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Local political expert to take part in live election day chat

November 4, 2008

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

John Nalbandian

John Nalbandian is a professor of public administration at Kansas University. From 1991 to 1999 he served as a Lawrence city commissioner, including two terms as mayor, and continues to counsel municipalities, educators and others in the U.S. and abroad about operations of local governments. Nalbandian's second four-year term as a commissioner expired just as voters were electing a slate of candidates committed to establishing a citywide, fixed-route bus system, and the T started rolling in December 2000.

Nalbandian will chat live with LJWorld.com and 6News Lawrence readers and viewers on election night. Feel free to submit questions in advance or come back election night to instantly get his take on the results.

Moderator:

Our chat will be starting a little closer to 8 p.m. In the meantime, feel free to post questions in advance.

Moderator:

Hello. This is Mark Fagan, reporter for 6News, the Journal-World and LJWorld.com. I'll be moderating this live election chat with former Mayor John Nalbandian, a professor of public administration at Kansas University. We'll be answering your questions tonight as we follow the returns here in Douglas County and across the country. We'll also be commenting on TV during 6News' live coverage, on Sunflower Broadband channel 6, so your questions could end up getting some TV time.
Thanks for joining us tonight, John.

John Nalbandian:

Thanks, Mark. It is great to be here with you. I'm looking forward to reading the questions and to talking with you and those on line about the local issues in this election.

Moderator:

Here's our first question, John.

foxes:

Do you get the sense that the increased interest in this election has resulted in voters being more informed?

As candidates spend more and more for their campaigns, do you think qualified local candidates will shy away from running for office because of the cost?

John Nalbandian:

I do think they are more informed, but I suspect more informed about national issues than our local ones. There are going to be so many more voters present now than would be in a spring election when we elect the city commission, I wonder how many will be surprised to see the sales tax issues on the ballot. They may not be since so much attention has been in the newspaper about them, but at this point I am skeptical. Part of the answer will be when we see how many more people are voting for president than for the taxes. If there are a lot more, then I think people are saying they don't know much about the local issues. If there are similar numbers voting for candidates and the sales taxes, then, I suspect they do know.

Of course, nationally, I don't think this contest is about issues as much as it is about identity--who we are as a country and what we want to become.

Qualified candidates always can raise money! I know that sounds rash, but I believe it. If you cannot raise money, then you are not an attractive candidate--attractive in the best sense of that word.

thanks for this great question.

Moderator:

We're starting to se some results from the courthouse. We're told that the three sales tax questions all are garnering the majority of the votes in advance voting -- ballots that are said to account for nearly 24 percent of overall voter turnout. The results, so far:
Question No. 1: Sales tax for infrastructure, up 71.63 percent to 28.37 percent.
Question No. 2: Sales tax for basic transit operations, up, up 70.46 percent to 29.54 percent.
Question No. 3: Sales tax for enhanced transit operations, up 69.43 percnt to 30.57 percent.
Surprising?

John Nalbandian:

Yes, very surprising. I can't remember a tax passing 70-30; so we need to exercise some caution here. What I am eager to see now are the presidential results: are they going to be 70-30 Obama over McCain as well?

Moderator:

Results still coming in, and the sales tax results appear to be holding up: with 32 of 49 city precincts in, the the questions generally are up with about 70 percent support.
From your perspective, what's the advantage of financing city operations and p[rojects with sales taxes, versus propety taxes or fees or anything else?

John Nalbandian:

Property taxes are more stable than sales tax, and that is the primary reason local govenrments like them. Sales taxes can be very robust; the sales taxes we are voting on total less than one cent and yet they generate millions of dollars. Also, sales taxes have the advantage of people outside the city paying them as well as those who live within the jurisdiction. Sales tax can be volatile; more so than property tax; and that is why cities and counties like to be cautious about relying upon them too much. Sales tax is regressive and that is a concern as well. Unfortunately, we do not have a portion of the state income tax that is returned to cities and counties; that is what i would like to see.

Moderator:

OK, so now all the results are in and the city sales taxes won handily. We've talked on TV about a Democrat -- Nancy Thellman -- winning a seat on the Douglas County Commission, giving that governing body a Democratic majority (with incumbent Charles Jones) for the first time in at lest 16 years. What are the implications for Democrats, and how they will/should govern?

John Nalbandian:

I think there may be a couple of issues that could be affected locally. Maybe the SLT will come back into the news. But, I think the broader issue is how well the democratic party was organized for this election and whether that organization will be able to be recreated in future elections. Also, even though our local city commission races are non-partisan, will the energy that fueled this election and the organization behind it carry over in some way to the city commission election.

But, I think there is a much larger issue for the democrats and that has to do with interpreting the election results and what kind of mandate for change is implied. Will they think that the country should move from right to left or move from right to consensus government. My own sense is that the criticism we heard of politics before the financial meltdown had to do with the degree of partisanship associated with republican rule. If the demos act in the same ways, except from the left, I think any mandate is going to be short lived.

Moderator:

The results from tonight (and previous weeks, through advance voting) certainly are gaining attention among many folks in town. What message can city commissioners take from the overwhelming support for the new increases in sales taxes? Could they seek approval for more taxes? Should these these results -- enabling voter-approved tax increases, despite an economic downturn -- give commissioners confidence, or should they be worried that their priorities perhaps have been out of touch from the electorate?

John Nalbandian:

I think the message I would take from this is that the CC lags behind the voting public when it comes to financial investments the public is willing to make in the city. We had two very diverse issues here--one had to do with the nuts and bolts of infra-structure maintenance broadly defined; the other was in my mind an equity issue and also an issue that conveyed a challenge to what we want this city to be (integrated bus system with KU leading to broader transit options). I think it is likely that while the CC thought it was responding to the wishes of the public by holding the line on taxes, in fact it was leading the public based on its own predispositions. nothing wrong with that, it is the nature of leadership. I know I am being provocative here, but I think the point is worth considering--given the overwhelming support to tax ourselves especially in this economic time.

Moderator:

You served as a city commissioner as supporters of public transportation were pushing for establishment of a fixed-route system. Then candidates supportive of such a system won election, and the system started rolling. Now, today, voters threw their support not only behind retaining the system, but also to enhance it. How large of a mandate is this? What's next for the T?

John Nalbandian:

It is a mandate not only because of the margin of victory, but the consistency of support throughout the city. We had a quick look at precinct totals, and it is quite amazing. There is more variation in turnout precinct to precinct than there is in support for the three sales taxes. Further, my quick take on this is that there was more variation in the presidential contest precinct by precinct than variation in support for the taxes.

What's next? I think we are going to be disappointed if there is not an expeditious agreement with KU students for seamless and enhanced service. There are plenty of university towns that have a single bus system or integrated bus systems, so the models exist.

Moderator:

Thanks for joining for the chat, John. We'll be sure to stay in touch. And -- who knows? -- we may get a chance to do this for the city elections in April...

John Nalbandian:

Mark thank you very much for inviting me. As a last thought, we should recognize the county for running a very smooth election--Jamie Shew and his staff deserve a lot of credit.

Moderator:

I think Jamie's taken enough calls from me i recent weeks to last -- oh, another four years.
This concludes out chat. Thanks to all for following along.

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