Monday, January 4, 2016

Peaceful Resolution with Armed Dissent in the United States

Photograph of Geronimo, 1887 by Ben Wittick
Militiamen taking over a federal bird sanctuary in Oregon has me thinking about violent political actions. I have been studying American Indian history and there are similarities with actions some Indians took a generation ago. I hope the situation in Oregon will be resolved peacefully and there is precedent for this in the United States. The following are my thoughts based on an essay by Dean J. Kotlowski that is in the Roger L. Nichols compilation The American Indian: Past and Present

Kotlowski: Alcatraz, Wounded Knee, and Beyond


Social turmoil defined the era of the late 1960’s to mid 1970’s, and the American Indian was not immune to its effects. Society seemed split between an older establishment and a young, impatient, vocal youth. This schism manifested in the Indian community with Navajo leader Peter MacDonald praising US President Richard Nixon on one side, while activists like Russell Means, Dennis Banks and others with the American Indian Movement (AIM) going as far as to stage armed protests. I can understand MacDonald giving praise to Nixon—considering that Termination was in full swing twenty years previously. Nixon thought Indians were a “safe” minority (p. 358). Nixon calculated that a generous approach to Indians would be good politically for him with younger Americans, yet he conceded that there were real injustices heaped on these people with “very few votes”. While the tribal establishment may have welcomed presidential gestures, the young radicals were itching for a fight.

In 1969, fifty Indians occupied Alcatraz Island, a closed federal facility. This was on the heels of the Kent State shooting and the Nixon Administration was loath to escalate tensions. Instead of a fight, the authorities simply waited the occupiers out. The public eventually lost interest and the Indians fell into squabbling factions where most left the island (p. 359). In 1973, Wounded Knee II found similar tactics on both sides. In the end however, Means and the Indians surrendered their weapons after the government agreed to investigate the corrupt leadership of Richard Wilson on the Pine Ridge reservation. In 1974, Mohawks at Eagle Bay, New York planned to form their own nation, then posted guards around their camp. The government responded to this action in a similar light handed fashion—to the point where it dragged out for two years until the State of New York offered a settlement. Nevertheless, amidst all this unrest, the United States was still proactive in trying to help Indians.

President Ford continued Nixon’s Indian friendly policies by adding 185,000 acres to the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Arizona. New Mexico Taos Pueblo’s and Washington State Yakima’s also physically expanded their reservations. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was another case of the federal government giving land back to Indians. Kotlowski says Nixon and Ford were “remarkably enlightened and a tolerant” considering the challenging circumstances radical Indians had created (p. 369).

The social unrest of the period was pervasive, and many Indians were vocal activists—despite that the President had turned the tide of Termination back. It is amazing that any progress was made in light of incendiary statements and actions by AIM and others.

There is precedent for peaceful resolution with armed standoffs with the federal government. I hope this will happen in Oregon.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Don't believe the hype with Citizens United v. F.E.C.

Smokescreens to my right and left.
(This piece was originally posted on Medium, October 23, 2015.)

I bet you’ve heard the slogan, “Let’s overturn Citizens United!” This is telling people we need a constitutional amendment, or appoint new justices, who will overrule 2010’s Citizens United v. F.E.C. decision.

Citizens United has become a symbol, to many, of an exclusive federal government that puts a premium on political contributions. I agree that this is the state of the current United States political situation. However, calling for repealing a 2010 ruling is more of a potent rhetorical tool than a realistic — or even honest — solution to fixing an American democracy out-of-whack.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Brief History of Ranked Choice Voting

Party Machines Hated Proportional Representation (PR)
Image from Kathleen Barber's Book
Lawrence Lessig is trying to raise $1 million through crowdsourcing to run for president on a democratic reform platform. As of today, his effort is halfway towards the goal. One leg of his proposal is proportional representation for the US House based on FairVote’s latest plan. I have written in the previous post about how this system would work. This article is about the history of Ranked Choice Voting.

Ranked Choice Voting is not a new idea. It is constitutionally protected and has a long history in our nation. It has been more of a forgotten idea. But this is changing. The reform is reemerging as an alternative to the two round voting used in non-partisan municipal elections. It can also work with partisan elections where the results can mirror the primary / general election dynamic. Here is a very brief account of the history of Ranked Choice Voting. Most of the historical information in the article was taken from Kathleen L. Barber’s books - Proportional Representation & Electoral Reform in Ohio. &, A Right To Representation.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Real Election Reform Enters The 2016 Race

I sent Lawrence Lessig's latest effort five dollars today. I did it because he is supporting proportional representation as part of his Citizens Equality Act. (He also links to FairVote, a reform group that I Chair) Lessig is right, the system is rigged—and it is the result of voting rules that tend to tip the scales.

Here is an example of how lopsided things are. In November of 2012, in Washington’s 7th Congressional District, (Seattle) the Democrat received 298,368 votes to win the election. In the 3rd District, where I live, the GOP winner got 177,446 votes. The reason for this lopsided result is the single-member districts rule for US House seats. The bi-partisan commission in Olympia that drew the lines packed the 7th District with Democratic voters, and the result is a huge surplus of votes. In the 3rd CD, the Democrat won almost 40 percent but that accounted for nothing—as the winner takes all. In the end, all of these surpluses piled up to where it cost the Democrats—who won the most votes nationally—the US House.

Nowhere in the US Constitution does it express single-member districts with winner-take-all rules for House elections. The current rules are the result of political decisions by the elites who make them.

Winner-take-all rules also impact campaign financing issues. For example, Washington’s 7th and 3rd districts are so lopsided for one party or another, they tend to be ignored; while the handful of so-called “swing districts” get tons of money dumped into them. This is a great value for the special interests who tend to dominate campaigns because they only need to spend / amplify their voices in certain areas. All the while, voters in safe seat districts are spectators in elections that are seen as a foregone conclusion.

Friday, June 12, 2015

My Testimony in Olympia Supporting Options for Local Elections

I am testifying today in support of allowing local communities and jurisdictions the ability to move away from winner-take-all at large elections.

This committee is considering districting as a way for localities to remedy possible issues with minority vote dilution. Nowhere in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 does it mandate exclusive districts as a remedy. In fact, the jurisprudence established since this important federal law was passed gives local communities options for voting remedies. While most choose a districting plan, others opt for a modified at-large system.

There are over 100 jurisdiction in the United States that successfully use this kind of voting system. For example Texas, which has a large Latino population, has 40 school boards that use modified at-large to elect their board members.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fifty Years of the Voting Rights Act


By Krist Novoselic

In 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision; which put an end to the doctrine of “separate but equal”. This unanimous ruling struck down the notorious Plessy v. Ferguson — an 1896 decision that propped up a regime of racial segregation lasting for generations. A decade after Brown, vestiges of segregation still existed in state and local election law. As a result, a broad-based, grassroots civil rights movement took action. To this day, the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), a centerpiece achievement of the civil rights movement, looms large over elections in the United States. The goal of this landmark legislation is to break down statutory barriers to political representation such as literacy tests, poll taxes and other voting rules meant to exclude. As a result of the VRA, elections today are reflecting more racial diversity than ever before. This demonstrates the success of the VRA.

On the other hand, the status quo of civil rights advocacy is far from dynamic. Civil rights issues have been drawn into the political polarization that currently grips American politics. We find the Act repeatedly manipulated by political elites of both major parties to maximize their electoral strength. Instead of broad-based, grassroots efforts, the battles over civil/voting rights within legislative reapportionment are fought among attorneys. The resulting course of law is a patchwork of civil rights rulings, some at odds with the Act itself. These fights occur at all levels of government; for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives; who controls the floors of various state chambers; on down to counties, cities and other local jurisdictions. Those who control and prevail with the drawing maps for this type of election effectively become Masters of the Political Universe. This article looks at how political elites tend to focus on geographical districting with single-seat, winner-take-all elections as a remedy to VRA cases.

While the VRA has been successful with electing minorities, measuring legislative responsiveness in the United States Congress shows poor results. This article examines legislation in the House of Representatives regarding immigration—an important concern to Latino voters—and how this issue is languishing as a result of distortions caused by partisan manipulation of district lines.

I conclude by suggesting some form of modified at-large voting as a way of keeping omnipotent political elites in check.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Great show with The Sonics last night

I go to play the tune "Cinderella" with The Sonics last night. Their set caught the band in top form. It was amazing to see them live. I imagined being in the audience at the Spanish Castle in 1965. (This is the venue immortalized in the Jimi Hendrix song.) My point is that their energy and straight-forward arrangements actually transcended time. They were the forbearers of Punk Rock who opened doors for many in the Pacific Northwest music scene.

Here are some images by Brian Kasnyk.

Group Photo


Chris Ballew & Myself
Rhythm Section: Myself with Dusty Watson