How to Fix DC’s School Problem: Lose the Schools

Last week, the U.S. House of Representative passed the SOAR Reauthorization Act.  (Next week they will, no doubt, be debating other clever backronyms for other equally banal bills.)  SOAR, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results, is, like so much of what government does, benevolent on its surface.  After all, who doesn’t like giving money to disadvantaged children in one of America’s most disadvantaged cities?  It’s almost as fun as handing out puppies!

But, also like so much of what government does, someone else ends up paying for it.

First, the whole concept of Congress legislating anything that happens outside the halls of federal government but inside the borders of the District of Columbia flies in the face of what the District was meant to be.  The “taxation without representation” nonsense on the license plates and the ongoing quixotic call for D.C. statehood are just so many sour grapes.

D.C. was never meant to be a permanent residence for anyone.  It was created to house the federal government at a time when the fledgling nation was still very much a delicate alliance of independent states, not the ironclad country that it has increasingly (although lately, decreasingly) become since the end of the Civil War.  Part of the reason for this should be abundantly clear now that five out of the top ten richest counties are bedroom communities for federal government officials and lobbyists: government service was never meant to be a permanent gig or a road to wealth, so why would anyone want to stick around long enough to put down roots, especially in a humid, mosquito-infested cesspool like the one that D.C. was at its nascence?

But there’s no turning back now.  D.C. is one of the largest cities in America, and its future is undeniably tied to the whims of Congress and the president.  (This fact was intriguingly examined in both The West Wing and House of Cards, where it was used as a political football by a president seeking to control Congress.)

But when the federal government runs roughshod over the 10th Amendment as it has for so long now, it’s at least somewhat checked by the desires of political leaders in state capitals who either have a genuine interest in the future prosperity and freedom of their states or simply want credit for whatever program Congress is seeking to shove down the people’s throats.  I’m sure D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser has similar desires, but, being only one person with her entire budget at the mercy of Congress, she doesn’t have quite the power of a governor and his legislature (except when she has the president on her side, as displayed in the aforementioned TV shows).  So, then, D.C. becomes a hyperbole of every bad (and sometimes good) idea that the federal government has – all that power laser-focused on a mere 68 square miles.

So what’s the problem with SOAR?  Well, nothing, really – just as there’s nothing wrong with giving kids puppies.  The problem is in who pays for the puppies, and for the scholarships.

When you’re taxing 300 million people and using it to educate a mere 1,244 children, that’s not bad at all.  But it’s also the federal government doing what it does worst: picking winners and losers.  Don’t get me wrong: I have a lot more faith in the future of the boys and girls attending D.C. private and charter schools on an Opportunity Scholarship than I do in whatever cockamamie green energy scheme made it to the president’s desk this week, but it’s still a dangerous precedent that’s been set – and all the more dangerous because, ironically, precedents for federal fiscal support of something as controversial as school vouchers are rather tenuous.

Now, if I were a congressman, I probably would have voted for SOAR, too, just to keep the money coming, and I applaud President Obama for his support of it as well (words I don’t often write), but at some point, SOAR will become a political football, and the unfortunate children of D.C. will be held hostage.  Furthermore, regardless of the future, there are thousands of children in D.C. schools who, while perhaps not as “disadvantaged” as the ones taking advantage of Opportunity Scholarships, are still at a disadvantage.  (And many of them could be worse off, since D.C. Opportunity Scholarships are awarded through a lottery.)  There is a better way – as Reagan may have said, not necessarily an easier way, but a better way.

The ultimate solution to this problem lies in D.C. ceasing to be a quasi-state, with its public infrastructure tied to the whims of the federal government.  For education, this means that residents need to start sending their children to schools outside D.C.  This is where permanent residents of the area should be living anyway.  In turn, schools in Maryland and Virginia (and the other 48 states, for that matter), should be allowed to succeed or fail on their own, with limited ties to federal or state mandates.

While people often lament the state of public education in this country (and rightly so), I’ve never heard anyone feel sorry for the children going to private schools.  Wouldn’t the answer, then, be to send all of our children to private schools?  And before you protest, trust me when I say that this solution doesn’t necessitate only the wealthy getting an education; after all, many of the children using D.C. Opportunity Scholarships may attend private schools – even Sidwell Friends, home to First Daughters Sasha and Malia Obama!

Cross-posted at

End lobbying? Might as well ban pencils to prevent misspelling words

It seems that, of all things political, lobbying and campaign finance raise the most ire among “the American people.”  They point out that “if we could just get money out of politics,” problems of corruption and the new “golden rule” would largely vanish.  They might be right, but the solution, in this case, is worse than the problem.

The U.S. Supreme Court rightly ruled in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and later Citizens United (2010) that money is a form of political speech and thus protected by the First Amendment.  The case is even clearer with lobbying.

The main problem with lobbying is that most people have no idea what it is.  They envision K Street folks dressed in $2,000 Brooks Brothers suits, pitching ideas that benefit only Wall Street over $200 lunches at Charlie Palmer Steak.  Certainly this happens, and certainly it is a bit grotesque.  But what those beating the anti-lobbying drum the loudest always forget is that they themselves are lobbyists, too.  Or at least they are any time they send an email, make a phone call, or march on the Capitol steps.

The widespread use of term “lobbying” dates back to the Grant administration, when Grant, oftentimes enjoying a cigar and brandy in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., would be approached by people asking him to push forward this or that policy and often “helping” him in the decision-making process by buying him additional cigars and snifters of brandy.  It seems, in many ways, we haven’t evolved much from those days.  That can be discouraging – that is, until one really begins to think about it.  Gaining access to our elected officials is easier than ever, what with technology the way it is.  And it bears repeating: every time we send an email, we’re lobbying.  Sure, some will say that’s different from the paid lobbyist representing the “special interest” group or corporation.  But it’s different only in orders of magnitude.

And these “special interest” groups wouldn’t even form if it wasn’t for the widespread interests of the people behind them.  Health care is a massive lobby, but only because most people in America are concerned by rising health care costs.  And while lobbying in some areas has become a way to make money off the taxpayer by taking advantage of loopholes, is it really the fault of the corporation?  If someone was handing out hundred-dollar bills and you knew someone was going to get them, wouldn’t you stand in line, regardless of how those bills were acquired, and especially if the person handing them out said it was all legit and not only your right, but your duty to accept them?  It’s a game, to be sure, but these days, sadly, you either play the game or get left behind.

So there’s a problem.  I assume those calling for the end to lobbying aren’t calling for the end of all citizen interaction with their legislators so I’ll give them that.  But if that’s the case, where do we draw the line?  The problem with creating more and more rules is that they almost always create more and more loopholes.  Do we say no one is allowed to be paid for lobbying efforts?  Well, then, only the truly rich would be able to lobby, for even a group of working mothers getting together to encourage lawmakers to strengthen drunken driving laws would be at a loss.  They could send emails, sure, and many of them do.  But if they wanted to devote their full time to it, or even just one person’s full time to it, they’d have to start raising money.  Everyone’s got to eat, after all.

Truly, the biggest reason lobbying has become such a massive industry is because of the massiveness of government.  Up until the federal government went after Microsoft with an anti-trust lawsuit, Microsoft didn’t have a government affairs division and spent little, if any, money lobbying government.  After being targeted by the Clinton Justice Department, Microsoft quickly realized that government isn’t just going to leave you alone.  No one is allowed to sit the game out.  So they ponied up and went into the lobbying business.

So what to do?  The answer, as it almost always is, lies in less government, not more.  The only reason corporations employ teams of lawyers to navigate the legislative waters is that these waters are so treacherous and hard to navigate.  Let’s take Indian Reservations as an example.  Tribes spend millions of dollars lobbying all levels of government for all sorts of things.  Maybe they want to run a casino or hunt whales in an area where it is otherwise illegal.  Maybe they want to mine for natural resources.  Maybe they’ve started a tribal business and want tax breaks.  Of course, there are other groups that don’t want to see this happen.  Maybe they are anti-gambling, or wish to protect sea mammals or trees.  Maybe they’re business owners who believe they should be receiving the same tax breaks as the Indians.  Now, instead of creating the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a massive Reservation system across the nation to pay attention to this particular “special interest,” why not just remove government from the decision making process altogether?  Make gambling either completely legal or completely illegal.  Institute a flat tax for every person or corporation.  Quit fiddling around the edges of the law to carve out special favors for your lobbyist friends, and watch how quickly those “friends” disappear.

We shouldn’t be blaming the lobbyists for showing up to the trough every time Senator So-and-So dumps a fresh load of slop into it.  They’re just doing what any of us would do.  No, instead, we should be blaming Senator So-and-So for taking our money and giving it to those we feel don’t deserve it.  (And funny how those we feel don’t deserve it are usually the ones whose policies we disagree with.)

Lobbying is nothing other than our freedom to ask our legislators to do something we think will benefit the nation (or us personally if we are short on morals).  Giving money to those legislators who we think are doing the most good in order to ensure that others hear about their acts and thus re-elect them is also nothing other than our freedom to do with our earnings what we see fit.  If our legislators are not acting in the best interest of the nation, then it is the fault not of the system we’ve instituted, but of the legislators themselves.  Outlawing lobbying to prevent corruption makes as much sense as outlawing guns to prevent murder or pencils to prevent spelling errors.

Cross posted at

Keeping it simple

“They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer- not an easy answer- but simple.”

– A Time for ChoosingOct 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States (1911-2011)

President Reagan made this particular statement in reference to the conflict in Vietnam. He knew the simple answer was to do the right thing and fight the ever-growing threat of Communist expansion in Southeast Asia (and Eastern Europe). It’s never easy to go to war, risking life and limb in defense of liberty, but once the decision is made it is quite a simple proposition, especially with right on our side not to mention a superior arsenal. This simple strategy of war is best summed up in another quote from Reagan, “Here’s my strategy on the Cold War: We win, they lose.” Until the day the Berlin Wall fell and greater freedom was granted to millions of people living behind the Iron Curtain there were plenty of critics of this simplistic philosophy, but on November 9, 1989 Reagan was vindicated and totalitarianism was largely relegated to the ash heap of history. (Or so many thought but no, to answer Francis Fukuyama, there is never an end of history, for, as the quote erroneously attributed to Scottish Historian Alexander Tytler states,

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always vote for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage.”)

And just as the strategy for winning the Cold War was one of simplicity so, too, is the strategy for addressing all other problems that we face as a society. Contrary to what ivory towered intellectuals would like us to believe, Occam’s razor (lex parsimoniae) is correct; things are black & white. It may appear that the solution lies in that grey area for it may be difficult for some to discern the answer but in all probability this difficulty arises out of an over-complication of the problem.

In general, the solution to most of the problems being addressed by public policy is to do the exact opposite: make it private policy, eliminate the government program created to “solve” it and let the private sector take over. Privatize education. Privatize health care. Privatize welfare. As Albert Einstein said, “The only justifiable purpose of political institutions is to assure the unhindered development of the individual.” In other words, the government’s only job is to protect our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (also known as property); to ensure equal access, not equal results. Beyond that it is up to the charity of the community to ensure that the poor and enfeebled not go hungry, for the government cannot give assistance to one citizen without first taking it from another (and skimming a fairly sizable portion off the top in the form of bureaucratic inefficiency).

To this philosophy I devote the majority of this blog. These are my rants and ramblings on public policy, politics and pop-culture. And because I am a devoted Christian I will, from time to time, weigh in on matters of faith and religion as the Spirit leads me. I may throw in the occasional post on food, travel or some other truly enjoyable pastime, for as John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail,

“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

Primary Education

So we (I’m hoping everyone who reads, at least) voted in our primary election a couple of weeks ago and most of us probably didn’t give a whole lot of thought to the process. After all, we settled all that a couple of years ago after a protracted battle involving state legislation, initiatives and court cases. Done deal, right? Well, sort of. At least it is for those of us who live in a little place I like to call the real world. Regardless of whether you like your primary served up “Cajun” style (the current “Top Two” system) or with that wide-open taste of the “Montana” frontier (“Pick a Party”), you’ve moved on, accepted the verdict, right? Of course you have! You’re not a political hack.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve used that label to describe myself on a number of occasions and parties certainly have their place (especially when piñatas are involved), but when parties lose sight of their goals the ugly side of partisanship we all love to hate bares its ugly and wasteful grin. And so it is with the primary battle.

A bit of history. From 1890 to 1907 parties nominated their candidates through conventions or petition (a brilliant idea, if you ask me). But then the state legislature, in its populist “wisdom” decided to enact a “semi-open” primary wherein voters didn’t have to declare party affiliation but did have to select either a Republican ballot or a Democrat ballot on Election Day. In 1934 the Grange and the AFL-CIO teamed up and proposed an initiative to the legislature which further opened the primary, allowing people to vote for whomever they liked, regardless of party (the “Blanket Primary”); i.e. they could vote for a Republican primary candidate for governor and a Democratic primary candidate for state legislator. The initiative passed the legislature, the state parties challenged it, and the State Supreme Court upheld the new law. Fast forward to 1978 and the state parties challenged it once again and once again failed to have it thrown out. Fast forward again to 2003 and the parties finally got their way, sort of. Based on a similar ruling of California’s primary, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the “Blanket Primary” and Washington State was forced to come up with a new system. After much debate in the legislature, debate which caused a rare split within parties, it narrowly voted for the “Montana” system. Being forced to pick a party ballot, people were up in arms; writing all sorts of obscenities on their primary ballots that September and quickly gathering enough signatures to put an initiative to the people to institute the “Top Two” system. Unsurprisingly, in November of 2004 it passed by a 60% margin statewide and actually passed with a two-to-one margin in most traditionally Republican counties. And the parties, once again, sued. In 2005, a U.S. District Court sided with the parties, forcing the state to return to the “Pick a Party” system, but then had its decision overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008, finally granting the people of Washington the system that they wanted. Phew!

So you’d think once the Supreme’s made a decision, things would settle down, at least for a few decades. But no! Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, except, maybe, a political party scorned. In the Republican Party’s defense, SCOTUS overturned the lower courts decision because they felt the argument constituted only a facial challenge, i.e. it was based on a hypothetical argument that voters would have a problem differentiating an officially nominated candidate from one who listed his preference as Republican or Democrat. The problem, the Republican Party (along with the Democratic Party) argued, was that candidates being able to list themselves as “prefers Republican Party” on the ballot without going through some form of closed primary violated the party’s First Amendment right of association by allowing members not of the party to choose the candidate; the same argument that initiated this whole mess back in 2003. The new challenge, filed in June, now argues based on actual facts based on the 2008-2010 elections. It seems like a reasonable argument and some argue that the 1996 nomination of Ellen Craswell for Republican gubernatorial candidate was the result of Democrats crossing over during the primary to vote for what they perceived as the weaker candidate. I think that’s a bit of a stretch but there’s really no way of knowing.

But all of this aside, the continued and costly battle to overturn the Top Two primary is a waste of time. First, from a common perspective, how many Democrats are really voting for the “weaker” Republican candidate? And even if there are a few, I’d dare say that there are an equal number of Republicans doing the same thing in Democratic primaries. Turnabout is fair play after all.

Furthermore, it’s just bad politics to continue this challenge. It was actually bad politics to challenge it in the first place. As I repeatedly tell many purists, would you rather be right or would you rather win? You can’t always have both. Say the GOP was to succeed in this challenge. The legislature would have to go back to the drawing board, wasting more time (as if they already don’t waste enough) crafting yet another law to run our elections instead of focusing on, here’s a wild thought, jobs, education, crime, just about anything other than primary elections.

(In fact, they likely will be wasting some time on this issue because one casualty of this legal battle has already been PCOs on both sides of the aisle. PCOs would be up for reelection next year but the judge did rule that office could no longer appear on the primary ballot so, come January 2013, unless the parties figure something out, there will be no PCOs. This actually came as music to the ears of County Auditors statewide as they’ve always been irritated by the amount of money spent on a race that rarely garners more than one or two votes, if any. It should also come as music to the ears of every small-government conservative too, since PCO elections are basically taxpayer-funded party politics.)

And even if the wasting of lawmaker time wasn’t an issue, most people are change adverse. We’d have 2004 all over again with voters by the droves writing expletives across their primary ballots and burning both elephants and donkeys in effigy. Who knows? They might get mad enough at the parties that they finally decide to elect someone like Goodspaceguy or Mike the Mover! Either that or the media will report, somewhat correctly, that this new round of election fiddling is “all the Republicans fault” and the GOP will be relegated to minority status for yet another decade. And to restate an earlier point, even if the media didn’t decide to pin most of the blame on the Republicans it wouldn’t matter. The results of the 2004 initiative show that more Republicans than Democrats prefer the top two system. By continuing this lawsuit the Republican Party is firing on its own people.

And, finally, the chances of a legal victory over the Top Two primary just diminished even more this past week when a U.S. District Court in California ruled in favor of the defendants (including, ironically, our old friend Dean Logan) to uphold that state’s Top Two primary.

The Washington State Republican Party’s State Committee will be meeting in January. By that time this issue may have been decided by the courts, which would mean, should the GOP lose, that the State Party would have to pay out another $55,000 in fines. Not something that donors really want to hear. My advice: kill this ridiculous challenge, post-haste. Save the party money, save the court’s and the legislature’s time, and don’t anger the voters of Washington.

More “Tales in Government Efficiency!”

I received a letter from the Census Department telling me that they’re going to send me a letter “in about a week.” I wonder how much that cost?

Oh, and thanks for translating it into Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese, guys, but I’m calling the ACLU and filing a suit on behalf of all the Persians you’ve decided to discriminate against, you racists.

Sam’s Side of the Story

I’m a big fan of Tim Eyman. I’m also a big fan of Sam Reed. So when I read Tim’s post a few days ago I wanted to get Sam’s side of the story. Below is our email exchange, unedited.

The public record question does not go back 95 years. It goes back to 1972 when I-172 passed by 72% creating (among other things) our wide open public records act. Since that time, initiative and referendum petitions have been public records. But, when people came in to do a public record request, they learned that they would receive copies of thousands of petitions – and decided not to do it. In more recent years, we have been scanning in the petitions and storing them on CDs for security purposes. Now, it’s easier for a public record request. In recent years, we’ve had six of them and have provided the discs with no controversy.
As Rob [McKenna] points out, the petitions are not like a secret ballot. They sit out at super markets. People look over the other names when they sign. The signature gatherers make copies of the petitions. In other words, they are very public.
Also, Rob and I point out that constitutionally this is a legislative process. When one person signs, he/she is (in essence) sponsoring legislation. A legislator could not sponsor a bill and then have his/her name kept secret.


P.S. Tim Eyman found one person, a former assistant Secretary of State, Don Whiting, who does not like the idea of them being public records. He worked for Ralph Munro. I asked Ralph is that was his position. He said no…….that he does not recall ever taking a position. Pam Floyd was the manager of the initiative/referendum operation when Don was the assistant Secretary of State. She said that the Attorney General’s Office and her superiors (in the Elections Division) told her the petitions were public records. So, she treated them that way.

He followed up with another email stating

Also, I have no idea what Eyman is talking about with us refusing to disclose anything. We’re waiting for the judge to decide whether to proceed. It’s not up to us. It’s up to him. …..We expected that to be the case.
And, by the way, you may have noticed that just ruled that he will not proceed until he finds out what the U. S. Supreme Court decides to do regarding the Referendum 71 petition public records case.
The attorneys Eyman is talking about work for Rob McKenna not for me. 


Sam also addressed Tim’s statement about selling the lists for a profit. He stated

We are limited legally to what it costs us to produce it. We don’t have any choice. We are not a profit-making organization. Since costs of technology change rapidly, we are continually having to run the numbers.

He also sent me a link to the below article, detailing Judge Hick’s stay on Tim’s request last Friday.

As I said, I’m a big fan of Tim’s and I think he does a lot of great work. At times, though, he can get a bit overzealous; easy to do when one is demonized and is fighting an uphill battle. I’m guilty of it myself at times.

As for my opinion on the matter of releasing names overall, I tend to side with Sam. While it’s unfortunate that this matter has been greatly exacerbated by the actions of a group of hate-filled gay rights activists who sought the names to torment those who disagree with their views, we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. By not allowing names to be released the potential for fraud is increased. And it’s not like Washington state’s record on election fraud is spotless. Instead we should address problems of harassment with laws already on the books. After all, we don’t outlaw guns because people are shot with them. We punish the people who are abusing that right to own guns.

A Poet Laureate for Washington State

A nickel here, a nickel there
And soon we’re in deep despair.
And while Olympia pens this bill,
Businesses fail and released felons kill

Tax the rich, let the poor eat cake.
It’s only money, for heaven’s sake!
Monorails, Viaducts and bridges that float;
What nonsense I say. There are poems to be wrote.

So convene great writers from all over the earth.
If foreigners can vote here surely they can pen something of worth.
You may speak of global warming with great consequence,
but the real emergency is a lack of poetic intelligence.

So take it from Representatives Skinner and Lantz,
Give Washington poetry a $30,000 advance.
Send the poet laureate all over the state;
Pay for it all with increased tax rates.

Students have failed the WASL’s science and math.
Bring poetry to the classroom! It’s the true employment path.
No sense in learning basic addition.
Poetry will bring about true cognition
This is a no brainer, my word-weary friends,
Stringing words together brings about the best ends.
Haikus, Limericks, Sonnets and Quatrains
If we lived on these there’d be no war or disdain.