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Of Grunge and Government

I joined my fellow scavengers at the final few days of Towers Records to pick up some deeply discounted music. On the dishevelled magazine rack, I noticed one called Fugue which listed on its cover the radical historian Howard Zinn and founding Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale. (Bobby Seale & I share a birthday.) I picked up the magazine to leaf through it, and stopped at an article about Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic‘s electoral reform work. A two-fer. I was sold. and got me through graduate school. You need only skim this blog to see my support of electoral reform. When I got the magazine home, I found that it also contained articles on New Paltz Village Green Mayor Jason West; the Guerrilla Girls; Chuck D and even a round table discussion with Politics1 founder Ron Gunzburger.

click here to buy this bookThe Novoselic interview only quickly mentions the point of his book, Of Grunge and Government, Let’s Fix this Broken Democracy!, that we should change from a winner-take-all electoral system:

…The book is basically a call for political reform and my agenda which is instant run-off voting and proportional representation. But I felt I could make the connections between meaningful music and meaningful politics.


The article goes on, without ever defining instant run-off voting (IRV) or proportional representation, to give Novoselic’s take on the 2000 election:

…We use Ralph Nader as a scape goat, but shouldn’t we celebrate diversity in the United States? Broaden the debate? We should have the right of free association and we shouldn’t presume whose votes belong to whom. It wasn’t Nader’s fault.

Surprisingly, Novoselic starts to slip back toward the corporate media reinforced myth that a Democratic/Republican duopoly is constitutionally required:

It’s not about [being] negative toward the Green Party — I believe everyone has a right toward free association. You have to realize that we’re running under a two-party system. If you have a third party, there can only be a right sphere and a left sphere. If you have a third party it splits the coalition.

click here to buy this bookIf the Fugue article about New Paltz Mayor West had more than one-page of text, it might have been able to explore West’s own book, Dare to Hope: Saving American Democracy, which sounds out the same remedies of IRV and proportional representation while giving full-throated support to need for third parties in American democracy. The article does deserve credit for venturing beyond the convenient label of 20-something Green college-town same-sex-marrying mayor. It catalogs West’s achievements in bringing cost-saving, ecologically-friendly technology to New Paltz, and West’s analysis of the barriers in American democracy:

But the fundamental lack of choice is the real problem in this country. Democrats are right wing. Republicans are right wing. That’s the whole range of the political spectrum, and discourse is limited to the small areas in which those parties don’t agree. I mean, their only difference on iraq is how many troops we should send. The American people are lazy or disillusioned. They’re smart. They understand that their vote doesn’t matter. Voting rates are only going to improve when people feel like they have a real choice.

Coincidentally, the Fugue political roundtable discussion ends with a question to Politics1’s Gunzburger and Outside the Beltway’s James Joyner about the again unexplained concept of instant-runoff voting. Though Gunzburger’s quick retreat from IRV is disappointing, Joyner’s abject fear of a marketplace of ideas is the more telling.

What do you think of instant-runoff voting? What would its implementation do for the electoral process?
Gunzburger: Great idea, but it is never going to happen on any large scale in the United States. At least not for many, many years. Thus any debate on the potential effects of IRV is entirely speculative fantasy.
Joyner: I haven’t thought much about it, although it strikes me as a bad idea. The current system essentially forces the creation of large, catch-all parties that espouse centrist positions. As bitter as our politics are, they’d be a lot more so if we encouraged tiny parties to run.

click here to buy this bookUnfortunately from the appearance of the Fugue magazine website, it seems that it went into the same dustheap as Tower Records. But from both I discovered Novoselic’s book, Of Grunge and Government, Let’s Fix this Broken Democracy!, which despite his alternative credentials serves as a pretty mainstream argument for electoral reform. Though the first chapter takes a whirlwind tour of Novoselic as the bassist for the 90’s most influential band; it simultaneously shifts the readers focus from musical biography to punk-influenced politics. Unlike the Fugue article, the book argues in detail for the reader to get politically involved. Novoselic uses own journey to illustrate how change can be made. He starts with his own success as a free speech activist re-negotiating Washington State’s All-Ages Show regulations. This builds to his plan to bring proportional representation to Washington State’s lower house:

…Instead of forty-nine State House districts [electing 2 representatives each in individual races], I propose we create nine larger multi-member districts. Current U.S. House of Representatives boundary lines could make up the Super-Districts. Each district would elect eleven members to the State House. That would only increase the House membership from ninety-eight to ninety-nine. Political parties, or other groups of independent-minded voters, would run up to eleven candidates each on open party list ballots, with those candidates reflecting the full range of views and interests within that party. Voters would choose their favorite candidate from their favorite party. If a party wins 60% of the vote, their top six vote-getters go to the legislture. Even if a party receives only 10%, one candidate will be elected
With Super-Districts, 90% of the voters will feel that they have representation. This will obviously make voting much more meaningful to millions of people. There will be no “safe seats” to give away to the incumbent. EVERY seat in a full representation State House will be competitive. Political parties will stand in the marketplace of ideas earning their seats. super-Districts make most voters winners, and could be the start of resoring confidence in our democracy. …No longer will voters have to hold their breath until the next round of decennial redistricting, hoping they fall on the winning side of a geographic lottery….Inclusion will be the rule that invites participation. We can make sure major parties are truly accountable by opening up our elections to third parties, and voters will finally have real choices. Competition for voters will create the incentive for parties to cultivate new constitutencies. Wasted and surplus votes will be minimized….

Novoselic’s blog-like website www.fixour.us provides updates on proportional representation. It has a Flash Player webpage at www.fixour.us/superdistricts which explains how his Super-Districts would work. Novoselic has also signed on to the board of directors of FairVote which works for electoral reforms such as instant runoff voting, proportional voting, direct election of the president and automatic voter registration” Their website is www.fairvote.org

Click here to find out more about Of Grunge and Government, Let’s Fix this Broken Democracy! by Krist Novoselic.

Click here to see more books like these

And here is a video produced by the Minnesota FairVote about IRV:


This FairVote video is an excellent explanation of IRV despite its prejudice against 3rd parties:


2 Responses

  1. Happy New Year!

  2. […] Wilder is my co-blogger at onthewilderside. He has an article from January 2007 describing Novoselic’s politics, Novoselic’s book Of Grunge and […]

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