Category Archives: Kentucky politics

Publicly opposing Centre College can potentially be smart politics

In Sunday’s Advocate-Messenger, Danville Mayor and Republican candidate for county Judge-Executive Bernie Hunstad identified Centre College among several groups in the community politically opposed to his candidacy: 

 “I believe I am the underdog in the primary, and I believe I will be the underdog in November,” Hunstad said. “I’m running against Lynn, the EDP (Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership), Centre College, the McKinney supporters and the newspaper.” (Page A01 and A08 of April 2oth’s edition; not yet available online.)

As I interpret this comment, Mayor Hunstad was listing groups in the community that he believes are opposed to his candidacy for Judge-Executive. It occurred to me, though, that perhaps by publicly aligning against each of those groups (including Centre College), it may serve to elicit support from potential Republican primary voters who also view those groups unfavorably.

In the 2011 Boyle County Exit Poll, we asked voters whether they agreed or disagreed that “Centre College gets too many unfair advantages within the city of Danville.” This is a measure of implicit “resentment” toward the College, and 26.5% of respondents indicated that they “agree.” It’s possible that by publicly claiming that the Centre College community is opposed to his candidacy, he may increase his support with the quarter of the community that also harbors unfavorable attitudes toward the college. Given that more than a quarter of Danville harbors implicitly resentful attitudes toward Centre, that’s not a bad political strategy. 

(I should note, though, that there doesn’t seem to be a political relationship with feelings of Centre resentment as 26.6% of Democrats compared to 25.6% of Republicans said that they thought that Centre had unfair advantages in the community – a statistically insignificant difference. So there’s no clear advantage for winning a Republican vs. a Democratic primary by aligning against the College.)

Finally, the 2012 Boyle County Exit Poll showed that about 58% of Boyle County had a favorable view of Judge-Executive Democratic incumbent Harold McKinney while only 14% had an unfavorable opinion (28% DK/no opinion). The same survey showed Mayor Hunstad with a 32% approve/46% disapprove (22% DK/no opinion). Clearly whoever emerges from the Republican primary will face an uphill battle to unseat Judge McKinney in November.

Some final thoughts on the Road Diet issue in Danville

The Advocate-Messenger reported on Wednesday that the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet announced that plans to consider the “Road Diet” option in Danville have been cancelled. The article reports that no one is exactly sure who was involved or how that decision was reached, but reports that it likely came from some high-level official in the Kentucky state government somewhere. 

Here are a few final thoughts I’ve had recently on the recent Road Diet discussion over the past week or two:

First, numerous letters to the editor have made claims to the “will of the majority” on this issue (see here and here, e.g.). Road Diet opponents claimed that they had a “majority” on their side and proponents made similar arguments. Well, they can’t both be true. So who is right? Were the majority of Danville residents in support of or opposed to the Road Diet proposal? From my perspective, the answer is “we don’t know.” No one did a scientific probability survey nor did anyone happen to talk to all 16,000+ Danville residents on the matter. I think there’s good evidence that a majority of downtown business owners were opposed to the Road Diet and that a majority of city and EDP officials were in support. We can also confidently say that a majority of letters to the editor were opposed. But these three groups are not representative of the entire population and are numerically less than 0.5% of all city residents. So any claims to know what a “majority of Danville” thought on the matter cannot be supported with existing evidence and we should be more cautious in our claims about what the “majority” thinks on this issue.

Second, I am very impressed with level of activity with which the downtown business owners organized on this issue. They saw an issue that they were concerned about, they showed up to meetings, they organized petitions, they wrote letters, etc. Although we have no publicly-available evidence one way or another, it’s possible that their efforts either directly or indirectly affected the decision of the state to cancel the Road Diet plan. (It’s also possible that the two were completely unrelated, I don’t have enough information to know either way.) Either way, kudos to them for taking action and participating in democratic self-governance. The lesson for Road Diet proponents is that they should have been quicker to organize and just as vocal if they wanted to have the same level of influence.

Third, (and this is completely a guess – this could be wrong), I imagine that those running for Danville City Commission this fall are relieved not to have to take a public stand one way or another on this issue now that it’s out of their hands. It would be interesting to ask them during this fall’s campaign how they would have voted on this issue if it had been permitted to continue. Mayor Hunstad is the only one (to my knowledge) to have expressed a public stand on the issue.

Fourth, Pam Wright reported in her article: “Numerous other sources claim to believe an individual or small group of individuals had an influence at the state level to stop the decision.” I would urge Ms. Wright, or anyone else for that matter, to try to find out exactly who this “individual or small group of individuals” was and publicize the information. Transparency, openness, and honesty are hallmarks of good government, and from the available evidence it looks like this decision was made in the dark by a few people without public input… exactly the kind of decision-making process that the downtown business owners were originally protesting. Ultimately, this decision was not made in an open, transparent, or “democratic” fashion.

Response to recent criticisms of Road Diet analysis

Danville resident Wilma Brown authored a letter to the editor appearing in today’s Advocate Messenger. Her letter questions the applicability of the Road Diet analysis performed by my students earlier this month (see here and here) to the situation here in Danville. Her primary concern deals with how closely the businesses surveyed in both Georgetown and Elizabethtown match the situation that local businesses have on Danville’s Main Street. Specifically, she argues that in neither community (in contrast to Danville) the businesses surveyed are located directly on the streets where the lane reductions (“Road Diet”) have recently occurred.

In my view, Ms. Brown raises a fair point which deserves consideration. I do not disagree with her argument that neither Georgetown nor Elizabethtown are directly comparable to Danville given the points that were raised in her letter the editor. That being said, social scientists and urban planners are rarely presented with a situation where there is a perfect and direct comparison case to study in trying to analyze the potential effects of various policy decisions. City of Danville officials, working together with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, worked for several weeks to try to find a “perfect” comparison city in Kentucky with the same size, economics, traffic patterns, etc. as Danville and ultimately decided to ask the students in my class to survey businesses in both Georgetown and Elizabethtown, those two cities being what they determined to be the closest possible comparison communities to Danville, with the closest possible comparison businesses to survey. As with all public endeavors, we do the very best we can with the evidence and resources available to us.

Ultimately, is the analysis that my students performed perfect? No. But neither is any other report that has been presented or evidence offered so far on the subject. That is why I recommended at the community meeting last Thursday that my students’ report be considered as one piece of evidence to add to the mix of evidences being collected. I repeat what I said at the meeting: we are more likely to come to more accurate picture of the reality of something by gathering as much data as possible on the topic using as many different approaches as possible and then taking the “average” of the entire picture of evidence. The report that my students contributed to Danville’s Road Diet discussion should be considered as one piece of evidence to contribute to the discussion, but certainly not to end the discussion. While Georgetown and Elizabethtown are certainly not perfect comparison communities, more appropriate comparisons have yet to be brought forth to the public discussion. While there may not be “slam dunk” evidence that Road Diets have no effect on local businesses, neither has there been compelling and systematic evidence presented that Road Diets have detrimental effects either.

Personally, taking the “average of everything” approach, I think the available evidence is persuasive that we can confidently say that lane reductions make communities safer for both pedestrians and automobiles. I also think that the available evidence is ultimately insufficient to be able to say with confidence whether lane reductions have adverse or beneficial effects on local businesses adjacent to lane-reduced thoroughfares. What little evidence there is provides a mixed picture. Further evidence and research is certainly warranted.

For example, doing a quick Google search of “Road Diet economic impact” reveals a number of analyses and reports from communities around the country. These are some of the first things that populated the search results:

I invite community members to take a look at these reports and consider their research designs, findings, and appropriateness of comparability to Danville. I also invite community members to continue their research (beyond a five-minute Google search as I presented above) as to the advantages and disadvantages, both to public safety as well as local businesses, of Road Diet plans in determining whether or not to support such a proposal in Danville. I commend Ms. Brown and other community members for their careful attention to important public issues such as this. As with any important public matter, citizens as well as public officials have the obligation to gather as much evidence as possible and weigh competing trade-offs between public safety and economic vitality (as well as many other considerations) in coming to a final decision. 

Analysis of Road Diets on businesses in Georgetown and Elizabethtown

This semester students in my POL 210 “Introduction to American Politics” course have been working on a policy analysis investigating the effect of the “Road Diets” implemented in Georgetown, KY and Elizabethtown, KY in 2012. This was done as part of a “service-learning” component of the course. Centre College emphasizes engaged and experiential learning and often partners with community members to give students a chance to engage in “real world” learning experiences. As such, the students in my course took responsibility for this project and were almost exclusively responsible for all the data gathering, analysis, and writing of the final report, with some minor supervision from their instructor.

In this case, our report was produced at the request of Danville City Manager Ron Scott who asked for assistance in gathering data about how other Road Diets have affected downtown businesses in two Kentucky cities that implemented Road Diets in 2012: Georgetown and Elizabethtown. It is anticipated that this report will contribute to the ongoing conversation about whether or not the City of Danville should recommend to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet whether or not to implement a Road Diet when Main Street in Danville is repaved in the summer of 2014. (See background on this issue here as well as the local EDP’s website on the issue here.) 

The full report is available for download by clicking HERE.

The Executive Summary is as follows:

This policy analysis reports the results of a study of both Elizabethtown and Georgetown related to the effects of a Road Diet system implemented in each community in 2012. The study took into account various economic indicators such as unemployment rates and tax revenues. This study also gathered information from business owners/managers whose businesses are located adjacent to streets where a Road Diet was put into place in 2012. This input was gathered via a telephone survey covering the owners’ perceptions on the effects of the Road Diet in the community on his or her own business.

The key findings of this study are:

  1. There is little evidence that the Road Diet had a detrimental effect on businesses in terms of their customer volume, revenue, and livelihood.
  2. After the Road Diet was implemented, business owners perceived their customers to have safe access to the business front and reported little difficulties in truck deliveries to their stores and little difficulty in customer parking and access.
  3. The Road Diet did not seem to affect either unemployment rates or tax revenues in either community.
  4. The Road Diet seemed to negatively affect the two communities studied in terms of a perceived increase in traffic on the part of business owners.
  5. Overall, business owners think that the Road Diet had a negative impact on the community as a whole, but for reasons other than its economic consequences. 

Danville Public Issues Survey – January 2014

This January I have had the pleasure of teaching a class on “local politics” for Centre College’s annual three-week “CentreTerm” where students have the opportunity to engage in a number of high-impact experiential learning activities. We have covered a number of topics ranging from neighborhood design to federal grant activities to local city council politics to school board issues. We were also pleased to have several visitors from our local political community, including Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad, Boyle Judge-Executive Harold McKinney, Danville Independent School Board Chairwoman Jean Crowley and Superintendent Carmen Coleman, and Boyle Economic Development Partnership representatives Jody Lassiter and Paula Fowler.

WHY DO A COMMUNITY SURVEY?

During the week of January 13th we had the opportunity to attend a number of public meetings, including the Danville City Commission meeting on the 13th, the Boyle County Fiscal Court meeting on the 14th, and the Danville Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on the 15th. We observed in several of these meetings that there were many community members who attended and provided their thoughts and input on a number of the issues currently facing our local community, including the proposed Fairness Ordinance, the proposed “Road Diet,” and how land should be used along the new 2168 connector road in Danville. In our class discussions we noted that while it’s great that there are citizens who are turning out to participate in the local political process by attending these meetings, writing letters to the editor in the local newspaper, and advocating for their positions and interests, it’s possible that these individuals do not represent the overall views of the community at large. Instead, they tend to be the more passionate and intense supporters or opponents of the various issues under discussion.

Given that reality, our Local Politics class partnered up with Prof. Bill Goodman’s “Politics and Journalism in the Age of Social Media” CentreTerm class and set out to obtain a more accurate picture of the views of Danville residents on these various issues. Specifically, we wanted to know what the residents of the community at large think on these issues (in contrast to those of the engaged minority who attend the public meetings and write letters to the editor). We did this by fielding a door-to-door survey to randomly selected Danville households over the course of a week. Conducting this survey required a significant amount of time and effort on the part of our students, who battled tight schedules as well as snow storms and below-freezing temperatures to go door-to-door and gather responses from members of the community. At Centre College we value engaged and experiential learning, as well as community engagement and service learning. This survey project provided students with an excellent opportunity to gain “real-life” experience with public opinion and local politics. It also gave them the opportunity to directly and immediately contribute to important community conversations about matters of public importance.

In our class we also discussed the role that public opinion ought to play in governmental decision-making. There are strong arguments to be made that in a democratic political system (such as ours) political leaders ought to try to carry out the views of the community on matters of public importance. There are, however, also compelling arguments that in a democratic republic (such as ours) public opinion should not always dictate public policy in every instance. Therefore, what our local leaders ultimately choose to do with this information is up to them. We consider it important, however, for there to be as much information as possible in the environment so that local leaders can be as well-informed as possible on the important decisions that they are responsible to decide on.

HOW THE SURVEY WAS CONDUCTED

The households that were surveyed were selected at random to ensure that everyone in the community would have an equal chance to be included in the survey. Random selection ensures that that the results are scientifically valid and representative of the population. Random selection also ensures that we can be confident that the survey results accurately reflect those of the community at large, within a particular margin of error.

Students fielded surveys beginning on Monday, January 20th and ending on Saturday, January 25th. For this survey, a total of 183 Danville residents over the age of 18 choose to participate. Given that the adult population of Danville is approximately 12,500 (as per the U.S. Census Bureau), a randomly-selected sample size of 183 gives us a margin of error of about 7%. (A sample size of 183 is certainly not ideal. It should be noted that sub-optimal temperatures and unpleasant weather this week prevented us from being able to collect more surveys which would have further decreased the margin of error.) In this case, a margin of error of 7% means that we can be very confident (95% confident, to be exact), that the true proportion of people in the community who have a particular opinion is within 7% up or down from the figure that is reported below, or a 14% margin total. In other words, the survey found that about 80% of Danville residents believe that Danville is “on the right track.” Given our sample size and margin of error, we can be 95% confident that the actual percentage of Danville residents who think that Danville is on the right track is somewhere between 73% and 87%. Ultimately, these results from our small sample size will not be able to give us a very precise measure of public opinion on these various questions. They will, however, allow us to give a confident “ballpark” figure within a 14% interval or so. All results reported here should be interpreted with that in mind.

(It should also be noted that these figures should not be directly compared to the results of the last two exit polls [here and here]. This survey sampled all residents in the Danville community while the exit polls sampled only voters throughout Boyle County. These are two different groups and thus can’t be directly compared in a meaningful fashion.)

To produce the household sample, we obtained a list of every residential address within Danville city limits from the county PVA. We then generated a randomized sub-sample of each address and assigned each of our students to distribute surveys to those addresses and only those addresses (this is to maintain the integrity of the random sample). If no one was at home, students were instructed to return to those same addresses up to three times to obtain a response. Students were further instructed to field surveys during the late afternoons/early evenings as well as some morning to try to maximize the amount of responses from households.

These surveys were completely anonymous and it is not possible to link any particular respondent with his or her answers after the survey is collected. Survey respondents were assured that participating was completely voluntary and that they could simply leave blank any question that they did not want to answer.

We also acknowledge the generous assistance of several students from Bill Goodman’s POL 438 “Politics and Journalism in the Age of Social Media” class who fielded dozens of surveys this last week. We also appreciate the contributions of Stephanie Lauderdale who provided several hours administrative assistance in preparing the survey and instruction packets.

A PDF copy of the complete survey questionnaire is available by clicking here

SURVEY RESULTS

The exact wording for each question and results of each question are shown below. Important reminder! There is a 7% margin of error associated with all these results unless otherwise indicated. This means that we can be 95% confident that the true proportion of people in the Danville community who have a particular opinion is within 7% up or down from the figure that is reported below.

Generally speaking, do you believe Danville is…?

  • Heading in the right direction: 79.8%
  • Off on the wrong track: 20.2%

Do you approve or disapprove of the way the following political leaders are handling their job?

  • President Barack Obama: 39.8% approve, 60.2% disapprove
  • Senator Mitch McConnell: 34.2% approve, 65.8% disapprove
  • Senator Rand Paul: 50.3% approve, 49.7% disapprove
  • Congressman Brett Guthrie: 50.8% approve, 49.2% disapprove
  • Judge-Exec Harold McKinney: 79% approve, 21% disapprove
  • Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad: 50.3% approve, 49.7% disapprove
  • Danville City Commission: 68% approve, 32% disapprove

If we limit these responses only to those who report that they “always or nearly always vote,” most of these figures remain substantively unchanged except that Judge McKinney’s approval rating improves to 87.6% and Mayor Hunstad’s declines to 46.9%. (Given the smaller sample size the margin of error rises to about 10%.)

Thinking of the upcoming Kentucky Senate primary race, who do you currently plan to vote for? (JUST WRITE A NAME or “DON’T KNOW”)

  • Mitch McConnell: 8.2%
  • Matt Bevin: 2.7%
  • Alison Grimes: 12.6%
  • Don’t know / blank: 76.4%

Below is a list of some definite and some possible candidates running for Danville Mayor this fall. If the election were held today, which ONE candidate would you vote for?

  • J.H. Atkins: 16.7%
  • Kevin Caudill: 8.7%
  • Bernie Hunstad: 6.2%
  • Mike Perros: 10.6%
  • Paul Smiley: 6.2%
  • Paige Stevens: 14.9%
  • Undecided: 36%

Limiting these responses only to those who say that they “always or nearly always vote” gives us these results (margin of error 10%): J.H. Atkins: 14.9%, Kevin Caudill: 9.6%, Bernie Hunstad: 5.3%, Mike Perros: 9.6%, Paul Smiley: 5.3%, Paige Stevens: 23.4%, undecided 30.9%.

Recently there has been some discussion about possible changes along the new bypass 2168 connector road in Danville. In general, would you prefer that the land around the new connector road be used primarily for…?

  • Agriculture / green space: 66.5%
  • Residential housing: 15%
  • Commercial development: 18.5%

Recently there has been some consideration of a Danville city ordinance that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when it comes to housing, employment, or other public accommodations. Would you support or oppose such a measure?

  • Strongly support: 51.7%
  • Somewhat support: 23.6%
  • Somewhat oppose: 8.6%
  • Strongly oppose: 16.1%

A reminder that the 7% margin of error means that we can be very confident (95% chance) that the true level of support for the Fairness Ordinance among Danville residents is somewhere between 68.3% and 82.3%.

The only demographic or political variables that consistently predicted opinion on the proposed Fairness Ordinance were ideology, partisanship, church attendance, and religious affiliation. 80.5% of liberals either strongly or somewhat support the proposed Fairness Ordinance while 49.1% of conservatives support. Approximately 89% of Democrats and 90% of Independents support the ordinance while about 60% of Republicans support the ordinance. Those who never attend church sometimes or never are 88.4% in favor of the ordinance while those who attend church once a week or more are only 60.3% in favor. There is also a difference among religious affiliation: 85.7% of Mainline Protestants, 75% of Catholics, and 48.6% of Evangelical Protestants support the Fairness Ordinance. No other demographic or political variables were significant predictors of attitudes on this issue.

How important would the issue described above [the proposed Fairness Ordinance] be to your vote for Mayor / City Commission election this fall?

  • Very important: 48%
  • Somewhat important: 39.7%
  • Somewhat unimportant: 6.7%
  • Very unimportant: 5.6%

Among those who see the proposed Fairness Ordinance as either somewhat or very important to their vote this fall, 77.1% either strongly or somewhat support the ordinance and 22.9% either strongly or somewhat oppose.

Thinking about your day yesterday, did you get your news in any of the following ways? (CHECK ALL THAT APPLY)

  • Newspaper: 41.8%
  • Network news on TV (ABC, CBS, NBC): 59.6%
  • Cable news on TV (Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc.): 42.1%
  • Radio: 31.5%
  • Traditional news site on computer: 27.1%
  • Facebook, Twitter, or other social media site on computer: 34.6%
  • News/social media app on a mobile device: 23.2%

Do you consider yourself: Liberal: 24.9%, Moderate: 43.5%, Conservative: 31.6%

Do you think of yourself as a (an): Democrat: 34.8%, Independent, lean Democrat: 10.1%, Independent: 10.7%, Independent, lean Republican: 10.7%, Republican: 28.1%, Other: 5.6%.

Additionally, 52% of survey respondents were female, 48% male; 42% report an income over $50K/year while 10% report an income under $20K/year; 12% report never attending church, 43.2% report attending sometimes, and 44.8% report attending once a week or more; 5.6% report being a “Tea Party supporter; 84.3% report white ethnicity with 11.2% reporting African-American ethnicity; 33% report a high school education, 46.4% report college level of education, and 20.7% report a post-graduate level of education. The age of the average survey respondent is 48 with a range of 18 to 90 years of age.

PPP poll shows Grimes and McConnell in a statistical tie.

“A New Poll Suggests Trouble for Mitch McConnell” http://feedly.com/k/1eevfvv

Democrats are excited about this new poll that shows Alison Grimes “leading” Mitch McConnell 45%-44%. The margin of error is 2.8%. This means that there’s a 95% chance that Grimes could be leading by as many as 7% or trailing by 5%.

It should also be noted that, according to Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise, those who are “leading” by one point in the polls a year before the election have about a 52% chance of winning a Senate election (pg. 63). And that’s assuming a one point lead in the polling average. This PPP poll is an N of 1.

There’s also the simple fundamentals. Although Kentucky has more registered Democrats, Republicans are heavily favored in Senate elections. And it’s a midterm election in the term of an incumbent Democratic president. Historically, the president’s party almost always loses congressional seats in midterm elections, which bodes poorly for Democratic candidates next year.

Voting patterns in Danville’s new City Commission – 2013

During the last two summers I conducted a statistical analysis of the voting patterns in Danville’s City Commission. Given the various controversies surrounding the firing of the former city manager and the “Gang of Three” (as the local newspaper put it), it was surprising to some to find that the former city commissioners actually voted together more than 80% of the time. (See former posts here and here).

Six months have now elapsed since Danville voters elected Paul Smiley and Paige Stevens to replace Norma Gail Louis and Ryan Montgomery on the City Commission. My Centre College research assistant Ben Yeager collected all of the votes taken by the new Commission since their first meeting of the current term on January 14th, 2013 and up through the meeting held June 24th, 2013, a total of 253 votes in all.

The first item to note is that a full 87.3% of votes of the city commissioners in 2013 have been completely unanimous, almost 5% higher than the previous Commission.

Further analysis indicates that almost all of the non-unanimous votes came during the funding meeting held on May 28th, 2013. Taking the votes held at that meeting out of the picture, we have a Commission that has voted together 94.9% of the time. (One of the few issues where there has not been unanimity has been in the votes to annex City Manager Ron Scott’s property into Danville city limits – a holdover issue from the controversy surrounding his hiring from the previous commission. On these votes, J.H. Atkins has been the lone dissenter.)

We can also see how often each commissioner votes the same way as every other commissioner during 2013 so far:

 
Hunstad
Atkins
Stevens
Smiley
Atkins
89.2%
 
 
 
Stevens
94.4%
93.2%
 
 
Smiley
91.0%
94.8%
95.2%
 
Caudill
95.7%
90.6%
94.4%
92.7%

As might be expected from the previous term, J.H. Atkins and Bernie Hunstad are still the most distant in their voting patterns. Surprisingly, Kevin Caudill and Mayor Hunstad show the highest degree of unanimity in their voting patterns this term, agreeing almost 96% of the time. I say “surprising” only because Commissioner Caudill gained a reputation during the 2011-2012 term for opposing Mayor Hunstad on a number of issues along with Commissioner Atkins.

There was also some discussion previous to last November’s election as to whether Paul Smiley would tend to side with Mayor Hunstad or with the Atkins/Caudill “faction.” It appears from these votes that Commissioner Smiley tends to vote more closely along with Commissioners Atkins and Stevens than Mayor Hunstad. This is contrary to my previous prediction that Paul Smiley would be the “swing” voter on the Commission.

Indeed, these results suggest that if there is a “faction” of any kind in Danville’s new Commission, it is Mayor Hustand and Commissioner Caudill vs. Commissioners Atkins, Stevens and Smiley. And this really only came into play at the funding meeting on May 28th.

That all being said, any emphasis on differences in voting patterns is overblown, given that the commissioners are voting together 90-95% of the time.

2012 Boyle County Exit Poll data file available for download

For interested parties, the data file of the 2012 Boyle County Exit Poll is now publicly available. It can be downloaded here:

http://web.centre.edu/benjamin.knoll/2012bcep_public.zip

Happy number crunching! 

Procedural changes in Danville City Commission meetings

The Advocate-Messenger reported today that the Danville City Commission has made the following procedural changes to coincide with the new term and new make-up of the commission:

  •  Paige Stevens, who just started her second non-consecutive City Commission term, was appointed mayor pro tem. She received the most votes during the November election. Hunstad recommended that commissioners stick to the tradition of appointing the person who garnered the most votes.
  •  After a brief discussion, City Commissioners decided to change to a “rotating” voting method instead of the former method in which the mayor casts the last vote. “It’s about perception,” Caudill said.
  •  Commissioners unanimously voted to move the public comments period to the beginning of meetings. Atkins said he would like to hear people’s opinions on issues before he votes.

Full article available here: http://www.centralkynews.com/amnews/news/amn-danville-stands-by-opening-prayer-20130115,0,7514833.story 

Rep. Guthrie’s take on Congressional dysfunction

As I reported in my last post, U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie (R-KY2) visited my U.S. Congress class here at Centre College on Friday afternoon. Rep. Guthrie spoke to my students for about fifteen minutes and then fielded questions for the remainder of the hour. 

Rep. Guthrie began by addressing a topic that he said tends to be on everyone’s mind when he meets with constituents: “why can’t Congress get anything done?” He gave a short and concise answer: there aren’t a lot of cross-party mutual interests that form the foundation of bipartisan solutions. He explained that a few generations ago, there were several liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and that with a few exceptions, they’re all gone now. So now there are no conservative Democrats for the Republicans to reach out to, and conversely, no liberal Republicans for the Democrats to reach out to. Hence a great deal of partisanship and inability to compromise and find common ground.

What impressed me most about this is that this is the same basic answer agreed upon by most academics and political scientists. It’s often the case that academics spend their time combating “conventional wisdom” popularized by both politicians and the media. In this instance, Congressman Guthrie’s answer was right on the mark in line with what I teach my students.

How should we fix the problem? He offered: “We haven’t figured that out yet.” It was an honest answer, which I appreciated. The most effective way of “fixing” it immediately would require substantially shifting the ideological constituencies that make up today’s partisan coalitions, and then having them elect representatives accordingly. That’s not something that’s going to happen any time soon.

I very much appreciate Rep. Guthrie visiting my students and we look forward to future visits here on Centre’s campus.