Mar 16, 2011

Lawmakers for Sale: An Interview with Randy Miller, Founder of the Utah League of Independent Voters

As Utah is widely considered to be a Republican Party stronghold, most Americans would probably be surprised to learn that an outright majority of the state’s registered voters are not Republicans but rather Independents. The Utah League of Independent Voters aims to change that. Last week, Randy Miller, founder of the ULiV, decided to put his State Senator and Representative up for sale on eBay to raise funds for the organization and protest a political system that puts party above people. The action caused a small stir in the local press, the Independent political blogosphere and on Twitter, and even provoked a response from the Senator himself.  Randy was kind enough to provide a short interview via email.

TPID: What made you decide to put your state senator up for sale on Ebay? 

Miller: Generally, the GOP in Utah thinks they have been given some magic mandate from the people of Utah and they have taken a number of measures for the last 3-4 years to constrict the political process and set themselves up as a 'merchant in the temple' whereby to participate in the political process, one must go through them. And there are other ideological issues not in harmony with the people of Utah.

Three years ago or so they passed a school voucher bill. The next year it was overwhelmingly rejected by voters. Redistricting takes place in the legislature this year. 73% of Utah residents support an independent redistricting committee. The legislature refuses to consider the measure. It was not allowed on the agenda in committee last year. There were multiple bills this year to move to partisan elections for state school board positions while 78% of Utahns favor direct non-partisan popular elections for those positions.

So when a widget doesn't do what you want it to do you sell it at a garage sale if it has any salvageable value. So that is what I did. Besides it wouldn't hurt to get a little fund raising out of it for the fledgling independent voter movement I have started--the Utah League of independent Voters.

TPID: The auction has been taken down by eBay. What did you write on the listing? How long was it up on the site?

Miller: The listing was on eBay for probably 10 hours or so. I was out on a date with my wife when in was pulled, but it was getting about 100 page visits per hour. I listed Brad Wilson ($R) district 15 in a dutch-style auction and sold 3 of those for $25 a piece. One paypal transaction was completed before the listing was pulled. Here is the text of the original listing:
So the 2011 Utah Legislative session concluded at midnight last night. I need to get rid of some things around the house, so I thought I could list my representatives for sale on Ebay. I don't need them anymore. They evidently never needed me. I am selling Senator Stevenson because he voted for:
• SB270 (food tax)
• HB477 (to make the e-correspondence for the legislature and governor's office secret)
• HB229 (to tell the state school board to indoctrinate our children with the notion that we are a wepwesentative wepubwic and not a democracy etc. etc. whatever)
• SJR 9 (to make the state school board controlled directly by the guv)
• SB165 (to prohibit the use of electronic signatures on citizen candidate nominations and initiative / referendum petitions)
Buyer beware. This toy is broken. I wish it would be recalled. It is a representative that does not represent. Well, it represents its party well, but fo the people it is supposed to represetn, it just doesn't work. I will consider a trade for a representative that does represent the people of its district well.

All proceeds will be used to support and expand the outreach of the Utah League of independent Voters, a voice for the voters in Utah who aren't thrilled with the prospects of parties. We support initiatives like open primaries, non-partisan redistricting and are looking with interest at the initiative to roll back SB165.
TPID: What was the response? How many bids were there? What was the highest? etc.

Miller: I think there were 19 bids from 7 bidders, 2 of which were personal acquaintances and politicos who wanted to pledge some money even if they didn't win the bid. I got pledges for nearly $1000 and a commitment from them to be on the board and officially make ULiV a PAC. The highest bid was $305. For those who haven't bid on eBay for a while, that means that $305 was an increment just above the second highest bid--the highest bidder only has to pay slightly above the next highest bid. Their bid is automatically incremented up to be more than all second place bids until their bid is surpassed. Somebody evidently bid more than $305, how much I do not know.

TPID: Did you receive any complaints from your representative's "rightful" owners in the party, the professional lobbying industry or political class?

Miller: No, but somebody probably snitched to eBay. In fact the article indicated he thought the gag was funny and laughed out loud. He even commented he wondered how much he was worth.

TPID: There have been a number of news articles on your action. What has been the response from the general public? Have you gotten many emails or phone calls? 

Miller: I have had a few people contact me wondering how they can volunteer. I've received a bunch of ‘atta boys’ from friends on Facebook, but I think more than anything I hit the funny bone of thousands of people who are thinking the same thing, why won't the legislature listen to the people instead of the narrow group of party delegates. The parties would naturally respond (and have) that we are all perfectly welcome to come participate in their caucuses and conventions as if that is the only legally contemplated way to participate at the grassroots level of our democracy.

TPID: One article reported that you were trying to raise awareness and funding for the ULIV. Has it been a success in that regard? Has web traffic gone up? Have you received more interest or donations etc.?

Miller: Yes. I have pledges from 3 donors totalling in the ballpark of $1000. Two of those donors, close friends and political activists are also willing to form a board and make ULiV a truly legal entity.

TPID: Before going to Ebay, did you consider other options such as Craig's List? Maybe you could have traded up for an Independent lawmaker? 

Miller: Somebody did recommend that I forget eBay, move and and make the listing on Craig's List. Truthfully, I don't know the ins and outs of craiglist very well. I'm not opposed to it, but I think the novelty of a real time auction had some real interest and appeal.

TPID: What is the mission of the ULIV? What does the organization have planned for the future?

Miller: The mission of ULiV is to open up the democratic process to the people to whom our government rightfully belongs--the people. We are not concerned about ideological differences. I am not concerned if the voice of the people goes in a direction that I think is imprudent or doesn't fit with my ideology. The mission of ULiV is to act as a voice for the nearly 800,000 strong, 51.5% plus majority of [Independent] voters in Utah. These independents no doubt are concerned about the partisan filters of caucuses, primaries and redistricting which are not legally contemplated to be controlled by factions through which candidates must pass before being presented to the voters. The folly of that arrangement has come to the forefront after this legislative session. Perhaps we are building enough political will to turn the corner and instill some equity into our governing processes.

TPID: Do you have any plans for another auction?

Miller: I am planning on listing the offending legislators on later tonight with some weasel words added to prevent the account from being suspended in like manner. The funny thing about eBay is that they suspended my account for one year for "selling Human Body Parts and Remains". Seriously, if somebody was really doing that I would hope they would call the police and terminate the account permanently. Hard to know what makes them tick.

TPID: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions!

Readers should be sure to check out the ULIV’s main site as well as Randy’s blog.  As of this posting, the new auction at boocoo is still online. The current price for Sen. Stevenson is $0.01.


richardwinger said...

Randy Miller, I would love to be in touch with you, but I haven't found any e-mail address or phone number for you. I hope you will e-mail me at, or 415-922-9779.

DLW said...

please be sure to raise the idea of low numbered multi-seated state rep elections. That's been an effective traditional US_American way to handicap the rivalry between the two major parties and give minorities more voice.

As you may know, I blog about it at "A New Kind of Third Party".