Thursday, June 28, 2007

Commentary on Partisan Elections

Response to Commentary by Chris Pelly on Partisan Elections:

It’s my party
Partisan elections promote full disclosure
Chris Pelly
Mountain Xpress

POINT 1. Mr. Pelly states, “In the last six election cycles—all of them nonpartisan elections—not a single third-party candidate was elected to City Council. How could switching to partisan elections make things any worse?”

Who could not answer this question?!

How could switching to partisan elections make things any worse? By making things worse!

With nonpartisan elections, the unaffiliated can freely compete alongside anyone else in the political marketplace. In this open participation in the political process, it matters not that there may be poor support for a third party. What does matter is that the door remain open to anyone who chooses public service. Changing the charter to partisan elections makes things worse by slamming the door on the 27% of unaffiliated in Asheville.

So the question really should be: How do partisan elections in Asheville make things substantially better?

In his ham-fisted attempt to address this question, Mr. Pelly argues in favor of transparency regarding affiliation. But there has been nothing opaque about city elections in the last 13 years. On the contrary, visibility of party affiliation is the one perennial constant in local political races.

Mr. Pelly also introduces circular logic in his main argument in favor of partisan elections. He maintains that the unaffiliated should be marginalized and excluded because they are not popular. But are they unpopular precisely because they are systematically excluded? Chicken - Egg; Egg - Chicken.

POINT 2. Mr. Pelly states, “we do have a self-correcting process: It’s called elections.”

No, Mr. Pelly. We have, in fact, THREE legal and valid democratic methods of so-called "self-correcting": 1) ELECTIONS; 2) REFERENDUM; and, 3) RECALL.

All three of these methods are available to the public for their redress of various grievances; not just the one that Mr. Pelly would draw our attention to. The “Let Asheville Vote” coalition has chosen the second of the two methods: The Referendum. That is our right and the one we will pursue with vigor. Failing that, the other two options -- Elections and Recall -- are certainly still available and can be entertained when appropriate.

POINT 3. Rather than the burden falling on his readers to justify why the charter should NOT be changed to partisan elections, the burden here is entirely on Mr. Pelly to justify why the charter SHOULD be changed. And he most certainly has not done that in these pages.

Friday, June 01, 2007

LTE: Living Wage Folly

Dear Mountain Xpress Editor,

City council wants to include employee wage levels as a factor in negotiating with contractors who bid on municipal contracts. The city would effectively deny bids if contractors were found paying their employees anything below what the Asheville-Buncombe Living Wage Campaign has determined to be a "living wage."

Living wage proponents set that minimum wage level for Asheville at about $9.50 (with benefits) to $10.86 (without benefits). This is based on a formula that assumes, 1) monthly rent costs should not exceed one-third of a person's income, and, 2) that the fair market value for a one-bedroom apartment in the Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area (which includes portions of Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties) is $534 a month.

In other words, a person's wage should be set at a level that enables that person to comfortably afford a typical apartment in Asheville; among other things that a person might claim to need. That is, employers, under this scheme, should first calculate what their employees need and then adjust their payroll budgets accordingly. But wages should be based on the value of a person's labor to his employer and not based on that person's need to buy stuff. Employees should be paid what they're worth and should have no moral claim on an employer’s presumed duty to make their lives comfortable.

Also, a Chamber of Commerce survey of organizations that contract with the city has revealed that some companies will simply not bid on municipal contracts if the living wage ordinance is passed. This ordinance did pass. And we will have to wonder where those non-living wage employees will be working this summer. Perhaps they could apply for a job with the city, which, happily, already pays living wages to its employees out of the city's taxpayer-funded coffers.

And here is the final absurdity: With the so-called "living wage" initiative, the government is actually putting into practice precisely what has only been alleged of the oil industry; namely, colluding to artificially raise the price of a commodity above market levels; in this case, the price of labor. The government should not be in the business of setting prices for labor -- or for anything else for that matter.