricane Katrina disaster, we can add this to the growing list of shortcomings by the U.S. Government in response to catastrophes...

By Blogger Andrei, at 12:59 PM  

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