Friday, October 31, 2008

One Party Rule Always Stinks

I've never met Corinne Nyquist, but I really am grateful for all that she's done for New Paltz. By not getting Jeff Logan's paperwork submitted timely, she has opened the door to a bona fide democratic election for Town Council, by not allowing a candidate to run on the Democratic line.

Understand, I have no problem with Democrats, Republicans, or members of any other party in principle. As my father used to say, "There isn't a Democrat or Republican way to collect the garbage." However, New Paltz is one of many communities that is stuck with a de facto single party system, and that doesn't encourage accountability. This year, voters will have to actually think about whom to select. It's really exciting.

But I would like to see that happen in every election, and it ain't gonna happen without some changes. Right now, most people in New Paltz vote for a Democrat, period. How can we get the voters in this community to vote for a person instead of a party? Actually, it's pretty easy.

Council districts.

Whenever a municipal government is broken down so that each member of the legislative body is elected from a specific district, it makes them far more accountable. People remember that a call to Kitty Brown got the streets plowed, or that Jane Ann Williams helped them out with a property tax question. It becomes personal, so the voters start choosing by personality.

Here's an example: Nassau County was one of the most efficient Republican machines in the country. Just as Ulster hasn't had an executive, Nassau didn't have a legislature - in that county's case, decisions were made by a Board of Supervisors, comprised of all the town supervisors that governed with a strange, weighted voting system. A court case required a legislature be created, so of course the districts were carefully constructed to guarantee the Republicans would stay in power forevermore.

It worked that way for the first term, but after that, the Democrats took the majority! Why? Because people started voting for or against the neighbor in office, not for or against the party. It just so happened that more Democrats were popular in that Republican county.

I worked on a referendum campaign for council districts in another town, back when I needed money more than I disliked being involved in politics. The standard argument against districting is that it reduces representation, because at-large members represent the interests of all, but district representatives do not. I would expect that sort of weak argument to come up in New Paltz, because the folks who prefer mindless "democracy" are generally smart enough to see how districts don't support their agenda. However, such resistance may not be unilateral, since Toni Hokanson personally told me she would support such an initiative when we were chatting a month or two ago at Bacchus.

It would be easy enough to draw four districts and see what the makeup of the town council becomes. With intelligently drawn lines, the village would always have a clear voice in the town. The village could similarly benefit from this type of enhanced democracy. Imagine having a voice for students on the village board, all but guaranteed by the layout of the districts! I didn't care for either of the student candidates last time around, but I do think that students, like other population segments, need to be fairly spoken for.

I'll be sure to give a call to the winner of the town race soon to pitch the idea.


Brittany Turner said...

yes! this is definitely a step in the right direction!

kmctf said...

i'm convinced. let's make it happen.

deathtomcdonalds said...

That's very exciting. The students should have a seat at the table. I bet they would help get a referendum on the ballot. How, exactly, is it done? And while we're at it...the 'M' word. Um... who is reading this, Terence?

Terence said...

Based on the comments I'm seeing, the audience has now reached . . . five people? I'm not exactly a marketer, am I?