Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Wonk's Guide to the Charter School Lawsuit

I'd love roll out a concise, easily digestible post on the issues at play in the lawsuit over charter schools. But I can't. The Plaintiffs' Brief argues five -- or maybe six -- propositions of law over 58 pages. Try summarizing that. Even the case name --State Ex Rel. Ohio Congress of Parents & Teachers v. State Bd. of Education, Case no. 2004-1668, 10th District Court of Appeals (Franklin County) -- is an abomination.

Instead, a few thumbnail guides and a pile of links to get you going.

First, the posture of the case. The appeal is from the trial court's grant of summary judgement. This means that the parties did their discovery and presented what they had to the judge who decided that, even if he assumed all disputed facts in favor of the plaintiffs, they still lose.

Now as you read the newspaper accounts, you will see arguments over whether charter schools are effectively educating kids. This is a dispute of material fact and has to be assumed in favor of the plaintiffs for summary judgement. You will also see -- as the central element of the dispute -- arguments over whether charter schools are "public" schools. This is a dispute of law, and the very thing that courts of appeals are charged with resolving. The parties also dispute whether, for example, local tax dollars are going to charter schools. Under the circumstances, this is a mixed issue of fact and law. Mixed issues of fact and law are among the things that turn young eager law students into old bitter law students before their time.

The basic issue is whether the current system of public education with its current charter school appendix constitutes a "thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state," as guaranteed by the State Constitution. Yes, this is the same clause at issue in DeRolph. (And yes, I'll get back to DeRolph II and beyond one of these days.) There are some side issues about local control of tax revenues, but don't hurt yourself.

All that said, here are your links. Of the newpaper accounts, the BJ's is the best, thanks to Oplinger and Willard's deep background knowledge. The Columbus Dispatch ($$$) and Cincinnati Enquirer articles are about equal and have about the same info. The Blade article is the weakest on the substance of the case, instead playing up the Culture of Corruption® angle. Cleveland Scene dishes that dirt better -- most of the Supreme Court has taken substantial contributions from charter schools capo di tutti capo David Brennan.

Not done yet? The Supreme Court website has a rundown of the issues in the case. The Ohio Federation of Teachers does the same, from their perspective. If you are truly a glutton for punishment, here is the plaintiffs' brief. Other case materials are posted somewhere on the web, but I've misplaced the link.

I will post on the opinion when it comes out. In the meantime, question, comments, civilized disagreements are always welcome in Comments.

The Bush Administration Style Manual

Rule 1: It's not an insurgency if we don't call it an insurgency. Unintentional humor from Rummy:

More than 2½ years into the Iraq war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has decided the enemy are not insurgents.
"This is a group of people who don't merit the word 'insurgency,' I think," Rumsfeld said Tuesday at a Pentagon news conference.
He said the thought came to him suddenly over the Thanksgiving weekend.
"It was an epiphany."

Even Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who stood beside Rumsfeld at the news conference, found it impossible to describe the fighting in Iraq without twice using the term "insurgent."
After the word slipped out the first time, Pace looked sheepishly at Rumsfeld and quipped apologetically, "I have to use the word 'insurgent' because I can't think of a better word right now."
Without missing a beat, Rumsfeld replied with a wide grin: "Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government. How's that?"

This is the same party that makes hay out of campus speech codes, right?

This blog rarely comments on national/international news, but I'm making a helpful exception. If the administration needs a new word to describe the situation in Iraq, I suggest "clusterfuck."

OH-13: Others Testing Our Waters

The PD ran a story Sunday about possible contenders for the seat Sherrod Brown is vacating to run for Senate. They note Tom Sawyer's candidacy and list three other possibilities: Former State Rep. Wayne Jones from Akron, carpetbagging debutante Capri Cafaro* from Youngstown and Lorain Co. Commissioner Ted Kalo. I think (unfortunately) that the district is weighted more strongly toward Lorain Co., so of these Kalo has the best shot. This is especially true if Jones and Sawyer both run and split the Summit Co. vote. Plus it wouldn't take much for progressive activists in Summit to find someone they love more than Jones and Sawyer.

AFL-CIO Poohbah John Ryan notes (via Buckeye Politics) that teachers union lawyer Betty Sutton is considering a run. She is also a former state rep, but has been out for some time. She may benefit from being less intrinsically identified with a particular county (unlike Sawyer, Jones and Kalo) but still being from this area (unlike Cafaro).

It looks increasingly like my pining for a run by Summit Co. Council Pres Clair Dickinson was in vain.

The PD also speculates on possible Republican challengers. While they note Don Robart and Craig Foltin -- mayors of Cuyahoga Falls and Lorain, respectively -- demurring, they don't mention State Senator Kevin Coughlin. He's in the middle of his second -- and therefore last -- term. He's gotten media and party strokes as a young up-and-comer. He's from Summit and so would have the Alex Machine behind him. He's allegedly charismatic. I find him smarmy, but I usually find charismatic conservatives smarmy.

OH-13 is a near D lock in any year and it's hard to imagine a Republican picking it off next year. But Alex is quoted in the PD as saying he will field a candidate and Coughlin owes him big time for pulling out the stops to get him reelected in '92.

Other Republican possibilities might be former State Rep. Bryan "I'm Not Brian" Willams and former State Rep. Marilyn "I'm Married to Lynn" Slaby.

*See discussion in Comment regarding where Capri Cafaro is "from."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

University Park Alliance -- Is This What Highland Square Needs?

I read with interest Betty Lin-Fisher's* story on redevelopment plans in the neighborhoods surrounding Akron U. It was the usual BJ development piece -- all happy-talk boosterism. If anyone is unhappy with the plans, they didn't show up in the story. But what really caught my eye was this:

Now, Proenza has visions of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods filled with homes,
art exhibits, shops, outdoor concerts and restaurants.

This after he said that:
"If our city is to come back -- as all of us want it to do -- finding exciting, vibrant areas for people to live and work and play and learn and do good things for their daily exercise and well-being becomes critically important[.]"
Well, isn't the same true of Highland Square? It's the anchor of dozens of blocks of mixed-income residential neighborhoods, well inside the city. Its appeal is the pedestrian-friendly layout and the quirky array of food and retail shops. The City has supported the U-Park Alliance; why do we get ugly noises from Plusquellec suggesting Steve Albrecht will get his way?

A couple of reasons. First, U-Park has landowners who are apparently with the program. Second, they got seed money from the Knight Foundation. Third, they have Proenza; we have me and thee.

But Highland Square holds hundreds of rental units, a significant percentage of which house U students. Can HSNA organize them to try to get the U administration on board? Granted, we're not close neighbors, but the University has at least as much stake in the continued good health of Highland Square as it has with the environs of City Hospital.

Meanwhile, a little grantseeking wouldn't be a bad idea either. I know this guy with the Gund Foundation . . .

*Disclosure -- a personal friend.

Monday, November 28, 2005

David Abbott Meets the Bloggers

At George's invitation, I trekked north to join him, Bill and Tim in a Meet the Bloggers session with Gund Foundation Executive Director and Voices and Choices Mover/Shaker David Abbott. You can download the podcast at the Meet the Bloggers website. In the meantime, or for any of you disinclined to treat yourselves to a one-hour plus MP3 interview, I'll run down my impressions of the evening. I'm writing this "cold," without having looked up posts by the other bloggers who were there.

Bill, Tim, George and I have each posted our misgivings about V&C, and about the broader agenda of the Fund for Our Economic Future, of which Voices is a part. Each had a chance to ask questions, so Abbott in one way or another responded to each of our concerns. I will leave it to the other guys to post their impressions of David's answers to their questions, except to say that I left reasonably well satisfied that Voices/the Fund doesn't have a blueprint already written somewhere and that they haven't rigged the process to put it on a glide path to a predetermined destination.

My questions addressed what programmers would call a GIGO problem -- Garbage In/Garbage Out. The process is so freewheeling that the only real information provided to participants is that provided by earlier participants mostly the unnamed economists and leaders who VC/tF talked to prior to the Town Hall.

As I noted in my first post after the Town Hall, the information we received was incomplete. The Participant Materials mentioned problems with the business tax system without acknowledging that we now have an entirely new system in place. Pages are devoted to K-12 education without mentioning the challenge of privatization which undeniably drives the debate in this state. (It should be noted that White Hat Management is one of scores of sponsors of the project. Given how everything is unfolded, it's hard to believe WHM had anything to do with the omission, but their involvement is noted.)

The exception to the blank slate philosophy, as I understand it, are a couple of propositions advanced about the primacy of focusing regionally -- that the rest of the world looks at us as a region and that the region is fragmented. I quibble with both of these, but they appear to be immutable truths in the VC/tF process.

Other than that, the facts compiled, apparently, are those supplied to VC/tF by the participants. When asked how the process provides for fact-checks, David said basically all of us. The citizens of NEO are all invited to participate from here on out (there will be online discussions, more Leadership meetings, another Town Hall, etc.) Those of us familiar with the facts on the ground need to step up and infuse the process with solid information. Otherwise, the ultimate outcome will have no *ahem* foundation.

What's more, David acknowledges that the VC process will guide the ultimate dispersal of tens of millions of dollars. At some point some constituencies are going to get wise to this and do what organized constituencies do -- get involve in the process, submit their versions of the facts, try to guide outcomes to their benefit.

If you read this blog -- and the rambling policy thought pieces that make up its bulk -- you obviously have some affinity for wonkery. You should get involved in this. I'll post information about the next Voices participation opportunities so you can step up and share your knowledge. It's easy to be cynical about the process, but it's happening and will end with some real projects going forward. Get in there and mix it up before you bitch.

Finally, I would be remiss for failing to acknowledge my interviewing skills. I was happy to leave the initial questioning to the other three who had done this many times before. Then, just as we were getting started, they said "Pho, you were there, you go first." My first, well formed, well articulated question was something like: "Gheh!!??!! To defend myself a little, asking questions purely about process -- which at this point is what we have before us -- is deceptively difficult. Still, I'm contemplating re-entering the paid work force soon and deciding what I'd like to be when I grow up. "Broadcast journalist" is officially off the list.

The Akron Blogosphere

Since I'm from Akron, I'm supposed to be envious of Cleveland, right? Generally, not so much. But I do envy the blogger community to the North. Though they have generously taken in this mouthy upstart from Acorn, I pine for something a little closer to home.

To that end, I've revised the sidebar again -- this time with an attempted comprehensive Akron blogroll. Fourteen active blogs right now ain't bad. I restricted myself to blogs that have at least a couple of months' worth of posts and have posted within the last month (except for my friend John at Crosscurrent, and he's On Notice.) Recently minted School Board prodigy James Hardy has promised to keep his blog active, but I'm waiting to see how active it is before adding it.

At some time I may add an "It Must Not Suck" qualifier, but happily that is unnecessary at this point.

As far as I can tell, many of these folks don't know about each other. While I won't pretend to have the ability or inclination to create a community-building blog like BFD, I nonetheless want to nurture the online community however we can. To that end, I've started an Akron Webloggers Yahoo group and will try to organize a meetup sometime soon. If you are one of the authors to the right, send me an email off the profile page and I will send you an invite.

If anyone has suggestions about building the blogger community, start a conversation in Comments. In the meantime, click the links to the right and check out who else is blogging in town.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Over the River and Through the Woods

I'm signing off for the holidays. We head east soon and have much to do before we can go. So much is happening, it kills me not being able to comment. Instead, I leave you with a reading list.

Jeff Hess has the blue-light special Wal-Mart Wednesday of all time (yes, I'm mixing retail metaphors) on havecoffeewillwrite.

Hypothetically Speaking is your source for regular updates of the increasingly sureal Murtha/Schmidt/Bupb melodrama. "Oh what a world, what a world. When a sweet little left wing like you can destroy my beautiful wickedness."

Speaking of political dramas, check out Tim's cease-fire with David Sirota over the Brown/Hackett race, and the places where the cease-fire won't hold.

Two good pieces from yesterday's Political Animal. The first is the best update on why the Scanlon plea is a Maloxx Moment for Ohio Rep. Bob Ney (R-Abramoff). If you need to catch up on Ney's bad behavior, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has been all over it and has a comprehensive archive.

The second is a thought piece about Democrats' general ineptitude in confronting right-wing disinformation. The piece is pegged to the failure of the party leadership to debunk lies about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but moves on to a more general discussion of why Democrats don't use the information progressive bloggers generate for free.

It was easy to dismiss as a stunt, but the proxy dispatches about longshot Congressional candidate Jeff Seeman's Thanksgiving with Canton's homeless are genuinely compelling, particularly given the change in the weather.

That should keep you busy. The thread is yours to talk among yourselves. Remember to cook the turkey until the stuffing has an internal temperature of 160 degrees and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Make that 499,999 Registered Republican Households

I reported a couple of days that Scott Pullins' flirtation with the Ohio left is over. Well, at least he cares enough to call. Last night, despite the fact that Prof. W. and I are each life-long D's, we got Scott's TABOR-pimping robo-call. You can read the script here.

The case for TABOR is entirely bogus, but I have a particular bone to pick. The tax-cut-mania right in Ohio is officially on notice. From here on out, if you complain about business taxes without acknowledging that the entire corporate tax code was rewritten by Republicans earlier this year, we have gone beyond mere disagreement. Such statements are fundamentally dishonest or, as Al would say, LIES.

As for OTA, you have some database purging to do. I suggest you spare no expense. Just go through your list and eliminate all names ending in "Pho."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Voicing My Choices on Education, v. 1.2

I grew weary of Voices and Choices talk last week and took a break. But I’ve heard that last weeks little blogstorm (or maybe blogsquall) caught the attention of the V&C crowd, so it remains an opportunity to get some education issues on the table. Last week I surveyed the many recommendations made about education and made some general observations. This week, I update that list, and revise somewhat my methodology going forward.

GrOhio had fixed, somewhat, their V&C story until it disappeared into their inaccessible archives. It was up and functioning long enough for me to get the link to this story from the ABJ business section that I apparently missed. It has a complete list with a couple of “Challenges” that didn’t show up in the original GrOhio post.

So we have a couple more of these lists to deal with:

Challenge: Public school funding that is flawed, inequitable and unconstitutional.

  1. Take legal steps and push state legislators to be accountable for real change in school funding.

  2. Restructure the tax base for education; combine property and sales tax, sin tax, etc.

  3. Regionalize control of public education.

  4. Share top administrators, purchasing and maintenance to lower costs and reduce gaps.

  5. Use technology to link schools and create partnerships that share resources.

  6. Look for outside funding to identify/create best practices for regional education system.
For reasons I gave in my last post, eliminate “Regionalize control of education” and the reference to a “regional education system.”

A second list:

Challenge: Disconnect between business and educators.

  1. Internships, apprenticeships and mentoring promoted at all levels.

  2. "Adopt a School'' for large businesses or “Adopt a Class'' for small businesses.

  3. Business input in developing school curriculum.

  4. Educators and community members, not lawmakers, making decisions about education.

  5. School collaboration with businesses to create jobs for graduates.
These are added to what I had left after a bit of weeding out last time:

Challenge: Improving education, funding for kindergarten through grade 12, leadership, parental involvement, skills education and isolation.

  1. Create Northeast Ohio regional advocacy group to lobby government for funding reform.

  2. Vote only for candidates who will change the system, including boards of education.

  3. Create an exchange between rural and urban schools to promote understanding.

  4. Encourage school districts and businesses to create incentives to involve parents.

  5. Create community service rewards programs, including ways to pay off student loans

Challenge: The need to educate a skilled 21st-century work force and link people to jobs.

  1. Establish a required regional program to promote 21st-century skills and computer literacy.

  2. Recognize early childhood education as key to academic and vocational success.

  3. Provide adequate opportunities for alternatives to higher education to prepare young people for good jobs.

  4. Engage private sector as a partner in education and preparing students for the world of work through internships and mentoring by expert professionals.

  5. Use data from government, universities and business to target workforce training to protect jobs.

Challenge: Unequal educational opportunities and access, pre-kindergarten through post-secondary education and training.

  1. Identify and apply best practices in education.

  2. Find new sources of funding, such as partnering with business or professional sports teams; comply with the Supreme Court decision; establish a regional tax for education.

  3. Use technology to create more equity across districts.

  4. Create more youth mentoring programs.
Once we eliminate nonsense about a regional education superbureaucracy, I identify three categories of recommendations for a regional approach to education: Advocacy, Inter-District Collaboration, Public-Private Collaboration and Technical Assistance. These are the things that people can do on a regional basis.

Granted, these aren’t discrete categories so much as Venn diagram circles, but each recommendation seems to fit into one of these better than the rest.

For the balance of these posts, I will divide and evaluate the recommendations according to how they fit into these categories. I will also add my own recommendations as we go along instead of a big post of Pho’s recommendation at the end. I think this will work.

Here is how I propose to divide all this up:

V&C Recommendations for Regional Education Advocacy.
  1. Take legal steps and push state legislators to be accountable for real change in school funding.

  2. [Advocate for] Restructure the tax base for education; combine property and sales tax, sin tax, etc.

  3. Create Northeast Ohio regional advocacy group to lobby government for funding reform.

  4. Vote only for candidates who will change the system, including boards of education.

  5. Educators and community members, not lawmakers, making decisions about education.

  6. Recognize early childhood education as key to academic and vocational success [Let’s change that to “Advocate for greater access to quality pre-K programs].
V&C Recommendations for Inter-District Collaboration

  1. Share top administrators, purchasing and maintenance to lower costs and reduce gaps.

  2. Use technology to link schools and create partnerships that share resources.

  3. Create an exchange between rural and urban schools to promote understanding.

V&C Recommendations for Public-Private Collaboration.

  1. Internships, apprenticeships and mentoring promoted at all levels.

  2. "Adopt a School'' for large businesses or “Adopt a Class'' for small businesses.

  3. Business input in developing school curriculum.

  4. School collaboration with businesses to create jobs for graduates.

  5. Encourage school districts and businesses to create incentives to involve parents.

  6. Create community service rewards programs, including ways to pay off student loans

  7. Engage private sector as a partner in education and preparing students for the world of work through internships and mentoring by expert professionals.

  8. Use data from government, universities and business to target workforce training to protect jobs.

  9. Find new sources of funding, such as partnering with business or professional sports teams; comply with the Supreme Court decision; establish a regional tax for education.
V&C Recommendations for Regional Technical Assistance.

  1. Establish a required [strike that] regional program to promote 21st-century skills and computer literacy.

  2. Identify and apply best practices in education.

  3. Internships, apprenticeships and mentoring promoted at all levels.

  4. Create more youth mentoring programs.
Up next, I will run through the Advocacy section. What would regional advocacy look like, what would we advocate for? That's where my real passion lies; that's where I have the most to say. The remaining recommendations will be subject to a variety of slings and arrows, but can probably be done in one final post.

I will be heading out of town for Thanksgiving tomorrow, so in all likelihood, this will be up Monday at the earliest.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dogpile on Jean

This is not a good time to be Jean Schmidt. There she was trying to be all swift-boaty on behalf of her party and it blows up in her face. Well, I won't pile on more grief.

Like Hell I won't.

For anyone who missed Al Franken today, one of his researchers (oh, the shame of not being Michelle Malkin) found Jean's first speech -- on the occaision of her swearing in. Here's another remark she might want stricken from the record:

Honorable people can certainly agree to disagree. However, here today I accept a
second oath. I pledge to walk in the shoes of my colleagues and refrain from
name-calling or the questioning of character. It is easy to quickly sink to the
lowest form of political debate. Harsh words often lead to headlines, but
walking this path is not a victimless crime. This great House pays the price.

Honestly, you just couldn't make something like that up.

Meanwhile, at the Huffinton Post (via PeopleHavethePower), Max Blumenthal has the dirt on Jean's wingnut Marine surrogate, State Rep. Danny Bubp.

End of the Affair

The short-lived strange bedfellowship between Ohio liberals and Scott Pullins and the Ohio Taxpayer's Association is officially over. Today OTA announced that it is making 500,000 robo-calls to Republican households to gin up support for the drive-the-state-off-a-cliff TABOR amendment.

It's no secret that OTA loves TABOR, and would continue to do so long after it reduced all of Colorado to a smoking crater. They were, after all, the group that wouldn't play nice when Blackwell postponed the vote by a year -- they blasted him.

On the other hand, one doesn't need to be a professional political operative to know that campaigning almost a year from the election is a dubious expenditure of resources. So why the calls? No clue on Pullins' blog. And he is a professional political operative.

My speculation is to push Blackwell into putting his energy back behind the effort. His support for the amendment since the pullback has been tepid at best. His blog hasn't featured a TABOR story since the election (though to be fair, a Blackwell flak did make with the brave face after the Colorado debacle). Meanwhile he has made noises about getting behind a ballot issue to impose First Class Education's 65% solution, on top of that gubernatorial campaign thingy he has planned.

TABOR supporters have every right to be nervous. First, Coloradans gave the concept a heavy no-confidence vote. Then the RON results suggested that sweeping reforms like TABOR don't go down that well in the voting booth. If the RON implosion is indeed due to the twin factors of people seeing complicated ballot language and not wanting to do that to the state Constitution, TABOR could suffer a similar blow next election.

As I said before, the netroots did a good job with Hackett and could do similar work getting the word our about the TABOR menace. Check out the Coalition for Ohio's Future website for updates, info and links.

Arshinkoff Says: Judge? Not!

The controversy over adding to Summit County's commom pleas court drags on. The BJ editorialized about Alex's latest moves yesterday. An editorial from October provides an earlier snapshot. To briefly summarize: the Ohio Supreme Court has recommended at least one more seat to ease case loads. (As of a few of years ago, criminal loads ran as high as the 80s or 90s. I've not heard that they have eased.) Our local Senators, Zurz and Coughlin, have introduced a bill bumping our quota up one to nine. Similar bills have stalled in the house where Speaker Husted, at Alex's apparent behest, refuses to give them an up or down vote. This meets your Recommended Daily Allowance of irony.

Why? It's all about maintaining control over the court. Summit County leans Democratic as a whole, but also tends to reelect appointed judges. When a Republican judge is ready to retire, Alex can usually orchestrate that judge leaving the bench early so that the Governor can appoint someone to run as a quasi-incumbent. A new seat, on the other hand, is filled in the next General Election.

Right now the court comprises five Republicans (Cosgrove, Hunter, Murphy, Spicer and Unruh) to three Democrats (Bond, Shapiro and Stormer). Of the Republicans, only Judy Hunter could reasonably be called vulnerable, and she's up again for a full term in '08. Meanwhile, Murphy and Spicer are sufficiently fed up with Alex's high-handedness as to generate speculation that they might not leave early when their time is done. And finally, as the BJ notes, a Democratic Governor would render the last consideration moot.

In all, Alex's hold on the Common Pleas general division has never been more tenuous. This after once again losing an absolute majority in Akron Muni. If he loses the Republican majority in the division, he loses a number of patronage job slots, a fair amount of political juice county-wide, and needed muscle in his ongoing fight against Oriana House.

The BJ may publicly hope that Husted will stand up to Alex's pressure, but given the stakes, I think we can count on Alex leaving it all on the floor in this fight.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Regionalism Without Foundation Grants

I'm not against regionalism per se. I'm certainly not against getting people together to talk about how we can work together. My biggest concern about the Voices and Choices effort is the fear that its regionalism will turn into a thick suffocating blanket thrown onto us from above.

From yesterday's BJ, here's an example of good regionalism at work:

A blueprint for growth
Wolf Ledges trade association focuses on leadership structure, regional relationships, training

When the Builders Exchange of Akron lost its longtime executive director, it also lost a critical building block.

James A. Dougherty had led the trade group for 35 years before his death in 2001.

Three years later, membership had dwindled from 220 to 100. Directors who succeeded Dougherty didn't work out.

At the same time, technology was making obsolete the organization's fundamental draw -- a plan room where contractors can copy blueprints.

``We could have survived a few more years,'' President Don Taylor said.

But he wanted to head off desperation, so he and the board went looking for a salvage plan. They found it in Canton.

After extensive interviewing and searching, they decided to merge with the Builders Exchange located there. On Feb. 1, the Akron group became the third leg of the Builders Exchange of East Central Ohio, which also has a Youngstown office.

The organization now is refocused on regional relationships, education programs to help members work on common issues, and a strong leadership structure, said Taylor, who remains a board member.

Voices and Choices: One Thing Leads to Another.

Apparently e-zine Cool Cleveland (which isn't the DIY 'zine it's trying to sound like) is selecting its coverage of the blogosphere discussion of Voices and Choices. As you know, a number of bloggers picked up on my original post and added their own thoughts, which tended to be less charitable than mine. BFD noted that Cool Cleveland dropped links to two of those posts -- from Callahan and Democracy Guy.

Cool Cleveland kept its link to my original post, but also added a specific link to David Abbott's response. Meanwhile, Cool Cleveland and V&C may be learning why not to draw the undivided attention of the blogosphere.

Callahan drops a lengthy rant about the CC's self-censorship. He also -- and please read to the bottom of his post to get this -- notes that one of the most jarring and incendiary factoids in V&C's Townhall Participant's Guide (.pdf) appears to have no actual source. It was just lifted from a website without attribution and the owner of the original is still trying to track down where he got it. Callahan promises more digging, more posting.

Meanwhile Democracy Guy Tim Russo, at his new home at Buckeye Politics, smells payola in the water and starts circling.

A Sprinkling of Parsley

GrOhio has link to a BJ story on Rod Parsley. The story itself is the usual stuff, although it does at least touch on his radical and intolerant view of Islam, unlike past stories.

It's an AP story that I cannot find on the BJ's website without the GrOhio link. I'm not so sure it actually saw print.

Highland Square Follow-up

[Edited to correct significant error]

I had heard that Mayor [Ken] Don Plusquellec made a surprise appearence at the Highland Square Neighborhood Association meeting last week, and stomped out in a huff. The ABJ didn't have a reporter there (probably too many people writing Cynthia George preview stories), but the West Side Leader did:

After being called out onto the floor by attendees, Plusquellic spent about 30 minutes handling comments and answering questions before abruptly leaving when a man in the audience accused him of “trying to ruin” Highland Square.

In a mostly gracious and civil discourse with residents, Plusquellic countered Hudson’s assertion that Highland Square needs less, not more, parking by saying there is some level of need for parking in Akron’s urban environment because public transportation is not utilized in this part of the country as it is in other cities.
A friend of mine who was the impertinent questioner says the actual quote was "Why are you trying to ruin our neighborhood?" He also says the tension in the room was considerably higher than the WL Leader describes.

The main issue is parking -- how much and where. The New Urbanist acolyte who was speaking made his point by contrasting Wrigley Field (no parking lot, integrated into the neighborhood) with Comiskey U.S. Cellular Field (an island in a sea of concrete.)

You can actually find an example closer to home. On a summer night, compare Mary Coyle's and Angel Falls in the Square with Zach's and Coco's Coffee up the street. Zach's and Coco's have business, but they have little walk-up traffic and the cafe seating at Coco's is almost always empty. They are in no way a part of the surrounding neighborhood. The difference? The expanse of asphalt in front of the Zach's/Coco's strip mall.

People just don't want to hang in a parking lot.

Upper Arlington Brings the Funny

On-target political satire from Upper Arlington Political Action:


Friday Random Ten

Akron Zoo Edition

1. "Suddenly, Everything Has Changed," Flaming Lips
2. "Monday," Wilco
3. "Don't Cha Wanna Ride," Joss Stone
4. "Share the Fall," Roni Size and Reprazement
5. "White Light/White Heat," Velvet Underground
6. "Long Snake Moan," P.J. Harvey
7. "Natural Blues," Moby
8. "Stuart," Dead Milkmen
9. "Dos Gardenias," Ibrahim Ferrer and the Buena Vista Social Club
10. "The Sporting Life," The Decembrists

"Stuart," is the reason I get a silly grin when I take my kids to the zoo and we visit the concession stand on the way to the petting zoo. They have a burrow owl exhibit there. I had never heard of burrow owls until the Milkmen filled me in.

Stuart is a dramatic monologue between to guys "here, in this trailer park" about "what the queers are doing to the soil." Here's the relevant verse:

"Y'know that Johnny Warstler kid, delivers papers in the neighborhood?
He's a fine kid.
Some of the neighbors say he smokes crack, but I don't believe it.
Anyway, for his tenth birthday, all he wanted was a burrow owl.
Kept buggin' his old man.
'Dad, get me a burrow owl. I'll never ask for anything as long as I live.'
So the guy breaks down and buys him a burrow owl.
So the other night, I see the Warstler kid looking up in a tree.
I say, 'what are you looking for?'
Said, 'I'm looking for my burrow owl."
Now STUART, how is a kid like that supposed to understand
What the queers are doing to the soil?"

The Milkmen are funny, but so hit-or-miss as to make Al Franken look like a model of comedic consistency. "Stuart" is one song that cracks me up everytime I hear it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

One License Plate Under God

As we discuss the process for coming up with Big Ideas, and whether those ideas will improve the lot of Ohioans, we should also note the small ideas that will accomplish nothing good. One example from today's Dispatch ($$$):

The phrase "One nation under God" is moving from the Pledge of Allegiance to the
back of some Ohio cars.
The Ohio House yesterday overwhelmingly approved a
new license plate that will feature the phrase and a picture of the American
The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in April, now heads to
Gov. Bob Taft, who is expected to sign it.
The effort to do this thing was spearheaded by Moms for Ohio -- the same Moms for Ohio that opposed the RON amendments. As a stay-at-home dad, I've developed a certain understanding of moms in Ohio. I know lots of moms and we talk about what it important to us. In the admittedly unrepresentative sample of moms I know, "One nation under God" license plates don't crack the top 200.

As much as it steams me to see far-right cultural conservatism labeled as the "pro-family" position, it is particularly galling for a straight-up fundamentalist organization to pretend to speak to as broad a group as "Moms." Whoever starts the liberal "Christians for Ohio" just to fire back will get a donation from me.

What has the GA accomplished with this? Well, litigation guaranteed. Ohio's "Choose Life" license plate is wending its way though the Federal courts now.

The "Under God" license plate is potentially more problematic to defend. To understand, you have to understand the way litigants are analyzing license plates like "Choose Life." Dahlia Lithwick lays it out.

To understand the free speech issue, it's important to clarify whether specialty
license plates represent government speech or private citizens' speech. Why?
Because there is no question that the government may speak in a partisan manner
without violating the Constitution. The First Amendment applies only to
government efforts to restrict private speech; it doesn't apply back to the
state itself. This is why the state is perfectly free to tell you to stay in
school, or drive sober, without having to broadcast the opposing viewpoint.
States may have preferences for all sorts of messages. But if, on the other
hand, the government opens a forum for private speakers—if it creates a park or
builds a street where you and I are free to talk—it cannot be in the business of
censoring some viewpoints while permitting others. This is the core of the First
Amendment. So, the legal test for the courts is simply this: When the state
gives license plates to certain private organizations to broadcast their
messages, is it more like the state is talking (akin to a public service
announcement) or more like it's allowing private citizen to talk (like they
would in a public square)? The former is constitutional, but the latter may well
be censorship.

This puts the state in a dilemma with regard to "Under God" plates. If they constitute government-aided private speech, all is well as long as competing messages are also allowed. Will the GA allow an Atheist license plate? Or "One nation under Allah"? Probably not.

But, in this case the state engaging in the speech also puts the plates on constitutionally shaky ground. While the government can make one-sided statements on political issues, they cannot do so on religious issues under the Establishment Clause.

The only safe harbor at that point is the increasingly lame and counterfactual argument that certain religious images and phrases have taken on secular meanings. The metes and bounds of this refuge are hazy and, thanks to conservative religious activists, getting hazier. The trend among the fundies is to take these "secularized" images and phrases and repurpose them to create a government endorsement of religion. This license plate is one example. Another is the attempt last year to mandate placing the State motto -- "With God all things are possible" -- in every public school classroom in the state.

Courts are just beginning to grapple with this and, in this the Roberts Court era, no one can tell where it will end.

Charter Schools: So Much for Market-Inspired Efficiency

From the BJ today: seven charter schools have to pay federal income taxes because they failed to apply for 501(c)(3) status:

Some of the money that Ohioans pay for public education has ended up in the pocket of the federal government rather than in state classrooms.

The reason is that at least 12 privately run charter schools -- funded with Ohio tax dollars -- were not qualified as federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations.

As a result, those schools paid about $311,000 out of their state aid to the IRS over a three-year period.
OK, seems pretty basic. Why wouldn't they apply?

The reasons the schools gave for not seeking federal nonprofit status varied. Some said that because it wasn't required, they didn't file. Others said the paperwork was overwhelming.
Oh, well. Score one for the Education Management Organizations like White Hat and Edison, right. because providing this sort of technical help is one of the reasons charter apologists give for allowing for-profit companies to manage charter schools.
White Hat Learning Services, founded by Akron businessman David Brennan, operates seven of the schools. The Leona Group, a school-management company in East Lansing, Mich., operates the other five.

Ironically, the day I see this in the paper, I also get the Fordham Foundation's Ohio Gadfly. The Fordham Foundation is a free-market oriented think tank located in Washington, but with historical ties to the Dayton area. They have been providing technical expertise to charter schools in the Dayton area and have nursed some along to a fair level of acheivement.

Last month they trotted out a survey of attitudes of public school parents that they are awfully darned pleased with. Among their favorite findings: That 59% of parents think they don't get their money's worth and that 69% think that if the state gave more money to public schools it wouldn't make it into the classroom.

I can generally put up with Fordham's stuff. They are a good check on my liberal views. I pick up real information. They are only occasionally dishonest.

But this month, they really pissed me off. They actually crow about the poor passage rate of school levies in the last election. They say it vindicates their findings. Well let's talk about that.

First, such findings are inevitable considering the complex intellectual debate about the role of government in American life that has occurred since the Reagan administration. The conservative side of the debate goes something like this:

Government SUCKS! It just SUCKS!! All the time, it just SUCKS!!!! Thank you.

This argument becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. My favorite example was during the savings and loan debacle when Congress deregulated the S&L industry, S&L's cratered left and right, leaving a $200 billion mess to clean up and talking heads pointed to the Congressional action as an example of governments screwing up. No, it was an example of the government abdicating its role in regulating the economy. Not the same thing, but the difference is lost on those making the argument.

Talking trash about the government, while a long a venerated tradition in American life, doesn't have a strong relationship to how the government actually functions.

Second, and related: a huge swatch of the population doesn't think it gets good value for anything. I'd love to see these results compared with, say, a value metric for the gas company.

Third problem with the findings: the system is rigged to undermine confidence in school districts. Between H.B. 920 and the phantom revenue effect of the school funding formula, the system automatically defunds local school systems every three years. Add on to that the steady erosion of state support over the last couple of budget cycles and you have school districts in profound financial difficulty, often not of their making. But the average citizen sees that the last levy was only five years ago, and now the district is asking for another and wonders "WTF?" Until the system is fixed, these public perception measurements will always be skewed toward the negative.

Finally, people know about charter schools. That is to say that they know that a lot of their money goes to charter schools and that charters are underperforming. I'm not sure what my answer to the question would be. Depending on the wording, I might very well agree that money would not get to my kid's classroom because in the last budget cycle it didn't The budget increased, but it looks like the increase will overwhelmingly end up in voucher schools and charters.

Getting back to the BJ story, I may need to go in for irony detox. Fordham demonstrates that people don't think that money is being well spent in traditional public schools. But their vaunted market solution didn't create enough incentive for these schools to competently set themselves up.

Voicing My On Choice Education, Pt. 1

So, given my general skepticism about the enterprise, why did I attend Voices and Choices Saturday? Because I have some things to say about education. When I hear people outside the education activist community talk about education in Ohio, they generally skip off the tracks in the first sentence.

From the left, the first sentence is usually something like: “the school funding system has been declared unconstitutional four times and they still haven’t fixed it.” From the right, it’s something like “public schools cost more per student now than they did 50 years ago and they perform worse.”

Not helpful.

And based on a lack of fundamental information. Not that it’s easy to understand public school finance. I have friends far smarter than me who have needed a number of run-throughs before they get it. It’s complicated and often counterintuitive. The Back-to-School Mondays project is about having this information out somewhere so we can have discussions about it.

Because of the format of V&C – I was one of 600-900 people in the hive mind – my impact on the information level in the room was minimal. But I have this platform and I’m gonna use it. This will be the first of three posts. This intro post will run through a bit about what the V&C list looks like and how it came to be. The next one will critique the recommendations that emerged from the V&C process. The third will run through my wish list.

A word about the V&C process. When we were discussing Challenges, we did so by looking at topic areas. Groups of tables were assigned one five topic areas and charged with listing challenges within that area. They were: Employment and Economic Growth, Education and Skills, Fairness and Equity, Quality of Life and Place and Cooperation and Governance. Some tables got done with their area and moved on to another. In every topic area but Governance, one of the top two challenges was about education.

You can check out the V&C’s preliminary report here (pdf). It has top “Challenges” as voted on by Townhall participants. GrowOhio has a post about the Challenges and Solutions that is accurate, as far as my memory goes, though it appears a bit more digested than what we saw on the screens Saturday. The link isn’t appearing on the screen as of this writing (GrOhio tends to be a bit glitchy), so I don’t know where this came from. I’m taking the info off the GrOhio post, and omitting the “Topic Area” stuff. This is just challenges and proposed solutions.

Challenge: Improving education, funding for kindergarten through grade 12, leadership, parental involvement, skills education and isolation.

  1. Create Northeast Ohio regional advocacy group to lobby government for funding reform.
  2. Vote only for candidates who will change the system, including boards of education.

  3. Create an exchange between rural and urban schools to promote understanding.

  4. Encourage school districts and businesses to create incentives to involve parents.

  5. Create community service rewards programs, including ways to pay off student loans

Challenge: The need to educate a skilled 21st-century work force and link people to jobs.

  1. Establish a required regional program to promote 21st-century skills and computer literacy.

  2. Recognize early childhood education as key to academic and vocational success.

  3. Provide adequate opportunities for alternatives to higher education to prepare young people for good jobs.

  4. Engage private sector as a partner in education and preparing students for the world of work through internships and mentoring by expert professionals.

  5. Use data from government, universities and business to target workforce training to protect jobs.

Challenge: Unequal educational opportunities and access, pre-kindergarten through post-secondary education and training.

  1. Identify and apply best practices in education.

  2. Find new sources of funding, such as partnering with business or professional sports teams; comply with the Supreme Court decision; establish a regional tax for education.

  3. Use technology to create more equity across districts.

  4. Develop a regional approach to educational administration and funding.

  5. Align expectations for K-12 through post-secondary.

  6. Create more youth mentoring programs.

  7. Create an environment for learning in all schools.

Challenge: The need to educate a skilled 21st-century work force and link people to jobs.

  1. Establish a required regional program to promote 21st-century skills and computer literacy.

  2. Recognize early childhood education as key to academic and vocational success.

  3. Provide adequate opportunities for alternatives to higher education to prepare young people for good jobs.

  4. Engage private sector as a partner in education and preparing students for the world of work through internships and mentoring by expert professionals.

  5. Use data from government, universities and business to target workforce training to protect jobs.
Also a problematic challenge about “fragmentation” yields a proposed solution that touches education:
Challenge: Fragmentation; too many governments, wasted resources and inefficiency.

  1. Tackle easier consolidation efforts first, such as joint purchasing of road salt and paper products, fire services and waste management. Build momentum for addressing harder issues, such as education and land use.
A few general observations before I sign off. First, we can safely dismiss solutions involving “regional” mandates. First, no such creature exists in the law. Second, well, do I really have make the case that superbureacracies are unlikely create paradise on earth? That what is good for a farm kid in Shreve is not good for a wealthy professional’s kid in Orange, is not good for a poor kid being raised by grandparents in Summit Lake? Or that those wealthy professionals in Hudson and Orange and Medina will be less than enthused about throwing their lot in with Barberton and East Cleveland? Or even point out that largeness has not been a benefit to major urban school districts?

On what planet does this work?

So let’s dump outright:

  1. Develop a regional approach to educational administration and funding.
And the education component of:

  1. Tackle easier consolidation efforts first, such as joint purchasing of road salt and paper products, fire services and waste management. Build momentum for addressing harder issues, such as education and land use.
Second observation: let’s dispense with a couple of recommendations on the grounds that they are already state policy. You might disagree with how the policy is being implemented, but that would be subject of a different recommendation. So we eliminate:

  1. Create an environment for learning in all schools.
To the extent this means shiny new buildings, it is the purview of the current School Facilities Commission. To the extent it means something else, it is too vague to provide any meaningful basis for discussion.


  1. Align expectations for K-12 through post-secondary.
Aside from the “post-secondary” part, which is too silly for comment, this is the current system. Like it or not, we have an accountability regime in place.

Next: Tackling what remains.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Smoking Ban Meeting: Two Views.

If you want to read up on the upcoming County Council vote on a proposed smoking ban, you have a couple of choices. You can go the ABJ and read about the meeting last Monday night, the effect a similar ban had in Columbus, the exemptions being considered by Council, and be an Informed Citizen.

Or you can read this uproarious post by longtime Cool People from Akron stalwart Dextrometh about the Monday meeting. And be and Entertained Citizen.

Cool People fearless leader El Jefe adds a coda in his comment to a Pho post about Tom Sawyer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Voices Carry

(If this keeps up, I will run out of bad 80's alt-pop songs to use as post titles)

Yesterday was huge for the Akron Pages. Over 100 hits and over 200 page views, more than doubling previous highs in both categories. All thanks to links here, here, here and here to my Voices and Choices post. Thanks much to everyone who linked, clicked, read and commented.

Of the comments to my post and the comments in the posts on other blogs, I think Tim at Democracy Guy has the best take:

What Voices & Choices is doing is admirable, but as Pho must have felt, it is without any real direction. Passing by the V&C booth at Ingenuity Festival in Cleveland this summer, I noticed it was staffed by some former Kerry/Edwards 2004 staff. Not surprising, since V&C is a political exercise, but it is one with no obvious political outlet.
Yeah, that's about it. The general negativity of the posts elsewhere may detract from what I thought was a balanced post that covered both positive and negative aspects of the event. I in fact had a darned good time. I met interesting people, had some good discussions, saw an oil painting go up from start to finish. I even liked the rappers, kind of. I also reiterate that the participants did an pretty good job (as evaluated on the basis of my agreeement with it) of identifying the problems facing NEO.

Part of me wanted to blog it with the enthusiasm and optimism the organizers have voiced. But it felt hollow in the end, primarily for the reasons I gave in the first post, and for the reason that Tim pinpoints.

Well, the effort moves on. The BJ outlines the next steps V&C is planning: online forums, "leadership workshops," and another town hall next year.

But elsewhere, the BJ gives some more troubling news for the effort. First, they editorialize about the declining support for the school levy -- the other side of 900 people in the JAR agreeing that education is the #1 priority. They also note that Ohio has moved up to #4 in Site Selection Magazine's business climate rankings, without a commensurate resurgence in job growth. If the site selection bible can't locate the reason for the disconnect, what chances for Voices?

I will try to end this on a positive note. First, engagement is always better than disengagement. Second, bringing people in the region together to talk about commonalities at least raises the possibility of some coordinated advocacy in Columbus, vital in a political climate where the rest of the state (though its legislators) seems determined to undermine the state's most extensive Democratic redoubt. To that end, I'm working on a comprehensive post with my suggestions about region-wide education advocacy to be posted this evening.

Finally, there was some value for me in being reminded why this is a great place to live. As sad as the perennial "Cleveland doesn't suck! No really!!!" ad campaigns can be, I can't deny that they at least scrape off a layer of two of my negativity. I'm not sure that the value of the great-things-about-NEO exercise was worth an entire Saturday, but it had worth.

Monday, November 14, 2005

BJ's Post-Election Coverage

A series of pieces in the BJ yesterday and today wrapping up the election results. Today finds a story about 21-year-old would-be wunderkind James Hardy who won big in the School Board race, along with a personal data sidebar. Hardy . . . campaigned. Which is to say he did far more than any other candidate. He bought billboards, he has a website with a blog, he had poll-greeters. Everyone had a lot of enthusiasm.

Will this translate into actual success on the Board? Time will tell. I do know that when the local Kerry campaign tried to work with College Dems when he was president last year, he didn't exactly set the world on fire. The main plank in his platform -- lobby the State to fund schools better -- sounds good, but I can tell him from experience that the education community hit the GA hard last year and they still hosed us.

What he definitely bring to the party is a political organization populated by loyal personal friends. A couple of them worked the polling place where I was greeting for RON Tuesday afternoon. They had a lot of energy. They jumped in the water and scared all the fish away, but they did it with energy. Hopefully, they will show up en masse for the next levy campaign. If they don't, the House of Pho will not be happy.

Speaking of the levy campaign, the BJ has the read-it-and-weep ward-by-ward breakdown. By their analysis, the levy did worse than the last one -- not surprising since the last one won. Clearly we have a lot of work to do.

First and certainly least is the Michael Douglas op-ed yesterday entitled "There They Go Again. Ohio Democrats Just Don't Get It." The evidence that we don't get it? Well first, that RON did so badly. Do we really have to rehash this again? People who liked RON were mostly Democrats. But establishment Democrats -- the ones that don't get it -- either stayed on the sidelines or joined the other team. He also cites the Sherrod Brown plagarism scandalette and Marc Dann's apparently strident announcement that he is running for Attorney General.

Like all op-ed writers, Douglas likes a meta-story. Like too many op-ed writers, he will cram facts into a meta-story that don't fit there, and ignore facts that disprove it. This is a good example. To my knowledge, neither Paul Hackett nor Subodh Chandra embarassed himself last week. All over the state Democratic candidates saw gains. Meanwhile, in Douglas's backyard, four Democrats ran the smartest judicial election campaign since I've been back in town. And they were helped by Edna Boyle's ill-considered race card play and Arshnikoff being Arshnikoff.

Those Republicans just don't get it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Talk Talk

Yesterday I spent the day at the Voices and Choices Townhall meeting. The BJ fronts a story that covers most of the factual background and accurately describes the day's events and the atmosphere in the JAR (you read that right; we were serenaded by rappers). If you've seen the front page photo, that's me, 23rd from the left.

Civic disengagement troubles me. After trying in vain to recruit volunteers to help with the levy campaign on election day, after working for a dismal turnout at a school board candidates night, after a number of disappointments and frustrations, this day gave me hope. Seeing the floor of the JAR crammed with regular folk who were spending the last nice Saturday of the season (no really, that was it) talking about how to make our corner of the world a better place.

Not that I have great hope for the enterprise itself. The focus of the effort is promoting economic growth. I share with my conservative friends a deep scepticism about grand schemes to encourage economic activity. They too often turn into boondoggles for taxpayers and bonanzas for select corporations. See also, Steelyard Commons.

The participants did an admirable job of identifying challenges facing NEO. I was particularly glad to see that education topped the list in each of the problem areas we were instructed to discuss. (A sidebar to the BJ story listing the challenges and solutions doesn't appear online.)

Of course, finding solutions is another matter. One problem was that, because the meeting had a regional focus, the solutions had to have a regional focus. But most of the problems are city problems, or at best county problems. The regional structures people are casting about for just don't exist.

What's more, the region is so diverse that its hard to imagine much getting accomplished region-wide. Northeast Ohio, as defined in the conference, stretches from Lorain County, south to Ashland, west to Columbiana (inexplicably picking up Carroll and omitting Tuscarawas along the way), then up to Ashtabula. When talk turns to topics like consolidation of school districts and taxing entities, the discussion has left this planet. Summit County couldn't agree on a sales tax to build new schools because everyone was suspicious Akron would take more than its share. Who really expects Carrolton to throw it's lot in with East Cleveland?

A second problem with finding solutions is that the easy ones have already been agreed on and implemented. The problems that remain are the subject of rancorous debate. To take the subject of education as an example, no one questions its importance. But we are unable to reach anything like a consensus as to how to improve the school system. In fact, if consensus means, say 80%, I don't think we have a consensus in this state that there should be a public school system.

For another example, these were two actual challenges about education that made the consolidated list flashed on the big screen (these are paraphrased):

-Teaching to the test instead of encouraging creativity.
-Need regional standards and requirements that students meet them.

Good luck sorting that out.

Which leads me to a third problem -- people just don't know what they are talking about. When discussion turned to "unfair, cumbersome business taxes" I wanted to jump on a table and scream. We have an entirely new business tax structure in this state. In the last budget cycle the Corporate Franchise Tax was burned down and the shiny new Corporate Activities Tax erected in its place. We have no idea how it will work, but here it is. Yet townhall participants were fundamentally without clue and the participant materials we had made no mention of the change.

Finally, there is that whole problem of "encouraging economic growth." We live in an area that grew because of its place along shipping routes for raw materials. From that happenstance, a manufacturing base grew, then moved elsewhere. No one can know what the next industry will be or what series of happy accidents will determine where physically it will grow. How, then, does Voices seek to steer our economic future? I only hope it's not more of the Milo-Minderbinderism like that in Issue 1.

Wal-Mart: The Movie

The Wal-Mart movie is coming to NEO. Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, is a documentary that recounts the many sins of the Bully from Bentonville. Next week is premier week. Rather than distribute through theatres, the filmakers have made it available for grassroots showings in churches, union halls and private homes. Most screenings will have facilitators to lead discussions afterwards.

You can read about the movie here, and use a search function on the website to find a showing near you. Jeff Hess at havecoffeewillwrite live blogged the area premier. If you are a junkie for Wal-Mart dirt, check out the blog Writing on the Wal.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

This Is Just to Say . . .

In the lead to my "Last RON Roundup" post I foreshadowed a caveat at the end. You may have noticed the end bore no such caveat. Kid T melted down as I was writing the post, so no caveat. What I would have said was this: we are still awaiting some discussion of the election at HypoSpeak. From the available evidence, he was there at the creation.

I'd like to hear what he has to say, particularly with regard to the emerging criticism of the amendments within the Ohio Leftysphere. I tried to raise some of the principled objections in a comment once and got shouted down. The temper of his response was "we negotiated these things carefully. Trust us. And you are with us or against us." (Soon after that I was sufficiently incensed by the tactics of OhioFirst that I had my misgivings hermetically sealed in a Mason jar left on a shelf of Funk and Wagnall's Sporting Goods.)

The day after the election HypoSpeak said he had the flu and would not be posting much. Since then, it's been one quote-heavy post about legalized gambling and naught else. Once he starts talking again, those of us who are feeling let down by the RON drafters may have some pointed questions for him.

Also, I attended the Voices and Choices Townhall Meeting. It was a frothy mix of technology, culture, unbridled optimism and almost comical naiveté. I'll post more tomorrow. It's been a long day.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Tom Sawyer May Run in OH-13

According to today's Beacon Journal (scroll down to the end of the story), Sawyer has taken out petitions.

Interesting. The BJ doesn't say whether he has moved yet. Presumably he was in OH-17 when he lost to Ryan. Has he moved yet, or is he just testing the waters?

He probably won't have a free pass in. Lorain Co. Commissioner Ted Kelo has expressed interest. More of Kelo's base lives in the 13th than Sawyers. Also, the stumbles in his wife's campaign for Clerk of Courts also makes me wonder if he has lost a step.

One Last (?) RON Roundup

I promise to stop here, but see the caveat at the end.

A frustrating NYT op-ed crows about the combined defeat of our Issue 4 and Ahnold's Prop 77 in Cali. The authors make one good point -- that writing into districting reform a proviso for mid-decade redistricting looks like a power grab. Fair enough and something to bear in mind going forward. A less compelling point is that people are nervous about an appointed board. This always seemed like a red herring to me.

The bulk of the remainder of the piece totes up the flaws in Prop. 77. Prop 77 and Issue 4 were essentially opposite approaches. Issue 4 required the districting board to use available party registration data to consciously maximize competitiveness. Prop 77, as I understand it, forbade the districting from using the party registration data and commanded it to use objective criteria having nothing to do with competitiveness.

The NYT post questions the latter approach, and apparently endorses the former:

A better way to reform the system is to constrain the line-drawers by forcing
them to show that the map they adopt will not only comply with federal law (the
"one person, one vote" rule and the Voting Rights Act) but will also minimize
partisan bias and increase competitiveness. An unbiased districting plan would
treat both parties roughly the same, relative to their statewide vote totals -
not guaranteeing proportional representation, but creating a fair chance for
both parties to convert a majority of votes into a majority of seats. And to
increase competitiveness, redistricters should have to show (again, using recent
election returns) that their plan creates a reasonable number of districts that
are closely balanced between Democrats and Republicans.

Great guys. So aside from mid-decade redistricting, what do you think of Issue 4? They say nothing.

The (potentially) big new yesterday was the overture from House Speaker Jon Husted to RON leader Rep. Ed Jerse, offering to sit down and try to negotiate some ideas for districting reform. The BlogLeft is scratching its head over this. Democracy Guy has an extreme reaction (in other news, water is wet); he says the Dems should refuse any negotiation because clearly it's a trap. When pressed, Democracy Guy digs in his heels (also, having money makes you rich).

Setting aside Tim's rant, what the hell is going on? Certainly, Husted is doing this because he thinks it will benefit his party and constituency. This is politics. The percentage of people who operate out of pure idealism is somewhat less than those who actually voted for RON. So what is Husted's angle? I propose two possibilities.

First, Husted sees the writing on the political wall. He sees a real possibility for Democrats controlling the next districting process, and wants to hedge his bets. If Dems win and hold two of the three state office on the commission, they can rework the map to retake the General Assembly in the 201o's. The GA draws the lines for US Congress Reps and the last gerrymandering makes retaking the GA unlikely, so we probably won't see much change there.

Second, Husted is concerned about citizen referenda in general. One reason I supported RON despite my misgivings about the technicalities was the insurgency of the enterprise. Again and again we've seen the GA impose high-handed changes to solify there power. I liked RON for the brick it hurled through the smooth pane of Republican power. Husted may be seeing the same thing, but feels less sanguine about it.

In any event, I agree with D-Guy that the Republicans are in this effort for themselves. I disagree that we should walk away. First, the current system is as bad as it could possibly be. The party in power has carte blanche to do whatever they want. Pretty much any change would be an improvement.

Second, we don't really need to worry about the RON movement being co-opted. At 1/3 of the electorate, the movement doesn't have much life left under current circumstances.

Finally, walking away would look horrible. If people perceive that reformers have a chance to sit down for bipartisan negotiations but walked away, they will lose all credibility. Republicans may, as D-Guy says, be looking for cover. If we walk away now, we will give it to them.

Voices for Choices Townhall Tomorrow

Between the election and everything else, I've been delinquent in blogging about this. Voices for Choices is a vast collaborative effort to create a broad conversation about the economic future of Northeast Ohio. You can read up on V4C's website and sign up for updates. You can also find some blog entries about the effort here and here. I haven't seen it blogged on the usual suspects.

Where will it go? Remains to be seen. Surely the conversation will go well beyond facile ideas like subsidizing hipster entities to attract 20-somethings. Good people are involved in the effort. But attempts to generate economic development are fraught with difficulties both in execution and evaluation. Still, if this is the only bus heading that direction, I'll jump on board and see where it goes.

I can carve out time for the first half of the meeting tomorrow. I'll post what I saw.

Friday Random Ten

1. "I Shall Be Released," Joe Cocker and Joe's Grease Band
2. "Now She's Gone," Steve Earle
3. "This Time," Wylie and the Wild West
4. "Pick up the Change," Wilco
5. "You Don't Love Me," Matthew Sweet
6. "Roll over and Die," Bob Mould
7. "Farther Down the Line," Lyle Lovett
8. "Ain't Got no Home," The Band
9. "Cool Blues," Charlie Parker
10. "Please Be my Love," Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys

If the name Bob Mould sounds familiar, congratulate yourself for high-level 80's hipness. He was the most creative third of Husker Du. Since they broke up he fronted Sugar, recorded some solo albums and, in the tradition of Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh and Oingo Boingo's Danny Elfman, became Soundtrack Guy. He now writes the industrial-lite background music for TLC's In a Fix.

"Roll over and Die," is from a tragically overlooked epynomous album from the late nineties. If you see it in a cutout bin, buy it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Postmortem Pt. 3: Ranking the Reasons for the RONwreck

RON didn't just fail, it failed spectacularly. It failed everywhere. Based on the numbers, it must have failed in every political, racial and economic subgroup. What's more, the numbers turned around sharply from the Dispatch poll released over the weekend.

Obviously, 70% of voters do not vote "no" for one reason. All around the blogosphere you can find posts speculating on why RON is now a smoking hole in the political landscape. I will try to collect them and give some reasons for a rank order, from most to least important.

1. The Inherent Bias Against Ballot Issues. Ohioans simply don't vote in favor of initiatives very often. According to the history on this site, we are actually in a fairly active time for ballot initiatives. Ohioans passed only one issue from 1939 to 1988. Since then, three have passed: the gay marriage ban, term limits and an issue overturning the soft drink tax. As OPR’s Bill Cohen said Wednesday on 90.3 at 9, when you are running a No campaign you can give people ten reasons to vote against something and they only need one.

2. The Complexity of the Ballot Language. This is above all the best explanation from the deviation from the Dispatch results. The poll would have asked questions about supporting an issue to, say, curb campaign contributions. Then voters walk into the booth and are confronted with several paragraphs of ballot language that talks about PACs and labor unions. Those who aren't put off are confused. For most folks, doubt leads to a No vote.

3. The OhioFirst Ad Campaign. By this I mean the TV ads run to appeal to the general population. They were effective in 1) highlighting the level of complexity, 2) planting the idea that a voter shouldn’t take a risk and 3) suggesting bad things that might happen. RON ran some decent ads, though the best came from Citizens to End Corruption. Unfortunately, a 30-second spot can only tell what a proposal seeks to accomplish. The big issue was whether RON could accomplish its goals.

4. Bad Editorials. In an issue campaign, editorial endorsements have a heightened value. In a candidate election, a fair swath of the electorate will vote on a gut feeling about the candidate. In an issue campaign, everyone looks for information. If the information says “no,” that’s where they head.

5. Real Problems with the Amendments. Beyond the complexity of the language, there were real flaws in the RON strategy. First among these was trying to amend the Constitution instead of changing statutes. This turned off a number of people who might otherwise have supported the issues. (It nearly did me in and I labored with a troubled conscience throughout the campaign.) Writing these as Constitutional amendments also raised the stakes. More people may have taken a chance on imperfect legislation, thinking that the GA could fix whatever problems came up.

6. Anti-RON Democrats. See previous post. A significant factor where it occurred.

7. Base Mobilization. Within the RestoreFundies crowd, it was fears, queers and smears business as usual. This had, I think, relatively little effect. Remember that an energized base only gave W 51 percent. In addition, the strategy had a galvanizing effect on RON activists and the progressive community in general.

Postmortem Pt. 2: Measuring the Jimmy DiMora Effect.

The left side of the blogosphere is full of armchair post-RON analysis. Most of what I've seen centers on the complexity of the issue and/or the OhioFirst ad campaign. I'll chime in on each of these in a later post, but first lets look at something novel: the effect that high-profile Democratic opposition had.

Opposition by Democrats varied from county to county. In Stark County, party chair Johnnie Maier openly campaigned against the issues. In Cuyahoga chair Jimmy DiMora spoke out against it early (notwithstanding Democracy Guy's out-of-jail-free card) and recorded robo-calls for Ohio First. In contrast, in Franklin County the local party checked off the issues on their sample ballot. In the middle was Summit where the party took no position and the chair, while voicing personal opposition, stayed out of the fray publicly. Judging from Toledo Councilman Frank Szollisi's blog, Lucas County saw at least some high-profile Democratic endorsement.

One can crudely measure the effect by comparing the RON results to results in the '04 Presidential election. The Secretary of State's cite has '04 Presidential election results here and the county-by-county RON results here. For simplicity's sake I'll concentrate on the heart of RON -- Issue 4.

Here is the breakdown of Kerry's percentage in the presidential race in the five counties mentioned above:

And here are the RON results:

The first thing that stands out is the magnitude of the clock-cleaning. RON won nowhere. In fact this chart shows two of the three counties where Issue 4 broke 40% (the other being Athens).

In addition, when eyeballing the numbers it looks like RON did worse in relation to Kerry in those counties where Democrats actively campaigned against it. Let’s crunch the numbers a bit more, subtracting Issue 4’s percentage of the vote from Kerry’s. No doubt my readers who actually know statistics can give me ten reasons why this won’t give an accurate measure, but bear with me:

The two counties where Democrats actively campaigned against RON, the drop from Kerry support is strikingly higher – more than 10 percentage points – than the difference where the party either supported it or remained neutral. The difference between support (Franklin and Lucas) and neutrality (Summit) is probably too close to be measured by a yardstick as crude as this, but the raw number is again consistent with where one would expect.

The lesson? Democratic establishment support was not sufficient for RON to succeed, but opposition was fatal. The actions of Maier and DiMora had a real effect on the outcome. Anyone working on a ballot issue in the future should at least attempt to head off opposition up front.

(And by the way, making tables on Blogger is nearly impossible.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Postmortem Part 1: Issue 78

This has been an odd day. On the national liberal blogs and on Air America, commentators are positively giddy about election results across the country. In the Ohio blogs, depression, recriminations and excuses for the pancaking of the RON effort.

For myself, I have awakened from the fevered dream of fair redistricting and acknowledged that RON doesn't look nearly as good by the harsh light of day. I have reserved all my depression, anger and bargaining for the defeat of Issue 78.

This caught me by surprise. Obviously, a school levy effort doesn't have the resources to put a poll in the field. But the signs were all good. No organized opposition emerged. The BJ contained relatively few LOEs against. What I heard from the phonebankers was positive.

I also thought that other campaigns' GOTV would be complimentary. The four judicial candidates, the school levy committee and RON supporters were all doing GOTV targeting essentially the same folks.

I don't think the problem was a failure of Democratic turnout. Two Democrats won Muni Judge spots over appointed incumbents. This was the first race in which judges were allowed to declare party affiliation in their campaign materials. That along with their strategy of casting the election as a referendum on Taft made this the most partisan race I've seen in Akron. What's more, Akron voters chose Eve Belfance and Kathy Michael by sufficient margins to overcome the inevitable Republican majorities in Bath and Richfield. This could only have happened with considerable Democratic turnout.

So what went wrong? Here are my best guesses. First, that economic realities make it hard to support any new tax. People are looking at a long, cold winter with spiking gas prices. Akron's economy remains dormant. Uncertainty permeates the air.

Second, while APS made the case that they deserve a raise, they didn't make the case that they need one. I heard that the belief within the campaign was that discussing the need for more money is too much of a downer. "People don't want to hear that" was the quote. The problem is, without laying out why the schools need a raise, people don't think you need one. They might not want to hear all that depressing, whiny stuff, but without it they won't understand that the need is dire.

Third, the campaign was too short, too concentrated and too dependent on teachers. They kicked off in mid-September. That's not enough time for the kind of voter education they obviously need to do.

I hope that with a concentrated effort to reach voters and walk them through the basics of why Akron needs a new levy it can pass the next time around. The alternative to me is believing that Akron is overrun with dickheads and I don't want to indulge in that kind of defeatism.