Monday, June 4, 2018

When good-guys go rogue (Installment III of III)

They say meditation clears your head and speeds you down the road to enlightenment.  I’ve tried.  Remember my mindful walks?  Breathe in…breathe out…notice…let it go. 

But letting it go doesn’t work anymore.  San Diego’s notion of progressive politics has changed a mindful walk into a walk on the wild side. 

Come notice with me and you’ll see what I mean. 

Notice that primary election day is here and the June ballot is a real turn-off.  Too many ovals to blacken, vague propositions, and mysterious candidates – who are most of them, anyway?

A couple of years ago some smart-alecks sold us a bill of goods about the civic virtues of the “open primary,” which invites unlimited numbers of candidates of every political persuasion to a free-for-all to duke it out for 1st and 2nd place.  Then the day after the primary, beleaguered voters submit to more rounds of fundraising, TV ads, pricey campaign mailers, and nasty bloodletting as the top two vote-getters pummel one another until November, when they’re thrown back into the ring for the final winning battle. 

Let it go?  We shouldn’t.  Not when there could be a more efficient, quicker, less expensive, and painless option for electing our representatives (back to this subject at a later date).

Now notice the unusually high number of self-proclaimed progressives on the June primary ballot.  What’s peculiar is that many are running for the same office. 

In past years, bewildered voters could count on a who’s-endorsing-whom cheat sheet to steer them in the right direction.  No longer.  Odd-couple endorsements and peculiar pairings fly all over the map. 

For example, two of my favorite do-good nonprofits tell me to vote for candidate X when I know for certain that candidate Y is the superior choice.  Democratic politicians I once respected are pimping for ineffectual, manipulable, cliché-ridden candidates.   And the local Democratic Party has sold its soul by publishing indefensibly dirty ads against a particularly qualified Democratic candidate while bestowing endorsements on flashy candidates proclaiming phantom achievements.

Let it go? Not if we care about the future of San Diego. 
And what if we notice that some of our good-guys have gone rogue, creating so much muck they’re stinking up San Diego’s fledgling progressive movement?  Are we really supposed to let it go?  

 ======================================

Let’s take a quick look backward.  San Diego is an arid, drought-prone place with a politically conservative history.  Nevertheless, various ethnic, sexual, environmental, labor, and racial streams have occasionally trickled through and fertilized the political scene.  Consider:
  • our tenacious union leaders who keep up the pressure for workers rights in a city that once turned high-pressure water hoses on the wobblies (International Workers of the World) to drown out their calls for free speech.
  • our decades-old tradition of electing Latinos to local office and then propelling them ASAP straight up to Sacramento.
  • San Diego’s top-ranking as a gay-friendly city that elects LGBTQ candidates at home and also propels them ASAP straight up to Sacramento.
  • our environmental advocates who fought for open space, regional parks, building height limits, and quality-of-life growth policies.
  • and the range of woman who left their marks on San Diego history – Ellen Browning Scripps, Bertha Pendleton, Luisa Morena, Belle Benchley, Katherine Tingley, Florence Chadwick, Maureen O’Connor, Ingrid Croce, Judy the Beauty…
Looks hopeful, doesn’t it?  But who can call it progress when we see our current good-guys indulge in proxy wars… personal vendettas… obsessional political ambition… compulsion for dominance?  when they pull the rug out from under authentic good-guys? 

It comes as no surprise that even progressives can succumb to venial sins like ignorance, gullibility, or falling head-over-heels in love with sexy and seductive people.  But mortal sins (lying, coercion, defamation, bribery, hit-jobs) are something else.  

To some, it just politics.  But for progressives, when the lofty idea of intersectionality ends up looking like collusion, it's called going rogue.  Here's how it's been playing out in San Diego:

Workers unions are fighting for their collective lives all over this country.  In San Diego, they’ve become their own worst enemies.  

As it happens, a nasty internal power struggle is underway between two union chieftains – Tom Lemmon, head honcho of the SD County Building and Construction Trades Council (and BFF with San Diego's emerging #MeToo sisterhood)  and Mickey Kasparian, former president of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, current head of the San Diego Working Families Council (and exclusive target of  #MeToo).  

What was originally a cockfight has shape-shifted into a noxious proxy battle involving two candidates running for county Supervisor: professed convert to progressivism Nathan Fletcher and long-time progressive Lori Saldaña.

Mickey Kasparian had once thrown his union's support to David Alvarez for San Diego mayor, bypassing Nathan Fletcher (turns out, neither won that race).  Fletcher is once again back in the saddle as a candidate for county Supervisor.  And once again Kasparian could be a spoiler.  

It's likely someone ordered a purge.  You may have read  about harassment charges (sexual and otherwise) lodged against Kasparian by three women in #MeToo attempts to strip him from power and send him packing.  Politics/ power/ revenge?

A true-blue labor activist once confided to me that, despite many misgivings about Nathan Fletcher and his anti-union, anti-woman, anti-taxes voting record, most unions would endorse him based on assurances that his wife Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (past political director of the Labor Council  and current state assembly-member) would make sure that that her husband would always vote the right way. 

Some simple arithmetic: Labor unions are a major funding source for the Democratic Party.  Labor is under the thumb of Lorena Gonzalez.  The Democratic Party anointed and endorsed  Nathan Fletcher, husband of Lorena Gonzalez, for county Supervisor.  Any questions about this equation?

Fold in the role of the Latino community, which remains underrepresented at the polls and only perfunctorily represented by their elected leaders here at home.  Political turf battles, controlled mostly within family lines (the Inzunzas, the Huesos), are still the norm in San Diego and the South Bay, where above-mentioned Lorena Gonzalez diligently shores up kinship alliances.

So it’s hardly a surprise that a non-family-affiliated independent Latino city official like David Alvarez gets the snake-eye from the ruling Latino establishment.  And it shouldn’t be surprising that the campaign to oust Mickey Kasparian was ferociously fueled by activists within the Latino community.

Up north you'll find environmental lawyer Marco Gonzalez, big brother of Lorena Gonzalez, defending the coastline.  He also wears the progressive label while doing his loyal best to stay on the good side of his sister.  In the past he's kept his fingerprints anonymous – for example, when helping to assemble aggrieved women to bring down Mayor Bob Filner, thereby clearing the coast for Nathan Fletcher's (ultimately unsuccessful) mayoral runs. 

The upshot for the citizens of San Diego? We got Kevin Falconer for mayor – four years of regressive planning, housing, infrastructure, homeless, and social policies – just like in the bad old days.  What more proof do we need that underhanded, murky tactics, even when they come from progressive good-guys, lead to fetid outcomes?

Now fold in San Diego’s gay community.  Once predominantly Republican, around two decades ago a contingent of organized, motivated gay activists took over the moribund county Democratic Party and infused it with new energy, money, and leadership.  A gay center was established in Hillcrest, a gay council district was created, and increasing numbers of gay elected leaders were shepherded onto the school board, city council, and upward to the state assembly and senate. 

But these Dem Party leaders were failures at multi-tasking. They ignored the party’s other obligations to cultivate, groom, and support a wide spectrum of Democratic candidates and pursue a comprehensive range of progressive goals for the region – leaving the Party vulnerable to attacks from all sides of the Democratic spectrum and bereft of a healthy pool of new, true-blue blood. 

As for the Democratic Party –  Ordinarily, I feel protective of San Diego’s Democratic Party.  But the party's unprecedented decision to freeze out highly qualified progressive candidates running for county Supervisor (two black men, Omar Passons and Ken Malbrough, and Latina Lori Saldaña) and throw huge financial resources into their anointed candidate Nathan Fletcher (whose outstanding political achievement so far is his marriage to Lorena Gonzalez) is dumbfounding – especially since the party has sidestepped a truly crucial race for the US Congress in the county’s 49th district!

The Party’s indefensibly hateful attacks on Saldaña feel downright deviant.  This is not politics as usual.  This is not progressive. This reeks of manipulation and bullying.  This poisons the progressive well.
  
Finally, intersect our #MeToo movement in this lineup of distorted progressive values for giving full consent to being exploited as battering rams and manipulated into doing the dirty work for other people's retaliatory power games and personal agendas.  

We're smarter than that, aren't we?  We shouldn’t let ourselves be bullied... or bully others,  should we?  We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be silenced... or silence others, so why do we?

=======================================

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in a State of the Union speech in the early years of WW II, summed up what progressivism is all about.  He named Four Freedoms: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. 

Today’s progressives in San Diego have a much narrower view of the big picture.  We are handicapped by a high tolerance for mediocrity in our leaders... by the city's narrow-minded and self-serving business leaders... by the city's subservient devotion to developers and hoteliers...

And we handicap and cripple ourselves by ignoring unprofessional, uncoordinated, unaccountable, inefficient, and just plain sloppy city management under Mayor Faulconer’s administration.

The easy part for progressives is fixing our governmental and structural handicaps.  That's what we ought to be doing.

The hard part is fixing ourselves.  That's what we must do.




Friday, May 25, 2018

Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the most progressive of us all? (Installment II of III)


Mega-sized campaign mailers from San Diego’s current crop of would-be reformers reach practically to the ceiling.  I’m sure it’s a boon to the US Postal Service but I feel punch drunk from the senseless beatings so many of our “change-makers” are inflicting on one another.

The bloodshed is really puzzling, since all of our good-guys identify themselves with the same label – Progressive.  So here’s a question: what does “progressive” actually mean? 

This much I remember from my Urban Planning classes: Way back, starting in the late 1880s and lasting for about three decades till the end of World War I, a social movement arose to confront the negative consequences of the great industrial revolution of the 19th century, and this social movement grew into a political movement, and it became known as “progressivism.”  

Progressivism was a big umbrella.  Under it, a wide swath of players agitated to reform innumerable societal ills – ruthless business practices, corporate greed, robber barons, government corruption, anti-immigrant venom, anti-black venom, discrimination against women, class warfare, and other fallout from a Golden Age of unprecedented industrialization and rapid economic growth.    

But they did more than agitate.  They created reform measures to tackle child labor abuses, sweatshops, factory working conditions, efficiency in municipal governance (San Diego’s city manager system, recently replaced by a strong mayor system, was created at this time), monopolistic corporations, and corrupt political machines.  

Their bipartisan efforts led to a federal income tax, voting rights for women, direct election of US senators, federal control of the banking system, the initiative/ referendum/ recall process, unionization, public health standards, anti-trust laws, minimum wages, neighborhood settlement houses, public education – you get the gist.  

Fast forward a century for the spectacle of modern-day reformers in San Diego and across the country rallying alongside Occupy Wall Street activists in peaceful rebellion against a resurgence of corporate abuse, bank fraud, mega-money control of elections, income inequality, a rigged economy… could this auger a revival of the historic Progressive Era? 

Not likely.  Times have changed.  Today’s “progressive” movement deviates in significant ways from old-time progressivism.  
  • Back then, the movement and its achievements were the result of vigorous bipartisan efforts.  Nowadays, the movement is exclusively owned by “left-leaning” groups and individuals.
  • Back then, progressivism drilled-down on ways to create better-functioning bureaucracies and rebuild government institutions.  Nowadays, most energy is directed toward social issues of gender equality, ethnic diversity, economic justice, #MeToo dynamics – with less interest in fine-tuning the (wonky but pivotal) managerial, bureaucratic, and structural components of local and federal government.
  • Back then, progressivism took a pragmatic approach to change and reform. Societal problems were dealt with through concrete legislative action.  Nowadays –  given the cold war freeze between polarized political parties – we get more aspirational and inspirational pronouncements and fewer practical steps to achieve them.

Do you ever wonder, are YOU a real progressive?  Test yourself with this cheat sheet of progressive values and goals, garnered from public statements by self-branded progressive groups, spokespeople, and progressive-labeled candidates.   
A progressive:
  1. chooses the “public interest” or “common good” over rampant self-seeking individualism
  2. is a strong proponent of workplace regulations and a living wage
  3. undertakes environmental stewardship, promotes renewable energy and other programs to deal with climate change
  4. promotes equality and civil rights for all citizens without regard for race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, lifestyle choice
  5. demands police reform regarding minorities
  6. signs on to policies to increase housing construction in urban areas and believes that densification will lower housing costs, relieve homelessness, and make housing more affordable
  7. backs marriage rights for gay/lesbian couples
  8. works to elect more women to office
  9. supports hand-up programs for struggling families, including paid family leave and Social Security expansion
  10. defends women’s rights to full, autonomous control of their bodies and supports Planned Parenthood...  Wait! there’s more!  A progressive:
  11. agrees with legalizing recreational marijuana
  12. wants to expand automatic voter registration
  13. values investment in our country’s infrastructure and opposes international trade agreements that send jobs overseas
  14. agitates for a single payer healthcare system
  15. champions free community colleges and expanded preschool programs
  16. advocates for tighter gun regulations
  17. pushes for net neutrality for free and open internet
  18. wishes to increase rights and obligations for Wall Street shareholders to undercut corporate dominance
  19. is repelled by the influence and control of corporate money, bundlers, super-PACS and TV ads in political campaigns 
To sum up: Progressives have an all-inclusive agenda advocating social, racial, economic, and gender justice; and a simple policy platform to tax the rich, end wars, and create honest and effective government for all.


 Don't worry – nobody’s asking a progressive candidate to be a saint.  But something’s missing from our progressive litmus test.  Where’s the bullet point for personal integrity… honesty… truthfulness… dependability… past performance… ethical core… consistent voting record?  
Where are the demerits for vituperativeness? obfuscation? distortion? arm-twisting? coercion? false witness? creating one's past out of whole cloth?
Did you pass the test?  I did - but, I admit, not with a perfect score.  What about the bevy of local candidates who sport the big-P?  I predict they'd all get an A.  There’s nary a hair’s breadth of difference in their campaign platforms.  
Except, perhaps, when it comes to #19 – campaign money.  

Despite plenty of lip service from San Diego's candidates about campaign finance reform, the brutal combat zones in some of our primary races (e.g., District Attorney, County Supervisor D4, Congressional D49 & D50) are fueled by big money from super-PACs and fabulously wealthy donors.  Even the San Diego County Democratic Party is tilting the primary scales with heavy bundles of cash for one anointed candidate above all others.
What’s crazy about this picture is the wild-west mashup of progressive candidates endorsed and financed by odd-fellow combos of unions, PACs, and rich individuals.  There are too many hidden agendas.
I have a contrarian friend whose opinions I appreciate.  He points out that life in San Diego isn’t as bad as all that, at least not when compared to the near-fascistic forces manipulating today's White House and Congress.  True. 
Then again, even in a city as placid as San Diego, seasoned veterans of political wars readily recognize the alternate political reality hidden under high stacks of glossy campaign sloganeering and progressive rhetoric. 
In this era of extreme partisanship, smug convictions, fierce rivalries, smoldering grudges, and #KnowNothing #MeFirst mindsets, even the good guys are not immune to infection.  
San Diego looks good on the outside but:
↠ if we don’t master good governance at the local level
↠ if we don’t challenge those who bear responsibility for what goes wrong in our region
↠ if we keep giving passing grades to mediocre politicians 
↠ if we fail to confront our change-agent superheroes when they start behaving like the bad guys, then all progressive bets are off.

More on these issues, players, and candidates next time…

Progressive agenda

Thursday, May 17, 2018

San Diego – the exceptional city (Installment I of III)

Never before in human history have ordinary people – you and me – been able to peer into the quirky, submicroscopic genomic particles that direct traffic within our mortal bodies (hooray for our tenacious medical researchers) while simultaneously scanning the vast cosmos for the daunting mysteries of black holes (posthumous homage to Stephen Hawkings).  ­­­­­­­­­­

By contrast, tackling the routine challenges of daily existence ­– love, work, family, politics – should be a piece of cake.  Alas, not so.  The scientific method, the intellect of experts... these tools are woefully inadequate in the realm of social and political affairs.  

To illustrate, let’s look at our own city of San Diego.  
  
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that despite huge population growth over the decades… despite a leftish tilt in political party registration... despite city charter reforms to give us district elections, term limits, a strong mayor government, and a new “minority/majority” council district... 

... despite the increasing number of female and lgbt and ethnic candidates elected to office… despite project/labor agreements and living wage resolutions… despite rivers of craft beer flowing through our neighborhoods… 

... despite downtown rallies and marches and declarations of #MeToo… despite new trolley lines and colorful bikes and scooters… despite sprouting cannabis dispensaries... despite the promising winds of change in recent decades... despite it all... 

San Diego has stood its ground as a city that defies the natural laws of nature.  We've mastered the secret of self-cloning to routinely reproduce generations of complacent, lackluster, interchangeable political leaders.  We're stunted by a fossilized political mentality, hobbled by a stubborn disregard for the public good, yet successful at resisting change.  

San Diego is, perhaps, the only place on earth where evolution has been observed to move backwards. 

We also have an exceptional gift for pulling the wool over the eyes of insiders and outsiders, alike.  Take a look at this east coast perspective of our city: 
Like its urban rival Los Angeles, San Diego is not so much a city as a loose collection of overlapping (and sometimes colliding) communities bound by arterial, life-giving freeways: it’s a military town in Coronado; a surf town in funky, eclectic Ocean Beach; and a border town in the historic Mexican-American neighborhood of Barrio Logan. If San Diego has a cohesive identity at all, it’s a shared embrace of an easy, breezy Southern California casualness. With its lack of pretension, the city is often seen by outsiders as a kind of Pleasantville — a bland, happy place with an exceptional amount of sunshine. Depending on how deep you look, that may be all you see. But there are, after all, worse things than Spanish tiles, palm trees, tropical blooms, year-round flip-flops, fresh fish tacos and bonfires on the beach.
 Yes, it’s recognizably us.  

But missing from view is a rendering of the heart, the soul, the driving force of our city – our relentless zeal to pander to land speculators, developers, and the venerable "hospitality" industry.  

Also overlooked is San Diego's well-honed art of seducing, manipulating, and ultimately neutralizing (and eviscerating) would-be reformers as they attempt to turn the political tide toward a more enlightened, equitable city.

But cheer up!  There may still be a future in our future.  A new contingent of ambitious “change-makers” is on the horizon, girded for the battle to redirect San Diego’s historic trajectory.  It's a welcome undertaking but a risky one in a city like ours.   

So here's a useful reminder: our city’s previous brave reformers helped dig their own black holes by resisting the necessity for comprehensive planning and strong coalition-building (think of it as a pragmatic version of "intersectionality").  

What caused them to resist?  Let's just say that inflated egos and personal political goals are equal opportunity afflictions that cut across all political persuasions.  Even “good guys” in pursuit of power for a just cause can succumb to underhanded, undemocratic, and vindictive tactics that eventually poison the well.  

It may not be fair that the “bad guys” don’t have to be encumbered by attributes like honesty, integrity, and ethics while the “good guys” do.  But like it or not, if our new reformers are to be effective advocates for the public good, then higher standards are a sine qua non.  And right now, a brutally honest assessment of San Diego's newest warriors suggests a very mixed score.
**************
Next installment we’ll take a tour of the political aspirations and maneuverings of San Diego’s current crop of change-makers. 


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

County government laid bare

Part I: Who knew the race for San Diego County Board of Supervisors could be so hidden, so mysterious? 
County government leaders have gotten negative press lately with charges of complacency... neglect... elitism... callousness... and worse!  But that hasn't stopped a vigorous set of candidates from vying for a seat on the tarnished Board of Supervisors. 

What an intriguing mystery! It's time for girl-crusader-for-good-government Nancy Drew to do some sleuthing.  

She's got five big questions about county government.  And she's got a few question for the candidates whose eyes are glued on the June 2018 primary election.  All she wants are the facts, ma’am.

Question 1: WHAT'S COUNTY GOVERNMENT FOR, ANYWAY?
  • FACT:  Counties are political subdivisions created by state governments. As agents of the state, a county's job is to assist in matters of public health and welfare. Different states award varying degrees of power and responsibilities to their counties.
  • FACT: Counties are in charge of an overflowing basket of public services, like tax collection, jails, law enforcement, elections, voter registration, property records, birth/death/marriage certificates, libraries, mental health, public health, child and family welfare, animal control, environmental health… you get the picture. 
  • FACT: Counties work like financial funnels–directing federal and state funding and grants into local services and programs.
Question 2: WHO RUNS SAN DIEGO COUNTY GOVERNMENT?
  • FACT: Responsibility for county business is in the hands of our five-member Board of Supervisors, each elected by voters within a District. Term limits of eight years now apply. 
Question 3: WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT SAN DIEGO COUNTY?
  • FACT: San Diego County is the 5th most populous county in the entire USA, with 3.3 million people unevenly distributed across  4,300 square miles.  County borders stretch from Orange and Riverside Counties to Baja California, from Imperial County to the Pacific Ocean.  
  • FACT: Within San Diego County we've got 18 incorporated cities (each of which has its own government) and around 23 unincorporated towns and communities (each of which is overseen by county government).  About half of county land is owned by federal, state, and local governmental and tribal entities.
  • FACT: A breakdown of race/ethnicity categories of county residents looks like this: roughly 33% are Hispanic, 47.5% white, 4.4% African-American, 15% Asian, and 1% "other."
  • FACT: Close to 85% of San Diego County residents live in the urbanized regions of the county.  And as it stands now, the preponderance of high-income earners are concentrated in the northern part of the County–in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Poway, and La Jolla. 
Question 4: WHAT DOES THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS ACTUALLY DO TO EARN THEIR SALARIES?
  • FACT: The Board of Supervisors is the overlord of multitudinous county departments (check the organization chart above).
  • FACT: The Board of Supervisors also has legislative powers over the unincorporated areas of the county–something like a City Council for the "backcountry."  Supervisors pass ordinances, create growth and development policies, settle land-use conflicts, and are supposed to uphold the county's General Plan, which guides long-term, far-reaching land use outcomes in the county's rural and outlying regions.
  •  FACT: The day-to-day management of county government is in the hands of a County Administrator (CAO), appointed by and answerable to the Board.  The CAO carries out the Board’s directions and policies and oversees the preparation, adoption, and administration of the County's $5 billion budget.
Question 5: WHO ELSE DO WE ELECT TO COUNTY GOVERNMENT?
  • FACT: County voters also elect a Sheriff, a District Attorney, an Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk, and a Treasurer/Tax Collector.  These county officials are, for the most part, under state control and independent of the Board of Supervisors.   
Part II: Enough with the facts.  Let's get to the politics
Think about this: not since Leon Williams won a seat at the county has there been a touch of color on the Board of Supervisors. 

And it's even more lopsided.  For decades, Democratic politicians have also been mysteriously absent on the Board of Supervisors.  (But wait...wasn't there recently a Democratic Supervisor [gay to boot] who ruffled county feathers for a single term before he was sent packing?)

And while it's true that this once-exclusively male club has been breached by a scattering of female board members, it's also true that the county's mixed population has remained, decade after decade, under the collective thumb of five white Republican County Supervisors with a record of unlimited terms in office and redistricting practices bordering on the incestuous.

Is it any mystery that county government–historically–has been a hub of political and social conservatism? that its actions bypass environmentally-sane land development and promote urban sprawl? that it shirks its responsibility to provide residents with adequate social services? that (alongside the city of San Diego) it has permitted a hepatitis-A epidemic to ravage our homeless population? 

Might upending the status quo by electing a more diverse Board of Supervisors (color, ethnic, party...) start the ball rolling toward a fairer, wiser, more representative decision-making process in county government?

Part III:  Nancy Drew grills the candidates
For today's purposes, our relentless sleuth trained her eagle eyes on the Democratic contenders in San Diego County's 4th District, which happens to cover most of the city of San Diego.

She ID'd the candidates and peppered them with just-the-facts questions.  Here's her preliminary take:

Candidate #1: Ken Malbrough, a solid-as-a-rock kind of guy 
⧫ Grew up where? San Diego; graduate of San Diego High School, Miramar College
Worked as what? retired City of San Diego Deputy Fire Chief; Encanto Neighborhoods planning group; O'Farrell-Valencia Park town council
⧫ Political ID? Democrat 
⧫ Personal info? married with grown offspring; Afro-American; lives in Southeast SD; first-time candidate
⧫ Distinguishing features? independence; reliability; trustworthiness; committed to public service and underserved communities

Candidate #2: Lori Saldana, a fierce and forthright kind of gal 
⧫ Grew up where? San Diego; graduate of SDSU 
⧫ Worked as what? Three terms in the California State Assembly; Sierra Club; San Diego Earth Day; Professor/ Associate Dean, San Diego Community College adult education-business information technology
⧫ Political ID? Longtime Democrat, then "no preference," then return to Democrat
⧫ Personal info? Single; Latina candidate; lives in Clairemont 
⧫ Distinguishing features? strong environmental advocacy; outspoken; positive name recognition; principled; relentless; management and budgetary skills

Candidate #3: Nathan Fletcher, a persuasive and resiliant kind of guy
⧫ Grew up where? Carson City, Nevada then Smackover, Arkansas; graduate of California Baptist University in Riverside
⧫ Worked as what? political director California Republican Party; district director for Rep. Randy Duke Cunningham; Marine Corps Reserves; two terms in California State Assembly; Qualcomm employee; lectured at UCSD
⧫ Political ID? longtime Republican, switch to Independent, switch to Democrat
⧫ Personal info? Divorced, 2 young children, remarried following long relationship with State Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez; white candidate; lives in City Heights
⧫ Distinguishing features? self-confidence; promoter of Chelsea's Law; conservative voting record; advocate for veterans issues; premature endorsement for Supervisor by the County Democratic Party 

Candidate #4: Omar Passonsan earnest and dedicated kind of guy 
⧫ Grew up where? Clairemont, Lemon Grove
⧫ Did what? University of Arizona masters degree in Public Health; George Mason University law degree; San Diego Workforce Partnership; Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation; United Way, Center for Civic Engagement
⧫ Political identification? Democrat
⧫ Personal info? married; Afro-American candidate raised in white family; lives in North Park; first-time candidate
⧫ Distinguishing features? knowledgeable; principled; committed neighborhood advocate; land use planning and public health perspective

Part IV: Nancy Drew advises, keep your eyes wide open
What's clear so far is that the priorities of all four Democratic candidates are remarkably in tune with one another.  Each of their platforms expound on a common theme: the county's responsibilities for delivering a crucial set of health and social services. 

Yet to be revealed is how strong a stand each of them will take on county issues involving sprawl, law enforcement, labor contracts, transit, etc.  Harder to lay bare is which of these candidates will be consistent about pursuing the public interest over political or private interests.  

Insider intrigue within the Democratic Party has already put a heavy thumb on the scale in this race. But there are several months till the June primary, when voters will choose the top two candidates to face off in next November's race for 4th District County Supervisor.  By all means, keep your eyes wide open.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Hierarchy of elected venerables

You and I – as ordinary voters living in greater San Diego – have a mind-numbing number of opportunities to elect scads of people to serve as our public mouthpieces. 

We routinely go to the polls or mail in our ballots to select the "public servants" we believe will represent our personal and community interests and improve our well-being.  Keeping up with who's running for what is a daunting job.  

In fact, if we built a totem pole made up of all our elected officials, it would surely reach the clouds, maybe even touch the sky.

Curious about how it might look? 
  •  On the bottom level you'll recognize scores of neighbors elected to our city's 30+ community planning groups.
  •  A notch above you'll find a layer of School Board Trustees (five from the San Diego Unified School District, more from outlying school districts), squeezed in next to five Community College District Trustees. 
  • Pressing down on them would be San Diego's nine City Councilmembers, plus our Mayor, plus multiple other Councilmembers and Mayors from towns and cities throughout our sprawling county.
  • Oh yes, on the next layer there are our five County Supervisors.  
  • Perched on their heads might be our County Sheriff alongside our County Assessor-Recorder-Clerk.  Oops… almost forgot to leave room for our District Attorney.  
  • Up a level and breathing down each other's necks you'll find our elected State Insurance Commissioner, our Superintendent of Public Education, our State Attorney General, our State Controller, and four members of our Board of Equalization. 
Getting a stiff neck? Patience, please... we're not done with our voting obligations yet.  
  • Squint up to the next level and you'll see our county's seven State Assemblymembers enviously coveting the spots on which our four State Senators sit.  
  • Then focus your binoculars up a layer to the five representatives we county voters send to the US Congress. While you're up there, be sure you notice our two US Senators.  
  • And hey! waving to us from the penultimate level, isn't that the Governor?  
  • Finally, at the tippy-top of this dense hierarchy of elected venerables you'll recognize a facsimile of the US President – his head bobbling in the rarified breeze.
Theoretically, given the sheer number of representatives we elect to take care of us, we should be the most contented citizens of all time.  Seen from a distance, it's an impressive display.  

But the view up close, at ground level, tells a different story.  As I recently observed about city and county government, many elected officials we ceremoniously induct into this prestigious political club fail us.

It's remarkable how many of San Diego's elected officials have perfected the knack for gliding, sliding, and shimmying their way up the political totem pole, despite leaving behind scant evidence of positive change from their days in city and/or county office.

Fortunately, hope springs eternal in the hearts of voters (my optimistic heart included).

So here I'll repeat myself: "…since it won't be long before we are bombarded online, on TV, in our mailboxes, on our front doorknobs by campaign solicitations and promotional endorsements on behalf of a bevy of candidates badly wishing to claim a seat on ( fill in the blank), shouldn't we know a lot more about the job these candidates are knocking themselves out for?"

Next time we'll pluck out the Board of Supervisors from the middle of our behemoth political superstructure and get some answers to questions about County Government, specifically: Who, When, Why, How come, and What's next?



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

San Diego's dangling participles

Dangling participle – a piece of a sentence in search of it's true identity.  Here's an example: Sitting in the boss's chair, deadly disease runs rampant among homeless people on the streets of San Diego.

What's wrong with this sentence?  Something's missing.  We can fix it this way: Sitting in the boss's chair, Mayor Kevin Faulconer twiddles his thumbs while deadly disease runs rampant among homeless people….

An equally correct alternative might be: Sitting in the boss's chair, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors lazily ignore their civic responsibilities as deadly disease runs rampant….

Once we get the grammar right, the picture becomes clear.  Locally-elected officials – by choosing to ignore their political duty to protect the health and safety of the San Diego public – permitted a public health disaster to take hold of San Diego's neighborhoods, canyons, and streets.

Instead of taking timely action, they permitted a preventable epidemic to spread far and wide – into Santa Cruz, Arizona's Maricopa County, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City….

There are sins of commission and sins of omission.  We know that pernicious actions by political actors can be punishable offenses.  What about willful complacency and pernicious negligence that result in a deadly outcome?

I've commented on our mayor's reprehensible delinquency in the past. Not much has changed.  Kevin Faulconer, the man who's supposed to be in charge of city affairs, is still incompetent and unequipped for the complex job of running a major city like ours.  He sits at his desk in his 11th floor City Hall office in a state of suspended animation. At press conferences and speechmaking events he play-acts the role of San Diego's highest-executive elected leader.

But could our dangling mayor have gone AWOL in the face of San Diego's homelessness crisis without tacit permission from certain other elected officials?  To what degree are San Diego County Supervisors also guilty of pernicious complacency… bordering on deadly negligence?  Has their complicity over the past decade compounded our city's and region's dual crises over affordable housing and homelessness?

Here's one of our big problems – County government is practically invisible.  Ask your neighbor, ask your co-worker: What's the point of County government?  Who calls the shots? What impact does it have on our daily lives? 

You might see a lot of shrugged shoulders. How many of us really understand what County Supervisors do to earn their comfortable salaries and pensions?  Is the Board of Supervisors just a cozy, self-satisfied nest for has-been politicians? Or maybe a convenient way-station along the campaign trail for political neophytes and marathon also-rans?

Possibly… but County government also happens to be an essential public entity with the power and resources to improve countless lives in San Diego.  It's worth our attention.

And since it won't be long before we are bombarded online, on TV, in our mailboxes, on our front doorknobs by campaign solicitations and promotional endorsements on behalf of a bevy of candidates badly wishing to claim a seat on the County Board of Supervisors, shouldn't we know a lot more about the job these candidates are knocking themselves out for?  

The more we know about County government, the better our decisions might be about who's best qualified for the job of running it.


Stay tuned.