Friday, May 11, 2007

What is the explanation for the extraordinarily high turnout at this year's Nominating Convention?

I checked the turnout for the last 15 years of the Nominating Convention and discovered that this year the turnout was the highest it has been in the last 15 years. The second highest was in 1999 with 214 votes. The average during the fifteen year period was 141 votes. This year there were 248 votes. Does anyone have an explanation for this anomoly? Was there some unpublicized recruitment going on? For example, were any CACs lobbied?

By way of a possible explanation, consider a trend I’ve noticed. The Nominating Convention is most likely to be subverted when there are minimal political consequences for doing so. For example, the only two times in the last fifteen years when the Governor overlooked the Nominating Convention’s choices occurred when the Governor was in his 8th year in office and there were thus no long-term political consequences for bypassing the Nominating Convention’s recommendations. That is, there is a one-to-one correspondence between being in the 8th year of your term as governor and avoiding the choices of the Nominating Convention; it’s a perfect correspondence.

A rational explanation for this behavior can be found in a branch of political science known as “game theory.” In the last move of a political game there are no reputational effects to consider, so the political calculus tends to be dramatically different than in the earlier moves. This year was the last move for the Nominating Convention. Is it possible that some folks recognized and exploited that fact? Again, this is just a hypothesis and most hypotheses are wrong. But I think this is a worthy question to put out there to eliminate any nagging doubt.

One of the nice things about the Nominating Convention is that enough people are involved and there is enough transparency in the process that any large scale political corruption is hard to keep out of the sunlight. If something wasn’t quite right, I’m confident that at least some people on this mailing list would know about it and share their information via at least word-of-mouth. The Nominating Commission, in contrast, involves a handful of people--half appointed by only one person--and a much more secretive process. The opportunity for backroom deals that would not withstand the light of day is thus commensurately greater.

Consequently, whatever corrupution there might or might not have been with this year’s Nominating Convention (and by corruption I mean hidden exercise of power in a way that violates the democratic norm of political equality), the incentive for such corruption will only increase with the new Nominating Commission, not in its early years when the sunlight will shine most brightly and everybody will be on their best political behavior, but in its later years when its underlying political logic will work itself out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Media Coverage Since the November 2006 Elections

Our say: Attack on school board selection reforms is ill-advised, Capital, May 10, 2007, Capital Editorial Board

Four nominated for school board: Governor has final say in filling two positions, Capital, May 10, 2007, Ryan Bagwell.

Simonaire still fighting for elected school board: He is spearheading petition drive to get referendum, Capital, May 8, 2007, by Liam Farrell

Both houses OK bills on selection of school board, Capital, March 27, 2007, Liam Farrell and Jeff Horseman, Staff Writers

Bills take shape in General Assembly: School board, panhandling move ahead, Capital, March 18, 2007, Liam Farrell, Staff Writer

School Board Bill: No Election, but More Say for Public, Washington Post, , March 15, 2007; Page AA03, William Wan, Staff Writer

Our say: School board selection reform finally on track, Capital, March 11, 2007, Capital Editorial Board.

Local senators OK compromise bill 3-2, Capital, March 10, 2007, Liam Farrell.

School board bill dropped: Legislator won't seek referendum to require directly elected panel, Baltimore Sun, March 9, 2007, Susan Gvozdas

Letters to the Editor, Maryland Gazette, March 3, 2007, p. A8.

Your say: Which school board system do you prefer, elected or appointed? The Maryland Gazette, March 3, 2007, p. A8

Letters to the Editor, The Capital, February 28, 2007, p. A10.

Guest Column: Wanted: A voice, not a commission, The Maryland Gazette, February 28, 2007, p. A10, State Senator Brian Simonaire

A Push for New Way To Fill School Board: 2 Bills Give Momentum to an Old Debate, Washington Post, February 22, 2007, p. AA03, William Wan, Staff Writer.

Our say: Delegation should pass Leopold's school board plan, Capital, February 16, 2007, Capital Editorial Board.

Lawmakers face choice of school board bills, Capital, February 15, 2007, Pg. A1, Liam Farrell, Staff Writer.

A Lesson in School Rule: Assembly leaders oppose elected boards, but many Marylanders are demanding the choice, Baltimore Sun, January 29, 2007, Justin Fenton.

A Leader for the Schools: Mayoral Control Is The Path to Results, Washington Post, January 20, 2007, p. A23, Joel I. Klein.

General Assembly Preview, 9 of 20 in county delegation new, face learning curve; School board, panhandling, top local issues, The Capital (Annapolis, MD), January 7, 2007, Pg. A1.

Election of school boards resurfaces: Old issue returns as dissatisfaction with panels grows, The Baltimore Sun (Maryland), January 4, 2007, Pg. 1A, Justin Fenton and Mary Gail Hare, Sun reporters.

Letters to the Editor, The Capital (Annapolis, MD), January 4, 2007, Pg. A10.

Senator to offer bill for elected school board, The Capital (Annapolis, MD), December 21, 2006; Pg. A12, JEFF HORSEMAN; Staff Writer.

SPEAKOUT, The Baltimore Sun, December 17, 2006; Pg. 4G.

Our view: Legislators should fix school board system, The Capital (Annapolis, MD), December 15, 2006; EDITORIAL; Pg. A8.

Leopold promotes elected school board, The Maryland Gazette, December 9, 2006; Pg. A1, DAVID ABRAMS; Staff Writer.

Elected school board bill will return, The Capital (Annapolis, MD), December 8, 2006; Pg. A1, DAVID ABRAMS; Staff Writer.

Our view: Votes speak louder than pols' words, The Capital (Annapolis, MD), November 6, 2006; EDITORIAL; Pg. A12.

School Board Change Killed: Bill would have let panel create list of candidates, The Capital (Annapolis, MD), April 4, 2006, pg. A1.

Change School Board Selection? Baltimore Sun, March 20, 2005, p. 5G.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Reflections on Senators Greenip and Simonaire's petition drive to place HB1114 on the ballot

There is an old saying, "never say never."  I genuinely thought that my last post on the school board reform legislation would be my last, at least until the School Board Nominating Commission was implemented.  I knew that a petition to put HB1114 on the ballot was under consideration.  But I didn't take it seriously.   I was wrong.


Senators Greenip and Simonaire have now created an organization, Citizens for an Elected School Board, to get signatures for a petition to put HB1114 on the ballot in 2008.  To get on the ballot in 2008, they need 10,000 Anne Arundel resident signatures by May 23 (less than three weeks away) and another 9,000 by June 20.   Senators Greenip and Simonaire have widely e-mailed a letter regarding the petition and their new organization to County opinion leaders.


Citizens for an Elected School Board describes its mission as follows.


Citizens for an Elected School Board was formed in April 2007 in response to legislation passed by the General Assembly which significantly reduced citizen participation in the school board selection process in Anne Arundel County.


Currently, the organization is focused on gathering enough signatures in a petition drive to give citizens the final say over a school board selection scheme which all but eliminates citizen input in the entire process and turns control of the school board over to a handful of county special interest groups.


I'm not clear how serious Senators Greenip and Simonaire are about this initiative.  It's one thing to file a petition and send out a news release.  It's something very different to do the hard grunt work of getting 19,000 people to sign the petition.    The former is a good and inexpensive PR move when you're in the opposition.  The latter involves blood, sweat, and tears--all for a very uncertain outcome.     Having looked at their classy website and seen their e-mail  campaign, I'm now inclined to believe they are more serious than when I got the first e-mail from them a week ago.    According to their website, they went door-to-door last weekend and intend to go door-to-door again this weekend. 


I support the petition to put HB1114 on the ballot, but not for the reasons laid out by Citizens for an Elected School Board.  Citizens for an Elected School Board links their petition drive to support for an elected school board, but I think the issue of electing a school board can and should be separated from giving the public an opportunity to debate the merits of HB1114.


I'm not necessarily opposed to an elected school board.  I do oppose the type of non-partisan, winner-take-all (also known as first-past-the-post) electoral system that has been proposed.  Another pet peeve of mine is the overwhelming focus  on the design of the general election as opposed to the primary, which I tend to view as at least as important as the general election. 


From my perspective as someone trained as a political scientist, I believe there is a reason why only authoritarian systems have single party, non-partisan electoral systems.  The public has been trained to hate partisan behavior and applaud non-partisan school boards, but mass democracy requires parties; without them, you tend to get the worst type of special interest politics, especially in low visibility elections in large political districts (like we have in Anne Arundel County). 


Winner-take-all electoral systems predominate in the U.S., so most Americans think of electoral systems and winner-take-all  voting rules as synonymous.  But proportional representation systems actually predominante in the rest of the world and have even been used in some large school districts in the U.S.  Whatever the virtues of winner-take-all for most U.S. elections--and the virtues of winner-take-all are great--they are arguably weaker in a large, diverse, school system with multi-member districts (such as in Anne Arundel County).   In a winner-take-all system, minority interests--whether they be ethnic, geographic, socio-economic, or otherwise--are less likely to get a chance at represenation than in a proportional system where voters express rank order preferences for candidates and minority interests can get a fairer chance of representation.  Fairness, by the way, is a precise, technical term.  It refers to the degree of correspondence between the preferences of voters and candidates elected to office.  The higher the correspondence, the fairer the election (for a discussion of these concepts, see  The way the electoral issue has so far been framed, only an appointed system can ensure a diverse school board with representation of minority interests.  But that is based on an incorrect assumption that equates winner-take-all with all electoral systems. 


Still, I don't think even a conventional proportional electoral system is the best system.  As you may know, I favor a "citizens assembly" based system; that is, a statistically representative version of the school board nomination convention that we already have. 


But whatever type of electoral system  you might ultimately prefer shouldn't determine whether you support this petition.  The value of this petition, from my perspective, is that it would force a public debate on HB1114's proposed system of selecting school board members.  That's a debate the legislature should have had but didn't. 


After all, our leaders have repeatedly said that passing HB1114 was one of their most important accomplishments during the last legislative sesssion.   Given this apparent consensus about the bill's importance, a full and open public airing of the issues was the democratically appropriate course of action.  Since our leaders abrogated their democratic responsibility to hold such a debate, I support this petititon because it will force such a debate.  At the end of that debate, the public might decide that the legislature actually did its due diligence and picked the best feasible alternative.  But I don't think we can know that until both the legislators and public have exposed themselves to some divergent points of view. 


Thus, I plan to sign this petition and would encourage you to sign it, too.    Senators Greenip and Simonaire have put together an excellent action center for this purpose.  I'd encourage you to look at it if you want to support their petition.


Thursday, May 3, 2007

Petition drive from senators Greenip and Simonaire to place the school board reform legislation on the ballot for the 2008 election

From: Senator Janet Greenip []
Sent: Thursday, May 03, 2007 10:48 AM
Subject: Anne Arundel County Elected School Board Petition Drive

Dear Friend,

During this past session, I co-sponsored SB 28 (sponsored by Senator Bryan Simonaire) which would have change the Anne Arundel County Board of Education to an elected board beginning in 2010. Despite my strong support and endorsement for this overdue change in how school board members are selected, this important bill did not receive a favorable report in the Anne Arundel County delegation.

Instead of passing our bill, the Anne Arundel Legislative Delegations passed HB 1114, a bill which puts the selection of the School Board into the hands of a few people. Under current law, the Governor appoints members that are nominated by the Nominating Convention. This new legislation requires the Governor to choose a nominee from a select Commission. The Governor appoints 5 of the 11 members of this new commission, the County Executive appoints one and there are five spots reserved for the Teacher’s Association, one of Anne Arundel County’s Chambers of Commerce, Anne Arundel Community College Board of Trustees, Association of Education Leaders, and the Anne Arundel Parent-Teacher Association. These appointed school board members will only face a “yes or no” vote for continuance in office after they are in place. There is no real electoral say in who represents us and our children on the county school board.

Because of this, concerned citizens of Anne Arundel County, led by Senator Simonaire and myself, are collecting signatures on a petition to place HB 1114 on the ballot for the 2008 election. We want to overturn this legislation and go back to work to get an Elected School Board. We need to give the taxpayers of Anne Arundel County a real say in who is on the school board.

Attached are the two sides of the petition document that must be printed on one piece of paper. All signatures must be from Anne Arundel County voters. Do not sign and date the bottom of the page until you are ready to send it in. If these instructions are not followed all signatures on that sheet will be invalid. Print as many as you would like and return the signed petitions sheets to Senator Bryan Simonaire’s office, information listed below.

We need nearly 19,000 Anne Arundel resident signatures by June 20th, but must also have 10,000 by May 23rd. If you can return them as you fill them it will give us an idea of our progress and how much further we have to go.

Mail petitions to:

Senator Bryan Simonaire
Miller Senate Office Building, Room 401
11 Bladen St.
Annapolis, MD 21401

Also, please visit for information and to volunteer for door-to-door and shopping center efforts.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.


Janet Greenip
Senator, Legislative District 33