Thursday, November 11, 2010

Don't Blame the Caucus For Non Voters

According to the Census Bureau, there are 22,914 people in Eagle Mountain. Of those, 12,053 are adults. Of those adults, 8,179 are registered to vote, which makes for a slightly respectible 67.9%. However, in the recent election only 2,991 of registered Eagle Mountain residents actually voted. That breaks out to a 36.6% registerd voter turnout, but in reality only 24.8% of adults in Eagle Mountain bothered to vote. Which is pretty average for Utah, and for Utah County.

Utah's generally paltry voter turnout is a cause for concern. Many point to our caucus system for the low numbers. But I don't buy it. What's being missed is that there are non-caucus related issues on the ballot. Issues which directly affect every person living in a community.

As I wrote about earlier, Eagle Mountain voted on a bond to build an aquatic center. It was a hotly contested issue which caused turnout to town hall meetings and city council meetings over the last at least two years. It directly affects everyone living in the city limits, and hits the pocket book of every single property owner. It is completely outside of the caucus system, and is direct democracy in action. If the caucus haters are correct, it would bring voters to the polling location in droves.

Not only did the issue not bring out more voters, three hundred fewer people voted in the bond election than voted for the other caucus tainted offices.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Alpine School Board Elections

A few members of the Alpine School Board are up for reelection, including my representative, Donna Barnes. I will not be voting for Mrs. Barnes, and am deeply disappointed in the entire board. I feel they have grown to epitomize the "we know better than you, now sit down" attitude elected officials often adopt.

One experience I have had with them highlights this point. Recently a new elementary school was built in Eagle Mountain a little over a mile from my home. Prior to its construction my children attended a school which is literally across the street from our neighborhood. The kids walked to school together every day in big groups. Many parents volunteered in large part because it was so close. So when the new lines were drawn up and my neighborhood was being sent to the school over a mile away many of us protested. Parents attended meetings for months, came up with a viable alternative and presented our plan to the Board and its committee.

Eventually it came down to a final presentation at a Board meeting. Our group came in large numbers and had an impressive presentation complete with statistics and even traffic studies. It was one of the most impressive displays of grassroots involvement I've ever seen. Perhaps most impressive was that the presentation was based on sound argumentation and was devoid of needless anger or emotion. Which is an important point because of what happened next. Our position was far too commonsensical to be adopted, and we were voted down almost unanimously. One member even abstained from voting because it was just too hard of a decision.

That night I went home and penned an email which I sent to every member of the Board. Again, it was not a "Crazy Parent Being Senselessly Angry" email. Quite the contrary. But I did express my frustration at feeling like the decision was made months previous and all the work my neighbors had done to lobby their representatives on the School Board was pointless, that all of the information that had been gathered had been too easily dismissed. I received an email response from the Board president, who I assume was speaking for the Board as a whole, since it was the only response I got. And it was akin to being a kid who's parent tells them "because I said so, now go away." It in no way addressed anything from the presentation or from my email. I wanted some insight as to the decision making process, as nothing that was said at the Board meeting did so. Instead, I was told that if I was less emotional I would agree with the Board, that the decision makers are all professionals who have done this many times and if I weren't so blinded by emotion I would see it their way.

In effect, after a presentation full of data and checkable facts, I requested more detail as to what specifically overrode those arguments. And I was told I was much too emotional for that. Huh? Now I feel like the Board gave us a collective pat on the head and sent us on our way. What's ironic is that in their fear (I assume that's the explanation for their behavior) of dealing with angry parents, they have created angry parents.

This is not how elected officials should behave. Therefore, they should no longer be elected officials.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eagle Mountain Aquatic Center Bond

Next week Eagle Mountain City will have a $7 million bond on the ballot to build an aquatic center. The center will have a lap pool, a lazy river, concessions, party room and more. It will cost a $200k home an additional $70 a year in property tax. Commercial property of the same value will pay an additional $125.

The center has been a few years in the making, and has actually been pared down from a larger multipurpose recreation facility. Proponents argue that because we have so many children, our city needs a rec center like this one. They say it will attract business to the community as these unnamed business leaders won't take us seriously unless we have additional amenities to offer. What they don't explain is how higher business taxes will be enticing as well.

I am not in favor of this bond for a few reasons. One is the previously mentioned increase of business taxes. Another is the increase is personal taxes. Particularly at a time when housing values are falling yet our property tax bills are not. I will be voting no if for no other reason than that watching my neighbors struggle with job losses, decreasing pay and hours, and some even losing their homes trumps my desire for a cool lazy river to take the kids to in the summertime.

But another reason has lately reinforced my opinion that this bond is a bad idea. Eagle Mounatin is in the Alpine School district. Alpine passed a $300 million bond in 2006 which built and remodeled schools all over the district, including $65 million for a new high school and $32 million for a middle school, both of which Eagle Mountain students now attend. The $300 million has been spent, and the district is planning on putting another bond on the ballot next year. Included in the district's future spending plans are more schools in Eagle Mountain, specifically our own High School and Middle School. So I ask, when our city has $90 million worth of new schools to build (and this doesn't count additional elementary schools), is it wise to be throwing money at an outdoor pool? For me, this was the final nail in the coffin for the aquatic center. How on earth can anyone rationalize spending millions of dollars on a lazy river and lap pools when we have literally a hundred million dollars to spend in the next 18 months? I for one cannot.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Congress Set To Make History Again, And Again In A Bad Way

Last year President Obama tried to push through his brand of health care reform before Congress recessed in August. The rush backfired and proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back for an already angry citizenry. Americans turned out in droves to congressional town hall meetings that August to express their displeasure. As Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal, members of Congress were caught flat footed by the response and were revealed for the unprincipled, elitist and uninformed blow-hards they have always been.

But perhaps more amazing is the fact that they passed their reforms anyway. It took them a while, and it looked dead on more than one occasion, even costing them "Teddy Kennedy's Senate Seat". But they did it. And they did it despite almost 60% of the country opposed to it.

As elected representatives, voting against what your constituency clearly wants is not the best strategy for reelection. And now its time to pay the piper. Democrats are likely to lose a significant number of seats this fall, perhaps even losing control of the House.

And what is the Democratic response to clear voter disapproval of their policies?

Ram through as much of their crap policies as they possibly can before they're forced out.
there have been signs in recent weeks that party leaders are planning an ambitious, lame-duck session to muscle through bills in December they don't want to defend before November. Retiring or defeated members of Congress would then be able to vote for sweeping legislation without any fear of voter retaliation. "I've got lots of things I want to do" in a lame duck, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W. Va.) told reporters in mid June.
This is truly despicable. And blatantly so. They started recess early this year because they don't want to face their constituents with more bad laws just before the election. But they clearly plan to pass every bad law in their play book when actually facing the voters isn't possible. What a horrible, political, tyrannical, disgusting thing to do.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Of Hitler & Hubris

Over the years I've heard an argument stated over and over again that's meant to silence debate. The argument is that Nazis were conservatives - that they are examples of the far right. I've always dismissed this argument for the grenade lobbing it is, but the last few months I've been reading a history book called "For the Survival of Democracy" by Alonzo Hamby. Written in 2004, the book looks at the leaders who were swept aside and those that replaced them in the aftermath of the worldwide economic collapse of the early 1930s. Hamby discusses the leadership in Germany, Great Britain and the United States and the social context that each leadership group was working in.

As he writes of the Nazi party's rise, Hamby has this to say about their first real party platform:
The contest would be primarily a test of Nazi staying power. The party presented for the first time a comprehensive economic recovery program. It called for extensive state control of the economy, national self-sufficiency (autarky), the abandonment of the gold standard, new means of credit based upon the productive power of the nation, the nationalization of the banking system, and the development of a home market in which German agriculture and industry, protected from foreign competition, would produce goods to be consumed by workers paid fair wages. it proposed returning hundreds of thousands of urban workers to small farms on reclaimed marshland. The state would control prices and manage industrial expansion, favoring it in areas that needed enlargement, prohibiting it in those that already were overbuilt. A special income tax would finance a fund for creating employment. Farmers would receive discounted credit. A generous social insurance and old-age pension system would be maintained. All young men - no exceptions for "the educated or the propertied: - would be enrolled in compulsory labor battalions at once serving the state and dignifying manual labor.
On what planet does that platform resemble conservatism?

One example I've often heard is that in the run up to gaining power the Nazis often violently clashed with Communists. But in learning more about the context of those clashes, it's become clear that they were based more on a struggle for power than they were over opposing ideologies. The Nazis staged most of those riots for the express purpose of weakening the fledgling German democracy. It was about power, and power alone. Hitler would have sent out his brownshirts after any rival political party, regardless of ideology.

So while I've always dismissed the Nazi charge as nonsense, it's been interesting to study history and learn that not only is the charge nonsense, it's also factually inaccurate.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Representative Carl Wimmer's Abortion Bill

Here's the text of the original bill, and here's some Tribune reporting.

There is much about this bill to debate. Debates which could have brought about very interesting discussions and perhaps even greater understanding. However, instead of that happening, we were bombarded with FUD arguments like sending women to prison for falling down the stairs, or slipping on ice. Take this quote from Common
Statistics suggest that 15 to 20 per cent of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. "This creates a law that makes any pregnant woman who has a miscarriage potentially criminally liable for murder," said Missy Bird, director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Utah, part of the national organization that champions abortion rights.
For crying out loud, this is just stupid. It's nothing but scare tactics, and it's an insult to the intelligence of Utahans.

And that's what makes me the most angry. Instead of having a healthy and potentially mind opening discussion, I'm forced to read these lame articles filled with stupid arguments on my friends' facebook pages. These kinds of FUD arguments sound good in the papers and can be very effective at moving legislation, but they harm regular people and distort our water cooler conversations, not to mention feed the anti-Utah undercurrent present in our state.

So please, can we just talk like normal people once in a while?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

SB 150 - Holding Back Your 1st Grader

Senator Karen Morgan introduced SB 150 - Reading Requirements for Student Advancement. It "requires that students in first, second, and third grades read at or above grade level prior to advancing to the next grade, with certain exceptions."

The focus of SB150 is to force students, parents, and teachers to ensure students can read at their class level. The goal is not to hold them back a grade, it's to threaten it so that everyone involved takes reading more seriously. Which may sound great in theory, but I think there are a number of possible unintended consequences to this policy.

The fiscal note says that if students are kept back that would add another child to the system for another year, thereby increasing costs. Sen. Morgan said that 20% of students leaving third grade don't read at grade level. If even half of those are held back, that increases our student population by 10%. In a state where we already have a student overpopulation problem, with its attending cost issues and class size problems, this policy doesn't seem like a good idea.

I would much rather see our efforts going toward lowering class sizes in grades 1-3 because that has shown to have the greatest effect on student achievement. With smaller class sizes, students in those grades would not only increase their reading ability but would show improvement across the board.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Should Cities Fund Rec Centers?

I live in Eagle Mountain, which has about 20,000 residents. Last year around this time city officials started circulating a plan to build a rec center. The closest center to Eagle Mountain is in Lehi, about a 20 minute drive away. Having our own center has been a strong desire of many residents, and many elected officials, for some time. However, when the city's plan to finance one was made known last year, there was strong opposition based on economic issues. So strong, in fact, that the city put all plans on hold. I'm sure that it being an election year had nothing to do with that decision.

I attended some of last year's meetings regarding the proposed rec center. It was stated that no private enterprise would build a facility like those that cities build. The closest thing we would have would be a Gold's Gym type workout center. But anything with swimming facilities and climbing walls and senior citizen areas etc. would never be built without public funding. There is just no money to be made in that area, we were told.

Since then our pro-rec center mayor was reelected and we added a strong proponent of the center to the city council, so it comes as no surprise that the idea is anything but dead. However, what strikes me about this issue is that the economic concerns voiced by the public last year have not really gone away, and even if they had for most people, there will always be some who have economic problems. If it's unjust to impose higher taxes when everyone is feeling threatened by the economy, then isn't it unjust if even one homeowner feels threatened?

So it would seem that raising taxes to pay for a rec center hinges on the question of whether a rec center is necessary for the common good. In this vein, I've heard it compared to city parks. Parks are paid for and maintained by public funds - everyone is taxed for them and they consistently need public funding to remain solvent. No one seems to have any problem with city parks which are clearly recreational facilities, so why would there be opposition to an indoor recreation facility?

While that argument seems logical, I'm not sold. Racquetball courts and family swimming centers would be great. My family would certainly love it. But I remain unconvinced that it is something that falls within an acceptable use of tax revenue.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Did Lies Change Health Care Reform Debate?

That's the question many are in a rush to answer in the wake of the Democrats losing their 60th seat in the US Senate. It's not that the public doesn't want this reform, the reasoning goes, it's that Republicans lied about reform and those lies are what turned the tide.

In light of this, let's review the history of the health care reform debate, and take a look at the lies it produced.

-There are 46 million uninsured Americans
-Democrats only want a public option, not a single payer. And the public option won't ever lead to a single payer system
-You will get to keep your current insurance if you want it even after the reform is passed
-We have a free market health care system in the US, and that is what is to blame for rising costs
-Preventive care drastically reduces total health care costs
-There are no sweetheart deals with the drug company lobbyists
-It will only cost a trillion dollars
-All the deal making would be shown on C-Span
-There would be no tax on so-called "Cadillac Plans"

Democrats lost the health care reform debate for two reasons: 1) Their ideas don't work 2) They lied about their ideas not working

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Was the Supreme Court's Decision a Victory for Free Speech, Or Did It Do Damage?

I'm not sold either way just yet. Though I lean towards thinking that if the government had less influence over the economy, then business would have less interest in wasting money trying to buy off government.

But here's a few quotes from Fox News that I'd like feedback on:
On Thursday, the Court overruled that earlier case and also part of a 2003 case involving BCRA, finding the earlier anti-distortion rationale to be “unconvincing and insufficient” to justify government censorship of political speech. Instead, the Court noted that ordinary people often need to pool their money into an organization they support, to use those pooled funds to get their message out about the issues they care about when elections are approaching. Rather than drown out the little guy, this option allows groups, be they Citizens United, the National Rifle Association, or the Family Research Council, to be a megaphone for the little guy, informing the voters of what’s at stake.
If this argument holds water, then the Court's decision would be seen as a victory for free speech, no?

Here's another:
Suppose that a company or a union can't take out radio or television ads supporting a candidate. It still has other options: It can produce a critical movie, such as "Hillary: The Movie," or publish a critical book. Authors making the rounds of radio and television shows during their book tours can help provide information that supports one candidate over another.

Indeed, when President Obama's Deputy Solicitor General, Malcolm Stewart, first argued the case "Hillary: The Movie" before the Supreme Court last March, Justice Samuel Alito asked him if the government could prohibit companies from publishing books. Stewart said that was indeed possible. "That's pretty incredible," Alito responded, and then he pointed out that most book publishers are corporations.

"If [the book] has one name, one use of a candidate’s name, it could be covered?” Chief Justice John Roberts then asked. And Stewart replied: “That’s correct.” “It’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, so vote for X. The government could ban that?” Roberts asked. Again, Stewart said yes.
This makes it sound as though it's just another attempt to get rid of the Glenn Becks and Ann Coulters of the publishing world, who also just so happen to dominate the best seller lists. But perhaps more sinister is the realization that the law gives the government considerable power in determining what is "proper" political speech. And that's not something that either the Left or Right should be approving of.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Move On Tells Us the Magnitude of Scott Brown's Win

In the aftermath of Scott Brown beating Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts Senate race, pundits, both of the professional and the in-your-parent's-basement type, have been playing tug of war over what the election really means. Reading all these pundits simply shows that hindsight in this case seems to muddy rather than clear the waters. For that reason I went back to the archives and found this breathless email from, sent on January 8th, 11 days before the election, titled,
"Urgent: A Republican in Ted Kennedy's seat?"
Horror of all horrors! They said a Coakley loss would be "devastating", and that "health care could die, and the Republicans could block pretty much anything they want."

In order to avoid such a catastrophic outcome, Moveon invoked "progressive hero" Ted Kennedy's name seven times in the email. They quoted Kennedy's widow Vicki, who said, "My husband fought for healthcare reform for more than 40 years. Martha Coakley shares those critical beliefs."

Clearly Moveon saw this election as a referendum on health care. Clearly they thought that Massachusetts voters wouldn't dream of replacing a progressive health care reform icon with the very vote that could end the momentum of what is the closest the country has been to progressive reform in decades. Clearly, they were wrong.