Politics: May 2007 Archives

In watching for Cal Thomas's column remembering Jerry Falwell, his erstwhile boss at the Moral Majority, I read through several of his recent columns and was reminded that I need to read him more often. Here's a sampling of a few recent columns.

On Tuesday, Thomas looked at Rudy Giuliani's problem with Republican voters on abortion and suggested one way forward for the former mayor:

If Giuliani really hates abortion, he will propose steps to reduce their number. If he wants to split the difference on this most contentious social issue — maintaining choice while reducing the number of abortions — he could favor "truth in labeling" legislation similar to a federal law that requires information on bottles, packages and cans. Sophisticated ultrasound machines have been shown to contribute to a sharp reduction in abortions for abortion-minded women. Such a proposal would allow him a rarity in politics: to have it both ways.

(He'd even have a model to follow: Oklahoma's informed consent legislation.)

Thomas is a frequent visitor to Northern Ireland, a connection he made through Ulster native Ed Dobson, Thomas's colleague at Moral Majority and his coauthor on Blinded by Might. In April, following the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, Thomas spoke to the Rev. Ian Paisley, the new First Minister of Northern Ireland, about the unprecedented power-sharing agreement between Paisley's hardline Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the terrorist Irish Republican Army:

Thomas: You mentioned bitterness. For the last 30 years there has been a lot of that. More than 3,500 people have been killed. How long do you think it will take to heal the wounds? Can it occur quickly, or will it take many years?

Paisley:Oh, I think it will take many years because of the brave ones amongst us, and the shame of how the British government treated us by not dealing with terrorism the way they should have. There is a lot of bitterness. But what progress could we make by just sitting on the devastation and this sea of tears and just moaning and bemoaning our position? I think if we can get the people to move toward faith that will enable them to overcome (bitterness). It could be shorter, or it could be longer, depending on how things work out at the end of the day.

Thomas on Fred Thompson:

I have no idea whether Fred Thompson, former senator from Tennessee, will run for the Republican nomination for president, but he should....

Thompson conveys Middle American, common sense values. When he is asked a question, he doesn't sound as if he's giving a poll-tested pabulum answer. Agree or not, his statements spring from conviction.

Thomas goes on to quote approvingly from Thompson's interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News.

Thomas remembers Kitty Carlisle Hart:

We met by accident at a newspaper editor's convention in St. Paul, Minn., in 1989. She was to be one side in a debate over federal funding for the arts. She was for it. Her opponent was against it. Except, her debating partner's plane was delayed, and so the host editor called me....

I was somewhere else in town and had to come back to the convention site. By the time I arrived, she had begun her presentation. It was worse than I had anticipated - not her presentation, but the obstacles I faced. There she was with her half granny glasses and a little lamp on the podium, reading her notes. I was supposed to attack this grandmother twice my age? I should rather commit suicide!

An inspiration came to me. When it was my turn to respond, I began by saying how much I admired her husband, the late Broadway director Moss Hart, and how when I read his autobiography "Act One" in the early '60s, it had deepened my appreciation for the theater. I had her eating out of my hand!

I also found this, in Jewish World Review's eight-year archive of Thomas's columns, an April 2000 column about Falwell's re-entry into the political sphere:

At a time when the Christian world is focusing on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the meaning of those events, Rev. Jerry Falwell is again focusing on politics.

A decade ago, after disbanding the Moral Majority (for which I toiled for five years), Falwell announced he was going back to preaching. People who heard him said his preaching became more powerful when he returned to his first love. But he has again succumbed to the temptation of politics and its illusion of power. At a news conference last week in Washington and on his "People of Faith 2000'' Web page, Falwell announced a drive to register 10 million new voters in order to impose a moral code through government which most citizens, comfortable in their materialism, are not willing to impose on themselves.

The failure of Falwell's efforts to change culture through government was the subject of the aforementioned Blinded by Might, published in 1999. The book was wrongly reviled by James Dobson and others as a call for Christians to withdraw from political engagement. In fact, it was a call for Christians to be realistic about what could be accomplished in the political sphere, and to remember the distinction between what Augustine called the City of God and the City of Man.

Falwell's lasting legacy, Thomas says, will be Liberty University, principal among his efforts to engage and transform the culture by non-political means.

Thursday was election day across Britain, with voters picking local government councilors and members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

For the first time, Scotland will be choosing local authority councilors using the single transferable vote (STV) method, a form of instant runoff voting that is designed to produce a proportional outcome. Rather than having a single member per council ward, each ward will elect three or four members. Voters will rank the candidates in order of preference. This same system is used for parliamentary elections in the Republican of Ireland and local government and European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland.

The change was authorized by the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004. Its passage was a condition set out by the Liberal Democrats for entering into a coalition government with Labour in the Scottish Parliament following the 2003 election.

Under the old system, with four or more parties competing in each ward, it was typical for the winning candidate to receive far less than 50% of the vote. The Vote Scotland website estimates that only 40% of the voters had the satisfaction of seeing their choice elected, but under STV, the number one choice of about 80% of the voters will wind up in office. (An Electoral Reform Society study on the most recent local election in Northern Ireland showed that 75% of first preferences went to candidates that were elected, and another 12% of first preferences were for a party that had at least one member elected from that constituency.)

Instead of doing a hand count, Scotland is using scanning machines which read and perform optical character recognition on hand-marked ballots. A company called DRS is providing the scanning technology, and the Electoral Reform Society, a non-partisan group that encourages adoption of STV, is helping to educate voters about the new system. If the voter's intent is uncertain, the scanner will capture an image of the ballot and transmit it to an election official, who will read and interpret it. In all cases, the paper ballot marked by the voter is preserved and available for hand-counting if necessary. (There ought to be a law against any automated counting or voting system that doesn't preserve a paper record which has been verified by the voter.)

The ERS study in Northern Ireland showed a high degree of voter satisfaction with the voting method and outcome. Spoiled ballot counts were nearly the same as in the last parliamentary election, which used the traditional X next to your candidate's name.

That same study also had some interesting notes on the strategies used by parties to maximize the number of seats they captured in a given constituency, with pictures of signs and handbills used by parties to instruct their voters. In Northern Ireland, each constituency had six seats up for election. The RTE website has detailed counts for each constituency, showing vote transfers as candidates were elected and eliminated. For example, here's the count for the North Antrim constituency, home turf for Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley. Despite the DUP's dominance, with 49% of first preferences, minority interests still were able to elect a representative. The DUP won three seats; Sinn Fein, the SDLP, and the Ulster Unionist Party won one each.

Things are a bit more complicated for Scottish voters. While the local elections are using STV, Scottish Parliament elections use a form of proportional representation called the additional member system. A voter votes for a specific candidate to represent his constituency, then casts a vote for a party's regional list of candidates. When all the votes are counted, a method is used to "top up" each party's number of seats in the region, so that the overall total is as close as possible to the proportion of votes cast for each party. The extra members for a party for a region are taken in order from a list of names supplied by party leadership, which means that these members aren't being elected by name by the public. You can see an example of both ballots and an attempt at an explanation from one of Scotland's local authorities, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles).

UPDATE 2007/05/04: Things did not go smoothly in Scotland. Three different votes with two different voting methods on two ballots caused some confusion, the scanners jammed on the paper ballots, and the software was having difficulty with "consolidating" the votes. That latter problem is surprising because it doesn't have anything to do with voter confusion or scanning problems. Consolidation is what's done once the ballots have been scanned and interpreted -- the process of counting first preferences and redistributing the surplus votes of elected candidates and the votes of eliminated candidates. That part should have already been perfected.

The good news, for those who believe in a United Kingdom, is that the Scottish Nationalists beat Labour but fell short of a majority of seats, and will have to solicit the support of parties that oppose secession in order to form a government. The other pleasant surprise is that the Conservatives, who have had their difficulties north of the Tweed in recent years, finished third, ahead of the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives had a great day south of the Tweed as well, taking about 40% of the vote in local elections and winning 50% of the more than 10,000 council seats up for election. Particular congratulations go to former MP Michael W. Bates, leader of the Tories' efforts to rebuild the party in the North of England. The Conservatives took control of several northern councils including Blackpool (gain from Labour), Chester, East Riding of Yorkshire, and South Ribble. I'll be interested in seeing the vote breakdown by region.

The map of England is increasingly blue, and that's a good thing. (I will never forgive USA Today for assigning red to the Republican Party in their famous county-by-county map of the 2000 presidential election. Red, the color of socialist parties everywhere, properly belongs to the Democrats.)

Here's what Conservative Party chairman Francis Maude had to say about the result:

Now that most of the results are in, it's clear that we've made a massive breakthrough. We now control over 200 councils across England - three times as many councils as Labour and the Lib Dems combined. What's more, we've made a great breakthrough in the North of England with more councils than Labour in the North West and Yorkshire.

We're now the only party that represents the whole of England. This is a great base on which we can build victory at the next election, taking our message of change, hope and optimism to more communities across the country.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from May 2007.

Politics: April 2007 is the previous archive.

Politics: August 2007 is the next archive.

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