Mapps versus the Professors.
City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, a former poli-sci professor, thinks Measure 26-228 is wrong for Portland. Thirteen local political scientists disagree.
City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, a trained political scientist, says Measure 26-228 would deepen Portland’s government dysfunction.
But a group of thirteen local poli-sci professors have endorsed the measure.
Unlike Mapps, they think voters should sign off on the Charter Commission’s ambitious plan in November.
On October 3, the Ulysses PAC – spearheaded by City Commissioner Mingus Mapps – unveiled its alternative charter reform proposal.
Mapps, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and has taught at Bowdoin College and Brandeis University, says Portland desperately needs charter reform – just not the version proposed by the Charter Commission.
“I believe the vote that you will cast in November is one of the most important votes that Portlanders will cast in the next hundred years or so,” Mapps told attendees at a debate hosted by the Central Eastside Industrial Council last night.
Mapps, who along with fellow city council members would be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the measure if it passes, said it would be like “reinventing the plane while flying the plane”.
“I expect we'll spend a decade trying to get this right – and we may not,” he said.
Mapps thinks proposed council structure would cause conflict.
So what’s Mapps biggest concern?
Mapps agrees that Portland should repeal its current form of government – a rare system that puts individual city commissioners in charge of city bureaus – and hand over city operations to a professional city administrator overseen by the mayor.
But he has bristled at the Charter Commission’s plan to divide Portland into four city council districts that would each elect three seats.
According to Mapps, districts with multiple representatives – known in poli-sci jargon as multi-member districts – would confuse constituents about who’s in charge, foster rivalries between district reps, and lead to finger-pointing when something goes wrong.
“We'll have a much more contentious council,” he warned.
Mapps instead advocates for a council of six to seven members, each representing their own respective district. This would give Portland the most common form of district representation nationwide – single-member districts – where each electoral district has only one representative.
“I think if we're trying to promote accountability, the cleanest way to get to that, in terms of electoral systems, is to have single-member districts, which is what we have for both Multnomah County and Congress,” said Mapps, adding:
“It’s literally the American way.”
Mapps also decried the mayor’s lack of a veto under the Charter Commission’ proposal, arguing that forcing the mayor to implement legislation would simply result in the executive branch intentionally slow-rolling implementation of unwelcome policies.
“It's a system that encourages passive-aggressive politics,” he said.
Mapps is skeptical of single transferable vote.
Mapps has voiced misgivings about the Charter Commission’s chosen voting method, a multi-winner form of ranked choice voting known as single transferable vote.
“We have never done multi-member districts with single transferable vote in the United States, and – I would argue – any place in the world. And that part really concerns me,” he said.
Mapps didn't clarify which aspect of the combination he believed lacked precedent. Other countries currently use single transferable vote to elect multiple representatives per electoral district. In the United States, the combination has historically been used in both New York City and Cleveland, OH.
VoteGuy.com: What is new (and not) about the proposed Portland charter?
The city commissioner said he believes the proposed system would create incentives for local interest groups to form “micro political parties”, where likeminded candidates would run together in slates and then work together as a caucus to maximize influence.
Because single transferable vote would lower the threshold for being elected to City Council to 25%+1 of the overall district vote, Portland could see a surge in “weird candidates” that would never be able to get a majority of the vote, Mapps cautioned.
He closed by urging attendees to “vote their conscience and their wisdom”.
“Our current charter has been around for a hundred years and I expect our next one to be around for a hundred 100 years. So this one really matters, and I hope you choose well,” he concluded.
Read my primer on single transferable vote.
To get a different perspective, Rose City Reform reached out to three of the thirteen political science professors who have endorsed Measure 26-228.
Here’s what they said.
Professor Stephan: “Mapps is playing ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ with voters.”
Mark Stephan is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Washington State University Vancouver.
“To me, this is really about having as many citizens’ voices included as possible,” says Professor Stephan, who has been a leader in summoning academic support for Measure 26-228.
He thinks the proposed system would more proportionally reflect voters’ preferences, and would contribute to more civil campaigns since candidates would compete for first, second and third votes.
“Proportional systems, at least nonpartisan proportional systems, have the ability to make candidates a little bit less acrimonious and conflictual and negative.”
When Stephan first heard of Mapps’ alternative reform proposal, he says he was reminded of the game show ‘Let’s Make a Deal’.
“It’s like he’s saying: “Here’s this thing behind the curtain.” I'm going to make you think it’s somehow the better option. And therefore you're going to turn down what you've got in hand, even though there's no way I can promise you that you're going to get the other option.”
Responding to Mapps point about Measure 26-228 being experimental, Stephan says he finds the argument disingenuous.
“At the end of the day, what matters isn’t whether the exact combination has been done somewhere else, but how well the reforms fit together – right now.”
Professor Manson: “Measure 26-288 is an innovation, not a grab bag.”
Paul Manson, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Reed College, agrees.
“This isn't some grab-bag, or random collection of reforms. I think the proposed reforms are interrelated in a really elegant way,” he told Rose City Reform.
Manson says that Portlanders have traditionally been afraid that district representation would lead to parochialism and conflicts between geographic areas of the city. The professor believes, however, that having larger, multi-seat districts that span several neighborhoods would mitigate those concerns.
He also thinks that eliminating the May primary and holding ranked choice voting general elections in November would increase voter turnout, which in turn would support the legitimacy of those who occupy public office.
If Professor Manson had his druthers, he’d opt for a stronger mayor than what Measure 26-228 prescribes.
“I lean towards a strong mayor because if something truly goes wrong in a bureau, how quickly can we reach down and respond to widespread calls for change? An administrator, ideally, has the public interest at heart and would be able to react – but that’s a layer between the elected officials and the administration.”
But it’s not a hill he wants to die on, Manson says.
“This is a proposed innovation for the city. And historically, Oregonians have loved to be front runners in good governance and electoral reform. I think this proposal fits into a broader tradition of Oregon being out ahead of everybody on some good ideas.”
Professor Santiago: “There’s no one right way to do democracy.”
Rose City Reform also spoke to Anne Santiago, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Portland, who specializes in global affairs.
She says there are many countries around the world that are democratic – while using a system with multiple representatives per electoral district.
“I think sometimes in the United States, we get stuck in this mindset that there’s only one way to do something. And that it’s the best way because we do it,” she says.
Professor Santiago thinks the ability to rank candidates will increase voters’ influence over election outcomes.
“In a country that's so divided, where it can be a matter of a couple of percentage points whether people are completely happy, or completely frustrated, by the outcome of an election, I think ranked choice voting allows more people to have a representative that they trust,” she says.
Anne Santiago says it’s wise to be pragmatic about political change.
“There’s no perfect system of governance. Everything has its flaws. So you have to consider the pros and the cons. Does this seem better than the existing city government? That's what people have to vote on.”
In other charter reform news:
Poll shows voters favor Measure 26-228.
A recent poll of 300 likely Portland voters, commissioned by The Oregonian, showed that 49% planned to vote for the Charter Commission’s ballot measure, while 28% were undecided and 23% opposed the measure.
The Oregonian opposes the measure.
Last Sunday, The Oregonian came out in opposition to Measure 26-228, calling it a “mega-measure” that’s built on “highly optimistic assumptions that don’t match reality”, and warning that the system could make Portland’s situation even worse from a governing perspective.
The Portland Tribune supports it.
The Portland Tribune, on the other hand, came out in cautious support of the measure, saying the proposal might be risky, but Portland is “too great a city to continue to be run by the municipal equivalent of a clown car”.
City Club will hold a debate on the charter reform measure.
On Friday, October 14 at noon, City Club of Portland will hold a debate on Measure 26-228. Register for free and submit a question here.
The City unveils voter education website.
The City of Portland has launched a multilingual website with educational information about the Charter Commission’s ballot measure. The site incudes frequently asked questions. All content has been approved by the Secretary of State.
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As has been the case throughout this whole process, there's a distinct tradeoff made by the charter commission and it's completely evident here in these interviews. Mapps explicitly talks about accountability. The charter commission and the professors talk about "representation" and NOT accountability. This is because accountability is absolutely attenuated by multimember districts they deploy for "representation."
Mathematically, proportional representation means an individual voter must wield fewer votes than positions up for election. And so, with fewer votes, and without clear head-to-head up-or-down votes on individual incumbent councilmembers, voters cannot get clean direct accountability through elections.
I am an accountability voter. I truly believe that's my job as a voter and the purpose of elections. And it's why I'm a no vote on this proposal.