Common Sense Or Coin Toss?
The best way to know what citizens want: put it to a vote
Politicians are usually expected to represent their constituents’ preferences. But some would say that a simple majority rule is an imperfect method of representing the people, insofar as individual constituents do not make for good decisions in complex questions.
Of course, “The Federalist Papers” sought to make that very case in 1787. Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay to urge the ratification of the United States Constitution, they made the argument that popular views would be translated into public policy through the election of representatives “whose wisdom may,” in Madison’s words, “best discern the true interest of their country.”
The basis for Madison’s point is the belief that the decisions of elected officials will always be based on more detailed information than constituents would bother processing on their own to make such decisions. So when elected officials make decisions that don’t match up with their constituents, many would argue this is by design – that it’s a feature, not a flaw. But is it always?
A 2016 Quinnipiac University poll showed that 76 percent of Americans agree with the statement, “Public officials don’t care much (about) what people like me think.” This sentiment was confirmed by a 2017 University of Chicago study, which found “representation” works only about 65 percent of the time. In other words, the votes of our elected officials match up to their constituents’ positions only 65 percent of the time.
That’s not much better than flipping a coin.
But these poor odds may better explain why the majority of the Shreveport City Council in August voted to place the $186 million bond proposal on the ballot last month and let the people decide.
Councilman Willie Bradford explained his support for the bond by saying, “I agree that we must allow them (the voters) the opportunity to make the decision of whether they want to move this city forward.”
And Councilman James Flurry (who voted alongside fellow councilmen Bradford, Jerry Bowman and James Green) said placing the bond proposal on the ballot last month was “about democracy,” adding, “Let the people decide. At least, let the citizens have a vote. That’s democracy. You either vote it up or down.”
Of course, in the end, the bond proposal was voted down. Still, some are asking now if the city of Shreveport’s proposed “publicprivate” partnership with the Gateway Development Consortium (a development project along Cross Bayou) ought to be placed on the ballot. That way citizens can again have both the “opportunity to make the decision” (as Bradford said last month) and “have a vote” (as Flurry put it).
After all, this Cross Bayou project is more than five times the value of the $186 million bond proposal from last month and represents a commitment from the city for almost twice as long as that bond would have lasted.
But unlike the failed bond proposal, the Cross Bayou project represents more than just adding debt to the city’s balance sheet (which we already have plenty of, per the latest legislative auditor’s report showing our net worth is already $1 billion in the “red”).
This project boils down to the city taking land from private property owners (through eminent domain), paying those land owners millions of dollars (which the city does not have), giving that land to the developers for free (forever), then spending millions of dollars to clean the site (which a portion of the land is contaminated with hazardous substances). Then there would be a new charter school built (which the Caddo Parish School System has not yet “approved” and would seemingly result in the closing of other schools); plus the building of a new Caddo Parish Courthouse (for which there is no commitment from the Caddo Parish Commission); then shuttering the Louisiana State Office Building on Fairfield and building a new one (for which the state has not indicated any need, want or commitment); plus the city would create a special taxing district whereby all future, new tax revenues from the land (that we gave away) would flow to the developers, presumably in perpetuity. And this is all after the city somehow negotiates “agreements” with the Red River Waterway Commission for shoring up the riverbank (which the developers say will cost nearly $1 billion).
Now, while Councilman Bradford is already in favor of committing our city to this Cross Bayou project for several decades to come, he readily admits, “I don’t know what this city wants or does not want.”
So, in that case, let the people decide, Mr. Bradford. Place this matter on the ballot and in the hands of the voters. The power of the people – and not just those who stand the most to gain from this project – deserve as much.
Or we can always flip a coin.
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.