Keeping the VOE Faith

Chris Smith

It hasn't been an easy week to be a Voter Owned Elections supporter :-)

There are certainly a lot of lessons learned, and I'll undoubtedly being doing another post on those lessons at some point.

But I think things are turning around today with the rejection of Lucinda Tate's certification. [Note: I don't know Lucinda, and have no reason to question that she is a sincere candidate. But I helped two candidates get their qualifying contributions, and I KNOW you can't get 450 in 7 days.] I'll be waiting anxiously to hear the results of the investigation into Mr. Golovan.

But in the middle of all the angst around Emilie and Lucinda's certifications, something's been neglected: the system is producing it's intended results. To wit:

What might this election cycle look like absent VOE?

My assessment is that Erik and Ginny would be in a fundraising arms race, well on the way to raising (and spending on TV spots - probably negative ones) in excess of $500K each.

Amanda would be making the rounds, but Dan would have all the money and probably would not be seriously at risk.

Yes, Voter Owned Elections is working here, as it has in Maine and Arizona.

Keep the faith!

Comments

  • Wesley Charles (unverified)
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    Portland's system is not the same as Maine's, Arizona's, Vermont's or any other state that has adopted "clean campaigns."

    Those states require "qualfied contributions" to be made by registered voters in the jurisdiction the candidate is seeking. Plus, at least Arizona requires the donor to sign an affidavit when making the contribution.

    Portland, on the other hand, allows ANYONE, regardless of age, residency or even foreign nationality (i.e. ineligible to vote), to make a "qualified contribution." Plus, there is no verification of city residency, just a loose requirement that the candidate "believes" the person lives in the city.

    Whatever Portland's VOE program is, it is NOT the same as those other jurisdictions that have tried this experiment.

    • Wes
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    Wes, no question that will be among the lessons learned. The choice is one between inclusiveness and ease of validation. Clearly we didn't get the mechanics of validation in place fast enough to deal with Mr. Golovan. Whether we can make validation work without using voter registration as a requirement is a question the Citizens Commission should take a careful look at.

    But you're confusing the means with the end. I'll concede that we need to work on the administration, but my point is that the end goal of the system is being achieved.

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    agreed, that the end goal of the system is being achieved, and would add that this is a test of the system - if voters had had a chance to vote on this system, they would have voted it down, now they get to see it in action, and hopefully there will be flaws and successes and we'll all learn from them, then the people will realize what a great system it is and that it is theirs. It would be nice to hear this from the O, but who am I kidding.

  • (Show?)

    Give me a break! With three races eligible, only two people qualified -- a 10-year incumbent and a person who says she would have run under the old system. And half of the candidates who claimed to qualify turned in false signatures.

    That's the way it's supposed to work? More like Nixon's "Vietnam victory" or W's "mission accomplished."

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    Yes, that's the way it's supposed to work. Remember when the complaint was that everybody and their mother would qualify and drain city coffers? Now it's that not enough people are taking the money, apparently. Never satisfied.

    And there's a lot going right that you don't see. You don't see Sten taking up his day begging for money instead of working on policy. You don't see big primary ad buys. You don't see people with enough money to print up negative advertising...well, maybe one person. :)

  • Michael Wilson (unverified)
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    There is nothing in this to encourage candidates to get out and knock on doors, which might happen if they ran from districts. This is simply politics by glossy mailer and media ads. M.W.

  • Ramon (unverified)
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    Sorry, self-annointed Progressives. You may think this a no-brainer but it just doesn't pencil out.

    Granting a Free Money subsidy to candidates does not take the money out of politics. Protecting incumbents by limiting the speech of critics does not take the money out of politics.

    There is only one way to take the money out of politics: reduce the size, scope and power of government and limit it so that not everything is up for sale to every vote-claiming faction that comes calling. In fact, this theory formed the underpinning of the U.S. Constitution. But starting about 100 years ago, the Progressives rewrote the Constitution, without meeting the standards for amending or repealing it, and turned the Framers' intent upside down. For those who want to know, here's how they did it.

    A reasonably limited government, and one that thus preserves liberty, has never been in the interest of Progressives. A little honesty is long overdue. Progressives are not interested in taking the money out of politics - only taking their opponents' money out of politics.

    One more thought. Political partisans are just like Progressives in this respect. Should you be truly interested in taking money out of politics, count yourself a "small l" libertarian, like our revolutionary-era Framers, and be comfortable in your anti-partisanship.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    Can someone explain to me what the $15K worth of seed money is that Erik took? I think Homer made a big contribution to this fund anyways to defeat the intent of VoE. Watch how Erik flips and supports the tram if he does well in the primary.

    Face it, VoE just lets Erik burrow deeper in his spider hole. He can post his WEBsite and get the public employee's union and friends & family to shill for him. He set this up since he knows how to game it.

  • Sten Fan (unverified)
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    "You don't see Sten taking up his day begging for money instead of working on policy."

    Please, give me a break! Little Erik is much less dangerous when he is out begging for money to keep his political boat afloat than when he is "working on policy".

    Remember the millions spent on trying to buy PGE, the "revamped" computer system at the Water Bureau, and the non-existent oversight of the Tram Project that is also costing the taxpayers millions? Do us all a favor Erik, spend more time on fundraising for your campaign!

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    There is nothing in this to encourage candidates to get out and knock on doors, which might happen if they ran from districts. This is simply politics by glossy mailer and media ads.

    I don't know about the other folks who helped Erik and Amanda, but in my case, every contribution I gathered for them was face to face with the contributor. And I didn't see anything glossy involved.

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    Can someone explain to me what the $15K worth of seed money is that Erik took? I think Homer made a big contribution to this fund anyways to defeat the intent of VoE. Watch how Erik flips and supports the tram if he does well in the primary.

    The system allows you to collect $100 contributions up to 10% of the amount of public funding your are seeking ($15K = 10% of $150K). The idea is to help you get enough of a kitty to print your brochures and envelopes so you have the tools to go get your 1000 $5 contributions.

    Yes, Erik took $100 from Homer, I wish he hand't (and have told his campaign so), but it pales in comparison to what Homer would have given the old way.

    Amanda opted not to go the seed money route, and I think the Citizen Commission might want to look at recommending a reduction in the total amount.

    I would note that the seed money is deducted from what you get from public funds. The check the auditor cuts you is $150K - seed money - $5 contribution total. So it does not create any competitive advantage.

  • anonymous (unverified)
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    Consider this for one second...

    What do you think about non-registered voters contributing to the campaign to receive the public financing? Contributing to campaigns has precedence in the courts as an example of free speech. Voting is an important part of Democracy, but has also been deemed a method of free speech.

    Think about the implications of any contribution that must be in the format of payment that can be verified to the signature. That seems to have implications of income level and potentially race or education levels. I say that because the only method that I can think of would be a check. I don’t even think money orders (which many lower income people use) contain a verifiable signature.

    On a side note— I received a letter some time ago from Erik Sten. It contains a form letter that apparently about 800 or more people received. According to the Oregonian (I think, maybe the Tribune) his campaign manager said that Erik also followed up on those letters with public engagements and phone calls to gather his signatures. Well I never received a call, but what I did get was a letter containing a petition form asking ME to gather signatures and collect contributions from my friends. It was like a chain letter. Very smart on Erik’s part, but very unfriendly and disconnected. One of Erik’s arguments for this public process was the need for connecting to constituents…. Well he didn’t connect with me, or anyone I know. BTW—he now gets public money after getting big moneyed interests to turn their 11k contributions into 150K. Think about that. Now, a fewer number of moneyed interests can lead the way for turning their contributions into 150k of public money. What is worse: 300 households (special interest individuals or just regular registered residents of Portland) or 2 big money interests such as one or two unions providing the cash and the impetus for reaching 1000 of their members?

  • anne (unverified)
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    I got the letter from Erik (and a follow up phone call) and also signed up for Ginny's email list because I wanted to see who to vote for. Since, I have received ZERO contact from Ginny via email (for two months) and several thoughtful emails from Erik discussing his stance on education funding and Portland General Electric. I learned a lot of things about how politics is done (and not done).

    Contact the campaigns - see who is paying attention to the people...Ginny said she'd be INCLUSIVE. I haven't seen anything. I think sometimes we just bash incumbents but it is our job to do a little work too.

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    reduce the size, scope and power of government and limit it so that not everything is up for sale to every vote-claiming faction that comes calling.

    So, Ramon, you would be in favor of eliminating all state corporate tax loopholes? After all, that's where all the real action is on this score.

  • Jesse O (unverified)
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    In other states, it often takes a few election cycles for newcomers to figure out the system. So, I think the jury should be out until two or three more cycles are run, then we can evaluate.

  • ses (unverified)
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    While in theory I believe in the VOE process, there are still too many bugs to work out. The main issues are still not being addressed in the City of Portland, infrastructure, family wage jobs, generating a more business friendly climate etc... VOE did not open the door to the true grassroots candidates due to how difficult it was to gather the signatures. Sharon Nasset actually testified against it in city council. She still gave it a try hoping to garner support due to her heartfelt commitment to the things that truly matter. After dropping out of the VOE she is continuing with her campaign. With all the bugs that still need to be worked out, it is refreshing to see a candidate who is willing to work so hard to try to get her voice out.

  • thedude (unverified)
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    Jack offer something anything other then complaints. Its getting so repetitive. Basically ANY change in anything and you complain. Please look into prozac.

  • (Show?)

    In other states, it often takes a few election cycles for newcomers to figure out the system. So, I think the jury should be out until two or three more cycles are run, then we can evaluate.

    Which is exactly why it should go to the voters for their judgment at that point. "Rush to Judgment" appears to be the theme around Portland these days. What's that about? Too much Viagra?

  • Andrew C. (unverified)
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    Lewis & Clark Tax Law Professor Jack Bogdanski wrote, in response to Chris Smith's assertion that the underlying intent of Portland's VOE law is working: [Two people have abused VOE] "That's the way it's supposed to work? More like Nixon's 'Vietnam victory' or W's 'mission accomplished.'"

    Jack, of course, has a vested interest in everyone believing that brilliant legal minds, like his ( ... ), could have designed a better system for VOE, even if that's nothing but a self-serving wild-ass guess, on his part, given the newness of this approach to election funding, everywhere.

    The reality is that we have legislatures full of self-styled brilliant legal minds across the nation. And, much of the laws and policy they generate are fantastical sausages of guesswork and manipulative intent, ground together, packed in a case, and tossed onto the public. Which then gets to live through the social impact, while the brilliant legal minds tweak and re-tweak their systems as the intended and unintended side-effects creep into public view over time. It's amazing that a TAX law professor - of ALL people - fails to look at the current state of Portland's VOE law in this light, and instead dances around, thumbing his nose, here and elsewhere, ranting "phhbbbbttt ... Sten is a big fat neener!!!", while implying he could have done any better.

    On the other hand, the software industry - another, like law, which exists to design complex rules systems - is honest enough to admit it will develop a workable initial model (the "beta"), get it out there in some real-world trial, see how it does, then use that ACTUAL EXPERIENCE (as opposed to half-baked guesswork and prognostication by brillliant legal minds) to see what needs to change, without pretending it could have been perfect the first time.

    The current VOE system is a public beta (yes, being tested in the public, because it's the only test harness which could provide useful feedback). There are problems, they are being seen, and will no doubt be addressed. Tate and Boyes will not be on the council, and much of the money given them will be recovered (we do have a justice system in our city, complete with cops, investigators, prosecutors, and even judges). Our city is learning a lot about this process by going through it. And, if it costs our community a few hundred thousand dollars to learn how to make our elections process more publicly accessible, that's a good long-term investment in our future.

    Anyone publicly asserting the VOE roll-out should have been problem-free is either ignorant, or working a back-end agenda (since they botched the recall).

    In the meanwhile, BoJack and his cronies should tuck in their egos, and either talk about how this process can help the city, or close their wind-tunnels. Unless, of course, they truly are just interested in maintaining the status quo of elections owned and operated by PGE/Enron, while having fun spewing childish "neener" attitude all over the place, and contributing nothing substantive or constructive to the discussion.

    Policy question: what valid social purpose is served by making voter registration a pre-requisite to signing a VOE candidate petition, if the broad social goal of VOE is to increase overall public participation in the elections process?

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    Jack offer something anything other then complaints. Its getting so repetitive. Basically ANY change in anything and you complain.

    Now that's completely unfair. Jack also complains about many things that haven't changed.

  • Amiel Handelsman (unverified)
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    Chris,

    Thanks for reminding us of the hidden good news about VOE amidst the very public bad news.

    I have no illusions that VOE is the cure-all, nor do most others, but it is a promising step forward. With disciplined management and screening, it should provide a good test of what's possible. At a minimum, let's give it a cycle or two before making an assessment. For now, let me suggest the old maxims: Haste (in judgment) makes waste and Mend it, don't end it.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    But I helped two candidates get their qualifying contributions, and I KNOW you can't get 450 in 7 days.

    Chris -

    That is a ridiculous statement. Just because you couldn't do it does not mean someone with an established network can't. In this case, it appears the signatures were a fraud. But if you have several churches or large union meetings, for intance, with people already assembled and a pitch by the groups leader so people will line up to sign for you, getting 450 in 7 days is no great trick at all.

    What I want to know is where is David Rheinhard's candidate? Where are all the people who were supposed to take advantage of this system by using the money to campaign in the Bahamas? The fact that two of the four people who even claimed funding appear to have gotten enough signatures/contributions only through fraud by one of their supporters seems to put to rest the idea the money is going to be handed out to unqualified candidates. So now apparently the problem is not enough candidates qualified legitimately.

    I don't think the idea of VOE was ever just to expand the field of candidates. The point was to eliminate the link between elected officials and large contributors that they are beholden to who have business with the city. In the long run, taxpayers are wasting far more paying for the special pleadings of those well-healed contributors than VOE is ever going to cost them.

    For instance, Saltzman's vote on the tram just by itself is going to cost more than VOE.

    Now that's completely unfair. Jack also complains about many things that haven't changed.

    Yep, it seems Jack takes any opportunity he can to complain here. Change? - complain. No Change? - complain. Is that really all he does on his blog too? Why do people read it?

    Policy question: what valid social purpose is served by making voter registration a pre-requisite to signing a VOE candidate petition

    The obvious answer is that there is a signature on file for the person that can checked with the signature on the petition. In this case the forgeries were obvious. Someone might learn from that and just be smarter about it in the future. Also registering to vote is pretty simple, you could even carry mail-in registrations with you when collecting signatures. This shouldn't really be a barrier except for people under 18.

    The larger problem is the $5 contribution. As I said above, the way you collect a lot of signatures in a short time is with support from existing organizations. The danger is that one of those groups agrees to pay the $5 for everyone. Then you are really only talking about getting 1000 signatures from people and the candidate becomes beholden to the group that paid in the same way they would if they had just given them $5000 as a donation. Of course one $5000 contribution is not going to tie a candidates hands once elected either.

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    Ross, OK, maybe I'm a wimp (but I think I have a pretty good network). But neither Erik nor Amanda, both with great networks, got contributions at anywhere near that clip.

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    And a group that pays the $5 on behalf of all their members is breaking the law. I understand that one of the lessons learned from this cycle is we need to have a stronger way to establish where the money comes from.

  • djk (unverified)
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    Maybe the city should require that all contributions be collected in the form of a personal check with the contributor's name and address on them. The candidate would be required to photocopy the checks before cashing them, so there's a paper record if the donations need to be checked later.

    A bit more cumbersome than taking cash, a single large check from an organization, or electronic fund transfers. But this process wasn't meant to be easy -- it was meant to show that candidates had true, broadbased support before qualifying for public funds.

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    Andrew C.

    Let me know when you decide to run for office. This theory to practice example using software development is Dead on the money.

    We all have great theories and Deathless Prose until the Bullet Hits the Bone. I think that Chris, Charlie, Eric Sten and the others that designed this thing are showing us how to roll one out correctly.

    They are not now defending every little point of thier initial effort. Instead they are carefully compiling new information and coming up with tweaks.

    This is exactly how policy changes should be introduced and implemented.

    <hr/>

    BTW: Knowing a little bit about software development, and nothing at all about the whole water bureau debacle, I imagine that the software crew on that job did not use these Best Practices, and instead tried to build the entire system and implement and debug at the end, which never works in the real world.

    <hr/>

    Ramon,

    There are two historical decisions that have come close to destroying our republic and neither is remotely Progressive:

    1)In the 1860s, railroads, who were the big boyz of their time, manged to get corporations recognized as human beings with certain "civil rights".

    2)From Buckley in the '70s to this day, the Right Wing has steadily gained ground on the Big Lie that money equals speech.

    Thus the persons formerly known as Enron, Bechtel, Halliburton, etcetera get to drive thruogh every neighborhood blasting us with their rolling boomboxes, while we try to respond under the din.

    This is the way the Republic ends.......

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    Chris -

    "But neither Erik nor Amanda, both with great networks, got contributions at anywhere near that clip."

    Well, no matter how great your network you still need a way to collect the signatures. And you are right, it would be tough to get that many signatures one person at a time. But for someone like Emily Boyles, with a history of advocacy for eastern europeans, a network of churches where they already come together regularly and a shared cause, collecting signatures over a short period of time might be a lot easier. Likewise, Randy Leonard might be able to get an awful lot of signatures going from one firehouse to the next (assuming that is legal). It will be interesting to see how the process works as people figure out how to make use of it.

  • Ramon (unverified)
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    Kari,

    Yes, close the corporate tax loopholes as well as the individual loopholes the Congress calls transition rules. It has become so bad that the Swiss cheese of the tax system has more holes than cheese. The honest average Joe has to pay for it in excessive tax rates. Tax loopholes are nothing more than back door subsidies (political payoffs), so dump all the overt subsidies at the same time - both corporate and union subsidies/loopholes because there is no difference. And dump legislated monopolies, too. So, for example, unions can compete instead of being protected from criticism with the common "exclusivity clause".

    Pat:

    Corporate abuse of power brought about the Progressive Era. But the Progressive legal solution was to open the system to abuse by anyone who could muster the power. Instead, the bar should have been raised to ban all "legalized plunder". That would have preseved the dignity of law instead of turning it on its head. Here is a very short source that says it best.

    As for money = free speech ... remember that the First Amendment is there in order to protect speech with which the authorities disagree. Ask any candidate who is challenging an incumbent about that. They will say from experience that indeed campaign spending is the only way to ensure free speech. Because when the media fawns all over incumbents, day after day, the reelection value is incalculable. As with official franked mail and other thinly disguised, tax-paid promotional pieces, these costs are never counted as re-election spending when that's exactly what they are.

    Look into the way Eugene McCarthy - a Progressive/Liberal - and the anti-war movement forced LBJ out of running for the full presidential term he was eligible for in '68. The only way that happened was because a handful of wealthy donors gave $100K each to McCarthy enabling him to raise his voice using campaign spending and ads. Years later, McCarthy said that post-Watergate "campaign finance reform" has rendered his kind of challenge impossible. (I am not saying McCarthy enabled Nixon so please don't make that into the point.) Meanwhile, re-election rates for Congress have become stuck at 98% - making most elections into mockery. And it's not much different at the state/local level.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    "The system allows you to collect $100 contributions up to 10% of the amount of public funding your are seeking ($15K = 10% of $150K).

    OK, so Homer and 100 of his friends = $10100, right?

  • Bob Tucker (unverified)
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    Sten’s achieved his objective: his re-election. He already has huge name identification. No one can outspend him, he doesn't have to try and raise money, his opponents aren’t serious (if you saw the City Club debate, Ginny Burdick is not serious). Mission accomplished. Anyone who actually thinks Sten cared about ANYTHING but his own election is high or one of these crazy Sten obsessive that seem to dominate Blue Oregon. Speaking of which, why is it that Sten loyalists are so blinded by him? It's like GW Bush and the right wing. No matter how poorly he performs, these sycophants find a way to justify it. I am a working class, socially liberal Democrat. This VOE effort was unbelievably sloppy, and if Karen Minnis or a Republican had put this together, with these loopholes, without any attention to detail, we progressives would be flaming them in this blog. Instead, the Sten zombie army blindly defends his self-righteousness and incompetence.
    BTW, it is possible to be progressive, to believe in public financing, and NOT support so-called VOE. Or Sten for that matter. Why is it that, while Sten and Saltzman have nearly identical records and positions on issues, that so many lefties fall all over themselves with blind Sten worship, yet act like Saltzaman is Trent Lott? As far as I can tell, Saltzman cleaned up Sten's Water Bureau mess. Oh, that's right, the Sten zombies probably contend that the Water Bureau never happened…or that it was that mean Jim Francesconi's fault...or downtown business...or PGE and Ginny Burdick and Guard and Gerber...because no matter how bad things get, no matter how incompetent, it's NEVER Erik Sten's fault. Wake up!

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    Bob, Sten can be outspent. There's nothing that says Burdick can't raise 2mil if she wants to. There's a limit to the amount of matching funds available.

    Another interesting thing I've been wondering--how come Sten gets so much flack for overseeing a major bureau's failure, but no one says anything about his management of the best-run bureau in the city, the fire bureau? Sten has overseen budget cuts to the bureau each year he's run it, and yet somehow it continues to excel. Two separate outside reviews of Portland Fire in the past year have called it one of the very best in the country. From quality of service to care of the infrastructure and equipment to labor-management cooperation, we have so much to be proud of. And it's happening on Sten's watch.

  • Bob Tucker (unverified)
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    Wow, how could I have been so wrong? Seriously though, torridjoe of the Sten worshipping tribe, you must concede that it's apples to oranges. I have never worked in or near a fire bureau, truck, or firefighter, but here's what I theorize.
    The fire bureau is fairly self contained and a different animal all together. It operates entirely differently, provides a completely different service, has a paramilitary command structure and a limited, clearly defined role - stop fires, save lives. Sten isn't in charge of much. Is he really out there figuring out how to better fight fires? I hope not. When budget cuts come, the most he can do is suggest to cut either firehouses or firefighters or sell some trucks. Ultimately the council makes the decision. The pay and benefits aren't managed by him. The fire chief runs the bureau, and Sten probably stays out of the way. Sure that shows some judgement, but it also demonstrates that when he was supposed to be in charge of managing something complex and difficult that required real attention and not just press statements, Erik Sten failed. Our form of city government requires management ability, not just self-rightous, left-wing policy wonkery and pontificating. The guy talks a great game, but there is no delivery. VOE is a perfect example. Great progressive talk, bad on details and the actual product. BTW, there are elements of the federal government that still work fine under GW Bush. Using your logic, I guess that makes Bush a good manager despite the evidence elsewhere?

  • Bob Tucker (unverified)
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    One key point for me here - I've voted for Sten every time he was on the ballot. But I've reached my limit. Ten years ago he was all potential. I can't vote for potential anymore. We should not blidly follow people just because they are liberal. We should ask that they actually be capable too. I only wish I had better choices in the election, because Burdick ain't it.

  • Suzii (unverified)
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    Good grief. Because you want to think Erik Sten is worthless, but it turns out he's in charge of one of the best-run fire departments in the country, you deduce that it's easy to run a fantastic fire department? Why, pray tell, is every other fire department in the country run at least as well, then?

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    Maybe the city should require that all contributions be collected in the form of a personal check with the contributor's name and address on them.

    ....Or, I would argue, a credit card contribution. A credit card, like a check, comes with address verification. It's also relatively good identity verification -- at least as good as a check. (Yes, a card can be stolen, but so can a checkbook.)

    <h2>I argued repeatedly with both Gary Blackmer and Susan Francois that we should include credit cards in the mix -- pointing out along the way that cash was untraceable -- but my advice wasn't taken. More accurately, they agreed with my advice (repeatedly, over months) but then failed to act on it.</h2>

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