Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Old hands, new hands and flashbulbs

I just read Dr. McNinch's column "Third Party Solution" (Marianas Variety, 10-23-2012). In it, puts forth a basic theory that "when democrats run the executive branch, the republicans get exiled to the legislature" and that "When republicans take over the executive branch, legislative power is affected by rank recruitment into director positions." He says that "Few republicans would want to risk a stable director position for the unstable legislative branch." I choose to believe that he does not mean to imply that democrats and republicans are driven by different impulses, but is trying to offer a political "supply side" explanation for imbalances in the legislature. Apparently, the reason why the Republicans have held the majority only about 1 1/2 terms (the 28th and the 29th Legislatures) is that a there was an adverse supply shock which caused Republicans to join the Republican Camacho-Moylan/Camacho-Cruz and Calvo-Tenorio administrations and, therefore, abandon the Guam Legislature.

I have a simple supply-side explanation which I think can rival Dr. McNinch's. Most of the legislatures since the 26th have been within one or two seats of switching the majority. In 2002, four Republican incumbent senators and one Democratic incumbent senator dropped out to participate in the gubernatorial election. Democratic Senators went from 7 to 9, and Republican Senators went from 8 to 6. Two of those prominent Republican former Senators came back to the Legislature in the 28th. Democratic Senators went from 9 to 6 and Republicans went from 6 to 9, but most of that is accounted for just by the return of those former Senators.

In the 2006 election, two Democratic Senators dropped out to contest the gubernatorial election and another pair of incumbents (1 Dem, 1 Rep) left. Even so, the Democratic Party went from 6 to 7 and the Republicans went from 9 to 8 in the election. The midterm returned Senator B.J. Cruz to the legislature. In 2008, without any major changes, the Democrats gained two more seats (to 10) and the Republicans dropped to 5, although the lead was narrowed with the midterm election of Senator Tony Ada. The most recent General election saw one Democrat and three Republicans drop out to contest the gubernatorial race, but the Democratic lead remained at 9-6.

I would add that despite the explanation which Dr. McNinch offers, few incumbents were lured away by the administration. He might be somewhat right as one thinks about first-time entrants, although that would be very anecdotal (not that there is anything wrong with including such evidence). Obviously I am missing a lot of details even on the "supply side" of potential legislators, but I do not think there is sufficient evidence to support the connection between the party of the administration and the lack of a majority from the same party. As Gunnar Myrdal, my favorite economist, wrote in Beyond the Welfare State, "Correlations are not explanations and besides, they can be as spurious as the high correlation in Finland between foxes killed and divorces." (By the way, for those who are interested, you can find very cheap copies of this book on Amazon or other online booksellers.) Equally important, even where there is a historical pattern, it can end abruptly, as the famous phrase says: "The trend is your friend until the end."

The most important fact is that demand is another major factor. Politicians do not just step forward, then get inaugurated: they must convince a sizable bloc of voters to cast their ballot for them. The people of Guam still have to decide who to support. It seems to me that there is still much to be investigated both in Guam's politics and how elections really end up selecting politicians to serve the public.

I did not quite understand how Dr. McNinch comes to the conclusion that the existence of a third "non-aligned" party would change the dynamics in a positive way. I am supportive of the idea of a third party, although I do not think it likely that one will emerge and thrive (it's probably more likely that one of the existing parties could be reformed by the concerted effort of a Guam-scale mass movement). I have further doubts that a third party would really be "non-aligned". If a third-party is formed with the intent of influencing politics, it will probably tend to be more closely related to one party over the other. In any case, the idea of a successful up-and-coming third party strikes me as a bit utopian, but I could be wrong.

Sort-of related posts:
Lee Webber admits why he wants a part-time legislature
Possible response from McNinch (different topic)
Comments on the Calvo administration's 'spending cuts' and the debt ceiling
Functions of the Guam Legislature
A view of Guam's Primary election


  1. Since, I want to be transparent, I thought I should point out that this blog was reproduced in the Marianas Variety as a letter to the editor on October 25, 2012. On the online version, Dr. Ron McNinch made a brief rebuttal to my counterargument (although I admit I have only just begun to flesh out my model):

    "In general, third parties serve as a sort of safety valve for our two-party system when the politics becomes flat. In 1992, it was United We Stand America (UWSA) with Ross Perot, the current tea party fringe is a secondary example.

    If you trend out who serves in the legislature and couple the data with pre- and post- activities, it becomes very clear that legislative majorities are in a function directly affected by Adelup. I didn't have a lot of room to go into all of the cases, but the basic cycle is formed around the old hand, stable senators creating coalition relations within their affiliates to form control majorities. This is a fairly basic political view based on behavior."

    (corrected for minor typographical issues and clarity: he made reference to UWSA and Perot)

    1. I have a rebuttal to Dr. McNinch's rebuttal.

      I can think of the relationship between pre- and post- careers for senators, myself. Stay tuned for updates, but here's the fast and loose version. Off the top of my head, here are current or recent incumbents along with their jobs in various administrations before they became senators (I already fb'd McNinch about these): under Governor Gutierrez: Frank Aguon, Jr., used to be Director of the Department of Commerce and Rory Respicio was the Deputy Director of the DYA; under Governor Camacho: Frankie Ishizaki was Chief of Police, Frank Blas, Jr., was Director of Homeland Security, Telo Taitague was Director of Women's Affairs, Tony Ada was Director of DYA, Chris Duenas was Director of DLM and Sam Mabini was the Executive Director of KGTF/PBS Guam. A few others were appointed to various posts at one point or another, but not shortly before their first run as Senator. In the latest batch of candidates, Tommy Morrison is Director of BSP, Adonis Mendiola is the Director of DYA, MiChelle Taitano works in the Governor's office and Leah Beth Naholowaa (which might not count) worked as the Director of GDOL.

      My basic theory is not that the administrations draw potential senators away from running, but that they help to develop visibility and leadership potential in what they see as "up and comers." And if some of them lose, they may just be able to continue working for the administration and, if they lose after a single term as senator, they can be reappointed to a position of prominence within the administration (just because a person was not the most successful at getting reelected does not mean they are not very competent in other areas which are useful for the administration).

      My position on why the administration would do this is quite simple: the administration wants to be successful and/or "be in charge" and, to be so, they need the legislature not to rock the boat too much. Or the administration could really have policy goals for which they require legislative cooperation. Or there could be personal ties. Or politics could include a patronage network, where a political apparatus is successful by creating jobs for a select constituency. Any of those causes or probably more, besides, could be served by the same basic strategy. I won't pick any, myself, because at this stage it seems unscientific to rule out the hypotheses without examining the evidence closely.

      That being said, there might be some truth to Dr. McNinch's views on the interaction between having an administration of one party and its effect on some potential candidates choosing work in the administration or running for the legislature, particularly for risk-averse individuals who would rather have a cozy directorship of up to 4 years than an unsure seat in the legislature for 2 years at a time. The fact is, that it is very intuitive on an individual basis and it may be true, although I think what we are looking at here is not multiple choice, but boxes which we can check off. Yes, there could be a behavioral factor; yes, there is a strategic factor; yes, there could be other factors, including whether classified employees are allowed to run for senator.

    2. As for the idea of a non-aligned third party serving as a "safety valve", I'm not quite sure what that means. I will probably have to ask him, but if we use his rebuttal and the original column to interpret each other... But what he seems to really be talking about is that an "outsider" (non-"old hand") political element could loosen the grip of the "old hand" politicians on the legislature. So the coalitions would have to encompass more diverse elements (either fringe or centrist). In the original column he says "a third, non-aligned party will likely shatter this cycle in the future." As I read it the first time, I got the impression he was foretelling of the rise of a third party, but I may have accidentally constructed a straw-man. As I re-read it, it could also mean, "IF there is a third, non-aligned party..."

      As for whether a third-party would shatter it, I still doubt it. If Dr. McNinch's administration-cycle hypothesis is correct, it does not necessarily follow that a third-party, non-aligned or otherwise, will behave in such a manner as to be a "spoiler" and mess up the general "opposition" status of the legislature. After all, a third party could sway like a reed in the breeze, generally side with the administration (although not all the time), generally side with the opposition or side with whichever has the most in common (so to one party or another). I think any of these could happen and, without historical evidence or a more comprehensive model (but a model can be wrong, too), I feel uncomfortable making judgments on what would happen should a third party arise. And my guess is that if a third-party comes forward, it will have only a handful of senators at most (more likely 1-3) and it would probably operate almost like it is an association of independents rather than a sort-of disciplined political party (so it might just be split). I'm pretty sure I'll follow this up.

  2. To me, it seems clear that third parties weaken their party of origin by sucking voters away. Remember Ralph Nader? I think you are also right about the administration either grooming potential future senators or protecting the livelihoods of former ones from their own party. You make some good points.