In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: An episode this week at the Wichita city council meeting highlights the need for campaign finance reform in Wichita. We’ll examine a few incidents and see if there’s a way we can reform Wichita city government so that it is capitalism friendly instead of crony friendly. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 69, broadcast December 21, 2014.
Those seeking favors from Wichita City Hall use campaign contribution stacking to bypass contribution limits. This has paid off handsomely for them, and has harmed everyone else.
Not long ago a person who is politically active wrote a letter that was published in the Wichita Eagle. It criticized the role of campaign contributions in federal elections, noting “Corporations don’t spend money on politics because they are patriotic; rather, the companies expect a financial return.” Later the letter held this: “Locally, I understand that elections for the Wichita City Council underwent ideal, nonpartisan campaign-finance reform years ago, and that these limits are scrupulously practiced.”
The writer is correct, but only superficially. Our campaign contribution limits for city and school board offices are relatively small. What we find, however, is that the cronies, that is, the people who want stuff from city hall, stack contributions using family members and employees.
Here’s how a handful of cronies stack campaign contributions. In 2012 council members James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) and Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) were preparing to run again for their offices in spring 2013. Except for $1.57 in unitemized contributions to Clendenin, two groups of related parties accounted for all contributions received by these two incumbents for an entire year. A group associated with Key Construction gave a total of $7,000 — $4,000 to Williams, and $3,000 to Clendenin. Another group of people associated with movie theater owner Bill Warren gave $5,000, all to Clendenin.
The casual observer wouldn’t realize this stacking of campaign contributions by looking at campaign finance reports. That’s because for city offices, the name of the company a contributor works for isn’t required. Industry and occupation are required, but these aren’t of much help. Further, contribution reports are not filed electronically, so the information is not easy to analyze. Some reports are even submitted using handwriting, and barely legible handwriting at that.
So it’s not easy to analyze campaign contributions for Wichita city offices. It takes a bit of effort to unpack the stacking. You have to see a name and investigate who that person is. When you do that, you might find that a man from Valley Center who list his occupation and industry as Manager and Aviation Subcontractor is married to someone who lists her occupation and industry as Director of Marketing. Investigating her reveals that she is an executive of Key Construction.
That company, Key Construction, is a prominent company in Wichita. It is an example of a company that seeks to earn outsized profits through the political system rather than by meeting customer needs in the market. Profits through cronyism, that is. Here’s an example. In August 2011 the Wichita city council voted to award Key Construction a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project, now known as Block One. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. Later the city decided to place the contract for competitive bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price $1.3 million less.
Let me make sure you understand that. Mayor Carl Brewer, Lavonta Williams, and James Clendenin were willing to spend an extra $1.3 million of your tax money to reward their benefactors through a no-bid contract. Since then reforms have been implemented to prevent this. Hopefully the reforms will work. I am skeptical.
In 2012 there was another incident involving Key Construction that show the need for campaign finance reform. Key and another construction company were engaged in a dispute as to who should build the new Wichita airport. The city council was tasked to act in a quasi-judicial manner to decide the issue. Given all the campaign contributions Key was making at the time, and given the mayor’s well-known friendship with Dave Wells of Key Construction, can you guess who was awarded the contract? And can you guess whose contract was more expensive for taxpayers?
So back to the letter in the newspaper, which held: “Corporations don’t spend money on politics because they are patriotic; rather, the companies expect a financial return.” I’m not going to defend cronyism at the federal level. It exists and it is harmful. But I would like to let the writer of the letter know that cronyism also exists in Wichita city government. In fact, it may be worse in Wichita. At the federal level, Congress usually passes laws that benefit an entire industry — say the sugar industry or banks — to the detriment of consumers and taxpayers. (Sometimes the benefits are quite specific. American Enterprise Institute reports that the just-passed omnibus bill contains a section that provides protection from an Obamacare provision for exactly one entity: Blue Cross Blue Shield. Conservative writer Yuval Levin explained: “This section is, simply put, a special favor for Blue Cross/Blue Shield allowing them to count ‘quality improvement’ spending as part of the medical loss ratio calculation required of them under Obamacare. And it’s made retroactive for four years, saving them loads of money.”)
That’s bad enough. Here in Wichita, however, the cronyism is more concentrated and personal. The links between campaign contributions and handouts from city hall is much more direct. We should insist that the city council stop picking the pocket of your fellow man so it can give the proceeds to campaign contributors. Campaign finance reform can help.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: While chair of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, a Wichita business leader strikes a deal that’s costly for taxpayers. A Kansas University faculty member is under attack from groups that don’t like his politics. Then, how can classical liberalism help us all get along with each other? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 68, broadcast December 14, 2014.
As Wichita enters campaign season for mayor and city council, will any candidates call for implementing a reform that we desperately need in Wichita? Following, from 2012, explains.
In the wake of scandals some states and cities have passed “pay-to-play” laws. These laws may prohibit political campaign contributions by those who seek government contracts, prohibit officeholders from voting on laws that will benefit their campaign donors, or the laws may impose special disclosure requirements.
Many people make campaign contributions to candidates whose ideals and goals they share. This is an important part of our political process. But when reading campaign finance reports for members of the Wichita City Council, one sees the same names appearing over and over, often making the maximum allowed contribution to candidates.
And when one looks at the candidates these people contribute to, you notice that often there’s no common thread linking the political goals and ideals of the candidates. Some people contribute equally to liberal and conservative council members. But then, when these people appear in the news after having received money from the Wichita City Council, it snaps into place: These campaign donors are not donating to those whose political ideals they agree with. Instead, they’re donating so they can line their own pockets. These donors are opportunists.
As another example, for the 2008 campaign for a bond issue for USD 259 (Wichita public school district), my analysis found that 72 percent of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, was given by contractors, architects, engineering firms, and others who directly stand to benefit from school construction. Do these companies have an especially keen interest in the education of children? I don’t think so. They are interested in themselves.
Some states and cities have taken steps to reduce this harmful practice. New Jersey is notable for its Local Unit Pay-To-Play Law. The law affects many local units of government and the awarding of contracts having a value of over $17,500, requiring that these contracts be awarded by a “fair and open process,” which basically means a contract process open to bidding.
Cities, too, are passing pay-to-pay laws. Notably, a recently-passed law in Dallas was in response to special treatment for real estate developers — the very issue Wichita is facing now as it prepares to pour millions into the pockets of a small group of favored — and highly subsidized — downtown developers who are generous with campaign contributions to almost all council members. Not that this is new to Wichita, as the city has often done this in the past.
Smaller cities, too, have these laws. A charter provision of the city of Santa Ana, in Orange County, California, states: “A councilmember shall not participate in, nor use his or her official position to influence, a decision of the City Council if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect, apart from its effect on the public generally or a significant portion thereof, on a recent major campaign contributor.”
But Kansas has no such law. Certainly Wichita does not, where pay-to-play is seen by many citizens as a way of life.
In Kansas, campaign finance reports are filed by candidates and available to citizens. But many politicians don’t want campaign contributions discussed, at least in public. Recently Wichita Council Member Michael O’Donnell expressed concern over the potential award of a $6 million construction contract without an open bidding process. The contractor the city wanted to give the contract to was Key Construction, a firm that actively makes political contributions to city council members, both conservative and liberal.
For expressing his concern, O’Donnell was roundly criticized by many council members, and especially by Mayor Carl Brewer.
Here’s what’s interesting: Brewer and city council members say the campaign contributions don’t affect their votes. Those who regularly make contributions say they don’t do it to influence the council. Therefore, it seems that there should be no opposition to a pay-to-play law in Wichita — or the entire state — like the one in Santa Ana.
But until we get such a law, I can understand how Wichita city council members don’t want to discuss their campaign contributions from those they’re about to vote to give money to. It’s not about supporting political ideologies — liberal, moderate, or conservative. It’s about opportunists seeking money from government.
The practice stinks. It causes citizens to be cynical of their government and withdraw from participation in civic affairs. It causes government to grow at the expense of taxpayers. Pay-to-play laws can help reverse these trends.
You may download a printable copy of this article at Kansas Needs Pay-to-Play Laws.
Described as “An introduction to the core principles that define a free society,” I highly recommend this short book. It’s written by Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute and published by Institute of Economic Affairs, a British think tank whose mission is to “improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.” (Being written in British English, a few words are spelled wrongly now and then.)
The book may be purchased or downloaded at no charge at Foundations of a Free Society. Here is the summary of the book, as provided by the author:
- Freedom creates prosperity. It unleashes human talent, invention and innovation, creating wealth where none existed before. Societies that have embraced freedom have made themselves rich. Those that have not have remained poor.
- People in a free society do not become rich by exploiting others, as the elites of less-free countries do. They cannot become rich by making others poorer. They become rich only by providing others with what they want and making other people’s lives better.
- The chief beneficiaries of the economic dynamism of free societies are the poor. Free societies are economically more equal than non-free societies. The poor in the most-free societies enjoy luxuries that were undreamed of just a few years ago, luxuries available only to the ruling elites of non- free countries.
- International trade gives entrepreneurs new market opportunities and has helped lift more than a billion people out of abject poverty in the last twenty years. Freedom is truly one of the most benign and productive forces in human history.
- Attempts by governments to equalise wealth or income are counter-productive. They destroy the incentives for hard work and enterprise and discourage people from building up the capital that boosts the productivity of the whole society.
- A free society is a spontaneous society. It builds up from the actions of individuals, following the rules that promote peaceful cooperation. It is not imposed from above by political authorities.
- Government has a very limited role in a free society. It exists to prevent harm being done to its citizens by maintaining and enforcing justice. It does not try to impose material equality and it does not prohibit activities just because some people consider them disagreeable or offensive. Leaders cannot plunder citizens for their own benefit, grant favours to their friends, or use their power against their enemies.
- The government of a free society is constrained by the rule of law. Its laws apply to everyone equally. There must be?due process of law in all cases, with fair trials and no lengthy detention without trial. People accused of offences must be treated as innocent until proved guilty, and individuals must not be harassed by being prosecuted several times for the same offence.
- Tolerating other people’s ideas and lifestyles benefits society. Truth is not always obvious; it emerges in the battle of ideas. We cannot trust censors to suppress only wrong ideas. They may mistakenly suppress ideas and ways of acting that would greatly benefit society in the future.
- Communications technology is making it more difficult for authoritarian governments to hide their actions from the rest of the world. As a result, more and more countries are opening up to trade and tourism, and new ideas are spreading. More people see the benefits of economic and social freedom, and are demanding them.
If you’ve wondered why government is as it is, the school of public choice economics offers insight and explanation. The Institute of Economic Affairs, a London think tank, has published Public Choice — A Primer. This short book explains the topic of public choice. By understanding it, we can learn more about how government and its actors operate.
Here’s a description of public choice from the book’s web page:
“Market failure” is a term widely used by politicians, journalists and university and A-level economics students and teachers. However, those who use the term often lack any sense of proportion about the ability of government to correct market failures. This arises from the lack of general knowledge — and the lack of coverage in economics syllabuses — of Public Choice economics.
Public Choice economics applies realistic insights about human behaviour to the process of government, and is extremely helpful for all those who have an interest in — or work in — public policy to understand this discipline. If we assumes that at least some of those involved in the political process — whether elected representatives, bureaucrats, regulators, public sector workers or electors — will act in their own self-interest rather than in the general public interest, it should give us much less confidence that the government can “correct” market failure.”
Here is the executive summary of the book:
- Public Choice applies the methods of economics to the theory and practice of politics and government. This approach has given us important insights into the nature of democratic decision-making.
- Just as self-interest motivates people’s private commercial choices, it also affects their communal decisions. People also “economise” as voters, lobby groups, politicians and officials, aiming to maximise the outcome they personally desire, for minimum effort. Consequently the well-developed tools of economics — such as profit and loss, price and efficiency — can be used to analyse politics too.
- Collective decision-making is necessary in some areas. However, the fact that the market may fail to provide adequately in such areas does not necessarily mean that government can do things better. There is “government failure” too. Political decision-making is not a dispassionate pursuit of the “public interest,” but can involve a struggle between different personal and group interests.
- There is no single “public interest” anyway. We live in a world of value-pluralism: different people have different values and different interests. Competition between competing interests is inevitable. This makes it vital to study how such competing interests and demands are resolved by the political process.
- The self-interest of political parties lies in getting the votes they need to win power and position. They may pursue the “median voter” — the position at the centre, where voters bunch. Government officials will also have their own interests, which may include maximising their budgets.
- In this struggle between interests, small groups with sharply focused interests have more influence in decision-making than much larger groups with more diffused concerns, such as consumers and taxpayers. The influence of interest groups may be further increased because electors are “rationally ignorant” of the political debate, knowing that their single vote is unlikely to make a difference, and that the future effects of any policy are unpredictable.
- Because of the enormous benefits that can be won from the political process, it is rational for interest groups to spend large sums on lobbying for special privileges — an activity known as “rent seeking.”
- Interest groups can increase their effect still further by “logrolling” — agreeing to trade votes and support each other’s favoured initiatives. These factors make interest group minorities particularly powerful in systems of representative democracy, such as legislatures.
- In direct democracy, using mechanisms such as referenda, the majority voting rule that is commonly adopted allows just 51 per cent of the population to exploit the other 49 per cent — as in the old joke that “democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding who shall eat whom for dinner.” In representative democracies, much smaller proportions of the electorate can have undue influence.
- Because of the problem of minorities being exploited — or minorities exploiting majorities — many Public Choice theorists argue that political decision-making needs to be constrained by constitutional rules.
The book may be purchased, or downloaded at no cost in several formats.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: We’ll look at the results of the Wichita sales tax election and what might happen next. Then, we’ll evaluate the Wichita Eagle’s coverage during the campaign. Also, this election raised issues of the privacy of voter data. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 65, broadcast November 16, 2014.
By Eileen Umbehr, wife of Libertarian Candidate for Kansas Governor Keen Umbehr
November 1, 2014
As this campaign draws to a close, my heart is heavy. Not so much because Keen was treated as a second-class candidate who didn’t deserve a seat at the table with his Democrat and Republican opponents, but because of the way I’ve seen God used as a selling point in politics.
For example, Keen is solidly pro-life. He believes in freedom as long as you do not cause harm to another human being, and a baby is a human being. But because he also acknowledges the reality that unless and until Roe v. Wade is overturned women maintain their right to choose, he is not considered pro-life enough.
The issue of same-sex marriage has also been deeply divisive and been used to garner votes. How a candidate may feel about two members of the same sex uniting in marriage is separate from his or her duty as a government official to ensure that all laws apply equally to all citizens. Could the government decide not to issue gay people a license to teach, cut hair, practice law, or engage in business?
What each of us believe and the tenets we choose to follow in our private lives is a personal matter. While Keen and I are both Christians who try to live according to the principles set forth in the Bible, where we differ from many of our fellow Christians is that we don’t believe it is our right — or the government’s right — to impose any particular religious belief on anyone. Even God doesn’t do that. If He did, wouldn’t He simply force everyone to believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins so they would all go to Heaven?
Keen is a strict constitutionalist. He believes in the First Amendment right of free speech even when it means that the Phelps’ family can spew messages of hate, causing immeasurable harm to families burying their loved ones. And he believes in the Sixth Amendment right to counsel even when the accused may be guilty of a heinous crime.
When it comes to the Fourteenth Amendment, there are many who feel it should not apply to gays wanting to marry because homosexuality is classified as a sin in the Bible. But isn’t fornication and sex before marriage also classified as a sin in the Bible? And yet no one is suggesting that folks who have engaged in these acts should be denied a marriage license.
Someone posted the following statement about Keen on a liberty-based Facebook page: “Don’t be deceived, this guy is pumping for same sex marriage.” Keen posted the following reply: “I am not ‘pumping’ for same sex marriage, I am ‘pumping’ for adhering to the Constitution which requires equal protection under the law. As long as the State of Kansas is in the business of issuing licenses — whether they be drivers’ licenses, marriage licenses or business licenses — they cannot discriminate against individuals on the basis of religion, gender, or race. How each individual chooses to live their lives is their business, not the government’s.”
In conclusion, if we really want to protect religious freedom in our country, then we should elect candidates who will defend the rights of all citizens to practice whichever religion they choose. That is true religious liberty.
But then, a candidate like that wouldn’t be considered Christian enough.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Anita MonCrief joins host Bob Weeks. She’s the whistleblower who exposed fraud at ACORN during the 2008 elections. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 59, broadcast September 21, 2014.
There are dueling claims and controversy over employment figures in Kansas and our state’s performance relative to others. I present the actual data in tables and interactive visualizations that you can use to make up your own mind.
(Let’s keep in mind that jobs are not necessarily the best measure of economic growth and prosperity. Russell Roberts relates an anecdote: “The story goes that Milton Friedman was once taken to see a massive government project somewhere in Asia. Thousands of workers using shovels were building a canal. Friedman was puzzled. Why weren’t there any excavators or any mechanized earth-moving equipment? A government official explained that using shovels created more jobs. Friedman’s response: ‘Then why not use spoons instead of shovels?'”)
It’s important to note there are two series of employment data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing. A document from BLS titled Employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys: summary of recent trends explains in brief: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. … These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”
Importantly, since the CES gets its data from employers, it reports on jobs located in the state where the company is located, not where workers live. Similarly, the CPS reports data based on where people live, not where they work. For areas that straddle state lines — like the Kansas City Metropolitan Area — this is an important factor.
Another BLS document explains in detail the differences between the CPS and CES data. For example: CES: “Designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail” CPS: “Designed to measure employment and unemployment with significant demographic detail.”
Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)
I’ve gathered data from BLS and made it available in two interactive visualizations. One presents CPS data; the other holds CES data. You can compare states, select a range of dates, and choose seasonally-adjusted or not seasonally-adjusted data. I’ve create a set that allows you to easily choose Kansas and our nearby states, since that seems to be relevant to the current discussion. (I included Texas in this set, as we often compare ourselves to that state.) The visualizations show indexed data, meaning that we see the relative change in values from the first date shown. There is also year-over-year changes illustrated.
Here is the visualization for Current Establishment Survey data, and here is visualization for Current Population Survey data.
An accessible collection of campaign material will help hold candidates and campaigns accountable.
I’ve started a collection of Kansas political campaign material such as mailers, palm cards, handouts, and door hangers. This collection could be valuable in holding candidates of all parties accountable for their words. Independent organizations may advocate for or against candidates and ballot measures, and these need to be held accountable, too.
It can be difficult to gather campaign material. Some is mailed or distributed only to small geographic districts. Or, material is mailed only to voters with certain characteristics, such as party registration or voting consistency. Unless you live in a “blended” household (with voters of different political parties), you may never see many campaign mailers. While some campaigns may make their mailers or similar material available on their websites or Facebook pages, it’s not common that the negative mail pieces — the ones that often contain the type of distortions that need to be exposed — are publicized by campaigns. (That may say something about negative campaigning.)
You may view the material here.
There are several ways to contribute to the repository.
On your computer. A useful and valuable extension for Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome browsers is FireShot. It will save partial or entire web pages in a variety of formats, including pdf.
Printed material. The traditional scanner still makes the best captures. But now many people have a document capture system in their pocket and carry it with them at all times. It’s their smartphones. For information about using smartphones to capture documents, see Your smartphone is your activism toolkit. It’s not difficult to create valuable captures if you have the right app on your smartphone.
Signs, etc. Take a photograph. It’s useful to take a wide shot to show context, and then a close-up to see the detail.
You may send me digital files at email@example.com. Or, you can send me postal mail at 2451 Regency Lakes Ct., Wichita, KS 67226. I won’t be able to return material you send me unless you include return postage.
Before capturing and distributing material that has your name and address (or other personal information) consider obliterating it with a marker or scissors.
Your smartphone is a valuable tool for activism. Here are two ways to get involved.
Many people wonder how they can be involved in helping to improve government as a citizen activist. It may be that you have a valuable tool that’s in your pocket, and that you take everywhere you go: Your smartphone.
You may have seen me showing photographs of street lights burning in downtown Wichita during the middle of sunny afternoons. Have you ever spotted government waste like that? I’m sure that you have. I think people forget they have a fairly high-quality camera with them at all times in their smartphones. So here’s something that you can do: Take a photograph or shoot some video. Send it to me or to your local government watchdog. People like me need information. I need tips. Put your smartphone to work for something beside selfies.
Another thing you can do with your smartphone that is very helpful is to capture documents. Here’s an example. At election time, campaigns and political groups send a lot of mail pieces to voters. Some of these will contain falsehoods or distortions that need to be exposed so that the guilty parties can be held accountable. But much of the time, these political mailings go unnoticed. That’s because a Kansas House of Representatives campaign, for example, covers a relatively small population. Then, campaigns may send mail to only the people they consider active voters, and may narrow down the list using other criteria like political party. Or campaigns may send certain mail pieces to small subsets of voters. So any single campaign mail piece may go to a relatively small number of households.
What can you do to help? Use your smartphone or regular camera to capture documents like campaign mailers. You can do this by simply take a regular photograph with the built-in camera app. That usually works well enough if you follow a few guidelines, and with a little practice you can create documents are are very usable.
Probably the three most important things to remember are to avoid glare, maintain perspective, and crop. If your light source or flash creates glare on the document, the document may not be usable. By perspective, I mean having your camera square and perpendicular relative to the document so that its dimensions are not distorted. (I find that placing the document on the floor and then getting right over it helps.) Finally, cropping removes unneeded parts of the image. Remember, what we’re trying to do here is to create usable documents that can be read. We don’t have to worry about creating archival-quality documents like you would be if you’re digitizing and preserving family photographs.
As I said, you can do this with the regular camera app in your smartphone. But there are specialized document scanning apps. I’ve used several, and one I can recommend is called Scanbot. Another is CamScanner.
Scanbot is free for both Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, although there is a paid version with extra features like optical character recognition. What I like about Scanbot is that as you’re taking a photo, the app coaches you on the screen with tips like “too dark,” “get closer,” or “perspective.” Finally, it will command “don’t move” and it will snap the photo. You can then add more pages.
When finished, it creates a pdf from the scan. That’s really handy, as you then have one pdf document that holds all pages of the campaign mailer or other document. Then, you can have the app send the pdf by email or upload it to cloud-based storage systems like DropBox or Google Drive. (I recommend both of these systems.)
I should warn you: If you plan on sending something that you received in the mail that has your address or any other personal information on it, be aware and be careful. You could erase it using an editing app on your smartphone or computer, but in many cases the easiest thing to do is to obliterate your address with a marker pen before you capture the document. Or, you might cover it with paper, or excise it with scissors.
This type of intelligence-gathering is extremely valuable. Now, you may be thinking “Wait a minute. Don’t political campaigns post their mailers on their websites or Facebook?” The answer is some do, and some don’t. For the negative mail pieces — the ones that often contain the type of distortions that need to be exposed — it’s rare for a political campaign to make these mailers available to the public.
So this is a way you can be involved in gathering information. It could be campaign mailers, political campaign handouts, meeting agendas, material distributed at meetings, things you see on your computer screen, anything. It could be material distributed
I can’t tell you how many times people have complained to me about something they received in the mail or at a meeting. I ask “can you scan it and send it to me?” Well, not many people have scanners in their home. But now many people have smartphones. With a little practice, you can capture these documents in electronic form.
Then, what do you do with these documents? The campaigns of candidates that you support need intelligence like this. News reporters need documents for tips and substantiation of stories. You can share documents on social media like Facebook and Twitter. You can send them to me or your local government watchdog person or organization. There’s a lot you can do.
Government officials at all levels count on the average citizen not being interested or informed about government. We can hold government more closely accountable if we have information, and this a way that anyone can help.
Gidget stepped away for a few months, but happily she is back writing about Kansas politics at Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe).
One of the great things about the internet is it gives people an outlet for their writing and opinions that they probably would not have otherwise. I’d like to introduce you to someone whose writing I think you’d like to read. Well, I can’t really introduce you to her, because I don’t know who she is. On her blog she (?) goes by the name Gidget. It’s titled Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe) at insideksgop.blogspot.com.
Gidget writes anonymously, although I’m pretty sure she’s female and lives in or near Johnson County, as many of her articles concern local politics there. Being anonymous has its good and bad aspects. For one thing, most people who try to be anonymous on the internet and achieve any level of notoriety are usually exposed, eventually.
Being anonymous means there is less accountability for what you write, so people may not give your writing as much weight as they should. But anonymity gives the freedom for some people to write things that need to be said, and that’s what Gidget does very well. For example, last year she reminded readers that Bob Dole is known as the “Tax Collector for the Welfare State.” Not so much in Kansas, where he has stature just shy of sainthood. And that’s the point. If you criticize Bob Dole for the things he did that deserve criticism, you’re likely to be ostracized from the Kansas Republican Party. I can tell you, there are attack dogs.
The sometimes nasty nature of politics lead Gidget to write this earlier this year: “I have taken a much needed break from all things political during this campaign season. I know it’s bad timing, but my tender soul can only deal with so much back-biting and garbage slinging, and the 2012 primaries sent me to a dark place.” (Guess who’s back from Outer Space?)
I was sad to see that Gidget didn’t post anything for some months. But as the August primary approached, she rejoined the conversation. Here’s what she wrote about the United States Senate primary between Republicans Pat Roberts and Milton Wolf:
Sigh. This race is the most disgusting and vile thing I’ve witnessed since, well, Moran-Tiahrt. From the outside, it appears that everyone involved in the Roberts/Wolf fiasco has lost all of their senses. (Gidget’s predictions — Roberts vs. Wolf)
Later in the same article she wrote:
Finally, I am appalled, truly, sincerely appalled, that Wolf is now being investigated by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts for photos and comments he made on Facebook years ago.
Had he not run for office, his career would not be threatened. It’s that simple. Whatever you think of Wolf (and I really don’t think much of him), he doesn’t deserve to have his professional career ruined due to a Facebook post. He just doesn’t.
And it smacks of Roberts calling in a political favor. There is exactly one member of the Kansas Board of Healing Arts who is not a doctor or medical professional. That person is a political activist, appointed by Brownback, and a vocal Roberts supporter. Did she have anything to do with the Wolf investigation? She says no, and I’m inclined to take people at their word.
However, often in politics, as in real life, perception is reality. And the timely investigation of Wolf stinks. Badly. This is why good people don’t run for office.
Gidget is absolutely correct. When people consider whether they want to subject themselves to the type of attacks that the Roberts campaign launched, many people will decide not to run.
Here’s another example from the same article of Gidget writing the things that need to be said, and which party insiders don’t say:
I sincerely wish Roberts would have done the right thing a year ago — and that is decide against running for a fourth Senate term. We would have better candidates to choose from had he done so, and it’s been obvious for quite some time the direction in which the political winds were blowing. Kansans (and many around the country) had had enough of long-term federal legislators in Washington.
I contend that had Roberts really, truly cared about Kansas, the state GOP and the country, he would’ve bowed out this year. He’s a nice man, but his ego may be out-of-hand if he truly believes he’s one of only two people in the state of Kansas who can fairly, accurately and reasonably represent the Sunflower State in the U.S. Senate.
As Kansans know, the senate primary was particularly nasty. It shouldn’t be that way, and it doesn’t have to be. But there are many people who put party and personality above principle, and the results are usually not pretty. These attacks can have lasting impact. Here’s what Gidget wrote shortly after the August primary (Leaving the GOP):
I am leaving the Kansas Republican Party. While I will continue to work for candidates I like, and continue to be a registered Republican — you don’t get a choice in most of the elections otherwise — I’m out.
My disillusion with the party can not be overstated, and I simply see no reason to stay.
This fall, I will be volunteering for the Libertarian candidate, Keen Umbehr. Do I agree whole-heartedly with Keen? No. In word only, my values more closely align with what Gov. Brownback says his values are. (His actions suggest otherwise.)
I can no longer spend my time or money for a party that actively works against the people — specifically the grassroots people.
I am fairly certain I’m not the only person who has had enough of it. There’s an extraordinarily unusual lack of decorum among what I would call the Establishment of the Kansas Republican Party.
Take, for example, Gavin Ellzey, vice chair of the Third District Republican Party. A few days ago, he locked down his Twitter account, but prior to that he made numerous posts about “offending Muslims with a .45,” “only attractive women need equality,” and posts essentially calling Milton Wolf a piece of sh!t.
This is what passes for respectful discourse in Kansas politics these days. I was disgusted by his tweets, but that’s just the most public tip of the iceberg.
There were widespread rumors of many candidates making threats to individuals if they didn’t get onboard and offer their full support.
While not a huge Wolf fan, I continue to be disturbed by the way he was treated by what I would call the Kansas Establishment. He was ostracized, called names and I heard that he was uninvited to county and state GOP events.
Every Republican candidate in Johnson County attended an election night party at the Marriott Hotel in Overland Park. Wolf’s party was across the street at a different hotel. Was he not invited to participate in the county party?
I am not for one minute saying that everyone in the Republican Party has to be in lock step. But party members should welcome new faces, new candidates and fresh ideas — even if they don’t personally support some of the new people or their ideas.
That’s acceptable. It is not acceptable to act like the Republican Party is a locked boys club, where only certain people need apply.
I’m sure the Kansas Republican Party is simply a microcosm of what goes on in other states, but I don’t have the heart for it anymore.
The things I heard people say last night at the Marriott, the things I saw and heard people say in social media over the course of this campaign, I am out.
I blame our current crop of Republican politicians for this discourse. A gentle word here and there from them about Reagan’s 11th Commandment would go a long way. But those words are left unsaid, and I have to assume it’s because our most of our Republican politicians think winning is more important than anything. It baffles me that these self-professed Christians appear to believe that the ends justify the means.
That’s Gidget writing at Kansas GOP Insider. It’s good stuff. Take a look.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: We’ll take a look at some of the primary elections results this week. What did voters say, and what should we look for in the November general election and the future past that? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 54, broadcast August 10, 2014.
Kansas Republican primary voters made two good decisions this week.
Kansas held primary elections this week. The primary election, of course, does not determine who wins the office; it only selects one Democratic and one Republican candidate to move forward to the November general election. But in many cases, the primary is the election, at least the one that really makes a difference. That’s because in Kansas, often there may be no Democratic Party candidate. Or if there is a Democrat, that candidate may have little money available to campaign in a district with a large Republican voter registration advantage.
It’s important to note that some candidates who will appear on the general election ballot in November did not appear on any primary election ballot. That’s because parties other than Democratic and Republican select their candidates in a convention. In particular, there are two prominent candidates in this category. One is Keen Umbehr, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor. The other is independent candidate Greg Orman, who is running for United States senator. Both are serious candidates that deserve consideration from voters.
Let’s take a look at a few results from the primary election.
United States Senate
In the contest for the Republican Party nomination for United States Senate, Pat Roberts won, receiving 48 percent of the vote. He moves on to face not only the Democratic nominee, but also an independent candidate who is already advertising on television. The problem Roberts faces going forward is the fallout from his scorched-earth campaign. He went negative against Milton Wolf from the start, focusing on issues that are worth considering, but quite trivial considering the big picture.
Roberts ran an advertisement near the end of the campaign that took Wolf’s words grossly out of context, and Roberts should be ashamed for stooping to that level. Another thing Roberts can be ashamed of is his refusal to debate opponents. He said he would debate. He should debate. It’s a civic obligation. He also largely avoided news media.
During the campaign, I was critical of Roberts. I looked at votes he had taken while in the Senate. I looked at the way he ran his campaign. I was critical. I hope that I kept my criticism based on — and focused on — facts and issues. But another problem Roberts has is the behavior of his supporters, both official and unofficial. They too ran a scorched-earth campaign.
I’d like to show you some of the posts made on Facebook and Twitter about Wolf and his supporters, but this is a family-oriented blog. Roberts will need the support of all Kansas Republicans in the general election. He needs to hope that they don’t peel off to the Democrat or Independent candidates. Roberts needs all Kansas Republicans to vote, and vote for him. But the behavior of his campaign and its supporters has harmed Republican party unity. What’s curious to me is that I don’t think they realize the harm they have caused.
United States House of Representatives, district 4
For United States House, fourth district, which is Wichita and the surrounding area, incumbent Mike Pompeo won over Todd Tiahrt, 63 percent to 37 percent. This contest was curious for a number of reasons, such as the former holder of the office seeking it again, and running against a man he endorsed twice. It attracted national attention for that reason, but also for something more important: Tiahrt was advocating for a return to the practice of earmarking federal spending. Tiahrt concentrated a few issues in a campaign that was negative from the start.
Tiahrt claimed that Pompeo voted to support Obamacare seven times. But everyone who examined that claim, including several political science professors, said it was unfounded, going as far as saying it broke the truth entirely. The Tiahrt campaign also took a speech Pompeo had made on the floor of the House of Representatives and used just one sentence of it in a deceptive manner. The campaign also took a bill that Pompeo introduced — having to do with GMOs — and twisted its meaning in order to claim that Pompeo doesn’t want you to know the ingredients used in food. Tiahrt criticized Pompeo for missing some votes during the campaign, even though Tiahrt had missed many votes during his own campaign four years ago.
In the face of these negative ads, Pompeo remained largely positive. He released one television ad that rebutted the claims that Tiahrt had made. Is it negative campaigning to rebut the false accusations of your opponent? Pompeo had one ad that mentioned “goofy accusations” made by his opponent, which hardly qualifies as negative. Other than that, the Pompeo campaign remained largely positive. That is quite an accomplishment in today’s political environment.
This campaign was also marred by vitriol among supporters. In my opinion, based on my observations, the Tiahrt supporters that engaged in this behavior have some apologies to make. Pompeo goes on to face a relatively unknown Democrat in the heavily Republican fourth district.
United States House of Representatives, district 1
For United States House, first district, which is western Kansas, although the district extends east enough to include Emporia and Manhattan, incumbent Tim Huelskamp was challenged by Alan LaPolice. Huelskamp won with 55 percent of the vote. Huelskamp had faced criticism for not being supportive of various subsidy programs that benefit farmers, most notably for ethanol. Outside groups joined the race, running ads critical of Huelskamp for that reason. Some ads were critical of Huelskamp for being removed from the House Agriculture committee, that move seen as retaliation for not supporting Speaker of the House John Boehner. Huelskamp now moves on to face a Kansas State University history professor who was also the mayor of Manhattan.
The meaning of these results
What do these results mean? These three elections — Senate and two House contests — attracted national attention. The Friday before the election, Kimberly Strassel wrote in the Wall Street Journal of the importance of the fourth district contest. She wrote:
A big decision comes Tuesday in the Kansas GOP primary. The Sunflower State is in the throes of political upheaval, with most of the attention on the fortunes of Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts. But the race that may say far more about the direction of the GOP is taking place in Wichita, the state’s Fourth District, in the standoff between Rep. Mike Pompeo and challenger Todd Tiahrt.
Pompeo was elected in the 2010 tea party surge, with a particular focus on liberating private enterprise. He’s made a name for himself as a leader in the fight to end corporate welfare and pork, and to cut back on strangling regulations.
After detailing some legislative activity and accomplishment, Strassel noted the difficulty that fighters for economic freedom encounter: She wrote “Such principles are precisely what conservative voters claim to demand from their representatives. Yet the antisubsidy line has hardly been an easy one, even in conservative Kansas — which collects its share of federal largess. And Mr. Tiahrt knows it.”
Continuing, she wrote: “The choice voters fundamentally face on Tuesday is whether they want a congressman who works to get government smaller for everyone and to end corporate welfare, or a congressman who grabs what he can of big government to funnel to his district, and embraces crony capitalism. The latter is a return to the unreformed GOP, a groove plenty of Republicans would happily slide back into — if only voters gave the nod. We’ll see if Kansas conservatives do.”
There’s something there that bears repeating: “Such principles are precisely what conservative voters claim to demand from their representatives.” In the case of Huelskamp and Pompeo, voters supported two candidates who have these principals, and who follow them. In the United States Senate contest, that almost happened.
For Pat Roberts executive campaign manager Leroy Towns, political debates are important. At least until your candidate doesn’t want to debate.
Are debates important to the political process? According to a former North Carolina University journalism professor, the answer is yes, debates are very important:
Leroy Towns, political journalism professor at UNC, said debates are very important in the political process.
“Debates give people a chance to look at candidates close up and see how they act under pressure situations,” Towns said. (Libertarian candidate Michael Beitler kept from debate, Daily Tarheel, September 13, 2010)
Fast forward four years. As executive campaign manager for Pat Roberts during his primary campaign for United States Senator, Towns now says Roberts won’t debate challengers.
You might think that a former journalism professor would be in favor of the voting public having greater access to candidates. Especially candidates when in pressure situations, as Towns advocated in 2010. This idea is congruent with Roberts’ campaign commercials. They portray the senator as tough and tested; a Marine who will stand up to anyone.
Roberts’ decision to skip a useful ritual of American politics may lessen his stress level and advance his personal political career, and the career of campaign manager Towns. But it disrespects Kansas voters.
With the decision of United States Senator Pat Roberts to skip debates with his opponents, Kansans are deprived of a useful part of the political process.
Election campaigns are an essential element of representative democracy. Campaigns are simultaneously a means for those who seek elective office to connect with voters and a way for citizens to learn about the candidates who are seeking their votes. Political campaign debates are an integral component of the modern political campaign. … Voters have come to expect election debates, particularly in the race for the president of the United States but increasingly for other elective offices as well. (Political Election Debates: Informing Voters about Policy and Character, William L. Benoit)
With the decision of United States Senator Pat Roberts to skip debates with his opponents, Kansans are deprived of a useful part of the political process.
This decision makes sense on only one level, that being the preservation and promotion of Pat Roberts’ political career. Evidently he and his political advisers have decided that he can win the primary election without the candidate participating in one or more debates.
But Roberts’ career and his electoral prospects are not relevant public policy.
That Roberts won’t debate is rich in irony. In his reporting of Roberts’ decision to skip debates with his main opponent Dr. Milton Wolf, Steve Krake wrote “Roberts is a Marine who portrays himself as willing to stand up to anybody. But he won’t stand up to Wolf, whose feisty, upstart campaign has given the incumbent headaches from the start.” (Steve Kraske: Sen. Pat Roberts won’t debate Milton Wolf)
Another element of irony is that the United States Senate is often described using phrases like “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” partly due to its tradition of allowing unlimited, or lengthy, debate. Roberts has served in that body for nearly 18 years and wants another term.
It’s also curious that Roberts would turn down debate opportunities. He has a reputation as a quick wit when speaking.
Even more curious, when you engage the Roberts campaign on inconsequential issues — such as whether campaign manager Leroy Towns lives in Kansas or North Carolina — you’ll get a quick response.
But ask a substantive question using the same communication channel, and there’s no answer. An example question is whether the senator will support the authorization of the Export-Import bank. That’s an important issue, one which the senator dodges, and about which he might be asked in a debate.
Debates are probably stressful events for most candidates, I’m sure. That’s part of their value. Put the candidates in front of a skeptical and inquisitive audience (the debate moderators) and a critical audience (the debate opponent), and see what happens when candidates are stressed a bit.
Speaking of stress: Roberts has made the ability of a senator to stand up to stress a campaign issue. In a profile this week in the Kansas City Star, Roberts criticized an incident from his opponent’s past, saying “Send him to Washington and see how stressed he gets.”
Roberts’ decision to skip a useful ritual of American politics may lessen his stress level and advance his personal political career. But it disrespects Kansas voters.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita talk radio show host Joseph Ashby joins Bob Weeks to talk about politics and upcoming elections. Episode 52, broadcast July 20, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.
Kansans should be happy that Senator Pat Roberts is voting in a fiscally conservative way. Happy, but skeptical.
Organizations like Club for Growth produce scorecards of legislators. The motto of Club for Growth is “Prosperity and Opportunity through Economic Freedom.” It supports candidates who believe in pro-growth policies, limited government, low taxes, and economic freedom. Kansans who believe in these values can trust Club for Growth as a reliable indicator of candidates’ beliefs and actions.
The Club for Growth creates voting scorecards. These scorecards are a selection of votes that the organization believes distinguish between those who support the club’s pro-growth goals, and those who don’t. Scorecards like this are valuable because they show what officeholders have actually done, which may be different from what they say they have done, or what they promise to do.
Kansans should be happy that its senior senator Pat Roberts has been voting largely in alignment with these policies that promote growth and economic freedom. These votes are good for Kansas, and good for America.
But it hasn’t always been this way for Roberts, and we don’t know what the future holds. If reelected, Roberts could return to his usual voting habits.
There’s little doubt that Roberts is voting in a way divergent from his past. Even the New York Times noticed a shift in Roberts’ voting as an election approaches, recently reporting “And Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, eyeing his state’s sharp turn to the right, made sure to align his votes with the fiscally conservative Club for Growth 84 percent of the time last year.”
I’ve gathered scorecard results from Club for Growth for all years available. In the nearby chart, I present the scores for Roberts. I also present the average scores for a group of Republican senators that are often criticized for straying from fiscally conservative policies. This group includes Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Richard Lugar of Indiana, John McCain of Arizona, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Roberts.
As you can see, Roberts tracks this groups of senators fairly closely. Some years Roberts voted more in alignment with the goals of Club for Growth, and some years less. But in 2013, as the New York Times noticed, Roberts departed quite a bit from this pack of of Republicans.
So Kansans and all Americans should be pleased that Pat Roberts has been voting for limited government and economic freedom. But it’s out of character for him, and the election-year timing can’t be ignored as a motivating factor. What will Roberts do when an election is not near?
Scorecards such as these and others, including the ones that I’ve personally constructed, have caveats. For example, some members have not been in office very long. Issues in which you have an interest may not have been voted on during the member of interest’s tenure. Or, the vote may not have been a recorded vote, which is common. Also, the mere fact of a vote for or against a bill does not measure or account for leadership on the issue, or intensity of interest and involvement. I’ve not seen scorecards that incorporate the work performed and votes made in committees, which is an important part of legislating. Further, the selection of votes to be included is an issue. Organizations that create scorecards generally have issues that are important to them, and may focus on a subset of issues to the exclusion of all others.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A look at a variety of topics, including an upcoming educational event concerning water in Wichita, more wasteful spending by the city, yard signs during election season, problems with economic development and cronyism in Wichita, and water again. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 50, broadcast July 6, 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute.
3rd Annual Kansas Freedom Index Released
Support of Freedom About More Than Politics, IDs Role of Government and Freedom of Citizens
July 1, 2014 — Wichita — Kansas Policy Institute released a new scorecard tracking votes from the 2014 legislative session. The third annual Kansas Freedom Index takes a broad look at voting records and establishes how supportive state legislators are regarding economic freedom, student-focused education, limited government, and individual liberty. The Index is intended to provide educational information to the public about broad economic and education freedom issues that are important to the citizens of our State. It is the product of nonpartisan analysis, study, and research and is not intended to directly or indirectly endorse or oppose any candidate for public office.
“An informed citizenry is an essential element of maintaining a free society. Having a deeper understanding of how legislation impacts education freedom, economic freedom and the constitutional principles of individual liberty and limited government allows citizens to better understand the known and often unknown consequences of legislative issues,” said KPI president Dave Trabert.”
A Freedom Percentage is calculated for each legislator, representing the relative position of a legislator’s raw score on a number line of the minimum and maximum score, with the percentage indicating proximity to the maximum score.
A positive cumulative score (or a Freedom Percentage above 50%) indicates that a legislator generally supported economic and education freedom, while a negative cumulative score (or Freedom Percentage below 50%) indicates that a legislator was generally opposed. A score of zero or a Freedom Percentage of 50% indicates that a legislator was generally neutral. The cumulative score only pertains to the specific votes included in the Kansas Freedom Index and should not be interpreted otherwise. A different set of issues and/or a different set of circumstances could result in different cumulative scores.
Trabert continued, “Each year it has been clear that support of economic freedom isn’t an issue of political affiliation. Republicans represented at least 70 percent of all House members and all Senate members since 2012. Those counts would produce fairly strong results one way or the other if economic freedom was a partisan issue, but instead, the overall score of both chambers was very near neutral.”
Trabert concluded, “Too often votes come down to parochial or personal issues and the idea of freedom is left on the legislature’s cutting room floor. Hopefully, the Kansas Freedom Index can start to recalibrate citizens and legislators towards supporting the freedoms of everyday Kansans and not be driven by politics.”
2014 Freedom Index by the Numbers
Appearing today on The Joseph Ashby Show, candidate for United States House of Representatives Todd Tiahrt defended the practice of earmarking federal spending.
He said that Congress should take away the president’s pen, and should do that by allocating funding properly. When pressed by the host, Tiahrt repeated that earmarks do not increase spending.
This is the standard argument: Earmarks simply direct the spending of money that is already authorized to be spent. Earmarking does not increase the amount spent. Which, of course, bypasses the fact that Congress authorizes a certain amount to be spent. If Congress is concerned that too much is being spent, it could authorize less.
There is broad agreement among limited-government conservatives that earmarks are harmful. Taxpayers for Common Sense concludes:
Earmarks reflect a broken budget process. Too often earmarks reward parochial interests at the expense of national needs. The earmarking process also often subverts established merit-based, competitive, or formula-driven budget processes without debate. Ultimately earmarks may fund projects many people consider “good” projects, but the earmark process does not guarantee these are the most beneficial and worthwhile projects.
At The Heritage Foundation, commentary on a Harvard Business school study opened with:
What happens when a state is lucky enough to have one of their Senators ascend to one of the three most powerful committee chairmanships? According to a new study by three Harvard Business School the average state then experiences a 40 to 50 percent increase in earmark spending (the figure is a smaller 20% for powerful House committees). So this new government spending is then a boon to the state right? The public spending stimulates economic growth right? Wrong. Turns out, increased federal spending is connected with a decrease in corporate capital expenditures and employment.
It should be noted that while in Congress, Tiahrt served on the Committee on Appropriations, one of the “powerful House committees” referred to. Further evidence of Tiahrt’s attitude is that today on Ashby’s show he referred to Jim DeMint, the former senator, anti-earmark crusader, and now president of Heritage, as a failure.
At The Cato Institute, Tad DeHaven wrote that earmarks are a symptom of a larger problem:
There just isn’t much difference between the activities funded via earmarking and the activities funded by standard bureaucratic processes. The means are different, but the ends are typically the same: federal taxpayers paying for parochial benefits that are properly the domain of state and local governments, or preferably, the private sector. As a federal taxpayer, I’m no better off if the U.S. Dept. of Transportation decides to fund a bridge in Alaska or if Alaska’s congressional delegation instructs the DOT to fund the bridge.
Therefore, earmarking is a symptom of the problem. The problem is the existence of programs that enables the federal government to spend money on parochial activities.
Also at Cato, Dan Mitchell makes the most important argument:
Last but not least, earmarks are utterly corrupt. The fact that they are legal does not change the fact that they finance a racket featuring big payoffs to special interests, who give big fees to lobbyists (often former staffers and Members), who give big contributions to politicians. Everyone wins … except taxpayers.
Kansas law overrides neighborhood covenants that prohibit political yard signs before elections.
Some neighborhoods have restrictive covenants that prohibit homeowners from placing any signs in their yard except signs advertising homes for sale. But a 2008 Kansas law overrides these restrictive covenants to allow for the placement of small political yard signs starting 45 days before an election. Still, residents of covenant neighborhoods may want to observe their neighborhood’s restrictions.
For the August 5, 2014 primary election, the 45 day period in which signs are allowed started on June 21. (Although I could be off by a day. Sometimes lawyers count days in strange ways.)
The bill was the product of then-Senator Phil Journey of Haysville. The bill passed unanimously in both the Kansas House and Senate.
According to the First Amendment Center, some 50 million people live in neighborhoods with homeowners associations. And laws like the 2008 Kansas law are not without controversy, despite the unanimous vote in the Kansas Legislature.
While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that governmental entities like cities can’t stop homeowners from displaying political yard signs, a homeowners association is not a government. Instead, it is a group that people voluntarily enter. Generally, when prospective homeowners purchase a home in a neighborhood with restrictive covenants, they are asked to sign a document pledging to comply with the provisions in the covenants. If those covenants prohibit political yard signs, but a Kansas law says these covenants do not apply, what should a homeowner do? Should state law trump private contracts in cases like this?
Practically: Should you display signs in your yard?
While Kansas law makes it legal for those living in communities with covenants that prohibit political yard signs, residents may want to observe these convents. Here’s why: If neighbors are not aware of this new Kansas law and therefore wrongfully believe that the yard signs are not allowed in your neighborhood, they may think residents with signs in their yards are violating the covenants. By extension, this could reflect poorly on the candidates that are being promoted.
Those who are not aware of the law allowing yard signs are uninformed. Or, they may be aware of the law but disagree with it and wish their neighbors would not display political yard signs. These people, of course, may vote and influence others how to vote. Whether to display yard signs in a covenant neighborhood is a judgment that each person will have to make for themselves.
The Kansas statute
K.S.A. 58-3820. Restrictive covenants; political yard signs; limitations. (a) On and after the effective date of this act, any provision of a restrictive covenant which prohibits the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, during a period commencing 45 days before an election and ending two days after the election is hereby declared to be against public policy and such provision shall be void and unenforceable.
(b) The provisions of this section shall apply to any restrictive covenant in existence on the effective date of this act.
Or, as described in the 2008 Summary of Legislation: “The bill invalidates any provision of a restrictive covenant prohibiting the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, 45 days before an election or two days after the election.”
Before Wichita city hall asks its subjects for more tax revenue, it needs to regain the trust of Wichitans. Following, from February, an illustration of the problems city hall has created for itself. And, how it would be helpful if the editorial board of the state’s largest newspaper acted as though it cared about ethics, cronyism, government transparency, and corruption.
When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
— P.J. O’Rourke
Your principle has placed these words above the entrance of the legislative chamber: “whosoever acquires any influence here can obtain his share of legal plunder.” And what has been the result? All classes have flung themselves upon the doors of the chamber crying:
“A share of the plunder for me, for me!”
— Frederic Bastiat
Tomorrow the Wichita City Council considers a policy designed to squelch the council’s ability to issue no-bid contracts for city projects. This policy is necessary to counter the past bad behavior of Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and several council members, as well as their inability to police themselves regarding matters of ethical behavior by government officials.
The proposed policy is problematic. For some projects the developer will have to pay for “a third party expert to verify construction estimates and contracts with respect to reasonable market costs and appropriate allocation of costs between public and private funding.”
Why are measures like this necessary? The impetus for this policy is the no-bid contract awarded to Key Construction for the construction of the garage near the Ambassador Hotel, originally called Douglas Place, now known as Block One.
A letter of intent passed by the council on August 9, 2011 gives the cost of the garage: “Douglas Place LLC will administer the construction of the garage and urban park on behalf of the City and the City will pay the cost of designing and constructing the same at a cost not-to-exceed $6,800,000.” Of that, $770,000 was for the urban park, leaving about $6 million cost for the garage. The motion to approve the letter of intent passed with all council members except Michael O’Donnell voting in favor.
By the time the item appeared for consideration at the September 13, 2011 city council meeting, city documents gave the cost of the constructing the garage structure at an even $6 million. The motion to spend that amount on the garage passed with all members except O’Donnell voting in favor, except Brewer was absent and did not vote.
Then the city manager decided that the project should be put to competitive bid. Key Construction won that competition with a bid of about $4.7 million. Same garage, same company, but $1.3 million saved.
The Wichita Eagle tells the story like this: “The Ambassador garage at Douglas Place, awarded at $4.73 million to Key Construction — a partner in the hotel project and the project’s contractor — came in about 20 percent under estimates provided the City Council, on the heels of some city-financed downtown parking garages that spiraled over budget.” (“Wichita City Council to consider bidding policy extension”, Wichita Eagle, Sunday, February 2, 2014)
Reading the Eagle story, citizens might conclude that due to excellent management by Key Construction, the garage was built at a 20 percent savings under “estimates.”
But that’s not at all what happened. It’s not even close to what really happened.
Without the intervention of O’Donnell, the city manager, and — according to press reports — city council member Pete Meitzner, the garage would have been built for $6 million. That was the intent of a majority of the council. The $6 million price tag for the no-bid contract was in the ordinance that passed, and in the letter of intent that passed a month before. There were no “estimates” as the Eagle reported. There was only the expressed desire of the council to spend $6 million.
So there were no “estimates” that Key Construction bested. But there was an objectionable no-bid contract that the council agreed to. Fortunately for Wichita, a few people objected and overrode the council’s bad decision.
We’re left to wonder why the Eagle retold the story with Key Construction in the role of hero. That’s about 180 degrees away from the role this company plays.
Key Construction is intimately involved in city politics. Its principals and executives contribute heavily to mayoral and city council election campaigns. Company president David Wells is a personal friend of the mayor.
Did Key’s political involvement and campaign contributions play a role in the council awarding the company a no-bid garage contract? Key Construction executives and their spouses are among a small group who routinely make maximum campaign contributions to candidates. These candidates are both liberal and conservative, which rebuts the presumption that these contributions are made for ideological reasons, that is, agreeing with the political positions of candidates. Instead, Key Construction and a few companies are political entrepreneurs. They seek to please politicians and bureaucrats, and by doing so, receive no-bid contracts and other taxpayer-funded benefits. This form of cronyism is harmful to Wichita taxpayers, as shown by the Ambassador Hotel garage.
The harm of pay-to-play
When it is apparent that a “pay-to-play” environment exists at Wichita City Hall, it creates a toxic and corrosive political and business environment. Companies are reluctant to expand into areas where they don’t have confidence in the integrity of local government. Will I find my company bidding against a company that made bigger campaign contributions than I did? If I don’t make the right campaign contributions, will I get my zoning approved? Will my building permits be slow-walked through the approval process? Will my projects face unwarranted and harsh inspections? Will my bids be subjected to microscopic scrutiny?
Wait a minute: Doesn’t Wichita have a newspaper that keeps a watchful eye on cronyism and corruption? With an editorial board that crusades against these ills?
The answer is no. No such newspaper exists in Wichita.
We need laws to prohibit Wichita city council members from voting on or advocating for decisions that enrich their significant campaign contributors. The Ambassador Hotel garage contract is just one example. Citizens are working on this initiative on several fronts. Some find the actions of these candidates so distasteful and offensive that they are willing to take to the streets to gather thousands of signatures to force the Wichita City Council to act in a proper manner.
That huge effort shouldn’t be necessary. Why? The politicians who accept these campaign contributions say it doesn’t affect their voting, and those who give the contributions say they don’t give to influence votes.
If politicians and contributors really mean what they say, there should be no opposition to such a “pay-to-play” law. Citizens should ask the Wichita City Council to pass a campaign finance reform ordinance that prohibits voting to enrich significant campaign contributors.
There is a law, sort of
Citizens who believe that city council members ought not to vote on matters involving their friends and business associates, we already have such a law. Sort of. Here’s a section from the Wichita city code as passed in 2008 (full section below):
“[Council members] shall refrain from making decisions involving business associates, customers, clients, friends and competitors.”
Mayor Carl Brewer voted for this law, by the way. When asked about a specific application of this city law, the Wichita city attorney supplied this interpretation:
Related to the Mayor’s participation in the item, yes, City Code advises Council members to “refrain from making decisions involving business associates, customers, clients, friends and competitors. … ” but the Code does not provide definitions or limits to these broad categories of constituents. Further, the City Code clearly requires Council members to “vote on all matters coming before the City Council except in those particular cases of conflict of interest. …” The city Code does not define what constitutes a conflict but the Council has historically applied the State law for that definition.
Applying that State law specific to local municipalities, the Mayor does not have any substantial interest in Douglas Place LLC, and therefore no conflict. Under the State ethics law, there was no requirement that the Mayor recuse himself from voting on the Ambassador Project.
So we have statutory language that reads “shall refrain,” but the city attorney interprets that to mean “advises.”
We also have statutory language that reads “business associates, customers, clients, friends and competitors.” But the city attorney feels that these terms are not defined, and therefore the mayor and city council members need not be concerned about compliance with this law. We’re left to wonder whether this law has any meaning at all.
Be advised: If you ask the mayor to adhere to this law, he may threaten to sue you.
If the city attorney’s interpretation of this law is controlling, I suggest we strike this section from the city code. Someone who reads this — perhaps a business owner considering Wichita for expansion — might conclude that our city has a code of ethics that is observed by the mayor and council members and enforced by its attorneys.
Giving that impression, through, would be false — and unethical.
Here’s the Wichita city code:
Sec. 2.04.050. — Code of ethics for council members.
Council members occupy positions of public trust. All business transactions of such elected officials dealing in any manner with public funds, either directly or indirectly, must be subject to the scrutiny of public opinion both as to the legality and to the propriety of such transactions. In addition to the matters of pecuniary interest, council members shall refrain from making use of special knowledge or information before it is made available to the general public; shall refrain from making decisions involving business associates, customers, clients, friends and competitors; shall refrain from repeated and continued violation of city council rules; shall refrain from appointing immediate family members, business associates, clients or employees to municipal boards and commissions; shall refrain from influencing the employment of municipal employees; shall refrain from requesting the fixing of traffic tickets and all other municipal code citations; shall refrain from seeking the employment of immediate family members in any municipal operation; shall refrain from using their influence as members of the governing body in attempts to secure contracts, zoning or other favorable municipal action for friends, customers, clients, immediate family members or business associates; and shall comply with all lawful actions, directives and orders of duly constituted municipal officials as such may be issued in the normal and lawful discharge of the duties of these municipal officials.
Council members shall conduct themselves so as to bring credit upon the city as a whole and so as to set an example of good ethical conduct for all citizens of the community. Council members shall bear in mind at all times their responsibility to the entire electorate, and shall refrain from actions benefiting special groups at the expense of the city as a whole and shall do everything in their power to ensure equal and impartial law enforcement throughout the city at large without respect to race, creed, color or the economic or the social position of individual citizens.
Arguments for term limits
- With term limits in place, Congress will be more responsible toward their constituents because they will soon be constituents themselves. They will have to live under the laws they have created while in office.
- Members of Congress will have less time in office to develop financially beneficial commitments to lobbyists and other special interest groups, thereby undermining the threat of lobbyists being a primary influence on legislation.
- Since the time of the Founding Fathers, a general consensus states that people, when given power, will eventually be corrupted by it. If Congress has term limits in place, their power will also be limited. Candidates will be more likely to run for the purpose of serving the people, and they would have to leave office before corruption dominates their decisions.
- Congress is heavily entrenched in partisan politics, resulting in gridlock when trying to pass any legislation. If term limits were enacted, toeing the party line would be less important, as the need for re-election and holding onto party seats would no longer be the driving force behind most legislative decisions. Congress would have an easier time passing the legislation that would make a positive difference for the nation.
- Money is a major factor in who will win an election. Incumbents have the benefit of the profits they made while in power — plus the backing of their party, contributing organizations and special interests — to get re-elected. However, these wealthy incumbents are often not the best person for the job, as they are so far-removed from the daily realities of the American people. A middle class person who better understands the problems facing the average citizen is highly unlikely to get elected over a wealthy incumbent. Term limits will help to eliminate the shady, profitable relationships between members of Congress and special interest groups, and therefore reduce the wealth gap between candidates. In turn, more qualified people will have a real opportunity to win elections.
- Within Congress, most legislation is written by a committee that handles a specific duty or topic. Committee appointments can be very prized positions for the power, influence and financial backing that can be attained. These positions are often assigned based on political favors and a willingness to support causes or projects. Therefore, career politicians who have formed the most self-serving relationships can often be given the most power in Congress. Term limits would work to stop this cycle of political reward and power abuse. Committee assignments would be determined by merit and expertise, resulting in fair and informed decisions.
The arguments against term limits
Career politicians should be valued for their experience. If we regularly fill a Congressional office with a newcomer, we will lose the valuable experience on-the-job that person can offer in government.
- On occasion, there may be a member of Congress that has fought for his constituents and resisted the corrupt system of power abuse that is considered normal on Capitol Hill. The Founding Fathers discussed the need for a “rotation of office.” When one’s terms are up in one office, that politician can run for another office (such as a member of the House running for Senator, Governor, etc.) and put their experience to use in other helpful ways.
- The notion that only one person — the incumbent — can do the job well is absurd. Problematically, we continue to elect the incumbent because of name recognition and party affiliation rather than a proven track record. Realistically, there is usually someone just as qualified to take over the incumbent’s office.
Term limits are not necessary because members of Congress must be regularly re-elected. If they are not doing a good job in office, we can simply vote for someone else.
- While this would happen in an ideal world, historically the incumbent is re-elected 90% of the time. The playing field is simply not level between incumbents and challenging candidates because of the ability to raise money. In 2010, the average incumbent in the House raised around $1.4 million, while the challengers averaged $166,000. In the same year, Senate incumbents averaged $9.4 million for each campaign, while challengers raised $519,000. With that incredible discrepancy, it is no surprise that the incumbent usually prevails. If a member of Congress is limited to one or two terms, the party itself and other major donors would not invest nearly as much in an incumbent, giving challengers a better chance of winning the race.
Term limits would give more power to bureaucrats and lobbyists.
- This argument is based in the notion that incoming legislators will be entirely unqualified for their jobs and will be easily led astray by staff, bureaucrats, special interests, etc. The way the system works today suggests that the real problem is in longevity of office and the complacency that can come along with it. For instance, lobbyists invest heavily in long-term relationships with sitting legislators. Congress members currently shirk many responsibilities by delegating them to bureaucratic agencies.
- Term limits have the potential to greatly reduce these problems. When more Congressional races are won by challengers from outside the Beltway, this change is likely to bring new staffers with new ideas into Washington, rather than recycling the same old corrupt insiders.
Term limits are unconstitutional.
- Clearly this is not the case, as the President of the United States is limited to two terms because of a Constitutional Amendment. A 28th Amendment would be necessary to impose term limits for Congress, and that is precisely what we are seeking. Since Congress will not willingly do so on their own, it is imperative that Americans make their voice heard on this issue.
Kansas Senator Dennis Pyle (@Dennis_Pyle) is considering challenging Pat Roberts (@SenPatRoberts) and Milton Wolf (@miltonwolfmd) for the Republican Party nomination for United States Senator from Kansas.
As suspicious as I am regarding the motivations of politicians, I didn’t think of this until a few political observers suggested it: Could this be an effort by the Roberts campaign to muddy the waters and diminish Wolf’s prospects? Or was this an organic decision made by Pyle — after “months of prayer,” of course? Or did Roberts campaign operatives butter up the northeast Kansas Senator and seduce him with the possibility of a U.S. senate seat — or, at least keeping it in the hands of Roberts?
The latter seems about right. But I don’t really know.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita voters tell pollsters that they prefer alternatives to raising taxes. Then, how can you get involved in politics? A deadline is approaching soon. Finally, some examples of why we need to elect better people to office. Episode 44, broadcast May 25, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.
United States Representative Mike Pompeo of Wichita has been appointed to the Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi. I spoke with him today in his Wichita office on this topic and a few others.
On the composition of the committee — seven Republicans and five Democrats — Pompeo explained that the majority party usually has a majority on committees of this type. A “Select” committee like this has a very narrow charter. The committee will have staff and counsel, and will deliver a report. After that, the committee will disband.
Critics of this committee point to the several committees that have already held hearings on this matter and the thousands of documents produced. What can this committee accomplish? Pompeo said that despite all the previous activity, we do not know everything. The Ben Rhodes email that was supplied just last week is an example.
Pompeo said the administration has not been very cooperative. The committee wants to learn what decisions were made on September 11, 2012, how were the decisions made, and by whom.
While the committee operates in a political environment, Pompeo said that the six other Republicans on the committee (the Democratic members have not been named) are “workhorses,” who will work to come to a factual conclusion. It may be, he said, that conservatives will disappointed in the output of the committee, in that the facts show that there was no wrongdoing or malfeasance. If that is what the facts show, that’s what will be in the committee’s report, he said.
It is not known whether Democrats will boycott the committee. Pompeo said it’s important that Democrats participate in the committee proceedings, as this will best serve the American public interest. The decision will be made by Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader.
As for the committee being a “witch hunt” or simply a political operation, Pompeo reminded me that Speaker John Boehner was reluctant to call for the formation of this special committee. Pompeo said that the Republican members of the committee, except for chair Trey Gowdy, are members with low profiles, and not widely known by Americans.
On the situation in Ukraine, Pompeo said the situation remains incredibly intense. The Russians have fomented strife in the region, with a propaganda campaign to create the predicate for a Russian invasion. Western Europe has begun to recognize the risk and has started to implement a few more sanctions. Putin’s goal is to reconstruct Greater Russia, he said.
On the subject of Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group that has captured young girls in Nigeria, Pompeo said this is another example of how the war against Islamic terrorism is not over. He said that today there are 8,000 Al-Qaeda in Syria. In 2001, on September 10, there were 200 in Afghanistan. The threat today is far greater than it was 13 years ago, and the Obama administration has thrown in the towel, he said.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: What do Wichitans want for their city’s future? Surveys from the City of Wichita and Kansas Policy Institute are examined. Episode 42, broadcast May 11, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.
From April 2012.
Today’s Wall Street Journal explains how left-wing activists are using fear of the racism label to shut down free speech and debate. The target of their current smear campaign is American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
Liberals can’t stand ALEC because it is a strong and influential advocate for free market and limited government principals in state legislatures. Liberals accuse ALEC of supplying model legislation which may influence the writing of actual state law, or even become state law in some cases. Of course, liberal advocacy groups do this too, but they don’t let that get in the way of their criticism of ALEC.
The reality is that all sorts of people and special interest groups seek to influence the writing of laws. But for laws to take effect — no matter who proposes them — they must be passed by legislatures and signed by the chief executive (or a veto must be overturned).
The false charges of racism are particularly troubling, as no one wants to be labeled as such. That’s why scoundrels demonize their opponents with charges of racism, writes the Journal, and it’s become a powerful weapon for left-wing activists: “The ugly, race-baiting anti-ALEC campaign is typical of today’s liberal activism. It’s akin to the campaigns to smear libertarian donors Charles and David Koch and to exploit shareholder proxies to stop companies from giving to political campaigns or even the Chamber of Commerce. The left these days isn’t content merely to fight on the merits in legislatures or during elections. If they lose, they resort to demonizing opponents and trying to shut them down. The business community had better understand that ALEC won’t be the last target.”
As it turns out, the motivations of some contributors to ALEC are quite narrow. Coca-Cola wanted help from ALEC only in the opposition to soft drink taxes: “So Coke executives are happy to get ALEC’s help in their self-interest but head for the tall grass when ALEC needs a friend.”
Liberals accuse ALEC of being a front group for corporations, promoting only legislation that advances the interests of corporations or business at the expense of others. When you examine specific examples of these charges, the proposals being criticized often reduce taxes for everyone or reduce harmful and unnecessary regulations. If ALEC does promote legislation that caters to special interest groups, it should stop doing so.
Besides services to legislators, ALEC provides a valuable service to the public: The Rich States, Poor States publication that examines why some states perform better in economic growth and opportunity than others. The fifth edition was released last week.
Recently a city council member from a small town asked me if there were resources to help city council or county commission members understand and apply the principals of free markets and limited government to city and county governments. I looked and asked a few people. The answer is no, there appears to be no such resource. This seems like a growth opportunity for ALEC or a new organization. There are several well-known organizations that strive to advance the size and scope of city and county governments, and these need a counter-balance.
Shutting Down ALEC
Playing the race card to silence a free-market policy voice
Is it suddenly disreputable to advocate free-market policies? That’s the question raised by a remarkable political assault on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which promotes reform in the 50 states. Led by former White House aide Van Jones, various left-wing activists and media are bullying big business to cut off ALEC’s funding. So much for free and open debate.
Founded in 1973, ALEC is a group of state lawmakers who meet to share and spread conservative policy ideas. ALEC’s main focus is fiscal and economic policy, notably at the moment pension and lawsuit reform, tax and spending limitation, and school choice. For years it labored in obscurity, its influence rising or falling with the public mood. But after conservatives made record gains in state legislatures in 2010, the left began to target ALEC for destruction.
Continue reading at the Wall Street Journal (no subscription required)
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: An editorial in a Kansas newspaper exposes a dangerously uninformed and simplistic view of politics and democracy. Then, will Kansas school leaders and newspapers tell us the hidden truths about Kansas school test scores? Episode 41, broadcast May 4, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.
In this eight-minute excerpt from the Joseph Ashby Show, the host talks about Wichita Eagle reporting and politics.
Competition must surely be one of the most misunderstood concepts. As applied to economics, government, and markets, the benefits of competition are not understood and valued.
Usually when people think of competition they think of words like hostile, cut-throat, or dog-eat-dog. They may reference the phrase “survival of the fittest,” making analogies to the law of the jungle. There, competition is brutal. The winners kill and eat the losers. Or, they may refer to games or sporting events, where a competition is created specifically to produce a winner and a loser.
But as David Boaz of the Cato Institute explains in his essay Competition and Cooperation, it’s different in markets. There, as Boaz explains, people compete in order to cooperate with others, not defeat them:
The competitive process allows for constant testing, experimenting, and adapting in response to changing situations. It keeps businesses constantly on their toes to serve consumers. Both analytically and empirically, we can see that competitive systems produce better results than centralized or monopoly systems. That’s why, in books, newspaper articles, and television appearances, advocates of free markets stress the importance of the competitive marketplace and oppose restrictions on competition.
We often see people plead for cooperation, as being preferred over competition: “Can’t we all get along?” But Boaz says this: “What needs to be made clear is that those who say that human beings ‘are made for cooperation, not competition’ fail to recognize that the market is cooperation. Indeed, as discussed below, it is people competing to cooperate.”
Boaz says that cooperation is so essential to human flourishing that we don’t just want to talk about it; we want to create social institutions that make it possible. That is what property rights, limited government, and the rule of law are all about.
If we didn’t have well-defined property rights and rule of law, we would be continually fighting — competing, that is — over property and who owns it. Boaz says “It is our agreement on property rights that allows us to undertake the complex social tasks of cooperation and coordination by which we achieve our purposes.”
Cooperation and coordination in markets is what has allowed us to progress beyond the simple societies where each person has only what he himself produces, or what he can trade for with those in his immediate surroundings. Maybe it would be wonderful if this cooperation and coordination could be accomplished through benevolence, that is, by people doing good simply for good’s sake. Sort of like “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” During the last century we saw how political systems based on that philosophy worked out.
Human nature isn’t always benevolent. People are self-interested. They want more for themselves. In economies where property rights are respected and protected, the only legitimate way to get more stuff for yourself is by trading with others. You figure out what other people want, you produce it, and give it to them in exchange for what you want. And if you can figure out what people really want, that is, what they’re willing to trade a lot of their stuff in order to obtain, you can prosper. And since the trading is voluntary, both parties to the trade are better off.
In Adam Smith’s lasting imagery over two centuries ago: “By directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”
Figuring out what others place high value on and providing it to them — and doing that better than someone else — is what competition in markets is about. As Boaz said, it is “people competing to cooperate.” When you generate success in this way, rather than by stealing from others, we all benefit. We experience what Boaz and others call the “civil society.” We cooperate with others to get what we want, instead of beating them over the head and stealing from them. Our desire for more stuff, coupled with property rights and rule of law, means that we compete to make others’ lives better, so that in turn our own lives can be better.
Who knows best what people should have? Each person knows best for themselves, of course. People place different values on things, but it each person who knows best what he values, and how much he values it.
That’s the way voluntary markets work. But government and politics works differently. Here’s what Milton Friedman had to say on this topic: “[The political system] tends to give undue political power to small groups that have highly concentrated interests; to give greater weight to obvious, direct and immediate effects of government action than to possibly more important but concealed, indirect and delayed effects; to set in motion a process that sacrifices the general interest to serve special interests rather than the other way around. There is, as it were, an invisible hand in politics that operates in precisely the opposite direction to Adam Smith’s invisible hand.”
So the benefits of market competition and cooperation are turned around and perverted in government and politics. There are many examples of this. Currently in Kansas we have a vivid example unfolding. The Blob — that’s the public school establishment — doesn’t want to allow competition, at least not competition using taxpayer funds in the form of charter schools, vouchers, or tax credit scholarships. It doesn’t want existing teachers to face competition from professionals who haven’t spent years earning a teaching degree and obtained a license.
Instead of the values of civil society, where people compete to cooperate with others in order to accomplish their goals, our public schools operate under a different system. Politicians and courts will tell us how much to spend on schools, and will pass laws to seize payment from people. Bureaucrats will tell us what schools will teach, and how they will teach it. If parents don’t like what government provides, they’re free to send their children somewhere else. But they still must pay for a product they’ve determined they have no use for.
The benefit of market competition, that is, the “constant testing, experimenting, and adapting” that Boaz writes about, is missing from government-run schools. Instead, the centralized monopoly of public schools plods along. We place all our eggs in the No Child Left Behind basket. That law is now considered by nearly everyone as a failure. So we attempt to impose another centralized, monopolistic system: the Common Core Standards.
Instead of peacefully and happily competing to cooperate in the education of Kansas schoolchildren, there is vitriol. Extreme vitriol, I would say. No one seems happy with the system. Great effort is spent fighting — jungle competition, we might say, rather than cooperating. And for some crazy reason, we use this system for many other things, too.
For more on this topic, see Competition and Cooperation: Two sides of the same coin by Steven Horwitz.
The Wichita Eagle editorial board, under the byline of Rhonda Holman, issued a stern rebuke to the Kansas Legislature for its passage of HB 2506 over the weekend. (Eagle editorial: Shame on Legislature, April 8, 2014)
Here are some notes on a few of Holman’s points.
She wrote that the legislature should not “undermine teachers’ rights and meddle in education policymaking.” First: There’s controversy over what the bill actually means to the relationship between teachers and their employers. Courts will probably have to intervene. Second: Should the Legislature have a say in policy, or just pay?
Then, she criticized the bill as “passed with only Republican votes” on a “Sunday night.” This reminded me of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in the United States Senate. At the time, The Hill reported: “The Senate approved sweeping healthcare reform legislation by the narrowest of partisan margins early Christmas Eve morning” (Senate passes historic healthcare reform legislation in 60-39 vote) That’s right: Votes from only one party, and on Christmas Eve.
Later in her op-ed Holman complained: “With such handling of the various bills, GOP legislative leaders also failed to reflect Brownback’s State of the State assertion that the ‘wonderfully untidy’ business of appropriations is ‘open for all to see.’ They held a conference committee meeting at 3 a.m. Sunday — after media, most legislators and the teachers had left the Statehouse for the night, and with insufficient public notice.” Reading this, I was again reminded of the passage of Obamacare, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi made her famous explanation as reported by Politico:
“You’ve heard about the controversies, the process about the bill .. but I don’t know if you’ve heard that it is legislation for the future — not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America,” she told the National Association of Counties annual legislative conference, which has drawn about 2,000 local officials to Washington. “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it — away from the fog of the controversy.”
On the expansion of innovative districts, Holman wrote: “Nobody even knows whether the new ‘innovative districts’ program will work or is constitutional,” calling it an “accountability-free concept.” Well, we know that an important provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was ruled unconstitutional (the expansion of Medicaid), and Chief Justice John Roberts had to torture logic and the plain meaning of words in order to shoehorn the individual mandate into the Constitution.
I’m not saying that I approve of the way the Kansas Legislature approved this bill. But if it worked for Obamacare, and if Rhonda Holman and the Wichita Eagle editorial board like Obamacare (they do), well, you can draw your own conclusions.
Also, Holman complained of “unproven ideological reforms” contained in the Kansas school legislation. Two things: First, we know that the present system of public education in Kansas is not working for many children. For example, if we critically examine the National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores that Kansans are so proud of, we find that for some groups of students, the national public school average beats or ties Kansas.
Or, if we read the National Center for Education Statistics report Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales, we can learn that Kansas has relatively low standards for its schools, and when Kansas was spending more on schools due to the Montoy decision from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered the standards.
I’m of the opinion that whenever someone criticizes their opponents as ideological — as the Wichita Eagle editorial board has — they don’t have a very good argument. They’re likely confusing ideology with partisanship. The Wikipedia entry for ideology says: “An ideology is a set of conscious and unconscious ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology is a comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things. … Ideologies are systems of abstract thought applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics. Implicitly every political or economic tendency entails an ideology whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought.”
I wish the Eagle editorial board was more ideological. If it firmly believed in economic freedom, free markets, limited government, and individual liberty — that’s an ideology we could live with, and Kansas schoolchildren could thrive under.
Instead, we’re left with the Wichita Eagle editorial board’s ideology of less educational freedom and less accountability to those who pay the bills and parent the students.
The background of the story is that the Washington Post has published an article that is demonstrably false, and for political reasons. As to why the Post has walked out on a limb too far, he writes:
Let me offer an alternative explanation of why the Washington Post published their Keystone/Koch smear:
1) The Washington Post in general, and Mufson and Eilperin in particular, are agents of the Left, the environmental movement and the Democratic Party.
2) The Keystone Pipeline is a problem for the Democratic Party because 60% of voters want the pipeline built, while the party’s left-wing base insists that it not be approved.
3) The Keystone Pipeline is popular because it would broadly benefit the American people by creating large numbers of jobs, making gasoline more plentiful and bringing down the cost of energy.
4) Therefore, the Democratic Party tries to distract from the real issues surrounding the pipeline by claiming, falsely, that its proponents are merely tools of the billionaire Koch brothers–who, in fact, have nothing to do with Keystone one way or the other.
5) The Post published its article to assist the Democratic Party with its anti-Keystone talking points.
Hinderaker also introduces to the curious story of billionaire Tom Steyer. It’s worth reading. Summing up, he concludes:
You can’t separate the reporters from the activists from the Obama administration officials from the billionaire cronies. Often, as in this instance, the same people wear two or more of those hats simultaneously. However bad you think the corruption and cronyism in Washington are, they are worse than you imagine. And if you think the Washington Post is part of a free and independent press, think again.
Continue reading at The Washington Post responds to me, and I reply to the Post.
From The Patriot Post:
Democrats have escalated their attacks on Charles and David Koch, who donate a significant amount of their accumulated capital to conservative groups. The charge is led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who now routinely takes to the Senate floor to angrily denounce these two private citizens. “I’m not afraid of the Koch brothers,” he thundered. “None of us should be afraid of the Koch brothers. These two multi-billionaires may spend hundreds of millions of dollars rigging the political process for their own benefit. And they may believe that whoever has the most money gets the most free speech. But I will do whatever it takes to expose their campaign to rig the American political system to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.”
A Democrat ad also recently demonized the brothers, accusing them of having an agenda to “protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas.” That was too much even for The Washington Post’s “fact checker,” Glenn Kessler, who gave the charge a full Four Pinocchios. Specifically, Kessler says, “The ad not only mischaracterizes an ordinary tax deduction as a special ‘tax cut’ but then it falsely asserts that ‘protecting’ this tax break is part of the Koch agenda. It turns out this claim is based on a tenuous link to an organization that never even took a position on the legislation in question.” The truth didn’t stop Reid from repeating the same “tax breaks” lie.
This attack campaign is a clear sign that Democrats are very worried about November, and they’re lashing out at anyone who’s bankrolling the opposition.
There’s been dueling claims and controversy over employment figures in Kansas and our state’s performance relative to others. I present the actual data in interactive visualizations that you can use to make up your own mind.
(Let’s keep in mind that jobs are not necessarily the best measure of economic growth and prosperity. Russell Roberts relates an anecdote: “The story goes that Milton Friedman was once taken to see a massive government project somewhere in Asia. Thousands of workers using shovels were building a canal. Friedman was puzzled. Why weren’t there any excavators or any mechanized earth-moving equipment? A government official explained that using shovels created more jobs. Friedman’s response: ‘Then why not use spoons instead of shovels?'”)
It’s important to note there are two series of employment data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.
A document from BLS titled Employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys: summary of recent trends explains in brief: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. … These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”
Another BLS document explains in detail the differences between the CPS and CES data. For example: CES: “Designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail” CPS: “Designed to measure employment and unemployment with significant demographic detail.”
Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)
I’ve gathered data from BLS and made it available in two interactive visualizations. One presents CPS data; the other holds CES data. You can compare states, select a range of dates, and choose seasonally-adjusted or not seasonally-adjusted data. I’ve create a set that allows you to easily choose Kansas and our nearby states, since that seems to be relevant to some people. (I included Texas in this set, as we often compare ourselves to that state.) The visualizations are indexed, meaning that each shows the percentage change in values from the first data shown.
As part of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Comprehensive Plan, the City of Wichita held a number of focus groups meetings. Their purpose, according to city documents, was to provide “information on the components of the Plan and provide input on a draft survey.”
(Some indication of the reverence given to the plan to city planners may be inferred by the city’s use of capitalization when referring to it.)
The community meetings were structured in a way reminiscent of the Delphi method, described in Wikipedia as “a structured communication technique, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts.” Others have a more skeptical view, believing that the Delphi technique leads citizens to believe they have participated in community democratic decision-making when in reality, that is not the goal of the process.
Dave Barber, who is Advanced Plans Manager at Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department, facilitated the meeting. Susan Estes of AFP was the meeting organizer and host. Mike Shatz is the videographer. His description of the meeting is “The City of Wichita is holding a series of meetings to gain input from the public on future spending plans. The meetings are based off a survey the city conducted, which, by all accounts, was full of loaded questions geared towards promoting the programs that city officials want to see. In this meeting, one of the first in the series, citizens openly question the process and repeatedly ask for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.”
Critics of the economic development policies in use by the City of Wichita are often portrayed as not being able to see and appreciate the good things these policies are producing, even though they are unfolding right before our very eyes. The difference is that some look beyond the immediate — what is seen — and ask “And then what will happen?” — looking for the unseen.
When we are talking about applied economic policies, we are no longer talking about pure economic principles, but about the interactions of politics and economics. The principles of economics remain the same, but the likelihood of those principles being applied unchanged is considerably reduced, because politics has its own principles and imperatives. It is not just that politicians’ top priority is getting elected and re-elected, or that their time horizon seldom extends beyond the next election. The general public as well behaves differently when making political decisions rather than economic decisions. Virtually no one puts as much time and close attention into deciding whether to vote for one candidate rather than another as is usually put into deciding whether to buy one house rather than another — or perhaps even one car rather than another.
The voter’s political decisions involve having a minute influence on policies which affect many other people, while economic decision-making is about having a major effect on one’s own personal well-being. It should not be surprising that the quantity and quality of thinking going into these very different kinds of decisions differ correspondingly. One of the ways in which these decisions differ is in not thinking through political decisions beyond the immediate consequences. When most voters do not think beyond stage one, many elected officials have no incentive to weigh what the consequences will be in later stages — and considerable incentives to avoid getting beyond what their constituents think and understand, for fear that rival politicians can drive a wedge between them and their constituents by catering to public misconceptions.
The economic decisions made by governing bodies like the Wichita City Council have a large impact on the lives of Wichitans. But as Sowell explains, these decisions are made by politicians for political reasons.
Sowell goes on to explain the danger of stopping the thinking process at stage one:
When I was an undergraduate studying economics under Professor Arthur Smithies of Harvard, he asked me in class one day what policy I favored on a particular issue of the times. Since I had strong feelings on that issue, I proceeded to answer him with enthusiasm, explaining what beneficial consequences I expected from the policy I advocated.
“And then what will happen?” he asked.
The question caught me off guard. However, as I thought about it, it became clear that the situation I described would lead to other economic consequences, which I then began to consider and to spell out.
“And what will happen after that?” Professor Smithies asked.
As I analyzed how the further economic reactions to the policy would unfold, I began to realize that these reactions would lead to consequences much less desirable than those at the first stage, and I began to waver somewhat.
“And then what will happen?” Smithies persisted.
By now I was beginning to see that the economic reverberations of the policy I advocated were likely to be pretty disastrous — and, in fact, much worse than the initial situation that it was designed to improve.
Simple as this little exercise may sound, it goes further than most economic discussions about policies on a wide range of issues. Most thinking stops at stage one.
We see stage one thinking all the time when looking at government. In Wichita, for example, a favorite question of city council members seeking to justify their support for government intervention such as a tax increment financing (TIF) district or some other form of subsidy is “How much more tax does the building pay now?” Or perhaps “How many jobs will (or did) the project create?”
These questions, and the answers to them, are examples of stage one thinking. The answers are easily obtained and cited as evidence of the success of the government program.
But driving by a store or hotel in a TIF district and noticing a building or people working at jobs does not tell the entire story. Using the existence of a building, or the payment of taxes, or jobs created, is stage one thinking, and no more than that.
Fortunately, there are people who have thought beyond stage one, and some concerning local economic development and TIF districts. And what they’ve found should spur politicians and bureaucrats to find ways to move beyond stage one in their thinking.
An example are economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman, who have studied tax increment financing extensively. Their article Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development states in its conclusion:
TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable.
So TIFs are good for the favored development that receives the subsidy — not a surprising finding. What about the rest of the city? Continuing from the same study:
If the use of tax increment financing stimulates economic development, there should be a positive relationship between TIF adoption and overall growth in municipalities. This did not occur. If, on the other hand, TIF merely moves capital around within a municipality, there should be no relationship between TIF adoption and growth. What we find, however, is a negative relationship. Municipalities that use TIF do worse.
We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.
In a different paper (The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development), the same economists wrote “We find clear and consistent evidence that municipalities that adopt TIF grow more slowly after adoption than those that do not. … These findings suggest that TIF trades off higher growth in the TIF district for lower growth elsewhere. This hypothesis is bolstered by other empirical findings.”
Here we have an example of thinking beyond stage one. The results are opposite of what one-stage thinking produces.
Some city council members are concerned about creating jobs, and are swayed by the promises of developers that their establishments will employ a certain number of workers. Again, this thinking stops at stage one. But others have looked farther, as has Paul F. Byrne of Washburn University. The title of his recent report is Does Tax Increment Financing Deliver on Its Promise of Jobs? The Impact of Tax Increment Financing on Municipal Employment Growth, and in its abstract we find this conclusion regarding the impact of TIF on jobs:
Increasingly, municipal leaders justify their use of tax increment financing (TIF) by touting its role in improving municipal employment. However, empirical studies on TIF have primarily examined TIF’s impact on property values, ignoring the claim that serves as the primary justification for its use. This article addresses the claim by examining the impact of TIF adoption on municipal employment growth in Illinois, looking for both general impact and impact specific to the type of development supported. Results find no general impact of TIF use on employment. However, findings suggest that TIF districts supporting industrial development may have a positive effect on municipal employment, whereas TIF districts supporting retail development have a negative effect on municipal employment. These results are consistent with industrial TIF districts capturing employment that would have otherwise occurred outside of the adopting municipality and retail TIF districts shifting employment within the municipality to more labor-efficient retailers within the TIF district.
While this research might be used to support a TIF district for industrial development, TIF in Wichita is primarily used for retail development. And, when thinking beyond stage one, the effect on employment — considering the entire city — is negative.
It’s hard to think beyond stage one. It requires considering not only the seen, but also the unseen, as Frederic Bastiat taught us in his famous parable of the broken window. But over and over we see how politicians at all levels of government stop thinking at stage one. This is one of the many reasons why we need to return as much decision-making as possible to the private sector, and drastically limit the powers of politicians and governments.