TT with HD: Larry Kestenbaum
LK: Now, I'm probably a good deal heavier than you, I could move forward ...
HD: I think this is ... pretty good. Alright, is this gonna work?
LK: I think so.
HD: Comfortable? You seem a little apprehensive still.
LK: Maybe I should move forward just a little bit more.
HD: Yeah there's a distinct risk of falling backwards. Chris Easthope very nearly became the first person to just summersault backwards off the end of the teeter.
LK: This is definitely okay ... I'm struck because I had a completely different vision of what this whole place was like ...
HD: ... oh you thought it was more sort of out in the open?
LK: Well, I knew there was a fence there, ... I kind of imagined a more spacious backyard.
HD: No, on this side of the street it's very tiny backyards. On the other side of the street they're about twice as deep.
LK: Where I grew up was a house on a lot that was about this vintage. But the lot was 42 feet wide and 148 feet deep. We had a backyard, and then another backyard, and another backyard behind that, separated by hedges and fences, but there were plenty of different spaces in the back. You take a block that's about 300 feet square and divide it down the middle and divide up the lots that way, they tend to be that deep.
HD: So where did you grow up, what part of the country?
LK: East Lansing.
HD: Is there anything you miss about East Lansing here in Ann Arbor?
LK: I think of Ann Arbor and East Lansing as being more alike than different.
LK: I don't have that much patience for this supposed tension, rivalry. You take the whole of Michigan, and Ann Arbor and East Lansing, they're definitely unique in the state compared to most of it. They show the effects of different kinds of structures. For example, East Lansing developed when MSU was already there. The city wasn't founded until 50 years after the university was there.
HD: I didn't realize that.
LK: Yeah, so it sort of grew on the edge of the campus. And so there's a definite line between the campus and off-campus. The campus is a definite block of territory. So you go down Grand River Avenue, it's all campus on one side and downtown on the other side. No intermingling. Where here [Ann Arbor], where the community was here first and the university came along, there's a mixture. I mean, you have a street with university buildings and businesses and houses all mixed together. Which I think in some ways leads to a better streetscape. Certainly, it's a different style. And then the politics are different, because you have these non-partisan all at-large elections, sort of the good-government, progressive-era kind of kind of thing with the idea of keeping politics out of it and making it non-partisan. Which has led to a different kind of city council and a different kind of politics than Ann Arbor ...
HD: Let me ask you about the non-partisan aspect of elections. Given the fact that Ann Arbor city council is now one hundred per cent Democratic, it's prompted some discussion, I don't think debate necessarily, but it's prompted some discussion of the idea of having non-partisan elections or having some other way to elect city council, perhaps re-configuring the wards, that particular thing would require rewriting the City Charter or some document like that. But how difficult would it be to just delete the D's and the R's off the ballots? Is that a matter of Larry Kestenbaum or someone saying, Oh, print up the ballots without the party attributions this year, and use Arial?
LK: I think it would require changing the City Charter, too. I believe the partisanship is in the Charter. So it would be a Charter Amendment to take that out. You know, the history of partisan versus non-partisan elections in terms of a civics textbook, political science aspect is that non-partisan elections have a tendency to accentuate the natural divisions in the community. The big election in Detroit between Coleman Young and his opponent [Nichols] back when he was first elected: virtually 100 percent of African Americans voted for Coleman Young, and virtually 100 percent of the whites voted for Nichols. It was incredibly polarizing, something you would never have had, if they were running as, let's say Coleman Young was the Democrat, ... actually you probably would have had different candidates ... Yeah, partisan elections have a tendency to smooth over those divisions. Because if it's Democrats and Republicans, there are Democrats and Republicans on each side of any schism, practically. So if Ann Arbor had partisan elections, you'd start to see ... I wrote about this on my blog and elsewhere ... the divisions would start to be along the lines of, let's say, primarily pro-development versus anti-development. As opposed to, I think, what we're seeing, which is a more balanced approach on the council right now. What I've suggested, though, ... you know, we have annual elections. And in the even years we have a partisan primary and a partisan general election just like there is for Congress, stat rep, and so forth. And the odd years we have a November election for city council for just the five city council seats and there's an August election if more than a certain number of people file for that seat. We haven't had too many primaries in the past and I think we're going to have more in the future. But having a city that is now one party effectively, all the seats are Democratic, means that the real decision about who gets elected happens in August, which is not a good thing from the standpoint of broad participation. And already with the November odd-year election you have lower participation. But the August of odd-year elections, it tends to be very low and that becomes a critical election, when you have a small turnout. So what I've suggested is that you could amend the charter in such a way as to have the elections in odd years, and perhaps special elections to fill vacancies, be done in a different way entirely with no primaries. Save the cost of the primary, which would be about $50,000, and have IRV [instant run-off] and non-partisan voting for those seats only. Not for the general election, when it would be a lot less practical to do that kind of approach.
HD: You mentioned your blog. This is Polygon, the Dancing Bear?
HD: Are you sick of people asking you where that name came from?
LK: No! Actually, hardly anyone asks me that.
HD: Well, then, I'll ask you! I was just trying to guess, I mean I looked around in the various FAQS that you have surrounding Political Graveyard and Polygon, the Dancing Bear, but I couldn't find an answer to that question, I might have just missed it. So I just started to speculate in my own mind as to what that might be. And 'polygon', it's multi-sided, and, to me, that evokes multi-faceted, multi-talented, which seems to fit you.
LK: Well, thank you.
HD: Well, I mean, you do a lot of different things.
LK: I'm interested in a lot of things.
HD: So what is the actual origin?
LK: Okay, well, when I was at Cornell in grad school, there was a chat feature on BITNET called Relay. This was back in the old BITNET days, even before IRC. So this was a chat feature that went on at the time between universities and the connectivity was not that good. So typically it would be universities within the same region. When I was at Cornell, typically we'd reach SUNY Buffalo or some of the other places along the East Coast. And it was very late at night ... but you'd have a nickname on Relay, which would just be typically a single word. And I very quickly learned that an ordinary name like Dave or Larry was regarded as a dork. Was regarded as not worth talking to. I had to come up with something else. And I don't even remember exactly why I chose Polygon for that. But I was interested in things like geometric tiling of surfaces, I was interested in polygonal houses and buildings, ...
HD: ... so you were in grad school for architecture?
LK: I was in grad school for city and regional planning and historic preservation. So I started using Polygon. And I found myself using it on other systems, and pretty soon people, some of my other friends at Cornell, who I knew mainly through the internet and through the networks there, were even calling me Polygon in person. I came to Ann Arbor in '90 and basically everywhere I had an account, it was Polygon ... polygon[at]umich, polygon[at]whatever ...
HD: ... okay the Polygon part is making sense but the Dancing Bear?
LK: The dancing bear. There's an institution among science fiction folks called the APA [/apah/], the Amateur Publishing Association. An APA is basically ... again, this is pre-dating the internet ... where, say there were 25 members of a particular APA. So everyone who was a member of it would print up 'zine, you know, make 25 copies, send it to the collator, and the collator would staple them all together, and mail them out to all the members. They'd usually be monthly or every-other-month. So you'd have this very slow conversation going on: you'd write something, and then people would comment on it in the next issue, and two months later, ... , typically people would be spread all over the world on these things. And the title of one of my 'zines for one of these APA's was Dancing Bear. Which was a reference both to my involvement in folk dancing, my being kind of a big guy, in general, and to ... a dancing tune called Dancing Bear, which I like a lot. There's a band in East Lansing that used to play Dancing Bear in a medley with another tune. It was actually a quite nice combination, I thought ... I realized that Dancing Bear had other implications that I didn't intend, so ...
LK: ... the notion of cruelty to animals, in some sense. That bears were forced to dance in some fashion. That's not at all what I had in mind.
HD: This is in years gone by, I guess?
LK: I guess so. But I've seen references to that occasionally. But that's not at all what I had in mind. The dancing bear I had in mind was me! And the way I ended up with the title ... I started my blog in 2002 when I was basically out of work for three weeks following throat surgery. I had a lot of time to think about these things and so I decided to start a blog. I needed a title and it couldn't be Polygon, because there were already blogs out there called Polygon. I couldn't use Dancing Bear because there's a lot of stuff out there called Dancing Bear. But I needed to come up with something and I was kind of in a hurry to get started. I wanted to start writing. I didn't want to obsess about the title. And I ended up just kind of putting them together and using that.
HD: You mentioned your interest in folk dancing and music. As part of your background I learned that you were the membership coordinator for an outfit called the Ten Pound Fiddle?
HD: So it just an interest based on appreciating the music and dancing or do you actually, ... , do you play an instrument?
LK: I don't play any instrument. That's a great regret of mine. There's a choice point at a certain grade, I think it was fourth or fifth grade in elementary school: do you want to pick up and instrument or not. And I was lazy, I said, No! I knew playing an instrument was a lot of work and so I didn't do it. I've always regretted that. I suppose I could have done it since then, but at the same time, you know, I do a lot of time-consuming things. If I had done it, that would have probably taken away from something else. I do dance, but I don't play an instrument.
HD: Speaking of time-consuming things, it just seems to me if I assess what I think I know about you, anyway, I come up with the equivalent of about four full-time jobs. So you've got the clerkship, there's your online presence, which would include the Political Graveyard, your own blog, plus participation in myriad other blogs, so that's two. You have a daughter, so I guess I would say that's a full-time job, I mean a 40 hour a week commitment, at least. And you have some sort of a gig at the ISR, is that right?
LK: No, I gave that up when I took the clerkship.
HD: Okay, so three full time jobs. How much sleep do you get a night?
LK: I'm flattered. But I try to be relatively organized with what I do. And I'm not always successful at that. But I guess I'm interested in a lot of things and I'm ambitious about getting things done. So it doesn't always work out that well. But I've worked multiple jobs in the past at the same time and managed that. My wife has, too. In many ways she's the same kind of person.
HD: So it's not like you only get two hours of sleep a night or anything.
LK: No, no. Political Graveyard especially, during 2004, when I was running, I neglected it a great deal. I didn't actually run any updates of the site for that whole calendar year and ...
HD: ... you have an update scheduled soon?
LK: Yes, I'm working on one now. What I do with the site is I regenerate the entire site at once. The last time ...
HD: ... so you maintain off-line data-bases, and you pull essentially the data and you've set up code to wrap HTML around it and that's what gets published ...
LK: Right. And all those programs I wrote myself. The last time I ran a whole new site was in March of last year, so it's overdue. But I expect to have it online pretty soon.
HD: You run Google ads through AdSense on there.
HD: I'm not asking for a dollar figure, but can you give me some sense of how lucrative that is? I mean could you pay for your re-election campaign off the proceeds from that, for example?
LK: No. But the situation with ads was, when I started the site, I was amazed at how much traffic I was getting ... people said, Oh you should have ads on your site! I was sort of dubious about this, but I made a deal with my web host that I would share the ad revenue. This goes back to about 1999 and I learned a lot about how ads work. They were not at all lucrative. It was more money than most people were making from their websites, but ... I learned that there's two kind of web advertising providers. There's the ones that pay per impression and there's the ones that pay per click-through. The ones that pay per click-through are all very sober and serious and issue a check every month. The ones that pay per impression are sort of fly-by-night, and retroactively lower their rates, and take months to pay, and that sort of thing ... I settled in for a long time with an outfit called ValueClick that paid 12 cents per click-through. That usually was on the order of 50-60 a month. These were the old graphic ads ...
HD: ... banner ads ...
LK: ... banner ads, right, and I did have the opportunity to veto ads that I didn't want to appear and I vetoed a great many ...
HD: ... but you don't have that option with AdSense, right?
LK: No, you don't have that. But with Google, you don't have blinking and flashing. It's all text. I wasn't paying that much attention, but ValueClick abruptly cancelled me after years. And I thought, Well, this is the end of getting any revenue! But a friend of mine told me about Google AdSense, which at that time was still kind of ...
HD: ... in their beta version?
LK: Well, they weren't publicizing it, and that was a lot more money. But also it varied. With the banner ads it varied with the the economy and so on. As the dotcom economy got worse, they would resort toward more edgy, sleazier ads, casinos and so forth, that I didn't want. And they would lower their rates and then revenue would go down. With Google, the biggest variable was their algorithm. Google was really burned at one point, or they felt they were burned, because, I think it was the New York Daily News website, and there was an article about a murder in which the murder victim, the body, was put in a suitcase or something like that and Google had ads for ...
HD: ... American Tourister?
LK: Yeah, luggage. And most people thought that was funny. But Google was afraid that people would be offended by that. Google ads are based on the content of a specific page and this is all written into their algorithm, where if a page had content that might possibly conflict or create that kind of situation between the content on the page and the content of the ad, they would just run a non-paying public service banner instead of ads. Since on my site, most people die, some people get shot, or commit suicide, ... general strikes, all kinds of things happened, and so for a long time, a lot of the pages on my site only got the non-paying public service ads, and that varied. They'd tweak it from week to week and it would make a dramatic difference to me. Obviously across all of Google's publishers, it was probably only a slight difference, but for me it made a huge difference. And then over time ...
HD: ... it's kind of settled in?
LK: It's kind of settled in now. All the pages get the ads. I think there's probably on some level someone saying, Yeah, this is okay, and it's not completely automated. That would be my guess. Google's very smart, though, I would never underestimate them.
HD: So are there any ads that run under Google AdSense on your site where you think, God, if I had the opportunity to veto that ad I would?
LK: No, not really.
HD: I clicked through the site just to try to see what the range of ads were and the worst that I came up with was something like Democratic-Singles-dot-com, so it seemed to be a dating service for Democrats. And, you know, I didn't burrow too deep into the site, didn't sign up or anything, but it seemed pretty well on the up-and-up. It had testimonials from people who'd fallen in love and gotten married and stuff like that.
LK: When I first started with the Google AdSense ads there were some ads that were humorously um ...
HD: ... inappropriate?
LK: not inappropriate, almost too appropriate. It was like on every page, their ads were almost precisely tailored to what was on that page. For example, on the page with the M surnames, ... you know, you go through the menu and you click on M and you go into that portion of the index where you have McCloskey to McKardell and you'd have ... tartans, kilts. On the page with politician who'd been in space they had NASA memorabilia. And on the page with politicians who were in trouble or disgraced, they had criminal defense attorneys.
LK: It was funny. And on pages for specific areas they'd have ads from that area. You know, some county in Maine and they'd have resort property in that county. What's happened over time is that it's become more the same ads everywhere: ads for political campaign software ... Basically, they're calibrating who the audience is, who's looking at these things, who's likely to click through. A lot of the people who come to the site come from Google. They're searching for something in particular, usually somebody in particular. I would have thought more genealogy stuff and so forth, but there are specific genealogy sites that Google also has ad on, and they probably rate better for those kind of things than mine does.
HD: So do your web log statistics reflect search query strings?
HD: What's the weirdest thing you've ever seen in one of those as far as somebody landing on Political Graveyard?
LK: I haven't looked at it lately. But there are certainly weird things that show up. One of the things about Political Graveyard, when I started it, there was very little American history on the web. So as history sites started to develop, they linked to me. Genealogy sites, cemetery interest sites, political sites, ... , so when Google came along and started counting up all those sites, all those links, thousands of sites linked to me. And on almost every search query, Political Graveyard ranks pretty high. Particularly words like 'dead politicians', 'graveyard', 'political biography', ... millions of hits and mine is number one, which is ...
HD: ... so most of them are pretty predictable. I mean, if people are looking for political biographies, or a specific name, that's exactly what you would expect ...
LK: ... and so very often it's the name of someone or sometimes people will write out whole questions: how can I find out about California state senators? And then it comes to me. No, I haven't gone searching for bizarre strings. I don't pay that much attention to the search criteria. I used to be very attentive to what sites linked to me. I had a reciprocal links page, but I don't really maintain that any more. I'm always eager to find out what people are saying about the site.
HD: I noticed this morning when I checked, that seven people have come to the Teeter Talk site who were looking for simply, 'kestenbaum'.
HD: And I really can't figure it out. Your name's on the site like only twice, so far anyway, and I went to Google and typed in 'kestenbaum' and Teeter Talk is nowhere within the first one hundred results ... if it's anywhere and I looked at some other search engines, and got the same thing, so maybe somebody's just scrolling down really, really far ...
LK: Well, if you type in 'kestenbaum' there's not that many Kestenbaums. It's like maybe 60 or 70 thousand hits. There's another Lawrence Kestenbaum out there, who lives in New Jersey. I don't know what he thinks of my dominance on the web! An old friend of mine, who was trying to get in touch with me, Googled my name and said, Oh, you've become an online conglomerate!
HD: I mentioned you have a kid, I don't know how old she is, but I assume you're affected in some way by the new high school?
LK: My daughter is 7 years old. She's at Eberwhite School. And Eberwhite is a neighborhood, which, of all the elementary schools in Ann Arbor, has the most compact, cohesive territory. A lot of the others have more scattered area or combinations of different areas. And it certainly looks like Eberwhite's neighborhood is likely to be split. Now it's all Pioneer. I'm guessing that, especially if they use Liberty Street as a divider, that the northern part of Eberwhite will be peeled off and will go to the new high school.
HD: So have you been participating in the various public forums?
LK: Actually, I haven't. I have mixed feelings about the new high school, but I don't have strong feelings. I guess at some level, I think, When we get to that point, we'll deal with whatever's there.
HD: But it's still far enough away, I guess, that the new high school will have had a couple of years of full enrollment to get all the kinks worked out by the time your daughter might be there?
LK: Yeah, the sort of 'psychology' of Ann Arbor high schools that I've observed ... you know, I went to East Lansing High School and we would play in sports against Ann Arbor Pioneer and Ann Arbor Huron, ... , and what I would hear from people in Ann Arbor ... was the notion that Pioneer was regarded as the athletic school and the Ann Arbor News was tremendously biased towards Pioneer in sports coverage, that the equivalent accomplishment by a Huron athlete would get much less play than one from Pioneer ... And also that the both of the schools, Pioneer especially, are just gigantic, that they ...
HD: ... how big a school was the school you attended?
LK: 1500. Pioneer is, I think, almost over 4000, which is very large. Obviously it means you have a ...
HD: ... talent pool for athletics.
LK: Yeah, and in a community that's already loaded with talent! I think it's pretty well documented that the smaller the school, the more the participation is, the more likely it is that any given student is going to be able to do things like be on athletic teams or whatever. I'm not that enamored of the idea, with Pioneer being so large, of having these wonderful teams, these wonderful arts events and so forth. Just by being so large you get the crème de la crème of the talent. I guess I lean more towards wanting broader participation.
HD: Well, you know these footballs that were installed throughout downtown, these big fiberglass footballs, did you read about these or have you seen them? You know what I'm talking about, right?
LK: I've seen them. I haven't honestly paid that much attention to them. I know that this is a model that's been used in a number of cities. In Cincinnati they had pigs.
HD: Actual pigs?
LK: Well, uh, fiberglass pigs.
HD: Yeah, I'm not sure what I meant by the word 'actual', but yeah, okay ...
LK: Yeah, I mean, you know, they were pig-shaped pigs. And each one was done up a different way on downtown street corners. Cincinnati was also known as Pork-opolis, a place that dealt in pigs. Much as Chicago, I'm sure, takes pride in having dealt in cows. You know, that's well and good. And we also have the fire hydrants ... and I think that's a good thing, but I haven't paid that much attention to it.
HD: Did you follow the story about the theft of one of them?
LK: I heard that one was stolen. I know that much about it.
HD: Well, today, the breaking news was that it was 'returned' in a manner of speaking. It was left out in the open for someone to discover. And I was just wondering, what would you say to the thieves if you had them sitting on the other end of the teeter totter?
LK: I guess ... I don't really have anything particularly interesting to say to the thieves. I think more in terms of vandalism and theft being kind of a social problem and as something that can be deterred. For example, something a community cares about is a lot less likely to be vandalized than something that's neglected. I see that with cemeteries. Cemeteries that are overgrown, you know the signs aren't repainted are peeling, the fence is falling down, those are the ones that get all the vandalism or the bulk of the vandalism. The ones that are kept up, where the fence is maintained and the grass is mowed, they're marked out as a place the community cares about. And that's apparently more intimidating to vandals. I suppose we have people who are out to get the cherished icons, whatever that might be. I guess if a football is a cherished icon in Ann Arbor then, so be it. But I think that vandals, on the whole, are pretty opportunistic. You know we had a discussion about this in connection with Hill Auditorium. When Hill Auditorium was renovated, they installed a lot of new toilets and one of the things these toilets did not have installed, ... , there were no coat hooks!
LK: This was a problem, because, of course, they got rid of all the coat check areas and turned them into bathrooms! And if you're in there wearing a suit with suspenders and you've gone to some classical music concert, you really have to hang up your jacket somewhere. There's no place to do that. One of the things that I've observed over the years in bathroom stalls: coat hooks are typically gone, because they're vandalized. They're broken off or somebody removes them. And the question was raised, this is on my blog, Why do people do that? Do people go there with tools, intending to remove the coat hook? Do they take it as a prize? I don't think it's that planned. I think they are people who are just full of rage and they want to break things. And there's something that's very conspicuous to be broken. I was describing it this way: leaving the coat hooks out was like a preemptive surrender to vandals. I don't think there's a lot of vandals in the population that go to Hill Auditorium.
HD: Yeah, maybe not a lot of rage-filled folks are heading off to Hill, I wouldn't think, anyway ...
LK: And one of the architects on the renovation said, We didn't include them for whatever reason, you've convinced us, we're going to put them in!
HD: We're going to retro-fit them ...
LK: Yeah, they retro-fit them into all these bathroom stalls. They actually called them 'wardrobe hooks' not 'coat hooks'. I'm not sure what the difference is.
HD: Well, you can hang your pants on a wardrobe hook, but not a coat hook.
LK: I guess so. Depending on the person, maybe that would be needed. So it wasn't a really a preemptive surrender, it just wasn't part of the plan.
HD: Do you know how well they've fared, the coat, er, wardrobe hooks?
LK: You know, I don't know. To the extent that I've been there, they still seem to be there.
HD: I should go on a field trip and specifically check that out.
LK: I've certainly seen broken coat hooks in places even like the university library. Even coat hooks that are relatively substantial get broken. And it's an inconvenience when you want to hang something up, when you have a bag or whatever, that you want to keep off the floor ... you don't want to put something on a bathroom floor!
LK: But the question one of my commenters was raising was, Why do people do that? I guess there's a lot of people out there with a lot of rage. That when it comes to vandalism, for whatever reason, whether it's their family ...
HD: ... my theory would be simply that human beings aren't really the nicest species.
LK: Well, I think it's hard to argue with that.
HD: So how is the County Clerkship working out?
LK: I'm just thrilled with it. You know, now I'm a year into it ...
HD: .... and you've got three years to go in the term, right?
LK: ... three years left in the term, right. The staff is happy, the customers are happy, the county board is happy, the county administration is happy. If I keep this up ... I'm saying, I'm a year into it, the honeymoon's not over yet.
HD: So if you had to decide today, you'd run again in a heartbeat, it sounds like.
LK: Absolutely. Absolutely. This is the best job I've ever had.
HD: In the year you've been in the position, is there anything in particular you'd point to as, That is something I'm really proud of that I've already accomplished?
LK: Oh there are a lot of things.
HD: Well, if you had to pick three.
LK: One thing that is not getting a lot of attention and it's maybe not entitled to a lot of attention, but when I came in, the whole system for calling jurors was a mess. Back in '88 the legislature, they were kind of stampeded into changing calling jurors from the voter list to the driver list. And the argument at the time was, if they didn't do this, then jury verdicts were going to be thrown out based on the notion that the voter list isn't representative enough. And there was no planning for it, no forewarning. They just had to switch to that. And at the time the driver list had no indication of what county people lived in. So thousands of people got jury notices from counties they didn't live in. For example, the western suburbs of Lansing are in Eaton County. So here it is all these years later and I come into office and find that this problem still hasn't been solved. So now they do know what county people live in. But beyond that, ... , I mean this county [Washtenaw] is divided into three court districts that have very different needs for jurors. And there have been a number of problems with it, which have been sort of patched in unsystematic ways. For example, they used to have one jury pool. And of the three court districts, the one in Ann Arbor, the 15th District Court, draws an enormous number of jurors, way more than they need. Basically their position is that you can't tell a judge how many jurors to call for and the fact that they waste all their jurors, that's not negotiable, that's not on the table. Anyway they won't change it. So they were taking so many jurors out of Ann Arbor, that when they were having felony trials, the jury pool would come in and there'd be nobody from the city, because they were all taken by District Court. That was a problem. And they said, and this was before I was in office, Alright, we'll have a Circuit Court jury pool and a District Court jury pool, separately. The Circuit Court jury pool was 30,000 and the District Court jury pool, in order to accommodate Ann Arbor, was 80,000, so they were doing the draw that way. But the problem was that the list doesn't indicate whether people live in the city or the township or whatever else. All they had was the zip code. So needing a gigantic number of jurors from the city of Ann Arbor, they were mailing questionnaires to everyone with an Ann Arbor address, which is about twice as big as the city. So people in Pittsfield Township, Scio Township, Ann Arbor Township, were getting these long, and they're relatively intrusive, questionnaires. You know, asking all kinds of details about people's lives, and mailing them in, and they were basically throwing them away, because they didn't need people from Pittsfield. They needed people from the city. The other problem was, when they did these draws, they had 30,000 Circuit Court, 80,000 District Court, and there'd be overlap. The software was very rigid and they had to do these things in complete parallel, so there'd be thousands of people overlapping in both pools. But they're not allowed to be in both pools, so they had to take them out. They way they were doing it was by hand, one-by-one. Three hundred single-spaced, typed pages, taking three or four weeks to delete these people from the system, which is the sort of thing it would take minutes on a computer. Seconds even. And I said, Can't we have a computer do this? And they said, We tried that. The system was pretty broken and there wasn't a lot of interest in fixing it. So I kind of waded into this and this is not completely under the Clerk's jurisdiction. It's the Clerk's people who are doing it, but the Court is in charge of it.
HD: Is this an issue that you were aware of when you were campaigning? Were you saying, Part of the reason I want to be Clerk is I want to fix this specific problem? Or was this something where once you got into office you said, Holy Cow I can't believe this is how it works!
LK: It's some of both. I talked about the importance of jury service and the importance of making it hassle-free from a juror standpoint, and brief, and so forth. I didn't imagine that the whole list situation was a bad as that. People had said to me there was a problem of the same people being called year after year as jurors. And there are some people who are never called. There was a problem, which actually had been solved about that. Previous to this they would ask the State, Give us 30,000 random names from the Washtenaw County Driver List every year. And what the State was doing was they would run that list and they would do it the same way every year. And so they got a lot of the same names every year. And so about two or three years ago Judge Shelton said, Maybe we shouldn't rely on the State to do the random draw, we should do it ourselves. And they said, Give us the entire list of a quarter of a million names, all the drivers that are 18 years old or older and we'll do the random draw. Judge Shelton says every time he gets a new group of jurors in the court room, he says, How many of you are here for the first time ever? And about half of them raise their hands. It didn't used to be that high. Doing the random draw here was the solution to a previous problem. And the random draw has got to be done with certain software and stuff like that. So what we've done in order to deal with the duplication problem: we split the list before it goes into those two pools. So people are assigned to either the Circuit side or the District side at random and then there's no duplication between the two sides. No one had thought of this before. And then using the QVF address list to assign people, we have now four pools ...
HD: ... what's QVF ... ?
LK: Qualified Voter File, I'm sorry Part of the the landscape is that about 10 years ago, they came up with the notion that the driver list and the voter list should be the same thing, forcing people to have the same address on both. But what we discovered is: although that's the law and that's what they say they do, that's not really what they do. And a problem that affects the jury list, let's say someone dies. There's a process: a death certificate is filed, the State is notified, the person is removed from the Qualified Voter File. But what happens is, because they're not really the same list, they're not really kept on the same computer, they're not really the same database, even though the records are supposedly matching, when someone dies they're not taken off the driver list. So every time we're doing a mailing to prospective jurors, we're mailing to a lot of people who are dead.
HD: But that's just a matter of linking the databases with a unique key, right?
LK: Well they're already linked. The thing is, it wasn't policy to delete people from the driver list. In Michigan, if you're dead you can't vote, but you can drive.
HD: That's good to know.
LK: So every time there'd be a mailing of questionnaires to prospective jurors there'd be calls from widows saying, Why are you mailing this to my husband, who died seven years ago? It certainly makes the County and the Clerk look bad, you know, What terrible lists you have!
LK: So one of the things we did, was cross the list with the Social Security Death Index and found like a thousand people who had died and took them out. We wouldn't call them in a jury pool. Now some tiny percentage of those are probably not, ... I mean I wouldn't use the Social Security Death Index to delete a voter. Because there's some inaccuracy to it, it's not perfect. And it certainly doesn't list everybody who died. But for calling jurors purposes it's a pretty good tool. I know this is all very geeky to be talking about lists.
HD: You know, this is stuff I know nothing about, so to me, first time through anyway, it's interesting.
LK: What we've done by focusing the Ann Arbor mailings just on Ann Arbor, by deleting all the people who are dead, by working these things out, we've reduced by 10's of thousands the number of people we're mailing to. The number of pieces of mail that people receive, and have fill out, then send back, and that we have to handle and process.
HD: From what you've described just so far it seems to me that there's a combination of adopting intelligent policies and then there's a matter of using the right tools. But none of it, to me, adds up to it needing to be an elected position. Why is it that we elect this job as opposed to saying, You know, Larry seems to be doing a really good job at this, he's a pretty smart guy, let's just keep him on until he screws up?
LK: Oh, well, there are two big things about the job that are very political. The first one of them is re-districting. There's a panel consisting of the County Clerk, the County Prosecutor, the County Treasurer and the chairs of the two major parties in the county, who re-draw the county commission boundaries every ten years. Obviously that's very political. And the Clerk usually takes the lead in that. We were talking about partisan elections earlier, with a partisan legislative body, partisan considerations are usually pretty important. The other is that if there's a vacancy in another county elected office, there's a different panel, the Clerk, the Prosecutor, and the Chief Probate Judge, who choose the successor. Let's say the County Treasurer or the County Sheriff, or something like that, were to resign or die ... obviously that's also a partisan, given that those are elected positions. Especially the Sheriff and the Drain Commissioner have all kinds of policy questions that they bear on. Election administration generally, there are a lot of policy questions in how you draw precincts and all those kinds of things, but the way that the election law is written, almost everything is balanced. The election workers in the precinct are supposed to be a certain number of Democrats and a certain number of Republicans. If a disabled voter needs assistance with a ballot, you have one Democrat and one Republican. The Board of Canvassers has two Democrats and two Republicans. In order to balance the partisan influence, not to say, Oh, this person is non-partisan. The assumption is that there is no such person. You can't be an election worker if you refuse to state a party preference.
HD: I didn't realize that.
LK: It can be any party that's on the ballot, but it's got to be a party that's on the ballot.
HD: You can't say, I'm independent?
LK: You can't say you're independent. You can say you're Green, you could say you're Libertarian, you couldn't say you were a Whig, because Whigs aren't on the ballot in Michigan. It has to be a party that's on the ballot in Michigan. In addition to that there's the Vital Records Office. To some extent it's administrative: you're required to have this office, you're required to receive the Births and Deaths, you're required to file them in a certain way and so forth. But very often, policy issues arise there in terms of things that aren't necessarily completely defined in state law ... about how you deal with this kind of exception or that kind of exception. One of the things that's been going on with the Homeland Security laws, they're getting more and more restrictive about who can have a birth certificate, and under what circumstances. Because a birth certificate, you can use that to go out and create other documents, a whole identity. So a new law that went into effect in March made it a felony to get a birth certificate that you're not entitled to.
LK: We, the county clerks around the State of Michigan, were told the State is going to come up with regs as to how you implement this. And now here it is January of the next year and they still haven't come out with those regs. But there's a lot of interpretation about how you handle those kinds of questions. The Deeds Office, most counties have a separately elected partisan register of deeds. Washtenaw is one of 33 counties that combined it. And again there's all kind of issues about how different kinds of records are going to be handled, and who's going to be doing it. Those are not hot-button issues, it's not like abortion or something like that. And finally, historically, since the beginning of the State, county clerks, sheriffs, and so forth, it's in the State Constitution that they have to be elected. It goes back somewhat to the Andrew Jackson ideal of democracy. At the time this was adopted they didn't have staff. The register of deeds was a person with a big ledger book. They would be writing in it ... you go through the old ledger books and you could see that, Oh, this was that register's handwriting, and here's the next one. Because they didn't have deputies or staff or employees. They were doing it themselves. The concept was, at least in local government, that you were electing all the staff of government. Prior to that it, was more, you elect the governor and the governor would appoint all the judges, ... And then during the Jackson Era ... Michigan was organized in the midst of that ... they named a whole bunch of counties after Jackson's cabinet, you know, 'cabinet counties' ...
HD: Oh, so Jackson, Michigan down the road from here is Andrew Jackson's Jackson?
LK: Yeah. And the counties adjoining it, including Ingham County, was named for Samuel Ingham, who was Secretary of the Treasury ... It's a group of counties in the central, western, southern part of the state. It amounted to a kind of revolution at the time, how politics was being structured, how officials would be chosen. And it was, of course, taken for granted that these things would be partisan. In those days, the parties would even organize elections. Ballots were not printed by the government until the Australian ballot came in 1888. Parties would print their own ballots and you'd basically get the ballot from the party, and you'd bring it into the polling place.
HD: I had no idea.
LK: It was called ticket voting. And so the idea was, there were blanks on the ballot, probably they were required. They had blanks, where you could cross off a name and write in a different one. That was called 'scratching your ticket' and partisan people would say, Vote a clean ballot, don't scratch your ticket! Meaning, no changes from what the party had. But there was also the problem of renegade people putting out ballots that pretended to be the official Democratic or Republican ballots, but had different names on them. And so they would print the list of names in the paper saying, Make sure your ballot matches this list! But the Australian ballot was really this big innovation. This was adopted very widely and very quickly in the 1880's. The government would print the ballots, they would be the same for every voter, and the voter's choices would be secret.
HD: And it took the Australians to come up with this?
LK: Apparently so. They certainly call it the Australian ballot. And that raises this other set of issues. Okay, so how do they decide who goes on the ballot? There's got to be some kind of ballot qualification process. What order do the candidates come on the ballot? There's all kinds of election law things that flow from that. Which have been developed over the century, more than a century, since then. How are these things decided, what the appeals process is, and so forth. The history of, what order do the partisan candidates show up on the ballot in Michigan, is kind of interesting. It started out, they said, Whichever party is the party of that county is first on the ballot. And so they didn't really define it and so I guess it was left up to the County Clerk who'd say, Well, it's my party.
HD: Right, My party must be dominant, otherwise I wouldn't be the Clerk!
LK: Right. And then they changed that to whichever presidential candidate had won the state last. Then in 1912 Roosevelt running in the Progressive Party won Michigan. So the Progressive Party, which was still, despite Roosevelt winning the state, a minor party, but they were first on the ballot in 1914. And the Republicans, who were usually the dominant party, didn't like that. So they changed it from president to secretary of state, so the idea was that the parties would be ranked on the ballot in the order of the votes that they received in the last election for secretary of state. Then in the early 40's there was an election where the Republicans won for secretary of state, Democrats won for lieutenant governor, it was separately elected then. There was a Democratic majority in the legislature then, so they changed it to lieutenant governor. And then a few years later, the Republicans got the majority back in the legislature, and they changed it back to secretary of state. It's been secretary of state ever since. The notion is that people who are involved in elections from a political standpoint have some notion of what the problems are likely to be. I just came yesterday from a meeting of all the county clerks in the state up in East Lansing and there was a lot of concern about some of the things that were coming down from the feds to the state: changes in election law and changes in requirements. And many of the clerks were saying, Why weren't local clerks allowed to be involved in this process in deciding these things? You know, we're the ones who are going to be dealing with this ... someone who's not necessarily involved in the process might have a different idea, might not have the same sophistication about what kinds of election changes would be a problem. But, like I say, it is in the Constitution.
HD: So it's not like anybody's clamoring to have this position converted to an appointment as opposed to being elected.
LK: If there's a clamor about anything, then it's sort of a quiet clamor, but it's the situation with the State Supreme Court. Now, electing judges on a partisan ballot is something that has proved to be a bad system all over the country. In general, if judges are elected along a party line, they tend to be more biased and more corrupt than judges elected non-partisan. That's something that's pretty well agreed generally, and I don't believe any state now, maybe one or two, still elect judges partisan. But it used to be that all judges were partisan. And it was only in the 30's that Michigan started electing judges on a non-partisan ballot. But the Supreme Court, alone among all the judgeships in the state, has this peculiar mixed system: the candidates are nominated at the party convention, and then run on the ballot as if they were non-partisan. So we've seen judicial campaigns for Supreme Court, with tremendous amounts of money spent, with tremendous amounts of partisan polarization over them. There have been calls that we should do this differently or we should do this better. Nobody likes it. Nobody's ever said, Oh we've got this great system of doing this. And yet it's not changed. My sort of sneaky approach to it would be, maybe 'sneaky' is the wrong word ...
HD: 'subtle' how about 'subtle'?
LK: ... if a proposal were put on the ballot, call it 'Truth in Candidacy', that would basically prohibit candidates nominated at a party convention from running as non-partisan. And that would mean that the Supreme Court would have to be openly partisan, running with party labels, or they'd have to come up with a new system.
HD: So basically your strategy would be to pass something that had as a consequence you can't keep the current system, but without saying what the new system would be.
HD: Don't you think that would just throw things into chaos?
LK: It's the sort of thing where nobody likes the current system, everybody agrees the way we do it is wrong, this is not the right way. But it's very difficult to amend the Constitution and come up with a consensus in the legislature, come up with the petition signatures to actually come out with an amendment. There's a variety of things they could do ... they could have a non-partisan primary, the way we do the Court of Appeals. But there's also defenders of having the parties involved, the notion that parties are somehow screening candidates. But if the legislature were put to it, they could probably come up with something. Part of the problem with a lot of ballot proposals, ... , is you get some people together, you write up this thing and just try to make it iron-clad and do all the things that they want, and they have a tendency to get really greedy. They don't have to negotiate with anyone or make compromises with anyone. You put it out there, and it's either take it or leave it. Even if you like the idea, but you have to swallow that they threw in all these funny little things, where they don't make much sense or they're too partisan or whatever. Which, in the end, tends to undermine support for the thing. For example, there were a bunch of political reform proposals that were put out on the ballot in Ohio last year, which all lost, partly because it had to do with the details. People nitpicked it: Why did they do it this way, Why did they put that in?
HD: So you're saying that 'Truth in Candidacy' might have a better chance of passing if you just say, It's this one thing about nominating conventions and running under the label. You can't do this. Period.
LK: Yeah, I mean, it's not as simple as A, B, or C, but if you have B and nobody likes B, well, then let's fight over A versus C.
HD: And force the issue.
LK: But that's pie in the sky. We're pretty much stuck with that system, the same way we're stuck with partisan elections for county officials. Although I was surprised a few years ago, that they made village elections non-partisan. Village elections had always been partisan, going back to the old system of having party caucuses to nominate candidates. I did a piece for the Green Party about this. Every village had its own political parties, and the parties would get together, there'd be like the People's Party and the Citizens Party and the Independent Party and so forth, and there'd be different groups in each village. They would nominate candidates and they'd have a race and so forth. And then in the early 60's there was an Attorney General that came in and said, You can't have local parties. Michigan is one of the few states, perhaps the only state, where local parties are absolutely prohibited. You can only have parties that are on the ballot statewide. And the Green Party was challenging this because they had plenty of signatures for Washtenaw County, but they didn't have enough for statewide. They didn't have the effort to gather that many signatures, and they said, Well, why is it that there can't be a local party? Is this an Equal Protection problem? So I did an affidavit for them based on my research, showing that at the point where the villages were forced to give up their local parties, and anyone who wanted to run for village office had to run as a Democrat or Republican, ... , that the amount of competition in village elections dropped dramatically. Typically, in these villages everybody who was involved in politics was a Republican, and if you were a Democrat you couldn't really run as a Democrat and get elected. Instead of having a village election, where people participated in choosing among these groups, they'd have a Republican Party caucus, which would nominate these people who'd be unopposed. And that was generally the way it worked in most villages, once they were forced to use the major parties. As I say, I'm generally in favor of participation, of having the largest number of people possible involved in decisions. So I think that was a step in the wrong direction. You have an election with no contest and nobody's going to vote. You take the process of choosing among candidates away from the election and put it into some other venue, you're tremendously limiting the number of people that are ever going to have a say. But without any particular fanfare or controversy, a few years ago they made village elections non-partisan. They just changed the law, and now village elections are non-partisan. But the trouble is, and this goes to one of the biggest things I'm rapping on constantly, and that is: a shortage of candidates. There are fewer and fewer people who are willing to put themselves forward to run for office, to get involved, to be a candidate, to be an office-holder. I think part of it was, starting with Watergate, there was a brewing sense that politics is a dirty business that decent people don't get involved in. There was, into the Reagan Era, the idea of entrepreneurship, a kind of a fashionable thing to do, obviously much more lucrative than being involved in public service. Public service just became a lot less appealing. When I was first involved in local politics in the 70's, where I was, there were crowds of ambitious, highly credentialed people interested in almost any office. That really tailed off. By the 80's, it was always a struggle to find people to run for positions, for city council, for school board, for all kinds of things. People just started taking themselves out of the picture, people in office served longer. I was the youngest member of the Ingham County Board, so when I turned 30, that was the first time in a long time there was no one under 30 on the Ingham County Board, despite the quite young population. People were serving longer, the Board was getting older, no new people were coming in. The Almanac of American Politics documented this, but the reason why 98-99% of incumbents are re-elected is that by-and-large, they're not being challenged. The parties are not coming up with strong candidates to challenge them.
HD: So how effective do you think term limits have been in forcing the issue as far as requiring that new people ...
LK: The trouble with term limits is it doesn't increase the pool. All it does it shifts people around. For example, we have Alma Wheeler Smith, Conan's mom, having been a state senator, who is now a state rep. It used to be that it was very rare for someone to go from the upper chamber to the lower chamber. Now that happens a lot. And not to mention the effect it's had on the legislature, an institution that has no institutional memory any more. Everyone there is inexperienced, unless they had some prior background. The effect it's had in Michigan, which has these very draconian term limits for the legislature, is ... you hand over control to the governor and bureaucracy.
HD: So if not term limits then ... you said it's a theme you like to rap on. Is this something you have a direction you'd like to see things go?
LK: The real solution is to interest more people in public service, and I don't know how to do that. But the fact that there is a shortage does not gain a lot of attention. There's a lot of blame being placed on money. My feeling has always been that money is tremendously overrated as an independent factor in politics. If you're a good candidate for a particular position, and if you're appealing in the context, given the race, given your background, given your positions on things, then the money is there. People are out there, happy to give you money for your campaign. Maybe not as much as you'd like, but that's ...
HD: So is that your personal experience? Did you find that raising money to do the things you needed to do to make the campaign happen, was that easy?
LK: I think that on the whole to get as much money as you truly need, it's pretty easy. To get as much as you want is a lot harder. The psychology of being a candidate is, unfortunately, in the direction of ... you know there's a saying among political people and that is, The candidate has a right to be paranoid. No matter how even-tempered and calm you think you are when you're a candidate, when it's your name out there on the ballot, it's really difficult to maintain your objectivity on the situation. You get to the point where any manifestation of the opponent is a personal attack on you. Your opponent's sign in someone's yard, My God! You know, it hurts. So anytime the candidate has a role in running the campaign, it tends to be driven by what the other side does. You know, They've got yard sign, we've gotta have yard signs!
HD: So you fall into a reactionary mindset.
LK: Right, right, and the other thing is that you want to have as much money as possible, because you want to do all those things, and you want to do things that will reduce your anxiety. Obviously, inherently it's a very anxious process. You want to do polling and polling is almost always a waste of money. And it's something that campaigns do to assuage their anxiety.
HD: So did you do polling?
LK: No. Or like radio ads, all those kinds of things. Maybe in certain limited situations they have some usefulness. A friend of mine says the dirty secret of advertising is how little effect it has.
HD: Don't tell Google AdSense!
LK: Well, you know, Google AdSense is a niche. And you would never know about Democratic Singles or whatever it was you were looking at there, if it weren't for their little ad.
HD: Right, absolutely.
LK: Putting out an ad for Pepsi or Coke is not making people buy Pepsi or Coke. There's a billboard out there that says Pepsi on it, you don't go in or go out and buy a Pepsi. It probably has a hardly a measurable effect on you. And in a presidential election campaign, you see, Kerry for President or Bush for President. That billboard cost thousands of dollars, what effect is it having?
HD: Not a thousand dollars worth, I'm sure.
LK: But at the same time, you see this sometimes in a school board race or city council race, where sometimes voters will have the sense that one candidate has got yard signs the other candidate has no yard signs, so maybe this candidate with no yard signs isn't really serious. But a well-funded campaign is a lot more fun than a threadbare shoe-string campaign. If it's a statewide campaign, you stay in better hotels, you eat better food, you have ... but it has no effect on the outcome. Shoestring campaigns beat well-funded campaigns all the time.
HD: So when you were campaigning, did you actually walk up and down the street banging on doors?
LK: Yeah. I did some of that. But mostly what I did was mailings. And I did probably more than was strictly necessary. But I was assuaging my own anxiety. So I mailed to as much of the county as I could scrape together money to do. But coming in to this, I was pretty sure that the Democratic nominee was going to win. And that was based more than anything else on the 2000 election. In the 2000 election we had the incumbent Sheriff, Schebil, who was highly regarded, had bi-partisan support, had five times as much money as the Democrat and the Democrat's votes were split by a Green Party candidate who had an appealing name and got 6000 votes.
HD: What was the appealing name?
LK: Gaia, G-A-I-A. And I mean Gaia was guy, but usually it's a girl. You know, Earth Mother, and I'm sure that was an eye-catching thing. A lot of people voted for him based on assuming that he was a woman ... There were elected Democrats out there endorsing Schebil. There was a big ad in the Ann Arbor News, Democrats for Schebil! And despite all that, the Democrat won by 8000 votes. Peggy Haines was unopposed in that election. But in all prior elections she had never been as strong as Schebil. When they were both running unopposed, he would get more votes than she did. When they were both running with weak opponents, he would get more votes than Haines, and her opponent would get more votes than his opponent. He was systematically stronger than her in every election. So it was clear to me that if a Democrat had run in 2000 [for Clerk] they would have won. I didn't make plans to do that. I was a Commissioner at the time and I was advocating in the re-districting situation. People came to me afterwards and said, You should have been on that commission! You know more about this stuff than those people! And so a number of people encouraged me to run. I was pretty comfortable with Peggy, I was on good terms with her. I didn't really want to run against her. A lot of people just said, She'll be unopposed again. And I thought that was not a responsible way to look at it, because if the Democratic Party didn't have a candidate, then anyone could walk in at the last minute of the filing deadline and put down $100 and they would be the candidate and they would probably win.
HD: So you kind of felt like the Democrats would win, even if I, say, went down and registered as the Democratic candidate with a platform about teeter totters. And you just said, Hey it should be somebody who's competent.
LK: That's right. I would say. But there were some uncertainties, and one of them was, the voters are getting more partisan. The voters in this county are certainly getting more partisan. The politicos in this county used to regard the county's party and the state's party as kind of irrelevant: We don't identify with the Democrats of LBJ ... you know, We're Ann Arbor Democrats! or We're Ann Arbor Republicans! And the voters don't see it that way anymore. Events at the national level from '90 onward, with the impeachment, the 2000 election, all the things that have happened since then, have really kind of sharpened and defined what it means to be a Republican and what it means to be a Democrat. And there's a lot less room for someone to say really I'm a conservative Democrat or I'm a liberal Republican. When I was campaigning, people would say, I voted for Peggy, but I can't vote for any Republican any more, the Republicans are screwing up the country. Or just people would say, If you're a whatever-party-they-were, I'm voting for you, if you're not, I'm not. I don't need to see your literature.
HD: It's interesting that you say that, because when Rebekah Warren was here, she mentioned in connection with this issue that, for the Democratic Party, she felt like with respect to specifically the issue of Choice, that being a Democrat or a Republican didn't mean as much as it used to, with regard to that issue. And that the Democratic Party needs to figure out what they really stand for to make that label, Democrat, become defining in a way that it used to be, but is not so much any more.
LK: I don't agree with that. I think that she's right, that there's maybe strategic things that the national party or the national candidates ought to do or oughtn't do. But I think that that what it means to be a Democrat or what it means to be a Republican is enormously sharper than what it was 20, 30, 40 years ago.
HD: And you mean specifically at the local level, that here in Ann Arbor it's sharper?
LK: Voters are thinking of it that way. And they're applying this logic to local elections, the same logic that they use in national elections. And some of that has to do with the fact that people are more mobile. The proportion of people who voted in the last presidential elections, who were born in Washtenaw County, who grew up here and who know everyone, I think that's diminishing. This is mobile area, the population is mobile generally, and so people, because they move from state to state, from city to city, they tend to look more towards national politics. And they're less interested in the nuances of what happens in the state capitol. By virtue of a national media, international internet, national politics, we're becoming more of a national culture politically. There's still a lot of variation in terms of one state to another, but in terms of the attitudes of the voters, I think that those things are more convergent. ... And part of it is also the local media. The Ann Arbor News is a partial exception to this. They don't invest as much in local political reporting. They don't put as much emphasis on what happens at the state and local levels ... because it's labor-intensive from a newspaper, television standpoint and because most people are not reading newspapers anyway ... It's interesting to read the newspapers from 50 or 75 years ago, the amount of coverage they have of city council or the candidates for county treasurer or whatever it is, the issues on the county board. It's enormously more than we have now.
HD: So you're saying the Ann Arbor News is an exception inasmuch as they cover it somewhat?
LK: They do make an effort. They make more of an effort than, say, the Lansing State Journal, which is the paper I grew up with. I remember one time ... I was on the Ingham County Board from '83-'88. In '88 I resigned shortly before the end of the term to go to grad school. Later on I had some question about what had happened in the '88 election for county commissioner. And so I go back, normally you have in the Sunday paper before the election, a roundup of all the things in the elections, profiles of the candidates, with bios and pictures. The Lansing State Journal didn't do that for county offices in '88. They basically um said uh ...
HD: ... screwit ...
LK: ... yeah, there was basically no coverage, no mention of the county board. Not exactly a comparable incident in '98, we had the first election for the Ann Arbor District Library Board. In those days, of course, school elections and library board elections were on a Monday, so the Sunday was the day before the election. The Ann Arbor News had a big editorial saying, The Library Board is really important! The school board's getting all the attention because there's this controversy over the schools, don't forget the Library Board, they're going to handle millions of dollars, they're going to construct these branches, ... , they have big responsibilities, ... , Pay attention, when you vote for Library Board tomorrow! And nowhere in that entire paper did it say who the candidates were! They had mentioned them earlier, though.
HD: So in that edition in that day's newspaper they didn't have the slate.
LK: When I complained about this to Ed Petykiewicz [editor], I said, You could have said, Go into your recycling bin and find last Wednesday's paper ... we mentioned the candidates then! But, on the whole, the Ann Arbor News makes an effort. You know, covering the Lincoln School Board, and when there's an election coming up they will go and profile the candidates, and they will go and talk to them. There are papers that just won't bother to do that anymore.
HD: Well, listen, my butt's starting to get numb ...
LK: ... yeah, mine, too. ...