By Jim Miller
…the emergence of the local plutocracy’s strategy of rule by ballot initiative is a genuine threat to our local democracy
Last year, I rang out the New Year with a list of the best in San Diego culturally and politically in 2012. This year begs for a grimmer assessment. Better yet, politically, 2013 deserves to be tossed from the house with the caveat that it not let the door hit it in the ass on the way out.
It would be tempting to do a bottom ten list as there are so many deserving candidates in all quarters, but let me just reiterate what I wrote last summer, that much of what we saw transpiring in our fair city brought to mind Mark Twain’s pithy assessment of “the damned human race”:
I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the lower animals (so-called), and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me. For it obliges me to renounce my allegiance to the Darwinian theory of the Ascent of Man from the Lower Animals; since it now seems plain to me that the theory ought to be vacated in favor of a new and truer one, this new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals.
So maybe, for the sake of time, I’ll forgo the list and stick with naming the worst political development of the year. And while, the obvious pick would be the Filner scandal with all its levels of political intrigue, betrayal, sordidness, three-ring circus and car crash combined with a sprinkling of collective humiliation, shame, manufactured piety, hypocrisy and rage on top—it’s only the runner up (that said, if Anchorman ever returns to San Diego, we wrote the script for it).
Runner up, you say, mouth agape? What could be worse than the dark days of summer? Well, when all is said and done, the damage that Filner did was not structural. He destroyed his own reputation and did harm to the lives of the women he harassed, but our democracy will survive it as will the body politic.
In fact, with David Alvarez currently running neck and neck with Faulconer, it even appears the longer-term damage I feared the Filner scandal had done to the hopes for a progressive turn in San Diego politics may have been overstated. Yes, we could very well wake up this February with a bright new hope in the mayor’s office and a bold new agenda for San Diego (hence proving my dire summer prediction of a Faulconer win and a return of the old guard to power incorrect). That would be some crow I’d enjoy eating and washing down with one of our fine local IPAs.
So no, the worst thing that happened in San Diego in 2013 was not the Filner scandal. Instead, it was the referendum campaign against the Barrio Logan Community Plan. All kidding aside, the emergence of the local plutocracy’s strategy of rule by ballot initiative is a genuine threat to our local democracy.
Of course the irony here is that in California, the ballot initiative has long been thought of as evidence of our populist bent, a way for “the people” to go around an unresponsive government. But in California, and San Diego in particular of late, the referendum process has been perverted into a tool of the rich and/or powerful corporate interests. In the case of the Barrio Logan Community Plan, it is an example of out of state corporate money heavily funding a malicious, dishonest campaign to dictate the living conditions of one of the poorest communities of color in our city because they couldn’t extort everything they wanted out of the local government.
The campaign against the Barrio Logan Community Plan is corporate-funded environmental racism pure and simple. And it is being cheered on by the same people who want to bring you Kevin Faulconer as our next mayor and who, at base, really want to eliminate the local government’s ability to check the economic power of business in any way. From Walmart’s intimidation of the city to this referendum and the threat of yet another over the affordable housing fee on developers, it is a naked agenda—wealth against commonwealth.
The forces behind this new strategy want the best government they can purchase and, when that fails, they want to be able to buy and lie their way around representative government. San Diegans everywhere should be disturbed by this trend because if they can do this to Barrio Logan, they can do it to your neighborhood. And when your city council is afraid to check moneyed interests because they can fund a ballot measure campaign and cost your city money, your democracy is being held hostage.
This is what plutocracy looks like and if we let it win this June, we’ll lose our city for a long time to come. Here’s hoping 2014 will bring us a lot brighter future than that.