We the people speak, but who will listen?
November 3, 2014 | I voted by absentee ballot a couple of weeks ago. I held my nose and I voted. Without enthusiasm.
The local measures on my ballot were to laugh. One, to raise the city sales tax a penny, is a sensible response (far more so than the measure we voted on a while back to raise property taxes but only on vacant parcels of land), although I doubt it will be sufficient. But at least it would be a step. The others were all about heavily taxing marijuana growers, sellers, and users — to take effect if and when California makes marijuana legal! Talk about getting the cart before the horse!
The state-wide propositions were something else again, as they always seem to be. I used to just automatically vote No on all proposition, but now they've gotten clever at wording them so that No sometimes means Yes and vice-versa. Even if you read the summaries and analyses carefully, it's still sometimes hard to tell what they're really all about. I confess that I sometimes decide based on who is backing the proposition. Can you say Special Interest?
Then there are all the judgeships that require voter approval. Who knows these judges? The informational booklet had no information about the judgeships, only that California law requires them to be approved by voters.
Thanks to California's top-two open primary system, my choices for state Senator were (a) a rabid tea party zealot or (b) our former Assemblyman, another Republican, whose poor judgment is exemplified by her statement to fellow legislators that she thought she has "a nice pair of breasts" and the one to a local high school audience that Arnold Schwarzenegger was someone she "wouldn't kick out of bed." Or letting her son use her state car for personal transportation; he crashed it.
Fear is a great motivator; it concentrates the mind. But constant fear is disabling and the mind shuts down. I fear that is what has happened to much of the electorate under the onslaught of money unleashed by Citizens United. Much of it is untraceable (see NYTimes). And the sheer amount of money staggers the mind: the Center for Responsive Politics estimates that nearly $4 billion dollars (CNN) will be spent on these mid-term elections. Our politics are no longer party politics but billionnaire/millionaire politics. A few wealthy oligarchs have effectively replaced the two party system.
The average House member in a competitive district has raised $2.6 million for this election (NYTimes). That works out to about $3600 a day, every day.
Most of the advertising is negative and goes no farther than Vote for me, not the other scumbag I'm running against.
At the local level, most of the campaigning consists of building name recognition through repetition of the candidates name. That's why you see ten placards in a row along the street with little more than the candidate's last name and the office they're seeking. Garcia for Assembly. That's informative.
Although I don't understand why anybody would want to run for any office, people who do run should show a little integrity and be willing to talk at length what they think should be done. Scare tactics and evasion should have no place in the campaign. In this cycle candidates have said the most preposterous things simply to intensify fear. Others are so busy trying to dissociate themselves from President Obama that they shoot themselves in the foot — I'm talking to you Alison Lundergan Grimes. She was competitive until she refused to admit she voted for Obama and she has been sinking since. It was a totally self-inflicted wound, all that pap about the sanctity of the ballot box and constitutional principal. A simple, honest response would have gone a long way to getting her the senate seat: I'm a life-long Democrat, of course I voted for President Obama. That doesn't mean I agree with everything he's done, but sure, I voted for him.
What to do?
There are some who think that if the entire country adopted California's top-two primary system that would reduce hyperpartisanship. Maybe, but it also can result in voters being presented two objectionable candidates. I think this election is a great example of Be careful what you ask for.
A thoughtful essay in today's NYTimes made the case that we should do away with mid-term elections entirely, lengthening the term of Representatives so that every election would be a presidential election (which always draw more turnout). I could be persuaded that this would be a good idea (I mean, in two years you're probably lucky to find where all the bathrooms are), but I doubt really that it would solve the problem.
I don't know how to do it and still pass constitutional muster, but common sense says a few things would be very helpful:
The really depressing thing is that as soon as the votes have been counted for this election, the campaign for 2016 will begin. Constant campaigning and fund-raising prevents our elected officials from actually governing and voters find it dispiriting. Poll after poll finds that voters just want to get stuff done.
Last updated on Apr 29, 2016