The LookOut Letters to the Editor
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"A Political Investment for the Community"

March 12, 2007

Dear Editor,

Itís important to recognize that because of the intellectually embarrassing equation by the Supreme Court of money and free speech, we are not going to rid politics of money.

But that's not why I support public financing of elections. I support it because, like any other expenditure of public funds, I see a direct public benefit -- the opportunity to have a more robust debate of public priorities through the election process.

Right now, the only people who can run viable City Council campaigns -- other than the independently wealthy -- are those who can win the blessings of local key political players who, behind the scenes, direct the influential independent expenditure committees in this city.

While itís true that many of the candidates who come through this process have great ideas and are representative of portions of the electorate, the bottom line is, if you can't get on either side's official or unofficial slate, you don't run, even if you have a lot to offer the community. That's what public financing would help change.

Would this also lead to some candidates being funded who may not have a lot to offer? Sure. But just as the price of democracy includes long City Council meetings featuring the self-anointed few who grace us with their opinions on every issue, every meeting, I would similarly prefer to err on the side of ensuring that needed public viewpoints in the elections process are heard, and not held hostage to private political machinations, which is what currently occurs.

Elections are not only about which candidates win and lose. They are also about the entire community discussing its direction. That's why I don't see this as a gift of public funds for candidates. Rather, I see this it as a public investment for the community.

The other missing piece is Ranked Choice Voting, something the City Clerk has done significant analysis on, but has not yet implemented. In addition to ensuring a basic floor for democracy through public financing, we have to also better empower the voter to be able to more accurately choose from among competing viewpoints.

Right now, our current system penalizes voters by not allowing them to prioritize their choices. Hence, many voters either don't use all of their votes, lest a vote for their fourth choice endangers their first choice, or large slate-based voting gives disproportionate
representation to only one portion of the voters. Both scenarios are bad for democracy.

Therefore I favor a combination of public financing and Ranked Choice voting to better empower our local democratic process.

Michael Feinstein
(Editorís note: Michael Feinstein is a former mayor who served two terms on the council from 1996 to 2004)

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