Friday, December 7, 2007

District Only Voting: No Rotten Boroughs!

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. - George Washington

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. - James Madison

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else. -Winston Churchill

Many years ago, in England there grew a practice that got way out of hand.
It was called 'Borough Representation' which identified some areas that got special treatment when it came to voting.
Eventually, that practice got mostly corrected through reform, but while it lasted there was some truly egregious corruption, leading William Pitt the Elder to make this statement:

"[Borough representation is] the rotten part of the constitution."

From that sprung the term 'Rotten Borough', sometimes referred to by similar names, like 'pocket borough' - because they were always in some rich or powerful man's 'pocket', or control.

Many may have heard this catchy tune & song from 'H.M.S. Pinafore' by Gilbert and Sullivan:

Sir Joseph Porter: "I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all."

Chorus: 'And he never thought of thinking for himself at all.'

Sir Joseph: "I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!"

Things have mostly changed for the better since then, but human nature hasn't, leading some folks to want 'Rotten Boroughs' for their pockets again.

Google this and see for yourself what went on back then; then draw your own conclusions.

Rather than frame this issue as some sort of contest, I prefer to look at the pros & cons of ideas like District-only voting.

There are always pros & cons to every issue, some real and some imagined.
Often, people will choose to espouse an idea because it appeals to their sense of fairness, or it may seem to have the potential to correct some perceived wrong.
And, sometimes they realize they may be mistaken after they hear 'the rest of the story', as Paul Harvey likes to say.

So, rather than engage in a fruitless debate about who is 'right' or 'wrong', why not focus on trying to understand what may just work better?

We certainly do have situations where District-only voting works pretty well, like the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives which has some pretty broad and serious responsibilty for helping set national policy - a very big area with a big population having a large number of common needs.

But there are also situations where one would expect District-only voting not working very well, like with water & sewer systems, EMS and protection of our water resources.

For example, having Glacier, Maple Falls, Acme, Deming, Everson, Nooksack, Lynden and Ferndale responsible for their respective reaches of the Nooksack River doesn't work very well for several reasons.

It would unnecessarily duplicate efforts, it would be beyond the fiscal means of each entity to provide the services needed, and it would unfairly penalize the downstream municialities by having to take care of much greater flows of much dirtier water.

That's why we have larger jurisdictions, like the County perform most of those functions - for the good of everyone who depends upon Nooksack water being clean and under reasonable control.

Now maybe there are better examples to illustrate the point, but having 3 different Districts share these responsibilities doesn't work very well either, because there are people who live nearer the river and depend on it for fishing, irrigation or as their source of water to be made potable, or as a conveyance for treated -or untreated- waste.
And, there are those who don't live near the river and don't think they should be responsible for its care.
So, tell me how would District-only elected representatives be expected to represent those living in other Districts?

With a 7-member Council, and with a relatively small County, why is District-only voting considered such a good idea?

Also, exactly what essential services might benefit from District-only voting?

I suspect they would compete to split all of the revenues and none of the expenditures, but that's just a guess.
Then, the 'pork' secured from that exercise will help keep the incumbents in office;
That's the way it works in DC.

I also suspect that some particularly want more localized control over zoning and development regulations, further fracturing an already fractured system - but again, that's just an educated guess based on all the energy the Building Industry Association has put into getting District-only voting passed.
There are big bucks in getting land rezoned, especially rural land!
Follow the money!

Just like those Rotten Boroughs of long ago, there are still those wanting a District under more of their control.
That is accomplished by getting someone elected who will do their bidding - and be rewarded for it!

I think the main issue in considering whether District-only voting makes sense in a relatively small County like Whatcom, is whether the perceived 'pros' outweigh the real 'cons'.

Here's a few 'cons' that I can see, and there may be others:

• more costly and duplicative
• more complex to administer, especially with other Districts
• more prone to attract special interest control
• likely to add power of incumbency to elected officials
• likely to interfere with cooperative efforts, particularly involving public health, safety & welfare
• likely to reduce essential services available at the time they are needed

There does exist some political constituency with the combination of size, population -and the suite of functions- that can benefit from District-only voting.
It's mainly a question of scale and complexity.
But there's also the concept of synergy to be considered.
You know, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

But, I don't think Whatcom County is too big or diverse to warrant District-only voting for any of it's 3 existing Districts.
The overall job can be done better with a County-wide view than can be done from a feudal fiefdom perspective.

District-only voting is likely to produce less of the good things people expect from local government, and more of the things that need improvement.

District-only voting is no panacea for anything on the scale it is being touted, except for those motivated by an ideology of crippling government to satisfy their own greed and selfish purposes.

You know, this discussion is almost beginning to sound like the echoes of a secession movement, doesn't it?
Nah, that's already been tried. Bad idea!

But, that's just my opinion.

There's much more to discuss and consider on this subject, but that's enough for now, at least from this end.

One last thought to tie this together: We don't need any representative who leaves his thinking for others to do for him!
There are too many critically important, County-wide issues that require all the best thinking we can muster.

As Sir Edmund Burke put it: "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

Let's don't reward anyone for not doing their own thinking - or for trying to feather their own nest.

No 'Rotten Buroughs' represented by the incumbent puppets of special interests.

There are enough 'Rulers of the Queen's Navee' in that other Washington!


“Demagoguery beats data in making public policy." -US House of Representatives Majority Leader

Conservatives define themselves in terms of what they oppose. -George Will

"The 'greatest good for the greatest number' applies to the number of people within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us to restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of those unborn generations"
--Theodore Roosevelt