Monday, February 14, 2011

Why we're not going to cover your write-in campaign

Posted By on Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge Private or public, trash collection always comes with a charge.
  • Private or public, trash collection always comes with a charge.

Reporters who cover politics are, by and large, hypocrites. We complain about establishment figures and good-ol'-boy networks and politicians who wouldn't recognize an original thought if it jammed a lapel pin in their eye. But when election season rolls around, we run like hell from third-party candidates and other outsiders. Mounting a write-in campaign? Write someone who cares.

I'm not defending the practice. Wait, yes, I am going to defend the practice. Because marginal candidates tend to be really aggravating.


Take, for instance, Mahlon Davis Jr., a 29-year-old candidate for the 5th District at-large seat held by Cindy Circo.

Though he didn't collect enough valid signatures to get his name on the ballot, Davis has put some effort into his candidacy. He was out last fall, protesting against the city's red-light cameras. He has also attended candidate forums. He's a young guy trying to get involved, and that's a good thing to see.

Davis supports the elimination of the "e-tax," the 1-percent income tax the city levies on residents and workers. This position sets Davis apart from most candidates running in the city election. No one who's running for mayor, for instance, thinks voters should abolish the tax when it comes up for a vote in April.

The e-tax pumps about $200 million a year into the city's general fund. So how will the city function without the money? One of Davis' ideas is to privatize trash collection. Davis says the city would save $11.1 million.

A couple of points here:

1. Trash collection in Kansas City is already privatized. Partially, anyway. A company called Town & Country Disposal collects the garbage at 60 percent of the city's homes. City crews do the rest.

click to enlarge Mahlon Davis Jr. wants to privatize.
  • Mahlon Davis Jr. wants to privatize.
2. In order to save $11.1 million, the city would have to do more than outsource residential trash collection. It would have to eliminate the service entirely. As in, drag your garbage out to the curb, and no one will pick it up.


Asking residents to fend for themselves trashwise isn't crazy. Raytown does it. So does Overland Park.


But Davis isn't talking about government services in these terms. His blog makes it sound as though the city can save $11 million on trash collection merely by unleashing the power of competitive bidding. In fact, the service would have to disappear, and residents would need to make arrangements with private haulers, who don't work for free.


(Davis' belief in the free market is somewhat incoherent, incidentally. He thinks the companies that successfully bid on the right to haul garbage in Kansas City should have to hire the "displaced workers that privatization will create." But if protecting jobs is important, why not keep garbage collection in-house?)

I'm giving Davis a hard time on this point because he and I talked in December, when I wrote about Tracy Ward, a likeminded candidate in the 6th District. When we spoke, Davis mentioned privatizing garbage collection. I drew his attention to the fact that private companies were already hauling off some of Kansas City's Glad bags. He sounded surprised. "I'm going to have to look to into it," he said.

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