February 28th, 2009

Mayoral Race, Final Weekend: Nadworny Drops Playboy Bomb on Republican Kurt Wright, And It Hurts So Good (Not)

by Philip Baruth

If you read the post below, you saw VDB make the argument that Instant Run-Off Voting forces candidates to buff down their edges, and encourages them to emulate the positions of the opposing party or parties. And we believe that to be true. But that doesn’t mean that voters will buy the repackaging. Case in point: Burlington advertising guru Rich Nadworny takes an axe to the Wright campaign’s portrayal of its candidate as a crusader for women’s rights.

After revisiting Wright’s chummy appearance on The O’Reilley Factor, during the Cashman affair a few years back, Nadworny takes up the Republican’s highly publicized support of a resolution condemning Burton for their Playboy-enhanced snowboard line. Wright has made the related case that pornography on the slopes begets violence against women, and no doubt that positioning has helped in the hunt for second-place Democratic votes. But Nadworny sees an irony, maybe more than one:

“What’s most surprising is that Kurt, as an employee of Kerry’s Kwik Stop, was actively involved, himself, in promoting the sales of pornography. A quick visit to Kerry’s has a rack full of Playboy, Penthouse and more! Why didn’t Kurt do anything to remove pornography from Kerry’s while he was there, if this issue was so important to him? I’m sure Kurt Wright had good reasons for promoting pornography in his former job. I just think Burlington deserves better from its next mayor.”

Ouch. Now that’s gotta hurt. And not the early John Cougar “Hurts So Good” kind of hurt, either.

Late Update, Saturday, 6:48 pm:

Longtime reader CM writes in with her own fond memories of the now-tripartisan Kurt Wright:

Greetings VDB!

Just wanted to send you a little “thank you” note on informing us of the Rich Nadworny “My Turn” piece. I’ve known Kurt quite well since he was the stock-boy at Kerry’s Kwik Stop, before being promoted to cashier . . .

During the year 2005, I was participating in a “military families speak out” anti-war tour, and speaking before the Vermont legislature (of which Mr. Wright was a member, if I have my facts straight) to ask them to develop a commission to study the effects of the war deployment on the VTANG and VT economy. At the same time, Mr. Wright was, NOT so quietly behind the scenes, referring to us as “radicals,” liberals, hippies, and heaven-forbid, I think the word “traitors” was even heard to dribble from his lips.

I guess he had no problem with Vermonters potentially having to KILL women and babies, or come home in body bags, but God help us if Vermonters are allowed to snow-board down our glorious ski slopes with the image of a hot babe staring up at them. Maybe somebody needs to clue Kurt in to the fact that participation in wars of aggression are most CERTAINLY known to be a causal factor relating to the incidence of domestic violence! Yup, Burlington deserves better. And you can quote me.



February 27th, 2009

In Praise of Instant Run-Off Voting

by Philip Baruth

Announcer: On Town Meeting Day, Burlington will use instant run-off voting for only the second time in its history. It’s not a system that everyone is comfortable with, but Commentator Philip Baruth is a convert.

Notes From the New Vermont
Commentary #227: In Praise of Instant Run-Off Voting

A couple of hours after sunrise on Tuesday, Town Meeting Day, Burlington voters are going to begin heading out to the polls, and once there they will elect a new mayor. There are four very strong candidates on the ballot – a Progressive incumbent, a centrist Democrat, a moderate Republican, and an Independent who’s made some headway by asking voters to reject party politics altogether.

Now, I’ve been watching events unfold very closely for months, and I have to face the facts: I have absolutely no idea who’ll wind up in the Mayor’s office. And it’s not just me. Nobody in town seems to have any firm idea who’s going to pull it out in the end.

This 2009 mayoral race is as close to a complete and utter crapshoot as you’ll ever find in Vermont politics.

But I can tell you this: Democrats and Progressives won’t unintentionally elect a Republican because they mistrust one another so deeply. If the Republican wins on Tuesday in Burlington, it will be because he’s appealed to a significant number of those Democrats and Progressives, not just because the Left inadvertantly split its sizeable majority here in two.

How can I be so certain? Because we’ll be using Instant Run-Off Voting.

If you’re not familiar with it, Instant Run-off Voting sounds complicated, but it’s really not. When you walk into the voting booth, the ballot asks you to rank-order your top candidates: your first place choice, second place choice, and so on. If no candidate reaches the magic threshold of 50% when the ballots are tallied, then the candidate with the lowest total is eliminated.

But the voters who strongly supported that eliminated candidate now have a second chance to influence the election – their second-place choices are figured into the totals of the remaining candidates. If no one reaches 50% in that round, then another low-performing candidate is eliminated, and so on. Eventually, someone reaches 50%, and they do so because they managed to score lots of second-place votes outside their own party.

In 2006, political scientist Tony Gierzynski conducted an extensive exit poll, and he found that over 66% of Burlington voters liked the new system better than the old, and 61% wanted it used in the Governor’s race.

And why not, really? IRV always produces a consensus winner, or at least a winner that a solid majority of voters find less objectionable than any other.

And IRV makes every candidate a de facto diplomat, at least every successful candidate. Think about it: if you know the election is probably going to be decided by moderate voters in the opposing party or parties, then Karl Rove politics – wedge issues and attacks aimed at firing up your base – are completely counter-productive.

What works most consistently?

Praising your opponent where you can, negotiating differences where you must, and filing down any sharp edges in your advertising. It’s like watching a prize-fight where the two heavyweights just sort of . . . stop hitting each other, and start talking politely to the crowd about the various differences in their boxing styles.

Not as much fun to watch, admittedly, but at least you don’t have to mop the sweat and blood off the canvas when the match is over.

[This piece aired first on Vermont Public Radio. Audio of the commentary is available here.]

February 25th, 2009

Jindal Has The Guts To Call Out Obama On Katrina Response, A Shame Obama, Who Was Solely Responsible For the Category 5 Hurricane, Will Never Ever Live Down

by Philip Baruth

Well, Bobby Jindal delivered for Conservatives last night, laying out the key elements of the neo-GOP argument in his response: Katrina taught us that we can’t trust Government, not that we can’t trust privatized Republican Government, and President Obama, in addition to being a beacon of hope for all Americans, is an inveterate liar and a generational thief. God love Bobby Jindal, as Biden’s mom would say.

Jindal, right. Okay, kidding: Jindal actually left.

Pundits and snap polls were divided over which element of the response was the more cringe-inducing, the queasy jokes about Jindal’s own immigrant parents or the bold, do-nothing stance with regard to the economic melt-down.

Jindal very earnestly made the case that what we need most right now is for government to put power in the hands of regular Americans, like you and me — the idea being, VDB supposes, that once our taxes were cut and we had acquired our superpowers, then you and me would drive down to Citi Bank and tell them they’d best lend out $55 billion by Friday or kiss their sweet Armani-covered asses goodbye.

It was insanity, of course. And that’s not our word. That’s David Brooks, the conservative commentator who labeled Sarah Palin a “cancer on the Republican Party.”

This clip is pure gold, mostly because it’s glaringly obvious that Brooks is seconds away from erupting into profanity, but it’s PBS, after all, and F-bombs are frowned upon. Enjoy.