Arlington, VA

The Right Note: Highs and Lows

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Two Thumbs Down to the County Board for advertising a tax rate that nearly doubled the county manager’s proposed increase.

Apparently a 4.7 percent spending increase is not enough “flexibility” for Board Members in setting spending priorities. If they passed their proposed rate increase, it would allow for nearly 6 percent spending growth versus the current fiscal year.

Kudos to Katie Cristol for opposing the higher rate. She would rate a thumbs up had she proposed no tax rate increase on top of rising assessments.

Thumbs Up to Christian Dorsey for not enforcing the one speaker per topic rule during the Board’s monthly public comment period.

There is no delicate way to put this: it is a stupid rule. The Board gathers once a month which gives Arlingtonians about one hour per month (11 months out of the year) to speak to all five Board members. If there is an issue or two that arises during the year that gets a few extra people out of bed early on a Saturday morning to speak to their elected officials, the Board can and should spend a few extra minutes listening. If they want to put a cap on it, how about something more reasonable like five speakers or ten?

I was going to give a Thumbs Down to the headline of this week’s Progressive Voice for asking “Do We Live in a Democracy?” The correct answer is no, we live in a Constitutional Republic. But, one could argue he meant a “representative democracy” which, while not quite as accurate, is close enough. So, let’s move on from to the subject of the piece — redistricting reform.

One source of argument for the author is that seats in Congress should look more like the popular vote in a state, although he inexplicably goes back three federal election cycles to 2012 for his examples of supposedly unfair Republican results. He does not take into account what many non-partisan analysts argue, that Democrats tend to pack themselves into urban areas.

This self-sorting would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to meet his desired goal without drawing less compact, possibly horribly convoluted districts (something reformers also tend to oppose).

The piece also compares popular vote percentages between parties when these urban districts are often uncontested by Republicans, meaning Democrats rack up a lot of votes with no votes on the other side. This tilts the final “popular vote” result in favor of Democrats.

But let’s look further at Arlington. Over the course of the past few years in our county, 30-45 percent of voters regularly vote for someone other than a Democrat for County Board. Yet, Democrats hold all five seats.

In reality, if the Board was supposed to look more like the county, Democrats should hold three seats with one going to an Independent and one to a Republican. When the Progressive Voice is ready to propose a plan to allocate County Board seats that way, we will know they are serious about redistricting reform. Until then, it is a Thumbs Down for advocating for redistricting reform only when it appears to work in your political benefit.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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