Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chicano Democrats Ask “What the Heck Happened?”

They Say Low Voter Turnout Didn’t Sink Alvarez, But Their Numbers Say It Did

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

City Councilmember and Mayoral candidate David Alvarez

Gabriel Solmer, Carmen Lopez & Dr. Isidor Ortiz

Georgette Gomez

Richard Barrera

“What the Heck Happened?” was the title of a forum the Chicano Democratic Association (CDA) of San Diego County held April 12 at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park. The aim of the meeting was to analyze the February 2014 special election for Mayor of San Diego and determine why Latino Democrat David Alvarez lost to white Republican Kevin Faulconer — and what’s more, why he lost by a much wider margin (almost 10 percent) than the last pre-election polls said he would. The presenters praised the determined grass-roots voter contacts CDA and other organizations supporting Alvarez had made on his behalf — but their own numbers showed those efforts hadn’t been enough: Latino and Asian voter turnout in the special election still lagged 10 percent behind whites.
The meeting was kicked off by Alvarez himself, who began by thanking “the CDA and all of you who were supportive in the race. I’m proud of how much we were able to move the ball on the minimum wage, economic and environmental justice, and how the city has not invested in our communities.” Alvarez argued that his campaign was so successful at setting the agenda that “the other candidate came out for all that.” Faulconer, Alvarez argued, felt compelled to claim the same goals of neighborhood empowerment as he did.
“This campaign showed a lot of potential,” Alvarez said. “We built a coalition, including Latinos, African-Americans, old people, young people.” Acknowledging that “most people care about the Presidency and the Senate but don’t pay attention to the Mayor’s race and other local races,” Alvarez argued that the efforts of CDA and other groups supporting him “got people who’d never cared about local politics before to walk precincts, make phone calls and host fundraisers. We got people to participate through social media. We tried to reach out or call to all potential voters. We just came up a bit short.”
Alvarez admitted some of the handicaps he faced in his campaign. “It was a special election,” he said, “and they tend to bring out older voters and Republican voters.” He also had to deal with primary opposition from Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Nathan Fletcher and fellow Latino Democrat Mike Aguirre — who endorsed Faulconer over him in the general election. Still, he said, the aggressive door-to-door campaign waged on his behalf was so effective that a Republican who sits with Alvarez on the City Council admitted to him that “the last week they were really scared.”
The opening remarks by Alvarez set the tone of the rest of the meeting. Speakers praised the intensity and effectiveness of the volunteer efforts for Alvarez and said that, even if they weren’t enough to elect him, they did point the way to electing a future mayor who’s progressive, Latino or both. “Working with David both in his city council office and on the campaign was a pleasure,” said Gabriel Solmer, Alvarez’ representative and advisor on environmental and land use policy. “We talked to a lot of voters who got five to six calls a day” — an indication of how many groups were mounting grass-roots campaigns for Alvarez, including the Democratic Party, organized labor and party clubs.
“What were our goals?” Solmer said. “To win, to build a coalition for the future, to hold fast with disenfranchised communities.” She argued that though they didn’t win, they accomplished the other two goals. “We focused on turnout south of I-8 and persuasion north of I-8,” she explained. “We were using very tested models: field, mail, TV and earned media.” “Earned media,” formerly “free media,” means getting mainstream media outlets to cover your candidate and thereby winning exposure for which you don’t have to pay for advertising. Not surprisingly, she hailed the “field” operation — the door-to-door precinct walking for Alvarez — as the most important part of the campaign.
Not that getting out potential Alvarez voters was easy. As part of her presentation Solmer showed a dizzying array of PowerPoint slides that salami-sliced the electorate not only by ethnicity but also by party registration and what political activists call “propensity.” Propensity simply means how likely the person is to vote, based on how often they’ve voted before: a “high-propensity” voter has cast a ballot in all five of the most recent elections, a “mid-propensity” voter has voted in four of the last five, a “low-propensity” voter in just one or two and a “no-propensity” voter hasn’t voted in any. A key part of the Alvarez campaign effort, Solmer explained, was getting low- and no-propensity voters to turn out and vote for him.
“We identified 83,000 supporters” in those “low-propensity” and “no-propensity” groups, Solmer said, “and 60 percent actually voted for David. That’s much higher than in most campaigns.” The key to getting these voters out, Solmer added, was repetition. “We touched these people two to four times.” Solmer showed a graph comparing the turnout in February 2014 with the general election from 2010 — chosen because it was a non-Presidential year and turnout is always lower when the presidency isn’t at stake — and noted that in the areas where they contacted voters and got them excited about the Alvarez campaign, the “drop-off” in turnout between November 2010 and February 2014 was less than it was where they didn’t have a field campaign doing multiple voter contacts.
But despite the efforts the Alvarez campaign and groups like CDA put into the effort, it still wasn’t enough to close the turnout gap between voters of color and whites. Perhaps the most important table in Solmer’s blizzard of statistics and graphs was “Turnout in 2014 by Ethnicity,” which showed that among Latinos and Asians turnout was more than 10 percent lower than among whites. (African-Americans weren’t included in Solmer’s analysis.) Here are the numbers Solmer presented, showing that despite the herculean efforts made by Alvarez’ supporters, much more needs to be done to get Latinos and Asians to turn out at the same rates as whites:

Description
Total Registered Voters
Voted in 2014 Special Election
Turnout Ratio
Total
659,308
286,227
43.41%
Latino
117,891
41,828
35.48%
Asian
58,106
19,892
34.29%
White
464,650
217,502
46.81%

Dr. Isidro Ortiz, political science professor at San Diego State University and a San Diego resident for 22 years, continued with the meeting’s main theme: that even though Alvarez didn’t win, his campaign advanced the progressive agenda for San Diego and helped the Latino community in particular. “What was this election about, and what was at stake?” he said. His answer: it was the latest step forward for the Chicano movement, which as early as 1972 committed itself to electing Latino officeholders and challenging laws that made that more difficult.
According to Dr. Ortiz, District 8 — the City Council district Alvarez represents — “was formed as part of a lawsuit by the Chicano Federation” and was “made possible by the [Latino] insurgency of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.” He also noted that the election featured two Latinos among the four major candidates: Mike Aguirre, from what Dr. Ortiz called the “Chicano generation,” and Alvarez, from what he called the “post-Chicano generation.” While various theories have been offered for why Aguirre endorsed Faulconer over Alvarez in the general — including Aguirre’s ongoing battle with the city employees’ unions, which heavily backed Alvarez and were the principal source of independent expenditures on his behalf — Dr. Ortiz suggested it was as much a generational split as anything else.
Dr. Ortiz, who said he registered as a Democrat in 1970 but quickly changed to “decline to state” — the circumlocution you have to adopt if you want to register in California without affiliating yourself with a political party — also quoted the Republicans’ explanations for why Faulconer won: “a superior candidate, a stronger team and a more inspiring message.” Though the orthodox opinion among San Diego’s media outlets has been that Alvarez lost because his potential voters didn’t turn out, Dr. Ortiz said that’s not how the Republicans explain their victory. His own view? Alvarez lost “because of the conditions that existed,” not only because it was a special election but because Faulconer and Alvarez were running to replace Bob Filner, a Democrat who had been driven from office in disgrace and had therefore tarnished the Democrats’ political brand in San Diego.
Carmen Lopez, who was hired in 2004 as an outreach coordinator for the San Diego County Registrar of Voters as part of the settlement of a lawsuit alleging violations of Latinos’ voting rights, said part of the problem is that Latinos in San Diego are “not voting correctly.” She discussed one of the most powerful pieces of data available to chart the ethnic vote: the way people register at citizenship ceremonies where they’ve just taken the naturalization oath and are thus eligible to vote for the first time.
While the percentage of new citizens who sign up to vote by mail is steadily increasing — from 70 percent in 2011 and 72 percent in 2012 and 85 percent in 2013 — Lopez said new voters who choose to vote by mail don’t always do it right. “A lot of them turn in their ballots late,” Lopez said — reflecting the common error that their votes will be count if the ballots are postmarked the date of the election. In fact, they’ll only be counted if they’re mailed far enough in advance that they’re received by election day. Another common mistake is they forget to sign their name to the outside of the ballot envelope.
“A lot of them come from countries where votes by mail and write-in votes don’t exist,” Lopez explained. “We have to educate people to get their ballots in on time.”

Barrio Logan and the Minimum Wage

The April 12 program continued with two presentations on upcoming issues San Diegans will have to vote on, which the meeting’s organizers see as the next big test for San Diego’s Latinos and the progressive community in general. Georgette Gomez of the Environmental Health Coalition told the sad tale of Barrio Logan, a neighborhood formed when a state freeway bisected it from Logan Heights. In 1978 the city created a community plan for Barrio Logan that called for turning it into a total industrial zone and forcing out all its residents. The residents protested, and over the last five years they worked with the city to create a new plan that would allow residents and industries to coexist and create enough buffer spaces so the people living there wouldn’t be poisoned by industrial pollution.
But that wasn’t good enough for the owners of the companies, especially shipyards, that operate in Barrio Logan. They circulated signatures to have the new Barrio Logan Community Plan put on the ballot to be voted on, not just by Barrio Logan’s residents but the whole city. What’s more, said Gomez, they got the signatures they needed by flat-out lying about the community plan, saying it would drive the Navy and the shipyards out of San Diego and cost the city jobs.
“All of that is untrue,” said Gomez. “The reality is these people are challenging the plan because they want to control the way the city makes policies. It’s about the Republicans wanting to control what goes on throughout the city. … We supposedly have a Democratic-majority City Council, but [the Republicans and the business interests they represent] are trying to change the dialogue and take everything to the voters.” Already, said Gomez, they were able to get the Council to cancel an increase in the fees paid by developers to fund affordable housing by circulating petitions to place it on the ballot — and instead of going ahead with the vote, as with the Barrio Logan plan, the Council wimped out and backtracked on the fee increase.
The Barrio Logan Community Plan will come before voters throughout San Diego — most of whom, Gomez said, don’t know anything about Barrio Logan — in June 2014 as Propositions B and C. Gomez asked people to vote yes on Propositions B and C to protect Barrio Logan as a mixed-use area and allow people to live there in relatively healthy conditions. If B and C lose, she warned, the 1978 plan comes back into effect and the city will have the authority to drive all Barrio Logan’s residents out.
“We ran a campaign for Mayor and came within three percent of electing David Alvarez,” said Richard Barrera, recently appointed secretary-treasurer of the San Diego/Imperial Counties Central Labor Council and an elected member of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Trustees. He was there to promote an initiative campaign, aimed at the November 2014 ballot, to increase the minimum wage in San Diego to about $13 per hour. But, in what was probably the most powerful and dramatic speech on the program, he held off on advancing that proposal and “worked the crowd” with an emotional appeal to community solidarity and advancing the overall progressive political agenda.
“We did a lot of work that is positioning us to go forward and win,” said Barrera. “We did the right thing. When Bob Filner fell apart, there were choices. We could have stayed home and capitulated — and a lot of people were arguing for it. We didn’t. We could have made a second choice, to let political expedience determine what our agenda is. We said no, because if we’d made either of those choices, none of us would be here. If we’d made either choice, Kevin Faulconer would still be Mayor, and we would have nothing to build on. Instead we made the third choice, to dig in and find extra money, extra energy, and get people involved who weren’t involved in 2012. All of us became organizers, and now we’re able to push forward on the issues that matter to our people.”
Barrera referred to the latest edition of Making Ends Meet, a report by the progressive San Diego think tank the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI), which said that four out of every 10 families in San Diego can’t pay their rent and all their bills on the money they earn from working. For Latinos, according to CPI, it’s six out of 10. “This is not an issue of people not having jobs,” Barrera stressed. “It’s about people working and not making enough to make ends meet. So what’s our agenda? Working families need to be able to support themselves and create better opportunities for their kids. Many of them are children of immigrants who came to the U.S. for better opportunities.”
But Barrera’s critique of the way things are in the U.S. in general, and San Diego in particular, went far beyond that. “We continue to disinvest from public schools and reinvest in prisons,” he said. “Public schools have to be places that democratize our society.” Like Gomez, he said progressive San Diegans have an obligation to defend the Barrio Logan community plan and the health of its residents against the corporate attack at the ballot box. “The polling is pretty clear,” he said. “If voters understand the choice, they’re on the side of the Barrio Logan community. They’re going to spend a lot of money; we’re going to beat them with a lot of people.”
Then, and only then, did Barrera get to labor’s main priority in this year’s elections: a ballot measure they’re working to qualify for November which will raise the minimum wage in San Diego to $13 per hour and give workers at least five guaranteed days of paid sick leave per year. “Eighty percent of people in our restaurant industry don’t have earned sick days,” Barrera explained. He added that this forces restaurant workers with communicable diseases to come in to work, thereby exposing customers to those illnesses. As for the minimum wage increase, Barrera said the $13 figure was picked because “you have to make at least $13 per hour in San Diego to make ends meet.” He said they plan to put the initiative on the ballot in Chula Vista and National City as well.
“The other side will tell us all hell will break loose if working people can pay their bills,” Barrera said. “What we need to do going forward is to say who’s got the power, and to use our power to do right by our families and our kids.”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Claire Joysmith: Bringing Mexican-American Literature to Mexico

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Claire Joysmith is a woman on an 18-year mission. It’s taken her that long to publish an anthology of Mexican-American literature, particularly poetry written by Chicana women authors, called Cantar de Espejos: Poesia Testimonial Chicana de Mujeres. She recently presented the book at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park April 4 after stops at the Centro Cultural in Tijuana and the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) campus. Indeed, her mini-book tour (from which she made no royalty income since she doesn’t get any money from the book) did so well that most of the copies she had with her sold out at UCSD and only a few were left over for the Centro.
Contrary to what you might think from her name, her Anglo appearance and her flawless American-accented English, Joysmith is actually a native-born Mexican, the daughter of immigrants from Great Britain. “I’m a first-generation Mexican, though I don’t look it,” she said. “I identify as Tepostista, from a small village outside Mexico City where I live. It becomes an alternate way of identity-building, especially in the state of Morelos, a major area of violence, where looking like a gringa can be dangerous. I have narco neighbors. We say hello and are polite to each other.”
For years Joysmith has made her living as a professor at the Autonomous University of Mexico City (UNAM), and her idea behind Cantar de Espejos was to introduce Mexican readers to the best writing, especially poetry, by Mexican-American women. That meant that their poems, originally written in English — albeit sometimes the mash-up “Spanglish” dialect that incorporates a lot of Spanish words, idioms and sentence structures — needed to be translated into Spanish. That was Joysmith’s job, though she admitted she made the controversial decision to leave English words in some of the poems to preserve the bilingual mash-up aspects of the originals.
“This is the first anthology of Chicana poetry in Spanish to be published anywhere, in Latin America or in Spain,” Joysmith said. Though she would want to introduce Mexican readers to Chicana prose as well, she added, “I began by translating poetry because of its immediacy. Poetry goes back to our roots in every way. The 23 poets [represented in Cantar de Espejos] are a testament to our lives and their rich and oral poetic experiences, and heritage of mestizaje” (a word referring to the interracial blending of Spanish and Native people that produced most modern Mexicans). A few of the poems in Cantar de Espejos are presented in both English and Spanish, but the principal audience for the book is Spanish-speaking; Joysmith’s introduction is in Spanish and most of the poems appear only in her Spanish translations.
“This volume is meant as building a bridge” between Mexican and Mexican-American cultures, Joysmith explained. “I decided to look for poems representative of Chicana literature and poetry, and poems that would speak to Mexicanos and Mexicanas. They kind of fell together. Some got left out, some got brought in.” Joysmith said that her criterion for whether or not to include a piece was, “If I were reading Chicana literature and poetry for the first time, how would I feel if I read this?”
Her first big problem was securing the rights to republish the poems from their American authors and publishers. “Permissions to reproduce and translate U.S.-published material are very costly,” Joysmith noted. “I had to e-mail people saying there’s no money, this is Mexico, this is UNAM, can you waive the fee?” Her third step — after selecting the works she wanted and negotiating for the rights — was actually doing the translations. The fourth step — and, it turned out, the most difficult — was getting the book published.
“I found a small independent press,” she recalled, “and Yolanda Lopez was willing to illustrate, and then the press closed down during the economic crisis. Then I tried to get a U.S. publisher, and they all said they couldn’t do it. It was too expensive. So it sat in the drawer for over 15 years. … In 2011 I finally found a home for the book at the Centro del Mesoamerica Norte. It’s the only place in Mexico City where you can find a good collection of Chicano/a writing.”
Joysmith said that part of the problem getting the book published was that her translations, particularly her attempt to reproduce the linguistic clashes and mash-ups of the original texts even while turning them from (mostly) English to (mostly) Spanish, kept confounding Mexican copy editors. At the small press that first accepted the book and then went out of business, she recalled, her copy editor was “very much a purist. He gave me back the manuscript full of red markings. He must have had a dictionary in one hand and a red pen in the other. He marked up not only the translations but the originals as well for ‘misuse’ of Spanish.”
Understandably upset that the copy editor had missed the whole point of her work, Joysmith wrote a response that “practically became an exegesis of Spanish writing in purple ink. I explained all the cultural-literary identity markers. I also pointed out that already published work cannot be changed — and he still wouldn’t work with it.”
Even when the Centro del Mesoamerica Norte agreed to publish the book, Joysmith’s struggle to preserve the binational and bicultural integrity of the material continued. “I found myself working with a team,” she said, “and some of them asked me why Chicanos use Spanish in this part and not in others. The next question they had was, ‘Wouldn’t this be confusing for the reader? Why do you, as a translator, leave this word in English when there’s an acceptable word in Spanish?’”
Fortunately, Joysmith found allies at the Centro, a group of women that were enthusiastic about the book and paved the way for it to be published as Joysmith and the original authors would have wanted. “The cover was done by a Mexican designer,” she recalled. “I gave her the books I had on Chicano/a art, and they inspired not only the cover but the nice drawings inside. Working with these women, I found they were open to new experiences and visions. It was so interesting that we’d got beyond all these barriers and all the explanations in the text. But the computers and their spell-correction features went berserk.”
Cantar de Espejos contains 56 poems by 23 authors; 12 poems were originally in Spanish, while the other 44 were translated by five other women as well as Joysmith. In her own translations, she said, she drew on Chicano/a literary theory and in particular the concept of “bilingualism.” “When a Chicano/a text is translated from English to Spanish, it begins to speak in a different voice with intriguing realism,” she explained, adding that the two languages “coexist into a new life” even though, in her versions of the poems, Spanish is the main language and “the Chicano/a markers of difference disappear.”
Much of Joysmith’s appearance consisted of readings of some of the poems in her collection. Instead of reading all of them herself, she called on various guests — including Abel Macias, who introduced her on behalf of the Centro and joked about his bad “pocho Spanish.” Joysmith explained that for some of the poems in the book, including Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s “Vivir en the borderlands quiere decir que,” she had used different typefaces for some of the lines to reproduce some of the linguistic mash-up effects of the original.
Joysmith said that for a book that took 18 years to produce, Cantas de Espejos has been surprisingly successful. “This is the second printing,” she said. “For a book of Chicana poetry, that’s amazing. It has been really well received by different audiences, not only in Mexico City. In Durango, the reading room was packed by an audience mostly of high school students, youngsters who asked the most revealing questions. I asked them why they were so interested in reading about Chicanas, and one man said this book grounded for them what their relatives in the U.S. were experiencing.”

Sunday, April 06, 2014

U.S. Is More Like Panem Every Day

Activist San Diego Hosts Program on Income Inequality April 21, “Inequality for All” showing April 26

The last time in American history wealth and income were as unequal as they are now was in 1928, just before the Great Depression. According to UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, U.S. income and wealth inequality have been steadily increasing since the 1970’s. In 2012 the top 1 percent of the U.S. population received nearly 22.5 percent of all pre-tax income, while the bottom 90 percent’s share dipped below half for the first time (49.6 percent). The last time U.S. income was so unequally distributed was in 1928, when the top 1 percent got 23.9 percent and the bottom 90 percent got 50.7.
As wealth and income become more unequal, and as opportunities to move up economically dwindle, the U.S. is starting to look ever more like Panem, the dystopia of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games books and the films being made from them. A handful of people in the Capital live lavishly, eat heartily and give themselves drugs to throw up so they can keep eating, while working-class people struggle harder every year to pay an ever-higher cost of living on wages that are staying still or going down.
Some Americans, including members of the 1 percent themselves, think this is just fine. Kevin O’Leary, host of the hit TV show Shark Tank, responded to a recent report by the British charity Oxfam that the world’s richest 85 families have as much wealth as the lower 50 percent of the entire global population by saying, “It’s fantastic. And this is a great thing because it inspires everybody. They get the motivation to look up to the one percent and say, ‘I want to become one of those people. I am going to fight hard to get up to the top.’ This is fantastic news and of course I applaud it. What can be wrong with this?”
Others, like libertarian economist Tyler Cowen, say that growing inequality is inevitable and we’re just going to have to live with it. In his book The Great Stagnation, Cowen said America’s economic future is going to be a three-class division between a super-rich 1 percent, an increasingly impoverished 90 percent and a so-called “infoclass” of 9 percent of the population working jobs requiring heavy intellectual training and talent. Cowen argues that the only chance most Americans will have for upward mobility is to work their asses off to get out of the 90 percent and into that 9 percent “infoclass.”
Still other Americans believe that the growing inequality of wealth and income were caused by deliberate policies pursued by politicians increasingly in thrall to wealthy individual and corporate contributors. What has been done, they believe, can be undone — if the people who are suffering from increasing inequality come together and get active. Activist San Diego is presenting a program with four local activists with long histories battling inequality and working to enable all Americans to have basic economic security, including access to adequate food, shelter and health care. The event will take place Monday, April 21, 7 p.m. at the Joyce Beers Community Center, 3900 Vermont Street, just north of University Avenue in Hillcrest. The speakers are:

• FLOYD MORROW, former San Diego City Councilmember.
• SANDY NARANJO, staff member, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135.
• TONY PÉREZ, Fight for 15 Campaign and Coalition for Labor and Community Solidarity.
• ROBERT NOTHOFF, Center on Policy Initiatives.

A representative of the Center on Policy Initiatives, a progressive think tank in San Diego, has also been invited.
The panelists will be discussing the following issues:

• Why is income inequality increasing in the U.S. and San Diego?
• Is this good or bad?
• What are the potential ramifications for economic growth and the existence of a middle class?
• What, if anything, can or should be done to reverse the growth of income inequality?

Also, Activist San Diego will be sponsoring a screening of the 2013 documentary Inequality for All, featuring former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. The screening will take place Saturday, April 26, 7 p.m. at the same location as the panel: the Joyce Beers Community Center, 3900 Vermont Street, just north of University Avenue in Hillcrest. In an unusual move, Reich and his producers have encouraged people to put on informal screenings of his film to build awareness of what can be done to fight back against increasing economic inequality.
“There is this popular misconception that the economy is kind of out there, it’s kind of natural forces that can’t be changed. They’re immutable. We all sort of work for this economy,” Reich told TV host Bill Moyers last September in an interview to promote his film. “But in reality, the economy is a set of rules. There’s no economy in the state of nature. There are rules about property and liability and anti-trust and bankruptcy and subsidies for certain things and taxes for certain things. … They determine economic outcomes. If we don’t like them, we can change the rules. If we had a democracy that was working as a democracy should be working, we could adapt the rules so that, for example, the gains of economic growth were more widely distributed without a sacrifice of efficiency or innovation.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hobby Lobby: The Corporation as Prophet

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • for East County Magazine, www.eastcountymagazine.org

The U.S. Supreme Court sure picked a weird way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act this year. On March 24, they heard arguments in a case called Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, in which a chain of art supply stores claimed that the mandate under the Affordable Care Act (so-called “Obamacare”) that employer-provided health insurance cover birth control is an infringement on their freedom of religion. Stated that boldly, Hobby Lobby’s claim that its for-profit business has the capability of worshiping God in its own way and the government can’t dictate the terms under which it can provide employees health insurance because that would violate its freedom of religion is preposterous.
But at the March 24 hearing, the current Court’s five-member conservative majority seemed to be leaning in favor of ruling for Hobby Lobby and establishing, for the first time in American law, that corporations not only have freedom of speech (the “right” the same five creeps established in the 2010 Citizens United decision) but freedom of religion as well. The Hobby Lobby case was argued on the all too familiar culture-war battlegrounds of birth control and abortion — indeed, central to Hobby Lobby’s case was the question of when one becomes the other — but a Court ruling in Hobby Lobby’s favor would attack the very basis of all U.S. civil-rights legislation and give corporations vast new powers over the personal lives of their employees.
When the Supreme Court took up the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it was not a foregone conclusion that they would uphold it. After all, in 1875 the U.S. Congress — dominated by Republicans back when they were the party of civil rights and racial justice — had passed a civil-rights law strikingly similar to the 1964 bill. Like the 1964 law, the 1875 Civil Rights Act provided “that all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theatres, and other places of public amusement, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude.”
In 1888 the Supreme Court found the 1875 Civil Rights Act unconstitutional (http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/109/3/case.html) on the ground that the Fourteenth Amendment, on which the law was based, applied only to government action and could not be used to compel private businesses and their owners to serve people they didn’t want to serve. Modern-day U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) made a similar argument when he said that if he’d been in Congress in 1964 he’d have voted against the Civil Rights Bill because, while it was right and proper for government not to discriminate on the basis of race, government had no business telling private citizens, including business owners, that they should not discriminate either.
The liberal Warren Court of the 1960’s had a very different view of constitutional law. They regarded the Fourteenth Amendment as a guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” for all people, regardless of race, and interpreted that to mean not only that government couldn’t discriminate but that private businesses that offered services to the public had to do so to all comers. They actually considered the argument now being made by Hobby Lobby — that a business owner ought to have the right to refuse service to certain people based on his “sincerely held” religious beliefs — and saw it as what it was (and is): a way for private businesspeople in a community who had similar beliefs about racial inferiority to nullify civil-rights laws by citing their “religious” beliefs as a reason not to serve African-Americans or other people of color.
But just as an increasingly conservative judicial system in the 1880’s and 1890’s morphed the Fourteenth Amendment from a weapon against racial discrimination to a way for corporations to nullify virtually any attempt by government to regulate them, the Right-wing judges of today are rewriting the First Amendment to undermine all attempts to put brakes on the power of today’s corporations. In Citizens United (2010), the Supreme Court established that corporations have virtually unlimited power to contribute to election campaigns, thereby permanently skewing the U.S. political system to reflect the priorities of the corporate rich. A decision in favor of Hobby Lobby would go even further, giving business owners unprecedented power over the personal lives and beliefs of their employees.
One of the principal weapons of the judicial Right, then and now, is a doctrine called the “freedom of contract.” It’s based on the idea that no one is forced to do business with a private corporation. No one is forced to go to work for one, and no one is forced to consume its products. Thus, in the infamous Lochner case of 1904, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of New York could not set limits on how long a bakery could require its bakers to work because that would undermine the “freedom” of a baker voluntarily to work longer hours than the maximum that law allowed. The Court used similar “logic” to declare minimum-wage laws unconstitutional on the ground that they violated the “freedom” of workers voluntarily to agree to work for less.
The person who, more than anyone else, reversed this bizarre perversion of legal logic was a turn-of-the-century attorney, law professor and (ultimately) Supreme Court justice named Louis Brandeis. When he represented workers victimized by low wages, long hours and hazardous working conditions, he insisted that the courts rule on the basis of how the laws worked in the real world. A typical Brandeis brief would contain a page or two about his legal theory of the case — and hundreds of pages of social-science research documenting how workers suffered when they weren’t paid enough and when they were overworked in crowded, filthy conditions. For Brandeis, and the liberal justices who eventually became the majority on the Supreme Court in the 1950’s and 1960’s, law wasn’t an abstract exercise in logic. It was a weapon that could be used either to oppress or to protect those without economic power in a world increasingly dominated by giant corporations which often literally had the power of life or death over their workers and their consumers.
But as American politics in general and the Supreme Court in particular started shifting Rightward in the 1970’s, the “freedom of contract” doctrine made a comeback. It turned up in a 1979 Supreme Court case called Smith v. Maryland in which the Court ruled it was O.K. for police to go to the phone company and get a so-called “pen register” on a robbery suspect, Michael Smith, without obtaining a search warrant. A “pen register” meant a listing of all the phone numbers Smith called, or which called him. The Court said that once Smith made the totally voluntary decision to have phone service, all the personal information he provided the phone company, as well as the records of everyone he called or who called him, was no longer his property. It now belonged to the phone company, which could do whatever it liked with it — including turning it over to the government.
In 2013 U.S. District Judge William Pauley cited Smith v. Maryland in ruling that the National Security Agency (NSA) had a constitutional right to collect similar information on every single American with a cell phone or an e-mail account. As long as the phone companies and Internet service providers (ISP’s) were on board with the NSA’s programs, Pauley said, no individual being spied on had a right to complain because they had no “reasonable expectation of privacy” for data they had willingly turned over to phone companies and ISP’s to get cell-phone and e-mail service. It’s true that another judge, Richard Leon, had earlier found the NSA’s program unconstitutional on the Brandeisian ground that one shouldn’t apply to cell phones and e-mail a case decided before either existed — but President Obama’s recently offered “compromise” reflects the doctrine behind Smith: instead of the NSA collecting the data, the phone companies and ISP’s will keep it and turn it over to the NSA whenever the agency makes a request for information about a specific person.
What Smith v. Maryland, Citizens United and the likely ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby add up to is a Supreme Court ready and, indeed, eager to grant private corporations incredible degrees of control over the lives of ordinary Americans. Smith essentially ended Americans’ right to privacy against corporate power; as long as you either work for a corporation or buy goods or services from one — which is practically everybody — you’ve given them control over your personal information and they can use it pretty much however they like. Citizens United said that political representation is a commodity like any other; the more money you have, the more of it you can buy.
Indeed, billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins and others in the 0.001 percent have taken the logic of Citizens United even farther than the Court did and argued that the rich should have more votes in elections than the not-so-rich. “You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes,” Perkins said at a public event in San Francisco last February 13 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/14/tom-perkins-votes_n_4788086.html). “But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes.” It’s a fascinating throwback to the reality of the American republic in the first 40 years or so after the Constitution was enacted, when only white males who owned property (i.e., land) were allowed to vote.
Smith v. Maryland said that you no longer own your personal information — not when you “voluntarily” (“freedom of contract,” remember?) share it with an employer, a phone company, a supermarket or drugstore offering you member-card discounts, or any other corporation that asks you for it. Citizens United said you no longer own your political system; that’s for sale to the highest bidder. A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby in the current case will go even farther; with absolutely no consideration for the rights of the employees of Hobby Lobby or any other business that might decide to police their workers’ morals, it will essentially make corporate leaders into prophets and give them control of their employees’ souls.
The whole idea of a for-profit corporation having a religious conscience is bizarre on its face. Civil-rights advocates have grudgingly given ground to actual churches, carving out exceptions to laws — especially ones banning discrimination based on sexual orientation — on the ground that a church has the right to preach against abortion, contraception or homosexuality and therefore it shouldn’t be compelled to employ people who support reproductive choice or Queer rights. But the churches, and their acolytes running businesses like Hobby Lobby, want more than that. They want their views so enshrined in the law that they can discriminate against anyone they want, for any reason they want, as long as they can argue it’s part of a “sincerely held” religious belief.
Corporations are not people. For the benefit of Supreme Court justices and others too thick to make the distinction between actual flesh-and-blood human beings and artificial entities formed to limit the legal liability of the flesh-and-blood human beings who create them, I’ll repeat that: corporations are not people. Indeed, back when there were actually religious people in politics who not only expressed liberal and even radical opinions but said their faith compelled them to do so, William Jennings Bryan argued that the whole idea of “corporate personhood” was blasphemy. If you really believed, as the Declaration of Independence said, that all men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then, Bryan argued, it followed that those rights belonged only to God-created people (human beings) and not to people-created people (corporations).
But the trend in the U.S., and indeed worldwide, is to endow corporations not only with all the rights of human beings but several more besides. One of the scariest notions behind so-called “free-trade treaties” like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is something called “investor-to-state dispute resolution.” This may sound innocuous and wonky, but what it means is that under these treaties, corporations can sue governments to have labor and environmental regulations, zoning laws and any other attempts to restrain corporate power thrown out as “unfair restrictions on trade.” These treaties give corporations the power to challenge any laws, no matter how democratic the process that created them, that might reduce the corporations’ ability to make profits. What’s more, the cases are heard in secret tribunals that essentially make their own legal rules, and a country that defies a ruling against it by an investor-to-state dispute resolution panel could find itself essentially locked out of the international economy — much the way a person who decided to protect their privacy against corporate intrusion by not having a landline phone, a cell phone or an Internet connection would be cutting themselves off from the modern economy and most ways to make a living.
The vast expansion of corporate power on all fronts — and the decimation of organized labor and virtually all other ways workers and consumers can come together and fight back — is radically remaking the world. In the name of capitalism, we are increasingly reverting to the feudalist system capitalism was meant to replace, in which the government was relatively weak and the authority most people had to obey and fear was that of the local overlord. In the Hobby Lobby case, it’s true that giant corporations are less likely to use the “freedom” to dictate the religious beliefs of their employees than individual-owned businesses and medium-sized companies like Hobby Lobby. When the Arizona legislature passed a bill allowing civil servants to refuse to serve people whose lifestyles or beliefs offended their religion, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and giant companies like Apple lobbied Arizona governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill — which she did.
What Apple and the members of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce were worried about was that discriminatory actions by civil servants against their workers would hurt their ability to recruit qualified people who happened to be Queer, pro-choice women, or whoever offended the state employees with “sincerely held” religious beliefs against reproductive choice and Queer rights. They were also worried about facing boycott campaigns like the one led by Queer activists against Target in 2010 for having donated money to a political action committee (PAC) that supported an anti-Queer candidate for governor of Minnesota. But a regional company like Hobby Lobby that does most of its business in states where the majority of people share its owners’ religious prejudices has much less to lose if it discriminates against women and Queers than a nationwide company like Target or a global giant like Apple.
So if the Supreme Court rules for Hobby Lobby in the current case — which seems likely, though by no means certain — American workers’ rights will be dependent on the good will of their corporate masters. Indeed, one wonders how far the Court will go in protecting the “rights” of employers to impose their religious beliefs on their workers. Will they be required to attend company-sponsored services in a particular faith? After all, according to the logic behind the Hobby Lobby case, it’s not government that’s creating an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof — it’s a private employer for whom workers have the right under “freedom of contract” to work or not. The fact that in many parts of the country people’s only “choice” is to work for employers with the mentality of Hobby Lobby’s owners or to starve doesn’t enter into it. Like their predecessors in the 1880’s, 1890’s and 1900’s, today’s Supreme Court justices exalt an ideal of corporate legal power and are either indifferent or actually supportive of the harm such judicial ideals do when applied to the real world.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Trans* Community Celebrates a Big Victory

60 Rally in Hillcrest Feb. 24 as Attempt to Repeal Trans* Students’ Rights Bill Fails

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Respect Gender Pronouns

Jay and the Trans* Flag

Autumn Sandeen

Daniela

Putting Up the Trans* Flag

Lyn Gwidzak (center) with dog

Simon says …

Ezekiel Reis Burgin

Nemo

Group shot

Holly and Daniela

Overpass Light Brigade: “Trans* … ”

Overpass Light Brigade: “ … Power”

Trans* Children Deserve Love

Son of Fire

On February 24, the long wait for Transgender students in California and their allies ended. In 2013 the California state legislature had passed AB 1266, the School Success and Opportunity Act, which gives Trans* students in the state’s public schools the right to be treated as members of the gender they identify with, not the one into which they were born. Specifically, it allows Trans* students to use restrooms assigned to their gender of identification, and to compete in sports based on their perceived gender identity. But radical-rights groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), which helped put California’s anti-marriage Proposition 8 on the ballot in 2008, mounted a referendum campaign to put the School Success and Opportunity Act before the state’s voters.
San Diego Trans* activists and their supporters, including SAME Alliance (formerly San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality), Canvass for a Cause (CFAC) and Black and Pink San Diego, sponsored no fewer than three rallies to call public attention to the issue. The first took place on November 22, when the California Secretary of State’s office was expected to announce whether the radical Right had collected enough signatures to put AB 1266 on the ballot. Based on a sampling of the submitted petitions, they hadn’t, but they came close enough to demand a count of every single petition form. Trans* activists called a second rally January 11, in hopes the count would be finished by then and they would know whether the basic rights of Trans* students would go before the state’s voters.
The Secretary of State’s office didn’t have the count completed by January 11, but they announced that they’d issue a final ruling February 24. So the same group of local activists called another rally for that date, held like the January event at Sixth and University in Hillcrest, either to celebrate the failure of the referendum effort or launch the campaign to persuade California voters to support Trans* students’ rights. As things turned out, the event was a celebration; less than half an hour before its 5:30 start time, the Secretary of State’s office announced that the referendum against the School Success and Opportunity Act had fallen 20,000 signatures short of making it to the ballot.
Daniela, the Trans* activist who had spoken especially movingly at the first rally in November, was chosen to MC. “I wrote this before I knew what the ruling was,” she said, “but the fact that the opposition even tried to have a petition against this law brought about a lot of much-needed awareness about our community to the people. Without the opposition realizing it, they were planting seeds in the people’s minds and hearts that our community exists. We are here and we’re not going anywhere.”
According to Daniela, the opposition’s primary argument against the bill — that non-Trans* male students would use it as an excuse to use the girls’ restrooms and peep at them — “hasn’t happened once in the 10 years this policy has been in effect in Los Angeles.” She advised the non-Trans* people at the rally “how to be an awesome ally of the Trans* community: first, use your Transgender friend’s preferred gender pronoun. And make sure when you’re allowed to use their preferred gender pronoun because not all Trans* people are out to everybody. Call out transphobic language when you hear it. Don’t be silent. It plants a seed in their heads and brings awareness.”
As at the previous two rallies, the organizers set up an open mike but asked that only Transgender people use it. The next speaker identified herself as Sahaila, and said, “So often we hear our opposition talking in the name of ‘love,’ and in the name of God, but we see all of these divisions set up in society to hinder our love and connection towards one another. That’s not right. Although we are here to stand up for Transgender students and Trans* rights, it’s important to realize that the issue we are up against right now isn’t necessarily transphobia. Transphobia isn’t necessarily the root of our suffering.  Racism, misogyny and sexism aren’t the root of our issues. The pervading issue, the main thing that’s wrong here, is ignorance, fear and bigotry. We need to destroy this tree of ignorance from the root cause, right now.”
“I’ll be honest: I came here tonight expecting to have to give a speech about how we would have to bounce back from defeat,” said the next speaker, Transgender therapist Ezekiel Reis Burgin. “But that’s not the case. … Every year, every day, we are moving towards justice, towards equality, towards a better world. Burgin cited two Transgender heroines as especially powerful examples of the growing acceptance and opportunities for Trans* people: author Janet Mock, whose book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More became a New York Times best-seller; and actress Laverne Cox, who plays a Transwoman in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.
Burgin said he is currently writing two essays on Transgender issues for upcoming books. “One is a textbook on social issues and political practice,” he explained, “and my chapter is focused on Trans* communities — not the ‘LGBT’ [Queer] communities, Trans* communities. This is going to be taught to young social workers and therapists who are going to go out into the world. This is going to be one more brick in the wall against bigotry. They’re going to be learning that Trans* communities matter, that we’re real, that we’re not just the end of the ‘LGBT.’ We are actually here, different, vibrant, present and unique.”
The other book Burgin is contributing to, scheduled for publication in May, is Manning Up: Essays by Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family and Themselves. “Again,” he said, “it’s just essay after essay of us telling our own stories and being the diverse, unique, vibrant people that we are. There’s not one Trans* narrative. You’ve seen that with Janet Mock, with Laverne Cox, with me, with everyone here. We’re all different. We’re all unique. We all have interests, not just Transness.” Burgin said that just by being out and about in the world, people like Mock, Cox and himself are advancing the cause of Trans* equality every day.
“I think we’re done with explaining ourselves and finding good places to go pee,” said Nemo, the final speaker — referencing the most basic human need addressed by the School Success and Opportunity Act. “We now have the option for a lot of Trans* youth to have that childhood a lot of us lacked: to be treated the way they want to be treated. Under our government, education is mandatory. For those of us who are studying history, we know how that’s been used. A big part of it has been assimilation and indoctrination. At the same time, as a Queer, education saved my life. It gave me a way of understanding things nobody around me was saying. It gave me a way of understanding that I’m a person, in a way nothing spiritual or social around me was saying.”
After about a half-hour’s worth of speechmaking, the local activists chanted various slogans upholding rights for Transgender people. At least one of the slogans — “Gender’s chosen, don’t you see? You can break the binary” — highlighted divisions within the Trans* movement between mostly older Transgender individuals who see themselves as men born in women’s bodies, or vice versa; and mostly younger people who are exploring gender identities that are between male and female. The “binary” — the idea that people are either male or female, and there is nothing in between — is taken for granted by most people, including many who identify as Transgender, but it’s increasingly under challenge by newer Trans* activists.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Bionic Mayor

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • for East County Magazine, www.eastcountymagazine.org

There’s an old saying, variously attributed to the Greek fabulist Aesop and the Roman poet Horace, that “the mountain labored and brought forth a mouse.” Last February 11, after a six-month campaign, the special election for Mayor of San Diego labored and brought forth Kevin Faulconer. Actually, it wasn’t the proverbial mountain; it was the Republican Party and the “independent” Lincoln Club of San Diego County, who essentially took the raw material of Kevin Faulconer and used him as a chassis on which to build a bionically perfect mayoral candidate for the San Diego electorate c. 2014: modishly liberal on the “social issues” and business-friendly, pro-developer and anti-labor without being as obstreperously obnoxious about it as the last Republican Mayoral candidate, Carl DeMaio.
Not many people seem to remember — and it wasn’t brought up during the campaign, even by his opponents — that Faulconer got on the San Diego City Council in the first place much the same way he got to be Mayor. Faulconer ran for the District 2 seat in 2002 with heavy backing from the San Diego County Republican Party, who saw him as their great white hope for one of the Council’s “swing” seats. He lost that election to Democrat Michael Zucchet, but this being San Diego that didn’t matter. Zucchet and two other Democratic Councilmembers, Ralph Inzunza and Charles Lewis, were embroiled in a political scandal involving an alleged attempt by one strip-club owner in San Diego to reopen the tough regulations the Council had imposed on such establishments at the behest of the San Diego Police Department.
Zucchet, Inzunza and Lewis were prosecuted by a Republican U.S. attorney for San Diego and indicted for conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion. Lewis died before the case could come to trial. Zucchet and Inzunza were convicted in 2005. Later, in November 2006, Zucchet’s convictions were overturned by a federal judge on the ground that, even if true, the allegations against him did not legally constitute a crime. But that didn’t matter, because the San Diego County Republican Party had what they wanted — Michael Zucchet’s head on a silver platter, or at least his body off the City Council, and a low-turnout special election in which they could give Faulconer a do-over and get him on the Council in Zucchet’s place.
So when I stood in the parking lot of attorney Cory Briggs’ office on July 11, 2013 and heard Briggs, Marco Gonzalez and former City Councilmember Donna Frye declare their holy war against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner over his creepy advances to women, my immediate thought was, in Yogi Berra’s famous phrase, “It’s dèja vu all over again.”  Indeed, though I wasn’t allowed to, the question I tried to ask at this press conference was, “Why are you so-called ‘progressives’ working so hard to make Kevin Faulconer the next Mayor of San Diego?” It’s true that the situations were not that similar. Zucchet was a victim of trumped-up charges and fought for, and ultimately won, the exoneration he deserved. Filner conceded he’d behaved inappropriately, stepped down as mayor and ultimately agreed to a plea deal that included agreeing never to run for anything again — not that he was likely to, given that he’s 71 years old and had been driven from office in humiliating disgrace.
But it still amazes me that the battle to get Filner out of the mayor’s office was led, not by Republicans, but by Democrats. Had the party identifications been reversed — had Filner been the first Republican mayor of San Diego in 20 years, instead of the first Democrat — the local GOP would have stood loyally behind him the way state and national Republicans stood behind Clarence Thomas, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Louisiana Senator David “Diaper Man” Vitter and helped them get and keep office despite similar allegations against them. The Republican Party had already been grooming Faulconer to run for mayor in 2016, when Filner’s term would have been up, and no doubt San Diego’s leading Republicans licked their lips and said, “Thank you, Jesus,” as the local Democrats, like the “Judean People’s Front Suicide Squad” in the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian (who were supposed to rescue Brian from the cross and instead all killed themselves), industriously destroyed the career of the first member of their own party to sit in the San Diego Mayor’s office in 20 years.
So, thanks to the bizarre self-destruction of Bob Filner’s mayoralty — both his own pathetic behavior towards women and his own party’s determination to take him down and disregard for the political consequences of doing so — the local Republicans were one step closer to achieving their master plan for putting Kevin Faulconer in the mayor’s office. They not only got to run him for mayor three years early, they got him into the sort of election Republicans like — and the sort that got Faulconer onto the City Council as well: a special election. With nothing else on the ballot, voter turnout was going to be low, and that generally favors Republicans. That in itself is an indictment of the progressive community in general and the Democratic Party in particular: they’re simply not as dedicated, not as determined to vote in every election even when the presidency is not at stake and there isn’t a galvanic figure like Barack Obama at the top of the ticket to turn out young people and people of color.
The next step for the local Republicans was to make sure no other major Republican ran against Faulconer. Carl DeMaio, who’d lost to Filner in the 2012 mayoral election and then declared he was going to run against recently elected Democrat Scott Peters for Congress, was widely reported to be considering a switch to the mayor’s race now that it was up for grabs. So on August 31, just one day after Filner’s resignation, 36 Republican politicians and power brokers came together at a secret meeting in La Jolla to give DeMaio and another potential Republican mayoral candidate, county supervisor Ron Roberts, their marching orders. I suspected such a meeting would happen but I was surprised when word of exactly when and where it took place, and what transpired, got published on the Los Angeles Times Web page (though, alas, not in the paper’s print edition) in an article written by the Times’ San Diego bureau chief, Tony Perry.
“From the three dozen people at the August meeting came an informal consensus that the best candidate was Councilman Kevin Faulconer, 46,” Perry wrote (http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-san-diego-mayor-20130924,0,1310610.story
). “Ex-Councilman Carl DeMaio, 39, a loser to Filner in 2012, should stick with a race for Congress, the thinking went, and Supervisor Ron Roberts, 71, should run for re-election. … With his more agreeable personality and reputation as a moderate, Faulconer was seen by many at the meeting as standing a better chance of attracting centrists than DeMaio, known as brash and uncompromising on issues such as pension reform and outsourcing of city jobs.” DeMaio got the message loud and clear: stay in the Congressional race against Peters and he would have all the money and help he wanted from the local party. Pursue the Mayor’s race against Faulconer, his party’s anointed one, and he’d be cut off at the knees.
There was one other problem the Republicans had in getting Faulconer into the mayor’s office: the November 19 mayoral primary. With Faulconer the only major Republican on the ballot, all the polls indicated he would finish first — as indeed he did — and he had a hair’s-breadth chance of squeezing out a bare majority and winning the election outright in round one. Instead Faulconer got 45 percent of the vote and most of the remainder split between Democratic candidate David Alvarez and Republican turned independent turned Democrat Nathan Fletcher. Alvarez had only got on the ballot because the Democrats’ most electable potential candidate, City Council President Todd Gloria, decided to sit the race out. Gloria’s public reason for not running for Mayor was that he was too busy being Mayor — under the San Diego city charter, Filner’s resignation had made him interim mayor until the election was over — though I suspect his real reason was he doesn’t want to remain stuck in city office. Instead I think he’s saving himself to run for Congress when his former employer and political mentor, Susan Davis, retires.
Fletcher’s candidacy was the sort of thing that excites the political punditry — they get to use two of their favorite, albeit totally meaningless terms, “non-partisan” and “post-partisan” — and just turns off the electorate. Fletcher had run for Mayor in 2012, starting his campaign as a Republican and re-registering without a party affiliation after the County Republicans endorsed DeMaio over him. He placed third in the primary to DeMaio and Filner (in that order) and then decided to re-invent himself as a Democrat. In a series of hard-hitting mailers that hit a new low in political cynicism, the Lincoln Club of San Diego County — a group of Right-wing Republicans officially unaffiliated with the GOP itself — told registered Democrats that Fletcher was really a Right-wing Republican wolf in progressive Democratic sheep’s clothing. The spectacle of a group of Republicans blasting a former member of their party for supporting the causes they believe in was pretty sickening even by the low standards of what passes for political discourse today. So was Fletcher’s response, which was to send mailers to the same Democratic voters accusing the Lincoln Club of wanting to sink Fletcher because they thought Alvarez would be a weaker opponent against Faulconer.
As things turned out, Fletcher ended up in the same position in the 2013 Mayoral primary — third — that he had a year and a half earlier. What the punditry regarded as a noble declaration of independence from party orthodoxy, voters regarded as untrustworthiness. They compared Fletcher’s previous positions on issues (helpfully provided them by the Lincoln Club’s cynical mailers) with his current ones and wondered, “What the hell does he believe?” Fletcher reminded me of the old Certs commercials: “Certs — it’s a candy mint! Certs — it’s a breath mint! It’s two, two, two mints in one!” “Fletcher — he’s a Republican! Fletcher — he’s an independent! Fletcher — he’s a Democrat! He’s three, three, three candidates in one!” So Alvarez clawed his way into the second spot in the February 11 runoff — which I expected him to lose, but not by so wide a margin (nearly 10 percentage points) as he did.
Faulconer gained his sweeping victory partly due to yet another negative campaign from the Lincoln Club, which turned Alvarez’ heavy support from organized labor into a negative with a series of bizarre TV commercials saying that Alvarez’s election would return San Diego to the control of “union bosses” who nearly bankrupted the city. If anyone came close to bankrupting the city, it was the business establishment that was supporting Faulconer, who in the 1990’s essentially either tricked or bribed the city workers’ union leaders into allowing their pension funds to be raided to balance the overall budget, and the local labor movement as a whole into supporting expensive, budget-busting giveaways to the private sector like the Convention Center expansion and Petco Park. They were also helped by some miscalculations by Alvarez’s supporters; all too many of Alvarez’s TV commercials began with the name “Kevin Faulconer” and, if you weren’t listening closely, could mislead you into thinking they were Faulconer ads.
But the biggest factor, as expressed by the panelists on the KPBS Roundtable program February 14, was voter turnout — or the lack thereof. Though turnout was actually higher on February 11 than it had been for the November 19 primary, as KPBS Metro reporter Sandhya Dirks said, “the voters south of I-8, particularly Democrats and Latinos — the [people] that elected Filner, and that Alvarez needed — didn’t show up.” Another panelist, 10 News investigative reporter Mitch Blacher, said that if Republicans statewide and nationwide have a lesson to learn from Faulconer’s win, it’s to keep voter turnout low and look for candidates they can plausibly present as “centrists.” Nationally, the Republicans are pretty much ignoring the second point but pushing the first with a vengeance; hence their support for laws requiring voters to show photo ID’s, restricting early voting opportunities and in general making it harder for people — especially young people, poor people and people of color — to vote.
Certainly the Republicans did their best to re-invent Faulconer as a moderate. “Whatever you do, don’t call him a Republican,” joked KPBS Roundtable host Mark Sauer, adding that Faulconer was presented as another Jerry Sanders: business-friendly but socially liberal and at least moderately pro-environment. That image is quite different from his actual record on the City Council, where he’s opposed virtually every program to help the less affluent in San Diego. He’s against raising the minimum wage, against raising sales taxes to avoid cutbacks in city services, against the Barrio Logan community plan (on the preposterous ground that creating a nine-block buffer zone between residents and shipyards will somehow drive the entire shipbuilding industry out of San Diego) and pretty much against any effort by government to challenge the priorities of business. He’s strongly supporting yet another expansion of the Convention Center, and his attitude towards developers is pretty much let them do what they want.
Faulconer’s conservative-in-moderate-clothing act is one that’s been working for Republicans in San Diego for over four decades — ever since Pete Wilson, who created the mold into which the local GOP pressed both Sanders and Faulconer, got elected Mayor in 1971 and served 11 years. Though he didn’t have the advantage of the “strong-Mayor” city charter the business establishment pushed through in time for Sanders’ mayoralty, Wilson essentially ran the city as a virtual dictator and, unusually for a San Diego politician, won statewide office: the U.S. Senate in 1982 (against past and present Governor Jerry Brown) and the governorship in 1990. Then he swung hard-Right in his public politics, getting behind the immigrant-bashing Proposition 187, riding its popularity to win re-election in 1994 — a short-term victory that turned into a long-term defeat for his fellow Republicans, since it alienated Latinos en masse and created a new voting bloc that has largely marginalized the once-dominant Republican Party in California statewide politics. But whatever its viability in the rest of the state, the recent race for mayor of San Diego proves that Pete Wilson’s template for success still works in his home town.