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Pacifica radio network uses choice voting to elect local station boards

Berkeley Daily Planet
Today’s the Deadline For Pacifica Board Hopefuls
By Jakob Schiller
December 12, 2003

Long-struggling advocates of democratic governance for the Pacifica Network and its member stations chalked up one more small victory last Friday with the expiration of the deadline for candidate applications for the upcoming board elections.

The election, which ends Feb. 5, resulted from a years-long battle over the future of the popular listener-funded Pacifica stations. When the smoke clears, the resulting new governance structure will feature a democratically elected advisory board at the network’s five members station: KPFA here in Berkeley, WBAI in New York City, WPFW in Washington D.C., KPFT in Houston and KPFK in Los Angeles.

Under the new model, listener members and staff will elect candidates to the 24 slots on each station board. Each of the five boards will then pick four of their own members to sit on the national Pacifica board.

Pacifica’s 53 affiliate stations will elect an additional two members.

“It’s democracy not in a passive sense but in an active sense,” said KPFA election supervisor Les Radke during a press conference to announce the elections Monday. Joining Radke at the conference were a handful of the approximately 50 preliminary candidates vying for a spot on KPFA’s board.

Though the station widely publicized the press conference, this writer was the only non-Pacifica reporter in attendance.

Radke said the structural changes were enacted to ensure that the station continues to model the type of progressive and democratic organization that has governed the network and its content since its founding back in 1946.

The latest round of changes were sparked when the old Pacifica board moved to consolidate and centralize power, prompting protesters to fill the streets outside KPFA and other member stations across the nation.

Listeners were outraged by policies enacted by a Pacifica board which announced its intent to “mainstream” local stations and their content. Specific gripes included the decision by the national board to self-select its membership, ending the long-standing process that allowed local stations to appoint the majority of the national board members. Protesters also complained of financial mismanagement and censorship.

The new structure, proponents say, ensures democratic oversight of all the network’s most important functions, effectively forestalling the possibility of another power struggle lead by the board. Nonetheless, they say they don’t expect the transition to be hassle free.

“I’m actually nervous. Democracy doesn’t solve every problem,” said KPFA General Manager Gus Newport, a former Berkeley mayor. “Hopefully [the elections] will open the door to new ideas and energy and accountability. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Organizers say they’ve tried to democratize the election process as much as possible by employing a “Choice Voting” form of proportional representation.

Choice Voting, they say, allows voters to rank candidates, preventing power grabs by monolithic slates by preserving minority representation. Instead of winning a majority, each candidate only has to receive a set amount of votes and is automatically elected.

If a voter’s first choice already has enough votes to win, the vote automatically transfers to their second choice, ensuring that the vote counts. If the voter’s first choice doesn’t have enough support to win a seat by the time the voter casts their ballot, the vote will automatically be transferred to the next choice still in the running.

At KPFA, 18 of the 24 slots will be filled by the 50-plus candidates who turned in candidacy applications. The remaining six will be filled by paid and unpaid staff. Only listener members can vote on the 18 slots and only staff can vote for staff. A 25th slot on KPFA’s board will be filled by someone from member station KFCF in Fresno. Eligible to vote are listeners who have pledged $25 or more in the last year or performed three hours of volunteer service at the station.

Around 110,000 ballots are scheduled to go out nationwide, of which 30,000 will go to KPFA members. The election is valid if 10 percent of the registered members cast ballots.

For more information about KPFA’s election contact Les Radke at 848-6767 ext. 626 or by e-mail at [email protected].

Houston Chronicle
KPFT's listeners cast votes for local station board
Election could shape national network

By Dale Lezon
January 11, 2004

One candidate is a self-styled "liberal pagan." Another, who contracted polio as a child, describes himself as "active with disabled-person access issues." Others in the running are teachers, lawyers and left-leaning housewives.

All say they want KPFT-FM, Houston's Pacifica Radio station, to promote peace, understanding and tolerance and to provide news not found in mainstream media.

This month, 61 candidates are vying for 18 spots on the local station board. Staff members will select the remaining six board members from among 20 others. Ballots were mailed last week to about 10,300 "listener members," and they must be returned by Feb. 5, said Robin Lewis, chairwoman of the KPFT elections committee.

The elections at KPFT and the four other Pacifica Radio stations -- in Berkeley, Calif.; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; and New York City -- could finally resolve a four-year struggle over control of the nation's most influential left-leaning radio network.

Once selected, each local board will choose four of its members to serve on Pacifica's national governing board. The governing plan is designed to give members a voice in station budgeting, programming and management, said Leslie Cagan, the chairwoman of Pacifica's interim national board. Cagan said the process also ensures that the listener-supported network continues to provide news and other information not found in mainstream media.

"We're striving for a governing structure that allows all some role in running stations," Cagan said. "We want people to turn on those stations to find news and cultural information they won't hear other places."

In statements on KPFT's Web site and aired on the radio, the local candidates outline their visions and pitch their campaign promises.

"The Pacifica mission statement, which calls for us to contribute to a lasting understanding, provide access to nonmainstream news sources, and to promote the resolution of conflict by understanding, defines a mission that is quite obvious in times like these," one candidate wrote.

For many candidates, campaign issues include making sure KPFT promotes discourse respectful of others and that Amy Goodman's liberal Democracy Now! program remains on the air and perhaps moves up an hour so more people driving to work can listen.

"I soon discovered Democracy Now! and the dulcet tones of Amy Goodman," says one candidate's statement."I began to arrange my sales day so that I would be in my van from 9-10 a.m."

The candidate goes on to say, "I am a liberal pagan. I voted for Nader. I did inhale. I'm pro-choice in ALL aspects of life. I believe strongly in the sacredness of life and the right of each individual to express themselves, regardless of their beliefs. I believe that America is headed in the direction of a military state without serious, committed, and IMMEDIATE intervention. I believe Michael Moore should have a statue in Washington, D.C. My ultimate belief is in the basic tenet of all known religions. Treat others as you would like to be treated."

The elections are the result of an effort begun more than four years ago to wrest control of the stations from Pacifica's national governing board. A minority of board members claimed that the board's majority was centralizing power, ignoring local advisory boards and moving the network away from liberal-oriented news reports toward mainstream programming.

The two sides agreed in late 2001 to call for the elections, set up an interim national board, rewrite Pacifica's bylaws and settle lawsuits that minority board members and listeners had filed against the old board majority.

Dissident board members cited KPFT in Houston and WPFW in Washington -- both of which were accused of dumping local news in favor of more music -- as examples of how Pacifica stations should not be run.

Houston Pacifica members protested outside KPFT offices in the mid-1990s against programming choices by then-station manager Garland Ganter, who critics said increased the number of listeners but dulled the station's political edge. Members protested outside the offices again a few years ago when they felt the national governing body was usurping their power.

The Pacifica election is a study in proportional representation that ensures each vote contributes to the election, said Terry Bouricius, the elections' national supervisor. Rather than a winner-take-all election, such as the U.S. presidential contest, Pacifica members rank candidates in order of preference.

"The method of tallying votes is designed to facilitate each voter having someone elected to the board that is acceptable to him/her," according to the Pacifica Web site. "By ranking candidates in order of preference (1, 2, 3, etc.), if your favorite candidate has more than enough votes to win a seat, your vote will not be wasted, but will instead automatically count for your next favorite candidate."

"The elections will reconnect the community and the radio station," said KPFT station manager Duane Bradley. "Members will feel a sense of ownership for the station."

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