Our View: We need consumer-based local politics

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It’s an economic truism that competition benefits the consumer.

When more than one company produces or provides goods or services, consumers have choices of what to buy and where to buy it. Consumer choice forces providers to make concessions they would otherwise likely forgo – in price, quality and service – in order to attract customers.

This principle applies in the medical world as well.

Alexandria’s abundance of doctors and medical facilities – both in the city and regionally – means residents have some choice of doctors and where to have procedures, generally regardless of their insurance. This competition gives hospitals extra incentive to improve quality and reminds doctors that their practices are not tenured.

Politics is another realm where competition benefits consumers.

Perhaps it seems odd to think of citizens as consumers of politics, but we are. And the same principle of competition applies: When politicians and political institutions, i.e. parties, know constituents have no other options, they lack incentive to compromise.

When control is assured, politicians can push through their own agendas, and political consumers are left with no real choice. Lack of moderation is detrimental even to those in the majority party.

Both Republicans and Democrats behave this way in places where they have near total control. Both parties gerrymander districts when they control state legislatures – one reason why Tuesday’s Democratic sweep in Virginia is so significant heading into the 2020 U.S. Census.

In the five House of Delegates or State Senate races that were in districts partly or entirely in Alexandria, only one Democrat faced opposition on the ballot. In the other districts, four local Republicans ran as unofficial write-in candidates. All garnered less than 8.5 percent of the vote.

Extremist policies on both left and right become ascendant when Congressional representatives come from too-safe districts or safely blue or red states, or when one party has long-term control of all levers of government in a state.

In Alexandria, local party competitiveness was effectively quashed when city council voted in 2009 to move our local elections from the spring to fall. As we wrote in the Nov. 8, 2012 Alexandria Times:

“The decision to reschedule local elections from May to November was made in June 2009 by a lame-duck and Democratic-controlled council, two of which, Tim Lovain and Justin Wilson, had just lost their seats to Republican Frank Fannon and then-Independent Alicia Hughes. That decision, made in the name of increasing voter turnout, smelled of sour grapes — and a lingering odor remains. Lovain and Wilson, who voted for it, reclaimed their former seats from Fannon and Hughes on Tuesday.”

One-party rule won the day in 2012 and continues unabated in Alexandria.

A case can be made that political consumers in Alexandria of all persuasions benefitted when people like Fannon, Hughes, former Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland and former City Councilor Claire Eberwein served on council. They were generally for fiscal restraint, but mostly they were independent voices and raised concerns that forced their Democratic counterparts to seriously consider alternatives to the status quo.

The trend on our current one-party city council, led by now-mayor Wilson, is toward passing text amendments that take the public out of an increasing number of local government decisions. While supposedly done in the name of efficiency, in fact they’re another form of disenfranchisement.

If a voter can’t speak at a public hearing on a zoning move that will impact their quality of life, that citizen has no political say. When one party controls all of the levers of government, then voters have no alternative.

Competition – economic, medical and political – benefits consumers. Monopoly benefits only those in control.

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