Recently, the Board of Alderman of Saint Louis hosted a debate at Harris-Stowe State Universityin the Henry Givens Performance Auditorium. There, incumbent candidate Reed Lewis along with state Senator Jamilah Nasheed and democratic Alderwoman of the fourteenth ward, Megan Green sat on a panel in front of the public for the debate for the seat up for election in Saint Louis, the President of the Board of Alderman. Questions were produced by both moderators as well as concerned and involved members of the public, ranging from students at the local universities to members of local organizations, like Action Saint Louis and Close the Workhouse. Among items discussed were crime rates in Saint Louis, homelessness, marijuana laws, and the funding of a Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Saint Louis in order to generate revenue for the city.
There is no doubt that heuristics play an integral part in the average voters’ decision making at the ballot box on all local, state, and federal levels. Often during election times, voters unfamiliar with the past policy choices of each respective candidate rely on identifying ques by candidates such as race, sex and/or gender, age, and party coalition in their voting decisions at the ballot under the assumption that candidates who share the identity markers of the voter are more likely to share their interests and ultimately carry out policy-making decisions that positively impact them. Particularly, in the case of the Saint Louis Board of Alderman presidential election, newer, less informed African-American voters are more likely to rely on the black utility heuristicto guide them in the ballot box. I myself am guilty of practicing “vote blue no matter who” the first time I voted. I, too, probably would have blindly voted for Lewis Reed had I not attended this debate, simply based on the fact that we share an ethnic background. I would have been even more likely to vote for Jamilah Nasheed in that we share both gender and race.
The moderators directed questions at each candidate, often inquiring about accusations made against one another, by one another. As a result, epithets rolled across the stage as Senator Nasheed repeatedly referred to the incumbent Reed as “Lying Lewis”. Similarly, President Reed accused Senator Nasheed on countless occasions of being a “double agent”, claiming that she takes one stance publicly while pursuing policy contrary to her public stance. The two shouted at one another, speaking over one another upon answering the questions of both the moderators and the public. Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green sat in between Senator Nasheed and President Reed as the banter continued. In fact, Green was the onlycandidate to directly answer each question. Not only did she directly address the topic at hand, she came prepared with pertinent facts, a well-crafted argument, and temperate demeanor. I was deterred from voting for either Senator Nasheed or President Reed, but before I passed judgement, I researched all three candidates, ultimately deciding that I did, in fact, align with some of Senator Nasheed’s policy decisions despite her poor performance. On the contrary, Lewis Reed’s policy
Similarly, President Donald Trump’s strategic use of identity politics in his campaign appealed widely to heterosexual white males in the working class of The United States, despite his policies’ inherently classist nature. In thinking about the use of identity markers by a large number of voters at the ballots, I wondered about the true role of congressmen in American democratic institutions. Congressmen and women follow either the trustee or the delegate models of legislation; the trustee is trusted by their constituents to represent them to the best of their ability based on their expertise. On the contrary, those members of Congress that perform according to the delegate model are expected to act as a voice of the people, acting directly according to what the people desire.
The trustee model of legislature reflects the 18thcentury style of governance in which the elite are elected to carry out a common good by the citizens based on the academic and intellectual abilities of officials as literacy was less common amongst the common public. Schumpeter critiques this style of governance as he claims that it is perhaps betterfor the people if the nation is governed not by the people, but for the people; it would be nearly impossible to appease every group of constituents. Additionally, one could argue that, in a more contemporary context, the bureaucracy involved in legislation complicates and ultimately hinders the speediness of passing legislation. The common use of heuristics among voters brings the final question: which model, the trustee model or the delegate model, better embodies the fundamental values of democracy? Should people’s voices be directly represented by their representatives, or should they give their representatives more leeway in policy making based on their expertise?