Surprisingly, the bill passed, 49-31, and obtained only one Republican vote in the chamber. There is no objective reason why this should be a partisan issue, and in fact, in New York’s state legislature it was a Republican who introduced the bill. Similarly, in Illinois and Colorado and other states, many Republicans support the concept of the National Popular Vote.
Over at the Fair Vote blog (see grafted link at the bottom of the post), there is an absolutely hysterical quote from a California Republican, John Doolittle, about how “the left is nothing if not creative” and is using this as a ploy to turn elections into “into populist referendums [that] will benefit their candidates.”
Well, that is refreshing, in one sense. It apparently is admission that Democrats are likely to be more popular than Republicans and so Republicans can win only with an electoral college that distorts the electorate’s choice and occasionally overrides the popular vote. Now, that’s an interesting argument given that his party’s candidate in fact won a majority of the popular vote in 2004, yet nearly lost the electoral college. The Kerry campaign put almost all its effort into a few states, while the Bush campaign was much more national in scope. Kerry almost swung Ohio, and if he had, Bush’s popular majority would have been irrelevant.
Moreover, the 2000 result also could have gone the other way, and, at the time, Republicans acted as though they thought such an event was likely. How else to explain the sudden ad purchase in California–a state that Bush had no chance to win–late in the campaign, if it was not an attempt to lift the popular vote nationaly? When the election was clearly going to the wire, and Ralph Nader was potentially cutting into Al Gore’s popular vote, but Gore was expected to run the table on most of the swing states (including Florida), media reports started to appear that this could be the year that the popular vote and electoral vote go separate ways. But the most likely outcome was a Gore electoral vote win and a Bush popular vote win–which presumably Bush would have used to political advantage in any post-election contest. Instead, Gore legitimately won both, but the Supreme Court intervened, and some Republicans like Doolittle have developed a folklore that their party can win only by keeping the electoral college as we know it.
The question of electoral vs. popular vote is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. It is simply false to assume that the electoral college benefits small states and Republicans, as though those were one and the same. Republicans do slightly better in smaller states, which are over-represented in the electoral college, but Delaware and Hawaii are small states that are safe for Democrats. And, precisely because Democrats are indeed marginally stronger than Republicans in larger (more urban) states, and because the electoral college is currently chosen on a statewide winner-take-all basis in all the large states (and all but two of the entire 50), if one party benefits from the status quo institutional arrangement over the long haul, it is the Democrats. More likely, there is no systematic partisan bias to the current procedures, as the impact depends on the extent to which the partisan and state maps interact with one another in a given election. What we do have is a perpetual risk of having small numbers of votes in critical swing states, instead of national preference swings, determine the national executive.
The effective confinement of the campaign to a few swing states is what 2000 and 2004 have in common, and neither election would have resulted in post-election controversy had it been decided based on the national vote.
The recent discovery in Israel of carbonized figs without seeds suggests that plant domestication began about 12,500 years ago, or about 1,000 years than previously believed.
I recently planted a Black Mission fig to go along with several other varieties currently at the finca, and I have started a few fig trees in the past from cuttings. It is rather mind-blowing to think others have been doing that for 125 centuries.
The previous oldest evidence of plant domestication was not fruit, but rather lentils and chickpeas found in southern Turkey.
The former head of the Kansas Republican party has bolted and is now a Democrat. He might run as Lt. Gov. candidate when Gov. Kathleen Sebelius seeks reelection. Her current Lt. Gov. is also a former Republican, and another XGOP politico is running for Attorney General this fall.
The Conservative government of Canada has introduced bills to establish fixed election dates for the House of Commons and reduce terms of new Senators to eight years (currently they serve to age 75).
The issue of the Senate (though not the term length, per se) has already been the topic of a lively thread here at F&V. As for fixed dates for the lower house, I weighed at the already-lively thread over at We Move to Canada.
What I do not understand is why Harper is willing to set the next election for October, 2009, when under current rules he would be able to call an election any time if he anticipates that he could get a parliamentary majority. (And, I thought he was behaving as if that was precisely what he intended to do.) An election could still come earlier–even if this bill becomes law–but only if Harper were to lose a confidence vote. And that would happen only if the parties supporting said vote expected that they, and not the Tories, would benefit from an earlier election.
Also interesting is that while these bills concern “constitutional” matters, they are in fact mere statutes. That is, they do not require provincial consent, and could be changed by a future majority.
There is a bill under submission, for which comments are being invited, to reduce the size of the House of Representatives–in New Zealand, that is.
Currently there are 120 members. The proposal would cut it to 100. I will copy here the core of a comment I left at David Farrar‘s blog:
By the cube-root rule (reasonably well established in comparative electoral and legislative studies), New Zealand should have a parliament of about 159 MPs. Anywhere from 126 to 201 would be within the usual empirically observed variation for a country the size of New Zealand. So, yes, the current size is already on the small side, and 100 would be ridiculously small.
Note that I would suggest NZ increase to at least 150 or, at worst, stay at 120, independent of the electoral system. But with MMP, a small parliament means either very large districts or compromising too much on proportionality. MMP perhaps demands an optimally or even over- sized parliament even more than do “pure” FPTP or PR systems.
The argument that a cabinet would dominate such a small parliament is also a serious one (though less so under any kind of PR/coalitional system than with FPTP and single-party cabinets).
The link above places the US House size in comparative perspective, including a graph showing the cube-root relationship.
Throughout the world of democratic presidential and semi-presidential systems, the party of an incumbent president almost always loses votes and seats in a midterm legislative election. For example, that was always the case in the USA from 1934 (when FDR’s Democrats gained at his first midterm in the midst of the Depression and “realignment” to a Democratic majority) until 1998 (when Clinton’s Democrats gained slightly as Republicans were demoralized by the unpopularity of their bid to impeach the president for lying about his sex life and late revelations of a sex scandal in their own leadership). In 2002, for a second consecutive midterm, the president’s party gained votes and seats (in a very low turnout election when Bush’s popularity spike from having been president when the country was attacked by terrorists had yet to wear off).
2006 has already seen a case of dramatic midterm gains by the party of the incumbent president–in the Dominican Republic.
Actually, most “pure” presidential systems have only concurrent elections, so the phenomenon of midterm loss (or gain) is unknown. The Dominican Republic was one of these systems of no-midterms from 1962 through 1994 (interrupted by coups and a US invasion between 1963 and 1966). Then, after a highly contested and possibly fraudulent reelection (yet again) of the old cuadillo Joaquin Balaguer in 1994, the parties agreed to hold a new presidential election after only two years (with consecutive reelection banned), for a full four-year term, but to let the congress elected in 1994 serve out its full four-year term. This constitutional reform resulted in the world’s first all-midterm electoral cycle.
While several presidential (or semi-presidential) systems have terms for president and assembly of different lengths, the DR since 1996 is the only case ever that I know of in which terms are fixed and of the same length, but each branch is elected at the halfway point of the other’s term. So, how has it worked out? (more…)
A pretty good AP story on this theme just came off the wire, although I would say the things they list as a sequence of three (implicitly saying all are necessary) really look to me as “or” in that any one of them should suffice:
First step: Voters must focus on the national landscape on Nov. 7 rather than local issues and personalities that usually dominate midterm elections…
Second step: Voters must be so angry at Washington and politics in general that an anti-incumbent, throw-the-bums-out mentality sweeps the nation…
Third step: Americans must view the elections as a referendum on President Bush and the GOP-led Congress…
In the current context, any one of these should be enough; in fact, any one of them ought to indicate the presence of the other, meaning they are not “steps.” How could you have a national election that was not a referendum on the ruling party, and how could that not be anti-incumbent when that ruling party is as discredited as it is right now?
In the post before this one (and in a comment in response to Greg’s comment) on Uribe and “conservatism” and the “left” in Colombia, I noted the tendency of the media to get mixed up in trying to label Latin American (or other) political phenomena. Now comes this gem from Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph, who suggests that Peru is about to make a decisive turn to the “left” in its presidential runoff, after which we are treated to these unbelievably ridiculous paragraphs:
The Peruvian election will complete the almost clean sweep of South America by anti-yanqui populists: Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina and Chile are all in the hands of the militant Left.
Even Uruguay, the squarest and most bourgeois state in the region, has joined the rebels: after 170 years in which the Blanco and Colorado parties alternated in office, it elected its first socialist government last year. Only Colombia stands as an untoppled domino.
Oh my! A clean red sweep! The dominos are toppling!
Where to start? The above quoted passages are among the funniest things I have read in a while. Well, they would be funny if they were not meant to be taken seriously by uninformed readers. First of all, while he did say South America, the ultimate Latin American domino would presumably be Mexico, and let’s not rule out Mexico’s voting to keep the moderately right-wing PAN in power, though if LÃ³pez Obrador wins, our Telegraph correspondent may not be able to contain himself. (If Hannan had to address Mexico, he’d also have to address Nicaragua and the possible electoral comeback by the Sandinistas; I am pretty sure he could not have handled that!)
But Chile in the hands of the militant left? When? Not even Allende was militant in any meaningful sense (though he was an avowed revolutionary socialist, he believed socialism could only be built through legality). But Bachelet and the ConcertaciÃ³n coalition with the Christian Democrats are the militant left?
And Urugay’s Broad Front is just that–broad. Somewhat like in Chile, it encompasses the left (including a small component that is made up of ex militants from the Tupamaros, a former rebel movement), but also moderate liberal and Christian democrats. Its leader, Velazquez, has been, like Chile’s recent Socialist presidents, the very pitcture of cautious economic management and free-trade promotion.
Argentina is in the hands of the moderately “populist” wing of its old and classically populist party, the Peronists. More than anything else, this party is a collection of rent-seeking governors’ machines. It is far from a paragon of good governance, but militant revolutionary Kirchner and his party are not. (Hannan did not even mention the giant of the continent, Brazil, now into its fourth year in the vise-grip of that fire-breathing radical Lula.)
ChÃ¡vez and maybe Morales, I can buy as “militant left,” though Hannan was much closer to reality when he labelled them “anti-yanqui populists.” And herein lies the common mix-up: conflating leftist institution-builders like Bachelet and Velazquez (or Lula) with militant institution-destroyers like ChÃ¡vez. (The jury is still out on this score on Morales, and, obviously, LÃ³pez Obrador, but I don’t see either of them–especially the latter–as anywhere near the ChÃ¡vista pole of militant left populism.)
Kirchner, in Argentina, has done much to rebuild institutions largely shattered by that pro-American, pro-business, free-trading Carlos Menem in the 1990s, while Peru has yet to recover from Menem’s crusading anti-communist, anti-terrorist comrade, Alberto Fujimori.
As for Peru, to call Alan GarcÃa leftist misses an important point: His APRA party was founded in opposition to the old left as well as the military and the traditional parties. In Peru’s party system of the 1980s and early 1990s, APRA competed against the right and the legal electoral left (as well as the genuinely militant and terroristic Maoist guerrillas). (GarcÃa was president from 1985 to 1990.) APRA is something of a classic Latin American populist phenomenon, but it never incorporated or co-opted the left to the same degree as other classic populists in Argentina, Mexico, and (pre-military rule) Brazil.
As for Garcia’s opponent in the presidential runoff, Humala, Hannan describes him well:
a cashiered ex-officer who sees [former military populist dictator] Velasco as his role-model. Humala combines socialist economics with aggressive nationalism and a millenarian appeal to the indigenous peoples.
Let’s label things as what they are. That’s not leftist. That’s fascist.
Writing the headline, “Uribe wins second term” would simply be too boring. That was never in doubt, and, as I expected, he outperformed slightly his recent polling estimates by getting 62% of the vote.
However, the big news is that Carlos Gaviria, of the newly formed alliance of the Colombian left, the Polo DemocrÃ¡tico Alternativo, easily set an all-time high for the left in a presidential election in Colombia. Gaviria came in a distant second, with 22%, but this total is nearly double the previous high: 12.5% by Antonio Navarro Wolff of the M-19 in 1990 shortly after it demobilized its guerrilla forces; Navarro Wolff remains part of the PDA and lost the nomination to Gaviria in an open primary in March. Gaviria’s share comes close to the left’s all-time high of 26% achieved by the M-19 in the election for the assembly that wrote Colombia’s new constitution in 1991. Perhaps even more remarkably, it more than doubles the 10% obtained by the PDA itself in the Senate election (and 8.2% for the House) in March.
The Liberal party’s old-time candidate, Horacio Serpa, fell to an embarrassing third place, with not even 12%–the first time in the long history of Colombian elections that a Liberal did not finish first or second. (The other party of the traditional bipartism, the Conservative, endorsed Uribe, both in 2002 and in this election.) Despite its poor showing, the Liberal party is in no way dead.
While Uribe’s near-tripling of the votes of his closest challenger would seem to bode ill for the opposition, the March elections resulted in a congress that contains at least five distinct parties officially affiliated with Uribe, rather than a single Uribista vehicle. While some of these parties may merge, and others may be able to retain separate yet aligned identity, it is likely that at least some of them will be looking for ways to differentiate themselves and participate in new alliances before the end of Uribe’s term. Besides, not all of them are right wing or small-c ‘conservative,’* despite the ease with which such labels are being tossed around in coverage of this election (and emphasizing the “angle” of Colombia’s standing against an alleged leftist tide elsewhere in the region).
The complex realignment of parties underway in Colombia underscores the extent to which Uribe is in no way a “populist,” as he was described in a recent Christian Science Monitor story. While it is easy to compare him to Peru’s Alberto Fujimori and Argentina’s Carlos Menem as presidents who sought and won second consecutive terms despite having been elected under constitutions that banned immediate reelection, the situations have little in common. Colombia during Uribe’s first term alraedy had far stronger democratic institutions and traditions (the insurgency and drug violence notwithstanding) than Peru had in the early 1990s (or now) and arguably also more so than Argentina in the mid nineties.** In fact, Uribe’s ability to obtain a constitutional amendment allowing him a second consecutive term has far more in common with the case of Brazil under former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso than it has with Fujimori or Menem.
The Monitor article also quoted a scholar of Colombian politics claiming that Uribe had not established “an effective political party that would allow the country to continue to function democratically after he leaves office.” This formulation assumes that democracy can only be institutionalized from the top, by presidents building parties. In fact the democratic legacies of such ‘presidentialist’-'populist’ parties are far from reassuring. The more promising path, in presidential systems, is instead for parties to build themselves in support of or opposition to the president. In that sense, Colombian democracy has advanced under Uribe, as an existing and, in 2002, seriously de-institutionalizing party system has realigned–including the emergence of a stronger democratic left, which could be a potential alliance partner of the Liberals in the future. It is even possible that Colombia could join Brazil in seeing a reelected center-right president followed by a center-left one.
* Americans or Brits would not really recognize even the big-c Conservative party of Colombia as typically conservative in many respects.
** Fujimori staged a coup to overthrow the old constitution and close the legislature and supreme court. Menem threatened an unconstitutional referendum until the opposition agreed to call a constituent assembly to allow for reelection (though in some other respects that new constitution sought to restrain executive power). In Colombia, on the other hand, a constitutional amendment to allow Uribe’s second term was passed through the regular procedures and upheld by the Constitutional Court. Uribe had even lost a previous referendum on political reform, and the new congressional electoral law that has done as much as Uribe’s emergence to push the realignment of the party system was passed by congress against Uribe’s stated wishes.
In a recent comment to the earlier thread on Canada’s dysfunctional electoral system, Wilf Day notes that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised that reforms to the Senate will be in place before the next general election. Included in Harper’s plans is a move to an elected Senate.
In many comparative politics texts, Canada is listed among the countries with a weak upper house, but as Wilf notes, technically the Senate is almost as powerful as the lower house. The Senate has not frequently challenged the authority of the lower house and the government that emenates from it, in part because it is an unelected body. I would add that simply being appointed is not enough to render an upper house weak, as the British House of Lords is actually far more influential than is often assumed in many of those same standard comparative politics texts. However, the Lords have a special function in that many have been appointed for their special expertise in various policies, which gives them a basis for assertion of authority that Canada’s essentially patronage appointments do not afford.* (The hereditary members have been sharply reduced in their voting priveleges in recent years.)
Then there is the partisan factor. Canada’s lower house, and hence its executive, has been controlled by the Liberal party for about three quarters of the past forty-plus years. Hence most Canadian senators have been both appointed by Liberal prime ministers and faced co-partisan governments through most of their tenure. And, I do recall that the Conservative governments of the 1980s indeed had some difficulties getting budgets and other bills through an upper house dominated by the other party.** In the U.K., on the other hand, alternation of the lower house and government has been more regular, though that has not prevented a built-in conservative bias to the House of Lords (stemming from the till-recently dominant life peers). Many of the British upper-house members, however, sit on the “cross benches,” and the body may simply be less partisan than the Canadian Senate. (There may be comparative studies of the two upper chambers, but I am not aware of them if there are.) And, of course, one bill that the British upper house clearly can not veto or delay is the budget, which must pass only the Commons.
If Canada moves to an elected upper house, it will become more like Australia, which also has a powerful upper house. In addition to strong powers, the Australian senate is fully “federalist” in the American sense, in that it has an equal number of members per state, regardless of population. In this sense, the two houses of Australia’s parliament are highly incongruent in their composition. The incongruence is made even greater by the different electoral systems: Both are single transferable vote, but in single-seat districts in the lower house (i.e. the “alternative vote,” “instant runoff,” or “majority preferential” system, as you will), while the upper house is multi-seat STV and hence a proportional system. The PR-STV system for the upper house in Australia exacerbates the incongruence by making it more likely that the lower house majority (and hence the government) will lack a majority in the senate; on the other hand, the use of PR reduces the potential partisan bias of the chamber’s malapportionment in that it effectively ensures that the chamber’s majority will be represented across the states, and not concentrated in some over-represented states where one party is stronger than in the nation as a whole. (Contrast, for example, the Republican bias of the US Senate: that party has had occasional seat majorities over the past quarter century without ever having that majority rest on even a plurality of the vote.)
Strong bicameral parliamentarism is actually rather rare. That is, most parliamentary systems are either: (1) unicameral or, if bicameral, have an upper house that is either (2) easily overridden by the lower house, or (3) highly congruent due to similar districting arrangements and electoral systems. Presidential systems, on the other hand, are far more likely to have incongruent and co-equal upper houses.
As far as I know, the only parliamentary system in which the government can be ousted by a no-confidence vote in either chamber, acting alone, is Italy. But in Italy, through all three major electoral systems of the postwar era (open list PR, mixed-member majoritarian, and the new majoritarian-bloc, closed list system), the upper house has always been highly congruent to the lower house, thanks to nearly identical electoral rules.*** However, while Italy may be the only parliamentary system with a formal bicameral-confidence requirement, in the parliamentary (especially British parliamentary) tradition, a cabinet must resign if it can’t obtain “supply,” meaning that the upper house can effectively force a government to step if it has budget power.
So, how common is it for governments in parliamentary systems to need the upper house for supply? The only cases I know of are Australia and Canada. Some other parliamentary federations–Austria and Belgium, for example–have very weak (as well as quite congruent) upper houses. And while Germany has an upper house with real powers (unelected, but arguably even more powerful as a federal chamber than it would be if it were elected, given that its members are direct delegates who must vote as a bloc on behalf of their state cabinet), the budget must clear only the lower house.
Upper houses in parliamentary systems usually can’t be dissolved before the expiry of their terms, as typically the lower houses can be. Australia and Italy are exceptions, and unsurprisingly so: If the upper house can either oust the government (as in Italy) or block its budget (as in Australia as well as Italy), it makes good constitutional sense for the dependence to be mutual, so that a deadlock can be referred back to the people in the form of a “double dissolution.”
Thus, while Wilf asks about the uniqueness of Australia’s incongruent and nearly co-equal but incongruent chambers with the double dissolution possibility, I would say that it is Canada that is the unique one: A parliamentary systems with a (formally) co-equal upper house that is not subject to dissolution. The inability to dissolve the senate has not been a serious problem because the appointment of senators by cabinets, mostly of one party for the past forty years, has tempered the incongruence of the chambers. But if the Canadian senate were elected, it would become at once more inconrguent and more assertive. Then Canada would become a very odd case of a federal parliamentary system with the very real possibility of genuine deadlock.
Will Harper’s reforms include the introduction of a provision for double dissolution? It seems unlikely, because he also recently announced an intention to institute fixed general election dates, thereby eliminating the possibility of early dissolution of the lower house. (Surprising, I might add, as he became prime minister on account of an early dissolution, and he seems to be itching for an early election on his own terms in search of a majority; presumably he wants the fixed dates to kick in after he wins a larger “mandate” from that dysfunctional electoral system!)
* Recent allegations in the U.K. of the selling of peerages to campaign contributors are all the more scandalous given that the rather limited “legitimacy” of the upper house depends on its being a chamber of chosen “experts” and the “wise old men” (and some women) of the hereditary peerage.
** The 1984-93 period in Canada marks the only time since 1962 that the Conservatives have had a majority in the lower house. In other instances, like Harper’s government, Conservatives have been a mere plurality. Because a minority government is generally less likely to clear any controversial partisan legislation through the lower house, it is less likely to have bills rejected in an upper house dominated by the other party: Bills that reach the senate will have been watered down already.
*** In fact, in 1992, Italy’s reform away from PR was instigated by a popular initiative that struck a few key words from the senate electoral law. (That is all an initiative in Italy can do: overturn or strike provisions from an existing law). The old Italian senate electoral system had single-seat districts in addition to PR, but only a candidate obtaining 65% of the votes could win a district seat. If a district had no such candidate (and hardly ever did any), then the seat would simply be added to the regional PR district. By striking the cluase referring to the 65% requirement, the senate electoral system was efectively transformed into a parallel MMM system because the single-seat districts now would be won by a plurality. This threw the chambers into a potential future of unmanageable incongruence (given that the cabinet must maintain the confidence of both houses), and forced the parties to work on a new and more majoritarian electoral system for both houses–just as the promoters of the initiative intended!
My mother loved lilacs. But our climate is too mild for most standard varieties to bloom here. In the last decade or so, however, some low-chill varieties have become available. I bought the one pictured here for my mother a few years before her death. Fortunately, it bloomed in time for her to enjoy it. Afterwards, I dug it up and took it to our home in Carlsbad, and then again to take it here to the finca. It is a well traveled lilac. This year, for the first time at the finca, it has bloomed–just in time for her birthday, which would have been this past Wednesday.
There is certainly nothing new about scurrilous campaign mailings, but the one that we received yesterday from a candidate for the Republican nomination for state assembly* was among the worst I have seen recently.
The mailing asks, “Mexifornia… or California?” It shows an outline of the state of California superimposed with the colors and emblem of the Mexican flag. In turn, the entire thing is superimposed with the image of a family on the run, which anyone who has driven I-5 in the last decade or so has seen as a highway warning sign. Even the word, “caution” is included in the mailer’s image. Of course, the actual signs are meant to caution the driver that there could be pedestrians on the freeway, but the idea of “caution” in the mailing is rather, and not so subtly, different.
I will place a photo of the mailing on the “inside page.” (more…)
The first (and, almost certainly, only) round of the Colombian presidential election is Sunday. It is a historic election in that it marks the first time that a stitting Colombian president has been eligible to seek a second term. It is likely to be historic in one or perhaps two other respects, as well: The formerly dominant Liberal party is likely to come in third, and the candidate of the left could challenge or break Colombia’s all time record votes percentage for a leftist presidential candidate.
There are so few, but thanks to Correy’s recent comments here, I now know of Daleys Fruit Tree Blog, from Australia and with great photos of Jackfruit and other fruits. I will add the blog to the links on the right side when I get a chance.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4