Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Sen. David Goodman Says Hi

One of the most interesting aspects of keeping this blog is that, despite the almost unimaginable wealth of information now available on the web, it's actually not that easy to find basic political information about one's own district and elected officials.

By basic political information I mean such things as an accurate map of the Ohio 21st's boundaries. I found one by happenstance, but have since discovered that they're not that easy to come by. And even with that map, I discovered, it is not so easy to be sure, at the boundaries, which streets lie within the district and which are just outside. It seems a small matter, but it makes a difference if you're canvassing a neighborhood.

Like most things in life, this isn't an accident. It's not a conspiracy, either. Or if it is a conspiracy, it's a conspiracy between, on the one hand, politicians, activists, and lobbyists, who like to keep easy access to this information to people like them; and on the other hand, average citizens like myself, who for the most part could not possibly care less about the identity, much less the actions, of the public officials who supposedly represent us (and, I insist on believing, often actually try their best to do so).

It's a conspiracy, in short, of citizens who don't much act like citizens and politicians who have come to accept the ignorance and passivity of most of their constiuents as a fact of life.

Which is why, in low-profile races, so many campaign ads simply a) repeat the candidates' last names as many times as possible, in order to achieve name recognition; b) emphasize the fact that they are good family people who like children and pets, so you'll feel comfortable about them; and c) show their opponents in unflattering, shadowed black and white photos, preferably with ominous background music, so you'll feel uneasy about them.

It's not that our state legislators and local officials can do no better. It's that this is the best our limited attention spans permit them to do.

Still, sometimes that assumption of constituent passivity can get a little overdone. I will give you an example.

My state senator is David Goodman, a youthful-looking Republican. His 3rd Senate district includes most if not all of the Ohio 21st--it's hard to be certain, because I've not yet found a detailed map of his district--and then extends to incorporate the entire eastern third of Franklin County. From my sharply limited knowledge he seems pretty energetic and bright. He was a city councilman in Bexley, a small but affluent suburban community, from 1995 to 1998; then representative of the Ohio 25th district from 1998 until 2001. Since then he has been a state senator, though in November 2004 he ran unsuccessfully to unseat Mary Jo Kilroy as one of three Franklin County commissioners. (The normally pro-Republican Columbus Dispatch endorsed Kilroy over Goodman, praising her "steady and pragmatic voice" and noting that Goodman "failed to make a case for replacing her.")

A couple of weeks ago I emailed Sen. Goodman about good ole SB 24, Sen. Larry Mumper's bill to tame irresponsible tenured radicals like myself. Sen. Goodman must be deluged with mail on all sorts of subjects, but in due time he replied. I found his letter awaiting me last evening when I got home:

Dear Mr. Grimsley,

Thank you for contacting my office regarding your opposition to Senate Bill 24. I also agree that hearing different viewpoints is an important part of the higher education experience. Students at our state colleges and university should be free to hear different viewpoints and form their own beliefs.
It's wonderful that Sen. Goodman feels that way. So do I. So does Sen. Mumper. The question is whether we need a state law to enforce this happy state of affairs, and on that point Sen. Goodman is silent.

Gee, what a shock. This is a form letter--a form letter written so that it would placate proponents and opponents of the bill alike.

The form letter I don't mind. That's understandable. But am I alone in thinking that even a form letter should provide some inkling of the legislator's own opinion of the bill, whether it's "I'm for it," "I'm against it," or "I'm thinking it over"?

But of course, why should Sen. Goodman stick his neck out, even a little, for the likes of me? I've risked only the time it takes to compose an email. He risks an erosion of political capital and popularity that could, in time, mean the loss of his office. I have tenure. He doesn't.

No, there's absolutely no reason for Sen. Goodman to stick his neck out.

Unless citizens like me oblige him to stick his neck out.

Which is why I am now on record as saying that I will contribute $100 to Sen. Goodman's opponent next year (in any race for which he's a candidate: due to term limits, he cannot run for a third term as state senator). It's not that I dislike Sen. Goodman. But I dislike the system that we have all conspired to create. And the first step toward changing it is to change my own behavior.

But to be fair, Senator: I'll make you a deal. If you or your staff happen to stumble across this post, and you favor me with an honest statement of where you stand on SB 24 and why you stand there, the hundred bucks is yours.

This isn't about politics. It's about creating a better environment in which politics can operate. The pols, the lobbyists, the activists quite obviously won't create a better environment. They are used to this one. They understand it. It works for them.

No, it's up to ordinary people like me. We will never change our political culture until we change our pattern of behavior as citizens.

5 Comments:

Blogger Paul said...

Mark,

You touch on something that really frustrates me, which you already knew.

The fact that basic political information is kept "secret" from the public is a scandal. I put secret in quotes, because it isn't secret, but no one out there (yet!) makes such things public and easy to access.

If you check out this web page:

http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/elections/apportion/FinalReapp10_4_01.pdf

and go to the last page, you will see that Senate district 3 (mine, as well, but you knew that) is made up of House districts 19, 20 and 21.

That, of course, begs the question ... what makes up House Districts 19, 20 and 21!

Here is how House District 21 is described on page 7 of the PDF as follows:

*********************
HOUSE DISTRICT 21 119,975
FRANKLIN COUNTY (part)
Columbus (part)
Wards 74, 65, 72, 71, 53, 61, 54, 52, 42
Ward 66 (part)
Precincts 010-66-a, 010-66-b, 010-66-c, 010-66-e
Mifflin Township (part)
Only portions surrounded by Columbus Ward 42
Minerva Park
Perry Township (part)
Only precincts per 140-00-a, per 140-00-d, CD 12, per 140-00-d
CD15
Portion surrounded by Columbus precinct 010-74-g, 2 portions
surrounded by Worthington Precinct 182-01-c
Sharon Township (part)
All except Precinct Sharon a and portion surrounded by
Columbus Ward 59
Worthington
*********************

Well.

That in turn begs the question, where is Ward 65 (my precinct is 65C)?

Ummm ... I don't know, precisely. I do know that I can go to my polling place and see maps on the wall, but I don't think they would appreciate it if I took it down from the wall. And then there is the fact that Franklin County alone has 791 precincts in it.

A couple weeks ago, I traded emails with Dr. Ottolenghi, and he said he got his PDF of District 21 from the Franklin County BOE. They don't have it, or any other ones, online so I called them. The person to talk with wasn't there and I haven't gotten around to calling them back.

It is one of my many projects to get this information, but for now I'm "living" in Vinton county and their voting data.

In the last week, I've contacted 27 smaller county boards of election and they have been completely polite with my request. A couple are charging me a nominal fee, but most are not.

Yesterday, for the first time, did I get push back from one person. Ginger at the Putnam County BOE questioned what I would be doing with the data (I was vague in my answer) and whined about how much work was involved. Based on what I've gotten so far, it doesn't look like much work to me.

The point is that this is information in the public domain and we have as much right to it as anyone else. Knowledge is power and "they" don't want us to have that power.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Publius said...

Detailed precinct maps are available at the county board of elections and should be available at any county party headquarters. If you want nice, detailed maps with color, they will cost a little more, but they are available. It's not a "secret", you just actually have to go somewhere to get them. We've become spoiled by technology to the point where anything that doesn't immediately pop up on a Google search is somehow considered "hidden" from the public.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Jill said...

I went to law school with David Goodman and have, on occasion, emailed him over the years when I've had questions I needed answered for different reasons, more recently, for articles I write. Sometimes I've heard back, most times I think.

I also worked in on the hill in D.C. and the autopen is an amazing thing. It's shocking how much it was used - and I don't know if they still use it as much now as they did nearly 25 years ago, but I can't imagine that the use has gone down.

Your assessment is fair re: taking a stand versus not taking a stand and why an elected official does or doesn't. I agree - it's infuriating.

I guess I would only play devil's advocate in saying that those of us who follow politics also know that bills change wording, bills get amendments slapped onto them, carrots and sticks get employed and then what happens to that ironclad position previously stated that really needs to be compromised because of a poison pill?

I'm not defending Goodman - he's not my state senator and I simply don't know that much about his reputation in the Senate, though my sense is that he's somewhat milque toast which, for a Republican, in the eyes of a Democrat, is probably a good thing. I can say that he's a nice person - that I know.

But as applied to all politicians, from the voter's perspective, I think we have to pick and choose which issues we need them to state a position and which ones we let them wiggle on, especially if they sense that something else might be going on, if you know what I mean.

Given that you're in college academics, I can understand why tenure issues would be a high priority to you.

I hope you get some response and/or closure on it. And I think it's great that you're using this blog to be very clear about your view on the way politicians communicate, or fail to.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Mark G. said...

Thanks, Jill. Nice to hear from you.

Actually, I eventually got a second letter from Sen. Goodman, to the effect that someone had brought my post to his attention and that, in fact, he opposed Sen. Mumper's bill. As for the $100 business, he said quite reasonably that he wouldn't accept money for merely doing his job, and suggested that I donate the $100 to a charity of my choice. (I did -- to an organization called Hands to Honduras.)

I can see your point about giving politicians some wiggle room on issues, but on balance I don't agree. I think that constituents have a right to know their representatives' views on any issue that may come before them. If that makes life a little tougher for them, too bad.

Thank you again for writing. I hope you'll stop by again.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

Thanks for that follow up, Mark. I must say that what you report David saying is exactly what I would expect but being that I'm not so in touch with him, you never know. Glad to hear that in fact he seems to act, more or less, consistently with how I perceived ooo, well, a long time ago. :)

I understand where our opinion here divurges and I do agree with you. I guess I've witnessed lately where, for example, with the Net neutrality issue, there was some saying we're for it but then voting against it because of how the bill was changed by some tacked on amendment or deletion of language - I forget which. I guess there's just a practical side that I can't ignore, although for sure, on some issues, I don't bargain either.

I'll add you to my blogroll and that should keep it my mind. I also browse leftyblogs.com and that's where I Saw your blog in the first place. When I saw Goodman's name I thought, oh! I need to go check that out.

Best of luck.

10:04 PM  

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