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How do you handle a problem like…Independents?

25 Jan
Almost one fifth of DC voters reject the Democratic and Republican parties.  This excludes them from voting in the April Democratic primary, which decides many elections in DC way before the “general” election in November.

One solution for these people to register Libertarian and elect Libertarians.  Another, not mutually exclusive, reform would be to allow them to vote in any party’s primary.  Here is libertarian-leaning Mark Lee’s Blade op ed on the issue:

Fixing D.C. elections to let independent voters play

voting, District of Columbia, independent voters, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C.’s dilemma might best be remedied by “non-partisan” elections. All candidates would compete in a single primary open to all voters, with the top two candidates proceeding to the general election.
In D.C., independent voters don’t really get to play the game come election time.
Not only that, the current system allows the dominant Democratic Party’s primary candidates to proceed to the general election winning only a plurality of votes. It will likely happen again on April 1 in the historically determinant Democratic primary for mayor.
These are separate problems. But there may be a single solution.
Due to overwhelming Democratic registration at nearly 75 percent, winners of local elections are decided in the dominant party’s primary election. The only exception is a requirement that two of four At-Large D.C. Council seats be held by a non-majority-party. This provision is intended to prevent absolute single-party control but is both easily and commonly overridden by Democrats changing affiliation to “independent” as if changing socks.
Despite being primary participation outcasts, slightly more than 17 percent of the District’s registered voters have selected “No Party” as their political affiliation. This reduces voting eligibility to general elections, being prohibited from any party’s “closed primary” election.
The percentage of independent registrations would undoubtedly skyrocket if D.C. election rules were revised to eliminate participation restrictions. Independent voters are a fast-growing phenomenon in places with broader participation rules. In addition, nearly half of Americans now self-identify as “independents” – even if mostly in attitude while retaining a party preference – an all-time high in 25 years of Gallup polling.
Of course, both local Democratic Party officials and incumbents are not eager for any change weakening the incentive to register with the party. Why would they? There is no upside to surrendering the power of a determinant process exclusively involving party registrants or offering other parties a potential path to victory.
It’s partly understandable, in reference to the “open primary” system used in Virginia and other states where voters are not required to register by party and independents may vote in any party primary. Even those registered with a political party may vote in another party’s primary upon making a declaration they intend to support that party in the general election. There is an argument for letting political parties restrict primary voting to the party-registered. This prevents the possibility a party would have to “associate” with a winning candidate that did not adhere to particular political positions.
The rules for voting in primary elections vary by state and there are differing systems in place. And, yes, various protocols lead to multiple types of strategic mischief. In a fully “open” primary, for example, competing party members switch over to vote for candidates perceived weaker as general election opponents, especially if their own party’s primary is already sewn-up by a strong or single candidate or popular incumbent.
Neither “open” nor “semi-closed” primary systems that allow only independents to choose a party primary are perfect alternatives. Another option, determining a winner by ranking preference in “automatic run-off” primaries is also subject to strategic “gaming” by voters and introduces an unduly complex “poker game” mentality into the process.
D.C.’s dilemma might best be remedied by “non-partisan” elections. All candidates would compete in a single primary open to all voters, with the top two candidates proceeding to the general election.
One or both of the top two candidates might still win only a plurality. All voters, however, would have the opportunity to choose among all candidates, with a final selection available to voters in the general election. After all, no system is perfect.
A non-partisan system would provide for the least political disruption in a city with single party dominance. It would yield freedom from needing to register with the dominant party to attain electoral equity while also requiring candidates to compete side-by-side, as we already do for special elections.
It may be time to allow D.C. residents to register and fully participate in election outcomes without forcing affiliation with a political party.
It could be the best possible first-step election reform most appropriate for D.C.
Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter:@MarkLeeDC. Reach him at

Un-ENDA-tended Consequences

14 Nov
The private sector has been way ahead of government for decades now in hiring gays and lesbians and of course allowing them, as many do, to start their own businesses.

So when we make gay people (or sexual orientation) a special protected class and prohibit freedom of association in the economy, will people stop hiring gays, since it will be more costly if you ever fire one?

Will gay businesses and organizations be forced to hire heterosexuals, including people who aren’t gay-friendly, or risk law suits?

Of course, this will create new jobs – for lawyers and bureaucrats of the gay political class.

ENDA and the seduction of symbolic gestures

GetEQUAL, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT workers

Employment Non-Discrimination protest in May, 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
Politicians are rarely catalysts for social change, serving instead as reflectors of shifts in public attitudes. That is the case with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
It is also the reason legislative passage would be largely symbolic and of limited practical value. In fact, the impotence of the effort is one reason it will at least – and again – partially advance through Congress. If seeking mostly meaningless grand gestures, this one is for you.
This actuality is far more fundamental than complaints regarding exemptions for the military and companies with fewer than 15 employees, as well as broad waivers for religious institutions and church corporations – including internal self-designation of secular jobs as exempt. It’s bigger than the fact that the legislation sensibly and explicitly prohibits preferential treatment, the institution of employment quotas and does not permit lawsuits claiming that facially neutral employment practices have an adverse, or disparate, impact in application or effect.
The popular perception is that ENDA is a magic solution to job-related discrimination. The reality is that its impact is negated by the vagaries of employment management and overshadowed by the widespread adoption of equality-embracing business practices. Approved this time or not, following two decades of defeats, doesn’t much matter other than as political theater.
Business concern that continued expansion of protected classes in private sector employment administration will result in a wave of hoop-jumping regulations and a bevy of frivolous lawsuits has significantly diminished over time. Not because those worries are unwarranted or indicative of animus toward gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender workers. Rather, the now accumulated evidence is that it doesn’t much happen.
Andrew Sullivan noted this on the eve of Monday’s Senate cloture tally allowing a vote on the bill in the upper chamber this week. He reported that passage of the federal hate crimes law in 2009 has yielded exactly two successful anti-gay bias prosecutions. Statistics from the numerous municipalities and 21 states plus the District with sexual orientation employment protection laws – including 17 states and the District that include transgender workers – indicate there are few resulting lawsuits. The Government Accounting Office recently concurred.
For whatever reasons, these laws have produced scarce legal action.
Businesses understand the advantage in attracting and retaining talent best suited to build success. Fully 97 percent of Fortune 500 companies have instituted policies prohibiting anti-gay discrimination, with nearly 60 percent including gender identity. This reflects changing societal mores, more than the command of legislators. Fully four-in-five or more Americans believe that workplace discrimination is wrongheaded.
Equal treatment is now the widely implemented enterprise norm. Whether this development has been in some limited instances a result of reluctant acceptance is irrelevant, only underscoring the inability of government to ensure it in the nuanced arena of employment protocols.
Will there be more paperwork to complete and required cover-your-behind steps in hiring or firing? Will there be new human resource litigation-inoculation training to undergo? Will costly unfounded retaliatory claims by falsely aggrieved employees and applicants be instigated against employers honestly exercising the right to make employment decisions absent prejudice or violation of the law? Will pink-slip-chasing attorneys be beneficiaries? Yes, of course.
Are there a diminishing number of outlier employers who discriminate, including those doing so subtly and cleverly and escaping detection? Are there those who oppose LGBT employment protections because they dislike or even hate us? Who think our “behavior” immoral while masking bigotry utilizing a religious shield? Yep, there are.
However, statements by advocates that “every night, millions of LGBT workers go to sleep not knowing if they’ll have a job the next day” are silly and overblown. Hyperbolic claims diminish the situation some face and suggest a false remedy.
Changing attitudes and behavior through coercion, whether concerning big things or small matters and no matter how soothing a salve to the pain of history, is the easy and empty act. We need to remember that.
Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter:@MarkLeeDC. Reach him at

Moratorium measure rallies residents for reform

2 Apr

As a result of pushing for a contentious business prohibition in D.C.’s most densely populated and rapidly growing center city neighborhoods, a small anti-development group has inadvertently illustrated the need for additional reform of city alcohol licensing regulations.
Not anticipating the widespread community opposition they would generate, it’s likely they now comprehend that their actions have energized and united hundreds calling for fundamental changes in city permitting protocols for popular local dining and socializing amenities.
For the first time and amid one of the District’s largest assemblages of vibrant commerce, residents have joined in large numbers to battle imposition of a liquor license moratorium. Five restricted licensing areas exist elsewhere, most for more than a decade with negative economic development impact, and not a single one has yet been terminated.
A total liquor license moratorium proposed by the tiny group of longtime hospitality business objectors for a nuclear-bomb-blast-sized zone encompassing multiple MidCity neighborhoods appears unlikely to be approved by either the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board or the D.C. Council. The regulatory request would prohibit the opening of any new restaurants or bars and restrict expansion or other changes at existing establishments for at least five years.
An outpouring of community opposition among residents of Logan Circle, Shaw, and the 14th and U streets areas to a regulatory petition filed in December by a controversial citizens association appears to have stunned those requesting the ban. Negative advisory recommendations to the ABC Board by all four affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) groups are also anticipated. The Shaw ANC already voted on Feb. 6 to urge rejection.
However, the real worry for the renegade cadre of business licensing opponents has undoubtedly expanded beyond merely defeat on the moratorium proposal.
Entrepreneurs seeking to open a restaurant or bar are quick to discover the obstacles in navigating unduly cumbersome licensing procedures affecting the city’s largest private sector industry. That’s the lesson learned by neighborhood resident Rose Previte while seeking a liquor license for an aptly named Compass Rose tavern adjacent to the corner of 14th and T streets. She now understands why local business owners had forewarned her that the regulatory experience would be protracted, extremely expensive for a small business enterprise and, perhaps worst of all, soul sucking.
Previte’s small eatery and low-key bar to feature global street foods in a comfortable neighborhood-scale environment is planned for a commercial property that until September was an alcohol-licensed café, situated next to the landmark Café Saint-Ex and across the street from recently opened Matchbox restaurant.
The dynamic young businesswoman, with Capitol Hill’s The Pour House tavern co-owner Mike Schuster partnering as an investor, has encountered license protests by both an ad hoc “Gang of 5 or more” and the “citizens group” behind the proposed moratorium. Yet the more numerous supportive neighbors surrounding the business-to-be below the residence of Previte and her husband and NPR “Morning Edition” host David Greene, are excluded from standard licensing review procedures.
Until the D.C. Council acts to eliminate the special “legal standing” of self-designated license protest groups to directly intervene, unrepresentative and unreasonable obstructionists will continue to plague the city’s business environment. While the Council imposed some restrictions on license protests late last year, it is clear that those measures are insufficient to ensure regulatory fairness.
Further reforms allowing all residents to weigh in utilizing the open forum provided by elected ANC members are needed. A remedy allowing all voices to be heard within the existing framework of ANC opportunity to offer the ABC Board an advisory opinion on licensing applications is the commonsense solution.
MidCity neighborhoods are the latest to demonstrate that resident tolerance for the shenanigans of license protest groups has expired. Failure by D.C. Council members and the mayor to enact regulatory reforms in response to this development will only imperil their own community standing as well.
Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at  This article was originally published at