During a lively discussion on a previous post, Phillip Bush wrote:
You should be happy, Brad. The State’s article today alluded to the “unusual bedfellows” who were joined in opposition to this measure, it crossed all sorts of party/ideology lines. (For that matter, so did the Yes side)….
In reply to that, and in response to a comment from Kathryn Fenner about us “outsiders” who wanted the change, I wrote the following (and then decided it should be a separate post rather than a comment)…
Oh, DANG! In copying the above comment from Phillip, I lost it! OK, I’ll try to reconstruct it…
This reform was defeated by insiders, no question about it. Insiders who managed to persuade a majority of the few who turned out to vote with them. So congratulations to them for winning. Again. The strategy of having a completely unnecessary extra election in order to separate the issue from the re-election of a popular mayor worked. (The idea that an extra month was needed for discernment, after all these years of discussion, was risible.)
But as for the idea that I should be happy…
It’s facile to say, look, there are Democrats and Republicans, black and white people, working together on this. Those are granfalloons, within this context. As I’m sure Bokonon would tell you if he lived here, as meaningless as granfalloons can be the rest of the time, they are particularly irrelevant to a city election in Columbia. The group I saw aligned against this was, to my eye, homogeneous — a true karass, to keep the Vonnegut theme going.
This was, on one level, a case of the Shandonistas striking back. Look at the chief apostles of “No,” who celebrated their victory in the ultimate Columbia insider salon: Kit Smith’s house. Kit herself, Howard Duvall, Rusty DePass, Tameika Devine, Moe Baddourah (a relative newcomer to insiderism, but a very quick study — he changed his mind on strong mayor between the day he was elected and his very first council meeting).
Am I saying these are bad people? Absolutely not. I like and respect all of them. The kind of insider I’m talking about is generally someone who has given much to the community. These are good, dedicated people. But as I say, they have gained, I’ll even say earned, a certain access — through election, or through years of volunteer advocacy — to the current power structure.
Now, the power structure that exists is a feeble thing. It moves slowly and ponderously, and is far better at stopping things from happening than at making them happen. But it is power, and it’s the kind these folks have access to. Power that, let me hasten again to add, all of them want to use for good. But whether you want to do good or ill, in politics, you “dance with the one that brung you.” And this system is the one that “brung” these folks to the point of being able to achieve whatever they have accomplished thus far. They are invested in it.
Meanwhile, strong-mayor is a more open, less controllable, broader, more dynamic system. Empowering a chief executive who has a mandate from a majority of voters increases volatility, makes it more likely that things will happen. Those of us who have enough faith in democracy to believe enough good things will happen to outweigh the bad — and believe in the power of greater transparency (which is a feature of strong-mayor) to correct the bad — tend to favor it. Those who fear the bad that can happen tend to oppose it — especially when they themselves have access to the keys that can occasionally move the present, slower, less dynamic, more conservative system.
Strong-mayor — and Steve Benjamin himself — represent a broader view of what Columbia is and can be, a view that includes all of us who live in the de facto city, all of us whose destinies are tied up with it. Those with a narrower view — who can speak in terms of “them” telling “us” how to run “our” town — will reject it. To them, it’s just far too risky. Interests that don’t have their acutely-tuned sense of the community’s good might have an impact on what happens, and that’s just too uncomfortable.
Phillip says I’m wrong to equate this with the Legislature’s ongoing refusal to empower the executive (and thereby the people who elected the executive). Perhaps he’s right, but I don’t think so. I’ve been here before. When we did the Power Failure series back in the early 90s (which advocated for local reforms as well as statewide ones), I noticed how many really good, smart, dedicated people who cared deeply about South Carolina — officeholders, political operatives, lobbyists for idealistic nonprofits, and so on — reacted negatively to what we were writing. I thought a lot of most of these people. They were people I’d like to have arguing for these reforms rather than against. They were important influencers. So we hosted a series of luncheons — about 30 people at a time — consisting of these vocal opponents, to address their questions and explain why we were doing this. But with most of them, I had trouble selling our idea of cluing the Great Unwashed out there into why South Carolina didn’t work better than it did. And that’s because all of these people had learned to move this system as well as it could be moved, although in limited ways. They knew how things worked, to the extent that they worked, and many of them believed that was enough.
Bottom line, many smart people will see diversity in the successful opposition. But I see what the chief opponents had in common more clearly than their differences.