Dragons in the Algorithm
Adventures in Programming
by Michael Chermside

Election Guide, Nov 2008

Here is a description of all items that will be on my local ballot for this upcoming election, along with my own personal recommendations on how I expect to vote, and why. For quite some time now, I've done this sort of research before elections; this time I decided to write it out. If anyone thinks that my advice or some of the research I have done is useful, please feel free to consider it as one component in your own decision about how to vote. Whether you agree with my positions or not, please do vote.

*WARNING: Some local district lines were moved at the last minute (AFTER the primary). To verify your proper polling place, use `this link <https://www.pavoterservices.state.pa.us/Pages/PollingPlaceInfo.aspx>`__.*

President of the United States:

Given the billion or so that has been spent by the candidates plus untold more spent by news media, you have almost certainly made up your mind already, and my opinion here means little. Suffice it to say, that I have great respect for John McCain -- he is a man I would have voted for in a different election. But the positions he has taken to satisfy the Republican base disturb me, and his selection of an abundantly unqualified candidate for vice-president is unfortunate. On the other side, Barack Obama is exactly what we need. He is a charismatic leader, with an interest in bringing the country together. At the same time, his positions on many issues are much closer to mine than most politicians. He gives every indication of being a highly intelligent and thoughtful person -- even in the book which he wrote before he considered entering politics. And his background as a community organizer and a constitutional lawyer are just what this country needs if we are to have any hope of recovering from the appalling damage of the past 8 years. I have contribute time and money to Obama's campaign, and I will be out working for him on election day.

US House of Representatives

Joe Sestak is a former senior military leader (3-star admiral!) who has been serving for a term as a Democratic representative from a Republican-majority district. His stated priorities for this election are (1) economics, (2) health system, (3) economics, (4) energy (he wants to promote alternate energy AND drill more oil) and (5) defense. Frankly, I like this set of priorities. I have met Joe Sestak and I find that although I definitely do NOT agree with him on many issues, he was reasonable and thoughtful, had real reasons behind his choices, and was willing to explain those reasons to a constituent.

Craig Williams is his Republican challenger. Craig's main points seem to be (1) Sara Palin endorses me, (2) we need to drill more oil to solve the energy crisis, (3) Government is too big and should regulate less -- for instance, they shouldn't allow airline traffic over our district [no... this doesn't make sense], (4) Health care should be fixed by privatizing it [yes, that IS what we already have]; specifically we should provide prescription drugs for senior citizens, "emphasize personal responsibility", and put an end to "frivolous lawsuits".

On the whole, Craig Williams' proposals do not even seem sensible, and Joe Sestak has proven to be quite reasonable and effective in his time so far. I intend to support Joe Sestak.

Attorney General

John Morganelli tells the League of Women Voters (and posts on his own website) that his #1 plan is to "Pass a gang statute that makes gang membership a crime so as to attack the gangs before the commit their next murder or drug deal". Perhaps he does not quite understand what the constitutional guarantee of freedom of association means. Another proposal of his is to "Abolish parole for violent criminals." Our prison system assigns one to serve a range of years for a crime depending on the judge and jury's evaluation of the seriousness of the crime and on the individual's behavior afterward. To completely ignore the latter in the name of "punishing violent criminals" is foolish and unwise.

Tom Corbett has been Attorney General for the past several years. As far as I can tell, all evidence suggests that he has done a reasonably good job.

Marakay Rogers is a bit more unusual -- she has a history of running under various third parties. She has managed to get endorsements for various offices from the Libertarian party, the Green party, the Reform party and Ralph Nader. She feels evidence of racially unbalanced enforcement of the death penalty needs to be addressed. She questions Pennsylvania's high rate of incarceration (3rd highest in the nation). She objects to the REAL ID act as violating PA constitutional privacy rights, and speaks out for the rights of immigrants.

I would feel very comfortable voting for Tom Corbett, who is qualified and competent. I would also feel comfortable voting for Marakay Rogers. Polling shows something in the neighborhood of 43% for Corbett to 31% for Morganelli to 3% for Marakay.

Auditor General

Betsy Summers has not bothered to put up a website for her campaign, to populate the web page that her party provides for her, or even to answer questions for the League of Women Voters, so she is not even worthy of consideration.

Chet Beiler has a history as a successful businessman in a number of enterprises that he grew and ran successfully. He does not have a history of political involvement and bills himself as "not a career politician". Jack Wagner is the currently serving Auditor General. I have read at least 5 different newspaper endorsements of Jack Wagner (I couldn't find any newspapers endorsing Beiler). All of them said essentially the same thing: "In his current term, Jack Wagner has done audits that revealed serious issues (curiously, each newspaper seemed to list different audits) and has gone after mismanagement of funds. He should be returned to office to continue the good work." With widespread endorsements like this, I intend to support Jack Wagner.

State Treasurer

Tom Ellis failed to answer even the simplest of questions from the League of Women Voters; Berlie Etzel did that much but seems not to have a website (or event to have populated her page within her party's site). Thus, these candidates were more difficult to research (Robert McCord has plenty of information available about himself and his positions.)

From what I can tell, Tom Ellis and Robert McCord have similar backgrounds. They are from the same area, both have political experience and business backgrounds, and both would be new to this office. McCord appears to have the ability to raise much more money - 23x as much - and to spend vast sums of his own money as well, but I mistrust that as an indicator in this case; I think it is likely to be due to large donors he knows rather than broad support.

Without any strong reason to prefer either candidate, I will probably select a candidate based on party endorsement (in my case, choosing McCord as the candidate of the Democratic party).

State Senator

Lance Rogers and Daylin Leach must have spent a fair amount of money because I got several mailings from them. Unfortunately, all of the mailings were either attack ads or responses to attack ads. The gist of it seemed to be that Rogers accuses Leach of having tried to weaken laws against drunk driving, but independent 3rd parties seem to claim that Leach was actually just changing the laws in an attempt to strengthen not weaken them. Frankly, I'm not impressed either way, and I wish they'd found a better way to spend their campaign dollars.

Rogers says his top issues are: (1) cutting government perks, (2) cutting taxes and spending, (3) fixing healthcare, (4) promoting jobs, (5) promoting green space and green construction/energy, and several others. Leach says his top issues are: (1) education, (2) environment, (3) political reform, (4) healthcare (he worked to get prescription drugs for those receiving health insurance from the state, and he works on women's health issues).

On the whole, there is not a lot there on which to base a decision, but I tend to favor Leach's approach. And I don't like politicians who start very dirty negative campaigning (which is how independent parties characterized Rogers' mailings). So I'll be voting for Daylin Leach.

State House of Representatives

Greg Vitali is a hero of mine. I still recall when the Pennsylvania legislature voted themselves a massive, undeserved and blatantly unconstitutional pay raise in the middle of the night. (The constitution forbids the legislature from raising its own pay during its term, so they effectively raised the amount of expenses allowed and said they wouldn't be expecting to see any receipts.) Greg Vitali spoke out against this at the time. He spoke out so vocally that his own party stripped him of committee positions and power in an attempt to silence him -- but he was not silent. Greg vitali has my vote and will continue to have my vote for a long, long time. It helps that I agree with him on many other issues, but ultimately, integrity is the most important issue for me.

And if you didn't find THAT convincing enough, read our local newspaper's article on the two candidates (which does not endorse a candidate).

Referendum on Bonds for Water and Sewer Improvement

Do you favor the incurring of indebtedness by the Commonwealth of $400,000,000 for grants and loans to municipalities and public utilities for the cost of all labor, materials, necessary operational machinery and equipment, lands, property, right and easements, plans and specifications, surveys, estimates of costs and revenues, prefeasibility studies, engineering and legal services and all other expenses necessary or incident to the acquisition, construction, improvement, expansion, extension, repair or rehabilitation of all or part of drinking water system, storm water, nonpoint source projects, nutrient credits and wastewater treatment system projects?

I intend to vote "Yes" on this measure. I have read newspaper editorials both for and against the measure. It was my opinion that the "yes" editorials backed up their position with sensible arguments about the state of our water and sewer infrastructure and an analysis showing that this would not affect the state's bond rating, while the "no" editorials backed up their position by simply saying "government spending is bad... they should take the money from cutting government waste". But ultimately, these were not what swayed my opinion -- the economy was. During a recession, governments should be using their creditworthiness to borrow in order to pay for public works projects. (And during boom times they should pay down debt and set up rainy-day funds.) This kind of behavior is what smooths out the extremes and restores our economic stability, from which we all benefit.

Posted Sat 01 November 2008 by mcherm in Politics