The Fragile Balance

PPIC generally, and Eric McGhee specifically, largely do good work.  So it’s not surprising the statistical work in their recently released, “Assessing California’s Redistricting Commission” is mostly solid. It confirms what close observers know, claims that the commission was “tricked” into passing a Democratic gerrymander are simply not substantiated by those pesky things known as facts.

That said, as someone who closely followed the commission process, when it comes to policy recommendations the report falls short.  First the report argues the Commission should consider political data with the explicit purpose of understanding the political impacts of their proposed lines.  That purpose would be to look for bias in plans and/or a lack of competitiveness. 

The author argues the law’s prohibition against using such data to favor or discriminate against any incumbent, candidate or party does not preclude this.  This legal interpretation is questionable.  Say the commission drew a district based on the completely partisan-neutral criteria in the law (i.e. compactness, avoiding splitting jurisdictions).  Then it tested that district and for whatever reasons it was less competitive than some other configuration.  Changing the district to the “fairer” configuration would by definition be making the district better for some candidates and parties and worse for others.  You could argue that is a good policy outcome, but it’s still explicitly using political data to change political outcomes.

For better or worse, this is not how Proposition 11 which established the Commission was written.  Competitiveness IS NOT a criteria.  The goal was not to make California campaigns more interesting for academics, entertaining for reporters, and profitable for campaign consultants.  The law says take the politics out of the decision making and then let the chips fall where they may. 

You can argue that is naïve.  Indeed, states working on redistricting reform proposal right now are struggling with whether to emphasize non-partisan PROCESSES or non-partisan OUTCOMES.  Should they emphasize copying California's example or protecting against Wisconsin and Pennsylvania's?  Indeed this is often a key difference between favoring an “independent” or a “bipartisan” commission.  But California voters made their choice and to suggest simply circumventing it is…. problematic.

More importantly, the author’s argument ignores what introducing such explicitly partisan considerations would do to the commission’s actual function.  One of the challenges under Proposition 11 is its requirement that separate majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents on the Commission all vote for the final plans.  One of the most critical parts to California’s success was having Commissioners slowly develop a comradery.  Over many months they increasingly saw themselves as Commissioners first, and representatives of their partisan pools less and less. 

When outside forces tried to argue about the partisan impacts of this line or that line Commissioners were largely able to brush those aside because they knew why THEY drew those lines.  They knew they did not do it with a partisan purpose, and therefore they knew they did not have to worry about the partisan outcomes. 

The report's proposal would be terribly disruptive to that gravity pulling the Commission together.  Imagine every time a map is generated Commissioners getting a report with the results of an opaque statistical calculation of the potential partisan tilt of a map.  It would be only natural for commissioners to start looking at whether specific maps were better or worse for their partisan pool.  Human natural is human nature, and by making partisanship a part of the Commission’s deliberation, the proposal would push Commissioners to stay in their partisan bunkers.  This would make reaching consensus more difficult and increase the chances the commission could fail… all to address a problem the author’s own work suggests is small at best. 

This is equally true when looking at the report’s other big proposal: introducing automated line drawing into the redistricting process.  Now don’t get me wrong, these computer algorithms can be fun.  And they can even serve a purpose, helping to illuminate what is and is not possible with the lines.  They can also show how emphasizing one criterion over another changes how a plan comes together. 

But from a public policy standpoint, one thing they are lousy at is dealing with  communities of interest.  If one reads the ballot arguments and explicit language of Proposition 11 this was one of its primary goals, to keep communities from being unfairly divided.  There is no central database of communities of interests.  Indeed many communities of interest overlap.  There is no easy way to tell a computer this community is this much more important to keep whole than that community.  It requires debate and discussion, trial and error.

Even if such software did exist, its use ignored another success of the 2011 process.  At the time more than a few redistricting “experts” squawked about how the Commission’s demographers should just “tell them what to do.” Even now, I occasionally hear proponents of Proposition 11 talk about how the staff should have reined the Commissioners in more and not let them waste time on things they “obviously” were not going to do.

The problem with those arguments, and with McGhee’s proposal, is they again ignore the human factor.  They ignore Proposition 11 fundamentally requires fourteen commissioners (who by law must come from very different backgrounds) to come together to reach a consensus. 

One of the brilliances of the Commission’s professional line-drawers in 2011 is they actually let the Commissioners draw the lines.  They did everything they could to avoid staff capture (or in the case of the PPIC proposal, algorithm capture).  They let the Commissioners explore all their ideas, even the bad ones.  This meant later in the process, when tough final decisions had to be made, Commissioners could feel confident in them.  They knew that they had explored all the options.  They knew when there were less than ideal lines for some communities they were the result of tradeoffs in other parts of the map.  They knew they were not the result of staff trying to manipulate them or ignoring creative solutions in favor of those “obvious” ones.

This again insulated the Commissioners against accusations of partisan bias.  It may have proved the adage about making sausage.  It may not have been fun for outside observers.  But to fix the “problem” would only create much bigger issues. 

This doesn’t mean tools like the author suggests can’t or even shouldn’t be a part of the 2021 redistricting process.  But they should be the purview of outside groups, not the Commission itself.  Outside groups can (and I assume will) analyze partisan impacts of lines.  When they find evidence of a clear (if unintentional) partisan tilt they will let the Commission know.  My strong suspicion is the Commission will respond (see the changes made to draft Board of Equalization boundaries in 2011). 

I’m also sure outside groups will submit plans drawn exclusively by computers using this algorithm and that algorithm. And I’m sure the Commission will look at those just like all other publicly submitted maps to understand what is possible and what is not.  The Commission will compare them against the public testimony about what should be and what should not. 

But to introduce proposals like those in the PPIC report would endanger the fragile balance established by Proposition 11 and California’s voters. 

A Sutter Brown memory

In 2012 I was working on the qualification on what would become Prop 30.  Due to some last minute politicking, the initiative got a late start gathering signatures, so qualification was anything but assured. 

At one point I got asked to the Governor's then residence on J Street so the campaign team could brief the Governor and his team on the status and next steps.  When I arrived there were only a few of Brown’s senior aids and the First Lady.  

Oh and Sutter. Being a dog person Sutter quickly found his way to my feet for some petting as we waited for others to arrive.  Eventually people were tired of waiting so it fell on me to start giving the update, with our brilliant First Lady asking most of the questions.  

About half way in our equally brilliant Governor joined.  After dispensing with some other issues, he plopped himself down right next to me on their bench seating, and joined in the questioning.  

Now, I’ve mentioned both the Governor and First Lady are brilliant. However they are brilliant in very different ways.  Pardon the gun analogy, but Anne is like a sniper rifle.  She is always three steps ahead and knows just where she is going.  Jerry on the other hand is like a shotgun.  You never know where he is going, but he is going to find things nobody else ever could.  

Being interrogated by both at the same time was... challenging.  Was my head focused on the task at hand?  Nope.  You see Sutter was still sitting at my feet demanding his attention (He was a stubbornly demanding dog).  

So as the Governor sat next to me, when I should have been focused on my job, the only thing I could hear was my internal monologue telling me, "Pet the dog, not the Governor.  Pet the dog, not the Governor.  Pet the dog, not the Governor."

Sutter, you will be missed.  

Angels and Demons

The national press (aka mainstream media), public, et al have been generally uncomfortable with their uncomfortablness (yes a new word) in the differing coverage of the Democratic and Republican primaries.  Why are so many rational people eager for The First Lady vs. Santa Claus to be over and at the same time ready for The Hair vs. The Clown Car to go on forever?

It’s not liberal bias Fox News.  It’s human nature.  Start with the Democratic primary.  To get the disclaimers out of the way, I voted for Obama in the ’08 primary and will be voting for Clinton in ’16.  The tension between those votes has not changed with time.  Bernie Sanders is appealing to our better angels.  Free college for all?  Super.  Never have to pay to see the doctor? Bring it on. 

That said- calling out the practicalities of such things does not label one a member of the dreaded “establishment.”  Reducing the cost of a quality education will not do much to increase access until you also increase the supply.  Is it a legitimate concern that by eliminating the co-pay when I stub my toe I might take a slot away from somebody who, you know, actually needs to see a doctor... yes. 

But that is a battle with our better half.  Like so many battles, while it is a healthy and a good thing (much like the current Democratic Primary is good for the Democratic Party), it is not one we necessarily enjoy lingering upon.  We want it to be over because it reminds us of our own failings.

Now let’s flip to our Republican friends.  Many smarter people than I have written about how Trump is the natural evolution of 25 years of free trade policies.  However I would argue that he is the natural evolution of several thousand years of evolution (sorry to all GOP members I have already lost). 

Trump’s appeal is actually rather simplistic once you strip it down.  Your life sucks?  It’s not your fault.  Blame the immigrant.  Blame government.  Blame the elite.  Blame the demon that is possessing poor Linda Blair.  It’s an externalization of all our problems and it is inherently appealing.  If someone else is to blame- I am not. 

That is a battle with our own darker side.  Like so many battles, we know it can take us to a self-destructive place, and thus we will draw it out as long as we possibly can, hoping for someone, anyone, to save us.  It is no mistake that the GOP is willing to risk its salvation on a bunch of white guys, selected for their current positions by an opaque process, conclaving until we mere mortals see a puff of smoke appear from… Cleveland.

As we head into Florida and Ohio, this is not a Dem vs. Rep narrative.  Many Democrats have appealed to our sins.  More than a few Republicans have asked us to aspire.  It is not a generational battle for the soul of the Democratic and Republican Parties.  This is not a rush to end one fight and drag out another for mere entertainment value.  It is simply a reflection of the struggle between the good and bad we all carry into our daily lives.  

Mixed Feelings

On one hand, way too excited to be wrapping up my post-election analysis projects.  Has felt like I was back in college writing term papers for the last six week.  

On the other hand not looking forward to a million difference redistricting questions this week.  Damn you Supreme Court...

But at least it's Beer Week.  

Top Two Impact Limited by Ballot Dropoff

As I am preparing to head down to my old stomping grounds at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley for their election post-mortem, one panel that caught my eye is “The Top-Two: So What?".   Most analysis has been on whether the new system is living up to its authors’ promises of moderating the Legislature (maybe) and engaging independent voters (not yet). 

Precious little has been invested in answering practical questions important to practitioners about the top-two beginning with: In contests that feature two candidates of the same party, how often do voters of the opposite party choose a candidate and how often do they skip the contest?

It is an important question.  Intraparty general elections did not exist before top-two.   They made up one in six of the contests in November.  Faulty assumptions on crossover rates can shape outcomes.  If pollsters include too many or too few members of the opposing party, it will throw off their projections.  Campaigns can waste precious resources trying to appeal to voters who are not going to vote for either candidate. 

To answer this question we first need to understand a bit about voter behavior.  Why would a voter make a proactive decision NOT to vote in a contest when they already have a ballot and pen in their hands?  Most voters fall into a pyramid of partisanship when it comes to crossover voting:

  • Loyalists- Will only vote for candidates of their party.
  • Oppositionists- Will vote for anyone other than members of the other major party.
  • Crossovers- Will vote for member of other parties if there is no member of their party on the ballot.
  • Independents- Will vote for candidates regardless of party.  Note Independents here refers to a form of voting behavior, not registering as having no party preference or decline to state.

Consider Republicans faced with a Dem vs. Dem contest.  Some will just move on when they do not see an “R” (Loyalists).  Others could have stomached a candidate with no party preference but cannot bring themselves to vote for Obama’s party (Oppositionists).  Still others will vote for the more moderate Democrat when they have to (Crossovers).  Some voted for a mix of candidates from different parties even before top-two (Independents).

These categories are not absolute and the circumstances of individual campaigns matter.  A Latino may be less partisan when evaluating Latino candidates.  That said these broad categories are reflected in dropoff statistics, the difference between the number of voters who cast a ballot in a district and the number of votes cast for candidates in that contest.  There were 153 Congressional and Legislative contests held in November falling into four categories:

crossover2.jpg

The lowest dropoff contests are those where voters can choose between candidates of the two major parties and as partisan options decrease dropoff increases.  Notably the highest dropoff in any traditional general was 8.5%.  Only one-fifth of intraparty general had lower drop-offs than this high watermark for traditional generals.  Almost exclusively these were competitive Dem vs. Dem elections in districts where Republican registration is so anemic that high interest levels among Democrats trumped any dropoff among Republicans. 

While it remains unclear whether top-two will ever increase overall turnout, it is already very clear that intraparty generals can reduce participation in individual contests.  How much?  Traditional elections can help provide the answer.  Dropoff rates for most voters are probably not affected by an intraparty general.  Democrats facing two Democrats will pick one.  Minor party and unaffiliated voters are used to sometimes having to pick candidates from one of the major parties.  Thus the bulk of the observed increase in dropoff in these elections likely comes from members of the major party not represented.  Thanks to data from Political Data we know how many people voted in each district and their partisan associations. 

We do have to make some assumptions about how voters not affiliated with one of the major parties behave. If one assumes these voters are more likely than members of the major parties to dropoff in a traditional primary, than you have to assume these voters will also be more likely to dropoff in an intraparty primary.  Thus two models are used for calculating dropoff in traditional primaries. The first assumes these unaffiliated voters are no more or less likely to dropoff than other voters and thus had the same dropoff rate as the average: 4.6%.  The second assumes that no members of the major parties dropped off in traditional primaries and any voters skipping a contest were unaffiliated or minor party voters.  This would translate to an average dropoff rate for these voters of 21%.  The truth is almost certainly somewhere in the middle.  A more complex model could refine these assumptions, but these extremes provide bookends for this analysis.

With this in place we can now calculate how much ballot dropoff came from the party with two candidates on the ballot, how much from the major party with none, and how much from others.  For those who enjoy algebra, to calculate the percentage of voters who crossed over:

[(Total Voted - Votes Cast in Contest) – (Total Voted Represented Major Party * Traditional Primary Dropoff Rate) - (Total Voted Unaffiliated and Minor Party * Traditional Primary Dropoff Rate)] / Total Voted Unrepresented Major Party

This formula suggests on average 53-65% of members of the unrepresented major party crossed over to cast a ballot. There are important caveats.  The model does not consider other factors that a cursory review suggests also correlate to dropoff rates.  For example as income goes up dropoff rates appear to go down.  And as discussed, dropoff rates for unaffiliated voters could be calculated more precisely.  However the data still strongly suggests that, when faced with a choice between two members of the opposition party, at least a third of voters choose not to make a decision. 

These numbers provide important guideposts to practitioners.  If a poll shows less than half of members of the unrepresented party participating, it may be skewed.  Conversely if a campaign plan assumes getting more than two-thirds of the voters from what would normally be the opposition, it it probably is overly optimistic. 

It is interesting to note some of the factors that do and do not appear to influence these crossover rates.  There was little difference in dropoff rates between competitive and uncompetitive general elections.  Further research is warranted, but trying to convince voters of the benefits of crossing over may be a relatively inefficient task.  Rather the focus should be on those already inclined to do so. 

While the sample size is small, crossover rates were higher for Congressional contests than state Legislative contests.  Perhaps this is reflective of the importance the average voter places on each.  Data was inconclusive on whether Republicans showed a potentially greater willingness to crossover than Democrats.  Socioeconomic factors may be more important and clouding the data.

These relatively simplistic calculations are merely a first step.  By applying some of the same logic to precinct level results one could control for more factors.  This would allow for more refined conclusions about crossover rates and may even allow for individualized rankings of voters’ likelihood to crossover in intraparty elections.  Such calculations would provide an important tool to practitioners.  A message to an undecided voter with a 100% likelihood of voting is twice as valuable as one to a voter with a 50% likelihood of voting.   However, if the former is only half as likely to crossover as the latter, then the two voters are in fact of equal value to a campaign. 

As debate continues on what the impacts of top-two are on candidates and governance, questions of how to run campaigns under top-two will only increase in importance.  

 

Extraordinary

Does the extraordinary happen when a rare combination of man, moment and machine come together (and yes I am borrowing from the show title)?

Or does it happen when the wrong person (fixing for gender neutrality), meets the wrong moment, with the wrong tools, and still makes it work?

Based on my personal experience, I'm really not sure.  But one of those random thoughts rattling around in my head. 

Random Thoughts on a Random Day

Swearing-In Day has always felt sort of random to me.  Legislators have been largely gone for months.  Then they pop up for a day.  Then they are gone again for a month.  Usually falls right after Thanksgiving.  Often falls on the new holiday of "Cyber Monday."  Some of the same folks wearing suits today will be wearing t-shirts tomorrow.  Like I said, just for of random.

So in that theme here are some other random thoughts:

* Liberating but weird having no official responsibilities.

* I'm sure others will find in weird seeing me spending more of my day with the red than the green carpet.

* Will certainly miss some of the incumbents not returning (in particular those who were not re-elected in November).

* Wait, it's December already?

* Some really decent folks in the incoming class.  

* Hoping no first day bills are introduced impacting the Elections Code or Political Reform Act.  Come on give us a month.

That's enough for now. Enjoy your day all.   

Selective Memory

Tony Quinn has a long history in redistricting.  However his latest post on the drop in Latino representation in the Senate practices some selective memory. 

One of his premises is that the election of Bob Hertzberg was the result of “an obvious agenda to harm controversial Sen. Tony Strickland”.  To the contrary the most obvious agenda that played out in the region was one to aid the Republican Senator.  A group known as the “Coalition of Suburban Communities for Fair Representation” submitted its own Senate lines for the region along with hundreds of letters in support.  These lines were friendly to Strickland. 

Who was the leader of this group?  None-other-than Republican Assemblymember Scott Wilk, a Strickland ally.  Even more brazen, Wilk’s group also submitted lines for the state Assembly, including the district where Wilk was already lining up support.  If anything the Commission largely resisted Republican efforts to suck it into an ongoing GOP civil war in the region that continued to play out this November when Strickland lost his Congressional bid to fellow-Republican Steve Knight. 

Much of the drop in the Latino share of the population in Hertzberg’s SD-18 district was driven by the old district being underpopulated by 50,000 people and needing to expand into less-Latino communities.  Even the plan submitted by a coalition of Latino, Asian and African-American interest groups saw the Latino share of the district fall relative to the old boundaries.

Admittedly, the plan adopted by the Commission saw an even bigger drop in the Latino share of the population.  And even some Commissioners expressed reservations before voting for the plan.  But the boundaries adopted were driven by tradeoffs with other factors like communities of interest and questions about the legally permissible degree to which race could be used as a factor in redistricting, not any grand political conspiracy by Commissioners to harm either Strickland or Latino voting power. 

Not that this is the first case of people telling half the story of California’s first redistricting Commission.  One of Quinn’s other pet-peeves in the Senate plan is the way the Commission divided Sacramento County.  These lines were driven in part by the Commission’s decision to keep San Joaquin whole in the Senate plan.  ProPublica later published a story on efforts by a group called “OneSanJoaquin” to try and hold the County largely whole in the Congressional plan to aid Congressman McNerney.  That group was aided by former Democratic strategist turned redistricting expert Paul Mitchell.

Left out in the accounts by Quinn and ProPublica is that the first push to keep San Joaquin whole were plans submitted months earlier by a group called “San Joaquin County Citizens for Constitutional Redistricting.”  And who were they?  Those lines were drawn by former Republican staffer turned line-drawer Doug Johnson.  Unsurprisingly his maps also worked to keep San Joaquin whole in a manner that was far friendlier to Republican interests. 

Republican efforts to manipulate the redistricting commission by people like Quinn, Wilk, and Johnson largely went unnoticed because they were so unsuccessful and often backfired. 

However circumstance had more to do with the drop in Latino representation in the Senate than any line on a map.  Even under the Commission plan it seems likely had anyone other than Hertzberg been the candidate, a Latino would have been elected in SD-18.  At a minimum Hertzberg was unique in being able to cultivate the support of the Latino Congressman, Senator and Assemblymember from the area.  It also seems likely that had the Commission not drawn a new Latino Congressional district in the area and had term limits reform not passed, a credible Latino would have filled for the Senate contest.  Quinn lauded the Commission for the former.  The lines were already in place before the latter.

Had Gloria Negrete McCloud not defeated Joe Baca in 2012, she would not have vacated her Senate seat to Norma Torres.  And had McCloud not retired, Norma Torres would have run for re-election to the Senate and there would never have been an opportunity for a Connie Leyva to win SD-20, another traditional Latino seat (Leyva is married to a Latino but is not Latina herself).

Had Michael Rubio not resigned he almost surely would have been re-elected in 2014 in SD-14.  Even if he had stayed in office and simply not run for a second term, Democrats would have had a much better chance defeating Andy Vidak as a non-incumbent.  Indeed, if it had simply rained last winter Vidak would have been a much weaker candidate.  Not to mention the Commission had no way of anticipating turnout, especially among Latinos, being as anemic as it was this year. 

Anemic turnout was clearly a contributing factor to Bonnie Garcia’s loss in SD-28 and in any other year she likely would have been victorious.  Some simple turns of fate and after the first full complement of State Senate races the number of Latinos in the Senate could be plus one rather than minus three.

 

P.S.- Because I believe in full disclosure, I worked for Hertzberg during the 2001 redistricting, was a liaison for the Legislature during the 2011 redistricting, and worked on several Senate campaigns this cycle, including in SD 14, 20 and 34.

 

Shut up

I am the grandson of an Air Force Colonel.  I am the son of an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel.  I was born in an Air Force hospital.  So to all those who think the biggest news of the week was the President's sloppy saluting with a cup of coffee in his hand, I fell very comfortable saying, "Shut up." 

You know it wasn't deliberate.  You know it wasn't intentional.  You know everyone is absent-minded from time to time when multitasking.  You know it has absolutely nothing to do with his respect for the men and women in uniform.  The only ones who are disrespecting their sacrifice are those using a non-moment to try to score cheap political points. 

Or, put more simply, "Shut up."

Random Thought

Daily thoughts is becoming random thoughts.  Its campaign time and people who write checks get priority on my thoughts.   I still expect the blog to be updated at least weekly as there will just be too much good stuff going on demanding commentary.

Superstition

I'm very superstitious when it comes to college football.  Something I picked up from my late-grandfather.  Surprises and sometimes scares friends and co-workers who are used to me being highly rational in my personal and professional life.

With the college football season so closely overlapping the elections season I sometimes wonder, should I be less superstitious when it comes to Cal football, or more superstitious when it comes to reading the political tea leaves.

Thought is only in my head as I read stories about today's Gubernatorial debate and I can't get the image out of my head of Martin Sheen standing dumbfounded on the West Wing right after the First Lady cut his tie in half moments before the one and only debate of that fictionalized campaign in response to his superstition. 

Ranking Reform

George Skelton writes how some of the positives from this session can be attributed to recent changes to our elections system (aka "reform").  And certainly the combination of these various factors has and will continue to impact the culture of the Capitol.  So I was wondering to myself which reforms have had the biggest positive impacts on the policy produced.  In other words which reforms actually walked the walk and which just talked the talk. 

My personal ranking of the Big 4:
1) Majority Vote Budget- The budget is still the most important thing that comes out of the building every year.  Perhaps more importantly, people underestimate how much easier it was to compromise at the end of session when people hadn't spent months building up animosity towards each other during a protracted summer stalemate.

2) Term Limits- Motivates members to look past their next election and turn to long term issues.  Easier to act collegial when you know you have to deal with the same people for twelve years.  Only denied top ranking this session because leaders were elected under old rules. 

3) Top Two- Certainly has made members feel less secure.  This seems to have made them less insular which isn't a bad thing.  Open question whether this justifies random and potentially chaotic election results, particularly as people learn how to game the new system. 

4) Redistricting- Impact fades rapidly in years when the lines are stable.  See you in 2021.

We are better than that

Redistricting gives you a different view of the world.  It forces you to both compartmentalize others into their comfort zones while also pushing beyond your own comfort zone and .  You have to do the former to figure out what groups of people best fit together.  You have to do the latter to understand how all the puzzle pieces making up a state like California fit together.  And under current redistricting law those forces are no more powerful than when it comes to issues of race.

So when these sadly all too predictable eruptions of racial tension flair up, I feel more comfortable talking about them frankly than others.  Many fall into the trap of talking about the specific facts of Ferguson.  Was the cop justified or not?  That is a question that must be answered but is not the unanswered question this country has been hesitant to face for nearly fifty years. 

The real question is how does a country based on equality deal with circumstances when legal equality alone is not enough?  The shooting of Michael Brown was simply the match.  The fuse is a pattern where legal equality too often does not translate to equal justice.  One need look no further than the admission by Beverly Hills police that there were "breakdowns" in the arrest of a Hollywood producer whose only offense was being tall, bald and black

Don't get me wrong.  Law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job.  And more often than not they get it right.  The problem is that when they get it wrong, it disproportionately happens to people who look like Michael Brown and not like Michael Wagaman.  The problem is not that there were breakdowns in California or Missouri, but how often those breakdowns go unnoticed and unpublicized except when they happen to the powerful or end with tragic result.

It is not a police problem.  It is a societal problem.  And while I am not always the biggest fan of Hillary Clinton, she hit the nail on the head with the simple words, "We are better than that."

Why People Vote

I was reflecting on Allan Hoffenblum's blog about low turnout in June.  He poses a question about whether voter apathy or disgust it the main cause.  Like him I don't have easy answers.  But I will pose the same question in a slightly different way.  Rather than asking why did people choose not to vote, consider the inverse, why do people choose to vote.

The academic research has shown that for most people it is not to feel good.  Most people don't vote out of civic pride.  Rather they vote to avoid feeling bad.  It is an act of social accountability.  Apathy and disgust both eat away at this by weakening these social pressures to participate.

However, this reversed line of inquiry reveals the most problematic component of falling turnout rates: they are self reinforcing.  The decision to go to the polls cannot be treated as an individual binary decision: Individual X either voted or they did not.  Rather, when one voter decides to vote, it increases the likelihood of all other voters voting by increasing the social pressure to participate.  Similarly, every time a voter chooses not to participate, it impacts not only them, but every other voter as well by marginally reducing the social pressure for them to participate.

This self-reinforcing decline in the incentive to participate is one of the single greatest threats to American democracy.  It is one with no easy answers.  But in a business where politicos often demand social accountability from others, from big business to individuals, we have a similar obligation in our own profession to address. 

Good Morning

Much preferred waking up this morning to the sound of my alarm in my bedroom versus being awoken early yesterday in a Napa hotel by the earthquake.  Had a pipe burst which rapidly flooded the suite.  We were able to get back in after about 3 hours hanging out in the parking lot and most everything.  Still pretty incredible seeing how much damage was done so fast.  Rumor is hotel is going to be shut down for a month for repairs. 

Thoughts go out to those from whom this was not just a short-term inconvenience and long-term story to tell and instead will have to work through the recovery.

Reflections on a Diamond

Reflections on last night's Legislative baseball game.

* Taking solace- Democrats lost.  Again.  Thankfully the more Dems lose on the field, the better they tend to do off.  Assembly supermajority odds improve.

* Where are my Senate colleagues- Why no Senate Dems on the field?  I know many were on the field when members of the green carpet. 

* It's just different- Having to tell the same line over and over again about what it is like being on the outside versus the inside.

Welcome to the Bridge District

Having lived in the Bridge District in West Sacramento long enough that when I moved here is was still referred to as The Triangle, I'm looking forward to seeing all the members and staff coming across the bridge today for the 2014 Legislative Baseball Game at Raley Field.

The game was also the source of the best practical joke I ever played on anyone ever.  You'll have to ask me in person if you want to know more.