Category Archives: politics

2016 Ballot Preview!

Don't Sell Your Vote

Voting is srsly important, guys

This venerable blog has gone many places. We’ve dealt with many and diverse issues, from psychiatry to terrorism, grad school to dating, government surveillance, wild west storytelling, bailouts, fake relationships, a profile picture contest, Spain travelogues, trivialities about long-defunct software packages, and many other topics of intense importance and relevance to our very day and age.

And yes, we’ve talked about politics. Way too much.

But never—never, my friends!—has this blog in its 12 years of existence gone where we’re about to go: to my ballot!

I’m about to proclaim for all to hear how I’m voting (and why) on every issue on my Provo, Utah Precinct 2 ballot, taken straight from vote.utah.gov:

President

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)
Name Profile Party
EVAN MCMULLIN, NATHAN JOHNSON Profile Unaffiliated
DARRELL L. CASTLE, SCOTT N. BRADLEY Profile Constitution
GARY JOHNSON, BILL WELD Profile Libertarian
JILL STEIN, AJAMU BARAKA Profile Unaffiliated
ALYSON KENNEDY, OSBORNE HART Profile Unaffiliated
ROCKY GIORDANI, FARLEY ANDERSON Profile Independent American
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, TIMOTHY MICHAEL KAINE Profile Democratic
“ROCKY” ROQUE DE LA FUENTE, MICHAEL STEINBERG Profile Unaffiliated
DONALD J. TRUMP, MICHAEL R. PENCE Profile Republican
MONICA MOOREHEAD, LAMONT LILLY Profile Unaffiliated

I’ve finally decided to vote for Evan McMullin for president. For those outside of Utah, Evan McMullin is basically running a traditional conservative campaign. Which isn’t really why I’m voting for him, since I’m not particularly conservative. In fact, he’s one of the candidates I agreed least with on good old I Side With. But he has one very important thing going for him: by my estimation, voting for Evan McMullin is the only thing I can do to further my primary objective of preventing Donald Trump from becoming president. McMullin is the non-Trump candidate currently polling the best in Utah. Therefore I will lend him my support in hopes that Utah’s six electoral votes don’t do anything to help Trump enter the White House.

Another very important thing going for McMullin: he is, from everything I can tell about him, a decent human being around whom no cloud of scandal, or hatred, or any of the other garbage of the 2016 campaign hovers. I actually think that’s worth a lot.

The rest of the races are much simpler: I will vote for some non-Republican candidate because I think it’s ridiculous for the Republican party to dominate Utah politics the way it does. I believe it would be good for Utah for state races to be more competitive so Utah’s priorities aren’t so neglected on the national stage, and so the ruling party doesn’t grow any more complacent and corrupt than it likely already is. Were I still living in Washington I imagine I’d take the same tack toward the dominant Democrats. This is just how I roll.

US Senate

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)

Name Profile Party
MISTY K SNOW Profile Democratic
BILL BARRON Profile Unaffiliated
STONEY FONUA Profile Independent American
MIKE LEE Profile Republican

Let’s go with Bill Barron, the unaffiliated dude who just wants to fight climate change. Maybe by fighting climate change the terrible air quality in Utah County could be improved and I won’t find myself suffering a particulate-induced stroke down the road just for breathing.

US House 3

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)
Name Profile Party
STEPHEN P. TRYON Profile Democratic
JASON CHAFFETZ Profile Republican

Stephen P. Tryon it is! I have no idea of anything he stands for, but as the only minority party option he gets my vote by default. Candidate Tryon, I hope you’re not a horrible person!

Governor

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)
Name Profile Party
GARY R. HERBERT, SPENCER J. COX Profile Republican
BRIAN E KAMERATH, BARRY EVAN SHORT Profile Libertarian
MIKE WEINHOLTZ, KIM BOWMAN Profile Democratic
SUPERDELL SCHANZE, GREGORY C. DUERDEN Profile Independent American

Unfortunately, the libertarian candidate hasn’t submitted a profile for this race. (I tend to favor libertarians.) And it seems that “Superdell” (yes, that’s his name—he’s a thing here in Utah) is crazy and radical. So Mike Winholtz, you have my vote by virtue of being boring and normal.

Attorney General

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)
Name Profile Party
MICHAEL W. ISBELL Profile Independent American
JON V. HARPER Profile Democratic
SEAN D. REYES Profile Republican
W. ANDREW MCCULLOUGH Profile Libertarian

Andrew McCullough mentions in his profile one of my pet issues, which is the drug war and police violence. Going with my libertarian proclivities on this one. My vote is yours, Mr. McCullough!

State Auditor

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)
Name Profile Party
JOHN DOUGALL Profile Republican
JARED GREEN Profile Independent American
MIKE MITCHELL Profile Democratic

I like Jared Green’s pledge to serve without pay (though I guess that would make him more vulnerable to bribery) but Mike Mitchell seems more acquainted with issues related to the auditor position. I hope you block that $53 million scandal, Mike—you have my vote!

State Treasurer

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)
Name Profile Party
RICHARD PROCTOR Profile Constitution
NEIL A. HANSEN Profile Democratic
DAVID DAMSCHEN Profile Republican

Richard Proctor is up there talking nullification (isn’t that the sort of attitude that got us into our one and thus far only civil war?) so he’s out. Neil Hansen looks reasonable, and besides, maybe he’s a long-lost cousin? Mr. Hansen, do us proud!

State Senate 16 (Multi County)

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)
Name Profile Party
CURT BRAMBLE Profile Republican
JASON CHRISTENSEN Profile Independent American

On the margins of the neighborhood meeting where the old-timers held one last time onto the all-powerful neighborhood committee chair, I heard some pretty sketchy crap about Curt Bramble. Even were I not already planning on voting the majority party out, there’s no way I would vote for that guy.

Jason “the Patriot” Christensen, on the other hand, is singing my song—he’s talking balanced budgets and everything. Jason Christensen for State Senate District 16!

State House 64

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)
Name Profile Party
NORM THURSTON Profile Republican

I can’t abide these uncontested races. They’re a symptom of Republican dominance, where only a Republican will win so nobody else bothers to compete. Therefore I’m announcing my candidacy for Utah State House District 64. Write me in, people!

Name Profile Party
JOSH HANSEN! Profile Unaffiliated

My platform:

  • Balanced budget amendment for the state
  • Automatically set income tax rates at such a level that they will recoup the average of expenditures over the previous five years
  • Change Utah’s state tree from the quaking aspen to the Joshua tree (obviously!)

Okay, enough of that.

County Commission C

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)
Name Profile Party
NATHAN IVIE Profile Republican
JEANNE BOWEN Profile Democratic

Jeanne Bown, by default. Plus she seems reasonable. Good luck, Jeanne!

State School Board 13

Vote for up to 1 candidate(s)
Name Profile Party
SCOTT B. NEILSON Profile Unaffiliated
STAN LOCKHART Profile Unaffiliated

Well, he might technically be “unaffiliated” but by making opposition to President Obama a key plank in his profile, Stan Lockhart has declared himself the Republican in this race and therefore will not get my vote. Defend that Constitution for us, Scott! Oh, and educate our children!

Judges

Now for the easy part: the judges. Apparently I’m being asked to weigh in on whether to keep judges all over the county—Saratoga Springs, Payson, Goshen, Genola(!) Plus the Juvenile Court. And as tempting as it is to make a contrarian across-the-board vote of No (or Nay, or whatever it is) I’m imagining that finding good judges is actually a bit tricky and it would be wise to hold on to the good ones. So I looked at all the reviews that the state put together. And the judge that stands out to me as needing the boot is Darold J. McDade.

Judge McDade gets good marks for being a courteous and approachable judge, a good listener, and from all accounts an entirely decent human being. And that’s awesome. On the other hand, the review leads with this:

Appointed to the bench in 2007, Judge Darold McDade fails to meet the minimum performance standard for legal ability and scores below the average of his district court peers in all other survey categories. Survey respondents express doubt about the depth of Judge McDade’s legal knowledge and his ability to properly adjudicate complex matters. They question the clarity and reasoning of his oral and written rulings.

But it’s tempered with this:

Respondents, however, also acknowledge that Judge McDade is consistently respectful, kind, and polite. They characterize him as humble, calm, and a good listener. Courtroom observers similarly praise Judge McDade’s judicial demeanor, with all reporting they would feel comfortable appearing before him. Of survey respondents answering the retention question, 71% recommend that Judge McDade be retained. Based on the mixed nature of the data, the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission gave Judge McDade a 7-5 vote for retention.

If after nine years on the bench Judge McDade is still not measuring up as far as his ability to apply the law, I think it’s time to let him go. Let’s all thank Judge McDade for his good service over the decade, but vote No.

For everybody else, I vote Yes—retain them as they seem to be doing a reasonable job.

State Judicial

Select Yes or No
Name Profile Party
Shall Darold J. McDade be retained in the office of Judge of the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District? No Profile N/A
Shall F. Richards Smith III be retained in the office of Judge of the Juvenile Court of the Fourth Juvenile Court District? Yes Profile N/A
Shall Suchada P. Bazzelle be retained in the office of Judge of the Juvenile Court of the Fourth Juvenile Court District? Yes Profile N/A

Local Judicial

Select Yes or No
Name Profile Party
Shall Carolyn E. Howard be retained in the office of Justice Court Judge for the Saratoga Springs Court? Yes Profile N/A
Shall David C. Dahlquist be retained in the office of Justice Court Judge for the Payson Court? Yes Profile N/A
Shall Scott J. Cullimore be retained in the office of Justice Court Judge for the Utah County Justice Court? Yes Profile N/A
Shall Sharla T. Williams be retained in the office of Justice Court Judge for the Genola Court? Yes Profile N/A
Shall Sharla T. Williams be retained in the office of Justice Court Judge for the Goshen Court? Yes Profile N/A
Shall Sharla T. Williams be retained in the office of Justice Court Judge for the Santaquin Court? Yes Profile N/A
Shall Sherlynn W. Fenstermaker be retained in the office of Judge for the Mapleton City Municipal Justice Court? Yes Profile N/A
Shall Sherlynn W. Fenstermaker be retained in the office of Judge for the Springville Municipal Justice Court? Yes Profile N/A
Shall Stevan W. Ridge be retained in the office of Justice Court Judge for the Utah County Justice Court? Yes Profile N/A
Shall Vernon F. Romney be retained in the office of Justice Court Judge for the Provo Court? Yes Profile N/A
Shall W. Brent Bullock be retained in the office of Justice Court Judge for the Lindon Court? Yes Profile N/A

Constitutional Amendments

I’m just going to say up front that as the state constitution is the basic legal framework of the state (alongside the federal constitution), it should be treated with care. It’s worked more or less for 120 years and thus amendments are likely to be frivolous and unnecessary, and should be passed only rarely.

Constitutional Amendment A

This is the one where they change the oath of office to say “the Constitution of the State of Utah” instead of “the Constitution of this State”.

What a waste of time. The state has done just fine for 120 years saying “this State”. I am AGAINST Amendment A, particularly to discourage the legislature from cluttering up our ballots with trivialities in the future.

Name
FOR
AGAINST

Constitutional Amendment B

This one’s actually a bit tricky. Basically, Utah runs a State School Trust Fund that invests and uses the interest and dividends to fund public schools in the state. This amendment broadens the fund’s charter to allow it to distribute vaguely-defined “earnings” rather than just interest or dividends. This likely is intended to open the fund up to holding stocks which might make sense, but it’s not strictly limited to that. Shouldn’t the methods of earning remain narrowly defined, rather than the catchall of “earnings”?

The amendment also puts a 4% cap on what the fund pays out annually. But, as I understand it, that’s 4% of the total value of the fund. This limit would actually allow the fund to be depleted over time should its growth rate be less than 4% annually. Instead it seems the limit should be expressed in terms of the most recent growth rate, such as “90% of the earnings accrued in the prior year”. That way the principal always grows.

It also seems (if the opposition argument is to be trusted) that the State School Trust Fund already does quite well, standing currently at $2.1 billion. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

So I am AGAINST Amendment B.

Name
FOR
AGAINST

Constitutional Amendment C

This is the one where businesses leasing things to the state (property, equipment) won’t have to pay property taxes anymore. The argument in favor seems to completely mischaracterize who actually pays property taxes, which gives me little confidence that the amendment in question is well conceived.

I see this as basically a handout to people and businesses leasing to the state. Likely their lease income will remain the same, but they will no longer have to pay property tax. What a nice little windfall, causing only revenue loss for the state unless the leases get renegotiated, which this amendment makes no provision for.

AGAINST!

Conclusion

There you have it—my ballot, 2016. You’ve seen the sometimes substantial, sometimes trivial way I think about these issues, with a healthy dose of curmudgeon mixed in. I’m not sure what difference it really makes, given almost all of the outcomes in question are foreordained simply as a matter of party affiliation. But I like to think I exercise my voting franchise in some sort of a conscientious way.

The Middle

Yesterday I voted for John Kasich and Bernie Sanders. In a way it felt like heresy to participate in both the Republican and Democratic caucuses on the same day, in spite of there being no rule against it. And it felt crazy because the two candidates are so insanely different. But I felt it was the best I could do to use my teeny-tiny little bit of influence to nudge our country in the best direction(s) available.

I don’t identify particularly with either party. I see good ideas and bad ideas on both sides, noble people and selfish people on both sides. I’ve never voted a “party line” ticket. Having a little (D) or (R) by your name doesn’t make you good or bad, competent or incompetent, honest or dishonest. Both parties have their virtues; both parties have their misguided idealisms; both parties have their Faustian bargains.

The fact that this country is so strongly divided between the two parties makes the middle an uncomfortable place. And it’s weird because, contrary to popular opinion, the people at the Republican caucuses and the people at the Democratic caucuses aren’t all that different. The two parties do present different visions for America, but their members are all Americans. So why is there so much vitriol? Why do the two sides seem to be running farther and farther to the extremes rather than finding some kind of common ground?

I guess I’ve been part of the problem with my intense anti-Trumpery. But I hope you see it’s because I am convinced that he represents a true danger to our country, to constitutional government itself. I despise his ideas. But I don’t think voting for Trump makes you a bad person. My difficulty in understanding why people would vote for him must be an indication only of my own ignorance of other people’s lives and priorities.

Whether you like him or not (and I actually don’t know that much about him), the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, gave a speech today that I loved. I feel like the vision of politics he described makes room for a “middle”. He emphasizes the exchange of ideas over the clash of identities. It’s idealistic. Maybe it’s unrealistic. But I also think it’s the only sane way forward for our deeply divided nation. Here’s the video plus my favorite passage:

Ideas, passionately promoted and put to the test—that’s what politics can be. That’s what our country can be. It can be a confident America, where we have a basic faith in politics and leaders. It can be a place where we’ve earned that faith. All of us as leaders can hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity and decency. Instead of playing to your anxieties, we can appeal to your aspirations. Instead of playing the identity politics of “our base” and “their base,” we unite people around ideas and principles. And instead of being timid, we go bold.

We don’t resort to scaring you, we dare to inspire you. We don’t just oppose someone or something. We propose a clear and compelling alternative. And when we do that, we don’t just win the argument. We don’t just win your support. We win your enthusiasm. We win hearts and minds. We win a mandate to do what needs to be done to protect the American Idea.

In a confident America, we also have a basic faith in one another. We question each other’s ideas—vigorously—but we don’t question each other’s motives. If someone has a bad idea, we don’t think they’re a bad person. We just think they have a bad idea. People with different ideas are not traitors. They are not our enemies. They are our neighbors, our coworkers, our fellow citizens. Sometimes they’re our friends. Sometimes they’re even our own flesh and blood, right? We all know someone we love who disagrees with us politically, or votes differently.

But in a confident America, we aren’t afraid to disagree with each other. We don’t lock ourselves in an echo chamber, where we take comfort in the dogmas and opinions we already hold. We don’t shut down on people—and we don’t shut people down. If someone has a bad idea, we tell them why our idea is better. We don’t insult them into agreeing with us. We try to persuade them. We test their assumptions. And while we’re at it, we test our own assumptions too.

I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard. There was a time when I would talk about a difference between “makers” and “takers” in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong. “Takers” wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family. Most people don’t want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point.

So I stopped thinking about it that way—and talking about it that way. But I didn’t come out and say all this to be politically correct. I was just wrong. And of course, there are still going to be times when I say things I wish I hadn’t. There are still going to be times when I follow the wrong impulse.

Governing ourselves was never meant to be easy. This has always been a tough business. And when passions flair, ugliness is sometimes inevitable. But we shouldn’t accept ugliness as the norm. We should demand better from ourselves and from one another. We should think about the great leaders that have bestowed upon us the opportunity to live the American Idea. We should honor their legacy. We should build that more confident America….

That’s the thing about politics. We think of it in terms of this vote or that election. But it can be so much more than that. Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults. It can be about solutions. It can be about making a difference. It can be about always striving to do better. That’s what it can be and what it should be. This is the system our Founders envisioned. It’s messy. It’s complicated. It’s infuriating at times. And it’s a beautiful thing too.

A Fig Leaf

There is a major separation of powers issue with the current surveillance arrangement:

The standard for permitting a query of the database of internal US phone calls is a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of terrorist activity, Inglis says.

Only 20 analysts within the NSA are empowered to approve targeting US-based phone conversations, he says. One of those 20 analysts, or their two supervisors – 22 people total – must sign off on any domestic targeting, he says. [link]

The intelligence and law enforcement officials as subject to “checks and balances“. But they clarified, in the most detail provided publicly thus far, that most of those checks are internal.

James Cole, the deputy attorney general, said that the NSA needs “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of involvement in terrorism before searching the millions of Americans’ phone records that it collects. But, Cole said: “We do not have to get separate court approval for each query.”

Instead, the NSA sends an “aggregate number” of times it has searched the database every 30 days to the secret Fisa court that oversees surveillance, while also sending a separate report each time NSA analysts inappropriately search the database. Alexander’s deputy, Chris Ingliss, said NSA analysts searched the database 300 times in 2012 in total.

Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, said that “it may be valuable to have court review prospectively”. [link]

So 22 people in an executive branch agency decide for themselves whether a search of millions of records of communications involving American citizens should go forward, and then tell a judge once a month how many times they searched the database. Fourth Amendment refresher:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Key phraseology: “particularly describing“, “to be searched”, “to be seized”

The warrant is to issue before the search takes place, and there must be a specific description to the issuing authority of the search to be performed. From all appearances, neither of these conditions are satisfied by the NSA’s internal controls on its surveillance tools.

NSA employees are acting as their own judges, issuing their own warrants, and then asking for the FISA court’s rubber-stamp approval after the fact. NSA’s arrangement seeks judicial oversight for searches up to one month after they’re already carried out. All evidence gathered through these methods would be inadmissable before any normal, non-secret court. There’s zero value in getting a warrant after the search or seizure has been executed: by then, it’s too late, liberties have already been violated, and any objection by a judge after the fact would be a dead letter.

This is a fig leaf, pure and simple, and while it may make the president and others in government feel good that they are going to great lengths to supposedly protect our civil liberties, it seems to me clearly unconstitutional. And we’re still left with the apparent fact that our government has massive troves of data on American citizens that can be mined in the first place. Again I assert that the value of such data is so great that it will inevitably be abused. Furthermore, knowledge that we are being watched constantly will have a chilling effect on free society and culture. And we depart further from the republican ideal the less public our republic becomes.