Category Archives: City Elections

Campaign Funding Reform in Boulder

October 24, 2009

It must be election season. The notion that candidates for Boulder’s City Council would sell their souls in $100 increments requires a willful suspension of disbelief. Where is the upside in a city council seat? It pays almost nothing. The hours of service required are taken directly from one’s family and friends. Personal aggrandizement is not an option.

No one runs for Council to make a quick buck. In fact, the more you spend on a City Council campaign, the more voters learn about your agenda. In living memory, I don’t think any city council candidate has “won” (I use the term advisedly) by spending more than one of the other candidates. Boulder voters are smart and they are willing to do some homework. Piffle doesn’t sell here. Substance does. People who think otherwise don’t give us enough credit.

Boulder’s Campaign Reform ordinance limits the expenditures by a candidate using matching funds to no more than $15,771. The personal/corporate donation limit is $100. Candidates may choose to self-fund, which eliminates the spending cap, but the $100 contribution limit applies to all. Anonymous contributions are prohibited. Many folks in our fair city scrutinize required campaign reports for nefarious activity. The truth will out.

Recently, some out-of-town visitors were watching TV, thinking reality shows were exceeding all reasonable expectations – who could make this stuff up? It turns out they were watching Channel 8, which was broadcasting a City Council session. We can do better. Please vote. It matters.

Corporate Political Speech

September 12, 2009

Money may not be the root of all evil, but it is threatening to destroy our democracy. Campaign ads are painful enough to watch or read now, even with the ability to determine who is paying for them. Allowing purveyors of political prattle to hide behind a corporate veil of secrecy serves no one but the mud thrower (and the media, whose advertising bottom lines benefit greatly from political buys every election season).

There are many narrow grounds by which the Supreme Court might choose to exempt the film in question, a 90 minute documentary produced by Citizen’s United, a non-profit advocacy group that apparently believes Hillary Clinton is unfit to hold public office. Books and pamphlets are clearly protected by the First Amendment. Full-length documentaries are very different in kind from the sort of drive-by attacks 30- to 60-second ads hurl at audiences with minimal attribution.

When money talks, people will listen, but some types of speech are more worthy of protection than others. It will be interesting and revealing to see how the Supreme Court decides this case.

We’re All In This Together

February 14, 2009

The unintended consequences of ineffective (and even counterproductive) growth management always seem to fall hardest on the working poor and the middle class, because personal wealth affords a buffer from the inability to “repeal” the economic law of supply and demand. As Boulder has become more exclusive, its residents have desired more services, but the employees needed to serve us have had to live further and further away. Ethically and environmentally, such jobs/housing imbalances are indefensible, and they are a nightmare for both planners and commuters.

Boulder has compassionate people, progressive businesses, responsive leaders and beautiful surroundings. We are all in this together and we have all made sacrifices to live here. It is our collective good will, creativity and commitment to excellence that persuade me our best years lie ahead, but only if we embrace positive change, marshal all of our resources to meet our shared challenges, and work together cooperatively to create interdependent civic/economic regions composed of equitable, sustainable and vibrant communities. There are many wonderful regions and cities in the world. Many of them are thousands of years old. Don’t put a fork in us, we’re not done yet!

How to Assess the City Council Elections Results

How to Assess the City Council Election Results
April 5, 2003

There’s no replacing Will Toor. Will’s intelligence, thoughtfulness, environmental pedigree, and compassionate soul will be missed regardless of the outcome of this special election. He encouraged all of us, in words and by walking his talk, to become even more responsible citizens of Planet Earth. Will also recognized that Boulder’s economy, which has been able to provide the resources needed to preserve and enhance our quality of life for generations, can no longer be taken for granted. Finally, he was passionate about issues, without taking himself too seriously. For these reasons, I believe Will has ably represented a vast majority of Boulder’s citizens.

In the past, typical November city elections have provided a smorgasbord of qualified candidates from whom the citizens more or less have selected balanced slates: some from the left, an occasional few from the right (particularly during economic downturns), and many from the “reasonable center.” However, election results here can be difficult to assess. With five or six votes to cast, some winners rise to the top by being everyone’s fourth or fifth choice. Mindful of this phenomenon, “bullet” voting (casting 2-3 votes instead of all 5 or 6) has grown in popularity, rewarding “party” discipline built upon over-emphasized differences and over-blown stakes.

Is Boulder really split between two large camps of no-growthers and corporate boosters ? Are we, as a community, anti-big box, or are we quietly slipping out-of-town in great numbers to get our discount retail fix? Conventional wisdom has it that Lisa Morzel, with the Plan-Boulder/Sierra Club endorsement in hand, cannot lose, and I’ll be surprised if she does. That said, if you want to see where Boulder’s “center” is, count the votes received by Suzy Ageton, Jill McFadden and Jim Martin. If Suzy were running head-to-head against Lisa, I think she could win. Her relevant human services experience and balanced, caring approach to the issues reminds me more of Will Toor than any of the other candidates. She has my vote.

Why Passive/Aggressive Transportation Design Is Destined for Failure: What If We Don’t Build It, and They Come Anyway?

February 26, 1998

The public process that produced downtown Boulder’s Residential Parking Permit (RPP) system was aptly tagged in a recent Daily Camera editorial as “wedded to an ‘If you build it, they will come’ attitude” of resistance to new parking.” The same quip can describe Boulder’s current Transportation Master Plan (TMP), if you substitute “roadways” for “parking.” I, for one, hope the insular logic underlying both the RPP and the TMP has run its course, because freeze-drying our current transportation infrastructure does not appear to me to be an attractive option.

Neither does it appear wise to me that we seem to be allocating most, if not all, of Boulder’s limited transportation construction budget to bicycle and pedestrian facilities that barely make a dent in our traffic congestion challenge (I say this even though I try to ride my bike to work every day). By contrast, our capital and operational investment in transit alternatives like the Skip and the HOP seems better advised, and actually appears to be working to reduce traffic in the areas receiving enhanced services.

The unmet challenge with respect to both the TMP and RPP public processes was how to fill in the missing voices — the people in Boulder who actually choose NOT to testify at hearings or join task forces. They must be heard before balanced, realistic and effective transportation policy objectives can be finally determined.

The Regional Transportation Task Force (RTTF), established in the spring of 1997 by Boulder County’s Consortium of Cities, and the City of Boulder’s “Transportation Future Search” (TFS) conference come at this challenge in a different way. The public process for each effort involved active recruitment of interested and informed volunteers. The next step is to share good public policy analysis, including all of its complexities and trade-offs, with this broad cross-section of citizens. Participants are then charged with the responsibility to sift through the analysis in order to prepare it for later public consumption.

The assumption is that in our new age of direct democracy, the tough choices will be sent to the voters anyway, so we better provide voters with the information they will need to make decisions that will stand the test of time. The good news is that we will all ultimately get to vote on how our community and region is going to address the transportation challenge. Of course, that’s the bad news, too.

Whether we get it right will depend on the quality of our public debate. If the substance of the discussion can be reduced to fit on a bumper sticker, we’re in trouble. We must all challenge ourselves to understand (and explain to others) the complex public policy trade-offs involving transportation systems, affordable housing, jobs, the environment, our quality of life, and our sense of community (to name a few). Remember, the future we save may be our own.