Category Archives: Government–State

Would you have voted for John Ashcroft?

Attorneys General: Elected vs. Appointed

I recently replied to a tweet about D.C.’s electing an attorney general by contending that election entails almost as many pitfalls as appointment does. Someone from the District of Columbia then asked me to explain my point, and I promised that I would do so. The result is this paper (PDF) about the advantages and disadvantages of electing or appointing an attorney general. Although I strongly favor the Federal nomination-confirmation method of selecting executive-branch officers, my paper does not argue strongly in favor of appointment because I did not find any compelling reasons to prefer one over the other. Instead, I present my best and worst reasons to appoint or elect an attorney general as follows.

Best Reason Worst Reason
Appoint Deliberative selection process, though often influenced by politics Turnover, especially because of reassignments to other positions
Elect Stability, though not guaranteed Influence of campaign contributions

To expound on the matter of stability, I had wanted to compare average tenures of attorneys general in select appointment states to the averages in comparable election states, but the data required was not readily available. Neither Wyoming nor New Hampshire, both appointment states, list past attorneys general on their websites, although New Jersey does. A resource that might have this data is Powers And Duties Of The Attorneys General, 3rd ed. (Emily Myers, Editor), published by the National Association of Attorneys General.

Stop Industrializing Higher Education

Today, I mailed a critique of President Obama’s plan for reforming higher education and a counter-proposal to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I am limiting the scope of my proposal to state and local public colleges and universities. The full article (PDF) explains my arguments in greater detail.

My plan rejects Obama’s proposed ratings system as unfair and unrealistic and replaces it with a simple formula that rates each state’s higher-education financing in terms of the portion that comes from tuition and fees. This rating, the student burden, would be used to determine whether all colleges and universities in a particular state are eligible for Federal grant money.

My plan recognizes that state governments are primarily responsible for financing their higher-education systems and thus holds states, not colleges and universities, accountable for maintaining affordability. By giving states a powerful incentive for limiting tuition and fees, my plan aims directly at the President’s principal objective–making college affordable.

Expulsion of Due Process

On November 6 voters in the District of Columbia will have an opportunity to vote on ethics laws that, if passed, would be included as amendments to the Home Rule Charter. Proposed Charter Amendment V provides for the expulsion of councilmembers for gross misconduct. The legislative text from the D.C. Register is the following.

By a 5/6 vote of its members, the Council may adopt a resolution of expulsion if it finds, based on substantial evidence, that a member of the Council took an action that amounts to a gross failure to meet the highest standards of personal and professional conduct. Expulsion is the most severe punitive action, serving as a penalty imposed for egregious wrongdoing. Expulsion results in the removal of the member. Expulsion should be used in cases in which the Council determines that the violation of law committed by a member is of the most serious nature, including those violations that substantially threaten the public trust. To protect the exercise of official member duties and the overriding principle of freedom of speech, the Council shall not impose expulsion on any member for the exercise of his or her First Amendment right, no matter how distasteful the expression of that right was to the Council and the District, or in the official exercise of his or her office.
The Council shall include in its Rules of Organization procedures for investigation, and consideration of, the expulsion of a member.

If you are a D.C. resident, then I urge you to reject Proposed Charter Amendment V for the following reasons.
1. The legislative text contains vague criteria for expulsion.
2. It does not guarantee due process of law.
3. Because of its political nature, a legislature should never have the authority to remove one of its own members.

Charter Amendment V is a dangerous proposition and must therefore be rejected.

Merit Pay for the D.C. Council


A salary plan that is based on teacher pay, the minimum wage, and the unemployment rate is proposed for the Council of the District of Columbia. Under the plan, higher salaries result from raising teacher pay or the minimum wage or from lower unemployment rates. The plan could be adapted to almost any full-time state legislature. The full proposal is posted on this site in a PDF file.

The governments of the District of Columbia and many states have been imposing merit pay on teachers, so it seems fair to turn the tables on our legislators and subject them to a merit pay plan. I am proposing a plan for the Council of the District of Columbia that is based on teacher salaries, the minimum wage, and the unemployment rate. This plan forces the Council to live with what they legislate, provides an incentive to improve the welfare of workers, and ensures that D.C. residents get something in return for money spent on council salaries.

My plan consists of two components, a base salary and a bonus. The base equals the annual equivalent of the minimum wage plus the salary of public-school teachers with only a bachelor’s degree and no experience. With current figures, the base salary would be 8.25 x 52 x 40 + 49,085 = 66,245. The bonus is determined by the unemployment rate so that lower unemployment rates bring higher bonuses. I recommend a bonus cap of 55,000 because this amount added to the base salary is 121,000, which is close to current Council salaries.

The bonus amount for the next fiscal year is calculated by multiplying the cap by a factor whose value ranges between 0 and 1. This factor, call it p, is calculated by applying a formula (specified in the full proposal) to the unemployment rate from a specified period of time. If unemployment decreases from the previous year, the factor increases, and thus the bonus increases. Likewise, if unemployment increases, the bonus decreases. The salary is calculated by multiplying the bonus cap times the factor and adding that product to the base, that is, salary = 66245 + 55000 x p.