Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Ultimate Quotable Tocqueville: Words of America's Most Insightful Observer



I recently concluded reading the classic work Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville published in 1835.  It is a magnificent read and should be mandatory reading for every American.  The book details the American system of government but digs at its roots and history.  The book highlights America's promise as a nation and offers plenty of caution against pitfalls.  He describes the principles that drive Americans at their core.  Despite being 182 years old, the book is timeless.  The natural and political truths he illustrates apply to all of humanity from all eras.

In an effort to scratch the surface of Tocqueville's brilliance, here are quotes from the book to tantalize your taste buds.


Despotism and Tyranny

"Formerly tyranny employed chains and executioners as its crude weapons; but nowadays civilization has civilized despotism itself even though it appeared to have nothing else to learn."

"Despotism corrupts the man who submits to it much more than the man who imposes it."

"Despotism, suspicious by its very nature, views the separation of men as the best guarantee of its own permanence and usually does all it can to keep them in isolation.  No defect of the human heart suits it better than egoism; a tyrant is relaxed enough to forgive his subjects for failing to love him, provided that they do not love one another."

"In despotic states, men do not know how to act because they are told nothing; in democratic nations they often act at random because there has been an attempt to tell them everything."

"The chief and, in a sense, the only condition one needs in order to reach a centralized public power in a democratic society is to love equality or to make men believe you do.  Thus, the art of despotism, which was formerly so complicated, is now quite simple: it is reduced, as it were, to a single principle."

"If despotism were to be established in present day democracies, it would probably assume a different character; it would be more widespread and kinder; it would debase men without tormenting them."

"How can tyranny be resisted in a country where each person is weak and where individuals are not united by any shared concerns?"

"There is nothing more irresistible than a tyranny that rules in the name of the people."

"Thought is an invisible power which cannot be bound and which makes fun of tyrannies."

"Tyranny may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot."

"The vices fostered by tyranny are exactly those supported by equality."

"Equality places men shoulder to shoulder, unconnected by any common tie.  Tyranny erects barriers between them and keeps them separate.  The former persuades them not to think of their fellows while the latter turns their indifference into a sort of public virtue."

"I readily agree that public tranquility is a benefit; but I do no intend to forget, however, that all nations have reached tyranny through good order."

"The tyranny of a faction is no less to be feared than that of a single man."




Laws and Legislators

"Absolute perfection is almost never a feature of a system of laws."

"The Legislator is like the man who steers his route upon the ocean.  He is able to guide the ship he is on but cannot change its structure, create winds, or stop the ocean from heaving beneath his feet."

"In America, the Legislator is generally somebody only because of his position in the assembly.  Thus he is constantly tormented by the need to achieve importance there and experiences a testy desire to air his ideas in and out of season.  He is pushed in this direction not only by his vanity but by his constituents and the continuous need to satisfy them."

"The general interest of a party often demands that the Legislator belonging to it should never speak about important matters which he half understands, that he should speak little about small matters which might interfere with tie important ones, and finally that he should generally keep his mouth shut entirely.  To remain silent is the most useful service that a modest speaker can render to public affairs."

"Legislators and all worthy and enlightened men living in democracies must therefore work tirelessly to lift men's minds toward heaven.  It is vital that all who are involved in the future of democratic societies unit together and with one accord combine their efforts to diffuse through these societies the taste for the infinite, the appreciation of greatness, and the love of spiritual pleasures."

"The major objective of justice is to substitute the concept of law for that of violence and to position intermediate authorities between the government and the use of physical force."

"When, therefore, I refuse to obey an unjust law, I am not denying the majority's right to give orders' I simply appeal to the sovereignty of the human race over that of the people."

"Notice, first of all, that although the rulers of a democracy are less honest and competent, the electorate is more enlightened and more alert."

"In the United States, men of moderate desires commit themselves to the twists and turns of politics.  Men of great talent and passion in general avoid power to pursue wealth; it often comes about that only those who feel inadequate in the conduct of their own business undertake to direct the fortunes of the state."


Predictions

"God is preparing a calmer and more stable future for European societies; I am unaware of his plans but I shall never stop believing in them because I cannot fathom them and I prefer to mistrust my own intellectual capacities than his justice."

"If America ever experiences great revolutions, they will be instigated by the presence of blacks on American soil."


Slavery

"Slavery, as I shall explain later, brings dishonor to work; it introduces idleness into society together with ignorance and pride, poverty, and indulgence.  It weakens the powers of the mind and dampens human effort.  The influence of slavery, together with the English character, explains the customs and the social conditions of the South."


Native Americans

"In those places where one encounters very powerful and rich men, the weak and poor feel, as it were, burdened by their lowly status and , since they discover no means of being able to recover equality, they lose any sense of hope in themselves, drifting below any standards of human dignity. The vexing effect of this contract of human conditions is not to be found in the lives of the natives: the Indians, while they are all ignorant and poor, are all equal and free."




Equality

"Poverty, along with wretchedness, offers the best guarantee of equal status known to man."

"In times of equality, men have no confidence in each other because of their similarities but this very similarity give them an almost limitless trust in the judgement of the public as a whole."

"In equality, I see two tendencies: one which leads every man's thoughts into new paths and another which would force him willingly to cease thinking at all."


Human Nature

"Whatever happens, you will never come across true exercise of power among men, except by the free agreement of their wills; only patriotism or religion can carry, over a long period, the whole body of citizens toward the same goal."

"Not only do they have no natural liking for public business but often they lack the time for it.  In democratic times, private life is so active, so frantic, so full of desires and work that each man has almost no energy or leisure left for political life."

"Democratic nations often hate those in whose hands central power is placed but they always retain their affection for the power itself."

"People scarcely ever take on trust the opinion of anyone equal to themselves."

"In general, only simple ideas take hold of the minds of a people.  A false yet clear and precise idea will always have more potency in society at large than a true but complex one.  That is why parties, which are like small nations in the body of a large nation, are always swift to adopt as a symbol a name or principle which often only half represents the aim they have in mind and the means they are using but without which they could neither survive nor move."

"When abstract opinions are in doubt, men end up by hanging on to their instincts and material interests alone which are much more obvious, tangible and permanent than opinions."

"Man alone of all created beings shows a natural disgust for existence and an immense longing to exist; he despises life and fears annihilation."

"The world is not directed by long and learned proofs.  All its affairs are decided by the swift glance at a particular fact, the daily examination of the changing moods of the crowd, occasional moments of chance, and the skill to exploit them."

"It can be guaranteed that if, in the end, you introduce the audience to a subject which moves them, they will not concern themselves about the route you have taken.  They will never reproach you for breaking the rules if you have aroused their emotions."

"The favor of the people may be won by some brilliant action but the love and respect of your neighbors must be gained by a long series of small services, hidden deeds of goodness, a persistent habit of kindness, and an established reputation of selflessness."

"What most sharply stirs the human heart is not the quiet possession of a precious object but the as yet unsatisfied desire of owning it and the constant fear of losing it."

"It is, moreover, simple to understand that, if those men passionately seeking physical pleasures desire them over-eagerly, they are also easily discouraged.  Since the ultimate objective is enjoyment, the means to it has to be swift and easy; otherwise the trouble to attain it would outweigh the enjoyment itself. Most souls are, therefore, both enthusiastic and slack, violent, and nervous.  Often death is less feared than the persistent efforts needed to achieve the same ambition."


War

"Nothing is as dangerous as an army amid a nation with no taste for war; the citizens' liking for quiet daily exposes the constitution to the mercy of the soldiers."

"War would only be a remedy for a people always seeking glory."

"War does not always surrender democratic nations to military rule but it invariably and immeasurably increases the powers of civil government, into whose hands it almost unavoidably concentrates the control over all men and all things."

"Once citizens are educated, disciplined, decisive, and free, you will have orderly and obedient soldiers."

"When war has lasted long enough finally to have wrenched every citizen from his peacetime activities and has brought disaster to his small-scale enterprises, those very passions which made him attach so much value to peace will turn toward war."



Revolution

"In civilized nations, it is generally only those with nothing to lose who revolt."

"When a society really does have a mixed government, that is to say, one equally divided between opposing principles, it embarks on revolution or it breaks apart."

"I know nothing more hostile to revolutionary conditions than commercial ones.  Commerce is a natural opponent of all violent passions."

"When ambitious men once have power in their grasp, they believe they can dare to do anything and, when it slips from their grip, they immediately contemplate overthrowing the state in order to recover their loss."


Women

"Religion is often powerless to restrain man in the face of the countless temptations offered by wealth and cannot moderate his eagerness to become rich, which everything around him helps to stimulate; but it reigns supreme in the souls of women, they are the protectors of morals."

"No free societies ever existed without morals and morals are made by women."

"It is easy to see that, in this ambition to make the one sex equal to the other, both are demeaned and that, from this crude mixing of nature's works, we will emerge weak men and immodest women."

"The Americans have applied to the sexes the great principle of political economy which currently dominates industry.  They have carefully divided up the functions of men and women so that the great work of society might be better performed."

"And now, as I come near to the end of this book in which I have recorded so many considerable achievements of the Americans. if I am asked how we should account fo r the unusual prosperity and growing strength of the nation, I would reply that they must be attributed to the superiority of their women."


Religion and Faith

"Americans show in practice that they feel it necessary to instill morality into democracy by means of religion.  Their thoughts about themselves in this context contain a truth which must permeate every democratic nation."

"This civilization is the result of two quite distinct ingredients which anywhere else have often ended in war but which the Americans have succeeded somehow to meld together in wondrous harmony; namely the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty."

"Liberty looks upon religion as its companion in its struggles and triumphs, as the cradle of its young life, as the divine source of its claims.  It considers religion as the guardian of morality, morality as the guarantee of law and the security that freedom will last."

"Along side evry religion lies some political opinion which is linked to it by affinity.  If the human mind is allowed to follow its own bent, it will regulate political society and the City of God in the same uniform manner and will, I dare say, seek to harmonize earth and heaven."

"America is still the country in the world where the Christian religion has retained the greatest real power over people's souls and nothing shows better how useful and natural religion is to man, since the country where he exerts the greatest sway is also the most enlightened and free."

"While the law allows for the American people to do everything, religion prevents their imagining everything and forbids them from daring to do everything."

"If Americans, who change their head of state every four years, choose new legislators every two years, replace provincial administrators annually, and if Americans, who have handed over the realm of politics to the experiments of innovators, had not placed their religion somewhere beyond their reach, what could it hold on to in the ebb and flow of human opinions? Amid the struggles of parties, where would it find its due respect? What would become of its immortality when all around it would be perishing?"

"Two great dangers threaten the existence of religions: schisms and indifference."

"On the other hand, the man who still believes is not afraid to display his faith for all to see.  He looks on those who do not share his hopes as unfortunate rather than hostile; he knows he can win their respect without following their example.  He is, therefore, in conflict with no one; since he does not view the society in which he lives as an arena where religion has to struggle constantly against a thousand relentless enemies, he is attached to his fellow men while he condemns their weaknesses and sorrows over their mistakes."

"We have to recognize that if religion does not save men in the other world, it is at least very useful for their happiness and importance in this."

"When a nation's religion is destroyed, doubt takes a grip upon the highest areas of intelligence, partially paralyzing all the others.  Each man gets used to having only confused and vacillating ideas on matters which have the greatest interest for himself and his fellows.  He puts up a poor defense of his opinions or abandons them and, as he despairs of ever resolving by himself the greatest problems presented by human destiny, he beats a cowardly retreat into not thinking at all. Such a state cannot fail to weaken the soul, strains the forces of the will, and shapes citizens for slavery.  Not only do the latter allow their freedom to be taken from them, they often give it up."

"Not only does self-interest guide the religion of Americans but they often place their interest in following it in this world.  In the Middle Ages priests spoke only of the afterlife, hardly bothering to prove that a sincere Christian might be happy here below.  But American preachers return constantly to this world and have some difficulty in detaching their gaze from it.  So as to touch their listeners more profoundly, they show them every day how religious belief is beneficial to freedom and public order.  It is often hard to know from listening to them whether the main intention of religion is to obtain everlasting joy in the next world or the prosperity of this."

"One observes men losing the object of their most cherished hopes through forgetfulness.  As they are swept along by an unseen current against which they have not the courage to struggle but to which they submit with regret, they abandon the faith they love to pursue a doubt which leads to despair."

"When authority in religious matters no longer exists any more than in political matters, men soon take fright at the sign of this boundless independence.  This constant upheaval in everything brings disquiet and exhaustion.  As everything in the domain of their intelligence is shifting, they crave at least for a firm and stable state in their material world.  Being unable to recover their ancient beliefs, they find a ruler.   In my opinion, I doubt whether man can ever support at the same time complete religious independence and entire political freedom and am drawn to the thought that if a man is without faith, he must serve someone and if he is free, he must believe."

"But as the light of faith gradually dims, men's range of vision grows narrow and you would say that every day the object of human endeavors is more within reach. Once they have grown accustomed to no longer bothering about what is to happen after this life,  they readily fall back into that completely brutish indifference about the future which is all too suited to certain attitudes found in the human race.  As soon as they have lost the way of taking a long-term view for their principal hopes, they naturally tend to seek the immediate gratification of their smallest wishes and it seems to me that from the instant they give up the hope of living forever they are inclined to act as if they were to live for only one single day."

"The soul has needs which must be satisfied.  Whatever efforts are expended upon diverting it from itself, it soon grows weary, anxious, and restless amid the pleasures of the sense."

"Whenever among the opinions of a democratic nation you come across some of those evil theories which promote the belief that everything perishes with the body, you must consider men with such views a natural enemies of the people."

"It is not man who has inspired in himself the taste for infinite things and the love of what is everlasting.  These lofty instincts are not the offspring of some whimsical desire; they have their firm foundations in human nature and exist despite man's efforts.  Man can impede and disfigure them but he cannot destroy them."

"The individual taste for physical pleasures which occurs in democratic times is in no way a natural threat to good order; on the contrary, it often requires good order for its satisfaction.  Nor is it hostile to moral orderliness. for good morals are conducive to public tranquility and encourage industry.  Often enough it may combine with a type of religious morality, for people wish to do as well as possible in this world without giving up their chances in the next."

"It is true that Christianity teaches us to place others before ourselves in order to gain heaven; but Christianity also teaches us to do good to our fellow men for the love of God.  What a magnificent expression; man uses his intelligence to penetrate the mind of God and sees that God's aim is order.  He freely joins in this grand design and, sacrificing his private interest to this admirable order of all creation, he expects no other reward than the joy of contemplating it."



Political Power

"The people reign in the American political world like God over the universe.  It is the cause and aim of all things, everything comes from them and everything is absorbed in them."

"Once you remove the strength and independence of the township, you will reduce the citizens to administrative units."

"But beware that an elected authority not subject to judicial power sooner or later eludes all control or is destroyed."

"However enlightened and wise one imagines a central power to be, it cannot entirely on its own incorporate all the details of life of a great nation, because such a task exceeds human strength."

"The dangers of the system of election increase, therefore, in direct proportion to the influence exercised by the executive power on state affairs."

"Since sovereignty of the Union is restricted and incomplete, its use is not at all dangerous to its freedom.  Neither does it arouse that excessive craving for power and reputation for fatal to to great republics.  Since nothing needs to gather at a common center, there are neither great capital cities, nor inordinate wealth, nor extreme poverty, nor sudden revolutions.  Political passions, instead of spreading instantly like wildfire over the whole country, crash against the individual concerns and passions of each state."

"Even the most firmly established of political powers have no other guarantee for their permanence beyond the opinions of one generation, the concerns of one century or often the lifetime of one man."

"The historians in democratic times not only deny that a few citizens have the power to influence the destiny of the nation, they also remove from the nation itself the capability of altering its ow destiny and they subject it either to an inflexible Providence or to a sort of blind fatalism."

"The only way opinions and ideas can be renewed, hearts enlarged, and human minds developed is through the reciprocal influence of men upon each other."

"You have to therefore change the people en masse, not simply the President, if you wish to alter the guiding political principles."

"The moral ascendancy of the majority is partly founded upon the idea that more enlightenment and wisdom are found in a group of men than in one man alone and that the number of legislators counts for more than who is elected."

"There is a state of society in which the members of the minority can never hope to win over the majority because, to do so, would entail the very abandonment of the struggle they are waging against it."


American Attitudes

"In their relations with foreigners, Americans seem irritated by the slightest criticism and appear greedy for praise.  The flimsiest compliment pleases them and the most fulsome rarely manages to satisfy them; they plague you constantly to make you praise them, if you show yourself reluctant, they praise themselves."

"In democratic society such as that of the United States, where fortunes are small and insecure, everyone works and work opens all doors; this has turned honor inside out and set it against idleness."

"The love of comfort has become the dominant taste of the nation.  The main current of human passions runs in that channel and sweeps all before it in its course."

"People who spend every day of the week making money and Sunday praying to God give no scope to the comic muse.  This single fact is enough to demonstrate that the theater is unpopular in the United States."


Other Gems

"Today's rulers appear to be seeking to use men to achieve great things.  I should like them to think a little more of creating great men."

"I am strengthened increasingly in the conviction that, to be honest and prosperous, democratic nations still only have to wish to be so."

"I believe that the only effective means available in government to bring respect to the dogma of the immortality of the soul is to act every day as if they believed in it themselves.

"Everything that elevates, enlarges, and broadens the soul makes it able to reach success even in those undertakings which have nothing to do with the soul."

"Poetry, eloquence, memory, the beauty of wit, the fires of imagination, the depth of thought, all these gifts which heaven shares out by chance turned to the advantage of democracy and, even when they belonged to the enemies of democracy, they still promoted its cause by highlighting the natural grandeur of man,. Its victories spread, therefore, alongside those of civilization and education.  Literature was an arsenal open to all, where the weak and the poor could always find arms."

"The Constitution of the United States is akin to the most fine creations of human endeavor which crown their inventors with renown and wealth but remain sterile in other hands.  Contemporary Mexico has illustrated this very thing."

"What an admirable position the New World enjoys that man has yet no other enemies than himself.  To be happy and free, he has only to will it so."

"The more a job is lowly and remote from science, the more the name is pompous and learned.  Thus our rope dancers have been transformed into acrobats and funambulists."

"What I term great political parties are are those committed to principles rather than their consequences, to general considerations rather than to individual cases, to ideas and not to men."

"The entire man, so to speak, comes fully formed in the wrappings of his cradle. Something similar happens in the case of nations; they always carry the marks of their beginnings. The circumstances which accompanied their birth and contributed to their development affect the remainder of their existence."

"It is not always the ability to choose men of merit which democracy lacks, but the desire and inclination to do so."

"The creation of unpaid offices is to form a class of wealthy and independent officials; that is the core of an aristocracy."

"It is much less frightening to witness the immorality of the great than to witness that immorality which leads to greatness."

"Nothing is more fertile in wondrous effect than the art of being free but nothing is harder than freedom's apprenticeship."

"In the United States, society had no infancy; it was born a fully grown man."

"The desire to use knowledge is not the same as the desire to know."

"If this doctrine of fatality, so attractive to historians of democratic times, passes from author to reader, and thus enters and seizes the minds of the entire body of citizens, once can anticipate that it would soon paralyze the activities of new societies and would brings Christians down to the level of Turks.  I would, moreover, say such a doctrine is certainly pernicious at the present time.  Our contemporaries are only to inclined to doubt free will because each of them feels constricted on all sides by his own weakness, but they still freely admit the strength an independence of men when united in social groups.  We must be careful not to obscure this idea, for we need to raise men's spirits, not to complete their collapse."

"It is not the elected official who produces the prosperity of American democracy but the fact that the official is elected."

"I realize that a man's arm can be amputated to save his life; but I am unwilling to be convinced that he is going to display as much dexterity as with the arm intact."

"The doctrine of self-interest properly understood does not inspire great sacrifices but does prompt daily small ones; by itself it could not make a man virtuous but it does shape a host of law-abiding, sober, moderate, careful, and self-controlled citizens.  If it does not lead the will directly to virtue, it moves it closer through the imperceptible influence of habit."

"The jury, the most energetic method of asserting the people's rule, is also the most effective method of teaching them how to rule."

"It cannot be doubted that, in the United States, the education of the people powerfully contributes to the maintenance of the democratic republic.  That will always be so, in my view, wherever education to enlighten the mind is not separated from that responsible for teaching morality."

"For society to exist and all the more so, for such a society to prosper, all the citizens' minds must be united and held together by a few principal ideas.  This could not possibly exist unless each of them occasionally draws his opinions from the same source and agrees to accept a certain number of ready-formed beliefs."

"Democratic nations, where we encounter all these things, will, therefore, foster those arts which help to make life comfortable in preference to those which aim to adorn it.  The useful will have preference over the beautiful and it is best for the beautiful to be useful."

"Democratic nations scarcely concern themselves with the past but readily dream of the future; in this direction, their unbound imaginations spread and grow without limits."

"One would be led to believe that the final outcome and necessary result of democratic institution is to jumble together all the citizens in private as well as in public life and to force them all to live a similar lifestyle.  That is to understand the quality produce by democracy in a very coarse and oppressive way."



Warnings

"The principle of re-election makes the corrupting influence of elective governments still more widespread and more dangerous, while leading to a decline in the political morality of the nation and the substitution of craft for patriotism."

"Once the provinces are subject to the capital, the destiny of the whole empire is placed not only in the hands of a section of the nation, which is unfair, but also into the hands of a nation acting unilaterally, which is most dangerous.  The supremacy of capital cities represents a great threat to the representative system.  It submits modern republics to the same defects as those of ancient times which have all perished from their ignorance of this system of government."

"The habit if inattention has to be regarded as the greatest defect of the democratic character."

"Stability must not be confused with strength, nor the greatness of anything with its duration."

"We should not, therefore, complacently think that the barbarians are still far away for, if some nations allow the torch to be snatched from their hands, others stamp it out themselves."

"Whenever working citizens refuse to attend to public affairs and the class which might have devoted its leisure hours to such concerns no longer exists, there is a virtual void in the place of government. If a clever and ambitious man happens to seize power at such a critical moment, he discovers an open path to any encroachment."

"But destroying political freedom is easy, for just loosening ones' grip is enough for it to slip away."

"Egoism blights the seeds of every virtue, individualism at first dries up only the source of public virtue.  In the longer term it attacks and destroys all the others and will finally merge with egoism."

"Not only does democracy make men forget their ancestors, but also hides their descendants and keeps them apart from their fellows.  It constantly brings them back to themselves and threatens in the end to imprison them in the isolation of their own hearts."


I hope you have enjoyed this selection of choice quotes from Tocqueville's work.  If you did, then you will absolutely enjoy the book itself.  Pick yourself up a copy and spread the wisdom.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Save Polk Elementary! Vote YES for the 2017 Ogden School District Bond




I recently attended a town hall meeting hosted by the Ogden School District to discuss the proposed bond that will be voted on shortly.  With ballots arriving in the mail anytime, I thought it would be good to inform myself on the bond's purpose and scope. 

Presently, Ogden School District has a large inventory of aging school buildings that will require upgrades or replacement in the future.  The financial tool that the School District has at their disposal, courtesy of the State, to pay these kinds of needs is bonding.  In this specific case, the School District has paid down enough of its existing debt to have room to borrow again to pay for new buildings.  Coincidentally, the timing is just right to allow the borrowing to occur without increasing property owner's taxes from their present level.  This is good news.

All the facts on the proposed bond can be found here.  But, in summary, the district proposes borrowing $106.5 Million to replace Horrace Mann Elementary and consolidate Taylor Canyon Elementary with Polk Elementary.  The Taylor Canyon site would become a park owned by the district and jointly managed by the city and school district.  It would effectively serve as a land bank for any future needs the district has for future generations


The main contention during our recent meeting involved what to do with the Polk Elementary site.  While there were a myriad of strong opinions, everyone was in agreement that something has to be done with the school.  Presently, deferred maintenance and functional obsolescence of systems has reached a critical point.  So, should the school be demolished and rebuilt?  Should it be renovated in its current form?  Or is a combination of renovation and new construction possible?


The original portion of the school is a beautiful and dignified art deco structure.  It was constructed in 1927.  


The school sits nestled in the midst of a historic neighborhood constructed in the same style around the same time as the school.  So, architectural impacts of a school renovation are a real issue for the residents who will be voting on the bond.  


Of course, the building has not remained in pristine condition for its entire lifetime.  In the 1950's when OSD was constructing many of its other schools, an addition was put on the building that extends to the south.


This mid-century appendage grafted onto an art deco body added utility to the school while also giving it strange eclectic vibes.

Besides architectural concerns, some folks in the town hall meeting outright rejected the idea of Polk expanding to serve more students than it currently does. Such a position would preclude a tear down of Taylor Canyon Elementary. Yet, the math for the school district does not support the status quo.  The district is hemorrhaging students.  Here are some examples:




  As you can see, Polk Elementary enrollment is down yearly 50% from its levels in 2009.  That is a striking decline.  If that trend were to continue, there would be no students at the school in 2028.  Also, Taylor Canyon shows volatility as its enrollment has ebbed and flowed nearly 20% over the past 8 years.  Given these dynamics, consolidating the schools into one makes sense.  

One of the main criticisms levied at the town hall meeting had to do with student enrollment.  Community members were fearful that combining the two schools would create a "super school" juggernaut that would overwhelm the neighborhood with traffic and congestion.  However, if you combine 2017 enrollment for Polk and Taylor Canyon, we get a head count of 683 which is just 50 more students than Polk had by itself in 2008.  Surely, Polk (either renovated or rebuilt) could accommodate 50 more students without wrecking the neighborhood since it has handled nearly that much in the past.

The district desires to recast Polk as a "4 section" school which means that each grade level could accommodate four classrooms per grade level.  In an unlikely worst case scenario of 30 students per classroom, that would mean a potential of 840 students at the school.  In reality, the number would be less than that.  Demographics of the East Bench are steering away from abundant child rearing and the increasing availability of charter schools will continue to compete for student enrollment.  Nevertheless, a repurposing of the school would accommodate the ebb and flow of enrollment seen at Taylor Canyon while providing top notch facilities for the best learning environments.  

So, the final question is should the bond pass?  My opinion is a resounding yes!  The district is asking voters to approve a line of credit to give them the latitude to make the right improvements.  The bond won't fix all of our district's problems but it will address our most urgent needs.  Approving the bond will not mean any specific pre-determined course of action will be taken on Polk Elementary's future.  Rather, the School Board has committed to work with the community to determine the best outcome for students, taxpayers, and the neighborhood alike after the bond passes.  The bond passage will give the school board and community a budget to work with in determining together how to best move forward. 

So, please vote YES for Ogden School District's 2017 bond.




   

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Utah GOP's Improbable Quest Through Middle Earth




It was interesting to watch the latest iteration in the Utah GOP's struggle to find itself as the party's State Central Committee met last week to wrestle over the fate of its current lawsuit against the state over SB54.

The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported on the meeting.

For those of you just tuning in, here is a brief recap of what's going on:

The Utah Republican Party has been in control of its internal process of vetting candidates via the Caucus/Convention system.  The caucus is a meeting of local party members who elect delegates.  A convention is a meeting of delegates who elect candidates to go on the ballot.  Simple enough.

However, within (and without) the party are critics who claim that the Republican delegates elected are far too conservative or ideological.  These moderate forces complain that the delegates then choose candidates who don't represent the public at large.  They cite the Harrod/Curtis dust up in the recent Congressional District 3 race as a prime example.

Within the moderate Republican crowd is a group of subversives known as County My Vote.  This group has sought to eliminate the Caucus/Convention system entirely and replace it with access to the ballot via signature gathering.  This system essentially favors well funded candidates by default since it takes so much money to campaign successfully in such a system.

County My Vote threatened to obliterate the Caucus Convention System in 2014 and so to avoid that the Legislature created a "dual" path to the ballot that accommodated signature gathering while preserving the CC system.  The Utah Republican Party did not like that compromise and sued the state.  The party spent $300,000 of money it did not have to push the lawsuit.  A final appeal to the suit is due in court in a couple weeks from today.  Meanwhile CMV is rattling sabers again threatening to blow CC out of the water with another ballot initiative.  At last week's meeting, the State Central Committee failed to take a vote as the meeting ended in deadlock between moderates and stalwart Republicans.



This whole scene reminds me of Frodo's quest to destroy the ring of power in the film Lord of the Rings.  For a long time, the Utah Republican Party has had exclusive power to decide upon its candidates.  This ultimate power (the ring) has slowly distorted the party over time.  Like Smeagol, who spent too much time isolated and alone with the ring and transmogrified into Gollum, this exclusive possession has imbued party enthusiasts with a potentially lethal lack of self-awareness. That, in turn, has blinded them to the forces that prove to be a looming existential threat.

In the film, Frodo and his hobbit pals recognize that the ring in its current form has too much power.  It is jealously desired by Sauron and his legion of Orc goons.  Meanwhile, Gollum is loath to let the ring out of his own grasp and lashes out at Frodo and crew in exasperation.

The uneasy partnership between Frodo and Gollum is unpleasantly resolved in the end of the film. The uneasy alliance between moderate republicans and their tunnel-visioned counterparts may have a similar ending.  While die-hard republicans fix their gaze on "precious", CMV threatens to unleash their army of signature gathering orcs to annihilate all of them.

How will this end?  The path is long and wrought with peril. It may be that the forces of Mount Doom prevail and make Utah politics an exclusive realm of the moneyed interests.  I certainly hope not.  But Frodo and his hobbit kin of moderate Caucus/Convention supporting Republicans need to stand up and speak up if they are to raise the alarm and successfully navigate the pitfalls that are to come.      

Monday, August 7, 2017

NCSL Boston: The Freedom Trail


We recently arrived in Boston for the National Conference of State Legislators 2017 Summit.  We took some time before meetings started to visit some of the important places in American history.  Our path took us along The Freedom Trail

Boston Common

Our trip started in the historic Boston Common.  This 40+ acre site has never been developed since pilgrim times and has served as a symbol of American political self-reliance since its creation.  The British military exploited this symbolism by occupying the space in 1768.  The open green space is full of monuments and also surrounded by other parks and important landmarks.




The State House



This amazing building is found on Beacon Hill.  The Massachusetts Legislature comprises of 160 members in the House and 40 members of the Senate.  The building was completed in 1798 at a cost of $133,000.


Park Street Church



Our next stop was Park Street Church which was a center of Abolitionist activity and served as a local gathering place.


The Granary Burying Ground

Behind the Park Street Church is a graveyard that holds the bodies of thousands of people (mostly stacked on top of each other).  Notable people include John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Ben Franklin's parents.






These table top boxes are actually stairways to subterranean tombs.




King's Chapel

The pilgrims were Puritans.  Later, Episcopalians arrived in Boston and wanted a chapel as a place to worship.  Since the Puritans wouldn't sell their neighbors any good place to build a chapel, the King ordered a chapel built in a cemetery.  The first chapel was wood.  Then in 1749 this granite structure was constructed outside of it and the original was dismantled.







The Old South Meeting House

This beautiful edifice was the scene of public outcry immediately prior to the dumping of tea into the sea during the Boston Tea Party.



The Old State House

The Old State House was where the Declaration of Independence was announced and read to residents from the balcony.






The Boston Massacre

Outside the Old State House is the site of the Boston Massacre.



Faneuil Hall

Once a large indoor market, this landmark has been converted back into use as such.



 
Paul Revere's House

Paul Revere's home was constructed in 1680 and is the oldest standing structure in the city.



Old North Church

The Old North Church was the site where the lamps were hung from the steeple according to Paul Revere's instructions "One if by land, two if by sea."




USS Constitution

The USS Constitution was closed to the public, but it was still amazing to see this ship in person.



Bunker Hill Memorial

The Bunker Hill Memorial honors the first battle of the Revolutionary War.  The obelisk is over 220 feet tall and can be climbed to the top.





The views from the top are amazing.  Here is a view of the USS Constitution and Boston Harbor.



If you ever visit Boston, the Freedom Trail is a must.  The trail is about 2.7 miles from one end to the other and makes for a great walk through downtown Boston. The city is clean and rich to experience in so many ways.  




Wednesday, June 21, 2017

OFFSIDES: Legislature Throws Flag on Guv's Special Election



So, a lot of hullabaloo has been made in the press lately about the Legislature's grievances with the way Governor Herbert chose to execute a Special Election to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seat of Congressman Jason Chaffetz.


The state constitution and statute clearly give power for setting election law to the Legislature.  Without getting into the weeds on this subject (and they are deep and thick) the bottom line is that the Legislature believes the Governor violated statute by moving forward with the Special Election.  But, to agitate the grumpy Legislature even more, it also appears that the Governor's office blocked a legal opinion requested by the Legislature from the Attorney General's office from being delivered to the Legislature.  This particular action by the Governor's office is unprecedented in Utah history.   


So, the question is what does the Legislature do about it?  There are several scenarios:

The Legislature Throws a Monkey Wrench in the Works

It is possible that the Legislature could file a lawsuit and put a stop to the Special Election under the premise that Congressman Chaffetz's House Seat is not vacant.  A vacancy is required first in order to initiate a special election.  In this scenario, the efforts of the candidates, delegates, and state parties up to this point would all be for naught.  The Special Election as it has occurred would grind to a halt until Chaffetz officially ended his tenure and then the process could begin again.  

This scenario is very disruptive and would make the make the Legislature look bad.  While the separation of powers issue is very important, the perceived tit-for-tattiness of it all would smack of political gamesmanship in the eyes of the public.   

The Legislature's Cousin Throws a Monkey Wrench in the Works

Another scenario is that a grieved third party outside of the Legislature may file suit and bring the Special Election to a halt.  Who would this person be?  Ask Jim Bennett with United Utah how he feels about his arbitrary mistreatment.  While Jim's lawsuit will not put a stop to the election, there are still 10 days left of anyone with a beef about the process to file suit.  If that happens, the Special Election could get scrapped and the Legislature is likely called into a Special Session by the Governor to write the rules on a new Special Election.  

This scenario is also very disruptive and would cause a lot of Xanax prescriptions to be written.  The Legislature would likely consider itself vindicated, however.

The Legislature Waits Oh, So Patiently...for Revenge

The most likely scenario, in my view, is that nothing happens right now.  The Special Election proceeds as planned.  Meanwhile, the Legislature toils away in the bill foundry and forges a tall stack of veto-proof bills to pass in the 2018 General Session.  

In this scenario, the public is fine with the work of the Legislature. Although, the media may make attempts to vilify its efforts to clarify the separation of powers issue and the its efforts to reign in some of the authority of the Governor.  Such efforts could likely include giving the Legislature the ability to call itself into special session if the need arises (presently only the Governor can do that), clarifying Special Election law, and potentially some other issues.  

For sure, the Governor wouldn't be happy.  But not to worry, the Legislature would be ecstatic.

What Now?

For now, we watch and wait to see what happens as the calendar days pass.  Once we get to a certain point on the calendar, it will be very difficult for the monkey wrench scenarios to play out.  Which means that the Legislature will be left to tap its fingertips together, offer up an wry grin, and  menacingly laugh in anticipation of the 2018 Session.