’democracy’: Not the Democrats—RIP in Urbana

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There were three referendum questions
that citizens intended to propose be placed
on the November ballot. Despite there
being no legal requirement that such proposals
be submitted in advance, a meeting
packed with Democratic Party stalwarts
defeated all three in the name of ‘democracy.’
But it seems that the result was
ordained more by ‘Not Originated By Us’
than by any actual flaw in the proposals.
All three proposals were something a
thoughtful Democratic voter, as well as
many independent voters, might support –
but none bore the stamp of official Democratic
Party prior review and approval.
Despite the many complaints from
Democratic loyalists that the township
meeting was a problematic way to place
questions before the voters, all such questions
placed on the ballot in the recent past
have drawn majority support from Urbana
voters. Perhaps it was the case that the
township meeting is too democratic, and
not enough officially Democratic, that is
the problem that the Democratic Party saw
with the process.
Here are what citizens proposed to be
placed on this November’s ballot, in order.
The first two were actually proposed from
the floor and defeated, while the third
never made it that far:
1. ”Shall Cunningham Township
and the City of Urbana post all
contracts and itemized expenses
on their websites so that taxpayers
can see how their money is
being spent?”
2. ”Shall the voters of Cunningham
Township call upon the City of
Urbana to place a binding referendum
on the April 2009 election
ballot asking whether Urbana citizens
want to change from the current
system of plurality voting to
Instant Runoff Voting ensuring the
winning candidate always receives
a majority of the votes cast?”
3. ”The City of Urbana will commit
to a study of the feasibility of the
municipal ownership of the city
water company.”
The first was reportedly proposed by
local Libertarians and seems like good governmental
practice. Denying voters the
chance to vote on this question will
inflame conservative sentiment in Urbana,
as well as foster support for the Green
Party, which makes a point of supporting
governmental transparency.
The second proposal was a voting
method supported by many in Urbana,
although it has also been supported by
both peace and Green Party activists. Ironically,
such a proposal could lead to solidification
of a progressive political agenda in
Urbana. However, a progressive agenda
without control by the Democratic majority
seems to be a threat to the interests of
Democratic Party loyalists.
The third proposed referendum has
drawn verbal support by Democratic
Urbana officials, including the Mayor,
although the meeting’s results calls into
question whether this is only nominal support,
without any real commitment other
than empty pandering to voters angered by
rising utility costs and erratic service.
The defeat of all three shared two common
factors. First, there is the fact that it
was the Green Party 2004 candidate for
governor, Rich Whitney, who first pointed
out that annual township meetings are
viable ways for citizens to gain direct
access to the political process under state
law, leading to the placement of a number
of referendums on the ballot in both
Champaign and Urbana in recent years.
Democrats offered a variety of convoluted
and tortured explanations to argue
against any changes to the agenda, which is
how such questions are placed on the ballot
for citizens to decide and which the
agenda purposely didn’t include. Most
telling was that a few older citizens were
overheard talking among themselves about
whether or not any specific proposal was
‘on the agenda’ before they voted at various
points in the meeting. It seems they were
briefed to oppose anything proposed from
the floor, no matter how good the idea
might be or whether or not they disagreed
with it.
One African-American citizen expressed
the notion that the very idea that citizens
could organize to place referendums on the
ballot was a nefarious process directed at
depriving them of their hard-fought right of
access to voting. Unfortunately, the false
pretenses that seem to have been deployed
to persuade people to come to the meeting—
just this once—may indicate less of a
commitment to the black community by the
Democratic Party than seemed to motivate
many citizens doing its bidding that night.
A great deal of effort was expended preventing
the exercise of democracy as provided
for in state law. All of it seemed to be
orchestrated by the idea that only proposals
approved by the Democratic city council
majority—who happened to simultaneously
constitute the township board—are
acceptable. In Urbana, it seems that unless
one has already persuaded this ‘central
committee’ of the value of a proposal, it
will now be dead on arrival. Sadly, this
result will likely undermine the interests
of the Democratic majority more than it
will aid it. Many Democratic Party supporters
are independent and thoughtful,
thus are unlikely to be taken in by the tendentious
reasons offered by party insiders
to prevent adding any referendums to the
November ballot.
Essentially, the result clearly signaled
that the public will not in the future be
allowed to place any referendums on the
ballot via this legal method at the yearly
township meeting, unless they have been
first vetted a month before by the elected
officials. No independent citizen input
allowed. Period.
So who exactly is preventing the people
from ‘speak[ing] for themselves’ as many
claimed to be the case in their argument in
favor of defeating the motions? Unless you
still believe in the tooth fairy, it wasn’t
those who wanted the voters to have the
final say on these issues.
What’s so amazing is that it was the
FEAR that questions put on the ballot
would enjoy wide support and result in
wins for all three questions that seemed to
motivate the Democrats’ ire. If proposals
from the floor of the meeting were really so
unrepresentative of the way that voters in
Urbana think, then all that needed be done
was let them be voted on in November and
watch them get defeated.
Thus the folks that the Democratic
officials turned out, with instructions to
prevent any additions to the agenda,
could just as easily be described as displaying
“naivete, immaturity, and irrationalism,
that is entirely counterproductive
to their stated goals,” as one local
Democrat later remarked about the dissent
crushed at the meeting.
Needless to say, the final judge of what
should be an acceptable resolution should
be the voters. The result that night was
exactly the opposite. The voters will NOT
be consulted on these issues.

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