Best Democracy Origins - Jesse Kumin
In the summer of 1972 I ran out of savings I had earned from 5 years of delivering newspapers and 2.5 years at my home town library, while attending high school. When I dropped out of the U. of Colorado, I lost my 2-S deferment. My draft number was 130. The likelihood of being drafted and shot in a war I thought was a colossal mistake, helped focus my mind, as it did for many young men in my generation. There were only two viable choices that year in the election for President. George McGovern wanted to end the war in Vietnam. Tricky Dick Nixon was a crook and an agent of war. Nixon's "Southern Strategy" was an overt appeal to racists. At that moment when I could first vote in 1972, I became a lifelong Democrat. My local draft board drafted up to 128 that year. I lucked out. A lot of people weren't so fortunate.
By 1981 I had earned a BFA and moved from Boulder to California, to develop my career. After Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, he embarked on a program of building 17,000 nuclear bombs. My sister was dying of cancer. It seemed a gross misallocation of funds and misplaced sense of priorities. Wouldn't it be better to fund cancer research instead of investing tremendous resources into means of mass murder and global destruction? Changing a system entrenched for centuries is extremely difficult. Any change must come from a well organized group of like minded people. I felt compelled to do something, plus they had fun singles activities. I joined the Sierra Club and volunteered with the San Francisco Bay chapter. That introduced me to volunteering.
In the mid to late 80's one of my clients was the Public Media Center (RIP) in San Francisco. Among the ad campaigns I helped on, the PMC worked to pass an assault weapons ban for Handgun Control, now the Brady Center, helped block the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court for Planned Parenthood, and helped abolish dolphin meat in canned tuna for Earth Island Institute. My photos for PMC ads appeared on CBS 60 Minutes, full page ads in the Washington Post and NY Times and were critiqued by Orrin Hatch on the floor of the US Senate. The PMC introduced me to issues based advertising.
I was busy with my studio photography career, being a Dad and a husband, trying to earn a living. When I returned to Boulder in 1999, with a wife and a 9 year old, I wanted to continue my studio career. I needed a place to shoot and paint. This time, I wanted to pay off a mortgage, not constantly be working just to pay rent and expenses, like I did with my studio in San Francisco. We purchased a little house on a big lot. It was rundown, one of the worst houses in the neighborhood, but it was on a relatively big lot, above the 500 year flood line, districted for good schools, near the city open space and it was what we could afford. When we attempted to build a conforming RL-2 zoning addition for a small studio and a second bathroom, on a conforming 1,200 s.f. house on a conforming 9,806 s.f. lot, a series of obstructions were thrown in our path by the Planning Department that became insurmountable, as intended. This introduced me to how the city of Boulder operates.
Our 1954 ranch house had been frozen in time. The footprint rights for an addition had been assigned to our neighbors, in a Planned Unit Development (PUD), in 1989. This transfer of rights had never been recorded. When we purchased our house in 1999, we weren't aware of the issue. Because the transfer of footprint rights was never recorded, it wasn't in our title papers. It was a secret transfer that had to be ferreted out, hidden in city files. I talked with all 11 neighbors in the PUD. Only one neighbor was aware of the transfer of footprint rights between houses. He had worked in the city attorney's office in 1989 at the time the PUD was created. The city of Boulder did this secret transfer between at least 3,000 lots all over the city, in PUD's developed prior to 1990. In 1990 they corrected their recording protocols. The mistakes city staff made prior to 1990 with PUD's are a known issue they won't address, with a ten foot pole. This introduced me to city staff and officials unaccountability.
The lack of a second toilet and studio focused my mind. One question led to another. How could the Planning staff be so arrogant and lie with impunity? I went up the food chain. Why were the appointed Planning Board members and elected city councilors so unaccountable? Why wouldn't they answer my letters? Why wouldn't elected officials and Planning staff address a known issue? Why did one group win nearly every seat on Council, every election? I started to learn about At Large elections. It looked like we lived in a democracy, but the elections were predetermined. I woke up in my 50's and realized I didn't live in a democracy, even on a local level. This introduced me to how outcomes can be predetermined through election system design.
Entrenched powers use their power to entrench themselves further. - Joseph Steglitz (paraphrase)
I started reading about the history of election manipulation to predetermine results. I traced predetermined elections back to the US Constitution, when the Founders instituted 94% voter suppression and made 18% of the population slaves, 39% in Virginia. In "Slave Nation" I learned about "Somerset v. Stewart", that the British freed all their slaves in 1772, 4 years before the Slavers' Revolt, precipitated by Somerset v. Stewart. At age 62 I discovered that 73% of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were slavers, that James Madison was a third generation slaver who owned about 120 slaves, that Washington inherited his first slaves when he was 11. The slavers who founded the United States were far more interested in their property rights of owning other people and keeping their labor costs low, to enrich themselves from slave labor, than the human rights of their slaves. The slavers, led by James Madison, embedded their value system into laws which are still with us today. It's expressed by the rights of oil and gas companies to drill fracking wells near our childrens' schools. The property rights of large predatory corporations to extract gas near homes and schools still supersede the human rights of people to clean air, land and water. Their property rights and greed are more important than our health and safety, the health of the planet. They control government at all levels in nearly every state. The persistence of slaver design is expressed by the Electoral College which skewed elections from Al Gore to W. and from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump, two of our last three Presidents. This introduced me to how the slaver value system of control of government through distorted election results, enabling disproportionate self enrichment, permeates current election law.
In conversations with friends, these topics came up. Wouldn't it be nice to live in a well run, truly representative, real democracy, with competitive fair elections, debates about issues, lots of good candidate choices, fair taxation, judicious use of tax dollars, wise, responsible, accountable elected officials, where known issues like climate change and zoning issues are acknowledged and addressed, with transparent and accountable government? The consensus was that our election systems are broken. We would all like to live with fair elections and truly representative government. Is it an impossible dream in the United States, that we should live in a real democracy? I started learning how the rest of the developed world has designed government and election systems using Proportional Representation, that Pro Rep is in 94 countries.
On August 20, 2015 Drew Spencer from FairVote gave a presentation by Skype, to a group of friends interested in election issues, in our garden in North Boulder, on the north portion of our big lot. Two weeks later I started Best Democracy on Facebook. I consider this our First Meeting of Best Democracy © 2015 Jesse Kumin.
When you live in a one party city or county, if you're not a member of that party, for the most part, you've been marginalized. You have no voice. 82% of Colorado counties are one party dominant counties. About six years ago I attempted to introduce the words "Proportional Representation" into the Boulder County Democratic Party (BCDP) Platform, by joining and attending Platform Committee meetings. I was met with polite deflection and rejection. No luck on that route. Common Cause, FairVote, the League of Women Voters, none of the major voter reform organizations were promoting Proportional Representation in Boulder, Boulder County or Colorado. FairVote promotes Pro Rep in Canada, but pushes a version of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) in Single Member Districts aka Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in the US. If I every wanted to live in a democracy in Boulder, someone needed to help introduce Pro Rep in Multi Member Districts to the community. This led to Best Democracy.
Without a viable venue to promote election reform and proportional representation, disgusted by PLAN - Boulder's abuse of concentrated power for 40 years (1975) in a row in Boulder, and complete one party rule in Boulder County for 21 years (1994) (details on the At Large page), I started Best Democracy as a Facebook group on Sept. 6, 2015, to explore election issues and remedies (page coming soon). The Best Democracy FB group currently has 82 members from Boulder, 71 from Denver, about 280 from Colorado, 350 members total from 23 states, D.C. and 12 countries.
This web site was first published on March 24, 2018. In the month of October we had 1,090 "Unique Visitors" and 2,185 page views.
This is my personal story. Each of us comes to the conclusion our election systems are broken through different routes. Only by taking responsibility for a problem, are we able to solve it, otherwise, it's someone else's problem. Kick the can down the road, or pick it up and recycle it into something new? It took 133 years for women to finally win the right to vote. It took 93 years to abolish slavery after the British abolished it in 1772. It took another 100 years to abolish Jim Crow. Our systems are designed to obstruct change. It will take quite a while to bring real democracy to the United States.
The first step is education. Please tell your friends and family about Best Democracy, Proportional Representation and Single Transferable Vote. Let them know there's a superb alternative election system called Proportional Representation in Multi Member Districts. Join the discussion on the Best Democracy FB page. Pro Rep solves a lot of problems with our elections, blows up gerrymandering and other forms of vote manipulation, and gives everyone a seat at the table. There are alternatives to legacy government and electoral systems, bequeathed to us by slavers.
Right now, this is pretty much just me. A few folks are helping moderate the FB pages. I need help. If you believe in informing people about Proportional Representation, contact me: jkumin @ iCloud . com.