Some time ago, I blogged about the cinquain and what I called the semicinquain. This little verse, from 2003, is written in yet another variation of the cinquain, which might be called the hypercinquain, or cinquain on steroids. The syllabic scheme is 2/2/4/6/8/2 as opposed to the cinquain, which is 2/4/6/8/2. Dilemma is explained here.
At All. To choose
A war or Sadaam. Why,
Iraqis must be grateful for
Is at the bar,
On trial before the World.
Outside, a lynch mob menaces
We must destroy
Iraq in order that
A new Iraq be built, or so
But for defense.
No blood without a cause.
Why can’t the cowboys hear us say:
If we have a representative democracy in this country, that means, or should mean, that elected officials are the representatives of the people – they take our place, and represent our interests and well-being.
One of the most pernicious ideas to gain currency in my lifetime is the notion that there is something inherently corrupting about being an elected official. Pete Schbarum’s Proposition 140 did immeasurable harm to this state, not only by making it more difficult for California to have a professional, experienced Legislature, but also by gratuitously enhancing the power of the Governor’s office. ( With a few exceptions, California’s Governors have not been noted for their vision and leadership.)
Instead of running down elected officials and making “politician” a term of obloquy, we should be treating our elected officials with the same respect we ourselves would wish to be treated. And we should expect them to be skilled professionals, and pay them accordingly. (Careful academic studies have shown that the most professional legislatures are the most responsive legislatures, contrary to right-wing myth.)
Governance is hard; it is not a job for amateurs, as Arnold Schwartznegger amply demonstrated.
The following poem was my reaction to the Kent State Shootings in 1970. It is yet another sonnet ( I seem to have written a lot of them). If I were writing the poem today, I would make the secret urge line more ambiguous, and I would make the link to Kent State more explicit. ( The shooters at Kent State were National Guardsmen, not police.) But on reflection, I think the little verse does a good job of focusing on the right issue.
A rock – no harmless little thing to throw.
My sister’s hit me once – I have a scar.
Today, an urged-by-anger youth I know
Threw his own rock, not very far.
Not far, but hard and straight, and at a man
In blue, a man who had his job to do.
His job – to put down riots if he can,
Despite his secret urge to kill a few.
And now, the youth lies bloody-red on stone,
And all the satisfaction he had known
When he threw the rock, must ebb away.
Perhaps the man in blue did well, you say.
I say, the picture says what must be said:
One man in blue, the other: glistening red.
[See my earlier post on polling here]
Candidates in down-ticket races have a problem – they need professional help to run their campaigns, but, unless they are independently wealthy, they usually can’t afford the price of a professional political consultant. For small cities (in my area of California, we have a number of incorporated cities with a population less than 4000), it is possible to talk and get to know each and every voter, but for larger municipalities, like my own city of Santa Rosa with an acknowledged population of around 175000 people, it is essentially impossible.
What are candidate for low-profile but important offices like the Santa Rosa City Council to do? I have spent a large amount of time over the last twenty-five years trying to help local candidates deal with this problem. And, as a result. I have a pretty good feel for the political landscape of this part of the world, But I am just one person, and the need is great (every two years). Some candidates, as you might expect, hire consultants from out of the area. Often this works fine – because the outside consultants have the sense to associate themselves with people who know the area. But there have been a number of races (I name no names) that have been badly screwed up because the consultants did a poll and failed to understand what the undecided electorate was like.
In an earlier post, I made the following statement: “Undecided voters are usually much more important to look at than those voters who have made up their minds,…but not always. It’s time to explain what I meant.
Undecided voters are usually important, because the assumption is ( and studies have shown this) that once a person has chosen a candidate to vote for, they don’t switch to another candidate very often – for any reason. Therefore, the theory is, if you can determine the demographics of the undecided voters, and if you have limited funds, your voter communications should focus on the undecideds.
But suppose you have good reason to believe that the undecided voters will not support your candidate. Imagine, for example, that your candidate is running in a large field for several at-large City Council seats. Further suppose that the majority of the undecided voters are Republican, that there are several Republicans running for Council, and that your candidate is a Democrat. ( Even in non-partisan races, party preference matters.) In these circumstances, your campaign should focus on turning out marginal democratic voters, rather on persuading the undecided. In either case, it is useful to know who the undecided voters are.
As I said in my first post on this subject, there are times when an underfunded local campaign is better off doing two or more simple polls rather than one large, more complicated and more expensive poll. Sometimes, this is because knowing how a particular message is doing with the electorate over time is extremely important; sometimes it’s just that polls can be used as fundraising tools.
In 2006, I ran a campaign for Supervisor in northern Sonoma County. The campaign had three major problems:
- We were running against an entrenched incumbent.
- My client was under treatment for a serious illness throughout the campaign.
- The campaign did not get underway until mid-January, less than six months before the June primary election which would be decisive, since there were only two candidates.
[Now a small digression: the margin of error on a sample size of 100 randomly-selected voters is roughly +or – 10%, My experience working with volunteer poll takers is that 100 completed calls within a window of 3 to 4 days is about the practical limit (and even then I usually had to supplement the volunteers with a few paid callers.) This is the kind of poll I am referring to when I talk about the 2006 campaign.]
When you have reports coming in from all parts of a district every day ( and we did), you develop a pretty good rough sense of how you are doing. With about six weeks remaining, we became pretty sure that we were rapidly closing the gap on the incumbent. The problem was, we were also rapidly running out of money, and if things didn’t improve, we might not be able to afford all the voter communication we had planned.
The solution: a 100 likely voters poll every week for four weeks, at a total cost of around a thousand dollars. We didn’t poll to find out how well our message was working, or to find out how best to attack our opponent. Instead, our goal was to develop proof that we were closing the gap and to use that information in a fundraising push. The plan worked beautifully – the poll results were just as we expected, and our candidate was able to use the information in fundraising calls. In the end, we lost by around 200 votes out of more than fifty thousand cast.