UTW Column Archive: March 2006 Archives

An edited version of this column appeared in the March 22, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is available online via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. My blog entry linking the column is here. Posted online October 6, 2017.

Council General Election preview

By Michael D. Bates

As disheartened as I was at the results in Tulsa's mayoral primary, I was cheered by the voters' picks in the Council races. Seven out of the 10 Council candidates endorsed by UTW won their primaries. In most cases, this meant the defeat of the best-funded candidate by a candidate dependent on grass-roots support.

The result was also an affirmation of the work of the Reform Alliance. The three returning members of the alliance - Jack Henderson, Roscoe Turner, and Jim Mautino - all won renomination, the latter two turning back well-financed opponents who had the endorsement of the monopoly daily newspaper. The fourth gang member, Chris Medlock, was replaced by attorney Rick Westcott, who led the opposition to the effort to recall Medlock and who endorsed Medlock for mayor.

It was a near-wipeout for the monopoly daily's beloved "Class of 2002" aka the "Cockroach Caucus." Susan Neal, Tom Baker, and Randy Sullivan all chose not to run for re-election. Jack Wing, Baker's handpicked successor, lost by a wide margin to neighborhood leader Maria Barnes. Sullivan was replaced by John Eagleton, whom he twice defeated; Eagleton won election with the biggest vote total of any Council primary candidate. Jeff Stava, backed by former Chamber chairman and Council-basher Bob Poe, lost to Cason Carter.

Bill Christiansen prevailed in a tough race against first-time candidate Cliff Magee. In District 5, Bill Martinson, who aligned himself with that group, had no difficulty winning renomination against two rookie candidates, but faces a tough general election against Jon Kirby, who is reported to be a door-knocking dynamo.

Candidates who centered their campaign around "stopping the bickering" didn't fare well, but the alleged bickerers did, indicating that Tulsans want city issues debated publicly, not behind closed doors.

And the results refute the World's claim that low turnout enabled "unqualified" candidates to sneak into office 2004. The same candidates were successfully renominated in a primary with record turnout.

There appeared to be a coordinated and unsuccessful effort by some prominent Tulsans to fund targeted races and pack the council. Six of the eight candidates Bob Poe supported were defeated. John Brock, a leading activist for at-large councilors, backed one win and four losses. BOk Chairman George Kaiser and the BOk Financial Corp PAC won three and lost five.

Although the primary settled four races, five more will be decided on April 4.

Before I delve into the specifics of the Council general election, I need to tell you about a conflict of interest. I represent Tulsa County on the Oklahoma Republican Party's State Committee. As an elected party official, I'm not allowed to endorse against a Republican candidate. On the other hand, as a columnist for UTW, I owe it to you to endorse the best candidate in each race.

Now theoretically - just maybe - the best candidate in a race might not be a Republican, so to avoid defaulting on either of my obligations, I'm going to recuse myself from endorsements, and just tell you what I know about each candidate.

As in the primary preview, you'll find contact info for each candidate, and you're encouraged to get in touch and get answers to the questions that matter to you. And if you decide you like a candidate, call and volunteer to help in the closing days of the campaign.

We gave each candidate the opportunity to respond to the same questionnaire we used in the primary, with an additional question about the six charter amendments on the April 4 ballot. The full text of their responses can be found on our website at www.urbantulsa.com.

District 3: Roscoe H. Turner, Democrat, incumbent, 74, 3415 E. Haskell St., http://www.roscoeturner.com, 834-7580; Gerald A. Rapson, Republican, 73, 6267 E. Latimer Pl., garapson@hotmail.com, 835-4817.

Turner just won his second straight primary victory over former Councilor David Patrick, and the results show that Turner made inroads in traditional Patrick territory east of Yale. Turner, voted "most believable City Councilor" in UTW's 2005 "Absolute Best of Tulsa" competition, has been a leader for many years in the Sequoyah Area Neighborhood Association.

The Republican nominee in this heavily Democratic district is Gerald Rapson, a retiree from Memorex Telex. Rapson shows up in newspaper archives as a volunteer at the Latter-Day Saints Family History Center and at the Domestic Violence Intervention Services protective order office.

The two candidates' responses to the UTW questionnaire differed significantly on only a few issues. On the use of eminent domain for private economic development, Turner said it should never be used for private purposes. Rapson agreed with respect to owner-occupied properties, but would permit it for the redevelopment of absentee-owned properties.

Regarding adding sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in Tulsa's human rights ordinance, Turner responded, "I support everyone's human rights," while Rapson wrote, "I would oppose adding 'sexual orientation' to the list of protected classes."

On the question about CDBG funding for controversial groups like Planned Parenthood, Turner wrote, "I would support providing funds that benefit the health of our children." Rapson wrote, "Although I am not opposed to abortion, which is a woman's choice, I am opposed to public funding for abortions, or funding to any group that advocates government funding for abortions."

Rapson supports all of the charter amendments except propositions 1 and 4 (council attorney and election date changes). Turner voted in favor of putting all six on the ballot.

District 4: Maria Barnes, Democrat, 45, 1319 S. Terrace Dr., http://www.mariabarnes4tulsa.com, 510-5725; Robert C. "Bob" Bartlett, Republican, 76, 2744 S. Braden Ave., 747-6907.

Both of these candidates have been deeply involved with city government, but about three decades apart from each other.

Maria Barnes, a married mother of three children, is president of the Kendall-Whittier Neighborhood Association, vice president of the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, and a member of the Vision 2025 Neighborhood Fund Task Force. In 1998, the Mayor's Office for Neighborhood Associations recognized her service with a Picket Fence Award.

Barnes has served for five years on the city's Human Rights Commission. She is a graduate of the Citizens Police Academy and has served on the Police Department's Community Relations Committee and Oversight Committee.

Barnes served on the 1999 Infill Development Task Force and has appeared frequently before the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) and the Board of Adjustment representing the interests of Kendall-Whittier and other midtown neighborhoods.

Robert C. Bartlett won the Republican nomination without actively campaigning. (He is not related to Dewey Bartlett, the late U. S. Senator.) According to his campaign material, he was a zoning administrator and assistant to the director for the TMAPC, and was "twice selected by Tulsa mayors" as a city representative on the commission. In 1970, he was president of the Tulsa Real Estate Board. He retired last year after 45 years as a property manager and real estate appraiser.

Bartlett writes, "If elected, my primary mission will be to work for the preservation and protection of private property rights. I hope to offer constructive dialog and encourage judicious decisions in neighborhood and community planning, zoning, urban renewal, and eminent domain."

Neither candidate submitted a response to the UTW questionnaire.

District 5: Jon Kirby, Democrat, 26, 6703 E. 26th Pl., http://www.kirbyfortulsa.com, 836-3834; William E. "Bill" Martinson, Jr., Republican, incumbent, 50, 743-6848.

District 5 is a swing district which has consistently produced close results. The incumbent, Bill Martinson, was elected in May 2005 with only 29% of the vote in an all-party special election.

Martinson was an avid supporter of having the City of Tulsa pay $7.5 million to the Bank of Oklahoma, money that was owed not by the city, but by the Tulsa Industrial Authority as part of the complicated financing deal for Great Plains Airlines.

Last Thursday, Martinson was the lone vote against a tax-increment finance (TIF) district to pay for infrastructure for the Tulsa Hills retail development at 71st St. and U.S. 75. In his passionate opposition speech, he made frequent reference to better ways to spend the taxpayers' dollars, seemingly unaware that, in a TIF, the dollars involved would only be generated if the project went forward.

Martinson was also the lone vote against sending the zoning protest charter amendment to the voters. The amendment passed on March 7 with 63% of the vote.

Jon Kirby is a customer service representative with AT&T (SBC) and is active in the Communication Workers of America local. He has been active in the Northeastern Oklahoma Labor Council and has endorsements from several union locals. In the primary, Kirby defeated neighborhood leader Al Nichols by a wide margin.

Kirby has lived in Tulsa for seven years. He says that he fell in love with the city when he was 16 while visiting family and determined to settle here. His campaign website emphasizes earmarking sales tax dollars for public safety and spending more of the third penny on river development.

Neither candidate submitted a response to the UTW questionnaire.

District 6: Dennis K. Troyer, Democrat, 65, 12811 E. 13th Pl., http://www.dktroyercc.com, 438-2569; James Savino "Jim" Mautino Sr., Republican, incumbent, 73, http://www.jimmautino.com, 437-2642.

Two years ago, neighborhood activist Jim Mautino beat a well-financed incumbent, Art Justis, to become the first Republican to represent this majority Republican district. He also became the first real representative District 6 has ever had.

Rather than serving, as his predecessors did, as the Mayor's lapdog in exchange for table scraps for the district, Mautino worked assertively for infrastructure improvements to keep businesses in District 6 and to encourage quality new residential, commercial, and industrial development in east Tulsa.

As councilor, Mautino has held numerous town hall meetings, using the presentation skills he developed as a trainer for American Airlines to give residents a picture of the state of the district. (Another town hall is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 22, at Martin East Regional Library.)

If re-elected, Mautino is in line to be the next Council chairman, as the most senior Republican yet to hold that position.

Mautino's opponent, Dennis Troyer, is also an American Airlines retiree. Troyer has the support of a number of labor unions, and his website focuses on his years as a union activist. (Mautino was also an active union member during his years at American, and he broke ranks with Republicans, voting to allow more city workers to unionize.) Troyer has been endorsed by Justis.

Mautino responded to the UTW questionnaire, and his responses are available online. Mautino voted in support of all six charter amendments. Troyer did not submit a response.

District 9: Phil Kates, Democrat, 57, http://www.philkates.com, 749-3356; Cason Carter, Republican, 29, http://www.casoncarter.com, 595-4800.

Attorney Cason Carter defeated Jeff Stava in a primary race that was financed at record levels on both sides. He faces Democrat Phil Kates in a district that has never elected a Democrat.

Kates was a Republican until 2004, when he changed his registration, saying that the Republican Party had moved too far to the right on the issue of separation of church and state.

Both candidates submitted a response to the UTW questionnaire. Kates' response is quite lengthy and nearly impossible to summarize, but it will be posted alongside Carter's response at www.urbantulsa.com. Carter did not respond to the additional question about the six charter amendments. Kates supports only propositions 4 and 6 (election date changes and requiring the mayor to fill board vacancies in a timely manner).

Both Kates and Carter expressed opposition to neighborhood conservation districts and making design guidelines such as those called for in the Brookside Infill Plan a part of the zoning code. Kates' response indicated a lack of familiarity with the plan, incorporated into the city's Comprehensive Plan in 2002, as he called for "a new concentrated plan that the homeowners and planners can come up with."

An edited version of this piece was published in the March 8, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web July 1, 2010.

The case for Instant Runoff Voting
By Michael D. Bates

The polls haven't even opened as I write this, but by the time you read this, the votes will have been counted.

Let me make this one prediction: Whoever wins the Republican nomination for Mayor will win with less than a 50% of the vote. Whoever the winner will be wasn't the top choice of a majority of Republican voters.

As I write this, I don't know if my favorite candidate won or lost, so this isn't sour grapes. I believe in majority rule, and there's something wrong about a candidate winning when most of the voters preferred someone else. Instead of the office going to the candidate who could put together a majority coalition of voters, it goes to the candidate with the most motivated, cohesive minority bloc of voters.

For state offices, Oklahoma deals with this problem by holding a primary runoff election if the primary doesn't produce a candidate with at least 50% of the vote. Tulsa's city charter doesn't provide for a runoff, and in special elections, Tulsa doesn't even have party primaries.

When a primary has three or more viable candidates, and there is no runoff, the voter is faced with a difficult choice. He may have a favorite candidate, other candidates that might be marginally acceptable, and a candidate he doesn't want to win. Does his favorite have a chance to win? If not, it might be more strategic to vote for a marginally acceptable candidate with a chance of winning in order to defeat the utterly unacceptable candidate.

At that point, the problem is knowing who really has a chance to win. You could look to polls, but if the numbers between second and third place are close, that doesn't help your decision. You could try to measure candidate viability by the number of dollars raised and spent.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a system of voting that allowed you to vote your conscience, a system that didn't require you to guess how your neighbors are likely to vote?

Hold that thought.

Adding a runoff for city elections would be a good start. A single runoff works well when you have two candidates neck-and-neck in the 40% range, and a group of other candidates splitting the rest of the vote. The primary reveals who the two most popular candidates are; the runoff settles the question, for whom would you vote if these were the only candidates in the race.

But a single runoff breaks down when you have three or more candidates who are clustered around 30%, with other candidates splitting the remainder.

The legendary example of this situation was the 1991 Governor's race in Louisiana. Incumbent governor Buddy Roemer, a moderate and respectable political figure, finished a very close third, giving voters a runoff choice between "The Crook" (Edwin Edwards) and "The Klansman" (David Duke). The also-ran candidates had enough votes between them that, had they not been in the race, would have been enough to put Roemer in first or second place and into the runoff.

There are plenty of Oklahoma examples of close three-or-more-way primaries where the single runoff system broke down. In 1990 both parties had gubernatorial primaries with three closely bunched candidates and a lot of also-rans. Burns Hargis might well have placed second in the GOP primary had it been a three man race. For the Democrats, Steve Lewis easily could have finished ahead of David Walters and Wes Watkins, if a couple of minor candidates had not been in the race.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a system of voting where there is no such thing as a spoiler candidate or splitting the vote? Where the winner would have won even in a one-on-one race with each other candidate?

Of course it would.

In the ideal system, you'd have a series of runoffs, and in each round, you'd eliminate the lowest vote-getter and vote on the rest, until someone gets 50% of the vote in a round.

Some civic organizations handle their elections in this way, but that's because they can count their votes in a matter of minutes and hold another round of voting right away. It would be burdensome enough to add a runoff election date to the city election calendar, much less multiple runoffs.

There is a way to get the effect of multiple runoff rounds without having the expense of multiple elections. Historically it's been called the "alternative vote," but recently it's been given the more descriptive name of "instant runoff voting" (IRV).

I first encountered this voting technique in my college fraternity. When voting in an election with multiple candidates, you'd write the candidates' names on the ballot in order of preference. As a voter, you'd ask yourself, if my favorite candidate weren't in the race, for whom would I vote? And if my two favorites were out, who would be my choice? And so on through the list of candidates.

The vote counters would take all the ballots to the table in the chapter room, and for each candidate there'd be a stack of the ballots that had his name marked as first choice. If no candidate had a majority, they would take the smallest stack of ballots - eliminating the candidate with the fewest first choice votes - and sort them into the other stacks based on the second choice listed. The process would repeat until one candidate had a majority of the ballots in his stack.

Xi Chapter of Zeta Beta Tau, I later learned, isn't the only place that instant runoff voting is used. Ireland uses IRV to elect its president. Australia uses it to elect its House of Representatives. London uses it to elect a mayor.

In 2002, the Utah Republican Convention used IRV to pick the top two candidates to compete in their congressional primary election in two districts and to pick a nominee for the third district.

Right here in Tulsa, the 1st District Republican Convention used instant runoff voting to choose delegates and alternates to the 2000 and 2004 Republican National Conventions.

San Francisco has adopted IRV. San Diego is looking at it - their last mayor was elected with only 35% of the vote.

Although our fraternity hand-counted our IRV ballots, modern voting machine technology makes it possible to scan preferential ballots optically and then conduct the sorting, elimination, and resorting by computer.

Some sort of runoff will become even more important if Tulsa ever switches to non-partisan elections. As it is now, primaries present general election voters with two candidates with a credible chance to win, and most officials are elected with over 50% of the vote.

We don't have to guess about the dynamics of a non-partisan winner-take-all election, because our city special elections are structured that way.

Last May's District 5 special election had seven candidates, four of whom had a significant base of support. The winner, Bill Martinson, only managed 29% of the vote, just 11 votes ahead of second-place finisher Andy Phillips. Based on the results, you could make the case that Martinson would not have won head-to-head races against any of the other major candidates; the split vote gave him the election.

Without a runoff, non-partisan city elections would give us a set of elected officials who lack the mandate of the majority.

Adopting IRV would require some changes to the City Charter, but since we're already taking another look at the charter and at the role of partisanship in city elections, let's not overlook the voting system we use.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the UTW Column Archive category from March 2006.

UTW Column Archive: November 2005 is the previous archive.

UTW Column Archive: April 2006 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

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