Friday, November 1, 2013

Three City Council Endorsements

Three City Council Endorsements

VOTE Tuesday, November 5th

Politics have gotten nasty.

I am sure that does not come as a surprise to you. And we have gone through this before in our history. When these periods happen it is because politicians place ideology above the job of governing. The end result is government does not do the things government is supposed to do. This behavior generally starts at the highest levels of government and works its way down to local government. That's because local government usually is more concerned about picking up the garbage and putting out fires than ideology. The closer you get to the citizenry, the more government is about providing services.

This dysfunctional behavior has found its way to local government, and the time has come to turn things around. 

Men and women of good will are easily drawn into this behavior. This is why people avoid discussing politics at family gatherings. It is too easy to be drawn into the ideological debate, which always ending up in a yelling match. 

We must be able to disagree on ideological grounds, and still find a civil way to good policy. I do believe that most people who serve as elected officials (and are paid for their efforts) or on civic boards (who serve without any compensation) do so because they love this city. We must respect that.

With that preamble, I have three endorsements to make. The endorsements are for different specific reasons, but are all made in an attempt to get City Council back into the business of making good public policy.

Sabra Briere in Ward 1

Sabra is the hardest working person on City Council. She shows up at hundreds of Board and Commission meetings as an observer. She is not there to push an agenda. She is there to listen.

Outside of those meetings, she researches and prepares. As she is forming her views on public policy she asks questions. She does not ask leading questions. She does not ask questions to embarass anyone. She asks questions because she wants to hear viewpoints (in the case of differing opinions) or learn the facts (in cases where policy should be science or fact-based). In other words. She asks questions because she wants to learn the answers. She listens. And then she applies her personal approach to what she learns.

That is the correct methodology for devising policy.

I do not always agree with Sabra. And she doesn't always agree with me. But we still have great discussions on public policy.

As a short aside, this endorsement might surprise the folks in the middle of the ideological warfare. In their view, Sabra is not part of the "Mayor's Party" and I am regularly listed in that group. This division does nothing to advance policy, and is just plain inaccurate. Certainly the mayor has political allies, but he does not run a cabal. While I know the mayor, I do not know him well. I don't have personal contact information for him. If I want to talk to him, I do what every citizen does. I call the mayor's office. I have never gotten a call from the mayor or any of his allies telling me how to vote as a member of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Kirk Westphal for City Council, 2nd Ward.

I do not know Kirk well. We've met at occasional civic meetings. Even from those occasional meetings I can say he is one of the most warm and genuine people I've met.

More importantly to this task, he is an urban planner who knows more about city, street, and sidewalk design than anyone in the city of Ann Arbor. He is articulate about the subject and passionate about the city.

Kirk has served for seven years on the Planning Commission, as well as having served on the Environmental Commission. He is a best practices consultant to local governments. 

This is a man who understands public policy in the geeky way (said as a compliment) that our City Council has not seen since Chris Kolb. 

The choice in this ward could not be more stark. Jane Lumm is very good at constituent services, which makes her popular. That is important. However I believe that her decisions are leading to poor public policy. She has voted to turn down federal transportation money on ideological grounds. She is part of the attack on the DDA, which is also ideologically based. The DDA is actually one of the best tools in the City's toolbox. City staff members know this and are privately aghast at the attacks. Ann Arbor has survived this recession with minimal cuts in services, no increase in operational debt, and no tax increases in no small part because the DDA has been able to subsidize the City by taking on projects that otherwise the city would have to have taken on, as well as providing important general fund dollars.

Write In Chip Smith in Ward 5

This is my Ward.

I was simply not going to vote in the City Council election. That is not like me. However, Mike Anglin has been a big disappointment to me. I thought, with his background, that he would be a good man for our city.

So I was thrilled to be given a last minute chance to vote. And not just an anti-Anglin vote. Chip Smith is the real thing. Chip (like Kirk) has a background as an urban planner. He knows how to make good policy. And he has lived in the Fifth Ward for nearly 20 years. He threw his hat in the ring late in the game because of his frustration with the dysfunctional City Council. 

Ann Arbor consistently is mentioned as a high-quality places to live and work.  That is not an accident. That is good urban planning. Chip will evaluate every public investment and ask how each contributes to building a stronger tomorrow for Ann Arbor's citizens. His four goals are:

  • Healthy, safe and pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods
  • Economic development
  • Think regionally
  • Better capital planning and budgeting

Write-In candidates have a high bar to pass. A voter must be more intentional in the voting booth. Please take the time to Write In Chip Smith in Ward Five. And explore his website. Like I said above, he is the real thing.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Post-DOMA Michigan Update

Amongst all of the eupohoria of the day a friend posted on Facebook that she was not going to wait for Michigan to get its act together. She was going to New York to get married. (Okay...her language was a little stronger, but that's the gist).

The rulings were in line with many predictions (including mine, below). DOMA was overturned, but the court took pains to overturn it as narrowly as possible. Prop 8 was overturned, in a roundabout procedural way which does not speak to any other marriage ban.

The court did not address the full faith and credit clause (at least a search of the 77 page opinion did not turn up that phrase).

In other words, a marriage in New York is still not a marriage in Michigan. Michigan will not recognize the marriage, and it will probably take a separate court ruling to even allow that married-in-New-York couple to get federal benefits if they reside in Michigan.

Confusing? Yes.

But I believe the court wanted to leave it confusing. They were afraid of a sweeping decision which would affext all 50 states. They found exactly the escape route they were looking for. They acknowledged Marriage Equality, but ruled as narrowly as possible. They did not rule all of DOMA was unconstitutional, only the one man, one woman provision. DOMA specifically says that states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages in other states.

The ruling is still exceptionally good news, as it opens a door to Marriage Equality everywhere. However, that door will have to be opened state-by-state. The Full Faith and Credit issue will have to be challenged.

The ruling is especially encouraging for Michigan.

There is a case in front of U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman, brought by a Hazel Park couple, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse who want joint custody of their two children. The case questions the constitutionality of Michigan's ban on same-sex marriages. Judge Friedman decided to wait until the two Supreme Court rulings to make his decision. This bodes well for that case.

April DeBoer, second from left, sits with her adopted daughter Ryanne, 3, left,
and Jayne Rowse, fourth from left, and her adopted sons
Jacob, 3, middle, and Nolan, 4, right, at their home in Hazel Park.

In addition, a majority of Michiganders now support Marriage Equality.

In other words, the stage is set for both political and legal remedies in our state. 

So to my Facebook friend, hang tough. Michigan could get Marriage Equality much quicker than any of us would have been able to guess 24 hours ago.

And for my local friends...The celebration is in Braun Court starting at 4:00 p.m.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

To Marry, or Not to Marry, that is the Supreme Court's Question

We are awaiting two decisions on Marriage Equality from the Supreme Court. As I write this the court has finished for the day. So today is not the Day of Decision. We now know it will be tomorrow, Wednesday, June 26th.

As we reach the fever pitch around this single moment, I think its a good idea to reflect a bit.

A Short History of Marriage Equality

Evan Wolfson has done more for the Marriage Equality movement than anyone else. There certainly are earlier cases of people trying to get married and attempting to bring suits to gain access to the benefits of marriage. There are even a few cases of people who managed to hide their gender and get what they claim were valid marriage licenses.

However, the suits all failed, and the anomalies did nothing to move the civil rights of gays and lesbians along.

Evan saw the possibilities and began the Freedom to Marry organization in 2001. At the time, he was pretty much ignored by most LGBT activists who thought the more important battles were employment and housing protection. In fact, in my state of Michigan you can be fired for being gay. We are not an anomaly:

The first victory for Marriage Equality was the recognition of Civil Unions in Vermont in 2000. While many consider civil unions "marriage light" or another version of "separate but equal", to social conservatives the Vermont move was anathema.

In a grand irony, marriage equality became an issue because the Republicans made it one in 2004. While Republicans had made gains in the 2002 election, there was a big backlash against Bush and his war on Iraq. The Presidency, and both the House and Senate looked vulnerable. Marriage Equality was not a Democratic Party priority, however, the Republicans saw it as an opportunity to drive a wedge into the voting public and make the election about cultural issues. The plan was to get social conservatives out in big numbers to vote against gay marriage. The strategy worked in the short term. Bush was re-elected and Republicans made big wins across the nation.

But now, less than ten years later, the strategy is backfiring. Marriage Equality became the rallying cry of the gay and lesbian community, and our families, neighbors and friends rallied to our defense. The majority of Americans now believe in Marriage Equality, and some conservatives are acknowledging the issue is lost and are moving on to the next culture war.

(BTW, I  am using the term gay and lesbian instead of LGBT because this issue is not strictly a trans issue, though many trans activists remain important allies.)   

What Will Happen Tomorrow

I believe the court wants to stay in step with America, but does not want to step out in front. In other words, they will find a way to strike down DOMA and Prop 8, and do it as narrowly as possible.

I am not a big fan of Justice Robert's politics. However, he seems to want to leave a legacy of a Court that can make decisions based on the law, and is suspicious of too many cases having the same 5-4 votes. I believe we will see DOMA unequivocally shot down. However, they will give little or no direction as to what that means. In other words, it opens the door for other suits to gain access to Federal Benefits, and implementation of the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution (this is the clause which generally lets one state accept another state's marriages. For instance, if a 15 year old is legally married, and moves to a state where you must be 16 to marry, the marriage is still valid).

Similarly, I believe Prop 8 will go down, but likely on procedural issues so that it does not set a precedent for other states or suits.

For those hoping for full Marriage Equality now, this will seem a disappointment. However, the fact that the door will open a bit, allowing for further gains down the road is huge. The reason I even reviewed the history of Marriage Equality is to show that what may seem like a baby step, and to many people a disappointing baby step, is in fact, the beginning of the end for the bias in our marriage laws. In the long run, tomorrow could be a bigger beginning than all the states which currently allow Marriage Equality.

And then again, perhaps the conservatives on the court will win out, and DOMA will have the imprimatur of a Supreme Court victory. If that's the case, we must do what we have been doing for the past half century...Organize and Fight. There are rallies planned across the nation. Google Day of Decision to find out if there is one near you. Mine is the work of the Jim Toy Community Center and the Community Center Network. It will be held in Braun Court at 4:00 p.m. Braun Court is the home of the \aut\ BAR, Common Language Bookstore, Trillium Real Estate, and the Jim Toy Community Center. Check out the event facebook page at you are one of my far-flung readers, find one near you. We hope we are gathering to celebrate. But if we are not celebrating, we'll be fighting.